Current Obsession: Pentatonix

Warning: Earworms ahead.

It all started with a story on NPR. I got chills listening to this young quintet. I also thought Kate would dig them.

I’ve never watched The Sing-Off (or The Voice or American Idol), so if not for this story, I would’ve totally missed them.

And now I can’t get them out of my head. Both my girls are totally hooked as well. The Pentatonix versions of “Video Killed the Radio Star” and “Dog Days are Over” are on heavy rotation in my house.

I really need two things to happen: Season 3 of The Sing-Off to come out on DVD or Blu-Ray and Pentatonix to release their CD. Album. Whatever. Get on my iPod!

I had to explain what “Video Killed the Radio Star” was about. That was fun.

Get off my lawn.


As an aside: I love the judges on this show. I have no idea who Sara Bareilles is, but she seems very sweet. Ben Folds cracks me up. And Shawn Stockman is so sincere and enthusiastic. The absence of snark is refreshing.

I seem to be having an issue with snark lately. Hm. Will have to come back to that.


As another earworm for all y’all: Ever think “Smells Like Teen Spirit” needed to be done with a ukulele?

I present my extremely talented cousin, Dana:

She also does an excellent cover of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”. Check her out!

What’s your current musical obsession?

Random Thoughts: The Cute Explosion

Lately, Michael has been too cute for color TV (as we say in my house. No idea what it means.)

In the mornings when I go in to get him, we do Eskimo kisses through the crib slats. He (usually) wakes up in a pleasant mood, babbling to himself and then smiling at whomever comes in the room for him.

Dan loves me to bring Michael in our room after he’s been changed, and put him in bed. They play pick-a-boo under the covers, and he will kiss his daddy upon request. It’s adorable.

When he gives “five”, if you hold your hand up for a “high five”, he’ll head butt it.

One evening, he was all bathed and ready for bed. He was patiently standing in the kitchen as I made his bedtime bottle. I handed it to him (intending to scoop him up after I put the milk away), and he looked up at me and said, “dankoo.” (Thank you.) I melted into a puddle on the floor.

Another night, Flora came up the stairs as I was getting Michael ready for bed. Michael spotted her from his bedroom. I had just gotten a clean diaper on him, and was getting his pajamas. Flora started acting like a “monster” coming to get him. He started jumping (as much as a 14-month-old can jump), squealing, and laughing. He was turning in circles trying to figure out where to go.

First he ran to me. And I hugged and hugged him. I let him go to see what would happen next. He kept squealing and turning around and around as Flora came closer. Then he dropped down to his hands and knees and scooted under the guest bed. Flora and I cracked up. He kept peeking out from under the bed skirt, and I could hear him laughing under there.

He has been such a joy to our family, I can’t believe he was ever a question. I am fascinated watching him. He loves to do stuff with his hands. He’s already figuring out the buckle in his high chair. He will sit on the floor with these metal kitchen bowls and stack and unstack them over and over again. He eats well, and he’s sleeping well, although I know that latter can change in an instant. The ladies at daycare tell me what a pleasant boy he is.

And I believe them. He is incredibly pleasant. He’s learning to communicate (can sign “more” and “all done” regularly); he plays independently at times. He usually has smiles and hugs for everyone (except for my poor babysitter. He bursts into tears when she shows up. He gets over it, but it’s a little heartbreaking.)

Love, ya, buddy. Keep up the good work.

Thinking Aloud: Being Catholic in America

Sometimes it’s really tough, and being a Catholic woman just adds to the fun.

Religious intolerance—as long as you are some form of Christian—is perfectly acceptable. The amount of snark I saw on Twitter yesterday about Lent was… I’ll use the word “impressive”. “Since Catholics give things up for Lent, I’m going to ADD something for 40 days.” “I’m going to develop a bad habit for the next 40 days.”

I, personally, blame Rick Santorum. He’s totally a sanctimonious twit, but I think that’s really more of a personality trait, and his Catholicism is just a convenient foil. Believe me, the Catholic church has no doctrinal position about pre-natal testing.

