Monday, November 30, 2015

Of noncooperative turkeys and very inconvenient allergies: Thanksgiving fun 2015...

Hi all, and I'm glad to be back with you on this sunny post-Thanksgiving weekend Monday. This is never an enjoyable day to be back at work, no sir. But we persevere.

The last time I was with you prior to our Thanksgiving hiatus was last Tuesday, and I was S-I-C-K. Oh my. I was a little concerned about how I'd fare on my big day on Allison's show given how poorly I was feeling, and how congested I sounded. It went really well, but I had to *struggle* not to provide a hacking cough as the musical accompaniment throughout. It was extremely fun though, we talked about how I got started blogging, belly dancing, rosary praying, parenting adventures, all sorts of things! If you'd like to listen, you can download right over here!

All right, so I hope that you all had a very nice weekend! I'm a little rushy rushy today, as I had a very un-fun class this morning (what? it's the end of the semester? let's everybody PANIC and start asking for extra credit!) and I have more grading to do than you could swing a rosary at, so I'm feeling just a hair overwhelmed. But highlights? Let's see...

On Tuesday evening, Mike and I went out for what we call our "dating anniversary." Our wedding anniversary is January 8th, this November date is essentially an excuse for us to dine out and consume specialty martinis at the restaurant wherein we had our first date. It was smashing. Wednesday was filled with preparations for Thursday. The kids and I went to my parents' house to bake pies with my mom, which of course made the process infinitely more time consuming than if the adults had just done it ourselves, but alas. 

Thursday morning dawned with Anne wearing a super cute Thanksgiving turkey outfit:

...which she wore for an hour and then took off, refusing to put it back on, claiming to be "hot." Par for the course with her these days. We hosted dinner for our parents, my grandmother, and my older sister and family who were in town, and everything went very well. We had a minor turkey crisis during which time Mike started to carve the turkey and discovered that it was not fully done. It wasn't a big deal, we just had to put it back in the oven for a spell, but this is why I avoid cooking turkeys. I distracted everybody with wine as this was ongoing and all ended well.

The next day I did some fun online shopping, went out to lunch with my mom and sister, and put out our wintertime Scentsy wax warmer:

Isn't it lovely? It's making our whole kitchen smell like cinnamon currently. Such a relaxing and fun day. On Saturday, we fetched our Christmas tree, and here is where the story gets interesting. ;-) In the past, we've gotten a scotch pine. The one we selected last year, however, ended up looking somewhat homely, and we're hosting Christmas Eve this year, so Mike suggested that we splurge a bit and get a Fraser fir. I have to say, you can certainly tell a difference. Our whole house smells like a Christmas tree, and the needles are much softer than we're used to. The trunk is thicker and fit into our stand without any of the usual wrangling and edited swear words. It's thick and full and we love it. There's only one problem.

I think I may have an allergy to it. :0 Ever since we got it, I have been coughing and coughing and coughing. Granted, as I mentioned, I've been sick. But my cough was clearing and getting better, and then we got the tree, and suddenly it's tight and worse. This is the first time that we've ever gotten this type of tree. Could I be allergic to it?! It seems more likely that my cough is still related to my other illness, but I do have fairly strong seasonal allergies, and have developed new ones in recent years. (isn't getting older grand?) Soooooooo, I'm not sure. I've been taking my OTC allergy medication and I do seem better. But maybe my cold is just getting better? I'm already tired of winter illnesses and it's not even December yet!


We had a great time decorating the tree, regardless of it's potentially allergenic qualities, and we also put out our Advent decor. Ohhhhhhhh! That is our topic for either tomorrow or Wednesday, depending upon when I'm able to post. So get your Advent thoughts ready!

Advent is also the topic of my foray tomorrow in the Catholic Mom Hangout podcast! I'll give you the link to my episode when it's up, but it's being recorded tomorrow afternoon. Fun, right?!

All right, dear readers. All you Americans, how was your Thanksgiving? Or otherwise, how was your weekend? Anybody in your household navigating the Winter Cold From Hell? Do write in to commiserate with me. :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

All! I am positively AGLOW from my chat time this morning with Allison Gingras on her show, A Seeking Heart! The podcast version will be up shortly, so if you'd like to download and listen over the holiday weekend, you can download from this page and it will appear there as soon as it's ready. Yay? Yay!

As you heard from my voice if you were able to listen to the live stream, I am SO SICK. I went to bed last night at 8 pm. Talk about a wet blanket. :0 But man. I just had nothing left to give. Mike had to teach, so I was home with the kids, and I barely managed to scrape something edible together for dinner, and then stay conscious until I put Anne to bed. Mike cut his class short so that he could get home earlier and be with Henry while I tucked into bed. I couldn't fall asleep right away, but I laid in there and listened to podcasts until I realized that I was nodding off and made it official. But *shudder*. It was a rough evening.

Overnight, I actually rested more or less comfortably. Although based upon my energy level one would think I had gotten a grand total of 10 minutes of sleep the whole night. I'm persevering.

