Monday, September 29, 2014

In Dread of Bedtime: Going Solo

I am a fairly spoiled stay at home mom in terms of the help I get from my working husband. My husband as a university professor has a fairly light schedule of hours that he must be physically "at work." This means most days in the summer and on his long Christmas break, I have him at home. He works those days in his study, and then comes up for lunch and is done for the day by five o'clock. This does not mean he has to commute at five, he is upstairs from his study and talking to me and changing diapers. During the semester, he goes to campus 3-4 days of the week, and works at home at least two afternoons. This means that once I get the kids settled in nap/quiet time, I can escape for an hour to my haven of the treadmill in M's study in the middle of the afternoon. Then, I get to take a shower. I also do this on the weekend afternoons. It is wonderful.

M at work upstairs in the afternoon.
Then there is bedtime. After dinner (which I cook), M does the dishes, and then we put the kids to bed. We do this together. On bath night I take care of the two older one's while M does the youngest, and on non-bath nights I dress the one year old and he encourages the older two. We do our family prayers together, while I nurse my still nursing 22 month old. (I asked her last night, "Are you going to nurse until you are two?" Her response, "Yah!") Then I put the "baby" to bed, and M tucks the girls in and reads them a chapter of our current bedtime story. It is nice, and it is a great routine.

Tonight it is not going to be that way. Tonight, M has a Dinner and Talk he is going to, and I have had a slowly growing dread of the post nap time. I think I am going to have to pull the Skype card while I make our heart, butterfly, and flower shaped mac and cheese and fish sticks. For the record, I never cook like that. When M is home, I like to cook like this (steak is like a once every two months things):

Steak and Bearnaise sauce, grilled veggies, baked red potato wedges. (Well, M does the grilling)
If we get the food eaten by 6pm, I should be able to clean the whole kitchen before bedtime. Then I can manage the PJs and teeth brushing. I can manage the prayers and nursing. I can manage putting F down while the other two bounce around wait quietly in their beds. I can even read them a story.

But what I dread is the after story, after tucked in, waiting for them to actually sleep. I can count on them coming out of their beds at least three or four times for "one last" prayer, hug, drink, potty, etc.

But maybe tonight will be different. Maybe tonight, they will remember that I have been "meaning what I say" for a few weeks now, and listen to me. So, I will face it courageously, and pray for patience (and obedience). Also, to the Archangels...who should intercede for us extra on Michaelmas.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, September 26

1. Well, we are four weeks into the school year here at The Awesome School, and I think I am getting a good rhythm. We have found a good balance of a little bit of schooling on the most basic kindergarten level material, followed by play, chores, and or errands. Even with a few random schedule interruptions we have kept our rhythm.

2. Today we had our first session of our new (to us) co-op. It was really nice. Since I am new, I had no responsibilities today, and it was the strangest thing to drop G off in her class, L in her's, and discover that F did not really care whether or not I was in the nursery.  So, I spent 2.5 hours sitting at a large table with other moms doing "Mom's time." I spent a whole morning not worrying about children. That was not quite the truth, I worried about F a little bit, but knew someone would tell me if she was having trouble. It was relaxing. After co-op, we ate our sandwiches on our 20 minute drive home and had some fruit, nap time story, and now it is quiet time. I think I am going to like this co-op.
Two bushels.
3. End of September means apple sauce canning time for us. This year, I opted for market apples, which I ordered from the farmer by email, and picked up at the market 2 minutes from our house this morning. It was nice. It was real nice. Also, doable. We plan on making lots of sauce, and I am going to try my hand at apple jelly. I was slightly disappointed when I discovered that I could have been making peach jelly from our peach peals and pits, so I am determined to do apple jelly. I am thinking about pie filling maybe as well, but then that will also be determined by how excited M is about all of these things. He is, after all, the master canner in our home. I think we will head out to an orchard in early October, but not for lots of picking, more for the experience.

Tomatoes, meet Victorio Strainer.
4. We did our first tomato canning last weekend. We decided to do 1/2 bushel just to give it a try, and it took 3 hours to cook down the tomatoes, which was a long time! We ended up with 6.5 quarts of crushed, cooked down tomatoes that still have to be turned into sauce. So, I guess we are going to see if we like our home canned tomatoes better than store, and decide if it is worth it to do this every year. We think it is the case with peaches, apples, and jams, so we will see...

The final product.
5. I started an Instagram account this week, but am probably just going to post food pictures there, because, well, food is good, and it is an easy way to share what I cook. Also, I have to post from the iPad, and it is a bit of an effort to get quality photos onto the iPad. I am still resisting the iPhone. I even added an Instagram button on my page (see upper left corner). I feel slightly techy... but I am not... I got a friend to give me a link to a Youtube tutorial which made it easy...