Actually, it’s not difficult for me to stay true to my Roman Catholic faith. What is difficult is to explain why I am still — in the face of a possible Santorum candidacy, in debates in Washington about birth control and what rights a woman has over her body, in the face of the painful child abuse crimes committed by priests and covered up by the hierarchy — a Roman Catholic.

I get reactions that range from genuine curiosity to outright scorn. I, obviously, have little patience for the latter. But I try to meet all the responses with equanimity. I guess I could keep my trap shut, and maybe people wish I would. It’s just that as a practicing Catholic woman, I feel like I have to defend my faith as well as my decision to be a part of that faith.

Let’s take the birth control debacle. The common misperception that I saw was twofold: Those dirty old men are trying to oppress women by not allowing them to have their birth control. And Catholic women obviously don’t give a fig about what those dirty old men think; 98 percent of them use birth control anyway!

I addressed the latter point a little bit, and Guttmacher issued a clarifying statement. Their “98 percent” stat referred to practicing Catholic women between the ages of 15 and 44 who had ever, even if just once, used a form of artificial birth control. It’s less Catholics Gone Wild than at a first glance.

As far as those old men trying to deny women or men or couples anything, and if you aren’t Catholic, you may not understand this, but: Our God is a God of Yes.

SECOND READING: 2 Corinthians 1: 18 – 22

18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva’nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes.
20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.
21 But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us;
22 he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

I understand that on the face of things, it doesn’t look that way. But God didn’t just give us a list of stuff to NOT do. He (She, It, Turtle) instructed us in things to do: Love thy neighbor. Take care of the poor. Marry and be faithful. Be open to having children. Learn and educate.

Catholics understand we have free will, and that’s why plenty of couples will choose to use artificial birth control. In my opinion, the hardest prayer is the Our Father. The hardest thing God tells us to do: to have strong enough faith that HIS will be done. But that is what we are asked to do. How do we know God’s will? By reading the Bible and going to Mass. By praying and listening to the small, still voice.

I saw a couple of tweets last week about those dirty old men, as well, that invoked me to respond directly. Two people were very respectful about it; one person I had to block. That was a first. As far as pedophile priests go: It is a horrible crime that haunts the church to this day, and rightfully so. But the rate of pedophilia in the priesthood is lower than that in the general population. Men don’t become priests because they want to abuse young children — you may as well say that men have children so they can become pedophiles. So please don’t rant about old men who abuse children. That doesn’t define priests.

As far as the Catholic church changing its position on artificial birth control: I don’t expect that it will change. It relates directly to the idea that we should do God’s will, and that our actions (abstaining from artificial BC in this case) should reflect that. It’s not about the oppression of women, although I understand why it looks that way.

As a final note, I would like you to understand one last thing: I don’t want to make you Catholic. I don’t want to force my moral and religious choices on you, especially via the political realm. And I don’t want anyone else to do that either; and I don’t want people to force their moral imperatives on me. This, too, speaks directly to the idea of free will and religious freedom. It’s not about obeying the rules so you don’t go to hell. It’s about loving so much and so fully, that you want to do God’s will.

I could go on (and on) about my faith. It has sustained me through some very difficult times, and it has helped me to celebrate very joyful times. I cannot turn away from it or deny it — I can’t even be quiet about it because it fills me so. I’ll just leave you with two other things. One is my favorite prayer, and the other a video that a friend sent to me via Twitter. I was moved by it. “This is why I’m Catholic,” I thought. And I’m not afraid to let anyone know that.

The prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 

to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

“What makes this religion great is not errors of wars or inquisition.
It’s that broken men and women get to participate in his mission.”

Meatless Monday: Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting

There was absolutely no reason to make cupcakes on Saturday. But Flora was getting lots of attention because she was going to a Father-Daughter dance that evening (a special hair appointment, and the dance itself), so as a consolation prize, I told Kate we would make cupcakes.

My major miscalculation on Saturday was time management. I was really hoping that Kate and I would get to baking during Michael’s naptime, but it just didn’t happen. I had to give Flora a bath before her hair appointment, and I was trying to get the house in order for a dinner party we were having Sunday. (Okay, five people including Dan and me, plus the five children, but still — party!)

