Friday, February 26, 2010


I'm plumb tuckered :) I have 2 classes early next week, and I'm hip deep in lesson planning. After that, I should have a reprieve from teaching, which I desperately need in order to work on other things. One of the classes next week is in my liaison department, American Studies. I'm looking forward to that one, because the students are upper level undergraduates and I can do more complex examples with them. Plus, the subject matter is interesting. I'm incorporating in historical craft examples, as well as a Catholic example, actually :)

At any rate, I'm looking forward to a fairly quiet weekend. I'm having a few friends over, with their kids, tomorrow, and that should be fun for both adults and young'uns. On my way home from work this afternoon, I'm stopping off at Michael's to pick up some cotton yarn that is on sale so that I can crochet us an Easter-inspired table runner and set of placemats. *happy* Mike is picking us up some fish dinners that our parish is selling. Western New York has truly glorious Lenten fish frys.

Oh! I forgot to mention this before. Last week while I was picking us up a few groceries, I ventured into the kitchen section (we have a super nice grocery chain near us, with a very nice seasonal and kitcheny area) and I picked up an apron. I couldn't justify Jessie Steele at $30 a pop just now *sighs* (one is on my Amazon wish list...) but I found a *very* cute apron for half the price. It looks similar to this one:

It has little wine glasses and bottles on it, and fruit. It has a nice around the neck tie with metal rings for easy adjustibility, and the apron hangs up real easy from the rings too. I've been using it when I cook, and I find it so handy to be able to wipe my hands right on the apron instead of always being in search of a dish towel. Plus, it keeps my clothes free of any number of food splashes and wafts. I'm liking :)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

All things crochet...

I've been really into my crocheting lately. It provides me a wonderfully soothing respite after Hank goes to bed in the late evenings. I recently learned to knit, and I enjoy that very much as well, but crochet remains my first craft love.

As a little girl, I remember my mom crocheting. She taught me how, and my sisters too. I don't remember exactly when, but I know that she did, and I remember making a few afghans as a teenager. The comical thing is that my mom only makes one specific kind of afghan - there is no variation permitted :) She likes to make ripple afghans, in Christmas colors, using only single crochet stitches. Yes, it takes her a *long* time to finish one of these babies :) She taught me how to make one of those, and I branched off from there. Recently, for her job as a family support worker for her local public school district, she taught a crochet class. She called me in a panic:

"How do I make a double crochet?!"

At any rate, I'm extremely grateful that she passed crochet on to me, which initiated a lifelong appreciation of crafts and needlework. My own craft projects lay dormant for many years while I was in my 20's, and then when I became pregnant with Henry, I decided that I wanted to crochet a baby blanket. I worked on it throughout my pregnancy, but didn't finish, and quickly forgot about the project in my busyness with a newborn. Last year, I was cleaning out our storage when I happened upon my crate of UFO's (Unfinished Objects - a vexing problem for all crafters). I decided to finish up what was in there, and my interest underwent a dramatic reawakening.

Since then, I've made blankets, scarves, hats, shawls and slipper socks. I've also learned to knit. I do really enjoy the process of knitting; there's something about moving those 2 sticks around that I find infinitely soothing. And knitted fabric is more stretchy and forgiving than crochet, making it ideal for things like socks, sweaters and hats. That being said, I prefer crochet. For those that don't know, crochet uses a single hook, rather than multiple needles like knitting. I just *love* the way it looks.

For instance, this is a knitted swatch:

And this is crochet:

It creates a very feminine, lacy look. As well, crochet is great for making three dimensional objects, such as stuffed animals or flowers to sew onto a hat.

I simply *have* to share a wonderful portal for free patterns, Lion Brand Yarn online. I did a search for "Easter" and this is what I found. *squeals* The bunny?! The LAMBIE?! Couldn't you just die? I'm a little uncertain about sewing faces onto bodies, but I'm willing to give it a whirl. To access the free patterns, you do have to register, but there is no cost. I've used their patterns in the past, and find them quite good. Make sure to read any reviews to discover possible corrections or modifications that make the pattern better. I tried one of their patterns for a cascade scarf at Christmas time and the end result earned rave reviews. I had requests for cascade scarves coming out my ears. I'd like to crochet an Easter tablerunner, and I'm in the market for a pattern, so was doing some searching this morning.

Another good spot is Crochet Pattern Central. I'm currently executing Easter searches there too :) I just have a thing for seasonal crafts, I can't help myself.

Right now, I'm working on a baby blanket for some friends of ours. I'll need to make another blanket for another expectant couple, and some hats and booties. I also have a few shawls in my queue, and 2 afghans for our house, a spring and an autumn one. I'm all excited.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

John Paul II High: Engaging Catholic Fiction

Continuing on my Lenten Catholic book club, I thought that today I'd mention a series that I'm really enjoying. The John Paull II High series by Christine Frank are published via Sophia Institute Press, and are a welcome addition to a paltry Catholic fiction market. They are targeted to a young adult audience, but as the Amazon reviews also cite, many adults also enjoy these stories. I bought book 1, Catholic, Reluctantly, last year and devoured it quickly. It is set around a budding Catholic high school, and chronicles the lives of a handful of students. The characters are interesting. One is the daughter of the principal, and worries about how the other students view her; one comes from a home-schooling background and isn't used to this type of school environment; one is a non-Catholic whose parents sent her to John Paul II high after a violent incident at the nearby public school; one is a wrestler who resents not being permitted to attend a different, larger school with an established wrestling program. All of them struggle with balancing their Catholic faith, and their very small (and devout) private school with the larger secular culture. The book is very, very good, and I couldn't wait to keep reading to find out what happened to all of the characters.

Book 2 came out recently, Trespasses Against Us, and I snapped it right up. It's sitting happily on my to-be-read pile.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A wedding? You'd think that would be self evident. Not necessarily so - a tale of my weekend...

I had a good weekend, and I'll backtrack to that in a moment. But first, I wanted to start with a sweet anecdote from this morning. Henry had a dentist appointment this morning, and since Mike had class, I took him. We arrive, and are taken back to a dental chair.

