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When I was researching ideas for observing Lent, I came across a website that promoted preparing and eating simple meals (e.g. soups) as a spiritual experience.  I had never considered cooking as a spiritual experience, but I had had a spiritual eating experience, so the idea resonated with me.

I like Ethiopian food.  Don and the boys don’t care for it, but occasionally, I could convince Don to go to an Ethiopian restaurant where we used to live (I chose to eat there to celebrate the day I became a Canadian citizen).  I also went there to eat with Simon when Don and Peter were gone to Scout camp.  I always got a combination plate so I could have some of everything–how could I choose just one thing to eat?  The leftovers were always mine; no one else wanted them.

One time in particular, eating leftover Ethiopian food became a spiritual experience for me.  As I scraped the food from the styrofoam container onto a plate, I thought of how many Ethiopian people were hungry at that very moment and I made sure not to leave a morsel.  The combination of leftover food had more of the foods that weren’t my favorites (because I had eaten more of my favorite foods in the first place), but it wouldn’t do to be picky when people in this world were starving.  I warmed up the plate in the microwave and sat to eat, carefully tearing the injera (spongy sour flatbread) and using the pieces to pick up the soft vegetable stews and remaining pieces of meat.  I ate every last bite of food, feeling myself in solidarity with the poor as I ate.

Peter is on spring break from school this upcoming week.  Don wanted to go on a trip for spring break, but I didn’t want to go.  Clara still naps 2-3 times a day and doesn’t nap well away from home; taking her on vacation would just be stressful.  So Don decided to take the boys to the Twin Cities for a 4-day weekend (Saturday through Tuesday) to do some big-city things while I stay home with Clara and enjoy having free time to do my own thing when she sleeps.  It’s a win-win situation.  I decided that I would eat vegan while they were gone, as a Lenten exercise in intentional simplicity.

I have been re-reading Melissa Fay Greene’s powerful book There is No Me Without You (I originally read it around 2008 or 2009).  This incredibly moving book goes back and forth between telling the story of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia and the story of one remarkable individual’s response to the resulting orphan crisis.  With Ethiopia on my mind, I wanted to eat vegetarian Ethiopian food.  There is no Ethiopian restaurant anywhere near where I live, so I decided to attempt to cook some myself.

Today, during Clara’s morning nap,  I made misir wot, red lentil and carrot stew.  It was a wonderful spiritual experience.  As I chopped carrots and onions, measured and rinsed lentils, inhaled the exotic spicy scent of berbere (which required me to add two new spices to my already-well-stocked spice cabinet), and stirred the stew, my thoughts drifted to Haregewoin Teferra, the orphaned and abandoned children she cared for, their parents and other family members, people who are hungry, children who have been adopted, and children who are now waiting for families, and I prayed for them.

misir wot

Whether it turned out well or not, I would have eaten the misir wot.  I was cooking and eating in solidarity with the poor, and the poor don’t have the luxury of turning up their noses at food that isn’t exactly to their taste.  (I remembered the Bongú can–like a coffee can–in the refrigerator of the volunteer house where I stayed in Haiti, in which we put our leftovers, piled in an unappetizing mélange, for a local family to eat later.)  However, the misir wot turned out to be amazingly good.  Clara and I savored it for lunch (at least, I savored it and she ate it without complaint) and I am eagerly anticipating eating the leftovers.  My first foray into Ethiopian cooking was an unqualified success.

I didn’t attempt to make injera because it looked intimidating, but the misir wot was wonderful to eat all by itself.  If my future attempts at Ethiopian cooking turn out as well as this one, I might spend the money on a griddle and try to make injera too.

Observing Lent

Ever since Epiphany, I’ve been looking forward to observing Lent.  Not that Lent is exactly fun (it’s not supposed to be), but I got a lot out of observing Advent and the Christmas season, so I was looking forward to getting more out of Lent this year.