And then on top of everything else, I had found this Ina Garten recipe for exactly what I wanted to make, but despite my attempts to actually read through the recipe earlier in the day, it wasn’t until I finally got Michael to bed that I realized I didn’t have two or three of the ingredients Ina uses.

So then I went to my old stand-by at, but I wasn’t really crazy about their directions (“Combine all ingredients into large mixing bowl.” What? What happened to creaming the sugar and butter together?). Plus I didn’t have baking chocolate. Powdered cocoa, yes; solid baking chocolate, no.

So, heart in my throat, I tweaked — a lot — a baking recipe.

Until Saturday night, this was unheard of, people. I am a confident cook, but a cautious baker. However, I had promised Kate that we would do this. She had been asking me all. day. long. I couldn’t let her down.

I give you:

Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Frosting
rpm version

2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 level tablespoons of baking cocoa

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3 tablespoons coffee
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pan with paper liners (Kate loves this job, and is very good at it.)

Sift together in a small bowl the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add salt and cocoa.

In large mixing bowl, cream together sugar, brown sugar, and butter using an electric hand mixer. Add coffee, and one egg; mix again. Add second egg and mix. Add milk and vanilla, and mix until you have a lumpy liquid.

Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and blend with electric hand mixer until batter is smooth, scraping down the bowl frequently.

Fill liners 1/2 to 2/3 full of batter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool 10 minutes in pans, then place on wire rack to cool completely.

Frost cupcakes when completely cool.

Peanut Butter Cream Frosting

1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter
5 table spoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup heavy cream

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix together with an electric hand mixer until smooth. (If you read the recipe at the Food Network site, you will notice that Ina does it differently. Ina has shiny baking tools in her kitchen that I do not possess.)

This frosting is so good, I would eat it with a spoon if I had absolutely no self control.


Kate and I started baking around 7:30-8 p.m., and at 9:15, Kate finally got her cupcake. Lots of waiting in there, and I have to give her tons of credit. Kate is good to bake with. She is patient, and she listens, doing what I ask her to do. She lets me measure the ingredients, then adds them without spilling (much). She is more than happy to lick the beaters while I fill cupcake liners. Even though waiting for the cupcakes to be cool enough for the frosting was tough, she hung in there, and was justly rewarded.

She gave these cupcakes and the frosting two thumbs up. I do too!

Are you a confident baker? Can you just whip up recipes? Or do you tread carefully around confections, like me?

Thinking Aloud: The Fight About Birth Control

It seems to me that the GOP is willing to wage a war over the bodies of women because of the complete absence of a sensible economic plan on their part. It’s the election-year “culture war” for 2012. (Next up, gay marriage! So 2008.)

Hey, yo, GOP: solve the economy. (You, too, Dems. And don’t bother engaging with the GOP on the birth control issue. Have better ideas for the economy. That’s going to win the election. Hint: Clintonomics.)

I was glad to see President Obama change tact on the birth control mandate for Catholic institutions. Unlike chocolate and peanut butter, politics and religion do not mix well.

People are going to do things with their bodies that other people are not going to agree with. They aren’t going to agree with others’ choices because of religion, aesthetics, moral and ethical reasons that have nothing to do with religion, and just because they find such things distasteful and/or icky.

Too bad. People can’t outlaw all the things that other people do with their bodies. Consensual sex between adults is legal. Artificial birth control is legal. Practicing religion is legal. Having big families, small families, and choosing to remain child-free are all legal. Tattoos are legal. Abortion — despite the fact that many, many people are anti- it — is legal. (Yes, I’m against abortion. I believe in my heart that it is murder. However it is legal.)

As to the Catholic church, and the Council of American Bishops (okay, I don’t know if it’s actually called that): Look, I understand that you are toeing the line regarding artificial birth control and abortion. For the record, I toe the line on those things, too.

However, you gotta work on your delivery. First of all don’t conflate artificial birth control and Plan B medication with abortion. It’s tempting to do, but the science just doesn’t bear you out. Quit doing it.

Second of all, you keep toeing that line, but try to demonstrate compassion and understanding for the Catholic couples who decide to go ahead and use artificial birth control to plan their families. Pray for them if you must. But try not to look like a bunch of paternalistic, condensing, “father knows best” bunch of dunderheads. Pray for every baby to be a wanted baby.

