Saturday, July 26, 2014

// S I M P L E S U M M E R, S I M P L E F O O D: cucumber chickpea salad //

A couple years ago my fiend Kristi came over for dinner and brought this salad. It was simple and fresh and delicious and Alex and I have never forgotten it. In fact, we make it a few times a month. It's super easy, and pretty filling because of the chickpeas. It's a great summer dish, but really, we eat all year around because we love it so much. Kristi, if you are reading this: thank you for introducing us to this salad!


2 cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 large cucumbers
1/2 of 1 red onion
1 big handful of fresh dill, or 2 tablespoons of dried dill
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of white wine vinegar

Put rinsed chickpeas into your favorite salad bowl. 

Prepare your cucumbers: You can either peel them, or leave the peel on, or use a zester to half peel them, like I did. Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise, then in half again lengthwise, so you have 4 wedges. Cut off the corner of each wedge, thus removing the seeds. This is something I didn't used to do, but I've found that the texture is more pleasant without the cucumber seeds.  After you've cut out the seeds, cut each wedge in half lengthwise one more time and then chop them up into small pieces. Add these to the chickpeas.

Cut onion into thin half-moon slices and add to the salad.

If you are using fresh dill, remove the larger center stems, coarsely chop it, and add it the the salad bowl. If you are using dried dill just add it right into the salad.  Add olive oil, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss well. 

This salad can be served right away but tastes best if the cucumbers and chickpeas have had time to marinade a little.  I like to let it sit in my refrigerator for about an hour before serving. Toss it a few times while it's sitting, and again before serving. Add a baguette and some goat cheese, open a bottle of white wine and you've got yourself a very respectable and very easy summer dinner. Enjoy!

Monday, July 21, 2014

// 3 W O R D S //

Just when we thought things couldn't get any crazier....

What with Alex having the busiest couple of weeks, no months, at work in the history of...ever. 

And Alex taking 2 very difficult classes this summer, requiring him to spend every free moment studying. 

And me being alone with Johnny all day err day while he pulls 12+ hour days at least twice a week. 

And Alex being sick for over a week now....

Three words:

Hand. Foot. and Mouth. (ok, 4 words if you count "and")

Our poor little Johnny was burning up with a fever early Sunday morning and a visit to doctor-grandpa that evening confirmed that it was hand, foot and mouth. Not to be confused with the more serious, and mostly occurring in live stock, foot and mouth, or hoof and mouth. FH&M is pretty common among children and according to my pediatrician father-in-law (btw, have I mentioned how incredibly thankful I am to have a pediatrician in the family? Seriously, it's amazing. I wish everyone was this fortunate.) there's been quite an outbreak of it around here. Johnny's been running a fever, he's covered in spots, no appetite, and is displaying the general malaise you'd expect from something like this.

Outside of hospital stays this is really Johnny's first time being sick. You'd think after going through 4 surgeries with my child a little viral infection would seem like no sweat. But at the hospital we had 24 hour nurse access and here it's just me and Johnny. There's no call button to push when he needs more medicine, or when I want to ask if his spots or his poop look funny. It's been hard, but we're surviving. And I feel like I've reached a new parenting milestone, having a sick child at home.

Spending the last 2 days in bed or on the couch nursing my sick babe has afforded my lots of time to catch up on some of the blogs that I follow. I know I'm about a week behind on this, but Haley over at Carrots for Michalmas posted this last week in response to this buzzfeed about why birth control exists, answer being that children are terrifying and will ruin your stuff and cramp your style.

I won't give any commentary here, I think Haley wrote a great post and I really hope you check it out if you haven't seen it yet. But I will say that in the circles I run in it's very easy to forget that there exist individuals and groups who really do not afford children the dignity and respect that they, like all humans, deserve. And I will say that on a day like today, when Johnny definitely is "cramping my style" (ie: no shower, no make-up, no getting dressed, no doing anything but reading blogs and writing this) he is such a precious gift and there is no doubt in my mind as to his value as a person.

