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.




Tuesday, September 29, 2015

An Impromptu Michaelmas {Pear + Blackberry Pie}

I didn't have any plans to celebrate Michaelmas this year, because with a 9/28 due date I was frankly hoping to be otherwise occupied. But when this morning rolled around with no labor at all, much less a baby, I decided to throw together an impromptu celebration with some of our best friends. It was so much fun that I was really able to enjoy day #1 of being "overdue," instead of just sitting in my extra-clean and well-nested house twiddling my thumbs and poring over hilarious lists of things to do to get labor started.

Since I had exactly no plans for today, I had all the time in the world to make a big project out of dinner. We had roast chicken, honey-glazed steamed carrots, and green beans. For dessert, a pear and blackberry pie! (Why these foods? Haley has it all laid out for you.)

Michaelmas 2015

Michaelmas 2015

And we put our capes of light to good use for the second year in a row! Stickin' it to the devil, one small person at a time. :-)

Michaelmas 2015

Michaelmas 2015

Michaelmas 2015

There's a beautiful free downloadable version of the St. Michael Prayer on Carolyn's blog today - check it out! Can't wait to see more of her beautiful work, soon to be available via her new Etsy shop, Brass & Mint Co.

Pear + Blackberry Pie

My favorite crust, as always.
5 cups peeled, cored, and chopped pears (1-inch pieces)
2 cups blackberries
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of kosher salt
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons milk or cream
coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the fruit, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, spices, salt, and cornstarch, and add them to the fruit. Toss together gently.

Roll out half of the pie crust and fit inside a 9- or 10-inch pie plate. Fill with the fruit mixture, and then roll out the second half of the crust and top the pie with a lattice. Brush with milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for one hour to one hour and twenty minutes, until the crust is deeply brown and the filling is bubbling. Cool before slicing. Serve with vanilla ice cream!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Tart Cherries: Picking, Pitting, and Processing!

Our final foray up to northern Michigan for the summer included a mamma-mandated trip back to Rennie Orchards to pick tart cherries! Homemade cherry jam is one of my favorite things to eat all winter long, and there is just something about the fact that I hand-picked and pitted these cherries that makes the jam even sweeter for me. I love preserving the season for later!

cherry picking ::

cherry picking ::

cherry picking ::

Jackpot! Low-hanging fruit!

We ended up with about 18 pounds of fresh tart cherries to take home to Chicago with us, and the next day we got right down to business. (Tart cherries don't like to wait around.)

With this new cherry pitter in hand, we pitted and pitted and pitted! Anne helped, of course. Never underestimate the enthusiasm of a toddler for an excruciatingly tedious task.

cherry pitting ::

Once pitted, the cherries were processed in one of three ways:

1. Maraschino Cherries, a half batch of this ginormous recipe, using about 5 pounds, and yielding 2 pints and 8 half-pints:

Assemble booze, etc:

maraschino cherries ::

Bring to a boil:

maraschino cherries ::

Pack the pitted cherries:

maraschino cherries ::

Pour over hot, sweet, boozy goodness:

maraschino cherries ::


2. Tart Cherry Jam, doubling this trusty recipe that I've used for the last 2 years, using about 8 pounds, and yielding 3 pints and 8 half-pints:

cherry jam ::

cherry jam ::

3. Frozen pitted tart cherries for pies, etc. Two pies' worth, about 2 pounds per pie.

The final product:

Cherries 2015 ::

Not pictured: one exhausted, cherry-stained, and happy pregnant mamma.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Garden Update {8.3.2015}: Death, Destruction, and Starting Over

Garden 8.3.2015::

Yesterday I went to my garden to check out the damage. It was really bad. Really, really bad. It turns out that the mystery herbicide that was sprayed (and damaged about half the beds in the community garden) was RoundUp, which is not exactly something you want to eat. So the organizers of the garden encouraged everyone with an affected bed to pull out all the plants so the soil can be amended and repaired.

Garden 8.3.2015::

I am not ashamed to say that I broke down and sobbed as I pulled all my poor, dead plants out of the ground. I am heartbroken, not to mention more than a little angry that all the time and money I poured into this little piece of earth is now rendered a total waste. No ripe cherry tomatoes for Anne to pick off the vine and eat, no little baby pumpkins to make into pie. No pickles, no quarts of sun-warmed San Marzano tomatoes to make into pizza and pasta all winter long.

Garden 8.3.2015::

I. Am. So. Sad.

Garden 8.3.2015::

Garden 8.3.2015::

Tomorrow, gardeners will gather to do what we can to fix the soil, and then I guess we will re-plant. What can you plant in mid-August, fellow gardeners? What can I look forward to? Any ideas to help pull me from the depths of despair? I appreciate your help and suggestions!

*In case you're wondering, here's what we're adding to the soil to help eliminate the toxins and restore it to a place where you want to grow food:

- an activated charcoal called Biogize SD to absorb and detox the chemicals that may remain in the soil
- Food Safe Zeolite to help further detox the soil and help boost the new plants going in to better take on the nutrients it needs
- Garrett Juice, a concentrated organic spray to reenergize the microorganisms living in the soil that will eat toxins. 

More to come soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Garden Update {July 28, 2015}

It is a sad day in the garden, friends. I've been noticing a lot of yellowing and drooping lately, which I thought was due to the lack of rain and the arrival of some really hot days. So I set to watering, thinned and pruned, and then put down a layer of compost and mulch. Then I got an email from the garden manager, stating that there may have been an inadvertent (and totally in violation of the agreement that was set up when the garden was started) application of HERBICIDE to kill weeds along the train tracks. Heartbreaking. The email included some tips as to how to revive the plants, so I'm going to do all I can. We'll see.

Here's the zucchini on July 22, right after I thinned them:

July 22, 2015 ::

And here they are on July 25. Womp womp.

July 25, 2015 ::

I'm not totally convinced that it was only the herbicide that caused their sad state. I didn't do any research into the best ways to thin these plants before I started yanking (when will I learn?), and it turns out that beans and cucurbits (melons, squash, cucumbers... aka everything on this side of the garden) have fragile roots and should be thinned early and very carefully. I wasn't so careful. Whoops. I hope that the mulch application will help the roots to reestablish themselves.

Cucumbers after thinning and staking (I think these cages are designed for peppers, but they're perfect for pickling cucumbers!), July 22:

July 22, 2015 ::

Then on July 25 (post herbicide attack):

July 25, 2015 ::

The tomatoes were doing so well!!! PLEASE DON'T ALL DIE!!!!

July 25, 2015 ::

A new addition to keep us happy, even in the face of minor adversity.

July 25, 2015 ::


This video taught me how to prune my cucumbers and tomatoes, to the point where I felt reasonably confident, and didn't mess up more than a handful of times (I think!). I now know what "suckers" are (little extra leafy stems that just steal energy from the fruiting parts of the plant), how to identify them, and how to remove them.