Third: get off Capitol Hill. Just walk away. You don’t want government in your religion? That’s cool. A lot of people, including religious people like me, don’t want religion in their politics. We don’t want a theocracy. A lot of us want a government that defends us, helps us educate our children, provides safe infrastructure, and (speaking for myself) looks out for the little guy/gal (i.e. provides a social safety net). If government leaves you — us! — in peace to practice our religion the way we want to, then I think we should let government do the things it does best, too. (Although, granted, some days I’m not 100% sure what that is.)


Minor asides:

First: Stop throwing around the 98% of Catholic women use BC stat. It’s inaccurate. About 68% of fertile Catholic women between the ages of 15 and 44 choose to use artificial birth control (that’s in the Guttmacher study, if the media had read it better and reported it accurately). Updated to add: Huh. I stand corrected. Thanks, Politifact.

Second: IT’S NOT JUST WOMEN USING BIRTH CONTROL. In best-case scenarios, women and men together in loving committed relationships have talked about their options and made their choices. M’kay? It’s not just a women’s issue. Sex, birth control, parenting, and abortion affect men, too. Updated to add: Men shouldn’t be the only people talking about it on Capitol Hill. *facepalm* Really, Congress?

Project: Food Budget, Week 20

Food Budget Piggybank

This week, we spent a little bit on groceries (about $11) and a bit at Costco (about $32).

Remaining in the budget for February:
Groceries: $459.00
Costco: $92.92
CSA: $34 (that will go away tonight)
Eating out: All ready blown.

I didn’t mean to add to the eating out total for February, but I had dental work yesterday that left me unable to chew anything harder than soup (I had to call restaurants around my office to find a vegetarian soup) and a Wendy’s milkshake.

Things are rolling right along! I wrote on Monday about menus, and I stand by the point I was trying to make. Having a menu leads to having a reliable list, which leads to spending better and cooking more. And cooking more is healthier and cheaper!

Let’s see how everyone else did! There are some new “faces” this week, too, so welcome them to the fold.

* Emily Levenson
* Dairy-Free Cooking
* Test Kitchen Tuesday
* Acquired Tastes
* Fit Flexitarian
* Warm As Pie
* Katy Rank Lev
* My Inner Healthy
* Little Blue Hen
* xox, b
* Project Food Budget 2.0
* Fresh…A New Chapter
* Chandeleah
* Two Eggs Over Easy
* That’s Just Me
* Eat Whole Be Vital
* Four Happy Violets
* Naturally {Un}refined
* Pgh Dad
* yogabeautylife
* What da Health?
* Twice the Twinsanity

Memory Lane: Date Night, Past and Future

My parents went on dates. Every week. I have very clear memories of Friday night babysitters coming over, and watching my parents walk out the door together, all gussied up.

Usually gussied up. At one point they were in a bowling league. Probably less gussying going on. But they each had their own bowling ball and bag… and possibly shoes. Can you buy your own bowling shoes?

I also recall them taking disco dancing lessons — hey, it was the ’70s. We kids used to clamor at them to show us the moves they had learned. I have an image in my head of my mother in blue bell-bottomed disco pants with a flowing blue shirt with a vest over top. Her red hair was permed into an afro (or as afro as she could make it, anyway). While I don’t recall my father’s outfit, I clearly remember his mutton chops. They boogied for us before they left for the night.

My parents made time for each other. It’s something I’ve carried with me, the memory of their date nights.

Saturday evening, Dan and I had dinner plans. I was feeding the kids while dressed in a robe. It brought back memories of my own childhood, watching my mom get dressed and put on makeup before she went out with my dad. She would wear a robe, do her hair and makeup, get dressed, and then — and this still amazes me — she would don her coat, and polish her fingernails. Then they were out the door for the night.

She still polishes her nails last thing. It’s a trick of hers I have never mastered. I can’t even get a manicure without feeling like I’m going to mess it up before walking out the salon door. Let alone get dressed for an evening on the town with my spouse and polish my nails immediately before leaving.