Children are hard, and messy, and tiring, and you need the grace of God, (and coffee, and Netflix, and Jimmy John's freaky fast delivery) to make it though some (ok, most) days. But children are also a gift, a joy, a heritage, not to mention they are necessary to society.

I realized just a few minutes ago that this week is National NFP Awareness Week. How funny that I should come across that buzzfeed during a week dedicated to Natural Family Planning. If birth control exists to keep people safe from "terrifying" children, NFP exists to affirm their value and dignity.

Natural Family Planning is something I am very passionate about.  
If you have questions about it I'd love to talk more with you. 
You can also check out the Couple to Couple League , 
Twin Cities Fertility Care Center and Creighton Model for more info.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

// S I M P L E S U M M E R, S I M P L E F O O D: grilled chicken salad //

It's not too late to start a summer series, is it?

I didn't think so. 

This series, Simple Summer, Simple Food, is inspired by my need to not use my oven during the summer.  Except for on the occasional cool day (which we actually have had a good number of this year) our house does not recover from having the oven on.  It just stays hot for days on end and no amount of strategic fan maneuvering, or blasting of our little window a/c units (that's right, no central air here) can cool it off. So it's important for me to keep a running tally of meals I can make without the use of the oven, and stove too, if possible. And I'll be sharing that list with you over the next few weeks! 

And so, without further ado...

Grilled Chicken Salad

This salad is actually very simple. It's basically whatever greens you want with whatever veggies you want with sliced up grilled chicken breast on top.  

We used spring mix, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, bell peppers, and sugar snap peas (from the garden). 

Season the chicken breasts with a dry rub: salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, sugar, paprika, cumin, garlic powder. Or use a rub from the store, maybe some southwestern mix! Whatever you use, coat them well and take them outside and grill them.  

Grilling is one of those things that always looks so quick and easy, but when we do it, ends up being incredibly inefficient. Either our meat's not ready and the coals are, or the coals are not lighting and we get have to wait for them. Then there's a million trips in and out of the house and by the time we get set up and get going and it always seems like a lot of work for a few pieces of meat. Don't get me wrong, I love grilling! I'm just saying that when we do grill we like to make the most of it and grill as many things as possible. So while you're at it chop up some sweet potatoes, toss them with olive oil, salt and pepper, wrap them in tin foil, and stick those of the grill as well. The sweet potato fries and chicken will both take about 25-30 minutes.

While those are grilling make the salad dressing:

(makes enough for two very large servings)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon chili garlic sauce (find in the Asian section of the grocery store)
1/4 of an avocado cut into small pieces

Place all ingredients in large bowl and whisk until well combined. If it seems too think, add a little water.  Pour half of the dressing out into a small bowl and set aside.

Add your greens to the dressing in the large bowl and toss to coat. Pour the greens out onto your plates and top them with the veggies of your choosing as well as the sliced up chicken breast.  Drizzle the remaining dressing on top.

If you want to, mix some of that chili garlic sauce with some mayo for a nice dipping sauce to go with your sweet potato fries.

And voila! You have a yummy, filling, and pretty healthy meal and your house is still relatively cool!


Friday, July 11, 2014

// 7 Q U I C K T A K E S V O L 8 //

Linking up with Jen from Conversion Diary for yet another round of quick takes. 

7 Things I Thought Were Easy- Until I Had a Baby.


Opening the fridge. Sounds pretty easy, right? You just pull the handle and, voila, you can access all your refrigerated goods. Wrong! Opening the refrigerator is hard and I hate doing it. Some days it is the bane of my existence. Johnny loves the fridge. Every time I open it he crawls over as fast as he can and starts to pull out as many things as possible. When I pull him away and close the fridge he has a meltdown. So now instead of just opening the fridge at will like a normal person, I plan my fridge openings for times when Johnny will not see me, like when he's in his highchair. I make a mental list of all the things I will need to get out so I can grab them all in one well-planned opening. Or, I make a pile of things on the counter next to the fridge that need to be put away and quickly do them all at once while he's not looking. Sometimes he is looking but he's far enough away that I can get the fridge closed before he reaches it. Can you tell I think about this a lot?

