March 16, 2017

This season of life and what it's brought

Life lately has been so ordinary, so busy, so regular. It's just sort of whisked me away with its laundry, cooking, school pick-ups, and mom groups.

Lent, though, has been tough with its failings upon failings and its mirror making me take a good, long, ugly look at myself. It is a good thing there is confession and mercy. I think of Christ in The Passion saying to his Mother, "Look, I make all things new" like He is saying it to me.

  With my grandfather's passing we inherited some items. Grandma's colorful mixing bowls and her souvenir spoons. Grandpa's black kettle which used to make apple butter during his childhood on the farm but was converted into a planter for their patio. Their television and dressers, Grandma's desk, sewing kits, step stool, strawberry pitcher, and the leaf blower.

The influx in items has meant that our home is in a bit of remodeling chaos. Eight people in a three bedroom house... something had to change eventually, right? So Trav's office at the bottom of the basement stairs was moved (shoved) into his workshop and overflows into my laundry room space. Their bunk bed and new-to-them dressers and desk are sitting in the playroom, the new flooring we got for them (thanks, tax refund!) is in the dining room's corner for the third week, and, in short, everything's a mess. Their soon-to-be bedroom is being painted and jazzed up a bit and eventually the girls will move down there and I will never have to worry about evacuating them from the main floor during a midnight tornado ever again.

We have also been looking at what we will do for school next year. L will be a 4th grader, Ben a 2nd grader, JF a 1st grader, Resa a kindergartner, and Jofis will be in half-day Pre-K4. We had a pre-IEP meeting yesterday for one of our kids and I think our dual-enrollment days will be done, at least for now. It's hard, you guys, in an emotionally draining / super challenging / loads of worrying about the right choice kind of way. It's one of those things, too, that I never thought I'd have to struggle with so that's caught me off guard, too. I'm constantly trying to find my footing and even yesterday in the meeting I had to keep asking questions to understand their jargon. Turns out educators can be just as bad as doctors...

But things have been good, too, you guys. Tee toddles around the house being cute, often with Resa adoringly playing with and caring for him. Jofis sings Johnny Cash songs in the most adorable 3 year old voice. Ben and L have mastered roller skating and are working on chess. JF is continually impressing me with how much he can eat and how thoughtful he can be.

What's more, in late February we were given the opportunity to see one of my very favoritest bands, The Head and the Heart. Last week I had two speaking gigs in Austin, Texas and was hosted by the wonderful Kathryn Whitaker. Over the weekend Travis and I attended our parish's fundraiser gala and spent the evening having fun with friends. And tomorrow I leave for the Phoenix Blessed Is She Beloved Retreat.

So see? Good things, too. Busy and hard, but good and filled with lots of love. I think that's the season of life right now: busy and hard but good and filled with love. I'll take it.

PS - I should probably mention that while I am not the best of bloggers right now I do show up on Instagram regularly, including in the Stories section. If you're not already following me there I invite you to join me! I'm @BonnieEngstrom

February 27, 2017

The Best and Easiest Dairy and Egg Free Cinnamon Rolls

My mom makes amazing cinnamon rolls. She got the recipe from her friend, who got the recipe from a cook in her high school's cafeteria. It's amazing to me that once upon a time high school cafeterias were serving fresh, made-from-scratch cinnamon rolls, but I digress. Her cinnamon roll recipe makes three dozen, freezes well, tastes amazing, and takes all day to make. It also calls for milk and eggs, two items which are no-go's in our food-allergy-filled home.

I wanted to have cinnamon rolls to feed my kids on Easter and Christmas mornings, just like my mom always did, but I wanted them to be easier to make and be egg and dairy free. Easy peasy!  (That last bit was sarcasm.)

But I finally figured out the perfect solution for my family. The recipe I use is actually the white bread recipe that came with my bread machine, very slightly modified. Because I am able to make these in the bread machine it is so super easy, but if you don't have a machine you can still use a good, ole fashioned bowl and spoon.

1 1/3 C water
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
3 heaping Tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
4 C flour
1 1/2 tsp yeast

Butter or dairy-free butter-like spread such as Earth Balance, approximately 2 Tbsp
1/3 C sugar + 2 Tbsp cinnamon, mixed together

2 C powdered sugar
2 dashes of salt
1 Tbsp water (or more depending on desired consistency)

*Honestly, for the filling and the icing I have never measured anything so these are approximate. If you like your rolls more or less cinnamon-y then adjust accordingly. Likewise, if you like more or less icing on your rolls - you guessed it! - adjust accordingly.

Bread Machine Directions: Add all ingredients to bread machine in order they are listed. Choose Dough setting, start, walk away.