But Date Night is a tradition Dan and I are working on creating for ourselves. Like my parents, we are partners first, parents second. It’s tricky to remember in the crush of kid-stuff and schedules that are divergent (to say the least). We are looking into playing darts weekly, wine tastings, and dancing lessons. (Not all at the same time.)

I may never manage to polish my nails for date night immediately before leaving the house, but my parents taught me a vital lesson as I grew up. They did it without ever making us feel like we came second, but it was clear they stood united. The fact that their marriage was so very important to them — important enough for them to spend special time together on a regular basis — made me feel safe. It’s something I’d like to pass onto my own children: that as much as I love them, my relationship with their father is something special and (to a certain extent) inviolate. That as much time as I am willing to give them, I also have to give time to Dan (and he to me). And I hope that in doing so, in showing them our commitment, they will learn about marriage and love, and that they will feel safe.

What did you learn from your parents about love and marriage? What do you do on date night?

Random Thoughts: The Valentine’s Day Edition

I know today is polarizing. I hated it for many years, and wore black.

Okay, so I wore black a lot anyway. I just made sure to make a point that I was wearing black on Valentine’s Day.

And then Dan took the sting out of the day for me a little bit.

Much like Halloween, a holiday I am not fond of celebrating as an adult, I now enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day again, especially with my family. And we celebrate simply, mind you, not extravagantly.

If Dan wants to give me diamond earrings, he knows when my birthday is. Ahem.

Valentine’s Day falls at a weird time for us, which is another reason for the simplicity. We have November, December, and January birthdays (two of those last, ahem), plus Christmas is thrown in there, and then Dan’s birthday is in another month.

This morning, my kids opened cards and little gifts wrapped in red paper (lip gloss and socks with heart patterns for the girls, board books for the boy). In their classrooms, they gave out little gift bags with teeny toys and a candy treat. My girls bought Dan an Angry Birds t-shirt and bought me… a pair of shoes.


Yeah, so, my children bought me shoes. These shoes, only in hot pink. Because when we were shopping in Target, we walked past them, and I exclaimed over them.

I mean, they’re hot, right?

Of course, now I need a dress and some accessories to go with them. I hope my husband’s buying me a shopping spree.


Do you celebrate Valentine’s Day, or wear black? What the heck am I going to wear with those shoes?

Meatless Monday: Menus

The aspect of Project: Food Budget that has been the most revelatory for me is that creating menus really helps with shopping and saving money.

So it’s something I’ve been working on. When I see a dish I think I would like to try, I try to think about what would go well with it (soup? salad? some other type of appetizer?). Then I start a shopping list, and think about other things that I can incorporate into a meal plan with leftovers, and usually in a bit I have a plan for the week.

I’m still practicing, but I’m going in the right direction.

Last night, I made “Chinese” food for dinner — baked spring rolls with dipping sauce, steamed brown rice, and stir-fried Morning Star chik’n strips and broccoli. I used tofu instead of pork in the rolls. Dan ended up really really liking the spring rolls — I didn’t tell him they had cabbage in them — and asked me to try making other versions. Since I have lots of eggroll wraps and cabbage left over, and they aren’t too difficult to make (time consuming, but not difficult), I plan to accommodate his request. I think I’ll add baby shrimp for Dan and add bean sprouts to the cabbage and carrot mix.

Next Sunday, I’m having two other couples over for dinner, and I was completely stymied as to what to make. I solicited Twitter, and got a lot of ideas: baked pasta (which I love, but Dan is very “meh” about), lasagna (which I had toyed with as a plan, but Dan is a total fuss ass about lasagna), roasted chicken and potatoes (the roasted chicken part scares me a little) (okay, a lot).

My favorite idea came from @goob: polenta with blue cheese and beef stew. Obviously, as two of us are vegetarians, I’ll have to think of a good alternative that’s easy. I am leaning toward beef stew (done in the slow cooker), baked polenta, green salad, and creamy mushroom sauce for us vegetarians.

Now I just have to decide if I’m making the Tuscan Beef Stew or Beef and Mushroom Stew for my omnivorous guests. Which one would you pick?