Friday, February 28, 2014

Seven in Seven 5: Lent

Ash Wednesday is coming up fast, and I have to confess something. The internet has introduced me to a bunch of people who use each Lent to grow as Catholics, but I fear I am not one of those people. I try. I do, I try. But the truth is I hate Lent. I don’t LIKE to make sacrifices and think about my sins. And as for fasting… well let me say that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the only two days when I miss being pregnant, because pregnant women aren’t supposed to fast.  

A few years ago I tried to come up with something more creative to give up for Lent than the usual chocolate or cookies, something that would help me get closer to God. I’ve had years and years of practice in giving up sweets and I honestly don’t think I get that much out of it anymore. My first idea was to give up all fiction with the idea that I’d read spiritual books instead. And I did not read a scrap of fiction for those six weeks! However, I mostly used my fiction-reading time to watch more TV. Not exactly in the spirit of things. Last year I theoretically gave up checking Twitter in the evenings. I think I may have stuck to that, but I also may have been a bit fluid on my definition of “evening.”

But what can I do but continue to try? This year, I am going to do the fiction/spiritual reading thing again. I think the key to success on this front is to find spiritual books that aren’t too terribly dense, or I may find myself once again surfing the internet and watching TV instead of reading. I already bought The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning on the recommendation of Miriel and Susie, The Shadow of his Wings on the recommendation of Jennifer at Conversion Diary, and I plan to buy Jennifer’s own book as well. If you have anything to suggest, I would love to hear it. I have read appallingly few books of this type, so suggest anything, even if you think it’s something I must have read by now.

What are your Lenten plans? Do you give things up? Does doing so help you grow in your faith? 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Seven in Seven 4: Today

Lauren posted her day 4 post on Twitter. I read it as I held Nora’s hand while she went to sleep and was reminded that I am also participating in the “Seven post in seven days” (hosted by Jennifer at Conversion Diary), and I may have cursed internally a little bit. But blog posting is like exercise: I’m always glad I’ve done it even if I’d really rather be watching Veronica Mars while in the middle of it.

Today you get to hear about my day, because I don’t really know what else to talk about and when you give yourself arbitrary deadlines you are choosing quantity over quality. In contrast, Snoozical chose quality with her last post, and even if it did mean she quit “Seven in seven,” it was absolutely worth it and you should go read it.  

Meanwhile, my day started at 2am when Ann Marie woke up and threw up in her bed. Is there anything more pathetic than a barfing toddler? She had no idea what was happening of course and everything was just terrible. On the bright side, the mess was all contained in the crib so it was a relatively easy clean up. I should say it was relatively easy for Andrew to clean up because he was the one stuck with ferrying gross sheets and blankets upstairs to the wash while I cradled Ann Marie in the bathroom and tried to comfort her.
She and I stayed in the bathroom for a while and then she slept with me in my bed while I dozed fitfully, bolting upright every hour or so to hold her head over the bucket. Meanwhile, my sainted husband made trips back and forth to the bathroom to clean out the bucket and then slept in the chair in the girls’ room because Nora was freaking out.

All this meant that I had to call in sick to work today. Given that today was my day to work for an hourly rate, something I only do every other Thursday, this was irritating because it means I lose out on the pay for today. On the other hand, it was a blessing to have Andrew home so there were two of us to deal with the terribleness that is a sick toddler. And in fact, Andrew got up and started to get Jack ready for school while Ann Marie and I stayed in bed for an extra half hour. Then Andrew took Nora – whom we kept home from school because she was up for about two hours due to all the commotion – and ran a bunch of errands while I held Ann Marie on the couch and we both took a nap. So I’m pretty glad I stayed home.

In all, it was really not that bad of a day. Ann Marie threw up for the last time at 9:30 or so and was begging for cheese sticks by noon. (Almost as pathetic as an actively vomiting toddler is a recently-vomiting toddler who is now hungry and can’t understand why you won’t feed her.) The entire household was in bed by 9pm and it is now 9:23 and I’m the only one awake, so we’re OK. All that’s left now is the ticking time bomb feeling that one of us is about to be felled. We’ve laid towels out on the rugs by Nora’s bed and talked to her about aiming for the bowl, but who knows.

I thought I’d have something else to say here, but it looks like you’re stuck with this. But that’s what you get for choosing quantity over quality. You get this. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Seven in Seven 3: The mystery blogger

When I said I’d post every day this week, I didn’t realize it meant EVERY day. So this is going to be a bit of a free writing exercise because I’m drawing a blank here.