6. M and I watched Schindler's List for the first time this week. That is a tough movie to watch. Everyone has told me this, but seriously, it kind of leaves one heartbroken, shocked, and speechless. I don't really have anything I can say about it at this point, except to beware of evil and love others the best we can. I have further thoughts on evil in my last two T&C posts (here and here), which I wrote before I saw the movie, but were influenced in part by the atrocities that people committed during the Holocaust.

7. On a lighter note, the kids and I had a cold for most of this week, so we cut back on our normal social life (you know, play dates, play dates, etc). I confess, sometimes I like a week where we just sit tight and I don't have to socialize too much. When I do too much, I get more introverted and just want to stay at home. So, this was a week off for me, well until today with co-op and another commitment tonight. And another thing that wiped me our socially, was that little radio interview on the Son Rise morning show I did last Friday. If you missed it and really want to hear me, the podcast is here and I am on right at 1:45:00. It has taken me a full week to recover and hearing the first 2 seconds of myself to find the right spot for you, freaked me out a little....

Linking up once again with Jen at Conversion Diary!

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Own Recipe: Meatless Spinach and Swiss Quiche

We like quiche. We like quiche a lot. We like quiche so much that I have been slowly developing an amazing recipe. I am not sure that I should stop now and say, "Hey guys, it's done," because you never know when more brilliant quiche making inspiration will hit. But I am going to give what I have done so far.

I first want to make a note about crust. This is the crust recipe that I have been using, and it has been super flaky every time I have made it:

Double Crust (for one quiche, I do a half recipe)
2 2/3 c. flour
1 tspn salt
1 c. shortening
7-8 TB cold water

I have been doing it the old fashioned way, with a pastry blender. It is a pretty neat tool. Once it is all crumbly, I add the water until it holds together. Then I usually chill it awhile.

After putting the question out to my Facebook friends, I discovered that you can also do crust in a food processor with butter. I am going to do this next time, because butter is far superior to vegetable shortening. Now, over at Smitten Kitchen, they are saying to not us a pastry blender and to use all butter, but you can check out that recipe yourself.

Now, you did not come here to read about crust making, you came here to get my recipe for amazing meatless (good for Fridays!) spinach quiche.

I don't think I have ever made a quiche that I did not like. Even my epic failure of a quiche back when I took the time to pre-bake the crusts that I did not let cool long enough and the cheese melted to one side of the quiche and the filling did not rise, was still delicious. I do not think you can really go wrong combining pie crust, egg, cheese, and onion with any other add ins. This is one of my "go to" Friday dinners that I can guarantee that the kids will eat. Plus, when I make it with spinach, no one even realizes that they are eating vegetables!

I have learned a few things from my mother about making quiche, which for some reason I refused to eat her quiche as a child. I was very suspicious of Swiss then, and now I will only eat it if it has enough salt in the dish. I learned from my mom, that the crust is only as beautiful as the effort you put into it.
I watched her this summer carefully roll out a perfectly round crust, place it in the dish and trim it just so to make the edges so beautiful. She also taught me to use egg whites left in the egg shells to line the crust, to protect it. We rub it in with our fingers and save the pastry brush. Finally, she showed me that spinach, which is so hard to spread, clumped and cooked, can be easily spread if you mix it into the egg.

My own little touch to my quiche making was to precook my onions (and mushrooms when I use them) and then cook off a splash of dry vermouth or white wine. I think that this is probably the key to my amazing quiche. Seriously.
Also, this time, I did not have enough Swiss, so I threw in some Mozzerella as well, and we liked it better than ever. So, without further ado, my recipe:

Spinach and Swiss Quiche

-1 onion, finely chopped
-(optional: 4 oz. chopped mushrooms- I have done it both ways and both are super good--sometimes I skip the spinach and do more mushrooms)
-1 TB butter
-splash of dry vermouth or white wine
-8 oz. cooked chopped spinach (I started with frozen)
-1 c. shredded swiss cheese
-1/2 c. shredded mozzerella
-4 eggs
-1 c. cream (or milk)
-1/2 tspn salt
-1/4 tspn pepper
-nutmeg for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Have ready in a 9-10 inch pie pan, your crust of choice. Use the whites from the shell of your eggs to coat the inside of the crust. Cook, drain, and cool the spinach (squeezing it out with your hands works well here). Melt butter in frying pan, and add the onions. After 3 minutes or so, (if using) add the mushrooms. Cook them both until a soft and a light brown. Add in splash of vermouth or wine, and then cook off the liquid. In a bowl or quart liquid measure, whip together eggs, cream, salt, and pepper. Add the spinach to the mixture and stir.

Spread half of the mushrooms and onions into the prepared crust. Sprinkle evenly in half of both cheeses. Pour over the layers half of the egg and spinach mixture. Layer the rest of the onions, cheese, and egg mixture. Sprinkle nutmeg over the top.

Cook the quiche at 425°F for 15 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 300°F and cook 30-45 minutes more (until it is done). A knife should come out clean near the center for what I consider perfect doneness. Let the quiche cool for 10 minutes before serving.


