Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Charoset-Inspired Baked Passover Apples


It's a feature of my personality, not to want to miss out on anything. I struggle with decisions, because I know that choosing to do one thing means choosing not to do a host of other things. This is especially difficult for me around holiday times, because with little kids around, doing everything is totally impossible. And what's more important? That they have a well-planned craft for each day of Holy Week, or that I remember to take time to sit down and just read the Story with them? To make sure their little minds are absorbing just a little more of the mystery we celebrate this week?

Amid the chaos of extra church services, cleaning, shopping, and redecorating, I'm trying to cultivate calm. I'm reminding myself that family traditions aren't built in one year, but over a lifetime.

One spring, when I was in seventh or eighth grade, our church hosted a Passover seder. It was the first time I had been exposed to beautiful rituals of this ancient Jewish feast, and I was blown away. As we read the questions, ate the symbolic foods, and drank sips of wine, I saw in a totally new way what Jesus had done. How he had fulfilled centuries' worth of prophecy. I was moved and changed.

Every year, I feel a tug to celebrate the Passover like that again, with matzah, bitter herbs, four cups of wine, and the Haggadah to guide us through it. This year, with a 5-month-old and a 3-year-old, though, I decided that all the careful work and planning I would have to complete to make this meal happen would just end up in my frustration over their inability to appreciate it. I'm going to wait. Maybe next year. (Ann Voskamp has a wonderful post about her family's Seder here.)

But instead of giving up on the idea entirely, I made a seder-inspired meal for Palm Sunday dinner. I would have loved to have it on Holy Thursday, in memory of the seder Jesus celebrated with His disciples before He died, but again - elaborate dinner on a weeknight ups my chances of ending up in tears, so I did what I could to keep both this feast and my sanity.


The menu:

Broiled lamb chops
Greek salad (with lots of parsley)
Baked apples and vanilla ice cream

Charoset is a paste made from apples, nuts, honey or sugar, and red wine, and it's a traditional part of the seder plate; its texture represents the mortar the Israelites used when they were enslaved in Egypt. Here's a traditional recipe.


Charoset-Inspired Baked Passover Apples

5 Fuji apples, cored
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the apples in a baking dish with a lid. Combine the wine, water, sugar, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together brown sugar, walnuts, and cinnamon, and spoon the mixture into the center of the apples. Top each apple with a small piece of butter, right on top of the filling. Pour the wine around the apples, cover, and bake for about 45 minutes, until soft.

Friday, March 11, 2016

What's In Our Easter Baskets {Shining Light Dolls + Book GIVEAWAY!}


Lent seems to go in three phases around here:

1) Overzealous: "I'm going to give up bread and coffee and sugar and Facebook and TV and laughing and chocolate and alcohol. And gossiping and complaining. It's going to be my BEST LENT EVER!"

2) Despondent: "Why am I alive? Why am I so desperately weak? Jesus went 40 days without food or shelter in the desert, and then died on the Cross, and I can't even make it through an entire day at home with my kids without tearfully contemplating cocktail hour. I'm a miserable human being."

3) EASTER BASKET SHOPPING. Also coincides (at least this year) with tolerably warm weather and actual living things popping out of the ground.

We're deep into phase three, I'm happy to report, having barely survived phase two. And I wanted to share the contents of our baskets with you! I also have an opportunity for three (3) lucky winners to receive the three latest Shining Light Dolls (Our Lady of Kibeho, Our Lady of China, and Our Lady of Aparecida), and a copy of "The Virgin Mary Around the World," a board book created by the creative genius behind Shining Light Dolls, my sweet and talented friend Chantal Baros.

Inside our baskets:

Anne (3):
Eleanor (almost 6 months):
We're also going to give them the three new Shining Light Dolls. Faith formation for little kids seems to be most successful if it's just mixed in with everything else, like it's not a big deal. An undetectable part of their family life. Among my girls' toys, you will find the usual suspects (Anna and Elsa, Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel), along with Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Patrick, and St. Nicholas. Our religious books are mixed in with all the other picture books. Conversations about faith happen naturally that way. I like it!


Shining Light Dolls are beautiful, sturdy, and safe and fun for all ages to play with! Baby Eleanor loves them as a teething toy and Anne loves to use them to play pretend games. We love love love them! The designer, Chantal, releases a few more designs a couple times a year. She is doing such a great job, filling a gap for beautiful, cool toys that teach kids (and adults) about our faith. While I'm teaching my daughters, I'm also learning! I had never even heard of the majority of the apparitions of Mary featured in the book. There's always more to explore, and the book and dolls are just a jumping off point.

I'll also say, with all the hubbub lately about Barbies and other dolls in different shapes, sizes, and colors, these dolls are a breath of fresh air for my impressionable girls. Body shape? Irrelevant (hooray!). Cultural diversity? NAILED IT. 

Enough talking. You NEED to see them!!