Bowl and Spoon Directions: Add yeast to warm water; set aside to let yeast activate. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl. Add oil and then water + yeast mixture to dry ingredients. Combine until sticky; if using a mixer allow dough hook to knead the dough for 5-10 minutes. If using spoon, turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead dough for 5-10 minutes. Dough should have a good stretch and be velvety with just a touch of stickiness.

Place dough in a large, lightly greased, oven-proof bowl and cover. Keep in a warm place until dough has doubled, about 60 minutes. (I like to pre-heat my oven to its lowest setting, then turn off, and allow my dough to rise there.)

Risen dough in bread machine should be 
popping  up over the top of the basket. 

Next Step for Both Methods:
Once Bread Machine is done or dough in bowl has doubled turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and with a lightly floured rolling pin roll out into a 9x13 rectangle.

Cover dough with butter or Earth Balance Spread and then sprinkle with cinnamon sugar mixture.

Roll the dough up so you have a thick, long rope, seam-side down.

Cut off the uneven ends and discard (or, you know, eat). Cut the rolled dough in half, then cut each half in half. Cut each quarter section into thirds so you have twelve slices.

Arrange slices in an greased 9"x 13" dish and place in a warm place until rolls have doubled, usually 45-60 minutes.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow rolls to cool before icing.

King Cake Method:
If you want to turn the cinnamon rolls into King Cake you line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the sliced rolls in a circle. Rise, bake, and ice as directed above. Sprinkle with green, yellow, and purple decorating sugar.

Some prefer their King Cake with a cream cheese filling and to do so I just substitute cream cheese in place of the butter. Tofutti makes a good dairy-free "cream cheese."

You can use this at Epiphany or Mardi Gras - both are appropriate times to feast on King Cake. If you have a little plastic baby Jesus you can tuck him in the underside of one of the rolls once they have baked. Then the person who finds the baby Jesus is King for the Day - which can mean whatever you want in your home.

February 3, 2017

Five Reasons I Love Our Catholic School

It's Catholic Schools Week and I didn't want it to pass without pointing out some of the things I love about the Catholic school our children attend. If you are considering where to enroll your kiddos next year then I hope this list might help you see some of the perks of a Catholic education.

Now, we have had a great experience with our local public school and we are very fortunate to live in such an amazing school district. We have also had some experience with and lots of exposure to homeschooling so we know how wonderful that can be. But this isn't a week for celebrating public schools or homeschools. It's a week for celebrating the parish ministry that is brick-and-mortar Catholic schools. So let's get going!

1 - Caring about people is a part of the culture
This isn't about building up a politically correct culture, this is about serving, loving, and reaching out to others. Students at our school regularly have service projects such as visiting the local nursing homes, making Thank You cards for our troops, and collecting donations for food banks and crisis pregnancy centers. Older students are partnered with younger ones to serve as prayer partners, helping them through Mass and being their general Big Buddy. And when I brought my kids with their severe food allergies to the school parents, faculty, staff, and students were all on board with keeping my boys safe and included. Once I popped in during lunch time and saw two of JF's classmates heading to the bathroom. "We have to wash our hands so JF doesn't have an allergic," they told me. I mean, how sweet is that?

2 - It's not nominal
Our Catholic school is 100% orthodox and proudly Roman Catholic. Pre-K through 8th grade students attend Mass weekly and appropriate grades attend monthly confession. Each class, K-8, makes a weekly holy half hour before the Blessed Sacrament. They pray throughout the day in class, celebrate feast days, and talk about saints, morals, ethics, virtue, and faith. When my grandfather was dying my kids were able to go to school and tell their classmates what was happening and then their entire class prayed for my grandfather (as Ben told the story he added, "Even Sister!"). When Grandpa's funeral was held (he belonged to the same parish as us) we learned that every time there is a funeral a class is sent over to attend the Mass so they can pray for the dead. How amazingly beautiful is that?

Pay no attention to the mural that literally and figuratively looks like Hell. 

3 - It's the perfect size
One of my kids is dual-enrolled at the Catholic and public schools. At the public school when he is pulled out for extra help he is with four other kids, working at a table with one teacher. At the Catholic school he is in a class with 12 other kids and there is one other Kinder classroom. When he is pulled out for extra help he is by himself or with one other student and the teacher. At recess my first grader plays kickball with boys from his class and second and third grade. My kids, the oldest is in 3rd grade, know most of the other students at their school and they know who is siblings with who. That size means they are cared for and looked after by their fellow students and all the faculty and staff. When one child or team succeeds the whole school celebrates and when one child or family suffers the whole school rallies to support.