I would love to hear if anyone tries it, and how it turns out for you! And any other thoughts on crusts or other amazing fillings!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Are a Movies, Television, and Books Making us a Numb to Evil?

In my latest piece for Truth and Charity, I explained that we Christians need to be on guard against the banality of evil, where evil acts becomes so everyday that we do not even notice them as evil. We simply accept them as part of life, and are not rightly shocked at the evils being committed in our world. This idea is not new to Christianity. In fact St. Paul also warns against conforming our minds to secular standards:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect. (Romans 12:2)
We have all heard this verse before, this command to guard against the world and renew our minds. One area in which we need to do this is in our recreational time, in our watching, listening, and reading.
The Church warns against becoming numb to evil in the media in the Catechism:
The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences (CCC 2496).
When it is the end of the day and we are tired, just wanting to relax, how do we go about not becoming passive in our watching or reading? How can we be vigilant in our consumption of media? How do we, in a society that does not value virtue and moral lifestyles, find worthwhile entertainment? There is so much available that can pollute our hearts and lead us to become passive in the face of evil. If we become passive to the evil present in the entertainment we choose, we are on the path to becoming numb to evil in the world, and as I argued here, we should not become numb to any evils, great or small.

To live fully Christian lives, we must live purposefully, so as to form virtuous habits. Most of us know that we need to do this to have healthy relationships, to have a regular prayer life, and to accomplish our tasks at work and at home. But we must also be purposeful in what we watch, listen to, and read, or we will accept mediocre content that eats away at our souls. Despite the difficulty of being purposeful in our recreation, we need to do so in order to be able to understand which entertainments are worthwhile. At the very least we should seek to find entertainments that do not devalue humanity.

Many movies, shows, and books do devalue humanity, and  we are worse off after partaking of them. These works of “art” eat away at our awareness of evil, slowly numbing us to the evil acts and attitudes depicted on the screen, in the book, in the lyrics. These are the things we need to avoid, and we need to seek more worthwhile entertainment. Just to be clear, I am not advocating the consumption of moralistic works of art that are created for the sake of presenting a moral or just to be “Christian” but that do not represent humanity realistically. These too can inhibit the formation of our consciences.

Worthwhile artistic entertainments are reflective; in producing them, the artists reflect on humanity, their lives, hardships, sufferings, joys, illnesses, and God. They lead us to reflect on these things as well. While this is clearly present in good works of fiction, it is also present in sports, which allow us to reflect upon great human achievements, and in instructional shows, such as cooking shows that teach viewers skills. These good things do not numb us to evil, but help us live full, examined lives.

Reflection on oneself and the world is something the Christian can never cease in doing, and while at times it is tiresome to always be examining ourselves, it is necessary if we ever want to live a life of virtue. If we look to the examples of the Saints, we see lives of complete self reflection. In our lives too, even in our entertainment choices, we must never cease to examine ourselves and the things that we allow to affect our minds.

Originally at Truth and Charity...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Saturday With My One Year Old (well... 22 month old)

When my first gave up taking her morning nap, I used to drop my husband off on campus and spend a weekday morning going to three different grocery stores. I saved money that way, plus it was the way to pass a morning as a stay at home mom of a baby. Then I had two children to take to the grocery store, and shopping only happened at one store, sometimes two. When we got to our third child, grocery shopping became an even bigger ordeal, so much so that I switched my grocery shopping to Saturdays and left all three at home. These past two weekends, my husband has had some yard work to do, so he asked me to take "the baby" who happens to be 22 month old now (how old is too old to call the youngest "the baby"?). I was transported back to life with just a one year old, and it was very sweet.

After making my list, last Saturday, I set out with F in her car seat, planning to stop at three stores. I popped Late to Love by Sam Rocha into the CD player and we jammed on our way. (F likes to sing along, "Show mEEEEE!!")

Our first store (bulk, club shopping) was a breeze. She was cheerful, talkative, and interested in the food, "Cheese! Raisins! Apples!" It was cute and fun. And when she got bored of the food, I let her figure out how to work her buckle. We checked out, and headed out to the car. With her safely strapped into the cart I was able to bag into the trunk without children running around the parking lot, and then I had only one child to put back into the car.

We headed onto the next store. It is a small store, but often has better prices than our club, so I get a lot of our weekly staples there. We were in and out in about 20 minutes, plus once again I had no children to reign in during bagging. At this point she got hungry, so I did something I have never done before. I sat in the back seat eating chips with her. Sometimes string cheese does the trick, but today I went for the chips that I had already splurged on. Food cheers a kid (and a mom) up, and it gave us stamina for the next store. We even had a conversation about dirty hands, yummy chips, and "wawa cups."