Our Lady of Kibeho:



Our Lady of Aparecida:



Our Lady of China:



You want them, right? OF COURSE YOU DO. Jump in the Rafflecopter to win - make sure to get your entries completed by midnight on Tuesday! Three lucky winners will be chosen on Wednesday, so they'll get to you in plenty of time for Easter. Good luck!

{UPDATE} The giveaway is closed! Congratulations to Heather, Maryann, and Trish! Check your email for details on how to claim your prize! :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

H is for... {Honey Muffins}

Honey Muffins ::

I've thought a lot about "survival mode." About those times in your life, like when you've just had a baby, when you have to get down to the most basic level of what absolutely needs to get done in your life for your family to stay alive. Nothing (or almost nothing) extra. Quick and easy meals. Instacart for groceries. Calling that walk to the park and back your "workout." Leaving clean laundry unfolded in a basket for weeks and calling it a win that it even got washed and dried.

Truth be told, I think it's the attempted re-entry to normal life that's hardest for me. I want to know what to expect. In survival mode, I don't expect anything, so anything at all feels like a victory. This in-between time, though? The baby is four months old, not a newborn any more by anyone's standards, but still needing me an awful lot. It seems like I have it together every other week. Every other week I'm able to get my house cleaned, make reasonably delicious, interesting, healthy meals, parent successfully (read: with minimal yelling), get to the gym, talk to friends, connect with my husband, get some reading time, drink enough water. On the in-between weeks, though, I feel like a complete and utter failure. I just did this last week, I think. Surely I can replicate what I just did last week!

But then I'm yelling at my 3-year-old, eating cookies one after the other like a crazed starving person, wondering how a family of four could possibly have worn this many clothes since I last did laundry, which couldn't have been more than 2 days ago... could it? It's like last week I was comfortably swimming in this lake, thinking how cool and wonderful the water felt, thinking that yes, I was getting tired, but this work was so worth doing, was even fun! And this week, nothing is perceptibly different, but I am half-drowning, wondering how I'm possibly going to get through another minute, let alone until bedtime.

This morning, I got back to basics. I listened to my girl instead of getting distracted by my phone. I sat down next to her on the floor and joined her in arranging and rearranging seashells. We read picture books for a good deal longer than I had planned on. We made cookies together, with sprinkles and yellow icing smiley faces. She went down for a nap, and I folded just one load of laundry. Put another one in. Did a few dishes. And just like that, I was swimming again. Because I decided to put love first. Put our relationship first. I put aside my sometimes-compulsive desire to get out the door and give my daughter enriching experiences, and reminded myself that sometimes the best thing for all of us is just to stay at home together, playing and reading and enjoying this fleeting time of life.


This week, we're focusing on the letter H. H is for...

How am I going to do this? How will I survive?
Hard. So hard.
Healthy choices making a real difference. Enough water. Enough sleep. Healthy food. Fresh air. Basics.
Happy. Dancing to happy music, making happy faces on our treats.
Heaven: the end goal of all of this striving. All of this worry, all of this work. So very worth it to bring glory to Him.

Honey Muffins ::

Honey Muffins
from Super Natural Every Day

These simple muffins are quick to mix together and contain no refined sugar! The addition of millet gives each bite a lovely pop! They are also fantastic on subsequent mornings split, buttered, and broiled until crispy.

2 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/3 cup raw millet
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 cup honey
Grated zest of a lemon, plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, millet, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, butter, honey, and lemon zest and juice. Pour the wet into the dry, and mix together as gently as possible. The batter will be slightly puffy. Scoop the batter into the muffin cups, and bake for about 15 minutes, until the muffins are golden and beginning to crack on the top. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pans, remove to a cooling rack, and cool completely (or eat warm!).

Makes one dozen.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A is for...

This week, we started a really low-key, simple homeschool routine for Anne, who just turned 3. I was starting to feel like we all needed just a little more structure, because winter is coming, and if I don't have an alternative ready when someone asks to watch a movie, it's really hard to say no.


We're using "26 Letters to Heaven" by Sarah V. Park, which has tons of great ideas and a stellar book list for each week. It's a great jumping off point! Each week, we focus on a particular saint, and we memorize a Scripture verse that reflects that week's virtue. We have a little bulletin board where we keep track of what we're doing.


Here's what this week looked like:

Saturday: Trip to the library to check out as many of the books on this week's list as we could find.

Monday: Wrote the virtue ("Amiability") and its definition on a card. Had Anne repeat it. Did the same with this week's Scripture. Read a short biography of St. Anne, printed out her picture, and tacked all three things to the board. Read some books.

Tuesday: Reviewed saint, virtue, and Scripture. Made the letter "A" out of Elmer's glue, and let Anne cover it with almonds. Read some books. Later, made patterns with red and green apples, and then  glued them onto two apple trees I drew.


Wednesday: Review. Read. Started searching for things that start with "A" in magazines and cutting them out.

Thursday: Review. Read. Met friends at the nature museum. Later, finished cutting out pictures and made an "A" collage.