Tonight, Mike and I are scheduled for a date night, so I need to wrangle up some color before then. Working on it! I also have the infamous fever rash today. Lovely, so lovely, I look today. I'm currently in the raised and splotchy texture phase. :0

This will be my last post for the week, as you and I will both be busy with Thanksgiving plans and family visiting. I will be with you again next Monday with amusing details, I am certain. And also to reflect on the First Sunday of Advent and other Advent plans! Until then, have a wonderful holiday weekend (those of you in the U.S. :-)) and I'll talk to you on Monday! May God bless you all!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Of close calls with unfortunate skin situations & the joy of swirly skirts - fall hafla 2015...

Hi there! This is going to be a dance post for those who enjoy such frivolity, but before I get to that, I wanted to briefly plug Allison Gingras's show, since I'll be a guest on there tomorrow, November 24th. :0 Here's all the deets: Her show is A Seeking Heart, and airs live from 10-11 am EST. If you want to listen live, head to the linked site and peruse the top menu bar. You have the option to either download the Breadbox Media app to your mobile phone, or you can click "Listen Live" and just stream it on your computer or device of choice. If you're available during that hour, you can also call in to talk to Allison and I. :0 Oh, do it, do it! I know not everyone is available in the middle of the morning like that, but if you are, you are MORE THAN WELCOME to join us! Allison will give the phone number out during the show, so tune in! To listen after the fact, go to the "Podcasts" link from the menu, and then navigate to A Seeking Heart. A downloadable file of the show will be available sometime shortly after the show airs. I'll also post a link on here. Keep your eyes peeled!

OK, so that's tomorrow, super exciting, right?! I'm looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I'm sick, so I'll be all scratchy, but it can't be helped. Which segues nicely into my dance adventures from the weekend. Got your coffee or tea? Good, so do I.

Friday morning I woke up with a sore throat. This was particularly ominous because, (a) Anne has been sick with a cold and coughing for some time now, meaning I most likely got whatever evil she has, and (b) I had a dance performance Saturday evening, and you know what happens when I get sick, right? Right. No matter how minor the illness, I get a fever rash on my neck and chest. Already, not so attractive, yes, I know, but in a belly dance costume? Downright scary. People look alarmed when this happens. I was not looking forward to repeating this experience, but I had zero control over it.

So I went to our final troupe rehearsal Friday evening treading lightly on not overtaxing my body. We ran through all of the group numbers (for this hafla we chose our pop piece and drum solo, the new veil and baladi piece, and the kicky Shaabi number), and because the performance would be in the studio and hence in a "in the round" style of seating, we changed orientations for each dance, so that no one area would always be the back and therefore unable to see anything. This is lovely, indeed, but gets confusing for belly dancers with cold-induced foggy brains. When you're used to facing one way, and then we split the drum solo up into two trios of dancers facing two totally different ways... the instant I take myself off of Dance Auto Pilot and think about it, I have no idea where I am and what I am supposed to be doing. :0 This happened a few times over the course of the night, but I tried to reorient my mind and brain as best I could.

All went well, and I tucked myself in for a good night of sleep at home, praying for no rash to appear overnight. They're insidious like that. I did indeed sleep well, and my throat felt, while not *better*, decidedly less bad upon wake up. I quickly hurried to the bathroom mirror for the big moment, and the verdict was in: no rash. Whew! I was all relieved until I noticed something else. Prepare yourself now for a little TMI, because this is gross. :0 I had some sort of either insect bite or...SOMETHING, bright red and disgusting glaring out at me from my upper abdomen. Why, why, why am I cursed with this sensitive skin?! And yes, I do oftentimes wear two-piece costumes, which would definitely showcase this new not-so-little development. I'm talking this thing actually made me jump when I caught sight of it in the mirror. While not quite as horrifying as the rash, my new friend was still quite unattractive and unwelcome. I searched hurriedly for one of those small, circular band-aids that I figured would hide the yuckiness and wouldn't show much, but then realized that Anne had used them all as "stickers." Thus, I was stuck with makeup and a hope for the best.


But I figured if that was the worst thing that happened, it wouldn't be so bad, right? That sounds like a lead up to something unfortunate, but it isn't. :-) Everything went well, including my heavily powdered belly. We were wearing our pink costumes for the first set, and the long fringe on the top actually covered up The Gross Thing.


My drum solo trio danced right in front of Mike and the kids, so cute. In the second set I had both my solo and the new troupe numbers, and I was debuting a new costume that would most decidedly NOT cover up The Gross Thing. It was certainly not invisible, even with all the makeup, but I did the best I could. I figured that without knowing explicitly it was there, most people wouldn't see it. I hoped. I planned to spin around a lot to blur things as best I could. ;-)

Backstage in my coverup before I danced, I heard "quick, flash me!" and it was Claire, wanting to see the new costume. :0 We harbor a lot of excitement over new costumes in the Middle Eastern dance world. As I was waiting for my music to start (and technical sound system troubles abounded Saturday night, to be sure) I thought to myself that I figured I would be so much less nervous about dancing at haflas after the scary bellygram gig. I was wrong. ;-)

I was still VERY nervous, and I suppose this is just part of performing for me. I do love it, but the jitters are not going anywhere anytime soon, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, I suppose. It just means that I always endeavor to put my best foot forward.