I have observed Lent in the past, to varying degrees, but this year I stepped it up a notch.  I’m doing more personally for Lent and I’ve made a point to bring Lent into our family life, which I haven’t done before.

Here are the things we’re doing for Lent this year.  It looks like a lot, but most of them don’t take much effort.

  • Before Lent started, we celebrated Mardi Gras.  We have made pancakes for dinner in previous years, but we skipped them this year (we had just had them for breakfast two days before).  Simon and I had Burger King for lunch–a rare treat.  Our totally junky dinner included paczki, root beer, and dirt cake/chocolate pudding cups.
  • I made an Alleluia banner that I put up on Mardi Gras and then we put away for Lent, to return on Easter.  This is a concrete way of showing that we don’t say “Alleluia” during Lent.
Alleluia banner

My rainbow Alleluia banner

  • Simon, Clara, and I went to Mass on Ash Wednesday and received the imposition of ashes.  (Peter and Don were out of town because Peter was having oral surgery first thing in the morning on Thursday.)
  • I put a purple cloth on the side table in our dining room (the one where we had our Advent wreath)–purple being the liturgical color for Lent.
  • The boys are using Lenten countdown calendars, putting a sticker on each day to keep track of where we are in the Lenten season.  I printed an English calendar for Simon and a French one for Peter.
  • We are saying the traditional Catholic table grace at dinner (“Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts…”).  This is different from what we usually do; most of the time, we each thank God for three things, which I started as a way to get us to reflect on what we are grateful for instead of just reciting a prayer from memory.
  • The boys are watching the Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure videos.  We are listening to some of the audio selections and doing the online quizzes.  We’re skipping the printables, with the exception of the Mass quizzes, which are useful in helping Peter pay attention.
  • We are observing meatless Fridays.  So far, we’ve had spaghetti and lasagna for dinner on Fridays (and mac & cheese for Simon and a bean burrito for me on Ash Wednesday).  The Lenten countdown calendar has little fish on the Fridays, and Simon has gotten into the idea of eating fish on Fridays during Lent–he insisted on having fish sticks for breakfast this past Friday.
  • The boys and I have been going to Saturday evening Mass, followed by a soup and bread meal.  (We usually go on Sunday mornings, but the Saturday soup/bread is a Lenten thing at our parish.)
  • As a family, we have given up playing on the Wii for Lent.
  • After seeing the Holy Heroes video about using a bean jar for sacrifices, Simon wanted to do it, so I set one up on the side table with the purple cloth.  There’s a bowl of dried beans, and when the boys do little sacrifices (like entertaining Clara or cleaning up without complaining), they drop a bean into the Mason jar.  On Easter, the dried beans will be exchanged for jelly beans.  At first, I didn’t like the idea of rewarding good behavior with the promise of candy (extrinsic motivation has its pitfalls), but then I thought that the delayed gratification and the concreteness of seeing the sacrifices add up would be good for kids.  In any case, I don’t think it will do them irreparable harm, and Simon likes putting beans in the jar.
Lenten table

Our side table with the purple cloth, bean jar, and Lenten countdown calendars (and a poinsettia)

  • I signed up to get daily Lenten e-mails from Flocknote.  I already get their Catechism in a Year and Popes in a Year e-mails (the Popes in a Year is much more entertaining than you might think).  These e-mails are short, but I have learned things from them.
  • For my own personal observance of Lent, I chose three things:  I’ve given up Facebook, I’m limiting myself to eating one sweet thing per day, and I am reading the Bible daily.  (I started a one-year Bible reading plan–not the whole Bible, but selected verses and stories–almost two years ago.  I will read every day for weeks, and then fall off the bandwagon and not touch it for a couple months.  When Lent started, I had 12 weeks left.)
  • I plan to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and Holy Week services, when the time comes.