Wide-eyed and anxious looking, Hank slips in. The hygienist is all perky, trying to get him to talk and smile.

"Hi Henry! How are you doing today? Did you brush your teeth this..."


He was not in a mood to be trifled with :) But he ended up doing great. Precious little sweetie.

Anyway, so my weekend. As you well know, Mass this weekend would mark my first major headcovering experience for my Lenten pilot project. I was all excited. I had chosen my outfit earlier in the day (we attended the Saturday evening vigil Mass this week), and about 15 minutes before we were slated to leave, I went to choose my covering. The one that went with my outfit best was actually the black velvet headband, so I strapped that on. I felt very cute.

I emerged from the bathroom, and Mike noticed right away.

"Oh! I like your hair thing."


We pull up to a church for 4 pm Mass that we don't usually attend. Mike and I had dinner plans that evening, Sunday morning I was invited to a wedding shower brunch (eliminating Sunday morning Mass as a possibility), and my parish doesn't have a vigil that was as early as we needed for our dinner reservations; thus, we ventured down to a gorgeous church in the city. We'd been there before, but not for some time. And Mike often wants to accompany me to Mass when I go to one of the older churches, since they're so beautiful in this area. Thus, it worked out well. We pull up, and I immediately sense something going on.

"Why are all those girls in matching red dresses going up the stairs?"

My first thought was that I wanted to crochet them some shawls right then and there, because their dresses left a lot of skin exposed :) But also important,

"Do you think there's a wedding?"

Mike pshaws. "No, I don't think so. How could there be? I know they have regular Mass at 4."

I raise my eyebrows at my non-practicing Catholic husband, because he does take his Mass times very seriously.

He adds, "Maybe the wedding is after this Mass. Maybe they're just early."

"Maybe." *skeptical* "Look, there's more dressed up people. Oh wait. Oh dear."


"There's a bride. There is clearly a bride. And she's coming out of a limo."

We both crane our necks. Girl wearing a full-out bridal gown mounts the stairs.

Mike remains very hopeful that we'll get to attend a 4pm vigil. "But wait. Doesn't that look like the groom? Why would they be arriving together?"

"I don't know. But it *is* possible to get married during a regularly scheduled Mass. You don't get to choose the readings and do all the customization that a separate wedding liturgy allows, but it technically can be done. Maybe they're doing that. Sometimes people want a later Saturday wedding ceremony, and the vigil is the only way to have a wedding after 2 pm in a Catholic Church, usually."

Mike looks utterly flummoxed. "Really?"

"Yeah. I've never seen it done, but I know that you can do it."

We continue to spy on people entering the church, and see people wearing clear non-wedding attendance clothes, so figure that the regular vigil is still on. We get out and head in.

As we enter the church, we see the wedding crowd all jammed into the front hallway, right out in the open. I'm even more confused at this point.

We find a pew, and Mass begins. The wedding folk process up with the priest and the altar servers. I think to myself, "yes, definitely must a wedding during the regular Mass."

Well. I was wrong :) As soon as the priest commenced the Mass, he noted that we were celebrating a Quinceanera - a Latin American coming of age ceremony for young women turning 15. I swear - she looked older than 15 :) Considering I was marrying her off...

Anyway, during the Mass, the young lady professes a statement of faith that she will strive to carry out the responsibilities of a Christian woman throughout her life, and receives a Bible, a rosary, and her first pair of high-heeled shoes. Interesting, huh?

What I was unprepared for was how elaborate everything was. There were a dozen attendants, and they all arrived in a limo. Everybody was wearing either a coordinated suit, bridesmaid gown, or a wedding gown. It really, really looked like a wedding :) But it was all very cool, and we enjoyed being a part of it.

So, on the headcovering. I enjoyed wearing it very much. I'll wait until after Lent to post a longer missive about my larger experience with headcovering, so I'll just say that week 1 was a smashing success. It stayed on my head with no fuss and everything.

Ok, instead of a book today I'm going to link to a meatless recipe. Looking for a good Friday dinner? One of my *favorite* on-the-go meatless dinners is Self's Better Bean Burritos. You mix sauteed onions and bell peppers, black beans, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, and grape tomatoes (I leave out the lettuce), pop into a whole grain tortilla, and voila! It's a family favorite.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Feeling young, and heading into a nice weekend...

Yesterday, I stopped off at our local gourmet and liquor store to pick up a bottle of wine on my way home from work. I selected a Yellow Tail Chardonnay and got in line. As the person ahead of me finished up, me and my bottle progressed up the belt. Finally, it was my turn. The cashier took one look at me and said:

"Can I see your i.d.?"

I nearly leapt over the conveyor belt and hugged her.

"Yes, YES! *fumbles with wallet* I'm SO glad that you asked!! It's my birthday today, and well, I'm just so glad that you asked!"

She looked pretty amused. And to her credit, when she saw my birth year, she didn't recoil and say "oh yeah, wow," like some teenage cashiers have done in grocery store beer purchases in the past. She made some nice comments about how I look young and how we should always strive to feel young.

I beamed all the way out of the store. And then I realized something: I am officially old enough to be happy to be i.d.'ed. I'm not so certain that I like this development, but it is what it is. I tried to continue to bask in my i.d.'ed state. It also helped that I didn't actually consider myself a year older yesterday. You see, I was born at 11:45 pm; my birthday was nearly the 19th. I felt like yesterday I got to enjoy feeling special without in fact being any older. Why would this be? Because I am *psychotic*.

Ok, so anyway, I have a nice weekend coming up. I have a wedding shower, and I get to wear one of my new headcoverings to Mass. Big yay. I'm also going shopping with my friend Sarah at our local Fisher Price outlet store for some Easter gifts for our boys. Happy, happy. Hank is all into the Planet Heroes these days. Saving our galaxy from the path of evildoers... My precious little angel.

Ok, so books. Last Lent I embarked on reading George Willis' biography of Pope John Paull II, Witness to Hope. I nearly finished it too :) It's a tome, to be sure. But I *adore* John Paul II. I still miss him and think of him every day. I really regret that I never got to meet him in person. In 2004, my mom and Shauna'h and I ventured up to Toronto to attend World Youth Day. I thought that I would finally get to see him in person. Well. I guess I didn't realize that when a million people stand between you and your beloved, you can't even see them as a tiny speck with your naked eye. I took comfort in the fact that I was in the same place as him once, and I hope that he's praying for me.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Headcoverings! And Lenten book club...

