Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – easter 2016

Christmas is a relatively easy holiday to explain to small children, because it involves the birth of a baby, and little kids immediately relate to that and get excited about that. Easter, with its requisite understanding of death, is a bit harder. I didn’t try to heavy-handedly force the story down my kids’ throats this year; I just introduced the people and the events, and began to populate Holy Week with church and family traditions that will hopefully give them a sense of the importance of the holiday even when they can’t really understand it yet.

So on Good Friday we made our hot cross buns, read together, and went to the service that evening. On Saturday we made Easter cookies (much easier to handle with two little boys than Easter egg coloring, and tastier in the end since none of us really care for hard boiled eggs) and had a low-key meal with my parents; I don’t know if it carried over for the kids, but for me the day was filled with a sense of hushed anticipation that I really hadn’t felt on this Saturday in the past. And on Easter I tried to fill every part of the day with a specialness, an excitement, a celebration! We went to church in the morning of course, after letting the boys enjoy some Easter treats at home, and then drove up to my in laws’ house to celebrate with the extended family.

{pretty} and {happy}

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My FIL set up an Easter egg hunt for all the little cousins in their backyard, and it was quite a success 🙂 Honestly, I think my boys would have been excited to find just one egg and discover it to be full of chocolate or goldfish crackers – finding 4 or 5 each was extraordinary happiness. They didn’t quite have the knack for spotting and collecting the eggs that their cousins did, but they took such delight in each egg that they didn’t even notice, much less care, that they’d found fewer eggs overall. It made me wonder how many times I’ve lost my enjoyment in something completely gratuitous and fun, like these eggs, just because someone else did “better” than me… I hope that in future I can have the same innocent joy in the experience that my boys showed me here.

{happy}

This has to be one of the best simple “grandma’s house” kind of toys out there:

Both boys climbed on it over and over again. Rondel figured out how to go up one side and down the other; Limerick managed to get up to the top but then would come back down the same way he went up. He ended up finding out he could slide down in between two of the rungs, which was apparently fun, but then he would be stuck and cry for someone to pull him back up and out of the ladder. And then he would climb back and do it all again…

{funny}

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This is Limerick’s suspicious look (with a mouth full of crackers) as he eyes my in-laws’ dog, who had been sneaking goldfish whenever Limerick looked away. I don’t think he really grasped what was happening, but he knew something was up… we eventually persuaded him to move his eggs off the ground so the dog wouldn’t be able to steal it so easily.

{real}

I didn’t really get a picture of this, but the reality of the day was that the boys didn’t get good naps, and were worn out by the excitement and lack of routine. Something I’ve learned in the past couple years, with Rondel, is that all the best plans and fun activities are pointless if I don’t factor in enough time to let my kids acclimate to the changes of the holiday and process all the different stimuli coming at them. With this in mind, we had planned to arrive at my in-laws house early so that the boys could nap there before the rest of the family arrived, and be comfortable in the environment before it was filled with people – but when we got there, we discovered that they had changed the locks and forgotten to give us a copy of the new key. Not the best thing to find with two tired boys who were very much looking forward to going inside their grandparents’ house…

I think it was by God’s grace that I was able to stay calm and help the boys (Rondel especially) adjust and relax, and it wasn’t too long before they were able to enjoy the time and the family despite their tiredness and the challenges of the day. Knowing my own propensity towards anxiety and worst-case-scenario thinking, I really am thankful that we were able to have a great time celebrating the Resurrection together as a family and overcome the logistical issues along the way.

Head on over to the link-up at Like Mother, Like Daughter and share your Easter as well!

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Posted in family life, musings

grace in my inadequacies: striving for virtue as a mother of toddlers

Some days, as a parent, I just get so frustrated, so irritated, so impatient that it literally takes all I have not to yell at my kids. They usually aren’t doing anything wrong, either – just normal behavior that pushes my buttons.

Those are the days that remind me just how much I still need to grow in virtue and holiness.

Are my charity and compassion really so small that I can’t respond with a kind word and a helping hand when my toddler is whining for help wiping his nose because he’s sick and congested? It’s not loving, it’s not just, to snap at him every time just because I can’t handle the sound that he’s making because of how miserable he’s feeling – all it does is add to his sadness and upset by pushing him away from what should be his source of comfort and gentle love.

Are my temperance and self-control really so stunted that I can’t push back a meal or miss a little sleep because my boys need me for something that they can’t handle on their own? Can I not set aside my physical needs temporarily in order to take care of these little people who are depending on me for so much, and who in general have to bend to my schedule and my desires time and time again?