Then to the next store. The thing I like about bringing a cart riding, slightly verbal child to the store with me is that I can mutter quietly about what I need to get without getting funny looks. If I shop alone and say out loud, "We just need pasta and vinegar now," people wonder, but if I talk to my one year old, no one even notices. At our third store, the did not have the special kind of whole wheat egg noodles that I love for my chicken soup, so we decided to stop at a fourth store. We could not leave, however, until F had requested and received her "dog ticker" from the cashier, who completely understood her request.

In the fourth store, I let F walk into since we only needed one item. She toddled happily up the aisles and look tiny next to the tall shelves. She helped me grab the pasta off the shelf and carried it to the check out. She then insisted on carrying the bag out to the car, one hand clutching the bag the other hand my own hand. We arrived home to her happy sisters and my husband, who were all eating lunch before their afternoon outing. F joined them in eating while I did the chore of unloading the car and putting everything away.

After lunch, we waved goodbye to everyone, and F and I set in on unloading the dishwasher. It threw me back four years to unloading the dishwasher with my eldest. The utensil rack all in a jumble, and a determined and delighted child, happy to be helping Mama. I could not get over how nice it was to spend time with her one on one. She supervises me most days when I am fixing lunch and dinner, but after the hours spent with her all morning I was able to appreciate spending a whole day with her without her sisters.

Naptime was a breeze as all I had to do was put her down and she was asleep for several hours. I got to exercise, work on other things, without the distractions. When she woke up and everyone was still out we set about folding the bed sheets that I had laundered the day before.

She watched me closely and did her best to wad fold up the sheets and lay them in a stack. When the folding was empty, she took delight in the empty laundry basket. First, she pushed her doll around in the basket, and then she insisted that I push her. Climbing into the basket, she stated, "Push me!" So, I did. I pushed her back and forth across the rug, and then spun the basket around and around. F starred at the ceiling watching the room spin and then decided to check this room spinning thing out for herself. "All done!" she told me as she climbed out of the basket, and standing next to it, tried spinning it herself. After a slight turning of the basket, she looked up to see if that ceiling was at it again, spinning, spinning. She tried this again and again, until she gave up.

Then we headed to the kitchen to work on dinner. During our preparations everyone else came home, and our day spent together was over.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, September 12

1. I have heard from other moms about having a bad week or day this week, and I confess that it has been particularly rough for me here in the Spencer house, especially trying to figure out how to parent an almost four year old. I hope that part of it is just the end of the threes and transitioning into not needing a daily nap. I also know that part of it is my lax parenting with her, and that my parenting must be balanced with my personality. So, I have made some parenting plans, and I hope that by sticking with them, with all the kids, I will stop losing it entirely with them. You know you need to change something when you are confessing being impatient with your kids regularly...

2. Today has been the best day all week, and not just because it is Friday. I know that my success in not losing it will not be so easy every day, but I plan to persevere even on the hard days. We did our morning hourish of reading, catechism, math (sandpaper number tracing), and then for writing practice the girls made birthday cards for two different "C"'s who have birthdays a week apart and are also 20 years apart in age. G (5) and L (3) worked on the cards for two hours, and F (22 months) and I worked on the weekly sheet and towel laundry along with the biannual-seasonal-clothing-dresser-swap.

3. The biannual-seasonal-clothing-dresser-swap is biannual, because it seems we only have two seasons in Minnesota: Winter and Summer. (We even have the furnace on today to keep the house from dipping to jacket weather.) For those of you not familiar with this, it means that I changed out all the summer clothes for winter clothes and checked the sizes of clothes to see what fits whom. Anyway, I used to think the whole changing sizes and seasons thing was a chore with just G, and now it takes a whole morning with three! I imagine that one day the older girls will be able to do more of it themselves. We also had a basketful of clothes handed down to us from a friend I had to sift through. As it is we have way to many pants and tops for the girls for the cold weather, and not nearly enough dresses and skirts. I did the skirt thing with leggings for them last winter, but they had holes in the knees by mid-February and that is not going to cut it. So, we are going the more practical pants route. Is it weird to put skirts over colored skinny jeans? Because I might just encourage that. They are so much cuter in skirts!
The hungry hawk is in possession of this squirrel's sibling on the other side of the Ash.
4. Wednesday I noticed four baby squirrels coming out of a nest in our backyard Ash tree. They were squeaking and climbing up and down the tree, and were pretty cute to watch. M even stopped work for a minute to admire them.
The Circle of Life moves us all.
Then yesterday I glanced out the nursery window, and saw a young hawk with a baby squirrel pinned under its feet. I mentioned it to G and L and they started shrieking and sobbing, "No! No! Chase it away! Don't let it kill the squirrel!" Knowing that M would want to see the event, I called him up from the study to calm down and explain to the girls about how hawks have to eat as well. All animals have a purpose, and hawks is to eat baby squirrels. The girls stopped screaming, but were not convinced of the goodness of the hawk. At least it was free-range "happy" squirrel veal, right?