*simmers with excitement* Yesterday, I picked Hank up from school and, as always, as soon as we got home, he wanted to fetch the mail. I set him off while I washed out the lunch dishes and generally tidied the kitchen in preparation for dinner. Suddenly:

*angels SING*

Hank appears with a small package, and I just *knew* that it was my headcoverings. The scripture verse included on the outside of the package also aided in this process of deduction :) Me being the Queen of Patience, I was dying to just rip into the package right then and there, but I put it aside so that I could savor it. I wanted time to play with each covering, try them on, and take pictures, so I figured I'd wait until after dinner.

After dinner came, and aforementioned ripping into package commenced. I practically squealed as I pulled each one out. You would have thought I'd just given birth such was my joy as each creation appeared. Ok; let the pictures begin!

Headcovering #1: Chocolate lace:

This one was almost immediately my favorite. It matches beautifully with my hair. It ties in the back, which I did find awkward at first. I have long hair, and I had a hard time getting it out of the way so that I could tie the covering properly. I did get better at it, however, and this covering just lays beautifully.

Headcovering #2: Stretchy flax:

At first I wasn't certain about this one. I had a hard time getting the clasp closed (this isn't a tie closure; it stretches and clasps together with a metal thingy in the back) and then finagling the whole shebang onto my head. Quickly, it grew on me. This one stays in place the easiest, because of the stretchy function. And I *heart* the color. It's a pretty, versatile khaki. It'll go with so many of my outfits. It ended up swooping into 2nd place in my ranked list.

And finally, Headcovering #3: Black velvet headband:

This is a beautiful covering, and I do like the easyness of a simple headband. You could keep this one tucked away in case you end up stopping for Eucharistic Adoration or a daily Mass on the fly. The long velvet ties are gorgeous, but a bit awkward to tie, and I had a hard time getting the band to lay flat while also trying to tie it. I'm sure I'll get better at it.

In the end, I determined that I *adore* the Cecily style coverings at Garlands of Grace. I love the length and the way they fall on my hair. In that style, they come in all sorts of fabrics and colors. I've already got my eye on a chiffon and a cotton one :)

So, I couldn't be more pleased. I can't wait to wear one of them to Mass this weekend.

Before I got home and discovered my darling headcoverings, I was planning to blog about books for Lent. Since I've already consumed several minutes of your time showing you pictures of me wearing headcoverings, I thought that perhaps what I'd do is each day feature a single book appropriate for Lenten reading. A Lenten book club, if you will. Where to start...

A few Lents ago, I read an excellent book entitled With God in Russia, by Fr. Walter Ciszek. The book chronicles the 23 years he spent sentenced to Russian prison camp. He says clandestine Masses, hears clandestine confessions, and generally prays his way through an experience few would be able to endure. An outstanding and gripping read. He has another book, He Leadeth Me, that I own and have not yet read. I hear this one is even better, so I'm dying to dig in.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A blessed Ash Wednesday...

Today, I'm feeling a lot better than I have in a while, and just in time for the beginning of Lent. This morning, I got up like usual, and rushed around, also like usual. Mike was taking Hank to school today, so I had plenty of flexibility to make the 8 am Mass at our parish. As I was putting my coat on to leave, I thought about my Lenten headcovering project. My headcoverings from Garlands of Grace still have not arrived, but I thought that maybe in the mean time I should still make an effort. I sorted through the hat shelf and came up with an old black cloche that I thought would do the trick. I popped it on and headed out.

It's a beautiful winter morning here in Western New York. I had to park a few blocks from the church (since I didn't have any quarters to put in the meters) and we're getting a pretty, fluffy white snowfall. I got in and found the church fairly sparsely populated. I think the noon and evening ash distribution times are more popular than the 8 am. I settled in and left my hat on. Naturally, I spied on everybody else and found a handful of other female hat wearers. This soothed me.

Mass began, and I enjoyed the peace of being by myself :) I love bringing Henry to Mass, but it does make for a more 'boisterous' Mass experience. I will say that I did feel more focused this morning; I felt more able to articulate my prayers.

I had a quandry when it was time to process up for ashes. Hat on or off? Since it's a cloche, the hat came down over my forehead a bit, so in the end, I did decide to take it off so that Fr. Jay could access my forehead easier. I put it back on when I got back to my pew, and it was fine for the remainder of Mass.

So, overall, my first headcovering experience went without a hitch. I do think hats are less conspicuous, especially here in the winter, but I really don't anticipate a problem. I'm more interested in seeing if there are any changes within *me* as a result of headcovering. We shall see :)

After Mass concluded I came in to work. I'm thinking of picking us up some fish for dinner, and I'm looking forward to my evening with my boys. Hank and I have gotten away from saying our decade of the rosary together before bed, so I'll try to reinstitute that tonight. He loves his little Bible, and that's a fairly regular nighttime ritual, but I'd like to pray more with him overall.

After Hank goes to bed, I have lots of crocheting to do. I have to say, now that I'm at least somewhat proficient in knitting as well as crocheting, I do prefer to crochet. I also enjoy knitting, and I'm so glad that I learned, but crochet is my first craft love :) I'm finished up a pair of slipper socks for my mother-in-law and then I'm embarking on a number of baby gifts. I also have a few afghan projects for our house, including a beautiful spring blanket that I'm really excited about, waiting in the wings. Life is good :)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Lent eve...

So, today is Fat Tuesday, and I'm happy to report that my week *is* in fact going better. Shauna'h read my post yesterday and IM'ed me, "You sound cranky." My reply was "I *am* cranky." It was just a painful couple of weeks at work. Thankfully, I'm over the worst of it. I had an English Composition class today, and it went very well, followed by an extremely long meeting that also surprised me by how interesting and helpful it was.

