Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Great Snow Cream Taste Test: Five Recipes and variations

Have you ever made snow cream? It is good, but it's not that good. It still tastes like snow more than anything else.

Our usual recipe has always served us well, but this year, we wondered- is there a way to make snow cream better? Like something we'd actually want to eat more than once a year? We decided to branch out and try some variations since there is plenty of snow for experimentation. After collecting suggestions from friends and readers, we voted on five recipes to sample and set up a taste test, hoping to find that perfect snow cream recipe that is less like eating snow and more like eating dessert.

Our testers ranged from experienced snow-eaters (Sam) to brand new ones (Felix). Everyone was excited to try out some variations on the traditional vanilla snow cream we have always made.

For reference, here's our regular recipe:

The amount of snow needed varies depending on the texture of the snow, so it usually ends up being somewhere between 2 and 3 quarts.

Here are five new ways to make snow cream a real dessert!

1. Strawberry with chocolate shavings: to the basic vanilla recipe, add 1/4 cup strawberry powdered drink mix (Nesquik). Garnish with dark chocolate shavings on top.

2. Fruity Snow Cone: Instead of vanilla, add one packet of unsweetened Kool-Aid mix and whisk to combine. You can also leave out the milk for an icier texture. We used Blue Raspberry Lemonade because it was what we had in the house. (We also had regular lemonade, but we avoided that one- no one should ever eat yellow snow, even if it came from a flavoring packet.) Word to the wise- if you have unsweetened drink mix, like we do, don't forget to put in the sugar. Yuck.

3. Creamy Cinnamon Snow Cream: instead of milk and sugar, add one half can sweetened condensed milk (Eagle Brand is our favorite) and one tablespoon of cinnamon. This one was my favorite!

4. Frozen Hot Chocolate: instead of sugar, add one packet of instant hot chocolate mix. We liked the one with the mini marshmallows for an extra sweet treat. The majority of the testing team voted for this as their favorite recipe.

5. Kahlua Snow Cream: add coffee liqueur instead of vanilla for a special grownup snow cream treat. Dark chocolate shavings or cinnamon are also great on this one. Adult testers felt this recipe with the addition of sweetened condensed milk instead of regular milk was especially delicious.

Do you make snow cream? What's your favorite variation? We still have plenty of snow left in our yard, and I hear there might be more on the way- my taste testers are ready for another round of recipes, so please share yours!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Snow Cream Recipe

Well, it's here...the big snow of the year! The one we've all been waiting for!

In case you are:

1. Watching the snow from inside,

2. Hungry (and craving something cold and sweet?),

3. Feeling like experimenting but not working too hard,

here is our family's favorite snow cream recipe.

I've written about my love for this treat before. I know it doesn't taste like ice cream, but that's part of why I like it. Snow cream is a stand-alone food- no ice cream comparisons needed.

Have you made snow cream before? What do you put in yours?

Make some...make up your own version...add bananas or cinnamon or Nestle Quick or something, and let me know how it goes. We're all about the variations...and it looks like we have plenty of snow to experiment with this time.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

On loss and learning to go on

The sun came up here today.

This seems unremarkable, maybe, except that I almost didn't expect it to rise.

It was a long night, every half hour or so punctuated with a gurgly wail or a congested whimper- "Mama!"- and my own body, reluctant to rise, dragging itself against my will to respond.

And every time I pulled myself from bed, my heart remembered that Gram is still gone.

She died on Monday morning. She's not here any more. Yes, I know all the things about how she's no longer suffering, and she's with her mother now, and she can see her husband again, and her body and mind are whole and she's with Jesus...but it still hurts.

Somehow, in spite of this loss that feels like it casts a shadow over everything in my whole life, I have to keep going. There is schoolwork, and Sam needs a haircut before we leave in three hours. I have to pack everyone's funeral clothes, and we have to make the quickest trip in history because the Snowpocalypse is coming tomorrow (and most Virginians cannot drive in snow).

And Felix is sick.

Sick babies are the saddest thing of all, because they don't understand why they feel so bad. They don't know how to blow their noses, and they don't know that taking medicine and lukewarm baths and squirting saline up their noses will make them feel better in the long run. They look up pitifully at us and cry and wonder why we're torturing them.