5. I was nominated for the 10 book challenge, under the rule that I list 10 that have stayed with me. It is not meant to be a list of the *best* books I have ever read, but ones that have impacted me the most (off the top of my head):
  1. The Complete Works of Jane Austen (I cannot pick one.)
  2. Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (Still the best spiritual book for lay people that I have ever read.
  3. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (duh...)
  4. The Rule of St. Benedict (When M and I read it in college, we knew that we wanted it to influence our family life.)
  5. Kirsten Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset (I love they way she presents motherhood and womanhood. And her insight into humanity is incredible!)
  6. After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre (Virtue Ethics are the best kind.)
  7. The Conservative Mind by Russel Kirk (An understanding of conservatism that I agree with.)
  8. The Complete Works of Laura Ingalls Wilder (They are even better as an adult.)
  9. The Rhine Flows Into the Tiber: A History of Vatican II by Fr. Ralph M. Wiltgen S.V.D. (This transformed my understanding of the modern Church, especially growing up post-V II.)
  10. Tess of the D'urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (I will never forgive Hardy for being so cruel to his characters, and I am scarred for life...)
The pattern is called "Ozborne Slub." I am so glad the seam looks straight in the photo...
6. I never shared my curtains that I sewed back in July (though they have photobombed a bit).  They cover all the kitchen windows including our long ones and the back door. I managed so easily because it was a stiff cotton broadcloth. I had been putting sewing them off for a year, and now that they are finally up, I am pretty happy with them, and they add a lot to the kitchen. :)

7. I leave you with our blue hubbard watch:
Has it grown since last week? I can't tell...
Linking up again with Jen at Conversion Diary.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

This Season in Girls: Summer's End

Here we are on the verge of fall weather, holding onto those last few days of warmer weather with our windows open all day and all night. What a summer we had, in a good way! We planted our garden, had VBS, swim lessons, our three weeks in Georgia, Ohio, and Michigan, home again, breaking my toe, exterior house painting, visit from cousins, one week in St. Louis, and then the last week before we started school time. I felt like we barely had time at home to enjoy it being summertime. I do wonder if we need to do less next summer.

So, on Monday afternoon at the end of quiet time, I pulled the chicken out of the freezer, and realized that I had until the chicken thawed to do something with the kids. I don't normally spend the four o'clock hour playing, but I had an hour to kill and M was not due home until 5. My toe has been fine with walking and some light jogging and I knew it was long past due for me to take the girls out on their bikes...

G (5) Photo by Paul Hasser.
I have never seen them clean up so fast as when I ask if they want to go for a bike ride. We get all ready, and when I tell F (22 months) that we were going for a walk, she replies with an excited, "Droller! Walk!"

We head out with G (5) in the lead. We had decided to go where they had walked with the neighbors last week: around the block and behind the church that is on the other side of our backyard fence. "Am I showing you all the way? Is that why I am in the lead?" G asks again and again. She pedals confidently to each street corner and then waits for us to catch up. She and M went and picked out the pink bike back in May as a late birthday present. It is still fitted with training wheels, but I think that if we took an afternoon with her to try without, she could bike on her own.

L (3) Photo by Paul Hasser
L (3.5) and I follow behind, stopping for every pine cone along the way and to give the occasional push up the hill. L chatters about everything she sees and when she realizes how far ahead G is says, "Oh! We better catch up!" So we do. F sits contentedly in the stroller, happy to be given something quiet to do beyond her normal active silliness. F has turned into a goofy girl this summer. We had hints of it back in the Spring, but now she is purposefully trying to get laughs from all of us by doing silly things and cackling at herself. But now she is silent and watching as I push her in the stroller.

F (1.5) Photo by Paul Hasser.
We reach our destination after 20 minutes of walking, talking, and on fall by L. Big tears roll down her face when she falls. But all she needs is for me to help her up and to store the pine cone she was holding in her hand in the stroller. It is easier to steer without a pine cone in your hand. Behind the church is a brick path to a big grassy hill. It is steep and long and wide. "Last time we rolled down the hill!" G tells me, "Can we do it now?" I tell her that they may and watch with delight as they roll down again and again.

L manages to get a lot of speed every time, explaining, "I am doing my tricks!" Her rolling technique is building speed on her hands and knees and then stretching out straight once she is going.  As the girls dash breathlessly to the top of the hill they ask to roll again. So, I let them. Again and again and again the two girls roll, giggling and dizzy. G comes to the top, surveying the hill, "I want to see how this part feels!" And she gives it a try, only to come back and strategically try another spot. She understands that no part of the hill feels the same as any other part, and she wants to try it all. L always seems to go for the steepest parts of the hill, and I think she gets a thrill out of rolling dangerously. I get a thrill out of watching her go.

F has asked to get out of the stroller and is watching her sisters roll. She waddles over to a flat spot of grass, tries to roll once, but instead is content to lay on her belly, kicking her feet, and laughing. She comes back to the stroller and climbs on the front and around it, and then tries the grass again.