Tonight, we're having our last meat dinner for all of Lent by making (at Mike's request) my mom's recipe for Sammy's Mustard Chicken. It involves sauteeing strips of chicken, and then adding a can of diced chiles, a cup of ranch dressing (lite still works very well), a tablespoon or two of dijon mustard, and some sliced onions and bell peppers. Serve over rice. It's quite good.

I'm going for my ashes at my parish's 8 am Mass, I think, and hence will commence my Lent. I'm looking forward to some good spiritual reading, meatless eating, and extra prayer time. I'll post some of the books that I will be reading as I come to them. And of course, I will post on my experience with beginning headcovering, which will hopefully commence this Sunday, should my headcoverings arrive in time.

I love Lent :)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Oh my aching head...

I had a wonderful weekend, but here I am again, it's Monday, and I'm feeling stuffy and miserable. I'll hit the highlights, and then blog more extensively tomorrow (Fat Tuesday!) when I can think a coherent thought.

On Friday evening, I *finally* managed to take pictures of my recent knitting and crochet projects. This is Christina's lap afghan:

And *drum roll*, Mike's famous hat:
I'm now working on a pair of socks for my mother-in-law. Good stuff.

Saturday, I did manage to sign up for the baby hat class at Jo Ann's, so I have that to look forward to.

And Sunday, sigh. Well, good things first. I got the following from my sweetie :)
I *adore* cookie cakes, they're my absolute favorite dessert in the world. That's right, I eschew decadent turtle cheesecake for a cookie with frosting plunked on top. Mike and I were also able to spend some nice time together, since my mom volunteered to watch Henry for us. And speaking of Henry...

Sunday morning, I was feeling tremendously tired and run down, and I knew that Henry has the same cold as I do. He was fine all morning, and then as we went to head out to Mass:

"ok honey, get your coat on for church."


Oh fabulous. He whined the whole way. When we got there, in full pout mode, and the kids were called up front for the children's liturgy of the word, he proclaimed that he didn't want to go. *double sigh*

"Are you sure, Honey? Now's your chance."


"There's still time, Hank. But once the kids go back, honey, it's too late. Do you want to go now?"


Ok, fine. Naturally, the instant the children disappeared into the sacristy and the lector got up to read the first scripture, Hank insisted that he wanted to go back.

"I'm sorry Honey, it's too late now."

"Oh, Oh Mommy. Oh! *bursts into sobbing tears*"

He cried, *hard*, for at least 20 straight minutes. Not cause a scene/tantrum cry, but genuine, real tears, sobbing like his heart was breaking crying. Eventually, I had to bring him to the back, where he whined that he wanted to go home. I managed to make him stay for communion and to pray afterwards, but at that point, I knew that my humiliation-free pass was coming to an end. Wisely, I chose to not tempt fate and we packed up and left. Not one of Hank's better Sundays.

And I'm still awaiting my beloved head coverings. And no mail today, blast!! I'll keep hoping. In the mean time, in addition to being sick, I went for a jog on Saturday (really, *really* trying to drop a few of these pounds that I've been wanting to get rid of) and although it went really well, I could barely walk on Sunday. Oh right, and today, I'm still in unbelievable pain. But I did feel great immediately afterwards, so I'll be sacrificing myself once again next weekend.

And today, as if to make everything better, I had 2 classes to teach in the morning. With a scratchy voice and walking as though I've been shot. But hey, I made it. Another class tomorrow, and then, please, please God, let this week get better...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Feeling domestic...

In yet another one of my quirks, I squealed with glee this morning when I saw that Cam, at A Woman's Place..., posted about aprons.

"Aprons? Tiffany, maybe you really are getting old..."

But yes, aprons! I started thinking about them a few months ago when, once again, Cam (my favorite blogger :) posted about aprons as spiritual aids. She posted some pictures, and I thought to myself, "goodness gracious, how totally adorable." This piqued my curiosity, and after some moderate Googling, I found that there is this modern apron movement I knew nothing about. Women of all ages are wearing these super cute vintage aprons (see above photo; I mean, did you ever?!). My favorite are put out by Jessie Steele. In fact, Charlotte in the new Sex and the City movie is going to be wearing one of these aprons! I'm coveting one, badly.

See the half apron in the photo, the one with the little Eiffel Towers? How perfect would that be for my sister Shauna'h? :) My current obsession is the pink cupcake apron, which is also Charlotte's choice :) However, I just noticed that Jessie Steele just released their spring/summer line, which includes convertible aprons! So, this would be a full bib apron that you could convert down to a half apron for dinner parties. You know, like Betty Draper on Mad Men. *wants*

So, imagine my delight, when I saw that Cam's post today included the fact that she is having an apron giveaway at A Woman's Place. Enter your name in her comments section for a chance to win :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Lots of knitting, and I AM NOT OLD...

Today, I had my yearly visit to my general practitioner, whom I like very much. Everything is well under control, including my pinched nerve, aside from me needing to add a calcium and vitamin D supplement to my daily regimen. Inevitably, came the question:

"Do you want to have more children?"

And I think for the majority of the population, this is a very cut and dry issue. "We want 2 children, so yes 1 more" or "No, we're definitely finished." My answer has always been, and will always continue to be:

"Yeah, sure. You never know."

This always earns me an arched eyebrow. The way I feel about it, even if we never *plan* to have anymore at some point, it could still happen, right? We're open to life.

"Oh. So you think you want to have another one?"

"Yeah, sure."

*checks chart* "Hum. Well, you'd better get right on that."


The only thing I can really say on this is that, especially over the course of the next year, this will be a high priority on my prayer list. And so, moving on from my depleting egg suppy (oh eggs! please hang in there, I love you so!)...

On a happier note, my knitting has been going very well. I'm actually starting to miss crochet, and happily, the next 2 items in my craft queue are crochet projects. I'm nearly done with Christina's lap afghan; that should be finished by the conclusion of the weekend. After that, I will work on a scarf for one of my sister's friends, and a pair of socks for my mother-in-law. Then I have some baby projects to complete for a few friends of ours who are expecting. I'm thinking booties and blankets, although a crocheted teddy bear has really captured my imagination...