Going to the bathroom. This everyday task was easy until Johnny became mobile. Now I have to weigh my options; let Johnny stay in the bathroom with me and risk him getting into stuff, or put him in his crib where he will scream until I come get him. Screaming baby? Or trash can emptied onto the floor? Either way my time in the bathroom is stressful. Which would you choose? 


Leaving the house. I confess I have never been very good at leaving the house. I'm always late and always bringing to much stuff and always forgetting the stuff I really need. But now that I have a baby leaving the house takes me, I kid you not, at least 30 minutes. Get fresh diaper on baby, pack extra clean diapers, bundle baby up (winter), get sun hat (summer), grab diaper bag and baby, realize I forgot a water bottle for myself, put baby down, get water bottle, no more room in diaper bag, now holding diaper bag, baby and water bottle, now I have to go to the bathroom, put everything down, decide to leave Johnny in the bathroom with me while I go, clean up the mess he made while I was going, now he's stinky, change baby's diaper again. Finally we get outside, fish keys out of diaper bag while holding the baby and the water bottle, drop keys on the ground, and when I get Johnny buckled in his car seat I will realize I forgot something crucial, like his hearing aids or the meal I was going to bring someone or the item I was going to return at the store. You see? It's a terrible process, and I am predisposed to be bad at it. 


Throwing something away. This problem is very similar to the fridge problem. Johnny is fascinated with the pop-top garbage can in the kitchen. He sits on the ground and pushes the foot lever, or pulls himself up on the garbage can (gross) and opens it with his hands (gross) and tries to reach in (extra gross). So I either make a pile of things on the counter that need to be tossed and do my tossing while he is otherwise occupied, or we block off the garbage can with things like his exersaucer and dining room chairs so then when I try to throw something away am wrestling with and tripping over the large, cumbersome and miscellaneous items stashed in our kitchen. It's a loose, loose situation. 


Keeping things in drawers. Clothes, Tupperware, saran wrap, table clothes, towels, if it's in a drawer Johnny will pull it out. His favorite drawer is the one that holds Alex's sock and underwear. I've stopped picking up after him so there's always underwear all over the place. 


Talking on the phone. I don't think Johnny really understands the concept of the phone yet. But I do think he thinks it's hilarious when I hold the phone to the side of my head because whenever I'm talking on the phone he screams and smiles and laughs. It's fine if it's Alex or my mom, but it tends to usually happen when I'm scheduling an appointment or talking to a prospective student's parent. So, like I do in many other situations, I save my phone calls for when Johnny is in his high chair. 

Sleeping. Non-parents, isn't it great after a long day to crawl into bed, maybe do a little reading or peruse Facebook, then turn off your lamp and sleep until your alarm goes off? Or if it's the weekend, sleep until you just wake up naturally? Parents, remember how great that was? Sleep, or the lack thereof, is probably the hardest thing about having a baby.  Sleep is broken and interrupted often. If you're like us and co-sleep, the sleeping you do can leave you feeling sore in the morning, and like you didn't actually sleep. I sleep for a few hours in any position that I like. Then Johnny comes into our bed and I'm only on my side, one arm under my pillow, the other balanced on my hip while Johnny nurses, kicks me in the bladder and sticks his fingers up my nose. But hey, I'll take whatever I can get. 

Babies. They'll change your life forever!

 But for every difficulty, inconvenience and annoyance, there are a thousand sweet hugs, peekaboo games of giggling, early morning snuggles, and everything's-new moments of discovery that make it all worth while. 


For more quick takes visit Conversion Diary!