We are a quarter of the way through Lent.  It’s going well; I don’t feel that I was overly ambitious in my plans.  I must say that sacrificing during Lent is much more tolerable now that I understand that we can take Sundays off.  It’s a lot easier to face six days of sacrificing than six consecutive weeks.  I’m not sure that I could have survived the displeasure of my kids (and husband) if they didn’t get to binge on playing the Wii on Sundays, and I appreciate being able to catch up with my friends’ and family’s kid pictures, puppy pictures, and general news on Facebook once a week.

Here is a list of the books that have been most influential or useful in my parenting journey.  Some are popular books, others are not exactly mainstream.  They don’t cover everything you need to know, but they will get you thinking about a lot of things and give you lots of useful information.  I put them roughly in order by the age of the child they would influence your parenting of (in other words, stuff that helps you with a newborn is near the top of the list and stuff for older kids is near the end).

  • The Lull-A-Baby Sleep Plan: The soothing, superfast way to help your new baby sleep through the night…and prevent sleep problems before they develop by Cathryn Tobin
  • The Sleep Lady’s Good Night, Sleep Tight: Gentle proven solutions to help your child sleep well and wake up happy by Kim West
  • Infant Potty Training: A gentle and primeval method adapted to modern living by Laurie Boucke
  • Our Babies, Ourselves: How biology and culture shape the way we parent by Meredith F. Small
  • Baby-led Weaning: The essential guide to introducing solid foods and helping your baby to grow up a happy and confident eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
  • Growing a Reader from Birth: Your child’s path from language to literacy by Diane McGuinness
  • BabyTalk: Strengthen your child’s ability to listen, understand, and communicate by Sally Ward
  • Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding kids right by Joel Fuhrman
  • No-Drama Discipline: The whole-brain way to calm the chaos and nurture your child’s developing mind by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
  • Unconditional Parenting: Moving from rewards and punishments to love and reason by Alfie Kohn
  • Raising a Thinking Child: Help your young child resolve everyday conflicts and get along with others by Myrna Shure and Theresa Foy DiGeronimo
  • Why Our Children Can’t Read And What We Can Do About It: A scientific revolution in reading by Diane McGuinness
  • The Connected Child: Bring hope and healing to your adoptive family by Karyn B. Purvis and David R. Cross
  • Hold On to Your Kids: Why parents need to matter more than peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate

Please leave me a comment and let me know what books you have found most influential in parenting!

Cleaning out my closet

While my normal clothes are much better than my maternity clothes, my wardrobe still leaves much to be desired.  I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes so I only do it when I really need to, and it’s been too long.  I don’t have a single decent-looking pair of pants that fits; I just wore a hole through the knee of my last respectable pair of blue jeans and I’ve been wearing a pair of maternity pants to church as all my dress pants are too tight.  I mostly wear t-shirts, although I have a couple polo shirts.  I own more sweatshirts than sweaters.  I do have some nice dressier shirts, but now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I only wear them to church.  And I won’t even talk about undergarments.

In January, I came across the concept of a capsule wardrobe in a couple different places.  The idea resonated with me as very practical; have a small number of clothes that you like and that go together and just wear them.  I already wear a pretty small subset of the clothes I own, so the idea of having a limited number of clothes doesn’t faze me. It just would require an investment of time and energy to figure out what those clothes should be, and some money to buy them.  Several different websites I looked at said that the first step in creating a capsule wardrobe was to clean out the clothes you already have.  That made sense.

While I don’t add clothes to my wardrobe often, the ones that make it in usually stay until they are worn out.  That means that older clothes that are still in decent condition but don’t fit or I don’t like anymore just take up space in my dresser or my closet and never get worn.  I had clothes from before Peter was born (he just turned twelve) and even several things from when I was in high school (I don’t know that I want to admit how long ago that was).  My closet was crowded, but most of the items towards the back hadn’t been worn in years.  I kept buying more hangers instead of getting rid of clothes I never wore.  So I decided it was time to clean out my wardrobe.

