Commonplace Book, 39 (Week 36)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • I forgot to mention last week I FINALLY BRAVED THE INSTANT POT. And by “I,” I mean, a friend sent me a recipe for which I had all the ingredients, then I waited for J to get home from work and made him do all the seal stuff. The result was Indian butter chicken so good J proclaimed it better than anything I’ve ever made in the slow cooker (should I be offended, y/n) but also almost ended with us giving Scout steam burns. So. I’ll probably use it again but keep making J operate the pressure cooker bit.
  • BEEF WEEK. J bought us a quarter of a cow and brought home the goods Sunday, so we’ve been eating all beef all the time to celebrate. (And, you know, build my iron for childbirth? Can we justify it that way?) So far, I’ve made:
    • Taco salad: My MIL makes this for us. I used her recommendations of kidney beans and Catalina dressing, skipped tomatoes and sour cream, and used a slaw we had because I knew we’d have leftovers, and I don’t love wilted romaine.
    • Beef daube provencal: another recipe from the Indian butter chicken friend! Mine was the lazy third trimester version: no searing (does that even make a difference?! The jury seems to be out), slow cooker, dried spices. Also, I did not use the recommended wine because it cost $45. So much for a “princely dinner.” I’ll settle for a ducal dish with wine my sister homebrewed us last winter.
    • Best ever meatloaf with balsamic vinegar glaze: Because vinegar makes everything fancy. It’s basically BBQ sauce in the end, but SO GOOD.

What I’m reading:

  • I finished Gilead and as usual was left not knowing what to share. It’s all so perfect, right? I could copy out about 80% of it, the rest being bits I still don’t understand. Abbey wrote me out passages of encouragement for labor and the newborn days, and that’s even better, because it saves my waffling.
  • Ina May’s Guide to ChildbirthI still haven’t reread my Bradley book, but this one is helping me get in the zone just the same — some of the mantras from Spiritual Midwifery really helped me in Pippin’s labor. It’s ridiculous, and then I’m sure I’ll go into labor every night when I go to bed, but I’m hoping it’ll stick with me, even if I have another lightning fast labor.
  • O Pioneers! This is my third Willa Cather, and I’m really loving diving back into her peaceful world — it may be the gentlest transition from Gilead possible.

This time last year:

  • Rethinking Running: which you will perhaps be unsurprised to learn I have not rethought it in, you know, 36 weeks.
Getting a lot of mileage these days from park leaves

Taking — Not Giving — Old Stuff Is Charity

In the wake of all the fire hurricane devastation in recent weeks, a friend posted a piece called, “Best Intentions: When Disaster Relief Brings Anything But Relief” and it got me thinking about the nature of American generosity to the less fortunate.

The piece reports on the tremendous waste of disaster response, often costing the donors fruitlessly, and sometimes even costing disaster responders who must then deal with the sheer volume of inappropriate stuff flooding in, on top of everything else in the crisis. It’s well meant, no doubt, but ultimately ends up falling somewhere between useless and destructive.

We are not wrong, of course, especially as Christians but also as decent humans, to want to aid people near and far who are hurting, or even just lacking, as we live in such prosperity. Many Catholics have heard and heeded the words of St. Basil — a distinctly Gospel message that when we hoard things others could use, we are essentially stealing.

But there’s a more helpful way to look at this issue, now that material goods are often very cheap in comparison to previous eras. I ran across it first in a book called Money, Possessions and Eternity (which was pretty long and mostly not especially interesting, but read it if you want). Author Randy Alcorn suggested seeing the work of thrift shops and charity shops and rummage sales as a service provided to you, not a work of charity you’re performing by donating — regardless of how their slogans make you feel generous and virtuous. There will be exceptions to this, of course — when you give away the peacoat you really love because you just can’t justify two; when you loan beloved baby things you know you might not get back — but on the whole, we are a culture burdened with stuff, and this concept crystallized for me something I had been thinking about for awhile.