The weather is lovely, with the sun shining and the breeze mild. It is time to go home to make dinner. After 6 "one last rolls", we put the girls' helmets back on and go home the short way. I wonder to myself how many more afternoons we have like this before the cold sets in, and resolve to take advantage of more of them while we still can.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Five Favorites: Small Appliance and Furniture Edition

I am going to try another link up this week, largely because I have been recommending things to people and want to give them the information. Five Favorites, normally hosted by Heather at Mama knows, Honeychild (fun fact: Heather and I once ran a mud run together with some other awesome ladies back when I lived in Buffalo!) is being hosted by Mary at Atelier who is way more stylish than I could ever be.

Here are some of my favorite house hold items:

 Prince Lionheart Warmies Wipes Warmer

1. Prince Lionheart Warmies Wipe Warmer:  This was my third baby splurge. After having two in cloth, and now that we had a job instead of a fellowship, I splurged on having warm, wet wipes right on the changing table. It was and still is soooo worth it.

2. Shark Navigator Vacuum and its Hard Floor attachment: After using a Dirt Devil $40 stick vacuum that we had to buy $10 filters for every three months for five years, I finally bough myself a real vacuum. It is amazing, and best of all is the hard floor attachment. This means I can vacuum my hard floors and wipe them with a microfiber pad at the same time. Plus, it is super easy to vacuum under beds and couches with the hard floor attachment. This vacuum is my cleaning hero.

3. Ikea Wingback Chair: My dear professor made one furniture request and it was a wingback chair. I hunted for hours to find our wingback chairs last spring. Then, just in time, Ikea started carrying one in our price range. All of my blog posts are written from one of these chairs, and I read almost every evening seated in mine. The only assembly required was the screwing on of the legs.

 4. Cuisineart Food Processor: I have been wishing for a food processor for years, but knew that the best ones are the most expensive ones. M even wanted to by me one back in grad school, but I refused knowing the price tag. This year, I saved my Christmas and birthday money and asked M to combine it all to get the best reviewed food processor under $200. This is what he got me, and I love it. It makes pesto in minutes and does all sorts of other chopping things.

5. Mr. Coffee Automatic Burr Mill Grinder: While M and I have drunk lots of coffee our whole marriage, we did not splurge on whole bean coffee until we moved to St. Paul. Then M discovered the burr grinder which grinds the beans more evenly and releases less oil. So, we went for the burr grinder as well. We set the number of cups we want to make on the dial as well as the consistency of the grind, press a button, and dump it into the filter. No more measuring out coffee! The Mr. Coffee's only drawback is that it grinds into a plastic cup, which the grounds tend to stick to.

That's five!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Seven Quick Takes, Friday, September 4

1. In the garden, Blue Hubbard Watch:
I also picked this albino cucumber:
I think it stayed this color due to being entirely sheltered from sunlight by the plants leaves and sitting on wet ground. Any gardener thoughts?

2. While discussing a Biblical text and how I interpret it, M said to me: "You realize that all of the tradition interprets it differently."
Me: "Well, that has been my intuition about this my whole life."
M: "That is because you are a modern traditionalist. I am going to start telling people that I am a modern traditionalist because my wife wears a brown veil." We are pretty modern trads, aren't we?

3.We finally got to going through our closeted basement stuff last Saturday and did the kind of giving away/throwing out that we have done with every move. We finally parted with a couple of things we have been holding onto for our entire marriage. I managed to hold onto a few especially memorable things, and few good laughs reading my "jrnlo" that my first grade teacher had us write in every day. My ode to "chiccin pocs" is my favorite:

I seem to have dedicated it to my brother. See how having chicken pox is bonding?

4. Last Sunday we canned the last of our jam. We took those strawberries that we froze back in June and mashed them up with blackberries and raspberries and made 2 gallons of triple berry jam. Yum, yum! I canned 14.5 pints and stuck the rest (from three batches) in a jar in the fridge.

A friend asked me a couple of weeks ago why we bother to make our own jam. I just think it tastes better, and I know all the ingredients in it. However, it is also because, G (5) has decided that she only likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with jam that M or I have made.  If I ever start making my own peanut butter, I wonder what she will decided then.

5. The first week of teaching kindergarten went well. I had to work the first day for a bit of discipline, and G said to me in a surprised tone, "You sound just like a teacher, Mommy!" Yes, my child, I am your teacher, so please listen to me and do what I ask. Okay? Thanks.

6. While we were going through stuff, M came across my senior thesis entitled, "St. Augustine and Free Will." After reading the first paragraph allowed he announced to me, "This is not too bad!" It actually was better than I remembered it. My husband might have even given me a decent grade! I bring this up because I have been rediscovering my appreciation of St. Augustine through an album by Sam Rocha, Late to Love (click the link to listen). It is described as "original concept album that performs a reading of Augustine’s Confessions through soul music". M is the one who discovered it back when it was a Kick Starter project. He is into soul music, and I am normally not, but this one is pretty catchy (Simcha Fischer even gave it a good review!).  I am pretty picky about the content of my music, but I can't be too picky when it is St. Augustine. The kids really like it also, especially "In the Self's Place" and what they call "The Alien Song." Yesterday when M was working downstairs, L declared that he was "in the self's place" because he was alone.

