Follow our family's journey as we seek to nourish our souls with music and literature, good company, great cooking, time spent in nature, and always, the love of Christ especially through the sacraments of His Church.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Etsy Love

Is there anyone who hasn't fallen under the Etsy spell yet? My latest searches: natural ornaments, children's clothing, holidays... etc.... etc. I would love to have myself a little shop there one day.

Today I found these adorable watercolor postcards with rhymes. Oh my. Love!

They remind me of Sarah's adorable paintings, which I also fell in love with. I think they could make her rich someday.

OK. Drooling done. Back to everyday life now...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Book Review: Love, Warmth and Discipline

Love, Warmth and Discipline
Lessons from Boys Town for Successful Parenting
by Rev. Val J. Peter

As a parent, I am always open to reading new material on the subject of child-rearing. When I selected this book as part of the reviewer program with The Catholic Company, I was encouraged to see the subtitle: Lessons from Boys Town For Successful Parenting. Boys Town! I saw that movie! I also know that it's a place of healing and hope for hurting and troubled kids from all over the U.S., founded by the beloved Fr. Flanagan. Authored by his successor, this book was sure to hold some gems from some of the most challenging parenting situations ever faced.

Rev. Val J. Peter uses his experience with generations of kids to outline the challenges and solutions facing modern parents. First, by way of deconstruction, he explains the decline of the mental and behavioral health of our youth since the 1940s, and points to the weakening of parental and societal authority as the root cause. Next, he distinguishes three types of parenting: permissive, authoritarian and "authoritative" - which is not just a middle ground, but a combination of all the parental qualities that have been proven to help young people thrive. Fr. Peter describes it as "warm and nurturing, imposing firm limits, demands and controls." It's the model that has been used at Boys Town with great success.

A good part of the book is given to the research that backs up this model of parenting. Fr. Peter very generally outlines some of the goals of his approach: character formation, family skills, self-esteem through virtue, to name a few.  He further develops his thoughts on the importance of fostering resilience, a moral compass, and appropriate self-love. The text is ripe with anecdotes from real kids at Boys Town, which are mainly testimonials to the changes in their lives brought about by the program there. There is no doubt that kids are responding to these methods - something is working, and these once-broken adolescents are rising to the challenge of becoming secure, happy and healthy adults. Our own families can learn from these principles.

I think Fr. Peter offers readers a wonderful tool for developing their "big picture" parenting goals. His words are positive and hopeful, and he has a gift for inspiring parental confidence in those who might be confused or unclear on a solid path to happy, healthy family life. These are good reasons to read his book. At the same time, he left me wanting more - and I hope he is planning to write more on the details in a sequel! I'd love to see specifics about the family skills techniques, and the limits, consequences and structure used in the family groups at Boys Town. The "how-to manual" would be a great companion for this excellent overview.

Love, Warmth and Discipline can be purchased from The Catholic Company here. I was sent this book at no cost in the review program.

The Catholic Company

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Peek Into My Life

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hickory Nut Harvest

Remember that infamous nature walk? We went back there yesterday, but this time we drove. I had a specific mission in mind: picking up hickory nuts to use for fall crafts. It was getting dark when the inspiration hit, so we had to hurry. It took about 11 seconds to get from our house to the hickory nut tree on that road. I knew it was the right tree when the tires started crunching shells on the road! Thankfully, no one cried on this excursion.

I have seen hickory nuts at my parents' house and we must have the same variety here. I was always intrigued by the smooth white nut inside the ugly outer shell. It just looks like a doll's head to me and my brain immediately starts grinding out hickory nut craft ideas.

It turns out there are many different kinds of hickory nuts. Jeff and I had an argument this morning when he saw our cache. Apparently, our hickory nuts don't look like real hickory nuts, the ones he got paid for picking up in the yard when he was a kid in Arkansas. But those ugly things?! Those are not hickory nuts, as far as I know!  Here is a page showing the varieties. Here, we have shagbark hickories. In Arkansas, it must have been shellbark or kingnut. Funny how different they are! No wonder we didn't even think they were the same animal.

So here's a picture showing some of the nuts we collected. At the top you can see the nuts in various stages of breaking out of their hulls. Aren't those inside kernels pretty?