Happy weekend! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

//A M A M A 'S S C H O O L O F P R A Y E R //

When do you become a master of something. What does it take to get to the point where you can say, "I'm really good, in fact, I don't think I could be any better." I'm of the opinion this never happens. 

The closest I've ever been to being really good at something was when I was doing my undergraduate degree in piano performance. I practiced 3 hours a day, 7 days a week. I saw the fruit of all that practice as my skill developed. But the more I practiced and the more I advanced only showed me how much MORE work I would need to put in to be a truly great pianist. 

I don't think world renowned musicians like Yo-yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, or Emanuel Ax ever think, "I've arrived! I'm the best! I don't need to practice any more." 

Or think about doctors. I don't think they finish med school and say, "Finally, I'm done learning about medicine!"

Or athletes...... 

Ok. I don't actually know enough about sports to draw a sports analogy, but I think you get what I'm saying.

 And now I'm going to connect it to the Christian life- specifically prayer.  I hope that one day I will be able to honestly say that my prayer life needs no further improvement. But I don't really expect that to happen.  I think a prayer life is one of those things that requires a lifetime of practice, and can always get better, and if fed, will grow to no limits. 

This past year as I adjusted to being a mother my prayer life, along with other spiritual practices, had almost come to a stand still. Yes, we'd pray before meals, and yes, we'd pray for Johnny before bed. We had some times of crisis (Johnny's hospitalizations) that drove us to our knees in prayer. But daily personal prayer, reading and contemplating scripture, seeking the council of the Holy Spirit, that's what I have been lacking. 

I realized I needed to restart my prayer life after going to confession for the first time in over two months. My priest first told me that as a mother my strength is being constantly drawn upon and that I need "refill" with the healing graces of confession at least once a month, but every other week would be better. He also pointed out to me that I have been confessing the same things for quite a while. I already knew this, but I think I had accepted that those are the things that I will always struggle with, and thanks be to God I can bring them to confession. Actually, I was just being lazy and not trying to grow and change in between visits to the confessional. I was not feeding myself during the week. I was drying out, my spirit becoming malnourished and withered.

So this summer I've been (trying) to take action. I've been practicing prayer, emphasis on practicing. I'm figuring out how to have a spiritual life and be a mom at the same time. And this is what it looks like so far:

1. I have a rule for myself: no social media until I have done some sort of morning prayer. Sometimes I do this before I get out of bed, usually it happens while Johnny is in his highchair eating breakfast. I have the iBreviary app on my phone and often use their simple form of morning prayer. Sometimes I just say a daily offering, or something else to give the day, and myself,  to the Lord.

2. I try to do the daily readings. If I'm pressed for time I just read the gospel for the day. It nice to know I'm reading the same scriptures that are being read at every Mass in the entire world today. It keeps me connected to the Church, even though I can't attend daily Mass. (Another goal for another time.) It also gives me a context for the Sunday readings each week.

After I read I spend a few moments reflecting. I do this with a pen a paper, because that just helps me think better. I write down any prayer intentions for the day, people who have been on my heart. And I make a resolution for the day based on the gospel reading. The resolution is my faith in action.  I've just heard the Word, now I'm going to act on it. Sometimes it's concrete; instead of watching TV during Johnny's nap I'm going to do some spiritual reading, or write the fruits of the Spirit on a note card and put them on my bathroom mirror. Other times it's more abstract, like be patient when Johnny is difficult- much easy to write in a journal than to actually do. It's not always easy to think of a resolution, and it's not always easy to carry it out. But this is the part of my daily devotions that I have most enjoyed and that has born the most fruit. Try it!

In case you are asking how I do this with a 13 month old at home, the answer is: while he's in his highchair, occupied with food. And really, it takes me about 10 minutes.

3. I have an alarm set on my phone for 3:00 pm everyday- the hour of Divine Mercy. Tradition holds that 3:00 is the hour of Jesus' death on the cross. Many Catholics stop at that hour to remember Christ's passion, say a short prayer, and draw from the vast ocean of mercy that He made available to us while on the cross. It's quick, it's easy, thanks to my smartphone I don't even have to remember it, and it's a nice way to bring some peace into those afternoon hours, when things start to get crazy in baby-land.

