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Thursday, January 15, 2015

New Recipes for a New Year

A new year is a great time to turn over a new culinary leaf.  This year, I have had T's help with that.  He has been a fountain of great new recipes for us to try.  Here are a few of our favorites.

Spinach parmesan quinoa from One Life to Eat
(Delicious for lunch or with glazed carrots and chicken for dinner)

Butterbean Burgers from A Chef's Life
(A great veggie burger from our new favorite show)

Empanadas from Everyday Food
(Worth doubling and freezing for a rainy day)



Quinoa chili from Damn Delicious
(Fabulous, and recommended to us by Aunt K)

Caramelized bananas over ice cream from the Food Network
(Perfect warming dessert for a cold night)

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

No-No Lady

J-Bear's ever-expanding vocabulary has been a joy to behold.  At twenty months, she now says "momma", "dadda," "MoMo," "Papa," "GaGa," (for G-Bear), "apa," (for paci), "baby," "up" (for cup) "nana" (for banana), and an occasional "pees" (when asked how we ask nicely).  One of her sweetest words yet has been her "yeah!", which serves as the answer to everything from 'did you have a good nap?' to 'would you like more?'

This week, however, J-Bear is trying out a new word.  No.  N. O.

I can hardly complain.  After all, J-Bear is twenty months.  Her verbal denial is probably way overdue.  Also, her 'yeah!' has been so sweet for so long, but it is probably fair for her to have another answer selection for the question, 'would you like more asparagus?'

For now, the NO particularly delights J-Bear, her parents not so much.

Perhaps next week we'll work on 'maybe.'

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Sunday, January 11, 2015

On ice skating, and other Life Lessons from winter



As I have mentioned, our family project for the next few months is to tackle ice skating.  This effort requires several necessities: skates for all Johnsons, including J-Bear,  sufficient ice at the rink of our neighborhood park, the thickest possible thermal wear, and above all, extreme patience and formidable fortitude on the part of the mother.  Of great value is J-Bear's new Christmas sled, which can be used to push (and thus occupy) her around the ice, and kiddie chairs for Buddy Bear to push (and thus stay up right) around the ice.  At this point, we have now been skating four times, three times as a family and once just me and the children.  By the end of each session, I have wrestled with whether my appropriate reaction should be one of extreme pride and accomplishment or horrified, contrite embarrassment.  I suspect, as with most things, my best reflection is somewhere in between the extremes.
J-Bear with Dad at the rink.  She's not so sure about this ice business.

We are not, by a long shot, the most graceful bunch on the ice.  G-Bear, for her part, can really hold her own, and is enjoying not only skating proficiently, but occasionally adds little twirls and one-footed moves into her glides.  E-Bear can stand and walk/waddle on his own, and he is progressing rapidly, such that he can really move with the aid of a chair.  Buddy Bear is also progressing rapidly, now able to stand along (most of the time) and now able to make forward movements with the support of a chair.  J-Bear can stand (on land, but not on ice) in her skates.

She's up!
Neither are we, by a long shot, the happiest group on the ice.  I have noted that during each of our engagements at the rink, no fewer than two Johnsons have been howling and in tears at any given moment.  I find it challenging to be simultaneously supportive of one child's excitement and successes on the ice and sympathetic of the other who simply refuses, out of utter disgust and frustration, to alter their howling, horizontal position on the ice at my feet.

She's down.
I love the potential freedom of being able to hand my children their skates, help them with an occasional lace and send them off into pseudo-independence on the block-long rink of our community park.  The intoxicating endorphin rush from getting exercise outside in the Minnesota freezing cold is a nice bonus.  But in-between cajoling statements and the realities of tear-studded cheeks, I find myself wondering, 'Is this really worth it?'

I console myself with the rationalization that we are learning important lessons out on the ice.  Life lessons.  Lessons of fortitude and persistence.  Each and every one of us is learning a lesson.