We were interested first in using the outer shells to make hickory nut boats, which I saw on this blog post. We needed half-shells, but they were so dried up that they fell apart in quarters and we had to glue them back together to make our boats. While I was melting a pumpkin spice jar candle in the oven (which is what you do when you have no beeswax per the instructions) we made little sails from toothpicks and scrapbooking paper scraps. Then we poured the wax into the hollow boats, let it set up for a few minutes, and then installed the sails. Voila! A fleet of lil' nutshell ships!  They smelled great too. So cute. Wish I had seen this in time for Columbus Day...

We read that hickory nuts are hard to crack, but we tried anyway. We had to hit them with a small hammer and pick the meat out with a skewer. I had to sit on the kitchen floor, which is vinyl over concrete - it was the only place hard enough to hammer on. (Note to self: try to avoid sitting on the kitchen floor. Way too much down there that should never be seen at close range!)

The nuts were delicious! They tasted exactly like a sweet, extra-creamy pecan - not surprising since they are related. After about 1/2 an hour of work, this is what we had. Molly made off with the stash as soon as I took the picture. She loved them! It was a lot of work for little result, but it felt very primal to harvest and eat something uncultivated straight from nature. I have a lot of respect for squirrels now, too.

So then we had time to play with the hickory nuts and other interesting items from our nature box, to see what we could create. (I'm surprised how few ideas I could find on the internet.) Here is what Benjamin came up with on his own. It's supposed to be a frog! He also wanted to use the glue gun on his own. (gasp!)

Here are a few of my creations. Forgive my lack of camera skills! I was stuck in a Christmas ornament rut, so that's what they're meant to be. They are about 3" tall.

Caroling Angel


Woodland Critter

I'm still mulling over some ideas for when I have more time. I was thrilled to find that there is a little book still in print from 1946 called Miss Hickory, about a doll with a hickory nut head and her nature friends. It sounds delightfully quirky, and this site gives instructions for actually creating the doll and her accessories - no pictures, though. I can't quite predict if the boys will enjoy this adventure, or if I'll have to wait for Molly to grow up a little. I plan to get the book and see! This stuff is right up my ally, so I know I will have a good time regardless.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Sometimes I spend a lot of time in my own head. When daily worries, tasks and stresses occupy my mind, I can just go through the motions of taking care of my family, sometimes arriving at the end of the day without ever really connecting to the kids in an intentional way. Sometimes I even seek that distance, when the daily demands of continuous parenting seem too tedious. I am not saying that I neglect my kids - far from it - but there are many times when they seem to be at the periphery of my life, not at the heart of it. Yes, they are with me physically, and they know I will meet their bodily needs, but we all know how it feels to have someone mentally or emotionally absent even when physically present: not too great. Lately I've been thinking about what it feels like for them to see me constantly staring at a screen, hidden behind a book, or talking on the phone. I am sure at times it seems that I treat them more as an interruption than the reason I get up each morning! 

This week I have spent a lot of time online trying to research election issues, and a ridiculous amount of time on the phone for other reasons. It's one of those times when you know in your heart you need to make amends and steer that ship back to the right course. I decided, just for the day, to be totally with my kids, enjoy them, love on them and make them feel special. No computer time while they were with me. No commitments, long conversations or other distractions. I deliberately overdid it in order to set the tone for the long-term changes I hope to make after today. I don't think it's necessary or even wise to focus every day to this extent, but it certainly is good to feed their souls a hearty helping every now and then. If it makes focusing on "daily nutrition" a little easier afterward, so much the better!

Taking my inspiration from this post, I set up a "good morning" picnic in a sunny spot, complete with loads of pillows and a pile of our favorite books.  We snuggled long and read to our hearts' content.

The rest of the day we played games, hunted outside for hickory nuts, used them in crafts (my next post), watched movies with a side of popcorn, pumpkin bread and hot tea, talked and listened. They helped me cook. We built a giant train track. Later it became a "river" for sailing the hickory nut boats we'd made. I didn't drift away into grown-up world. 

Old habits die hard, and at times it was hard to avoid my habitual escapes. There were meltdowns and temper flares and aggravations like regular days. I wasn't perfect, to be sure. But it felt so good at the end of the day to know we had connected in a big way. Even I had a really fun day! In tending my children's hearts, my mama's heart was fed.