But, relatedly, I was looking for a quick distraction this morning, and went over to JoAnn's site to see if their new class schedule is up. It is. I took a Knitting 101 class there that I really got a lot out of. Since I've gotten a bit more comfortable with my knitting, I've been in the market for a sock knitting class. For the past several months, they have not offered one. And well, the new schedule doesn't include one either. However, they are offering a baby hat class, Knitting 102 - moving up in the world! Importantly, the class will include instruction in using double pointed needles, which is really what I was looking for. They have an open house on Saturday, and if you come during that 2 hour window, classes are 50% off. Eureka. This doesn't make up for the fact that my doctor thinks I'm old, but it did perk me a bit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hanging in there, and a review of The Lake of Dead Languages...

Work has been a bear lately, no other way to say it. I have a class to teach in an hour and a half, and as you can see, I'm distracting myself by blogging. I've already practiced my lesson plan, so there's really nothing else I can do. But I certainly can't concentrate until then. Sigh. I have three more classes next week *sweat trickles* but then, thankfully, I have a short teaching reprieve. I also need to get other things done aside from creating lesson plans. So this is good.

Next week, I have to write a column for the university newspaper. It's a column published weekly by a librarian that highlights relevant web sites on a topic of the librarian's choice. In the past, I've written on fall foliage, bellydancing, and crochet. I was having a hard time coming up with a topic for this semester. Of course, that may have been because I had no time to actually think about topics. But this morning, over breakfast, I had a flash of inspiration. I was reading a copy of Romantic Times Book Review as I munched my Special K. I turned the page and happened upon the reviews of this month's releases in inspirational fiction.


Mike pauses, egg sandwich halfway to his mouth. "What?"

"AMISH FICTION!!!! That's what I'm going to write my column on. Oh, I love it so much!!"

Mike gives me that smile that he does whenever I do something particularly Tiff-like. I mean, how many people bypass the bodice-ripper historical romances to pore with fixation over inspirational Amish fiction?

So, now I'm all excited. But first, several classes and lesson plans lay in front of me. Sigh.

Ok, so book review. Last month, my book club read The Night Villa by Carol Goodman, and I enjoyed it very much. I wrote about how the author really had a knack for portraying a vivid sense of place, and I enjoyed her expertise in the study of classics that played a role in the story. Thus, I picked up a copy of one of her more well-known books, The Lake of Dead Languages.

Quick plot summary: A newly divorced Latin instructor returns to her alma mater, a boarding school located in the Adirondacks, with her young daughter to try and create a fresh start for them. Soon, mysterious occurrences, all relating to some deaths back when she herself was a student there, begin to present themselves. Seems our heroine, Jane, was roomates with 2 girls who took their lives via drowning in the school lake all those years ago (or so it seems...). Someone clearly blames Jane for a part in their deaths, and copy cat events begin to transpire...

Intriguing plot. I started reading, and honestly, I couldn't wait to get home in the evenings after work and read more. This really kept me on the edge of my seat. I was taken in by the setting, given that it takes place within my own New York State. And all of the mysteries, by way of what really happened to the people that died, as well as other relationship tangles, really grab you. The book starts out with Jane's contemporary perspective, then the middle section takes the reader back to her final two years at the school, when the original deaths of her friends occurred. The third and final segment takes us back to present day, when the mysteries are all resolved. *Very* well done. Overall, I enjoyed this book tremendously.

Some cons. The book dragged a bit toward the end. I had figured out a few of the mysteries, and it seemed to take Jane an annoying amount of time to catch up with me. The author also spends a *lot* of time talking about the enigma of the lake, and the process it goes through in order to freeeze over each winter. Certainly, this all contributes to her refined skill of transporting the reader to the setting, but after a while I was sick of all the drawn-out water and ice analogies. Finally, the thing that bugged me the most, by far, was how incredibly stupid the characters acted sometimes in regards to the lake. I know, I know, we're suspending our disbelief for the sake of drama. But COME ON...

"Oh, I know that a fiendish murderer is stalking me. I need to get away from it all and go think. It's 3 am. I think I should wander down to the giant rock that juts out over the icy lake, where at least one other person has fallen in and drowned, and stand right on the edge in order to do this..."

"I'm pissed/terrified/upset/contemplative. I think the best idea is to run right out onto the frozen lake surface despite the fact that temperatures have been rising for weeks..."

In fact, the "people running out onto the frozen (but melting) lake" thing by the end made me so irritated that I found myself yelling at the characters that I simply couldn't feel sorry for them if they were going to act SO STUPID. YOU ARE SO STUPID. STOP BEING SO STUPID. How hard is it to simply stay on land? Apparently quite difficult for our characters, since every single one of them had a bad run-in with the lake in either liquid or frozen form.

That aside, the book is really an attention grabber. Definitely a recommended read.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Modesty + Stress = Modest Stress? Not so much. But loving Julie & Julia...

This weekend, I wasn't as relaxed as usual on my days off from work. I have a bunch of work-related tasks on my mind, including my ever sweat-inducing nemesis, teaching, as well as my worry for Shauna'h's situation. I tried to think as positive as possible, but sometimes that flat out doesn't work.

All weekend long, I was fielding phone calls from my mom and my sisters. When one of us is in crisis, the phone lines are always burning up:

"Yes, YES, Mom, I know. I agree. I think she should do that too. But we can't...Hold on, my other line is ringing. It's Rhonda. Hold on...Hi! I'm on the other line with Mom. I did talk to Shauna'h. Yeah, she told me that too. Hold on...I'm getting a text. It's Shauna'h! I'll call you back."

So, that was on my mind. Work has also been kind of crazy, as I've mentioned recently. I have 5 classes to teach in the next 2 weeks, plus a column to write for the university newspaper, plus a national committee deadline, plus a million other small things. I had one of the classes today at noon, so I was worried about that all weekend. It ended up going pretty well, but that certainly doesn't stop the worry machine, oh no sir.

Yesterday, my parents came over to have a small Super Bowl gathering with us. My mom brought sangria, and given the above, I was jonesing for a glass from the moment she got in the door. She pours me a glass, and I gratefully take a sip.

"Oh wow. What's in this?"

"Oh, lots of stuff."