Finally, my music started, and out I swirled. My new costume has a flowy chiffon skirt, and I loved it. It made my climactic spin sequence super fun. ;-) But I thought it went well! My music had several dramatic pause moments, and for the first time, I really used them. I think the most difficult thing to do in dance is to pause. Everybody is staring at you, watching you, and to stand still is hard. Through the years of performing though, I've realized how important it is to let the music "tell" you what to do. And if the music says pause, I pause. I've been working on that, along with keeping better control of my arms and hands when I dance. We want graceful, ballet dancer arms and tucked thumbs, no jazz hands! But when you're also thinking about smiling and what the heck you're doing with the rest of your body, well, the arms/hands can get lost in the shuffle. ;-) That has been my pet project this fall. Lots of painful practice video critiques, but it's the only way to get results.

I progressed through my music and shone my Beatific Performance Beam on anybody I laid eyes on. American audiences tend to be very quiet and subdued (this is seen as the polite way to behave, but as a performer, it makes you feel like everyone is bored :)) and I use smiling as a way to draw people in more.

The new costume
They smiled back. Anne waved to me. Everyone seemed to enjoy when I used a musical accent to clear my hair out of my face. :0 I was pleased.

After that, we had the veil/baladi number, which also went well. We moved dressing room locations for this hafla, and the location was SO much better. I got to see and enjoy the other performances, which, besides belly dance, included ballroom dance and a new hula hoop instructor. Can I just say that I positively LONG to take the new hooping class! She was A-MAZING! She could rotate the hoop along every length of her body, from the arches of her feet up to her fingers, all to the rhythm of her chosen music. LOVED. This was definitely a crowd favorite. I'm not very flexible, so I'm not certain that I would be very good at it, :0 but in my head, this is a fantastically fun new thing I'd love to try.

I would also love to take ballroom lessons with Mike. He too wants to do this, but right now with teaching and kids' schedules, it's not in the cards. But hopefully someday! In my dream world, I would take a different dance class every night of the week, but you know. Reality seeps in. ;-) It's OK. I'll take my happy belly dance and family bubble. I've got it good.

The third set just had the Shaabi piece in it for me, which is old hat at this point. In those wonderfully comfortable Saidi dresses that feel akin to pajamas.

I love these women. Dancing with them is one of the great joys of my life.

We're talking about learning a new group sword piece over the winter, did you ever?! Sword will be SO EXCITED! And in a group context? This could be very fun. And possibly dangerous. See why I love belly dance so much?

How was your weekend, dear reader? I'll try to check in briefly tomorrow. Until then!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Tea Time with Tiffany #25 - Upcoming writing & audio projects...maybe I could hear *your* voice?!

Happy Thursday everyone! This is our last episode until after Thanksgiving, so I figured I'd squeeze a lot into this week's installment of:

Lots of fun stuff going on, and I pass on as much as I can this week. I'll be recording some audio shows the next two Tuesdays. Squeal, right?! Want to know more? Do listen on, dear listener! I also mention the new writing project that I'm involved in.

Items mentioned in this episode:
  • Allison Gingras's show, A Seeking Heart. This streams live from 10-11 am Eastern, every week day. I'll be a guest on Tuesday November 24th! And you can CALL IN while I'm on! Oh, do it, do it, pretty please!! :0 More details on Monday.
  • Catholic Mom's' CM Hangout podcast. I will be the guest contributor the week of December 1st! Links and all that good stuff as they become available.
  • A new book contribution. Details coming your way in 2016!
With Thanksgiving being next week, we'll be together in prayer and spirit rather than via our conversations here (with the exception of Monday and possibly Tuesday). But do write in to tell me all about how you'll be celebrating Thanksgiving. What is your tradition? Do you add any Black Friday shopping into the mix? I'd love to hear all about it. :-)

Talk to you all on Monday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Catholic Book Club: The Sign of the Carved Cross

Happy book club Wednesday everyone! This month we're doing something a little different and discussing a children's book, part of Lisa Hendey's Chime Travelers series. I chose The Sign of the Carved Cross, since it features St. Kateri Tekakwitha, and you all know that she is one of my very favorites!

This series intrigued me from the outset for two reasons: (1) it is for middle readers (ages 7-10), which is exactly the age group that my son Henry is in now.  So, these are chapter books, but written for kids that are newer to such books; (2) it involves actual encounters with saints via time travel. I mean...I am so jealous of this idea, it's fantastic!! :0

The Sign of the Carved Cross is book 2 in this series, the first being The Secret of the Shamrock and featuring St. Patrick.  Here is the back cover description from the book we chose:
Katie joins her friends in being mean to the new girl, Lily. But suddenly, Katie becomes the new girl—in 1675! She has no idea how she traveled in time to a Native American village, but she’s hoping the young woman she meets will be nicer to her than Katie was to Lily. Tekakwitha is a quiet girl with scars on her face from a terrible disease. Tekakwitha’s family doesn’t accept her because of her faith, and soon she and Katie have to run away in the middle of the night. Will Katie ever find her way back home? Find out in The Sign of the Carved Cross.
So, my impressions. In an totally expected development, given how much I loved the premise from the outset, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. :-) I like the different layers in the story: we have a contemporary piece at the beginning of the book, with Katie, her brother Patrick, and their daily lives at school and home. We identify with Katie, and empathize with her burgeoning desire to fit in with her group of friends, particularly her insecurities about the way she looks. We as the reader can see right away that Katie is jealous of Lily, the new girl, and how this causes her to behave in an uncharacteristically cold fashion. The faith aspect of the story is woven nicely into the intricacies of the plot. It's there in a way that kids can relate to, without it being heavy handed.