As often discovered on my parenting journey, I again found that pushing away little people whose needs seem too big at a given time, only makes those needs increase. Embracing rather than running from these demands, while difficult, pays big dividends in confidence, trust and security.

Now if only I can remember that tomorrow. It's errand and grocery day, with 3 helpers!!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

At Grandma's

In the waning days of summer (which really just ended here) we finally got to take a few day trips to my parents' house, out in the country about an hour's drive from here.

Everything there is fascinating. Dad is a "collector" and Mom decorates everything with charm and whimsy. There's always something new to look at. Surrounded by woods, the cleared land around the house feels like a park. The kids like exploring, inside and out, and when we leave late at night, the sky is glittering with stars we can't even see in the city. Grandma let them run in the sprinkler, play in buckets of water, dig up the garden, wheel around her garden cart and "mop" the deck. One brave big kid went bushwhacking in the woods with Grandpa. (The other one was afraid of ticks.) What great memories for our kids to grow up with!

Here is the deck outside the back door porch.

Mom's front porch:

This is the "see saw" we had as kids, which my parents have hauled from house to house, saving for the grandkids. My dad got it from a friend who made it from automotive parts, more than 35 years ago. Not just up and down - this one goes in circles too! It was painted gray when I was little. It's impossible to get the kids off this thing!! I can just see my dad light up with happiness when he sees our little ones enjoying it as much as we once did.

Benjamin is cautiously trying out this trapeze that I think my brothers put up in the tree quite a few years ago! (We tested it first, of course.)

Grandma bought us our Jack-O-Lantern pumpkins. Heavy!!

Inside, the kids always want to use the juicer. One time we made fresh apple juice, but most of the time we help Grandpa make romaine lettuce juice, which he drinks daily as part of his cancer-busting regimen. This is another "toy" the kids can't get enough of!

Grandpa has lots of gadgets that Benjamin, especially, is fascinated by. Here he shows the kids how to use a volt meter to test an electrical connection. Last visit, he gave the boys a lesson on using a soldering iron. I can't tell who enjoys it more - I'm so glad they have a chance to learn from him.

I don't know how I managed not to take any pictures of my mom, but I did manage to capture her fabulous roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner. She spoils us to death, and I swear she tries to send me home with everything she owns! She takes such good care of everyone.

We're due to go back for a "raking day"about now. I bet they are knee-deep in leaves this week, with all those trees. Whenever we visit, it's a treat spending time in such beautiful surroundings with these very special people. We're so thankful to have both of them, and for all they do for us.

Thanks Grandma and Grandpa! See you next time!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

10 Surprising Things About Me

 My "MadMen" avatar (I have never watched the show!)  - you too can picture yourself in the 60s here. Fun!

I have to say this was a very difficult post to write! Not curious things, not interesting things, or even cool things... surprising things! I have been thinking probably too long and hard about what people might find genuinely surprising about me. Also, how not to let it degenerate into True Confessions! Ha. Great fun, though... thanks to my sister-in-law "Kasclar" at Journal of a Nobody for tagging me. Here we go, Top Ten style:

10. I've never liked babysitting. I love my kids, but find it kind of terrifying to watch someone else's. I have gotten over that a little, mostly because my friends' kids are so darn cute! But you'll never catch me opening a daycare.

9.  I can't stand chaos. I know... everyone who knows me, stop laughing. It's life as we know it here in this house! The truth is that I am easily overwhelmed by clutter, noise and activity. Somehow I just haven't figured out how to rein it in or live with it. Suffice it to say, I don't often feel peaceful.

8. I don't fold socks or "whites". They go in separate baskets and we all go fishing! Big time-saver for me, so I actually enjoy folding the other clothes. It's one of those rewarding jobs, for me. I think I picked this up from Flylady. Yes, I should follow some of her other advice, too.

7. I have a lead foot! I hope obeying the speed limit is not part of respecting legitimate authority, or I will be in Purgatory for a long time. Longer than I will be anyway, I mean. Yikes.

6. I'm the silent type. I would rather listen to silence than even to music most of the time. This may come from being overwhelmed with noise every day, but at this time in my life, the radio is OFF when I have to drive somewhere. Jeff would like me to point out, however, that I do seem to like "white noise" and I  keep the house fan running all the time. Which annoys him. Profound silence makes my ears ring. There's a good reason right there why I am not a nun.