First I did my dresser, one drawer at a time, and then my closet, 10 hangers worth of clothes at a time.  I emptied everything onto my bed, then sorted it and put back what remained.  Different websites I had consulted gave different pieces of advice for sorting.  I basically made piles of clothes to throw away, clothes to donate, things that belonged elsewhere in the house, clothes I loved (this was a major sorting criteria on the sites I looked at, but I knew before I started that it would be a pretty small pile, so I tried not to dwell on it), and clothes that I didn’t love but I would keep for now.

I ended up with seven bags of clothes to donate, along with a reasonable pile of clothes to discard.  In all honesty, I probably should have gotten rid of more, as I did keep several items that I rarely or never wear.  Perhaps next year, I can go through my clothes again, and if I have acquired a few more items that work in my wardrobe, I will be more comfortable letting go of the ones I kept that I probably shouldn’t have.

It’s been valuable clearing out the junk.  I found some clothes that had gotten buried that I’ve started wearing again (like the yoga pants I bought several years ago when I took a Bollywood dance class–yes, that actually happened).  It’s nice to have more space in my dresser and my closet, so I can see more easily what I have, and I don’t have to dig through things that I won’t wear.  I also took the opportunity to reflect on what clothes I really like and why, to try to get a better idea of my style.

As for actually creating the capsule wardrobe, I haven’t taken the plunge yet.  I have excuses–I’m busy doing other things, there are limited options for clothes shopping where I live and internet shopping for clothes can be hit-or-miss, I’m still breastfeeding and regularly subject to being spit up on and drooled on, so that impacts the kinds of clothes that are practical for me to wear.  But I do like the idea and I’m trying to talk myself into spending the time to do it.  I’ve cleared out some junk and that’s progress, but I still need to add things to my wardrobe, and it would be good to do it intentionally.  I will report back on how it goes.  (Eventually.  I’m not the most punctual blogger.)

Twelve and five

We celebrated both boys’ birthdays earlier this month; Peter is now twelve years old and Simon is five.  (In less than a year, I’ll be the mother of a teenager.  How can that be?)

Peter’s birthday was a school day.  I put up streamers and balloons after he went to bed the night before, to surprise him in the morning.  He chose tourtière (French Canadian meat pie) for his birthday dinner, and he picked chocolate pie and mint chocolate chip ice cream for dessert.  His big present was a used saxophone.  He started band this year and we rented an instrument for him to start with; now that he likes band and is committed to playing saxophone, we bought him one his own.  As a birthday treat, he invited two of his friends to go to an orchestra pops concert last Saturday.  The concert featured movie and video game music, including music from Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Mario Brothers.  I can’t think of a more appealing concert for middle-school-aged boys.  They had a great time.

On Simon’s birthday, Peter had a dentist appointment in the morning.  It was also an early release day, so I decided to let him play hooky after he went to the dentist so he could celebrate Simon’s birthday with us.  We went ice skating (well, the boys skated, and I held Clara and watched them).  Then I dropped Peter off at the library while I took Simon on a mini shopping spree at Wal-Mart.  I gave him a budget and let him pick out what he wanted.  We brought an abacus to keep track of how much everything he chose cost.  It was a good experience for him to learn that some things that he wanted were too much money for his budget and that others he could afford, but only if he put something else back.  He ended up with a remote control skateboarding ninja turtle (which was on clearance, or else he couldn’t have afforded it), some Nerf darts for our Nerf dart guns, and some mini M&M’s.  He chose chicken and dumplings for his birthday dinner, and he picked Rice Krispies treats (with an orange sparkly candle shaped like the number 5) and mini birthday ice cream cones for dessert.