Lesson #1:  You will fall.  Your must choose if you will get back up and try again.  Please forgive me for relishing the overt spiritual metaphor to this skating lesson.  I told my kids on our first day of skating that it would be hard, much harder than it looks, and their first job would be to learn how to get back up after they fell down.  They didn't believe me, but once their skates were on, they discovered the truth.  Learning to skate, like life itself, involves a lot of falls and failed attempts.  We each have to choose how to handle our failings.  Shall we wallow on the ice, crawl off and give up?  Or, shall we ask for help and try getting up again.  On the ice, we may need an encouraging word, a helping hand, or the back of a kiddie chair to right ourselves and try again.  In life, we need confession, Christ's limitless mercy, and His grace to help us carry on once more.   

MoMo is both a great spectator and a ray of sunshine at the rink.

Lesson #2: Sometimes just pushing harder isn't the solution.  Whether trying to put on your skates or make forward progress on the ice, you need to find your edge.  Just when my kids are ready to give up putting on their skates, I remind them that there is a technique--loosen the straps and wiggle, don't push, your way in.  On the ice, I have watched them struggle to move forward on the ice.  In time, each one will find their edges and suddenly start to fly.  Life is so similar.  Many times we bang our heads against a metaphorical wall, when what we really need is patience and finesse.  


Lesson #3:  There is joy to be found in the martyrdom of motherhood.  If a confession can be tolerated, I will make this one: I am a pretty selfish, impatient person.  There was a time in my life, not so long ago, when an activity like these trips to the rink would have left me crabby and unfulfilled.  I would have left despondent that I had gotten no exercise, frustrated that I had done nothing but tie laces and hold hands on the sidelines, and disappointed by all the fussing I had endured.  But, within motherhood there is a real martyrdom to be found: a true, daily dying to self that can produce abundant fruit and paradoxical joy if embraced with love by God's grace and help.  These days at the rink, my pride cared less about the scrutinies of others as I sent my child, once more, out onto the rink;  I didn't count or miss the number of laps around the rink that I DIDN'T get to do;  my heart actually swelled with love once or twice when I was asked to tie a skate, kiss a tear-streaked cheek, cajole a frustrated complainer or sit out with the momentarily discouraged.  I realized that these silent progress points are the result of countless falls on my part.  But more importantly, they are the result of my efforts to get up again through confession, by God's merciful forgiveness, with His abundant grace.  

Certainly, by the time we finish our winter ice skating project, there will be more lessons.  I hope that we will also have some fun along the way.  If not, at least we bought the skates used, we can look forward to swimming lessons, and the rink will probably melt away by June at the latest.  Until then, just call us the (not-so-much-but-wanna-be) Mighty Ducks.

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Our Twelve Days of Christmas, 2014

On the first day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
One grateful, joyful family!


Merry Christmas from all of us in Happily Ever Johnson Land!  Did you know that today is the twelfth day of Christmas?  Around here, we'll be hanging onto our Christmas celebration until this weekend, when we commemorate the Presentation of the Lord.  We have to make up for all the Christmas candy we put off during Advent, after all.  We have had a wonderful holiday.  Here are our twelve days in twelve snapshots from our Christmas celebrations.


On the second day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Two tenderloins,

Aunt Linda's grapefruit pomegranate salad.

and one grateful, joyful family!

MoMo and Papa hosted our family Christmas Eve celebration again this year, as per tradition.  They welcomed nearly thirty of us into their home and the meal was spectacular:  TWO beef tenderloins, roasted veggies, grapefruit pomegranate salad, cheesy potatoes, and homemade egg nog and desserts.  We look forward to the joy-filled family time together, the laughter, and of course, the Christmas feast, all year long.

On the third day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Three red sleds,


two tenderloins 
and one grateful, joyful family! 

After a month of snow during November, all our white melted away two weeks before Christmas. While we had a brown Christmas for the first time in years, we woke up the next morning to a fresh blanket of snow!  Four inches of powder waited for us on MoMo and Papa's hill.  I remember sledding down their hill for years as a child.   It was great to see our kids and their cousins loving their rides on the sleds.  The powder was flying for hours.  Afterwards?  Aunt K treated all the kids to hot cocoa.  What a Christmas treat!