4 - The whole family is more connected with the parish
There is definitely a wide variety of people involved at our parish but, for us, it has worked out that because of the way our family has benefited from the parish ministry that is the parochial school  we have also been more inclined to partake in other parish events. Our children are comfortable at our church and we all know they are welcome there so penance services, adoration, Holy Week Masses, parish retreats, speakers, and yardwork clean-up days - we attend these events without batting an eye. Doing so has broadened our connections and friends beyond the school pick-up line and our small groups. It feels good to give back to and be engaged with a parish that has given us so much.

5 - Academically it's just as good if not better
Yes, the building is old, but the technology is good and the teachers are excellent. Beginning in Kindergarten students are having experiences in public speaking by doing readings at the weekly All School Mass. The school has been recognized nationally for its excellence in academics and it's not uncommon for the local public and Catholic high schools to have the Valedictorian be from our elementary school. Along with the core classes, students have Religion, Spanish, Computer Class, and even Art. Sports, band, and choir are available. My children are learning, having fun, and surrounded by people who love Christ and His Church. It's literally the answer to our prayers.

I know that we are incredibly fortunate to live in a town with good public and parochial schools. I would love to hear about the things that make your Catholic school great! And if you live in my area and you're interested in learning more about our school please feel free to contact me.

February 2, 2017

Coffee Cake: Fluffy, Delicious, & Egg and Dairy Free

At the request of a reader, I give you our super yummy, nice and fluffy, and egg, nut, and dairy free. 

The recipe I use is adapted from the recipe my mom used throughout my childhood. I think it came from her Betty Crocker Cookbook and you can see that my copy of it is well used. 

It's a super simple recipe and you start by mixing all the dry ingredients together. 

Next, you add the Crisco. We used to use butter before we were dairy free but now we use Butter Flavored Crisco Baking Sticks. Really you want the crumbles to be a bit smaller than what I did here but this is a super forgiving recipe so I cheated a bit. 

Next you add the milk and mix it all together. Pour the batter in a 9"x13" dish that has been coated with non-stick cooking spray. Prepare the crumble topping and sprinkle and spread it over the batter. 

 Pop it in a preheated oven, making your house smell great. Once it's done baking I usually let it cool a bit in the pan before we serve it up. It lasts for several days in an air-tight container but we usually eat it in a day.

Coffee Cake Recipe

Batter Ingredients:
3 C flour
1 1/2 C sugar
5 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C Crisco Butter Flavored Baking Stick
1 1/2 C coconut milk
1 1/2 tsp Ener-G egg replacer mixed with 2 Tbsp warm water 

Crumb Topping Ingredients:
2/3 C brown sugar
1/2 C flour
1 tsp cinnamon
6 Tbsp Crisco Butter Flavored Baking Stick

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9"x13" dish with non-stick spray. 

Mix all the dry ingredients together. Add the Crisco, cutting it into the flour mix until there are smallish crumbs of Crisco + flour mix. Add the milk and egg replacer and mix well, scraping the bottom of the bowl to be certain you're not leaving any flour behind. Set batter aside. 

In a separate, small mixing bowl combine the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon for the crumb topping. Cut in the Crisco until crumbly.

Pour batter into prepared baking dish, smoothing out surface. Cover with crumb topping, spreading it evenly over the top and going to the edges. 

Bake in preheated oven for 25-30 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. 
Serves 12-15. 

January 30, 2017

A Long, Good Life Leaves a Pretty Big Hole

On the Friday night after Christmas my Grandpa drove to our house with friends and family to celebrate our anniversary and Tee's first birthday. It was also his 90th birthday and so we all sang Happy Birthday and he was given his own special cupcake with a candle.

With his own cake, after our 250 wedding reception guests sang
 Happy Birthday to him on his 80th birthday.  

The following Sunday, January 1st, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and three of his siblings gathered to celebrate his birthday. By the end of the week he was in the hospital and on the following Friday he took his last breath, surrounded by loved ones.


My Grandpa had always been pretty stoic but he had a sense of humor, too. He was a hardworker and a devout Catholic. He was one of twelve children, raised on a large farm, part of a German Catholic family. Every night they kneeled around the dinner table and prayed the rosary, and in many ways his childhood life was similar to reading Farmer Boy except there were trucks and tractors and the Korean War to call him away to service.

I don't know if he ever told me that he loved me but I knew that he did, and he delighted in my children. In the last couple of years we lived in the same town and attended the same 7am Mass. Often, after Sunday Mass we would buy donuts and burritos and head over to his house for breakfast. I hope they will remember how he'd have the kids guess Heads or Tails as he flipped quarters and when they won they got to keep the quarter. Once each one had four he'd trade them for a dollar. He'd play Go Fish with them, too, calling my boys Ben, Jim, and Joe like they were all little old men.

