Saturday, February 16, 2019

7 Quick Takes - Blogiversary, Valentines, Birthdays

Linking up with Kelly this time for another set of Quick Takes here.  My life seems to be measured by Quick Takes these days.  Two weeks into February already?  Impossible.  Lot's going on, so let's get to it.

First things first.  We survived the polar vortex!  We didn't get any snow, and we didn't get to see the rhododendron curl up tight as a soda straw, which was a great disappointment to my boys, but sure didn't hurt my feelings any.  I'm so ready for springtime.  And sunshine.  We are drowning here in southern Kentucky with almost daily rain.  We've had 4 sunny days this month so far.  Yes, I'm keeping track.  One of which did happen to land on a Sunday, and the temperature got up to a whopping 65 so we went for a walk and soaked in as much sun as we could.  A day later, the rains returned but it was still warm.  Perfect weather for herping (yes, it's a thing), so off we went to find salamanders and frogs.  The boys loved that!  I didn't get any photos because it was raining too hard, but we found spotted salamanders, mountain chorus frogs, newts, spring peepers, wood frogs, and American toads!  This past week, our dog found a copperhead (snake) but luckily didn't get bitten, and the ticks are crawling around again.  So, I guess winter is pretty close to over here in the southeast wilderness.

Our sunny Sunday.

On February 11 (the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes), this blog turned 5 years old!  Woohoo! I even wrote a blog post to celebrate but then I didn't publish it.  Instead, I put it into the stack of draft posts that I've written in the past few months that are still being prayerfully discerned before I decide to share with the world.  So much in my life has changed in these past 5 years, not the least of which is I moved to another state and now have two boys instead of two toddlers plus a new toddler.  God must be laughing up there somewhere.  I never could've predicted all the twists and turns that have come these past 5 years, and I'm so glad I had this blog to document it.  If you are one of my readers, thank you so much for coming along on the ride with me.  I hope to keep it going!

We had a fun time celebrating Valentine's day this year.  Since St. Valentine's day fell on Ash Wednesday last year, we didn't really celebrate it, but we made up for it this year.  God did his part too, by sending us a beautiful red sky that morning. Unfortunately, that was the last of the sunshine that we'll be seeing for another week, but it was nice while it lasted.

One thing I did differently for Valentine's day this year was make a little collection of "love notes" for everyone in the family.  I saw this idea on the internet and thought it was pretty cool. At the first of February, I cut out 50 paper hearts.  Each day until Valentine's day, we would write something that we love about someone in the family on a heart and hang it up in our window.  It was so fun to sit and read all our little love notes each day, and by the time February 14 arrived, we had a window full of them.  I plan to take them down now, and turn them into little booklets for each family member to keep. I think this will be a new Valentine's day tradition for us now.

For Valentine's day dinner, Tom grilled us up some yummy steaks and I made a special dessert.  I rarely make desserts these days, mostly because sugar makes my kids go ape, but also because my sons are on very restricted diets.  Coming up with something that is gluten free, egg free, soy free, dairy free, and has no artificial flavors or colorings is a challenge!  As a result, I have mostly given up on baking, and they haven't had ice cream in years.  But, I really wanted to do something special for a Valentine's day dessert, so I searched the internet for vegan desserts and found some inspiration.  After a few modifications, I came up with this.  It's a frozen dessert made with chocolate chips (Enjoy Life brand), cashew crème, cranberry sorbet, and whipped coconut milk.   They absolutely loved it, and it warmed my heart to be able to give them a rare treat and see them so excited.  Learning to cook to accommodate their special diet needs has been one of my biggest challenges these past couple of years, and I hope to blog more about it soon.  It's been a lifestyle adjustment but so worth it.

And then, the next day, I had to bake a cake for our birthday boy!  I can't believe he is 8 now.  He's so amazing, and has grown up so much in the past year.  By far, the best part of this year has been re-connecting with his birthmother and for the first time ever, he talked to her on his birthday.  What a special moment that was! So many wounds are healing as a result of this relationship with her.  As I told a friend recently, our adoption story with him is now everything adoption should be.  I feel like we are living the perfect scenario.  Everyone just wants the best for our little guy and to do God's will in that.  With those kinds of attitudes, so much love can grow and God can do his work.  If you would like to read his adoption story, I blogged about it here.