Is my joy so fleeting and shallow that the small irritants and storm clouds of everyday life are sufficient to wipe away my smile and bring a harsh edge to my voice? Am I really so far from the Root of happiness and peace that every small problem raises my temper or deadens my laughter?

Is my patience so short that I can’t deal with a toddler’s incessant questions or a baby’s irrational tears? How can I hope to teach them to love people well if I can’t love them well for who they are through their normal developmental needs?

And the hard answer to hear is yes, my virtues are that weak and undernourished, that immature and small. Sure, some days we have together are beautiful and by God’s grace I am living well in those moments, but in general – when I am tired, when someone is sick, when work is stressful, when Paul and I are having trouble communicating well, when I’m worried about someone I love – in general, in the normal stressors of life, my virtues aren’t strong enough to keep my feet in the path of holiness. At any rate, they still need the help of massive amounts of willpower and even more massive amounts of prayer!

My solace in those moments is knowing that the pain of striving towards virtue, the strain of denying my inclinations time and time again, the practice of coming back to God for mercy and grace hour after hour, will all result in an increase of virtue, in the same way that the aches and pains of exercise lead to greater strength. God wants us to grow in holiness, so His grace is extended for us for this purpose without stint or reservation – all we have to do is seek it and cooperate with it instead of pushing it away to pursue our own pleasures. It’s just a lot easier to say it that way than to actually live it out…

Posted in family life

brothers becoming friends

As the oldest sibling in my family, I liked playing with my brother and sister but sometimes (especially when they were very young) wished they were a bit more mature and independent! I see that with Rondel on occasion as he plays with Limerick – Limerick is always very interested in whatever Rondel is doing, and wants to be a part of it with him, but since he’s still pretty little he has a tendency to knock things over, which frustrates Rondel to no end as he’s typically just managed to balance or build or line things up to his liking when Limerick wanders over. It’s hard to watch sometimes, because I want them to learn to play together well and work through their conflicts, and it’s sad to see Limerick pushed away by his big brother when he just wants to play with him, but at the same time I find myself sympathizing with Rondel when he wants to be able to do something without another small person in his space.

When the boys are running around, though, engaging in full-body activities and practicing large motor skills, they’re a lot less likely to have conflict and a lot more likely to really enjoy being together. I think it might be because Limerick is on a more even level with Rondel in this sphere, or because Rondel is moving around and so doesn’t have a “space” or “activity” that Limerick can mess up. So at night we’ll run through the house playing chasing games, and they’ll practically run into each other and not care that they’re touching each other. And playing outside tends to be the best of all:

We took advantage of a warm afternoon to set up the hose out front and the boys spent the whole time – over an hour – playing in close company, watching each other, copying each other, laughing at each other, and generally building up the positive balance in their relationship. It probably helped that (after taking these pictures) I got in on the fun with them… 🙂 I really couldn’t resist!

My hope for them is that they will grow to be each other’s best friends, closest supports, and greatest encouragers – that they will lead each other into crazy situations, help each other grow, and be there for each other when they need a helping hand or a listening ear. And I think that these early years are foundational for creating the closeness and connection that often prove so elusive later in life.

Posted in family life, links, musings

spending time outdoors, and trying to avoid the built environment in an urban setting

I read a rather depressing article in The Guardian this week about the amount of time kids spend outside – apparently, about 3/4 of kids in the UK spend less than an hour outside on an average day, which is less than the amount of outdoors time the UN recommends for prisoners. I don’t imagine it’s that much better in the US, particularly in urban environments.

There’s been a combination of factors leading up to this, I think. We have the increased attraction of indoor activities, to start – a proliferation of games, toys, and technologies that didn’t exist a few generations ago. We have an increased sense of parental fear and anxiety, which I think stems from the globalization of our news and the breakdown of neighborhood communities. And in general we have a cultural tendency toward comfort and convenience, and being outdoors in all weathers isn’t the most comfortable or convenient thing, especially when parental supervision is required!

But it is undeniable that outdoors, active play and exploration is one of the best possible things a young child can be doing.

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So, in sort of the same spirit as my efforts to make sure my kids eat a variety of healthy foods, I’ve decided to be very intentional about getting them out of the house every day for an hour or two at a time (Limerick doesn’t usually last longer than that without needing some sort of rest or snack). I wish I had more wild and natural places for them to play easily, but at least I can get them outdoors with their hands in the dirt and rocks and grass!

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And in the mud! Irrigation at the botanical garden makes for a great play place for a toddler.