Then we move into the historical component, when Katie travels back in time, and one cannot help but fall in love with the future St. Kateri Tekakwitha. We feel anxious for Katie, who is so turned upside down by this unexpected journey, and her worries about getting home to her family. At the same time, however, we see the sweet and welcoming nature of Kateri, and slowly Katie comes to realize how her own unfriendly behavior must have caused a newcomer in a different time period to feel: Lily, back in her contemporary life. The book teaches an important life lesson through the story in a way that is poignant and exciting. The reader can also see how this realization, along with how reverently Kateri practices her Catholic faith despite the persecution she faces, have caused Katie to have a new understanding and appreciation for her own faith.

I absolutely loved the book, and have bought additional copies of the first two books in the series for other children in the targeted age range. Fantastic First Communion gifts, I would say. At $5.99 a book, the price cannot be beat! Lisa Hendey has two new titles in the series coming out in the spring (here and here), and they're available for preorder over at Amazon. These focus on Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi!

Has anyone else read these books with their kids? Either the St. Patrick title or this one? Do chime in with your thoughts!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Of frantic dance prep, upcoming Mass time changes, and voyages to Swiss Chalet...

Morning all! It wasn't an easy weekend in the world news, to be sure. Oftentimes, when I think about heartbreaking situations such as this one, I feel fear, as I'm sure is fairly common. But then I remember the words of our beloved John Paul II, and try not to feel afraid: for my kids, for my friends and family, for our world, for myself. I try. But it's not easy, yes? Let's all stick together and pray for each other and for peace in our world. I know that it brings me some measure of solace to think of us all together in community, and I hope it does you as well.

Around my small part of the world, it's looking very fallen leafy and windswept here in WNY these days, very reminiscent of this photo:

It was a busy weekend for us, as we gear up for the holidays and for Advent. At our parish, the Mass times are changing, which I'm a tad chagrined about, but I'll adjust. I love our 10 am Mass, and it's switching to 11 am, which will at times not be nearly as convenient for us. Right away, early in Advent, we're going to see The Nutcracker for a Sunday matinee show, and the 11 am Mass will get us out too late to make it without rushing quite a bit. I think what will most likely happen is that on weekends like that, we will be attending the vigil Mass. We'll develop a new routine and get used to it, but as we anticipate this I'm mourning our beloved 10 am slot a bit. :)

In cute Catholic kid stuff, Anne relayed a precious story to me on Saturday:

"Mommy, we say the Pledge of Allegiance in school."

"Yes! We always said that in school, too. Have you memorized it?"

"Yes, want to hear?"

Of course I did. :) And she took the duty very seriously.

"That's excellent, sweetheart."

"Mommy, did you know that when you say the Pledge of Allegiance, you only need to put your hand like this, over your heart? And not make the sign of the cross after? My teacher told me."

Oh snort. I can only imagine how this went over in Anne's public pre-K. She must have thought it was like when we say grace at meals. I liked how she automatically wove in the tie between a physical gesture and saying aloud something important, a ritual. She's a natural as a Catholic child. ;-)

In other news, my dance troupe is in heavy rehearsal mode for the hafla this upcoming weekend.We have a bunch of group pieces that we'll be performing, and at this point it's always a hodge podge of old and new numbers, combined in new and exciting ways. ;-) So, we have a new veil piece paired with a new baladi number, but also an old pop piece paired with a new drum, and then our newish Saidi piece as a standalone. 

Solos are going to be in the second set, and mine is in there, towards the end. Lots of time to sweat leading up to that. Although I'm hoping that my little birthday party adventure last month will make me appreciate the easier-to-manage hafla atmosphere this time around, and consequently be less nervous about performing in such venues. I have my music all edited and ready to go, and general idea of how I'd like to structure things in my usual improvisational way. 

Running through my music reminded me that I needed to decide what costume to wear, and so a lot of sewing ensued this weekend. I sew about as well as I bake, so you can only imagine how well these little sessions typically unfold. Mike comes out of his office from grading student papers and finds me casually passing him in the hallway garbed in jeans and a costume top with only half a strap, trailing behind me a super long length of black satin. Anne is adorning the walls with random pieces of adhesive Velcro that I gave her to prevent her from causing too much damage in the notions bag.  

"You're probably wondering what is going on out here, aren't you?"

This is a common occurrence in our house whenever I have a dance gig. ;-) Dance costumes ALWAYS require a lot of sewing. If they're new, they never fit perfectly, and so need a lot of work to make them presentable. If they're old, they're losing beads or need new hooks, or have stretched out a bit and could use some tucking. I did not get a separate costume for when I was pregnant with Anne, I just wore my skirt under my belly throughout the second trimester, if that is any indication of what we're working with here. :0 Our costumes are generally stretchy, but don't maintain the same level of stretchiness over time, for sure and for certain.

So I now have black satin straps on my new black and bronze costume, which I'd like to wear for the solo, but the skirt is extremely heavy and needs some more tucking for it to stay put on my hips. Working on that tonight. We're getting there!

