My newest cookbook

Last week, I went with my sister to Dillards to shop for a “Welcome Home from the War” dress to wear when she gets to see her husband again – soon!!!

She found two great dresses, so she bought one for Christmas.  I bought nothing.  I am the epitome of restraint.

{Side note: my husband once attended an award ceremony and the blurb about why the person was receiving the award contained the word “epitome” which the reader pronounced as EP-i-TOME, with a long “o”.  We now always pronounce it that way as a joke, so I don’t use it in mixed company for fear I will say it wrong, and nobody will laugh, except at me.}

At the checkout, they had a cookbook: Southern Living Christmas Cookbook.  She bought one for herself and one for me, too.  I love Southern Living.  Their recipes are fabulous and go way beyond fried chicken and cheese grits.  The book is only $10, and the proceeds benefit the Ronald McDonald House.  We made our turkey using one of the recipes, and for dinner last night I made Holiday Shepherd’s Pie (see below).

What I love best are the 14 menus which give you a “game plan” – what to do and when.  It tells you what you can make ahead, and what to do the day of the event – 4 hours ahead, 2 hours ahead, etc.  I think the hardest thing about hosting a party (or any meal) is having all the food done at the right time.  It’s very helpful to have somebody tell you when to do certain things, especially when trying new recipes.  So if you’re looking for a great cookbook to add to your collection, and one that will give you some great ideas for holiday menus, you might want to check this one out.

Their Holiday Shepherd’s Pie specified cornbread and pre-made mashed potatoes.  This adaptation used Thanksgiving leftovers.

3 Tbsp. butter
3 cups chopped onion, pepper, and celery (I had no pepper and used green onions)
2 cups leftover stuffing
3 cups chopped cooked turkey
1 cup gravy
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3 cups mashed potatoes (or whatever you have)
1 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce (or whatever you have)

1. Preheat oven to 375 deg.  Saute the chopped vegetables in the butter until soft (about 8 minutes).  In a large bowl, mix the vegetables, stuffing, turkey, gravy, salt and pepper.  Place in greased 11″ x 7″ dish.  Bake for 15-20 minutes until warm.
2. Warm mashed potatoes in microwave (or oven).  Spread cranberry sauce over warmed turkey.  Top with mashed potatoes.  Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes until hot.

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Post Thanksgiving Ruminations

My children have been permitted to use my computer this past week.  I gave up on even checking my email during the hours of 8 am to 8 pm.  They will be so sad to return to our normal “no TV or computers Monday-Friday” rule tomorrow. 

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I cleaned some of the garage yesterday and pulled the storage bin marked “Advent” out to an accessible location.  I was going to make this the first year EVER that I had the Advent wreath out and ready to go before the first Sunday of Advent.  As I lay in bed last night, I remembered, suddenly, that I did not get the wreath out after all.  I have high hopes that I won’t be scrambling at dinnertime tonight.  But instead of getting it now, I’m blogging. 

Priorities.

*******

Sometimes I can really step in it.  As we adults were going around the Thanksgiving dinner table remarking on things for which we were grateful, I happily noted the presence of my two sisters who were not with me last year, and mentioned the absence of my brother and his family, whom we miss. 

Then my sister pointed out that I failed to mention her husband who is deployed in a war zone right now.

“Uh, but you are one!” I exclaimed.  Lame.

Happy 13th anniversary today to her and her Bill.

*******

Note for next year: if we’re going to do them on the same day, best to do family pictures first and then go to confession.  I mean, it’s like vacuuming the van before going to the beach if you do them the other way. 

*******

Do you compare penances after going to confession?  Fritz, Billy and I got three Our Fathers.  Bill was supposed to say something nice about someone else (I hate those kind of penances…too abstract).  Katie got four Hail Marys, which I think is comparable to three Our Fathers.  Then Jenny said she got five Hail Marys.

“Holy smokes, girl, what did you do?” I asked her.