"Like what?"

"Oh ,you know. Brandy. Wine. Triple Sec. Champagne. I got the recipe off the Internet."

Clearly, my mother was trying to get us all HAMMERED yesterday. By sip #3, I was feeling all buzzed and chattty. I will say that I did feel more relaxed. Bonus.

In happy happenings, I managed to finagle a Henry-less trip to Target yesterday. It makes Mike's eyes goggle to even contemplate spending 2 hours in Target, so my motivation for wanting to go solo is pretty clear. That's not even getting into the inevitable:

"Mommy, MOMMY. What's that? A waffle maker? What does it do? How does it work? Can we get that Mommy? Why?"

The boys stayed home together and were thrilled to do puzzles together.

We needed a couple of household items, and we had a gift card. Naturally, I spent forever looking through clothes as well, since Henry and I both need some new spring things. And I could do so blisffully uninterrupted :) I found a few shirts for Hank, and I happily found a few things for myself. In my quest to incorporate a few modest skirts into my wardrobe, I browsed carefully. I did end up fetching both a dress and a skirt. Both are made of this really flattering stretchy material that flows really pretty and is super comfortable. I wish the dress were a tad longer, but it does come to my knee. It's pink and brown, really pretty, with short cap sleeves. I'll be able to layer it easily with a shawl or a long cardigan.

So, the skirt. This is a saga that warrants it's own anecdote. There weren't many skirts to choose from. That is, not many that were longer than mid-thigh. I'm not trying to be prudish here, but if one lives in fear of revealing one's underwear should they dare to sit down, this means your skirt is too short. I found one, in the aforementioned stretchy material and in a pretty style, and it happily went to just below my knee. They didn't have my size in brown, so I grabbed a black one and put it in my dressing room pile. I wanted a medium, but they only had a small. I can often fit into smalls, so I hoped for the best.

I got into the dressing room and purposely avoided the mirror for a bit. Doesn't it always seem that dressing room mirrors are purposely designed to reveal every stretch mark, bit of cellulite and other things that every female in the universe wants desperately to keep hidden? They *do* want us to buy the clothes, right? So, my back to the mirror, I step into the skirt. I'm quickly flummoxed by the fact that I inexplicably seem to be stepping into a pair of shorts. This is a *skirt*, right? The sangria came AFTER the shopping trip, I promise.

Suddenly, I catch sight of the tag, which advertises boldly that this is a SLIMMING skirt with special SLIMMING properties. Ah ha. The "shorts" are actually these industrial strength nylons inside the skirt designed to SLIM MY WAIST. Hum. I would rather not have such properties, truth be told. I think my waist is A-ok, plus I soon discover that the slimming nylons are asphixiating me. Determined to give the skirt a try, since I otherwise like the style and length, I yank it up. I will admit that I looked particularly slim. But apparently SLIM and COMFORTABLE are simiply not permitted to coexist. Plus, the effort it took me to shimmy into this thing was downright comical. I can only imagine Mike's reaction. Skirt With Chastity Belt: even husbands can't break through this baby. I mean, this could be the new revolution in family planning clothing:

The Virtuous Skirt - By the time you can remove it, you remember that you have serious reasons for trying to avoid. Let's just head downstairs to watch a movie instead before the baby wakes up... I think I'm onto something. I should get a patent, right?

All that aside, I did love the way the skirt looked, and that length is apparently so hard to come by. When I got back out to the racks, I examined a few skirts that weren't on size-labeled hangers. Eureka! A medium. Life is good.

I also found a gauzy, long gray cardigan that will layer perfectly over things, and a cute elbow-length sweater with an argyle design. I chose a plum color, and would have loved to have gotten it in a few other colors, but no dice - not in the budget.

Ok, finally. Movie news. This weekend, it was my turn to pick a Saturday night movie, and I chose Julie & Julia. I could tell that Mike was exerting a Herculean effort to try and appear enthused by my choice, and for this he receives many husband bonus points. HOWEVER. We *both* loved this movie. This was wholesome, engaging and entertaining. Rated only PG-13, it sports only a few instances of adult language and some scenes of inferred intimacy between married couples. It was so charming and funny that we both laughed out loud at times.

The story chonicles two women - Julia Child when she first went to cooking school and subsequently published her famous cookbook; and a modern twentysomething named Julie Powell, who escapes from her bureaucratic nightmare of a job to cook at night and blog about making all 524 recipes in Julia Child's cookbook in one year. Julia Child's story was by far my favorite, and her portrayed relationship with her husband was just so endearing and sweet.

One of my favorite parts of the movie was when she first enrolled in this prestigious cooking school. She was the only female in the class. The are assigned a task, and they all set to work, chopping an onion. The men around her chop their onions in 3 seconds flat, and meanwhile, Julia is methodically slicing her onion slowly, with the utmost concentration. Everyone turns to stare at her. Later that evening, her husband comes home from work. Julia is at the kitchen island, chopping onions, trying to perfect her technique so that she can chop as fast as the men.

"chopchopchopchopchopchopCHOP!!" The pile of onions reaches at least to her chest.

Before he can even cross the threshold, her husband's eyes begin to water. "oh, oh, honey. What are you doing?"

"I'm chopping onions. chopchopchopchopchopchopCHOP!! Are you hungry, dear?"

Husband, wiping his eyes and backing away. "No, No."

"Good. chopchopchopchopchopchopCHOP!!"

I loved it. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lenten preparations, and the difficulty of life's journey...

I've been thinking about the approach of Lent this week. It's less than 2 weeks away. Ironically, my birthday is the day following Ash Wednesday, but we won't dwell on that right now :)

I'm slowly formulating my plans for this year's Lenten journey. One of the items that I traditionally give up is my beloved Diet Coke/Coke Zero. This year, I decided that I'm not going to do that. Instead, I'm going to focus on adding in disciplined behaviors and other spiritual practices. I'm trying to mix it up a bit :)

These are my plans so far:

(1) Go pescatarian. I did this last year, and I enjoyed the discipline involved in finding meatless dishes for the entirety of Lent. I'll post some recipes throughout, for anyone else who chooses to go this route. Prepare yourself for lots of beans, veggies, and seafood.