To complete our weekend, Mike asked on Sunday if I'd like to go to dinner at Swiss Chalet. Um, YES. You all know about my love affair with Canadian rotisserie chicken. I *love* it there, and given that we now have to cross an international border to get there, I don't get there as often as I'd like. However, this experience has shown me that it really doesn't take all that long to get to the Niagara Falls, Ontario location, and thus we really need to be doing this much more frequently. ;-) At any rate, we packed up the kids and headed north. Yes, for chicken.

But it's all about the chalet sauce, remember? And we had a delightful time:

"And I think that that way, we can...wait. What happened to all of your sauce?"

"I ate it. Are you going to use all of yours?"

*I eye his cup like a vulture circling it's prey*

"No, I guess not. But...what else do you dip in there besides the chicken?"

The man is so cutely naive of the ways of the Chalet. If he's going to go all HEALTHY and choose the vegetables over the french fries dipped in sauce, well then I just can't help him. :0

And the waitress who gave me an extra cup of fresh sauce for my takeout container? Let's just say she got a very nice tip. And very nearly a round of applause.


What did you do this weekend, dear reader? Write in and tell me all about it. :)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Tea Time with Tiffany #24: Holiday performances, but also a delightful spin on the Catholic belly dancer issue...

Hello ALL! How are you today? I hope that you're good and that you have your cup of morning beverage of choice for this week's installment of:

We're moving into a season of chatty videos that aren't necessarily focused on any one topic. More of a "what's going on in my week!" type of situation. Think of these as mini podcasts for now, until I can get a real one started up. :) They're not any longer, I promise. This week I talk briefly about the book club, and move into dance news. And there's an interesting faith/dance related anecdote in there. Do view on if you're curious!

Items mentioned in this episode:
Any holiday performances brewing with you, dear reader, whether you'll be performing or attending?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

It's *that* time of year: in which I ravenously purchase Christmas books...

Happy Wednesday everyone, and I hope that your week is progressing well! I'm doing great over here. I recorded a video post this morning (which you'll see tomorrow) and you'll notice that I'm all perky in it. It's another busy week, but I'm excited about a lot of things coming up, and that shines through all the coffee drinking, I think. ;-) The topic is dance related, so if that is of interest to you, make sure to come back tomorrow!

As I was reading a book on my beloved Kindle last night, it occurred to me via the sheer volume of titles that are cataloged in my Christmas folder (yes, I am a librarian and super nerdy about such things) how romance and mystery books with a Christmas setting are one of my very guiltiest pleasures. I'll be honest and admit that I do sometimes read them at other times of the year (don't judge me :0) but I especially love reading them in the late fall and early winter, leading up to Christmas day. I know it isn't actually Christmas until after that, but you know. We all have our weaknesses. ;-)

I end up downloading WAY more books than I can actually read in a single season, and I know this, but yet this does not dissuade me in any way. It makes me happy year round to see that folder labeled "Christmas," and to know that those stories are waiting for me. Strange, but true.

And so this is how I go about my quest, for anybody who wants to join me in this saga: Starting around September, I scout for Christmas books. You will begin seeing authors and publishers promoting their upcoming Christmas titles right around then. When I spy something that I like, I'll either pre-order it, or stick it on my Amazon shopping list to remind me to come back to it. My current read, which I did in fact pre-order is this one:
This is the eleventh book in the Seaside Knitters series (cozy mysteries, which I am an avid fan of), but you can read them as stand alone titles. The number of characters has gotten confusing at this point, but there is a list with a blurb of who everyone is at the front of the book. Here is the description:
In Sea Harbor, the holidays mean cozy fires, festive carols, and soft skeins of yarn waiting to become hats and sweaters and scarves. And this year, Izzy and the other Seaside Knitters are also knitting tiny ornaments to decorate a tree for the first annual tree-trimming contest.

Their holiday cheer is multiplied when Izzy’s younger brother, Charlie Chambers, unexpectedly arrives to volunteer at a local clinic. He brings with him outspoken hitchhiker Amber Hanson, who is returning to Sea Harbor to claim an inheritance. She quickly reacquaints herself with the area—and forms an unlikely friendship with Charlie. But their bond is shattered when her body is found beneath the undecorated trees on the Harbor Green.

Charlie is a suspect in the murder, so Izzy and her fellow Knitters step in to uncover the truth. Their journey takes them into Charlie’s past and tests their fierce love for him. But it’s only by peeling away long-buried secrets that they can hope to restore joy to the season and enjoy the shining lights of the newly decorated trees....
Intriguing, yes? I live for books like this. :0 The setting just puts a person right into the Christmas spirit. I'm also a big fan of the Love Inspired line of monthly romances.  They have sub-lines of contemporary, suspense and historical romances, and these can all be characterized as inspirational Christian stories. Starting usually in October, they will start to include Christmas titles in their lineup, and so I always peruse and pre-order what I'd like. Then on November 1st and December 1st, those titles will automatically download to my Kindle. So, for example, in November, this is one of the books newly on my Kindle:
Here is the description:

The last thing Benjamin Duff needs is to be stranded at his friend Piper Lawrence's bed-and-breakfast with a dangerous intruder. But when he stops to say goodbye before moving across the world, he finds a masked man attacking Piper. Benjamin rushes to save her, crashing his truck and trapping them during a winter storm in the process. With no power or cell phones and time running out before his trip, he'll have to work fast to catch the killer. As they fight for their lives and their feelings for each other grow, Benjamin must decide if he's really willing to leave Piper behind.
As these are inspirational romances, they are what I would characterize as wholesome, no steamy love scenes. :) I particularly enjoy the suspense titles, but I do also like the contemporary romances, like this one:
 A Small-Town Christmas