5. I did think seriously about becoming a nun at one time, really! There are even more reasons now why that life seems appealing... but lots of other reasons why I know it wasn't for me. Here are a few of them.

4. I'm not always the head cook at our house. This evolved over time. As I have been more consumed with little people's needs, Jeff has stepped in when he is here. If he is home, he very often cooks. Thankfully, he enjoys it and secretly wishes to be a chef. (And he is good at it!) Many times we cook together and that is fun, until we step on each other, or I start telling him what to do. Of course I cook when he is not home, but it's not really cooking, as in a large meal. Picky kids, lazy mom, you know... We do each have our "specialties" which the other doesn't make, so I still have a corner on some meals. But I fully expect to pick up my kitchen goddess tiara again in the future. When I get the chaos under control...

3. I was a redhead when I met Jeff! I loved it and he keeps wishing I would go back to it, but the maintenance at this point seems kind of... daunting. I still have the color name tucked away if I ever need it again. I wonder if they still make it. (Actually it was more like auburn. But still.)

2. I am trained as a professional driver and held a CDL for several years early in my marriage. Yes, folks, that's right, I can drive a big rig! I did it so Jeff and I could work together and see the country while earning some decent money. It was one of the best times in our lives - I enjoyed it for the most part, although being away from home constantly was hard on this homebody. We lasted a year doing that together, and he is still driving regionally himself, these many years later. Jeff still makes fun of me for never learning to back up properly. Why should I, when I had an experienced professional on board at all times?

1. I've had my last 2 babies at home. Criticism ranges from "crazy" to "brave", but after my hospital experience with the first, I did my research and have had a wonderful midwife to help me with the homebirths. It is far from easy, but so much nicer in the long run.

OK, so surprise me with little-known information about yourself! If you want to play, post your top ten and leave me a comment when you do. A few particular people I want to tag (if you're up for it) are:

Christine at A House Full of Blessings
Sarah at Amongst Lovely Things
Margaret at Minnesota Mom
Chris at An Eclectic Odyssey
Jen at Forever, For Always, No Matter What

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Fall Fail?

I'm on the fence about sharing the gritty truth of life here. Sometimes I like to read blogs that are only pleasant and cheerful - they really do lift me up! But sometimes it can be discouraging when everything appears to be perfect and you just can't measure up. Usually I consider a blog to be like the front entrance to your house. You don't hang out the dirty laundry and deposit all of your junk out there. You like it to be pretty and welcoming. But we all know that inside might see some days with housekeeping disasters, sickness, and irritations. I'm opening the door! Come on in! Who are we if we can't laugh at ourselves and our imperfect existence sometimes!

The autumn weather has been so lovely. The drought means we have had no rainy days to be stuck inside. The kids have been out in the yard hours each day. But yesterday, the cloudy, crispy evening was just beckoning me to get out - I mean, further than our yard - so, in spite of protesting kids who didn't feel like walking, I marched everyone down to my favorite country-in-the-city lane. It's only 1/2 a block from here, and maybe 3/4 mile long, and I love it! Only 2 minutes from all the shopping, schools, and freeways, this little corner of country is my haven. There are sweet country houses on rolling lots with trees, rail fences, ponds and even horses. You can't even hear the traffic once you get back there. I secretly want to live on that road. Shhh!

Ah, paradise. There are red and gold leaves, some crunching underfoot as squirrels dart across the road. Hickory nuts and acorns for picking up. Interesting seed pods on that bush. I'm returning... to the autumns of my childhood... except for that annoying voice, whining. And whining. And whining. My legs hurt. I don't want to go this way. I only like roads with sidewalks. I'm a city boy. Why can't we go to the park?

Aggghhh! Knife in my heart!

It was a difficult walk. I don't suppose I will instill a love of nature in anyone by forcing him to participate in my favorite activities. Oh well. I really needed to be out there, but it wasn't exactly... pleasant. Another kid was crying by the time we were heading back. I got everyone back home where they acted as if we had just hiked 10 miles. Poor kids. Yeah. Charlotte Mason is probably rolling in her grave!

