Firefly Time

On our way back from Thursday evening mass (one of the advantages of a parish that has the Traditional Latin Mass on Thursday is you get to celebrate Ascension Thursday on Thursday), we saw our first fireflies of the season. It was still light enough out that we could see the actual insects, not just the flashes. Coincidentally, I saw one in our garden in the morning on my way to work, but didn’t quite put together what it was until I saw the flashes in the evening.

All of the kids were mesmerized. The older two liked trying to chase the fireflies, while the twins were fascinated by seeing the whole insect. Thumbkin, who was on my shoulders, made gleeful noises and did his best to say firefly.

Firefly time is a bit magical, falling in the transition of dusk, when the shadows are getting longer and the light turns more and more grey before fading away. The streetlights haven’t quite come on, and things look otherworldly as the natural daylight comes to a close. The sparkles of the fireflies seem fittingly preternatural. I’m glad we all got to enjoy it, and experience the wonder through the eyes of the kids.


Jumping the Gun

This weekend the dishwasher decided to start acting up.  Friday it was fine, but looked like maybe the water valve was pushing out too much water, since there was some pooled in the filter area.  This happens from time to time, but it was a sort of warning flag.

Saturday I saw the mesh filter needed cleaning.  So I pulled it out and cleaned it up the best I could.  Note to self:  need to clean the filter more often.  I started the machine after dinner and…error.  It got most of the way through the cycle, but threw the error code that indicated it wasn’t draining.  Sure enough, it hadn’t drained completely.  Since it had basically completed the cycle, I didn’t need to hand wash, but started looking at all the appliance sales.  The timing seemed good if a replacement were needed but…wow, too many options and not enough time.  Since I’ve been down the road of changing out parts on this machine before, I decided to order the most likely culprits, and made a plan to see if there was something stuck in the drain the next day (and, if so, plan to return the unnecessary parts).

This afternoon I started to look at it.  I figured out how to run a test cycle and…error.  Thumbkin was very excited to help because it involved using a screwdriver.  He also got to help bail water out of the bottom of the dishwasher using a small cup and a baster to suction up the water.  After we got the water out, I took off the drain pump to see if it was in working order (it was).  The drain tube was full of water, but things seemed OK otherwise.  I put the drain pump back on after convincing Thumbkin that it was my turn to lay on the floor to look under the dishwasher.

There’s a piece on the inside of the dishwasher that helps cover the hole that goes to the drain pump.  I think this helps limit the flow of water and serves as a final piece to keep too-large pieces of debris from going through the drain.  When fully seated, it clicks into place and everything is flush.  If it isn’t fully seated, it will move in its place and interfere with the operation of the drain pump.  I’m not sure if it can actually hit the blades on the pump, or if the changes in water volume as it moves back and forth cause the drain pump to stop, but the machine won’t work if it isn’t in place right.  When I took the filter out on Saturday, I also took out this piece to make sure there wasn’t any debris stuck deep down.  It looks like I didn’t actually get it re-seated properly, which caused the error on Saturday, and the other problems today.

So, I’ve got a couple of dishwasher parts on the way as a contingency, and I wasted about an hour working on it all due to not being careful enough in reassembling the thing.  Well, Thumbkin may disagree that I wasted the time working on it since he got to help.  I guess it wasn’t a total loss after all.

Thumbkin Turns Two

Thumbkin turned two last week.  It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since his birth, but he (and the other kids) have certainly kept us hopping.

Since his birthday falls in Easter season (actually in the Octave this year), the celebration just keeps on going.  It’s fitting, then, that his favorite word is “Alleluia,” which he says every chance he gets.  Actually, I’ve heard him say it in his sleep while napping.  Yep, he’s our Easter boy for sure.

The older kids were on spring break, I took the week off work, and his grandparents came for a visit to help celebrate.  Since he was turning two, I gave him his first haircut, calling it a “big boy” haircut.  It’s basically a bowl cut (done without the bowl), but it does make him look much older (and, incidentally, like his older brother).  The day before his birthday, we took trip to the zoo where we made sure to stop at the lions (his current favorite animal).  On the day of, we had pancakes for breakfast and pizza for dinner (his favorite foods, both of which we did not do during Lent) and a banana cake (recipe at Smitten Kitchen), decorated with a lion, of course.

I believe he felt adequately feted, especially for a two-year-old Alleluia boy. DSC08010



On the Cusp of Language Development Breakthrough

Thumbkin, a rambunctious toddler, is very close to a breakthrough on his linguistic development.  Last week, he started making “g” sounds, followed by “l” sounds.  Over and over and over.  Yep, he was basically making the syllables for “giggle,” but it was coming out in toddler babble.  I was changing his diaper while he went on a chain of gg-l-gg-l-gg-l, and asked him if he was saying “giggle.”  In reply, he complied with a cheerful giggle, and went back at it.

Thumbkin manages to communicate and express himself quite well, which I think is a survival mechanism with four older siblings.  He HAS to be able to get a word (or babble) in edgewise just so we know he’s there.  Still, once he really starts talking, it’s going to be hard to get even a moment’s worth of peace around here, giggling aside.