Our city does offer a variety of parks, and we live in a walkable area, so that helps a lot. Just this weekend, actually, we discovered a new park that has a small desert botanical garden, some walking trails, and some Native American ruins in addition to the playground area! I’m anticipating a lot more exploration there…

Rondel and I stood under this palo verde, by the flower-crowned organ pipe cacti, and held very still so we could listen to the buzzing drone of all the bees over our heads. The branches were probably a good two feet above my head and we could still hear the hum loud and clear.

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Limerick learned the hard way that even the flower buds on cacti have prickles!

In a similar vein, I learned today about the concept of an urban farm preschool, where very young children who don’t live in a rural environment can still have daily exposure to the natural environment – to experience firsthand the ever-changing beauty and wildness of nature, to see how plants grow and bear fruit and die, to taste and touch and feel living things every day, to grow comfortable around dirt and animals and the unsanitized processes of the natural world. There’s another idea added to my catalog of small businesses I’d be interested in starting some day!

What are some of your favorite ways to encourage your children to play outdoors, especially those of you who live in more urban settings? How do you think our society as a whole might do a better job of enabling outdoor time for both children and adults?

 

Posted in family life, recipes

hot cross buns: the Good Friday story and a recipe

One of my challenges this Easter was explaining the story of Jesus’s death to my toddlers. Death isn’t really a concept that they understand, and violent, painful death isn’t exactly something I want to describe to them in detail. I’d like them to retain their innocence until life demands otherwise!

We read some of the stories from the Jesus Storybook Bible, but they were honestly still a few years beyond Rondel, and I could tell that though he was listening, the words weren’t making much sense to him. So I ended up making it pretty short and simple, just saying that Jesus was hurt and died on a cross so that He could rescue us and make us able to know and love God.

And my best teaching tool ended up being these:

Throughout the day-long process of mixing, rising, shaping, baking, and glazing the hot cross buns, Rondel would keep asking me, in his toddler vernacular, what we would be drawing on top of the buns (answer: a cross) and what Jesus did for us on the cross (answer: see above). It gave him an interest in the story and something tangible to latch on to in the midst of a lot of things he didn’t quite understand.

So maybe that is part of the reason why these buns, which have always felt distinctly non-fasting to me, are a traditional Good Friday food – they help to teach the story to the youngest of us, and remind the rest of us of the truths we either lose sight of or over-complicate.

Bread making is something I do as much by feel as by measurements, but here’s the basic recipe I use for these buns, adapted from America’s Bread Book by Mary Gubser, if you want to make them next year. They are consistently one of my favorite sweet yeast breads.

First, you’ll need to make a sponge. This lets your yeast get active and happy, and if you’re using some whole wheat flour (as I normally do – I was totally out this year though), it gives the flour additional time to absorb the liquid and soften into the dough, allowing the gluten to develop while blunting some of the wheat’s sharp edges that can damage the gluten strands. It also means that your dough will rise a bit faster later on, since the yeast will already have had a chance to feed and multiply.

For a single batch, about 32-36 comfortably large buns, I start with 2 cups warm milk, 1/4 cup melted butter, 2 tablespoons of yeast, 1/2 cup brown sugar, and 2 cups whole wheat flour. (My general rule of thumb for a sponge is equal volumes of liquid and flour. If you’re doubling the recipe, you shouldn’t need to double the yeast as well, although I would still increase it to 3 tablespoons.) This gets all stirred up and then gets to sit, loosely covered, in a warmish, non-drafty place for about 30-60 minutes. Really, 30 minutes is as much as you need, but it can go quite a bit longer if you get distracted with your kids while it’s sponging 🙂

To the lovely, bubbly, slightly risen sponge (releasing that most wonderful yeasty scent into the air), you’ll need to add an egg and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt. Both of these things can inhibit the development of the yeast, so I like to let the yeast get a good headstart with the sponge before adding them!

At this point you have a good basic sweet bread starter that you could take in a variety of directions. For hot cross buns, I add a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon and about 3/4 teaspoons each of cloves and nutmeg. My additions to the buns vary slightly from year to year depending on what I have on hand, but basically you’ll need something citrusy and some sort of dried fruit. You could use 1/2-3/4 cup diced candied lemon or orange rind or the zest and juice of two oranges for the citrus, and 3/4-1 cup currants, raisins, or golden raisins (or a mix) for the dried fruit, and I’m pretty sure any combination of the above would be excellent. I do like the added texture of the larger golden raisins vs. the currants, and of the candied rind vs. the zest and juice, but if you want a smoother roll without those extra juicy bites, both zest and currants will melt into the batter and give you flavor without changing the texture. This year I used half currants and half golden raisins, and the zest and juice option for my citrus – it was what I had, and it was good.