4. I do an examination of conscience before I go to bed. This is the hardest one for me. By the time I get into bed I am so tired and the last thing I want to do is look back on the day to figure out where I screwed up. But when I examine my life today it helps me do better tomorrow. I am aware of my weaknesses, I ask forgiveness of the Lord, and sometimes Alex. (probably not enough of Alex.) I go to sleep in peace.

This is what I do. It's not perfect. Some days I don't do everything. Some days I don't do anything! But I've got a plan, and the more I do it, the easier it becomes. I'm practicing prayer. I'm opening my heart to Jesus, and He is so eager to come in at satisfy me.

What about you? How do you make prayer happen in the everyday? What works? What doesn't?

My little children, your hearts, are small, 
but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. 
--Saint John Vianney

Saturday, July 5, 2014

// 7 Q U I C K T A K E S V O L 7 //


Happy Independence Day! Alex had to work this morning, so Johnny and I hit up a 4th of July parade with another mama whose hubby was working. (Us mamas gotta stick together.) It was beautiful out today, prefect parade weather. And while the marching band played Stars and Stripes Forever Johnny and his friend Benny demonstrated their Stripes Forever.

This evening we went to a picnic with some of my friends from college. Alex got to come with for that. He even got to play some frisbee! As we were driving home he made the comment that "it was really nice to be active." #toomuchstudying It was beautiful picnic weather as well and so nice to be outside so much. 


Speaking of beautiful weather, this whole week has been beautiful!  Clear skies, not too hot, nice and cool at night, just perfect.  It's even been cool enough to use the oven.  I hardly ever turn on the oven in the summer, so whenever it dips below 70 I take advantage of the chance to make something that requires the oven.  This week it was quiche, deep dish pizza, and today: this patriotic pie.


I finally finished reading 50 Reasons I Love Being Catholic, by Liz Kelly. It was great! 50 beautiful reflections on different aspects of the Catholic faith. Like this one about Ash Wednesday:

Were you so inclined, you could hide the fact that you are Catholic on almost 
any day of the year, but on Ash Wednesday, you blow any cover you might have 
had. On this holy day, which begins the season of Lent, we receive ashes in the 
sign of the cross on our foreheads with this prayer: "Remember that you are dust,
and to dust you shall return." Call me nuts, but I've always found relief in that prayer.
Something about the smallness of me, the smallness of this life set against the reality
of eternity brings comfort and perspective and hope.

So, now I'm in the market for some new spiritual reading. Any suggestions?


And while I'm reviewing a book how about a movie too? Somm. It's a documentary about 4 guys trying to become Master Sommeliers. We just watched it last weekend. (for those who have Netflix it's available to watch instantly.) It's crazy; these guys have to be able to identify the country, region, city, and year of an unlabled wine just by smelling and tasting it. I can't even imagine. If you are interested in wine you will love this documentary. And if you are like Alex and me who are currently working our way through a box of Trader Joe's wine, you will feel like your wine is not worth tasting and that you should immediately go out and buy a $50 bottle of wine. I haven't actually done that, but it is how I feel. 


Johnny and I had quite the adventure on Tuesday. It was me trying to score some good-wife-points turned Anne of green gables turned Indiana Jones. Here's what happened:

Alex had gone into work early on Tuesday. He came home at lunchtime to shower, eat a little something, and then he was off for his 1:00 class. A few minutes after 1:00 I got a text from him saying that he had left some papers at home that he would be needing for his 3:30 class.  He did not ask me to bring them to school, but just to confirm that they were indeed at home. I thought it would be a nice gesture to bring them to school and leave them in his car so that he could run out and get them between classes. So I found the papers, loaded up Johnny, and we were off. We found Alex's car parked right between the Cathedral and St. Paul College, I just pulled up along side, put on my hazards, and was planning on quickly and seamlessly slipping them into Alex's car and driving off. But when I stepped out of my car the papers slipped out of their folder, were caught up in a gust of wind, and went flying down Dayton Ave.