My sister made her new year resolution to save money on groceries by making stuff from scratch and by wasting as little food as possible. These are both subjects I find very interesting, so my sister calls me frequently to discuss Magic Bread and food-saving practices like keeping all of your vegetable peelings and tops in a Ziploc bag in the freezer instead of throwing them out and then using them to make broth later. And then, if you’re me, freezing the broth in a new Ziploc bag and then putting THAT bag in the freezer in your basement for the rest of time.

Our bread discussions usually segue into other things, and the other day we got to talking about my internet friends. I think I told her about my plans to attend the Edel Gathering this summer with Maggie, Arwen, and Lauren, and she started asking me about one of my blog friends who I told her about years ago. I told her she should be reading this blog, but it turns out she already was reading it, or at least she was at the time. She had since stopped following very many blogs, but this one stuck in her memory except that she couldn’t remember the name. “The blogger was so great,” she told me. “It’s like… she was who I want to be when I grow up!” but the blogger’s name remained elusive. “It starts with an ‘S’,” she said.

Swistle?” I offered. But that wasn’t it, and I was at a loss, because I couldn’t think of any other blogger that I’ve been reading for years whose name starts with an S.

“What I liked about this blogger was how she just does her own thing and doesn’t make a big deal about it,” my sister said. “She just seems to be saying, ‘This is how I do it, and you can do it this way too, if you want, but you can also do your own thing and that’s fine too,’ instead of making it her crusade to convert everyone to homemade organic bread or something. You’ve been reading her forever and you’ve met and you’re friends now. But what was her name? S-… S- something… it started with an ‘S’.”

“Uh… Maggie?” I offered, drawing a complete blank on all “S” bloggers.

“There’s a least an ‘S’ in it, Maureen,” said my sister, with great indignation. But I had nothing to offer her. We talked about blogs and the internet for a few more minutes and then, figuring I’d give it a shot, I said, “Is it Arwen?”

It was Arwen. Or “S’Arwen,” as we sometimes call her. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Seven in Seven 2: Cheesecake

A couple of years ago I bought a Better Homes & Gardens special interest magazine about holiday baking, primarily because the cover claimed to have a spread on cheesecakes. $5.99 well spent, my friends. After trying out several recipes, I adapted one of their recipes and created this one, which I shall now share with you, you lucky people.

Dr. Maureen’s Chocolate Raspberry Kahlua Cheesecake
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Holiday Baking, 2004, Chocolate Irish-Cream Cheesecake

Active time: 45 min Baking time: 1 hr Total time: 7-24 hr Oven: 325F

The original recipe called for 24 oz of cream cheese, 8 oz of sour cream, 1 cup of sugar, 8 oz of chocolate, and 3 eggs, but I thought the cheesecake was too tall, so I reduced everything by 1/3. The original recipe also used ½ cup Irish cream instead of Kahlua, but ½ cup was just a bit too much.
To soften the cream cheese, I microwave it for about 30 seconds. In my experience it makes a smoother cheesecake. I also microwave the jelly just to warm it up enough to get it to the right viscosity for swirling; that is your preference.


1.5 cups crushed chocolate wafer cookies, about 18 cookies
6 Tbsp melted butter
1 tsp cinnamon

2 8oz packages of cream cheese, softened (see note)
6 oz sour cream
2/3 cup sugar
6 oz semisweet chocolate melted and cooled
2 eggs
1/3 c Kahlua
½ Tbsp whipping cream or milk
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup seedless raspberry jelly, warmed (see note)

  1. Preheat oven to 325F.
  2. Crust: Combine crushed cookies, butter, and cinnamon in a bowl. Toss to mix then press gently into a 9- or 10- inch springform pan. You can use a cup with a crisp edge to get the crust to press into the edges of the pan.
  3. Filling: Combine the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, and melted chocolate. Beat with an electric mixer on medium to high speed until smooth. Gently stir in eggs until just combined – overbeating here will introduce air which will lead to cracks in the finished cake. If you ever get a cheesecake that doesn’t crack, let me know. I never have. Stir in Kahlua, cream or milk, and vanilla.
  4. Pour filling into pan. Swirl the raspberry jelly into the filling. Put the pan on a cookie sheet in case it leaks and bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center appears nearly set when gently shaken.
  5. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then loosen the crust from the side of the pan. Cool 30 minutes more and remove the sides of the pan. Cool for one hour, then cover and chill for 6-24 hours.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Seven Posts in Seven Days 1: Ann Marie update

This is a post for me and for Ann Marie’s early intervention therapist, Miss Nancy. Ann Marie was enrolled in EI last January after I took her for her 12-month well visit in December and her doctor said, “What do you mean she can’t get herself into a seated position? And she has no words at all, you say? Hmmm.”