7. We had a great food week. Saturday we made grilled steak with Bearnaise sauce. The sauce was amazing, and I did not get super stressed making it, like I normally do with a Hollandaise. I neglected to take a picture of my plate of steak, sauce, fingerling potatoes, grilled vegetables, and red cabbage salad. It was all soooo good. We made our first attempt at grilled pizza yesterday and ended up having to just grill the crust and broil the toppings. It was yummy and grilled tasting, but I think we should have been able to do the whole thing on the grill. We have decided that we need to up grade from our camping grill to a normal sized charcoal.

That's all, folks!

I am linking up with Jen at Conversion Diary!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Islamic State and the Banality of Evil

On the Streets of Auschwitz. Photo by Mark Spencer. Used with permission.

Lately, I have found myself lacking motivation to do my daily activities. It all seems somewhat pointless when I compare my life of relative ease to the lives of the Christians who are dying for their faith in Iraq and in other countries at the hands of Islamic extremists. I go about caring for my children and the house, and wondering why I am here, safe, with all my needs met while others are hungry, thirsty, fleeing for their lives, and dying at the hands of merciless persecutors. Then part of me rejoices for them, because they, as martyrs for their faith, have earned a Heavenly reward that I daily lose sight of.

They have what so many saints have aspired to: martyrdom. More often than not, I quake at the thought of it. I quake because when I used to desire martyrdom, I was a child with no one dependent on me, and now I have a full life before me with so many dependent on me. And I look at my life of attachment to creatures, and realize how far I have to go in the spiritual life. It especially hit home one afternoon when I came across a photograph of a mother and her children in a refugee camp outside of Iraq. They had escaped from those who wanted to harm them, but they had suffered so much already. But they are freer than I am, because they have left everything behind for the sake of Jesus.

Christians in Iraq are fleeing their homes and dying because of their faith, and their children are being beheaded, while people in American are planning “sex sleepovers” for their teenagers and, even worse, killing their own unborn children. The great evils in the past century–the Holocaust, the atomic bombs in Japan, genocide in Sudan, Rwanda, and Bosnia, and so on–have taught us to be numb to smaller evils. The slaughter of human beings continues. Abortion has become an accepted choice in many circles, and yet we are shocked at the slaughter of children by the Islamic extremists.

We should be shocked by the slaughter of these children. We should be shocked by the slaughter of any child, of any person. We should be shocked when we hear of parents promoting fornication between their teenagers. It is hard to recognize the gravity of every evil, of every sin, when the extreme evils of our time have made us numb to smaller evils.

We live in a society which accepts sexual immorality as perfectly normal, which accepts the murder of unwanted unborn children, which is not leaving legal room for well formed consciences, which glorifies vanity, which glorifies materialism, and so on. We cannot get away from it. Smaller evils slip in our thoughts as okay, and soon our actions and our hearts are immune to recognizing evil things as evil.

When we let evil become normal, then we are all susceptible to what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.” She wrote about the banality of evil after she witnessed the trial of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. She saw that he was not a particularly villainous individual, but simply an average man doing his job. He happened to be employed by the Nazis, who gave him orders to send innocent people to be slaughtered. Evil had become so everyday for him that he did not think to question them. And that is the risk we take now. We must be aware of the tendency of evil to slip into the acceptance of society, and to become just another part of the everyday, boring existence of mankind.

The more society is accepting of evil, the more Christians must be on guard against it. St. Catherine of Sienna pursued the worst of sinners in prayer and in person to bring them back to God, begging them to repent, but one sinner she could not stand to be around was the mistress of a priest. This sinner had become so complacent in her sin that she thought she could approach and speak casually to a saintly bride of Christ. Sigrid Unset, in her biography Catherine of Siena, described the encounter in this way:
Catherine had the gift (which some other saints have had) of recognizing a soul which was living in mortal sin through the physical sensation of a smell of decay. Once a distinguished lady came to visit her; she seemed full of respect and godliness, but Catherine would not look at her and turned her face away each time the lady came near. Raimondo [her spiritual director] reprimanded her for being so impolite, but Catherine said to him : ‘If you had smelled the stink of her sins you would have done the same.’ A little later Raimondo learned that this ‘lady’ was a whore and living in concubinage with a priest.
I wonder now, in my life of ease, what my soul would smell like to St. Catherine of Sienna or another saint who can recognize sin. Have I become complacent in my sins? I realize that my tendency to want to give up on my duties in response to hearing of the martyrs of Iraq is disordered. I should take their beautiful witness into my heart, and pray that I can live a life of heroic virtue amidst the banality of evil.