(2) Cover my hair at Mass. Very excited about this one, as you well know. My head coverings have not yet arrived; I read on Garland of Grace's website that they custom make everything after you place your order, so it'll be another week, probably. However, they should arrive right in time for Ash Wednesday.

(3) Generally try to pray more and offer all of my daily tasks up for a higher good.

(4) Get out of bed earlier in the mornings. This one sounds frivolous, but it really will be a sacrifice for me. And it'll instill good behavioral changes.

(5) Spiritual reading. I'm compiling my reading list now, and I'll post it next week.

It should be a good Lent, and I'm looking forward to it. I will of course post pictures of the new head coverings when they arrive. In other news...

Last night, I was working on finishing the hat I'm knitting for Mike. I'm on the crown decreases, and really wanted to finish. I found that once you decrease your stitches on circulat needles, you create a big problem for youself, which is that the stitches sttrrreeeetttccchhh along the length of the needle cord and you can barely knit in them anymore. I had to put it down and wait to consult with my lunchtime knitting group here at work. They'll swoop in to my rescue :) My friend Karen is already armed with double pointed needles to save the day. The hat is turning out pretty well, all things considered. There's some mistakes in it, but most of them are covered up by the large cuff. And it's hand knit with love, so I know he'll like it :)

In the midst of my knitting last night, my sister Shauna'h called me. I was surprised to hear from her, as we usually talk during the day instead of in the evenings, plus she's on vacation visiting her in-laws. She wanted to talk about something going on in her life right now that is proving to be very difficult and upsetting, and I was happy to listen. Mike was upstairs reading to Hank and putting him to bed, so I settled in.

From the start of the conversation, I could tell that she was putting on a brave front, so I encouraged her and stayed upbeat. Pretty soon however, talking about the painful situation got to her and she started to cry. Me being me, the real emotional stoic *snorts*, I started to cry too. By the time Mike came down, we were both crying and my knitting was in shambles.

Mike is an only child, and so he always finds my interactions with my siblings to be a fascinating sociological study. I have 2 sisters, and so *emotion* has always been a strong force in our relationships. When it comes to my sisters, especially Shauna'h, who is the youngest sister, I have a serious soft spot. I honestly think that my worry over her situation has contributed to my blue mood this week. She's just so very dear to my heart.

I did my best to cheer her up and encourage her, and hopefully I'll get an update from her today. It seems like lately just about everyone is experiencing something in their life that is challenging. Hopefully, we will all move closer to Christ this Lent, and He will soothe us in our time of need.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Trying to perk...Happy feasts...

Feeling a bit better today. The end of the work week is approaching, thankfully. I had two meetings today. I knew the morning one wouldn't be a problem, and it wasn't. The afternoon edition was another story. The email that we received from the chair read:

"Meeting to begin at 1. No more than 2 hours."

*groan of anguish* Putting "no more than" before "2 hours" does NOT make me feel better. But I made it.

We're making plans for the weekend, so that helps. I may go to a craft show with my mom and Henry on Saturday. And we're planning to go to our basillica for Mass at the Saturday evening vigil this week. Hopefully, they'll do there as our regular parish does and offer the blessing of the throats for the feast of St. Blase (2/3) at all weekend Masses. Many parishes offer the blessing to anyone who wants it all week long. I enjoy this custom every year, and look at it as an opportunity to share the riches of our faith with Henry.

This week also saw the celebration of Candlemas (2/2) when the Church blesses all the candles for the year. My parish always offers candles for the sale the following weekend. Last year I stocked up. I'm not really sure why, but I'm totally convinced that we need a stash of blessed candles in our house. When the apocalypse comes, we'll have light.

Sunday is the Super Bowl, and my parents are coming over for a party. We keep using the word "party" and Henry keeps asking if we're all getting presents. It's a party, so it stands to reason, right? No presents, but I may use the occasion as an excuse to justify the purchase of a cookie cake from Mrs. Fields.

Henry gem of the week:

"Mommy, when I grow up, what can I be?"

"Well, you can choose what you'd like to be, honey. You could be a priest."

*knitted eyebrows*

"Or you could be a teacher."

"Or a plumbo."

"Or a plumber, right. Or an electrician, like Jay. Or an engineer, like Daddy."

"Mommy, you a libarian?"

"Yes honey, I'm a librarian. You can be one too, if you like, when you grow up."

"MOMMY! Libarians are...GIRLS."

So...these stereotypes start pretty young, apparently :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Good winter recipe...

This morning, Henry helped me prepare a slow cooker meal for our dinner later. This is a really good, and easy, one, so I thought I'd share :)

Chicken & Wild Rice

Chicken breasts (as many as you want; up to 8)
1 pkg. wild rice, with seasoning
Carrots (I chop up some baby carrots into bite sized pieces)
1 can Cream of Chicken (I prefer Cream of Mushroom) soup
1.5-2 cups water

Mix up the soup, water, rice and seasoning packet in the slow cooker. Place chicken in the mixture and coat. Cook on low 7-8 hours.

Important tip: make sure to spray your slow cooker with Pam or the like. The rice tends to stick to the edges, bad, if you don't do this.

Delicious idea: sprinkle some shredded cheese on top right before serving.

Bluesey blues...

Lately, I've been feeling quite blue at work. I love my job. But that aside, there's a definite tension that hangs in the air lately. Our budget situation is so bad that (like so many places) everyone is being asked to do more with less. And consequently, I feel like I don't have time to do the things that really make being an academic librarian enjoyable for me. Like just going out on the reference desk hoping to help someone. Now, I go out to the reference desk loaded down with other assignments that I hope to multi-task while I'm out there. And professional writing. That's just about impossible this semester, and it really pains me. I hope that it will pass, but in the mean time, every morning I feel a bit blue as I ready to come into the office. I'm grateful for my job, and we need my income. And I'm grateful to have found a career that really suits my personality and interests, after having come from one that really did not. It's all good. But sometimes it could be better :)

So that's on my mind. Omnipresent financial worries are there too. Everybody has these, especially lately. Coming off the holidays is always tough each year, and this year is no exception. And then...there's my birthday.