This is the same young priest we went to last month.  Last month, I walked into the confessional and all I saw were black high-top Converse sneakers.  I wasn’t surprised when I got a whole decade of the rosary to pray.  The younger they are, the longer the penance.  By the time they are a Monsignor, they tell you to think nice thoughts about people for a few minutes.

It’s amazing that this same guy, a month later, was only doling out three Our Fathers.  But this time, we were in line before he got there, so he saw the whole family.  Since the kids went before me, maybe he took their confessions into consideration when assigning me mine.

Of course, Bill was last, and he only had to say something nice about someone else.  What does that say about my confession?

*******

I have six baskets of laundry that need folding.  Ugh.  Unfortunately, at this point, I think that chore falls into the necessary category.

Mass with a Difficult Child

I knew it was going to be a bad evening as soon as I saw them.  The mom and her 3 ~ 4 year old came up the aisle.  She moved to the right, but he decided he wanted to go left.  They went left.

We’re in the parish hall, on folding chairs.  The small church is getting crowded, and the last remaining Mass there is the Saturday Vigil Mass.  Tonight and next weekend, it had been relocated to the parish hall as well – perhaps because of out-of-town holiday guests.

The mom and her son sat in the front row.  The procession started, and three altar servers (two were mine) and the priest came down the aisle and went up on the platform.  As the priest did the opening prayers, the little boy left his mother and crossed in front of the platform toward the right, teasing his mother: will you chase me, or won’t you?  How far can I go?  The mom stayed put, not wanting to make a scene, not wanting to interrupt the priest.  The priest finished the prayer and then said, “Aiden, go back to mommy.  Now!”

I died of embarrassment for her.

I’ve seen her before, at the daily Mass.  I had started to go on Fridays in the spring, and through the summer.  I wanted to keep it up, but haven’t been able to.  I think she has a younger child, and she likely attended Mass after dropping this one off at preschool.

Mom retrieved Aiden, and kept a firm grip on him for a bit.  But little children being little children, he was squirmy and heavy and restless and active.  She had her hands full.  At one point, he had to go to the bathroom.  The ladies’ room is on the right side.  That’s where I always sit, because I had to go there twice myself during Mass, with Mary.  Since she was on the left, and not wanting to cross during the readings, she went all the way down one side and up the other.  I’ve had to do that, too.  That’s why I always sit on the right.  After the potty break, they had to retrace their steps.

I watched her take him out the side door at least once.  My heart ached.  I’ve been right there, too many times.  Mary was some trouble tonight during Mass – the biggest problem was that she desperately wanted to fall asleep, and that just doesn’t work for us later on in the night.  She did some dancing in the side aisle, too.  And climbing on the folding chairs, and bumping the lady in front of us.  But it’s so different now.  Now, I have perspective.  Now, I have two (mostly) well behaved boys on the altar serving Mass.  Now I have two (mostly) well behaved girls sitting nicely in the pews (folding chairs).  Now I have a 6 year old, who sometimes can be difficult, but who is still 6, and not 3.

Nothing compares to a three year old boy.  Nothing.

The last straw was when I heard the flapping of little feet running up the right side aisle.  I should have known it was him, but I was actually more focused on praying right then.  Had I been paying attention (to what I should not have been paying attention to), I could have looked back, seen him far outpacing his mother and stopped him when he got to me.  Instead, he streaked past me, rounded the corner and crossed in front of the altar, just as the priest said, “… fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.” 

NOBODY did the response.  We were all so distracted by this little boy, who kept on running over to the left aisle and down, where a woman did stop him and engage him until his mother could get to him.  And she did exactly what most mothers would do at that point: she quit.  She scooped him up, got her purse and left. 

I almost chased after her.  Had I been on the left side for once.  Had I not had Mary and Peter to worry about.  I prayed so hard that she had only retreated, that she had gone to the back and that I would see her again during communion.  That I could give her a hug after Mass and tell her it was going to be OK, that she’s a good mom, that he will mature, eventually.

But she was gone.