Originally at Truth and Charity.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Embrace the Ordinary: House Cleaning Checklist

A friend recently asked me about how I keep things organized over here at the Spencer home, and I will tell the truth my organization has been developing over the past six years. When my eldest sister, who has always been older and wiser and better than everything than me, asked me for my cleaning secrets, I realized that maybe I have a gift for organized and planned cleaning. Maybe, just maybe, my 15 months as an administrative assistant and year of janitor student work combined to make me the ideal house keeper. Maybe I am going a bit to far with this...

I am a little bit surprised that people are asking me these things, especially when my perfectionist tendencies tell me that I am never cleaning well enough. I guess I can get a little obsessive at times with cleaning, and I have only dusted my ceilings once in the past 16 months, so I am definitely not at the Monk level of cleaning. But I do strive to have my house as clean as one of my good friends in Buffalo. My friend N had a spotless house even after having twins for her fifth and sixth child. I have yet to see her new, larger house, but I can guarantee you that it is clean. She inspired me to vacuum more than once a month, but I realized that the only way I could keep my house clean and do everything else I need to do to be a good mom of little ones was to make physical a list.

My list and checklist began during my nesting before the birth of my third child. I realized that my recovery from having baby was harder when the house slowly became dirtier and dirtier. If I made a checklist than when my parents, mother-in-law, and husband wanted to help me out, they would know exactly what needed to be done that week. It worked great!

The only problem was that I never got around to printing them off every month after the first couple of months. So this week I implemented a new plan:
To the left is the cleaning list. To the right is my semester schedule.
I need to add "wipe fingerprints off the refrigerator" to the list.
I printed off my checklist, stuck it in one of these handy self-sealing laminating pouches, stuck some magnets on the corners, and voila! I have a dry erase cleaning check list on my refrigerator and impossible to ignore! I have it divided into daily, weekly, monthly, and do-as-needed lists. I would say the weekly cleaning takes about 4 hours total a week. The daily keeping up I do not time. And my husband does a fair share of the cleaning himself (laundry, bathrooms, trash, and dishes--what a great guy!). Basically when I have a free half an hour to clean I look at my list, pick something on it, and do it! I manage to get most weekly things done, and sometimes all the monthly things. And really the only person who notices it me.

The list is not exhaustible; I could probably add a lot more things to it, but if you follow my basic rules for keeping a house orderly you might not need them:

1) Clean it before it looks dirty.
2) Get rid of it before you have too much stuff.

I am sharing my digital files of my cleaning list as well as my cleaning checklist so that you can borrow and adapt it according to your needs.

I hope this is helpful for somebody and was not just an amusing exercise for myself.
I am linking up with Gina at Someday (Hopefully) They'll Be Saints and her link up Embrace the Ordinary.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Year for Recovery

We are at the beginning of our second straight school year without the birth of a new little Spencer. It is the strangest thing for me to not have a little one coming every second school year. (Our lives always have and always will revolve around the college school year, it is kind of a big deal here.) During the four years M was getting his PhD we had a baby every other school year and our first school year in St. Paul we had our third.

This December we were hoping to have another, but God had other plans as He called our little JP home in April. The truth is that I did not feel quite ready for another during my pregnancy with JP. We had no grave reasons to postpone the bringing of a new life into our family, so we went ahead and trusted God. God gave us a baby, and then He took our baby away. It was hard. It is always hard to lose a child, no matter what age.

My hopes for the next year dissolved, and now each month we are wondering if and when a new child will join our family. But the thing is, I feel more ready now. I look at the ages of my children and realize that everyone is right when saying the first three are the hardest. If we are blessed with another, I know that I will be able to handle the transition well.

As I prepared for our home schooling year, I realized that we are going to be baby-less the whole school year. I saw that I could plan a full year without the break a newborn would naturally cause. And I began to wonder, maybe this year is a gift for me and my family.

It is a year to recover from all the change we have experienced in our six years of marriage. It is a year to recover from losing a baby. It is a year to recover from two bouts of PPD in 17 months. It is a year to recover from the fear that we were going to lose my Dad in January, and a year to focus on supporting and praying for his full recovery. It is a year to enjoy our new home, post basement renovation, post decor hunting, post exterior work and painting. This year I can focus on my life, now, as it is. I can enjoy teaching my children, without the added stresses that we have had.

I know that new stresses could come unexpectedly, but for now I see this time as a gift. Maybe I will get pregnant and have to deal with the tiredness of pregnancy. Maybe another family problem will arise. But as I have been praying, I really feel peaceful about what is to come, no matter what it is. I held a friend's sleeping newborn the other day, and I did not feel the ache and longing I sometimes feel when I hope for another baby. I felt a thankfulness for the children I do have and for the time I have now with them and a hope that one day we will have another to hold.

We are so incredibly blessed by all that we have, and I feel I do not deserve it all. But isn't that the way God is, all we have, all we are given is grace. And I am so thankful for the grace of this year.
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