Happy Epiphany

Note the song comes more from tradition than scripture.  As Yakum put it, “Wait, so the Bible says that there were magi, plural, but names three gifts.  So we know that there was more than one king, but exactly three gifts.”  Still, tradition gives us names for three of the (possibly many) magi, which influenced the carol.

Enjoy, and happy Epiphany.

Advent: A Time of Preparation

I went back and forth several times between the adjectives patient and prayerful to describe the preparation, but couldn’t settle on either.  Really, because the preparation of Advent, regardless of whether it’s external (decorations, cookies) or internal (more prayers, confession, adoration) should be both patient and prayerful.

I use the word “patient” to describe the preparations of Advent because preparing for the King ought not to be rushed.  Just as the ancient Jewish people, we do not know when He will be coming.  On the one hand, this gives us time to prepare thoroughly, and keep ourselves prepared–we have the time.  On the other hand, it is imperative (as we are told many, many times in the Bible) that we get ready and stay that way.  Sustained preparedness is not possible without patience.  Not only is there patience in waiting, there is also patience in learning how to prepare, and practicing it.  This applies either externally or internally.  For example, you shouldn’t rush putting up lights because you’ll either fall off the ladder, or they’ll look really terrible.  Internal preparation requires some patience with yourself–recognizing that we are subject to the effects of sin, and that we will fail in our efforts to get and stay ready for Jesus’ second coming.

Internal prayerful preparation is pretty obvious–that’s where the hard work needs to be done with prayer.  I suggest, however, that even external preparations ought to be a work of prayer.  Think about it this way–the reason you put up decorations, or bake cookies (or other holiday foods), or whatever you do to get ready for Christmas at least starts to put you in the mindset and to think about the coming of Christ.  At that moment, the thought of Christ’s birth and second coming, becomes an act of prayer.

For us, at least, we keep the external preparations during Advent to a bare minimum.  Part of it is that growing up, my brothers and I were not allowed to talk about Christmas until after my Dad’s early-December birthday.  We might get a tree before then (if there happened to be a convenient weekend prior to December 8), or put up the outside lights, but the tree would not go up, nor would we turn on the lights, until after his birthday.  I’ve carried that over to my family, maybe amped up a little bit, too, to where I’ve done the tree decorating after Christmas eve (or midnight) mass (usually by design, even).  We don’t sing Christmas carols in advent, mainly because there are so many Advent hymns to enjoy.  I find that then, when I do start some of these preparations (like baking cookies, potica, or thinking about decorations), my thoughts are turned to enjoying them during the Christmas season, and the coming of Christ.

So, however you prepare during Advent, may it be patient and prayerful, so that you can celebrate Christ’s first coming in due season.

Gingerbread Birthday Angels

The twins spend a lot of time with the track/cross-country team at the kids’ school.  They aren’t old enough to participate, but, since we help out with practices, they wind up being sort of honorary members of the team.  This year, since their birthday was on the last day of practice before the final cross-country meet of the season, they decided they wanted to share cookies with their best buddies on the team.  Specifically, they wanted gingerbread angels.

I wound up baking two batches, because we determined one wouldn’t be enough for the entire team, plus younger siblings who had been invited to the final practice, plus any adults who were there volunteering to help out.  After I counted out the five dozen for practice, there were just enough to spell out “Happy Birthday”, plus their initials.  This turned into the dessert to share with one of their godfamilies (the other family couldn’t make it).

I modified the King Arthur Flour gingerbread cookie recipe by amping up the spices.  The original recipe calls for 2 tsp each of cinnamon and ginger, and 1/4 tsp cloves.  Because we like a spicy gingerbread, I doubled the ginger and cinnamon (4 tsp each), and put in 2 tsp cloves.  I also added about 1 tsp finely ground black pepper.  I also used whole wheat flour, and added some additional to try and get a stiffer dough.  Really, this dough does need to chill so that you can roll it–the added flour didn’t actually do anything for the first batch.  However, once it is chilled, it rolls really easily.

Because the twins wanted the angels decorated, and because I was a little worried the cookies would be too assertive for a more general population, I went with the Serious Eats royal icing recipe for the halos and wings.  This recipe is easy to make, and really does pipe smoothly.  It doesn’t taste too bad, either.

The final verdict?  A smashing success.  The twins were very happy to share the cookies with their friends, and delighted when we pulled out the Happy Birthday batch after dinner.  The cross-country team loved the cookies, even if they were on the spicy side.  So, happy kids all around, and I have a good gingerbread cookie recipe all set for the upcoming Christmas baking season.

Checkerboard Birthday Cake

Ikinji recently turned nine, and we had a board games-themed party for him and a few of his friends.  Fortunately for us, only a couple of his friends were able to come– I think the noise level gets exponentially louder with each additional guest, especially after they’ve had a nerf gun battle at the park nearby.