And so I tell you, whoever is reading this and needs to hear it.  Don’t quit.  Retreat, yes.  Surrender, never.

I have spent countless hours in the backs of churches, in vestibules and hallways, even outside if the child was really noisy.  I have endured thousands of unkind looks, thoughtless words, and unhelpful suggestions.  I have had to leave Mass before it was even begun, and spend the entire time straining to hear what was gong on in an attempt to participate.  It is so easy to convince yourself that’s it’s not worth it.  What’s the point of going?  I heard nothing, you think.  My only prayer was that God would prevent me from murdering my child.  I committed all sorts of sins against charity while dealing with this tyrant.  Better to just go home and go to bed.

But God doesn’t expect miracles.  We are required to attend Mass and to participate to the best of our ability.  God knows what we can and cannot do.  God wants us to offer Him our obedience.  No prayer of ours, no matter how devoutly said, can equal an act of obedience, especially when that obedience requires supreme fortitude.

Don’t get me wrong.  The goal is to participate fully in the Mass.  The goal is to not be distracted by the antics of your little guy – or anyone else’s for that matter.  The goal is to have antic-free children.  We call them mature adults.  And don’t think I look down on families who choose to leave little ones in the nursery or at home instead of suffering through Mass.  I’m not demanding all mothers be super-heroic every Sunday.  But no matter what arrangements you have, at some point, you will be stuck with a difficult child during Mass.  And what will you do then?

I remember those days, sitting on the cold, hard floor of a vestibule, unable to hear what was going on, lamenting my situation, wanting just to leave, thinking it was not worth anything for me to be sitting there, pinning down my naughty little tot, getting angrier by the minute.  And there was one thought I clung to: I will not let this child deprive me of the Eucharist!  I needed those graces, more than anyone else in that church, I promise you.  And so I stayed.  I hunkered down, I waited for the communion hymn, I stole peeks through the door to see when the line was winding down, and I made my (often) grand entrance, rushing quickly down the aisle before my kid could even realize what was going on and start screaming about it.

Don’t give up.  It does get easier, generally by the time they’re 10.  God wants you, as you are.  Go to Him.  Receive the Eucharist.

And realize that there are probably many mothers right there who feel your pain and wish they could take it away, even just for that once.

Running for Pizza

Because we are middle-aged (and it’s so much fun), Bill has found that he needs to count his daily fiber consumption.  He was going to do it by hand, but I already had a program – Lose It! – on my iTouch, which is for counting calories, but also happens to do nutritional information like fiber.  Much easier than keeping a paper trail.

So I set it up for him, putting in his gender and age and current weight.  I asked him his goal weight, and he gave me a number about 10 pounds less than his current weight.  I told the program that he would like to lose 1 pound per week, a very modest goal.  The program set his daily caloric intake at around 1000 calories a day.  Bill argued that this was way too low for an adult male.  I pointed out that he was the one who told me a goal weight less than his current weight, and if he didn’t want to count calories to just ignore that part.

Of course, it’s hard to ignore the bar graph that shows your excess calories in bright red every day for the week.  And it’s hard to look at what the program is telling you is the calorie count for a slice of pizza, especially when you ate 3 for dinner.  This is why counting calories is such a great method of weight control/loss.  When those numbers add up, you feel guilty, and you make different choices.

I’d like to point out that the app has been unused for months – not because I think my weight is fabulous, but because I hated being reminded of how many calories I had eaten.  Best to ignore it…ignorance is bliss…I like bliss.

The other night, Bill was entering his meals for the day as we lay in bed.  He showed me how poorly he was keeping to the 1000 calories, especially that day with pizza, and I pointed out that the program gives you more calories when you exercise…had he done anything that day?  No.  His job is sedentary, and he had not made the time to do anything else.

“We could have sex tonight…” he suggested.  Foreplay for the middle-aged.

“Does it give calories burned in ten minute increments?”

Laughter is also good exercise.