He was consistent and prayerful and cared about his family. He lit a candle every Sunday after Mass until James was walking. (That's over a year of lighting candles and praying for my son's health and healing.) For dinners and parties he'd come early and leave early to "go home and watch the ballgame." He never missed a performance, sitting through who knows how many middle school and high school concerts and games and then even attending my kids' Christmas concerts and all school Masses. He caned chairs, built me a Barbie dollhouse, worked hard, and once painted an entire side of my parents' garage so he could show me how it's done.

I am grateful for how everything happened. There was enough time for me to bring him the St. Joseph holy card L picked out for him, for me to tell him that the kids were praying for him and were having their classmates pray, too. I was able to hold his hand and tell him Thank You for all the things he had done for us, to tell him I love him, and a few other things, too.

Our priest came several times to pray and offer Last Rites and gave an apostolic blessing. His funeral was beautiful, thoughtful, and very personal. Eight year old L and seven year old Ben led the rosary beforehand and did a great job. The seventh graders came from the school to attend so they could pray for the dead and the children's choir sang - an unexpected and beautiful surprise. The women from my small group came with their children - all of them had sang Happy Birthday to him just two weeks before.

Travis and I went to the house yesterday to walk through and make note of the things we'd like to have. Every room has memories but his workshop was probably the most nostalgic. I could almost smell the sawdust and kerosene.

I guess I'm just writing this out because I want to remember him and I want my kids to have a record that there was this man who did so much for us and loved them so much. He was a good man who lived a long, good life and a long, good life leaves a pretty big hole when it's gone. I miss him, as I miss my Grandma who went a year before him.

O saving Victim, opening wide the gate of Heaven to us below;
Our foes press hard on every side; Thine aid supply; thy strength bestow.
To thy great name be endless praise, Immortal Godhead, One in Three.
O grant us endless length of days, in our true native land with thee.

January 22, 2017

A Head Cold of Jane Austen Proportions (+ what we've been doing in the radio silence)

I owe a very sincere apology to Jane Austen. When Jane Bennet caught cold and had to stay at Netherfield for several days I thought it was ridiculous. I mean, it's a cold. Likewise, when Harriet Smith caught cold and had to stay in bed for days I thought that was also ridiculous. 

But then in mid-December I got sick. I got really, really, really sick with a cold of Jane Austen proportions. 

The last week of school before Christmas break Ben came down with something. He slept 20 hours a day and barely ate anything. One by one all six of my kids fell ill and when Baby Tee was also sick I took him to the doctor. Strep throat for the baby and so everyone got antibiotics. By the time the kids were starting to feel better my throat was starting to hurt, I had a congested headache and a cough. 

And for over four weeks I would cough and sleep and lay around. I would start to feel better and then crash with more coughing, sleeping, and laying around. Often I would wish that *I* was at Netherfield with a household staff to cook, clean, and care for the children while I laid in bed and got better. (Alright, honestly, I often have that wish even when I'm healthy.)

It wasn't strep; it wasn't bronchitis; and while I thought it had turned into walking pneumonia and was even treated for it with some antibiotics I think, in the end, it was just a super duper, really bad cold - just like the prompt care doctor told me. Five weeks later I am still occasionally coughing but I finally feel fairly caught up with life. 

There were a lot of really good things that happened in those five weeks, especially in December, and I wanted to share some of the highlights. 

St. Nick brought a gingerbread village for the kids to assemble and decorate. 

Travis was able to finish and hang my shelves. They are made from the wood of an oak tree that stood in my maternal grandfather's yard. We kept the bark on them and glossed them up. This is pretty much the first and only time where how I imagined a finished project looking is how the finished project actually looks. And I loooooove it!
The little Fiat sign is from JustLovePrints.
So Fresh & So Clean Clean print from Brick House in the City.

On Christmas morning we put on our finest, went to the 7am Mass, and tried to get a good family photo. This is as good as it gets, and yes, there is a hideous mural on the back wall of my parish. I dream of whitewashing it. 

My parents, my uncle, and my paternal grandfather came over to watch the kids open their gifts and to eat homemade sausage bread and cinnamon rolls, bacon, and coffee. Behold: the only picture I took:

Five days later we celebrated Baby Tee's first birthday and our tenth anniversary with a party. Our parents, siblings, and friends were invited and so I set out a yummy spread, decorated with fresh greens and items used in our wedding reception, and...

put on my new favorite outfit and (a rare thing these days) make-up.