Friday: Review. Read.

That's approximately 20 minutes a day of "school," and for the rest of the time we did all the things we always do: play, go for walks, cook, read, color, paint, etc. There was still some TV time in every day, but so much less. And if you ask her, Anne can now recite this verse!

A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. -Proverbs 17:22

My life as a housewife and stay at home mom can feel so repetitive and never-ending. I clean the house. It gets dirty again. I nurse the baby constantly. My family is hungry (at least) 3 times a day. Laundry has to get done again and again. Toys dumped out and cleaned up a million times a day. And it feels really good, at the end of a tiring week, to have visual proof of having accomplished something real with my daughter.

Oh, and there's also THIS girl. Six weeks old and already smiling at us!

Eleanor 6 weeks - SMILING!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Red Party {Anne is Three!}

Today is Anne's third birthday, but we celebrated this past weekend with a red birthday party. Anne loooooves red. And she loves cardinals. Ever since last winter when we watched a pair of cardinals visit our front yard feeder, they have had her heart. I had a lot of fun with the theme!

Anne's 3rd birthday

The cupcakes were red velvet, of course. A couple days before the party I showed Anne the recipe photo from my Martha Stewart Cupcakes book, complete with traditional cream cheese frosting. Her face fell and she said, very seriously, "I don't want white frosting. I want red frosting."

Man, am I glad I showed her that picture! Red velvet cupcakes with red velvet frosting, coming right up!

Anne's 3rd birthday

Waiting for guests to arrive in her... drumroll please... handmade (by my mom!) cardinal print dress! And hat!!

We asked the amazing and talented teacher from Anne's Music Together classes to come and provide entertainment. Best money I've ever spent. Anne was ecstatic, and her face as she jumped and laughed and danced and sang, as her beloved Miss Julie sang just for her... I could have watched her all day.

Anne's 3rd birthday

Anne's 3rd birthday

Anne's 3rd birthday

Anne's 3rd birthday

Happy birthday to you, sweet girl! My life is immeasurably better with you in it.

Monday, October 26, 2015

A New Creation

Eleanor Catherine was baptized in Christ last Saturday! Sacraments make me so happy to be Catholic. I love involving all my senses in the practice and celebration of my faith: tracing the sign of the cross on my tiny daughter's velvety head, hearing the beautiful words that claim her as a child of God, the delicious smell of holy Chrism that lingers for days.




{lots of tears as my mamma sang a beautiful arrangement of "Jesus Loves Me" after the baptism}


Eleanor is blessed to have a surplus of godparents to love and pray for her: my little sister and her husband (not Catholic, but committed Christians who are officially called "Christian witnesses"), and our dear friends Adam and Lauren from college, who are currently stationed in Japan with the Navy. Nolen and Ben looked so so sweet holding her. Even though they're only approaching their first anniversary now, I can't WAIT for them to have babies of their own! And they brought the loveliest, most thoughtful handmade gifts!




Ben made the cross out of Michigan cherry wood, with Eleanor's initials and baptism date, and my sister made this rosary with beautiful green beads she found at a local shop! It feels like a symbol of Eleanor's spiritual growth. Such special treasures for her.


{the whole gang}

Afterward, we hosted a luncheon to celebrate with family and a few friends. Hosting approximately 25 people at your home less than two weeks after having a baby calls for two very important things: help and shortcuts. We had lots and lots of amazing help! Here's what we served:

Slow Cooker Italian Beef Sandwiches (via A Spicy Perspective) <-- So good. Seriously. Make them.
Green Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash, Walnuts, and Dried Cranberries
Kettle Chips
Apple Slices with Caramel Dip (via Five Heart Home)
Veggies and Hummus
Cake! (from the grocery store!)


I made the beef (a double batch), the caramel sauce, and roasted the squash the day before, so all I had to do on Saturday was get things out and heat them up. Easy peasy. It was an awesome day!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In Praise of My Postpartum Body

The world tells me that my postpartum body is something to be ashamed of and hidden away.

That I should do everything in my power to get "my body back."

Let me tell you something: my body never left.

My body is the miraculous, shapeshifting form of a woman. Always has been, always will be.

My body is still mine. It was mine in the fatigue and nausea of the first trimester. It was mine in the proud swelling and high energy of the second trimester. It was mine in the heartburn and stretch marks and exhaustion of the last few weeks.

My body built a baby. And then my body did humankind's hardest work to bring that baby into the world.


I don't want my pre-baby body "back." I bear the marks of a woman who has been on a journey, an adventure.

I'll keep this body, with its aches and scars. I've earned this body doing my life's work.

My body and I are good friends. If I listen, it tells me just what it needs. Rest. Water. Good food. Walks outside, a little longer every day. The embrace of my loved ones. Laughter.

My body is strong, capable. I will carry it with pride, because it is a great gift, and through its mysterious, miraculous transforming I have received the most precious gifts of my life: my beautiful daughters.