Gemma Butler has a grand vision to transform the fledgling Christmas celebrations in Dover, Mississippi, and bring visitors to the town. It's also the single mom's last chance to provide for her son and revive her event planning business. But Gemma's not the only one with something to prove. Line Montgomery has the weight of the family business on his shoulders. And he'll go down swinging before he'll let anyone disrupt the traditions he holds dear. Yet when a storm threatens to destroy the holiday, he'll join forces with the beautiful planner and discover she just might be the love he's been searching for.
 Awwwwww...Sweet, right?! I love these books. Obviously, these are not deep literature, just enjoyable light holiday reading.

So. I need to know. Am I alone in this, or are there other Christmas romance fans out there as well? Show yourself in the comments, pretty please. :)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Brownies that could cut glass & a zombie apocalypse: An eclectic milestone birthday weekend...

You wouldn't think those things in the title would all be related, would you? But I like to keep things interesting around here, so read on, dear blog reading aficionado! And I have yet another topic to toss into the mix before we get started, because it's Catholic Mom day for me, and this month my piece is on Confirmation patrons:

My Confirmation patron is none other than St. Cecilia, and I would love for you to click on over to read my piece and leave a comment with your very own Confirmation patron. How about your favorite saint with a feast day in November? You can write in with that information too! Let's have a fun comment party over at Catholic Mom.

But in other news, this past weekend was my Henry's birthday. OK. The child is now 10. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! I remember the day he was born like it was a few months ago.


I hate how fast time seems to pass when you're an adult. I suppose part of it is the fact that one has so many more responsibilities as you get older. Alas. I guess the moral of this pointless tale of woe is that adulting is hard. Let's move on, shall we?

At any rate, it was a milestone birthday for Henry, and so we wanted to make it nice for him. His actual birthday is the 6th, which was Friday.  And every year we face the age old question of what birthday treat to send in with him to school for their celebration. See, for most normal people this is not at all an issue. Because they are good bakers and/or simply send in a store-bought treats without needlessly fretting about how they're a failure as a mother because they cannot bake. But if you're me? You're both a terrible baker AND you fret over how this makes you a negligent mother. I feel like if I send in something store-bought then everyone will KNOW that I'm a terrible baker. Plus, I see that as symbolic of the fact that I have officially given up: there is no hope for me, I cannot bake. Ever. I am disgrace to my Italian heritage. If I told my mother that I use Pillsbury pie crusts, it'll be like when I once admitted to her that I'd used pasta sauce out of a jar:

"I didn't *raise you like that*!"

That's really what she said. :0 I *can* at least make tomato sauce, sometimes I'm just too lazy to. ;-) I can also make a pretty decent Italian wedding soup. But see, that isn't *baking*. Baking is kryptonite for me.

And so I fretted over cupcakes here, or cookies there, until Mike suggested that we make brownies:

"I am terrible at making brownies."

"Are you sure? We'll just use a boxed mix."

"Yes, even the boxed mixes. I'm awful at making brownies from them. The edges are always overdone and the middle undercooked."

*Mike looks dubious*

"I've made them and they turn out fine."

"Are you volunteering?"

*Tiffany turns on the charming, winning smile*

This works, only because he is my husband.

"Sure. If you can pick up the mix on your way home from work tomorrow, I'll make them Thursday night before play rehearsal."


Isn't he wonderful? And indeed, on Thursday I came home and walked into a kitchen that smelled like chocolate.

"HONEY! You made the brownies!!"

"Of course, I said I would."

Mike is looking super pleased with himself, hoping for Husbandly Extra Credit Points for taking care of something that was causing me so much stress. His effort was indeed noted and rewarded. :-)

"How many brownies did the 2 boxes of mix yield?"

This is another problem that I have with brownies. So many of them turn out like ca-ca that I end up with far too few that are actually edible. And when I try to cut them into neat little squares?


"I'm not sure. I had to put some of them into a round pan. But there are 2 pans worth. I think they turned out well."

"Well, they certainly smell good. Thank you darling!"

It was a real love fest. Between Mike and I (this love affair persists, despite the part of the story I'm about to get to ;-)) and between Mike, I and the brownies. We had dinner, and while we were undergoing the kitchen cleanup, I grabbed a knife and spatula and tried to remove the brownies from the pans. Notice use of the words "tried to" in that sentence, dear reader?

I didn't want to say anything, because Mike was so heroic in his efforts to spare me from further baking humiliation, but I was having the same problem with these brownies that I always do with my own homemade brownies: hard on the edges + too crumbly in the middle = a big ole' mess to get out of the pan. Mike came over while I was using the spatula like the end of a hammer attempting to pry out a nail:

"Everything OK over here?"

"Well. I'm having a bit of a hard time getting the brownies out of the pan."

That was an understatement, but no need to elaborate and make him feel bad. He offered to help, and is soon jamming a knife along the sides and underneath each brownie in an effort to extract it.

"The box instructions say to use 'short, sawing motions' to get them out."