See, while we were in Uganda almost a decade ago (!), we saw all the weirdo donations of Americans right there in the field, in all their ludicrous glory: a woman carrying an empty laptop bag on her head; big stacks of American textbooks that cost a fortune to ship and can’t be used in the nationally mandated curriculum; stacks of second-hand Western clothes for sale in markets, edging out traditional dressmakers. A lot of money and well-meaning “thoughts and prayers” went into these donations, but nothing really helps. We were only in Uganda six months, and certainly don’t have all the answers, but these were the things we observed East Africans really needed from us: medical equipment and training; assistance in establishing robust computer systems; money for their own initiatives. In the meantime, local charity shops can take and resell our used, unwanted stuff, or we can do the extra legwork of matching our surplus with local need through Facebook, Craigslist, and our neighborhood and church communities.

These questions will continue to become more relevant as we face downsizing baby boomers with houses full of unwanted junk, a projected new fad of Swedish death cleaning, and a world of hurt we feel powerless to remedy. But we have a responsibility to the unsexy work of researching reputable organizations and causes and giving where we can, even if it’s just boring cash donations.

Part of my Ugandan wardrobe


Commonplace Book, 38 (Week 35)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

Almost Certainly Inauthentic St. Michael’s Bannock


  • 1 1/4 c all purpose flour flour
  • 1/4 c old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 c rye flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 scant c cream + 1 Tbsp plain white vinegar (to make buttermilk substitute)
  • handful of raisins — I used a mix.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in cold butter as you would biscuits – with a pastry knife, two forks, or your fingers. Add buttermilk mixture. Mix until mostly combined. On a floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, then pat into an 8 inch round loaf, and bake on a greased cookie sheet for 40 minutes.

  • You can put french fries in the bottom of your frittata and it’s pretty good. This has been a third trimester PSA.
  • You can put olive tapenade on frozen cheese pizza and it’s also pretty good. This has been a third trimester PSA.
  • Things are rapidly degenerating here on the culinary front, obviously.

What I’m reading:

  • Baby’s cells can manipulate mom’s body for decades. Even with the potentially creepy sibling ramifications at the bottom of this piece, I just find the idea so comforting: that however briefly you get to know your child earthside, she stays a part of you. That even when your child is totally exasperating you and you feel such distance, you still carry evidence of him in your body. It’s beautiful, and worth remembering this month, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
  • Vindication! Study says parents aren’t to blame for picky eaters.
  • The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, which was given to us as a gift from Scout’s godparents last fall, and which we started to read aloud to each other, but then I got pregnant and sleepy (story of my life). Now I’m listening to it on Audible, and while there isn’t a lot that is revolutionary for me, Inklings nerd that I am, the passages on Oxford are dreamy and it’s nice to use my brain, at least moderately, in this sleepy chapter of life when I’m often reaching for the remote or just going straight to bed.
This is what happens when you take a nap and neglect the ciabatta dough.

Be the Baby

For me it is really inconvenient to be pregnant, as I’m sure longtime readers have gathered (x, x, x, etc.). Even when I’m mostly done throwing up, I have to nibble constantly, and pee every thirty seconds, and sleep long nights with highly recommended midday naps. It is hard to be a functioning adult, much less make it out the door.

The other day I had to waddle across a ballroom to use the bathroom for the second time in one speech, and I felt like that bit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, just running and running and making absolutely no progress while folks looked on dispassionately. I can never decide whether I hate more in early pregnancy when I feel like trash but look normal, or late in pregnancy where I am so self consciously giant but people go out of their way to be kind, mostly.

I constantly run late these days because I have to pee one more time or grab a snack. I fight with the big kid that he has to put on his own shoes because I can’t bear to bend over. And when I’ve won, I celebrate victory by peeing again.

But you know what? I hate to admit it, but that’s kind of what I signed up for with this baby thing. Nausea and heartburn will fade, but that inconvenience? It’ll be here for quite a ways past pregnancy. It’s called a Baby. I think I’ve heard of them before.

So I try to remember when I’m fed up with my ridiculous eating schedule or whatever that in order to have the baby, I must first Be the Baby. And just as it is when the baby is actually here, sometimes that’s fun (guilt free ice cream / newborn snuggles) and sometimes that’s oppressively inconvenient (packing three snacks for a morning of VBS / newborn nights).

Growing a baby is hard work, and it turns me into a baby, but there are, after all, few sweeter things in life than the real baby I’m assembling with every nap, every fistful of dried apricots, every bonkers nesting impulse.