And when Felix looked up at me with red-rimmed eyes and a drippy nose and moaned, "Sad. I sad. Nose sad!" my own eyes filled up with tears again.

Everyone needs me today, and I feel like I have nothing to give them but sighs and tears.

I'm not sure how Gram did it with four children of her own. She said, "Mercy!" a lot. I find myself borrowing it pretty often these days, like when Sam fell off the counter this morning trying to make his own toast. Or when Lucy needed Tylenol for a headache and it made Nora feel less special. Or when Nora subsequently refused to allow Lucy's slice of bread to share the toaster with her own.

Somehow, Gram always seemed to be able to give everyone just what was needed...even Gramp, especially Gramp, even when he was grumpy and grouchy and kind of ungrateful for it. She gave him his jacket or some coffee or some headache powder. She gave him her generosity and kindness and the benefit of the doubt and, and she told everyone how he "never complained" about his aches and pains (even though he really complained pretty often).

She's the one who never complained.
She did roll her eyes a lot.
I do that, too. I have done it at least seven times already today.

It's only 8:30. Before we go to bed, we will be five hours from here at my mom's house having already survived Gram's visitation at the funeral home. It feels like a long day already.

Please pray for us, will you? And if there's something I can pray for you, if you have an intention I could remember this weekend, would you share it with me, please?


Friday, January 15, 2016

Five-Minute Friday: TIME.

Warning: self-indulgent blogging ahead.

There is a direct correlation between the number of children I have and my ability to enjoy each one. It's a funny thing- I would have expected the total overwhelm that comes with having four small people depending on me to block out large chunks of the shining rays of joy that are supposed to accompany them. Four spilled bowls of cereal and milk does not a happy, relaxed mama make, and there's not much joy in cleaning them up.

The surprise is that it's just the opposite.

Felix does this thing now during diaper changes where he shoves his feet up into my face, arching his back to get them as close to my nose as possible, and shrieks, "Stinkyu! Stinkyu feet!" He begs me to smell his toes, wrinkle my nose, and declare them stinky. I do it, of course, because I do almost everything he asks me to do. Cackling with laughter, he demands it again: "More! More Stinkyu Feet!"

I cannot overstate how much fun this is.

Every parent has these games with each child, I'm sure. I know I have had them with each of mine, but I can't recall ever being willing before to sit for an unlimited amount of time and play one, over and over and over and over until I've lost count of the minutes and the repetitions. I'd rather be late for library story time than refuse to play Stinkyu Feet one more time. I can't bottle this moment or freeze it in time. I can take every chance to extend it, to allow it to expand to fill the seconds allotted to it until it passes naturally, lived as fully as possible, and takes its place in a long chain of memories that are indelibly imprinted in my mind (like a series of perfectly square photos I can scroll through when I need to remember how good things are).

This is fullness of time...not at the end of everything, but in tiny passing moments filled to bursting.

This is Felix's gift to me.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

They is right {a letter to my English teacher}

My dear Mrs. Bouteiller,

I regret to inform you that it has finally happened.

A long time ago, you predicted this day might come. I wonder if anyone else remembers? We were hunched in molded plastic seats, feet propped on the metal baskets of the desks in front of us, chewing our pencils, twirling our hair, staring at the one tiny square of daylight embedded in the greyish-orange cinder block wall, listening to the buzz of the lights and the absurdly loud ticks of the clock, thinking about whatever eighth graders think about when their teachers start soapboxing about grammar.

Well, I remember, anyway.

It is not acceptable, you said. It never will be, no matter how many people use it.  Many people doing a wrong thing many times does not make a wrong thing right, and it never will.

You said that English lacked a neutral way to express ownership. The bag is his, or the bag is hers. If one person owns that bag, it isn't Theirs. It will never be Their bag, unless they live in a commune and hold their property in common. There is no way around this, you said. People might pretend that "they" is singular. They might say it as if it is correct. They might even (God forbid!) write this down someplace as if it is acceptable.

It will never be acceptable. You told us.

I believed you.