"Why do brownies have to be so bossy?!"

I was starting to loathe the brownies; not only these ones, but all their hard-edged, chewy offspring in bad brownie generations to come. I was hankering to bring Mike over to the dark side with me.

"I think they'll be fine. Oh. Oh dear."

I told you, I hate brownies. And now, Mike does too. ;-) We barely managed to salvage 15 brownies to send in for Henry's class. Poor, scarred-for-life Henry, having to bring in malformed brownies on his 10th birthday. I will say that he seemed delighted with the brownies, because, you know, they're BROWNIES. They're made of chocolate. How could there possibly be a problem with that?! Bless that child.

So, he had his school party on Friday, and we had a family party for him with pizza and wings (we're rather known for that around here. ;-) And we know where to get *the best* ones, because we're freakish and take chicken wings far too seriously in WNY) on Saturday, and he seemed thrilled with the company and his gifts. All went well.

It was a big weekend for Henry for another reason as well: it was his community theater debut. :0 This fall, he and Mike both auditioned for a play and were cast. Our township's community theater was putting on Night of the Living Dead, and Mike is playing the newscaster. Henry was cast as a zombie. :0 There were LOTS of kids in the play, and so despite it being more scary themed, it was a very family-friendly production. Anne and I went to see it for the Sunday matinee, and she wasn't scared at all. We had told her all about what she would be seeing, and how it was all make believe, and she didn't seem fazed in the least. There were at least a dozen other kids in the audience.

And I was *very* impressed! Henry was very in-character, his facial expressions and body movements showing that he was focused on the direction he had received during the rehearsal period. We were super proud of him! He had one of the more prominent zombie roles. *beams* And Mike was adorable as the newscaster:

"Look! It's Da Da!"

Anne was very excited to spot him. :-) My husband has a *very* nice voice, he receives compliments on it all the time. He's a natural for a newscaster role. And can I say how appealing it is to see him all in actor mode up on stage? In fact...well, I'll digress. Let's just say that his Cute Husband Points are through the roof this weekend. ;-)

So, a BIG weekend for Henry! I can't believe I have a child whose age is now in the double digits. This is how it happens, isn't it, with this nefarious aging thing? Next thing you know, Henry will be 50, I'll be 80, and it'll feel like only 15 minutes have elapsed.


But I'll probably still be belly dancing, so long as I'm not using a walker or anything, so prepare yourself for those future posts now! :0

How was YOUR weekend, dear reader? Thanksgiving prep underway? Holiday crafting? Write in with all the details. :)

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Tea Time with Tiffany #23: Getting involved in new creative enterprises!

Hello all, and the end of the week is nearly upon us! It's been another busy one, but I'm hanging in there. How about you? In thinking about happy topics, I came up with a different twist for this week's edition of...

I had a Worship Committee meeting this week, so I was thinking about parish involvement, but I widened the scope to include "getting involved and putting yourself out there!" generally. :) It's a pleasant, positive topic, especially for us introverts who sometimes need that extra encouragement to try new things, and I chat about a bunch of new and interesting things on the horizon.

Items mentioned in this episode:
  • Getting and staying motivated to get involved in new things. Case in point: my parish Worship Committee.
  • Upcoming and fun new projects right here with your Catholic Librarian. Stayed tuned for details!
Are you involved in any new activities this fall? If you are more introverted, how do you stay motivated to remain involved, and to try new things? Write in with your thoughts and experiences. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Catholic Nook: St. Andrew/Christmas novena...

Photo courtesy of Allison Kinyon, Rosaries by Allison
Happy Wednesday to you all! I hope that your week is going well. Me? I'm sleepy, but good. I'm certain many of you are in the same boat (Cindy - prayers coming your way, girl! ;-)).

One of my tasks this week was to attend a meeting of my parish's Worship Committee (details are in tomorrow's video post). And the main topic of conversation was planning for Advent.


Is there anything more enjoyable than Advent planning for Catholic nerds? I think not. We got down with the liturgical Advent talk, but it got me to thinking about my own personal Advent plans. Magnificat Advent Companion, check. Various and sundry Advent wreaths and calendars, had those since the summer.


AND I also have this delightful new chaplet of sorts, that coincides perfectly with the Advent season. And what would that be, you reasonably ask?

It is a set of beads designed to assist in praying the St. Andrew Christmas Novena. I had not heard of this until very recently. I have prayed a traditional Christmas novena before, which includes prayers for the nine days leading up to Christmas day. This is different. And although it's called a novena, it is not in the usual nine day format. This is a short prayer that one prays each day from the feast of St. Andrew on November 30th, through Christmas Eve. So, it's using the term "novena" to indicate a designated stretch of time, rather than nine day segments.

During that time span, on each day, you pray the following prayer:

Hail and blessed be the hour and moment in which the Son of God was born of the most pure Virgin Mary, at midnight, in Bethlehem, in piercing cold. In that hour, vouchsafe, O my God, to hear my prayer and grant my desires, though the merits of Our Savior Jesus Christ, and of His Blessed Mother Amen.

This novena is also different from others in that instead of praying the prayer once per day, traditionally you pray it 15 times over the course of the day.  So, you could choose to intersperse the prayer throughout your day, to keep your mind continually focused on the season, or pray them at the same time for one intensive stretch of prayer.