The other morning, while Pippin was putting my compression socks on for me so I didn’t have to roll around struggling, he said cheerfully that he’d be happy to help with other things, too. “I can pick your nose anytime you like!” he offered blithely.

Be the Baby. It’s the deal. I’m just getting a head start.

Previous pregnancy, maybe 33 weeks.

Commonplace Book, 37 (Week 34)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • Ciabatta Pizza. I make good ciabatta. Everyone likes pizza. Which my family should have loved, but one kid wouldn’t try it and one didn’t like it. But you know what? That meant we grownups had enough leftovers that I didn’t have to cook the next day (and I could doctor it with kid-unapproved soppressata), so I’m going to count that as a win. Sort of. Picky eaters, phew.
  • Chicken pot pie. I thought this would be a good idea because it’s delicious and I needed to double a recipe for a friend with a newborn, but also I got v nervous halfway through since I went into labor with Scout on a day I was on my feet for hours making chicken pot pie. That time, the chicken pot pie was the first thing I was making to freeze for a postpartum stash, and it was undersalted with undercooked vegetables, and it seemed like we ate it for weeks after Scout’s arrival. Ugh. Ridiculous, I know, but I could breathe a little easier this time when it was all done, and it was good, after all. I use this recipe as a sort of basis, but change up a lot: I roast vegetables that look good (this time potatoes, carrots and mushrooms), often use rotisserie chicken, sub homemade stock if I’ve got it, etc.

What I’m reading:

  • I FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH. And it was good! I enjoyed it infinitely more than my endless reread of Brothers Karamazov. I don’t know that I will ever seek out George Eliot as fun, comfort reading as I do Jane Austen (not that she doesn’t have very wise and severe things to say herself, just that the huge scope and cast of Mm felt more demanding), but I also don’t think I’ll easily forget it, especially some of the truths mentioned here. (h/t Dominika, maybe? My brain is cheerios.)
  • The Catholic Table. I might write more about it later, especially as book club discusses it and those ladies bring their sage insights, but I’ve already done a little reflecting on it.
  • An Everlasting Meal. I’m not sure I’m an unpicky enough eater for this one (don’t talk to me about tongue, pls), but I enjoy many passages, which are almost Annie Dillard-y. But we disagree on food safety:

“No bacterial treachery lurks in vegetables once they have spent some time other than in the refrigerator or oven. Nor does it necessarily in anything that is a few days old, or spends the night on your counter. … I am fairly sure he wasn’t right, and I am completely confident he was spiritually wrong.”

I can’t help my indoctrination on food safety.

  • Gileadmy third go round. If I copied out all the passages I loved and savored, this would be a Gilead appreciation blog. But seriously. So good. It’s making me a better mother while my children appear to go through simultaneous pregnancy-related (?) regressions.

Last year I was thinking about:

  • Determining one’s trademark food — what one is known for serving or gifting.
Absolutely a standard uniform for him these days

Preparing for a Preemie

I guess I’m kind of slow because I didn’t really think I had had a preemie until I got pregnant this time.

Scout was born at 36w0d, which is usually just considered late preterm. She didn’t fit into preemie clothes and she didn’t have trouble nursing and she didn’t need time in the NICU. It was scary to go into labor before I had expected, but much scarier that it all happened in a four hour labor. Once it was over, I didn’t think much of it, except that it saved me a month of pregnancy, which I don’t love. I have had friends who have given birth crazy early, watched their little ones transferred to a separate hospital room, struggled to nurse a terribly tiny baby. I just had a slightly undercooked baby with a lot of lanugo and pitifully scrawny legs. No big deal.

That is, until I went to the midwives with this pregnancy. Then it was all progesterone shots and heaps of extra ultrasounds. I’ve never been super worried about labor as I’m usually preoccupied with the not feeling great bits of pregnancy, but this time I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to 24 weeks and viability. Even prudent vigilance can be a little contagious, a little unsettling.

Now I’m 32 weeks and so much more aware of all the ways things can shake out than I was with my first two. With Pip, I didn’t want to drive to the hospital through Super Storm Sandy and so I spent a day on the couch, willing him not to come. The next day was 11 days before his due date and I decided he could come if he wanted. I cleaned the fridge and woke up to contractions in the middle of the night. Obliging child. He was born the next evening. I was pretty sure this is how it always works.