It's looming, LOOMING I tell you. And yes, I'm not looking forward to it. I'll just come clean - this year I'm going to be 35. And every woman reading this blog will instantly know what I'm talking about and want to give me a hug.

I'll back up for a second to blather on in that way that I often do. "Tiff anecdotes" I call them. So, in high school I wasn't one of the popular girls. *leans back on psychiatrist's coach, puts feet up* I had a nice group of friends, but I was an introvert. I didn't particularly stand out. I was voted "shyest" in my senior class. How's that for a legacy? I was known for being quiet. I certainly never dated. High school was something that I simply endured.

College was a blooming time for me. I went to a small Catholic college, and finally I felt free to be myself. I loved it. I loved choosing my course of studies and being surrounded by other people with the same interests as I. I loved not feeling embarrassed by enjoying school.

And then I went to law school. And you already know that story. A tough time, although I did come back to my faith fully then. And then I went to work at a job that I hated. Even tougher. So this is my 20's. Most of it was emotionally very difficult. And in contrast to many of my friends from college, I had no high school sweetheart. It was my dream to marry and have a family, and as the shy girl, I wasn't exactly drawing men in left and right. I was the single female in my family in her late 20's that was always asked, "So, have you met anyone yet?" Think Bridget Jones. I met Mike when I was nearly 28, and we married just as I was about to turn 30.

30 was no big deal for me. Frankly, I was glad to see my 20's gone. I know that many people feel that their 20's were the best time of their life. I never felt that way. The instant I turned 30, my life was grand. I was married, and shortly after that, expecting a baby. My temporary appointment as a full-time librarian turned into a tenure-track appointment. We saved for, and were able to buy, a small but beautiful house in a gorgeous neighborhood.

My life now is nothing short of fabulous. It's not filled with material riches, but that's never been what I wanted anyway. I have a wonderful family. I love my faith and community. I like my job, and I adore my hobbies. I knit and crochet with abandon, and bellydance at night. And I never worry about what my high school classmates think about any of that.

And so...this is going to sound whiny, but I don't want my 30's to ever end. I love my life. Remember the change thing? Right, I don't want it to change. Ever. Plus, there's the fertility concern. This is no small neuroses, let me tell you. For some reason, we've all been conditioned to believe that the instant a woman turns 35, her eggs shrivel up and combust. The reality is that from age 28 onward, our fertility starts to slowly wane. This is simply a biological fact and there isn't anything that we can do about it. We should pray for God's will, be open to life, and let the babes fall where they may. But yet...we worry anyway.

Am I going to be able to have another baby? I've been dreaming about babies a lot lately, and it's making me all weepy. Certainly, if I do, I'm going to get the geriatric treatment, no doubt about that. ADVANCED MATERNAL AGE. Bring on the walker.

I think a lot of my aging and mortality weepiness has to do with losing my grandmother over the summer. Life is very, very fragile. I have 2 living grandparents, and I'm very close to them. Especially my grandmother. It's going to be agonizing to lose them.

I've just been very contemplative about all of these issues of late. I hope that I perk up a little bit. In the mean time, I'm going to regularly give my eggs a pep talk; can't hurt, right?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Weekend bliss, and school talk...

I had a really, really nice weekend. Unfortunately, Monday has to come eventually. I was knocked back into reality quickly by an 8am appointment this morning to register Henry for kidnergarten at our local public elementary school.

School choices are always another hot topic out in Catholic message board land :) A land that I am proud to live in... Anyway. There are 3 schools of thought on this issue: homeschooling, Catholic schooling, or (definitely a minority) public schooling.

I am a product of public schools. I'm one of those people that is pretty open to public schools, with the counterbalance of investigating the local district to see if it will be a good fit in every way.

On the other hand, I'm certainly a huge proponent of Catholic education. Our parish has a school, and I have considered using it. Obviously, with us having only one full time salary right now, money is a huge issue. When Hank was a year old we moved to our current house, which is located in a school district with a solid reputation. Prior to that, if we had stayed, we had already chosen a Catholic school, affiliated with our parish at that time, for Hank to attend.

Homeschooling really isn't an option for me, given that I work full-time outside the home, but I also simply don't feel called to it. I have one good friend who homeschools, and I find the issue quite fascinating. But it's really not on my radar screen.

So we have Catholic school and public school. The public elementary school is right down the road from us, and its reputation is excellent. We figured that we'd try it out and see. I keep telling myself that if we don't like it, we have options. There are a slew of Catholic elementary schools in our area, including two within walking distance, so I know that we aren't wedded to anything. If Hank continues at the public school, he will be immediately signed up for CCD at our parish to start his sacramental instruction in first grade. And of course, I believe that it is my job to pass on the faith to him at home, regardless of where he goes to school.

So, I know that everything will turn out ok. It's just going to be a big change, and change is hard for me. But he's MY BABY. It seems like just yesterday that he was a simpering little newborn, squeaking and spitting up between us in bed at night. *nostalgic sigh* Of course, now I get to sleep through the night, so I guess I'm not *that* nostalgic.

Anyway, backing up to the weekend... I'm so excited about receiving my new head coverings I can hardly stand it. I'm thinking they may arrive at the end of the week. I'll have to decide if I want to start wearing them right away, or wait until Lent...

In preparation for my upcoming experiment, I surveyed the heads at Mass on Sunday to see if I could spot any other head coverers. At first, I thought there were none, but then my little eye happened upon an older woman wearing a hat. Score! During Communion, I spied 3 other hat wearers. A big yea. Once again, I dressed up more for Mass, and I really did *feel* different. All good.

I also knitted a lot this weekend. I'm on round 52 of Mike's 85 round hat, so I'm actually almost done. The final 15 rounds are decreasing rounds, so I anticipate being done by the weekend. Then, I can finish up Christina's lap afghan, and move on to new projects. I've got a couple of baby gifts to make, as well as a few shawls that I wanted to make for myself.

Tonight, my needles and I will once again be perched on the couch with a glass of Chardonnay. Mike has to teach in the early evening, so Henry and are are going out to dinner with my mom. Should be fun...