You probably deserve credit for my becoming the grammatical conservative I am. I do break rules, sure...I overuse the ellipsis and start sentences with conjunctions sometimes. I've even been known to leave prepositions dangling dangerously. Whenever I do these things, though, I think about you (and about Mrs. Ballard and Ms. Raines). My grammatical choices are rarely oversights- they're more like mortal sins. I know they're wrong, I decide to do them anyway, and I take full responsibility for my actions.

It's been nearly 25 years (really? that long?) since you climbed onto that soapbox, and this week, the American Dialect Society declared the battle is officially over. Persistent Incorrect Usage has won. "They" has evolved. It's no longer enough to say "he or she" or "his or hers" (and certainly not enough to just assume that "his" covers everyone). We can stop struggling with the difficulty of reading "he/she" and "s/he" aloud. The world has changed, and the language is officially adapting.

The odd thing is, it has been adapting all along. That's what language does. Its entire purpose is communication between human beings (not all of whom have English degrees). We use it to tell people what we mean. The goal is that we understand each other, and we usually do.

And besides, they say, Everyone is doing it already.

We grammar purists have struggled, rewriting and rephrasing to avoid awkward usage of "he" and "she." Even as we sought each other out to listen to our workaround sentences ("does this sound weird?"), the most honest among us admitted we had a problem. More and more writers have deserted us, sliding almost unconsciously over to the camp where Singular They erases problems. Everyone there has Their fair share, sunshine is plentiful, and there are never any oil spills. It's a beautiful life, free of the pressure to do the right thing. I hear they drink margaritas on the beach while they write all day, and the low humidity favors vintage leather-bound book collecting.

It sounds nice.

Maybe instead of cursing the American Dialect Society for surrendering to unrepentant rule breakers, we should be thanking them for having the courage to boldly face the issue. After all, if Everyone is doing it, They must be right.

The tide has finally, offically turned. All the red pens in the world can't hold it back. We might as well join them on the beach.

Today, though, when Facebook reminds me it is the birthday of a friend and encourages me to wish "them" a Happy Birthday, I shudder...not so much because the word "them" sounds wrong, but because what was wrong is now right, and there's not a thing we can do about it.

That's pretty scary, isn't it?

Friday, January 8, 2016

7 Quick Takes: Liturgical Musings, Life Updates, and Long Hair Problems


Hungry for details on what we've been up to during the long, unscheduled radio silence of the last month?
Want to know about my not-so-internal struggles with liturgical living this year?
Care to weigh in on the great no-shampoo debate and advise me on my suddenly long hair?

Well, you're here, so you must be at least a little curious.

The Perils of Raising Children Liturgically: A Short Play with One Scene

Lucy has a talent for naming her dolls unconventionally and unforgettably. One of her favorites is called First Day of Christmas. A few days ago, she was carrying the doll through the kitchen when Nora stopped her.

Nora, pointedly and with relish: You can't play with her.
Lucy: I can, too! It's still Christmas.
Nora: Maybe so, but it's not the First Day.
Lucy, who is often reflexively contrary: Is so. 
Nora: It isn't either the first day of Christmas! She's off limits until next year.

Lucy: Ahhhhh! (bursts into tears)
Nora, matter-of-factly: I guess you should have thought about that when you named her. If you'd named her Epiphany, it would all be okay.
Sam, coming in to see what the drama is all about: Well, almost. In a few days, anyway.

Tears. Wails. Sobs.

End scene.

As you can probably tell by the previous vignette, my children have inherited my hang-ups about doing things correctly.

Listening to them, I couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. What struck me most about their unkindness to poor Lucy was how similar it sounded to my own thoughts about some of my neighbors. I've made no secret of my Big Uncharitable Feelings about the Giant Santa Inflatable at the end of the street, who made his first appearance the day after Halloween and was replaced before new year's by a large polar bear holding a heart. Nor did I attempt to disguise my annoyance at being unable to buy peppermints in Wal-mart the day before Christmas- they were busy putting away all the "holiday" decorations to make room for the Valentine's candy, and they hadn't put the Christmas stuff on clearance just yet, so it Just Wasn't Available.

They do have Cadbury Eggs, though. On an endcap, too, so you can't miss them.

Why do they have to rush everything? And why does it bother me so much?