Once the spices and fruits are added in, you’ll want to add white (unbleached, of course) flour to the dough, slowly, until the dough is workable but still soft and definitely not dry. You don’t want it as wet as a baguette dough, for example, because you’ll need to shape it into little rolls and it’ll have to hold that shape, but you don’t want it so dry that the end result is also dry and dense. This is the part of bread making that is hard to precisely describe without showing you in person! And to give you an idea of how variable it can be, the recipe I’ve adapted calls for about 2 cups more flour than I’m ever able to add to my dough – I live in a really dry climate, and it affects my yeast bread significantly, since most recipes have been tested and created in more humid places.

Anyway, when you’ve gotten the dough to your liking, you’ll want to knead it until it starts to look smooth and elastic, and stretches when you pull on it instead of breaking away in chunks. I have a mixer with a dough hook that I let do the kneading for me, typically, because it gives me more consistent results in less time, but there is something very satisfying and cathartic about doing it by hand from time to time, so don’t let the absence of a mixer stop you! This kneaded dough will then need to rise in a large bowl, coated with either melted butter or oil to keep the dough from sticking. Just like for the sponge, this bowl will need to be covered loosely and allowed to rest somewhere cozy until it has about doubled in size, which will probably be about an hour but will depend a lot on the health and happiness of your yeast.

Finally, at this point, you get to shape your little buns! I like a roll about the size of a typical dinner roll or average muffin, a piece of dough that comfortably fits in the palm of my hand and is easy to shape; this gets me about 32-36 rolls. Mary Gubser recommends making them with pieces of dough about the size of a walnut, resulting in 84 or so tiny little two-bite rolls, but I honestly quiver at the though of drawing crosses over that many tiny buns. Also, I never really want fewer than one hot cross bun anyway, so I’d end up eating 3 or 4 little ones at once…

These newly shaped rolls should sit on parchment paper or a buttered baking sheet, under a light towel, for about 45 minutes to let them rise one more time before baking, during which time you can preheat the oven to 375 F. The rolls will only take about 12-15 minutes to bake, even at the larger size, and should be golden on both top and bottom, light to the touch but not too squishy.

To cross them, after they’ve cooled, make a basic glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar to get to a spreadable consistency, pipe with a pastry bag/ziploc bag with the corner cut off, and let sit to harden. I usually only cross part of the batch because they’re easier to store unglazed, and I can glaze the rest of the buns the next day if I need to or just eat them unadorned, which is still very tasty if not quite as edifying and delicious.

Enjoy!

Posted in musings

new life through a crown of thorns

Through the crown of thorns comes beauty and new life.

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(I found this at the park this morning – it was like a reminder from God, on this day of waiting and held breath between the crucifixion and resurrection, of both the pain and the beauty bound together in Christ’s sacrifice.)

Posted in family life, phfr

{pretty, happy, funny, real} – spring in bloom

This is really one of the loveliest times of year here in Arizona. It seems like everything that can bloom is blooming, and flowers of all different shapes and hues and scents are everywhere.

{pretty}

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so many yellow daisies!
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daisies against a field of purple lantana
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bold and brilliant pomegranate reaching out to the orange tree

{happy}

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smiling at grandma being silly

This little guy is one of the happiest people I know. If he isn’t exhausted or hungry, he’s typically smiling, laughing, and generally being silly. His good spirits bring such joy to our house, especially since Rondel and I are less even-keeled… And it’s hard not to smile back at Limerick when he gets that twinkle in his eyes and that little dimple on his cheek, even when it’s been a rough day!

{funny} and {real}

Rondel was sick over the weekend (hence the rather disheveled look – this was one of his brief interludes away from his sick nest on the couch), which I suppose is {real} and not {funny}, but I found this new activity he’s devised really quite amusing. We have three wooden puzzles that spell out our names – one for me that I’ve had since childhood, and one for each of the boys. So Rondel took the letters out of the puzzle and lined them up on the lid of the piano, and was very pleased with himself for the accomplishment! By the end of the day he’d managed to balance them all up along the piano and was then fiercely guarding it against his fascinated little brother…

There’s no linkup today, which I maybe should have foreseen since it’s Holy Thursday, but since I wrote the post preemptively, I’m still sharing it here 🙂 Like Mother Like Daughter has a different (but very fascinating) type of post up today, about the Triduum and the curious fact that tomorrow is the celebration of both the Annunciation and Good Friday, including thoughts on this rare event from the 17th century poet John Donne – so go read it, especially if you need a seed idea to help you pray and meditate on Christ over these next few days.