To aid in keeping track, my best rosary gal pal Allison designed the chaplet that you see in the photo above. I own aforementioned chaplet, and you can get one too if you like. :) The chaplet is ideal for praying the prayer all at once, but you could also use a small clip or zipper pull to attach to the loops and keep track of where you are if you prefer to pray periodically throughout the day.

I like the thought of using this prayer during the Advent season to keep my attention focused on a contemplation of the nativity. I plan on praying it throughout Advent this year!

Has anybody else heard of this form of Christmas novena before? Do you pray a different Advent/Christmas novena? Do write in with your experiences. :)

More information on the St. Andrew Christmas novena can be found here.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Of sour faces & not much sleep on Halloween night...

Annual jack o' lantern. Isn't he scary?! ;-)
Hello all, and happy commemoration of All Souls! I hope that you had a great Halloween and feast of All Saints. Mine was *pretty* good :0 but had it's ups and downs. I definitely want to know how YOURS was, so chime in down in the comments! But what amusement awaited me this particular Halloween? Read on, dear reader.

All right, so Halloween is traditionally a bad weather day around here in WNY. It's rained the past two years, and this year was shaping up to be no exception, with gray skies and wind abounding. Meanwhile, inside our house, a storm cloud was perched firmly over my daughter's head. She was not feeling 100%, with new cold-like symptoms developing, and expressed dissatisfaction with some of her costume details. Every Halloween, right around 6 pm, somebody in our house is crying. Every.single.year. :0

Here's the Catholic Librarian crew, just prior to the festivities beginning:

Anne initially refused to pose for the picture and only Daddy's coaxing made this happen...
We worked our way through Anne's temper, and thankfully the sprinkles had dissipated by time trick-or-treating was upon us. As is our norm, I took the kids out to gather candy while Mike stayed behind to hand out treats. Anne had perked up, and delightedly moved from house to house. Henry, nearly 10 now, has moved on to the "morose" stage of his life. ;-) He was feeling rather mortified, I think, to be trick-or-treating with Anne and I, but it's not like we forced him, he just hadn't booked any other plans. :-) We covered good ground, running into two little girls dressed as Elsa from Frozen, companions to Anne's own Anna costume. One of the moms was just delighted:

"Look. IT'S ANNA!! You two found each other!!"

Very cute.

At any rate, we made our way through our regular route, and then Mommy was very happy to head home with 2 tired, but sugared up, kids in tow, and an empty "water bottle." By the time we got the kids settled and in bed, it was much later than usual. And we were hoping for some relaxing time. ;-) We head upstairs.

Approximately 25 seconds later...

"What's that?! I think it's Anne."

"No it isn't!!"

Denial is always the first reaction I have when children wake up anytime within the 9 pm to 7 am span.

"It is. Let me see if I can soothe her real fast."

*5 very long minutes elapse*

"I don't know what's wrong. She's crying. And she won't talk."


But I figure, Mommy's Powers sometimes dwarf Daddy's Powers when it comes to night soothings. I head in, feeling confident:

"Anne, what's wrong, Honey?"

*violent shaking of head*

I have another moment of unease when I see that sunny little Anne looks like something straight out of The Exorcist, hair sticking up, eyes wild, thrashing limbs. All offers of water, back rubs, application of Vick's VapoRub, extra pillows and snuggles are resoundly rejected. She won't say what's wrong, nor will she stop wailing. Relaxation time is officially over.

She refuses to stop crying unless I sleep in her room, and let me tell you: Bodies over 25 years of age are NOT meant to sleep on the floor anymore. Every muscle in my body ached the next day. But there I stayed until about 3:30 am. In between being woken to be asked:

"Is it morning time yet?"

"NO dear, let's go back to sleep, OK Muffin?!"

At 3:30 am, Anne started coughing. And coughing and coughing. I knew she wasn't going to be able to go back to sleep with it that bad. So she and I headed downstairs for cough drops, fresh water, and to prop up on the couch for some Golden Girls viewing while we waited for the coughing attack to pass. She very happily set up shop at one end of the couch, while I curled up on the other. I own the full Golden Girls collection on DVD, so I popped in a disk and hit "PLAY ALL." Glorious, so glorious, I tell you. Three hours of soothing Golden Girls hilarity followed in the background.

After assuring that Anne had finished her cough drop, she and I propped up on pillows to try and fall asleep. Anne has gotten quite long legged of late, and soon she was stretched out and taking up 95% of the sofa, snoring loudly without a care in the world. I was curled into the fetal position on the other end, dreaming of being able to move my legs. I woke up at 6:30 when Mike came downstairs, my poor legs having moved onto *the coffee table* in an effort to not be twisted like a pretzel any longer.

Anne was still asleep and he took the reigns from there, allowing me to go upstairs to try and sleep for an hour or so. The time change couldn't have come on a better night.

I was undecided as to whether to go to Mass or not given how little sleep I had gotten, but ultimately I ended up going, and I am SO GLAD that I did. As ever, it cheered me right up. After Mass, I spent the afternoon following football and making my mother's patented recipe for chicken soup with meatballs, which proved incredibly soothing. And then I was exhausted and ready for bed well before 9 pm. :)

Hence, there were some fun moments, but my Halloween was a bit tiring this year. How was yours? Do detail in the comments. :)