There's one more birthday coming up, too.  Our little Karol Elizabeth will be remembered tomorrow. I think about my little ones living in heaven almost daily, and our boys know that they have siblings on the other side waiting for them.  It's somewhat consoling, I think, to know that we have immediate family in heaven praying for us, and to whom we can turn in difficult times.  We'll put a few candles on a cupcake tomorrow and sing Happy Birthday to Karol Elizabeth as we wrap up a week of two birthdays for two very special little souls.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

7 Quick Takes - Polar Vortex Appalachia Style

When you have a rhododendron plant outside your window, you don't need a thermometer.  This photograph was taken this morning when it was about 19 degrees Fahrenheit.  The colder it gets, the tighter the leaves curl.  By tomorrow morning, they'll be curled up so tightly, they'll look like drinking straws. Nobody fully understands this natural phenomenom and why the leaves curl the way they do, which is part of what makes it so amazing. Needless to say, the curling of the leaves is the Rhododendron's most desperate attempt at surviving yet another polar vortex passing through Appalachia.

We have yet to get any real snow this winter.  My children are so disappointed to not have had a "snow day" yet.  We came close this past week, with a forecast of 3 inches predicted, but alas, this is what our Kentucky blizzard looked like.  Those of you in the Midwest, feel free to laugh! Our governor raised quite the ruckus today when he referred to Kentuckians as "soft".  I agree.  We're kinda pathetic compared to all those hardy souls north of us.  Hang in there, Midwesterners! We're praying for you.

What we have been getting instead of snow is rain.  Lots and lots of rain.  Sunny days have been a rare treat, but when we get one, we all head outside for some sun-bathing. We have a south facing barn covered with sheet metal, and the sheet metal absorbs and reflects the sunlight.  It makes the perfect place to catch a few rays.. Plus, all the "junk" around the barn makes for lots of creative inventions for little boys, too.  Here's John in the recliner he built while we were getting our Vitamin D.  I thought it was pretty creative and doesn't it just scream Appalachia??  I love it!

Although we've had no snow to speak of, it's been plenty cold.  All the rain combined with freezing temperatures has made for some great ice formations on our clifflines (aka, bluffs).  The boys have been asking me to take them on a hike to see icicles so a week ago, we ventured down a trail that I hadn't hiked in years.  I vaguely remembered it having a pretty little waterfall so off we went to explore.  As we hiked along the top of the ridge, we could look down into the gorge below and see long rows of icicles lined along the cliff.  The trail turned and took us down into the gorge, and we were fascinated by the hundreds of glistening icicles hanging on the rock walls.  As we walked a little further, stone steps took us under the cliff and behind a cascading waterfall that was partially frozen.  It looked like a scene from the movie "Frozen".  The boys delighted in having their own little "ice cave" to explore and it has now become one of our favorite winter hiking places.

Speaking of hiking, it's my favorite winter past time.  I seldom hike in the summer because it's just too humid/buggy/hot/crowded. I hike infrequently in the spring because it's planting time, and I hike only occasionally in the autumn because it's harvest time. So, January and February have become my favorite times of year to get out in the woods.  No bugs, no humidity, no poisonous snakes, unlikely to see bears, and most of all, no people. We have the forest all to ourselves.  For me, it is the best antidote to cabin fever, seasonal depression, and the random flu-like viruses always lurking around.  Plus, I'm a big believer in getting kids outdoors, especially during the time of year when our society tends to discourage them from doing so.  God's playground is never closed!

Tomorrow is the feast of St. John Bosco, one of my favorite saints!  You can read a post I wrote about him a few years ago here.  As a mother of boys, he's been a source of inspiration to me, especially in regards to how I see my own sons, who can be reckless, unruly and undisciplined.  Today, boys like mine are labeled ADHD.  In St. John Bosco's time, they were simply labeled as the "bad boys", the ones that got into trouble and caused trouble.  In both cases, these are the boys that get pushed to the margins, isolated from others, and stereotyped before they even have a chance. But John Bosco saw past the labels and into each boy's heart, giving them a loving home and a focus on Christ. The fruit that came from St. John Bosco's approach is still being born today, and it gives me hope that the same will happen in my children if I can only follow his model.  Thank you, St. John Bosco.