There was nothing I could do! I couldn't very well run after them with my car double parked and my baby in said car. So I found a parking spot, got Johnny into the sling and looked around to see where the papers ended up. One got caught in the landscaping in front of the Cathedral. The second one was on the median on John Ireland Blvd. The final one I couldn't see anywhere and we had begun walking back to the car when I started thinking about how hard Alex has been working and what if that was something important that he needed to turn in, something that might affect his grade. So we turned around and crossed over John Ireland again and followed the sidewalk down around a hill.

A visual aid to help you see where each packet of papers ended up.

As we rounded the corner I looked up and towards the top of the hill was the last packet of papers. It was a pretty steep hill, and since I have fallen once before while wearing Johnny I thought I'd better not try to climb it. We went back up the sidewalk and approached the hill from the top. We were nearing the papers, the ground just beginning to slope down, when I heard something in the grass. I looked down.  Two (what I thought were good sized) snakes went whizzing right by my feet. I screamed! There's not supposed to be snakes in the city! I couldn't go on! I was going to have to give up! But after gathering my courage for a moment I decided I could go on. After advancing a couple more steps two more snakes slithered by! And one stop very close to Alex's papers! I was screaming and praying very loudly. Johnny was blissfully unaware. The snake was sitting by the papers. I decided to take one step towards it and if that didn't scare it off then I would turn around and run. I stepped, the snake moved, one last little gust of wind almost sent the papers flying again. But I got them, I was clutching them and I was getting away from there as fast as I could.  I have not seen a snake in real life in probably 20 years. And the last one I did see was the size of a large worm. These snakes looked big and fat. Alex thought they must haves been garters. I'm not so sure. (Alex was, by the way, incredibly grateful and relieved when I texted him to say his homework was in his car.) 


There have been only 3 years since I can remember that I didn't go see fireworks on the 4th of July. The first was in 2008.  Alex and I had been dating for a year and he was spending the summer in Peru. I was sad and missing him and didn't feel like going out. The second year was last year. New baby, no way were we going.  And the third is this year. I entertained the thought of taking Johnny to see fireworks for about 30 seconds, but the prospect of keeping him up way past his bedtime, protecting him from mosquitoes, and the chance that he would be scared and cry the whole time reinforced my plans to stay in.

It's very strange to be home when the rest of of the world is out seeing fireworks.  All evening you hear the neighbors, kids and otherwise, throwing snaps and setting off small little flares, roman candles, and bottle rockets. You hear the screech and the pop over and over.

As it begins to get dark those who dapple more seriously in pyrotechnics bust out slightly bigger, more impressive rockets. We hear them ignite and then crackle in the air. Some just down the alley, others sound a few blocks away.

Then the sun sets and the real displays begin.  We hear the low thunder of the cannons from all over, Harriet Island, the Capital, the State Fair grounds, Stone Arch bridge. We are quiet in the house. Johnny is asleep, Alex is studying, I'm painting my nails, and the cannons just keep booming. I remember being a young girl and being afraid because the fireworks sound like thunder and I don't like storms. Some things never change, I still don't like storms and I have to remind myself it's not thunder I'm hearing, only fireworks. Here comes the grand finale! It sounds like the storm of the century, and like we're in a war zone, and like the house is going to collapse.  But Johnny doesn't stir once, Alex keeps studying, and I keep painting my nails. Soon the thunder trails off and there are just the occasional blasts of the pyromaniacs who will be at it until 2:00 am.

Maybe next year we will take Johnny to see fireworks.


And my own grand finale: Some pictures that never made it onto the blog. Happy weekend everyone!

for more Quick Takes visit Conversion Diary

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