Now I’ve got a baby who could come at 36 weeks when I stop my progesterone shots, landing her in mid-October. She could be a handful of days early and arrive on her brother’s birthday, Halloween. She could come on her due date, November 14, or wait till my birthday to be induced, at Thanksgiving.

But, of course, this is always the deal with babies. I just didn’t know it, truly, before. 

Now I’ve got the glider I longed for and can imagine nursing this new baby in it. I’ve got her room mostly cleaned out, and diapers in both preemie and newborn sizes, just in case. I’ve bought as many Christmas presents as I can, and scheduled Pippin’s birthday party so we can still have it unless she arrives catastrophically early. I’m setting up childcare for when I’m in the hospital and need to write out a few lesson plans for Police Preschool in case J or my parents want to take over for me during lying in.

 There’s not much more to do, but wait.

7 Quick Takes: 7 Weeks Into Police Preschool

I’m linking up again with This Ain’t the Lyceum for a 7 Quick Takes to celebrate having finished seven weeks of Police Preschool.

  1. Pleasingly Flopped Field Trips
  • Bees: Pippin mostly just played with our friends’ Duplos and gobbled up their cherry tomatoes. Still a fun evening!
  • Ducks & Doughnuts: It poured rain, but everyone got a doughnut and Scout chased ducks to her heart’s content, so I’m counting this a win.

    • Eggs: Pippin was afraid of the chickens, but Scout loved collecting an egg and was rapturous about eating it next morning.

    • Frogs & Fish: See below.
    • Goats: Unbelievably hot, but both kids relaxed into it a little more. It may have been the influence of the goat owner and her kids, folks I know from the homeschool co-op.

2. Saint Stories. I have a friend with an amazing stash, and she’s been way more helpful than the library, frankly. Every week I add more books to my “Homeschooling Maybes” Amazon list, but because of her, I haven’t had to spend a fortune on supplementary readings — does anyone know a good site for child-accessible stories on the saints, when I can’t find a picture book version?

3. Outside Everyday. I kind of hate this right now, and the kids did at first, too, but are now gaining steam. If we have a playdate for the day, I count that as the outside time, as long as they’re out a bit; if we don’t have a playdate, we just head down to our neighborhood park, and there are usually kids there to recruit onto the police squad. I am not a great all-weather person and the kids definitely resist on rainy days, but especially when they’re really playing happily and I can just sit and watch and maybe read a bit, I know it’s the right thing to do. On the days we miss, I definitely notice it in their behavior.

4. Poetry. Our current favorite is The 20th Century Children’s Poetry Treasury edited by Jack Prelutsky. Pip particularly likes funny ones and riddles, but is occasionally fascinated by more…poetic…poetry, like the selections this collection has on bats. Any recommendations for us?

5. Letters. I have Pippin write a letter to a friend whose name starts with the letter of the week each week, and I love it, and mostly he does, too. “Write” is pretty loose here; he usually signs his name and scrawls the recipient’s. Sometimes he decorates with stickers, usually with police cars. Sometimes the recipient writes back.

6. Rosary Updates. So, he’s kind of hooked at looking at art associated with the day’s mystery on my phone, and it’s kind of disruptive, though it does lead to good conversations about how religious art works, why there are varieties, what medium the artist used, etc. My tentative solution is to cut him off when he turns five next week, and we can just look at the art in a book we have of rosary art, or he can color.

7. Doubling the Fun. So, I know I’ve got it easy right now. Homeschooling baby steps: no newborn (coming soon!), only one child in school, the child only in preschool. I took a friend’s school for Police Preschool recently because Pippin begged me, and it was fun, but utter chaos. Two kids, two months apart, and their skills and interests are so different — Other Kid isn’t writing yet, but pays way more attention during the Rosary and is much more agile on the playground. And everyone had fun on the playground, and going on a walk to look for frogs and fish, but then I lost my keys, and they got to solve a Real Detective Mystery and help me find them as I waddled grumpily along. (#thirdtrimesterhomeschool)

Happy Michaelmas, y’all!