In any case, keeping with the theme, I made a checkerboard cake.  There are surprisingly few tutorials online for how to do a rectangle checkerboard.  There are plenty for circular cakes, since it won’t matter which side you cut into–each wedge of cake will have the pattern, which is usually made by cutting concentric circles out of your cakes and fitting them back together in an alternating pattern.  For the rectangular cake, I cut strips of cake, approximately 1″x1″x9″ (the width of the cake) and stacked them alternating yellow-chocolate-yellow.  I used seven minute icing to stick the pieces together (and stick they did!) and german buttercream to frost the outside.


Checkerboard around the outside hints at what’s inside.  The top, by the way, had a chess piece piped on in chocolate.

As an added wrinkle, my wife suggested that each slice have a 9×9 grid, so that you could play tic-tac-toe with white and dark chocolate Reeses Peanutbutter Cups.  This required marking the outside with where the pattern repeat occurred.  I used a thicker line of icing for the outside checkerboard to indicate where to cut.  While it isn’t an exact match to the inside, this actually worked out pretty well.


Checks on the outside, checks on the inside. This is after most of the cake has been cut and eaten, hence the messy cake board.


What surprised me most was how quickly this came together once I had figured out how it would come together.  I had to bake two 9×13 vanilla cakes to get enough of the white, and one 9×13 chocolate.  If I had it to do over again, I would have cut .75″ rectangles to allow for loss during cutting, and to have a slight margin of error.  As it was, I had to use a leftover frozen chocolate cake for the last strip.  Still, the cutting and assembly went very quickly.  Also, since the frosting on the outside wasn’t too elaborate, that came together rapidly as well (which was a good thing, since I was frosting it the morning of the party.

The final product elicited the desired effect:  the boys were impressed, especially Ikinji, who didn’t know what we had planned.  The kids’ parents were pretty impressed, too, but the “Wow, neat!” I got from the kids was well worth the effort.


Feline/Toddler Interactions

Life with cats and kids is always amusing…never a dull moment around here.  It’s even more exciting when they start interacting.


Benson perusing Thumbkin’s favorite book.

Thumbkin is 16 months old, and very active.  He absolutely loves the cats, and I can sometimes distract him from an impending tantrum by suggesting we see where the cats are.  He usually snaps out of it, says his equivalent of “cat” (context definitely helps since other than “Mama!”  all his words sound nearly the same) and makes a vigorous petting motion with his hand.  Of course, when we find a cat, Thumbkin wants to pet the feline.  Usually, they put up with his affection with remarkable feline stoicism.

Benson is more often the recipient of toddler petting, since he’s usually more accessible.  Lavash is a little quicker to convey a feline “nope!” then Benson, so Thumbkin has learned to be a bit more cautious with her.  Still, this morning she was the target of his affection for a good several minutes, and she just took it in stride.  I even caught her purring.  Thumbkin was ecstatic about this, and, to show how happy he was with the interaction, took a break to lay down on the floor mirroring the cat’s body language.  It was incredibly cute.

Even though it wasn’t a toddler interaction, the cats got some additional attention and play time this afternoon.  Ikinji recently had a birthday, and, as a gift, received a Da Vinci catapult kit.  Think balsa wood pre-cut parts put together with dowels (and a little glue) to make a working catapult.  The instructions suggested using it to fling cat toys, which, once it was completed, he did.  Benson was snoozing on the couch and not terribly interested.  Lavash, on the other hand, played along for a couple of tosses, much to Ikinji’s delight.

Still, I suppose the cats feel they owe it to the kids to put up with slightly-too-rough petting from time to time given the number of times a week they score a snack when one or more of the kids, especially the toddler, accidentally drop food at mealtimes.


Rose Bush vs. Morning Glories

Growing up, I spent a lot of time at my grandmother’s house.  We lived in the same town, and she would look after my brothers and me during the summer and after school (at least, while we were in elementary school) while my parents worked.  It was a pretty good arrangement, actually.  We were expected to help some with yard work (I don’t know how many thousands of dandelions I pulled) and gardening (also pulling weeds, helping plant as well as harvest), but other than that, we were free to read or play.

My grandma had roses, lots of them, and she was quite proud of them.  She also passed on an appreciation of the rose to her grandkids, even though my forearms were torn up many a time from trying to rein in (no, really, tie up with stout rope) one rose in particular with half-dollar sized pink blooms, and hundreds of thousands of tiny, needle-sharp thorns.  Welding gloves weren’t even sufficient to take this one on.

She also always had morning glories; just your typical, powder blue morning glory that she would make twine up her front lamppost that stood at the corner of her driveway.   When my grandma died, my aunt collected morning glory seeds (and probably augmented with some from a store, come to think of it) and gave them to the funeral guests as a way of remembering her.   The combination in the front of rose bushes lining the driveway and morning glories going up the lamppost made for a pretty picture, and late summer always brings to mind the days at her house and this mental image.

Fast forward to now.  As I’ve documented in this space, I have a prairie rose, that seems to do OK.  It only blooms once a year, so I don’t have a second or third flush right now.  What I do have, though, are morning glories twining up, through, and over the bush.

I think my rose bush may have met its match.