L, my 8 year old, was pursuing her Cake Making badge in American Heritage Girls and so she spent the day with her aunt, a professional baker, and designed and baked the anniversary cake for us...

And the birthday cupcakes for Tee.

 We were married on my paternal grandfather's 80th birthday so along with Tee's 1st, we celebrated Grandpa's 90th. L made him a special cupcake and everyone sang Happy Birthday to him.

Fortunately I was feeling fairly well for Christmas and our anniversary but right after each I crashed again. Instead of doing an Advent Calendar I like to celebrate the Twelve Days of Christmas but this year the only thing I was able to do was make and decorate Christmas cookies and that was only because my mom came over to help. Oh well.
If you're looking for a good gingerbread cookie recipe Mary's from Better Than Eden is the best I've ever had. Follow her tip and save them for the next day. I don't know why, but they are so much better Day Two. And that St. Nick cookie cutter came from Catholic Curio, in case you were wondering.

 And if you're looking for a good something to watch, well I have been busy with all my laying around.

Amazon Prime: Mr. Holmes, the BBC's Emma, Grantchester, Endevour, and the Matt Smith Doctor Who episodes all kept me company.

Netflix: Spotlight, Sherlock, The Crown, A Royal Night Out, Death Comes to Pemberly, Madame Secretary, The Imitation Game, The Returned, and E.T. have also been good distractions.

Gosh, I look like such a bum, don't I?

I'll leave you with my current favorite song, a reward of sorts for making to the end of this post.

Alex da Kid's Not Easy

Stay healthy, you guys. Oh man, stay healthy.

December 2, 2016

So, how ya been?

I thought we'd catch up and chat about how things have been going. 

Clementines are in season, of course, and we go through at least one bag a week here because all the kids like them and I love them. Clementines mean winter to me, winter and cute little fingers peeling, peeling, peeling.

I got the outside decorations mostly up, but I realized Mary and Joseph need new lightbulbs. Commence search. Eventually I will cut some greens to fill the flower pots by the Holy Family and to fill the basket that sits at my front door. But I'm happy with what we've got. The kids looooove the train and I feel ridiculously proud of myself for figuring out its set-up.

I don't have Advent candles for our wreath yet, just a little votive candle sitting where the first week's purple taper should go. I'm reading Isaiah right now in my Bible but I'm finding my prayer time so dry.  Those two facts seem to compliment each other, at least in my mind.

I'm figuring out how we'll do the feast days this season and I'm thinking it will look like this:
Christmas lights and music (we usually keep these off until Gaudete Sunday)
Hot chocolate + candy canes + clementines for after-school snacks
St. Nicholas on the 6th: stockings will be filled when the kids wake in the morning and maybe we'll eat Shepherd's Pie for dinner because we all love it, not because it has anything to do with St. Nick.
Immaculate Conception on the 8th: chicken + pasta + cauliflower + canned pears + white frosted sugar cookies for dessert (it's all white, get it?)
Fulton Sheen on the 9th: homemade pizza with meat and pineapple (for me) but no cheese (it's surprisingly good!)
Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12: tacos or maybe enchiladas if I can find a good dairy-free recipe (is that possible? Is my gringa showing?)
St. Lucy on the 13th: Brinner!  Santa Lucia roll recipe Grace shared on the blog several years back + bacon + sausage + fruit
The kids' school break starts on the 16th and the feast days stop so we'll see how this all goes.

Today I wanted thumbprint cookies, though Jofis wanted chocolate chip cookies incredibly badly. I told him that we should make the thumbprint cookies, though, because we could frost them with purple Advent frosting and that would be super special. He was half convinced but then he got to lick the beater, roll the dough, smoosh his thumb in the dough balls, and eat frosting. So he stopped complaining.

We're listening to Advent music around here, but not too much of it. I have a playlist (o'er there in the sidebar) but I'm also trying to have silence in the house. Gee golly, it's nice.

I will share one success, if you will allow me to. This year we're doing the Jesse Tree and it finally feels good - like they're getting it. The three oldest kids all have Religion in school and they are learning so much. It's good to see that what we've been trying to do for years is being nurtured at school and then they come home and we can continue to build on it. This relates to the Jesse Tree in that each night I read from the booklet that came with our set. I do this sort of read + ask questions so the kids tell the story + summarize the Scripture and then the child of the night finds the ornament that goes with the Scripture.  It's like, this is what it's supposed to be! And it only took 6 years!

Finally, Likable Art shared this new video they made for Life Teen and I thought it was so beautiful.

What about you? Got any successes or struggles to share? How's life treating you?