 

Six months

Clara has made it through her first half year of life!  Six months is a big milestone.  I pulled out the high chair and bibs and now she gets to sit at the table and “eat” (play with) solid food with us–so far, the biggest hit has been pineapple.  She also got “big girl” pacifiers, moving from the 0-6 month size to the 6-18 month size.  I’m excited about the new pacifiers, because she has ones with handles/knobs that glow in the dark, making them easier to find in the middle of the night.  I don’t know if glow-in-the-dark pacifiers didn’t exist before or if I just never saw them, but I thought they were a brilliant idea when I came across them a couple months ago.

clara-6-months-small

The first three weeks of 2017 have gone well.  I worked hard to clean up the “green room,” which is sort of a second living room in our house.  Our intention was that it would be a play/reading/study room for the boys after we moved here, but it has been a disaster area for most of the time we’ve lived here.  Toys and books were strewn everywhere, making it difficult to even walk across the room.  It has been cleaned several times, but the cleanliness has been short-lived.  Usually, after all the effort I put into organizing everything, putting all the parts to the toys and games back together, and finding space on the floor to play, the boys have been so excited to have the toys and space back to a usable state that they promptly pulled everything out to play with and then left it in a mess.  Meanwhile, after seeing all my efforts nullified so quickly, I lost motivation to try to keep it clean.

This time, I came up with a plan to do things differently, in order to get a different outcome.  As I cleaned and organized, I put things away in closets, out of sight.  I made a list and took pictures of everything, then I printed the pictures out and put them in a little photo album.  I explained to the family that we are now operating on a library system.  Only one toy can be checked out at a time.  It has to be cleaned up and returned in order to get another toy.  I gave Simon a “library card” that he can slide into the pocket of the picture in the photo album of whatever he is checking out.  I also put a box in the corner of the room for miscellaneous things that need to get put away (like a random Lego piece that I found somewhere in the house, but I don’t feel like hauling out the tub of Legos to put away at that moment).

So far, one week in, it’s working.  It is a bit inconvenient for me sometimes because I have to put the checked-in toys away and get out the new ones, instead of Simon being able to do it independently.  However, it’s worth it because it is forcing him to clean up after himself before moving on to a new toy, which is a habit I have long tried to instill without great success.  Cleaning up never takes very long because there is only one toy out to be cleaned up.  Having the floor clear has promoted exercising too–our mini basketball and mini hockey equipment has gotten more use over the past week than it did in the past several months.

clean-green-room-small

The past week, we’ve had several sunny days and days with temperatures above freezing, which restores my faith that spring will come.  I know that we’re still in for plenty more winter, but we will make it through.

While there are certainly things I want to accomplish, I’m not formally making any resolutions for this calendar year.  However, I did make a resolution at the beginning of the liturgical year–the beginning of Advent– to do more to incorporate the various holidays and seasons of the church year into our family life.  I’m not going to attempt to celebrate everything, but I am hoping to start some new family traditions while increasing our awareness of the liturgical year.  Plus, it’s fun to have things to celebrate.

Advent went well, as I previously described.  Lighting the Advent wreath and singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” were already family traditions.  New this year was celebrating St. Nicholas’s feast day.  We didn’t make a big deal out of it, but the boys each left a shoe on the kitchen floor before bed the night before and found candy and a clementine in their shoe in the morning.  What kid wouldn’t like that?

We failed at celebrating Christmas, from a religious perspective.  We usually go to a candlelight service on Christmas Eve, which is probably my favorite church service of the year, but we didn’t make it to church on either Christmas Eve or Christmas day this year.  We sang “Happy Birthday” to baby Jesus when we were putting Simon to bed, but that was it.

Since returning home, we are trying something new for the Christmas season by singing a Christmas carol instead of saying grace before dinner.  It’s sort of an extension of our Advent singing.  Next year, I want to replace the candles on the Advent wreath with white candles for the Christmas season, but tall white candles were sold out when I tried to buy some.

I’m going to make a traditional French galette des rois (king cake) for Epiphany on January 6th.  I’ll put a bean in it and whoever finds it gets to wear a crown and be the king for the day.  We’ll sing “We Three Kings of Orient Are” that day.

After Epiphany, we’ll go back to ordinary time and our ordinary grace before meals.  It’s fun to have holidays and do special things, but they wouldn’t be special if we didn’t have ordinary times in between.