I think these little moments of irritation could be opportunities for me. Opportunities to practice patience, maybe- little reminders that we are living in the Not Yet. We're waiting...for Christmas, or for the end of Christmas, or the beginning of Lent, or the season of Easter. We're following a different rhythm than big box retailers or the Seasonally Festive Inflatable House down the street. We're waiting for something different, and it's just a tiny, dim reflection of the bigger waiting...not just waiting for the next big holiday, but for the coming of the kingdom of God (which looks nothing like we can imagine, anyway, and isn't about tasteful decor that's the appropriate liturgical color).

Really, I could be just a little more charitable while I wait.
Barring that, I could practice gratitude. At least there are no President's Day-themed inflatables yet.

Christmas, in bullet points: What We Did

- visited Christmastown with family
- took a pajama ride to look at holiday lights around town
- went to the Christmas parade with good friends
- hosted a spirited fiesta for Our Lady of Guadalupe with twice as many kids as adults (and Mexican hot chocolate)
- attended Christmas Eve Mass at the Cathedral

- traveled to visit both of our families (and listened to a lot of great Christmas music in the car)
- made and ate a gingerbread village, populated by such residents as Santa, Jacob Marley's ghost, my Gramp, and the Headless Horseman

- stayed in a hotel with a glass elevator and a heated indoor pool (the high point of celebrating, as far as our kids were concerned) and complimentary cooked-to-order breakfast (the high point of celebrating, as far as I was concerned)
- baked a ton of cookies
- ate and gave away a ton of cookies
- got on a first-name basis with our UPS delivery guy (maybe because of the cookies)
- ate way too many Reese's Cups (that was just me)
- completed a Master's of Social Work degree (that was just George, but I'm still rejoicing!)
- visited the Basilica in Washington, DC for Mass on January 1st

All in all, it was a great holiday break. We celebrated well this year. I just don't feel quite ready to stop yet.

Speaking of Christmas, I'm having a hard time letting it go this year. My "rule-following, liturgically correct" self is having an argument with my "hey, calm-down, it's-not-an-emergency-it-just-feels-like-one" self. I'm still not sure who is winning.

Liturgically Correct Self: It's Epiphany. You really need to take down the tree before book club this weekend. You've never been one of those leave-it-up-til-Candlemas people, and this is no time to start.
Hey, Just Calm Down Self: Oh, come on. It's pretty. The kids are enjoying it. And besides, we were gone almost all of the 12 Days. We didn't really get to enjoy it.
Liturgically Correct Self: You sound depressed. Stop being so lazy.

Liturgically Correct Self: OK, enough with the Christmas music already. Jesus is born, and now it is time to move on.
Hey, Just Calm Down Self: These events are outside of human time. Jesus was born and IS born and never stops being born, really...it's the Incarnation! I refuse to be limited by your human understandings and chronology. And I waited so long to start playing Christmas music because of Advent...the kids are just learning the words to these songs!
Liturgically Correct Self, rolling her eyes: What in the world is happening to you?

Basically, if you come over any time in the next few weeks, there will still be some signs of Christmastide. Maybe even big ones. I'm not apologizing for it...but I am realizing that it probably never mattered quite as much as I thought it did. Being correct isn't everything, and it isn't even that fun most of the time.

School is back in session at our house this week, and everyone seems rather relieved to be back on schedule again. We're easing back in slowly, so we won't be up to our full load until the end of next week. We're reading our favorite snow books in the hopes that it might influence the forecast. If you're local and hoping against snow, don't be mad- we'll just cancel each other out (except that little kids hoping for snow have more influence than grumpy grownups who don't want it to come...you'll just have to work a little harder than we will to get your point across to the Guy in Charge of the Weather).

The girls and I read Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton today for the first time. It was oddly detailed about the various trucks and vehicles involved in snow removal, but the girls LOVED it!

They immediately set about building a road with the wooden blocks in our living room. Nora pulled out half a roll of toilet paper and layered it carefully on top of the road to be the snow, then borrowed Felix's smallest bulldozer and started "plowing" the road with it. It was amazing to watch...especially because if I had suggested it, they would have refused to do anything of the sort. There were no princesses or mommies and babies involved at all, either- just growling and tooting and roaring trucks pushing snow-covered blocks all over the carpet and towing each other out when they got stuck. And Felix, who shared his bulldozer without incident, ran through the whole scene over and over with his arms above his head, yelling, "KATY!" with great gusto.