I know it was just the day, one that had many challenges aside from our walk anyway. The irrational devil on my shoulder tempted me to be discouraged that one of my chief goals with my kiddos apparently has foundered along the way. But I have pictures (and memories) to prove we have had many other days of success and wonder, out in nature. I bet if we had been stomping around in the woods off a trail somewhere, it would have been a lot more fun. I'm still hoping that Molly will share the love of my heart for nature - she's the only one who didn't complain!

I'm not giving up. Even if I have to pick up all the cool nature things myself. Here's what I brought home:

If everyone stops complaining, I might let them play with my treasures... tomorrow. I love Fall!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Corn Chowder

'Tis the season for soups around here. We pulled out one of our long-standing favorites over the weekend. I am pretty sure the recipe was originally found in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine. We don't change it because it is so good as is - a time-tested comfort food. I promise you will love it!


6 slices bacon
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
3 medium red potatoes (or 3 lbs. new potatoes), skins on, cut up
2 (14.5 oz.) cans chicken broth
2 cups supersweet frozen corn kernels
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 Tablespoons melted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
Fresh parsley, snipped fine
Fresh chives, optional

In a 4-quart Dutch oven, cook bacon until crisp. (Do not burn.) Remove bacon, reserving 1 Tablespoon of drippings in the pan. Crumble bacon and set aside. Add carrots, parsnips and onions to bacon drippings in Dutch oven. Cook on medium heat 8-10 minutes, until vegetables begin to brown.  Add potatoes, chicken broth, garlic salt and pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

In a small bowl, stir together melted butter and flour. Stir flour mixture, milk and corn into chowder. Cook and stir over medium heat until just beginning to bubble and slightly thickened. (Do not boil.) Remove from heat; stir in parsley. Garnish servings with bacon and snipped chives if desired.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Autumn Doin's

I have been so busy with school, preparing items to sell at my first-ever consignment sale (as a seller) last week, and organizing our many outings when Jeff is home! Thanks to the great kindness of someone special, Jeff and I had a night out over the weekend, where we took in a concert by Straight No Chaser, and ate at the Paula Deen Buffet. This is from a different location, but exactly what it looked like.

There are just no words. On both counts: Heaven! Ya'll just have to do something like that sometime soon. It was truly food for the soul! We had such a lovely, lovely time.

Saturday we tried Round 2 of apple picking - this time at the big commercial orchard quite a bit further north, Joe Huber's Family Farm. After no rain in the forecast for several weeks before or after this day, we managed to get there in the middle of a downpour. Fortunately it cleared up quickly, and we were able to play, picnic and pick apples. Yes, there were plenty and they were beautiful! I was happy to get Fujis, which are our favorite variety. The departing rainstorm left behind this beautiful fall sky, my favorite kind of fall weather.

We spent a long time with the goats - the babies were just too cute. Molly loved them!

Riding out to the orchard!


This time, we got a pile of apples. This just makes me happy!

So worth the wait! When we got home, we made some rockin' Corn Chowder, baked spaghetti squash from the farm market, and the freshest apple pie ever. Very good day. Hope you had a great weekend too!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


The feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael (all named in the Bible) was celebrated September 29th. I found this easy craft idea for the kids, perfect for a last-minute mom like me to set up! The kids had fun putting their angels together, although for Brendan, who colors meticulously, it was a lesson in diligence - coincidentally, our "virtue of the month" for September.

Anything they can cut out and turn into "action figures" is motivating for these guys! I get their hands busy and then read them stories as they work. I read about each Archangel from our Picture Book of Saints. St. Michael is our favorite - swords and battles, what can I say?? I also read a kid's story about how we can battle the devil in the present, and taught them the St. Michael prayer.

Here is where I found the printable template for the angels. Make sure to click on the image, not on the words. Also be sure to go to page setup and change your printer to landscape setting, so it fits. These could be used as Christmas ornaments too, don't you think? If  you have crafty-er kids than I do, there are all sorts of ways they could decorate these.

Next year, if I plan ahead, we can have angel hair pasta or angel food cake. Or, I could steal an idea from someone I read of (sorry, I can't remember where) who made devil's food cake and gave the kids cocktail swords to stab it with. Now that would go over well around here! Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, pray for us.