Honestly, I blame her motor skills delay on her parents’ forgetting how old she was. “She’s the BABY. Tiny babies cannot sit up! It’s perfectly normal! She’s only a few months old!” we thought, subconsciously. Also responsible: She is the THIRD baby. She does not get quite as much laser-focused attention as, I don’t know, her eldest brother did. Her brother and sister are sort of demanding, as it happens. This is real life. 

At any rate, she scored one point over the qualifying score for motor skills (she could not crawl or get into a seated position or roll over or pull to stand, but her fine motor skills brought her score up) and two points over qualifying for her communication skills. In other words, she did not qualify, but only by a hair. In such cases, children can be enrolled based on clinical recommendation, and that is what we did. Frankly, I was not concerned about her motor skills because she had improved substantially between her well visit and her EI qualifying interview, mostly because Andrew became aware that she was not, in fact, a four-month-old, and we made her try things. But I was a bit concerned about her learning to talk because she communicated non-verbally to great effect, so I was afraid that I would not know how to get her to use actual words.
Thus it was that Miss Nancy started coming to our house every Tuesday afternoon for an hour to play with Ann Marie. And Ann Marie was Miss Nancy’s favorite client, if you don’t mind my totally unbiased opinion. And, OK, I’m sure Miss Nancy worked with plenty of adorable kids, but seeing as how she worked primarily with children with severe developmental delays, I do think a pleasant hour playing with a cheerful baby who had a slight speech delay was a nice little break for her.

It probably helped that my other two children were always under some sort of magical spell when Miss Nancy came, and always acted like angel children from another dimension for that hour. Honest to goodness, Nora once spent the entire time playing with some dolls, singing a little song quietly to herself. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought it was staged. The storybook magic always ended when Miss Nancy left at 4:00 and the children immediately began begging for a show, but it was always nice – if surreal – while it lasted.

Once Ann Marie started walking, we noticed a problem with her feet. They curved in. The orthopedist diagnosed her with metatarsus adductus, which is Latin for “curved in feet,” and prescribed special shoes for the day and boots and a brace to sleep in. I was told to expect that she would need to wear the brace for three years, and we scheduled a follow-up visit for that November, six months away. Well, her feet were noticeably better within two weeks. I know it was two weeks, because we got the brace right away but had to go back for the special shoes, and they were better by then. And by the time Ann Marie had her six-month evaluation for EI, her feet looked totally normal. The physical therapist who had come for a sort of foot consult before I took her to the orthopedist came back for the six-month eval, and she was astonished at the improvement.

But what is the six-month evaluation? In Massachusetts, if you qualify for EI, you get it for a year, with an evaluation midway through to check on the progress. But if you qualify for EI based on clinical recommendation, the six-month eval is a qualifying evaluation, and Ann Marie did not qualify. Not even close. In January, her almost-qualifying scores were 76 and 78. (You need 75 to qualify.) In June, her scores were 105 and 97. So the EI worked, apparently.

You know what else worked? Her shoes. I took her back to the orthopedist in October instead of waiting until November because she had outgrown her special shoes, and the orthopedist declared her cured. Cured! She didn’t have to wear special shoes or a nighttime brace anymore! I’m still pretty amazed by that. Six months is a lot less than three years. So, Miss Nancy, she hasn’t had orthopedic shoes since October!

She also talks a blue streak now, Miss Nancy. I’d list her words, but her vocabulary is too vast. This morning Nora was making her way to the car taking her to school, and Ann Marie called out, “Carefully, Nora!” correct syntax and all. Then while we came upstairs she said, “Can I watcha show? How ‘bout... Mickey Mouse! How ‘bout... Dora! How ‘bout… Phinny Ferb?” (That last one is Phineas and Ferb, and the answer is always no.) Yesterday Andrew asked Nora to get him a napkin and Ann Marie came running. “I do it! I DO IT!” and did it. When she wanted to stir my coffee for me I sent her over to stir Andrew’s instead. Jack said that he didn’t think Andrew wanted her to, and she said “I GOING to!”  She can count to twenty sort of, and she can count to eleven pretty consistently. She can identify “G” and “O” and knows what sound “H” makes. For the counting and letters I concede all credit to her Leapfrog Leaptop.

And she takes the stairs like a big kid. No more creeping. Sometimes she even alternates her feet while she climbs, although she has to be holding someone’s hand to do that. She can jump, too. Real jumps, both feet off the ground. She runs and climbs. She can get in and out of her crib and can even get out of her crib and make her way upstairs, all by herself. 

She is an utterly charming delight to be around. She has her moments of course, and we’re no strangers to tantrums about wanting or not wanting to wear her “cozy shirt” or some other nonsensical two-year-old problem, but she sure is fun.

And Miss Nancy, if you ever want to stop by for a visit, you are always welcome.