Sam, who is often blurry, is blurry.

Incredible, really.

I realized last month that my hair has gotten really long. It's halfway down my back. It was shoulder length when Felix was born. Now he's almost 18 months old, and I haven't had it cut in over a year.

He was so much littler! My hair was so much shorter!

These are things that happen when you aren't paying attention.

The thing is, I am a short hair person. I haven't really had long hair since high school (except a brief time while I was growing it out for my wedding, which now just seems silly. Why do people do that?) Short hair works for my life and my head and the shape of my face. That's why my blog picture still has short hair (well, that and the fact that I haven't made the time to update it in a while)- my mental image of myself is of a person with short hair. I cut it above my ears years before Sam was born and loved it, so I kept it that way.

Sometime after the twins were born (or maybe after they became toddlers, because oh.my.goodness), it became really hard to go and get haircuts every five or six weeks, and I started letting it grow. Now that it's really long, I have two choices: cut it all off again, or figure out what in the world to do with it.

I talked to my sister about this over Christmas. She's stopped using shampoo and says her hair is softer and lovelier than ever. She's using a natural bristle brush and baking soda and eggs and vinegar instead of shampoo, and the whole thing terrifies me just a bit.

I decided to start by buying a brush- a real brush with boar bristles, like people who really care about their hair use. (That's what y'all do, right?) I typically just comb my hair after I wash it and then put it up or braid it, but I guess maybe I could put forth a little more effort? I've been behaving like a person with short hair who just happens to find herself with long hair. Having a decent brush seemed like a reasonable first step toward reform.

What do you do, long-haired readers? Please share your advice. If I'm going to commit to being a long-haired writer, I need to figure out how to manage it.

And if I'm not, I really, really need a haircut.

Lent starts in 33 days.

How is that even possible? Wasn't it just Christmas? Didn't I just finish saying that it's still Christmas at my house? I guess I need to get my act together.

What are you reading/doing/praying/becoming this year for Lent? Point me in the right direction, please, because I am still eating candy canes from my stocking (and mini Reese's Cups from Felix's stocking, because toddlers can't appreciate mini Reese's Cups and are not entitled to have them) and am not feeling ready for this at all.

Thanks to Kelly for hosting and to you for reading!

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain't the Lyceum!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On deciding to take a break (after I've already done it)

It occurs to me that I might just be an intermittent blogger.

I write all the time, scribbling things in margins of books and on the backs of receipts and in many notebooks of various sizes that are stashed around the edges of my life. Writing is how I think. If I don't make words from my thoughts, they feel jumbled and tangled inside my head, and everything is out of sorts.

Many of those chains of words, though, just never make it out of their scribbled form to see the light of day.

I can do a really good job blogging sometimes, if I try- I can post regularly and have great photos and be active on social media and share all the other great posts I'm reading with you. I've come to the conclusion, though, that I just can't do that all the time. I blog in fits and starts, the way I do most things...I like everything and want to try it all, so I dabble a bit here and a bit there. In the stretches of time where I'm doing a great job with our homeschool and keeping up with the laundry, the blog is quiet. If I'm in the middle of a big sewing or knitting project and am training for a race, the blog is quiet. If the blog isn't quiet, if I'm writing or posting frequently or running the HolyLens project or helping to plan a great conference, then you can be sure there is a giant mountain of laundry and a sinkful of dishes crying for my attention and that my garden is looking neglected.

All this is just to say that I took a bit of a break last month, because I really needed it. I didn't know that's what I was doing, but it was, and it was a good thing.

Now Christmas is over, and I feel like I can pick things back up here and share some of my thoughts with you again (instead of keeping them imprisoned on the edges of the church bulletins I stick in the door pocket of our van on the way home).

I'll get you all caught up with some Quick Takes tomorrow. Until then, know I'm grateful for each of you who stick around through the silences and still think it's worth your time to talk to me when I decide to say something. You bless me.