He checked the program and found sexual activity.  “Sorry.  It only does 30 minutes increments.”

“How many calories?”

“Eleven.” 

“That’s it?”  

“Wait.  You can change it to ‘vigorous sexual activity’.  That’s nineteen.”

“I think I’d rather go to sleep.  Hardly seems worth it.” I teased, but it was after 10 pm.

“Vacuuming is 95 calories for a half hour,”  he mentioned, flipping through the list.

“Vacuuming burns more calories than sex?  Hmm.”  Housework was suddenly very appealing, but not as appealing as sleep.

“Sleep is not listed,” my husband pointed out.  Oh, well.  The mattress was too comfortable and the hour too late to care.  “Can you get me up in the morning when you go running?”

Yes.  That I would do.  Just so his bar graph would look nicer.

Boy Scout Laundry

a poem not written by Lewis Carroll

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the laundry pile, my son!
The crusted shirts, the smells that haunt!
Beware the backpack filled with clothes
From last week’s camping jaunt!”
He put the rubber gloves on hands,
Long time a fail-proof plan he sought –
So rested he by the Soap-Soap machine,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
He high upon the shelf did spy,
An answer to his mournful prayer:
An air mask there did lie.
Lickety-split he climbed, the boon to fetch.
He donned the mask deliberately.
Then set he to the task at hand,
And cleaned triumphantly.
“And hast thou done the wash, my son?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day!  Callooh! Callay!”
She chortled in her joy.
‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
a stuff and nonsense poem, especially the part about my son doing laundry

Slim Pickings

Bill overheard a conversation between Katie and a non-homeschooled friend.

“Who is the cutest boy in your class?” the friend asked.

Now, I was born boy-crazy (I think my first “marriage” was when I was 5 or 6 to a boy named Scotty, and my handwriting notebook was covered with the names of two boys, Patrick and Joseph, whom I adored in 2nd and 3rd grade), so this aspect of the conversation doesn’t bother me.  It does, however, make me thankful that I, as a parent, have been mainly spared, so far, all this love/crush-drama.  We don’t have cute or not-so-cute boys to distract from our studies, just the constant din of an active household, which is quite bad enough.

I did, later and without referencing Katie’s overheard conversation, ask Katie if her friend knew she was homeschooled…I mean, really knew what that meant.  She knows, but I think she doesn’t really know.  Sometimes it’s hard to visualize a completely foreign lifestyle.

Bill lingered to hear how Katie would respond.  Would it be Fritz, the oldest whose jaw is starting to pop out in a masculine way?  Would it be Peter, the imp, who has a mischievous spark in his eye and cheeks that you just want to squeeze?  Surely it wouldn’t be Billy, who is so close in age that they tend to be rivals more than friends.

After some pondering, Katie answered, “Well, my dad, I guess.”

Good girl!  Good answer!  All is right with the world if Daddy is the cutest “boy” in your life.

And I’m partial to him myself.

Mind-Reading and Other Parental Tricks

Bill doesn’t usually make it home in time for dinner, but he did last night.  It was the typical chaos along the lengths of each side of the table, with he and I at the ends, sitting and just looking at each other.

“Why are you staring at each other?” asked one child, momentarily distracted from the banter.

“Your dad and I can talk, just by looking at each other,” I explained.  “See, I’ll show you.  Bill: I’m thinking of a number between 1 and 100.  What is it?”

Bill pressed his hands to his head, closed his eyes and said, “Sixty-two.”

“YES!” I said.  The kids were impressed.  “Now you try it.”

“I’m thinking of an animal,” he said.

I thought for a moment, melding our minds.  “A giraffe!”

“YES!” he agreed.  And we laughed.

Oh, but one clever child is now old and wise.  “What number am I thinking of?” he demanded of his younger brother.

Billy guessed, “Twenty-five?”

“YES!” he responded.  “AMAZING!”  And he laughed, too.

“One is too smart for us,” I told my husband.

“Yes,” he agreed.  “But just one.”