We'll be taking down our Christmas lights and nativity this weekend and replacing them with candles as we celebrate Candlemass.  I've loved having the Christmas lights up during the dark evenings, but as the days grow longer, we look forward to spring, Lent and Easter.  It makes so much sense that the liturgical year follows the four seasons of the natural world.  I know this isn't a coincidence but I wonder just how many people notice it today. As we bear through another winter, I am trying to focus on the light and warmth ahead and thinking about the inevitable resurrection that is already slowly underway. Today, the rhododendron leaves are curled tightly in a spontaneous act of survival but soon enough, they'll be raised high towards the sun and celebrating another winter gone by.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Our 12 Days of Christmas

With tomorrow wrapping up the end of the (official) Christmas season, I thought it might be a good time to share how we celebrated our Christmas.  We started the tradition of celebrating the 12 days of Christmas about 3 years ago, and while it is a little exhausting (for mom!), I really am glad it's something that we do now.  It has helped make the Christmas season more meaningful for us, and it also takes the stress out of feeling like we have to do all.the.things on Christmas eve or the first day of Christmas.  I just recently purchased Kendra's book about liturgical living and am excited to read it and get even more ideas for next year.  But for now, here's how our family does it.

It all starts with a list that I hang up on the refrigerator on Christmas eve after the kids go to bed.  The list contains each day of Christmas, and what special thing we will do that day.  I mix it up with some easy things and some more involved things.  The easy things, like watching a Christmas movie or coloring lunch bags, give me a much needed break during the 12 days, while the more involved things, like going for a hike or going to see Christmas lights, take a little more planning, but I don't put anything on the list that is super-involved or time-consuming.  Part of the joy of Christmas, in my opinion, should be keeping it simple and easy and relaxed.

Anyhow, once the gifts are opened and the candy binge ends, the kids love to run to the refrigerator on Christmas morning to see what fun things they will be doing during the rest of Christmas.  I'm always pleasantly surprised by just how excited they get over reading the list, and I think they look forward to that as much as opening their gifts.  It also has really helped drive home the idea that Christmas doesn't begin until December 25, which allows us to put more emphasis on Advent during the weeks before.

Even after the 12 days ends, we still celebrate by eating leftover candy, using our Christmas dishes, listening to Christmas music, watching Christmas videos, and leaving all our decorations and tree up.  But after the Baptism of the Lord (tomorrow), we'll take our decorations down and put away the Christmas dishes, and eat the last of the candy (I must stop eating candy!).  However, our Christmas lights and nativity will stay out until Candlemas (February 2) partly to remember the old 40-days of Christmas tradition, and partly because I love having the lights up in the house during the long, dark evenings of winter. 

If you haven't done the 12-days of Christmas tradition with your family yet, I really encourage you to give it a try.  Just keep it easy and work from there. Sometimes, we forget just how little it takes to make a child happy. Below is our list from this year (since we homeschool year-round, not doing lessons is a big way to celebrate) and a few photos from our 12-days of Christmas.  Do you do this tradition? If so, I'd love to hear what you do!

Tuesday - December 25 - Day 1:  NO LESSONS, Gifts, Steak

Wednesday - December 26 - Day 2: NO LESSONS, Go on a picnic; eat birthday cake

Thursday - December 27 - Day 3:  NO LESSONS, Go see Christmas lights

Friday - December 28 - Day 4: NO LESSONS, Decorate Graves (Feast of Holy Innocents)

 Saturday – December 29 –Day 5: Family Hike

Sunday – December 30 – Day 6:  Saint Bingo (Feast of the Holy Family)

Monday – December 31 – Day 7:  NO LESSONS, Lunch with our priest then go to Mass

Tuesday – January 1 – Day 8:  NO LESSONS, Stay with grandparents; Christmas Bird Count

Wednesday – January 2 – Day 9: LESSONS, Family Christmas movie & make kettlecorn

Thursday – January 3 – Day 10:  Co-op; decorate lunch bags (Feast of Holy Name of Jesus)

Friday – January 4 – Day 11:  LESSONS, Adoration

Saturday – January 5 – Day 12 (12th Night): Make treats

Sunday – January 6 – Epiphany Party; Gifts
Day 2 of Christmas:  Birthday cake for Jesus
I was informed that Jesus likes German chocolate

 Day 3 of Christmas:  Going to see Christmas lights

Day 5 of Christmas:  Our annual family hike (with friends)

Day 6 of Christmas: Playing Saint Bingo with Grandma and Grandpa

Day 10 of Christmas:  Remembering Jesus' Holy Name as we pack lunches

Day 12 of Christmas: Making candy for our Epiphany party

Epiphany Party! 
King cake decorated with wild edibles, lots of candy and treats.

And chalking the doors for another year.
May all who enter our home be blessed!