On the fourth day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Four on the steps,


three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

Our Christmas morning began early, despite our late night Christmas Eve revelry.  But rise early on Christmas we must, as the cheer must not be delayed.  There are many family celebrations to attend!  Before we headed out to bring good tidings to all, we assembled on the stairs to descend into our living room to briefly unveil surprises of the stocking variety.  Once descended, we found that our stockings were indeed stuffed, and the kids were each delighted to find a Christmas surprise for which they had wished.  G-Bear received Anna and Elsa dolls as well as Molly the American Doll and her books (an impressive delivery, might I add, as I had been informed that Molly dolls were "retired.").  The boys received remote control cars, a Lego or Duplo set, and a Playmobile set each.  J-Bear received a new soft doll and a diaper bag and doll carrier for her beloved baby doll.  And there was great rejoicing.


On the fifth day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Five picnic plates!


Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

We were tremendously blessed to have the Boston cousins visiting MoMo and Papa for Christmas.  This year, our cousin Christmas celebrations included something new -- a separate picnic table eating locale for the "big kids."  A birthday gift from Nana last year, our picnic table could thankfully be folded up, put away and brought back out at will for Nativity noshing.  The only problem?  The littlest cousins coveted a place at the picnic.  We'll surely need a bigger kids table next year.


On the sixth day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Six types of cookies,


five picnic plates!
Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

Thanks to our wonderful Christmas cookie baking day with Miss Sara, our neighbor, we had trays and treats to share during Christmas.  Cornflake wreaths, peanut butter kiss cookies, gingerbread and sugar cookies were delightful to behold and even more delectable to eat.

We've eaten lots of cookies.  Thank goodness we got toothbrushes in our stockings.

On the seventh day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Seven cousins swimming,
Thanks to YaYa and GP for showering us and hosting us for so much fun.
Six types of cookies,
five picnic plates!
Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

YaYa and GP were with us once again for Christmas this year.  What a blessing it was to have another set of loving grandparents along for the ride.  Always hospitable, they invited all the cousins over to swim in the pool of their hotel.  The balmy temperatures of the pool and hot tub melted our holiday hustle away.  Only seven of the eight really swam, however.  Buddy Bear protested the chilly pool temperature and opted for the hot tub instead :)


On the eighth day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Eight cousins smiling,


Seven cousins swimming,
Six types of cookies,
five picnic plates!
Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

Check out the smiles on that couch.  Each one represents pure, unadulterated Christmas joy.  The cousins had a truly wonderful time together over Christmas break.  We are so thankful to Uncle T and Aunt K for their heroic, sacrificial efforts to travel over Christmas so that our crews can spend holiday time together.


On the ninth day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Nine toys sets assembling,


eight cousins smiling,
seven cousins swimming,
six types of cookies,
five picnic plates!
Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

Once the wrapping paper shreds and ribbon shrapnel had settled, there were quite a few fantastic new toys for the cousins to enjoy together.  Whether placing stickers on a Playmobil zoo set or ranger truck, opening a Lego set, or permitting an art project, I was impressed, first of all, by the fact that we have completely settled into the stage of assembly-required toys and, second of all, by how little assembly was required of T and me.  Our kids took to the assembly of their gifts like honey bees to comb.  Many mornings during Christmas break, I would awaken to the sounds of the kids in their room, awake and having already assembled another one of their toys.  As I rolled over to catch another brief wink, I noted the blessing of children willing to tackle the challenge, share the project, and give us the grace of an extra half-hour of sleep.


On the tenth day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Ten forks fonduing,


nine toy sets assembling,
eight cousins smiling,
seven cousins swimming,
six types of cookies,
five picnic plates!
Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

The weekend after Christmas, the adults took an evening to toast the fruitful, joyful holiday over fondue at The Melting Pot.  The guest listed included Aunt K and Uncle T, Uncle C and his finance, Miss K, YaYa and GP and MoMo and Papa.  T and I felt so fortunate to be included, and so blessed to have a family full of people we so deeply love and admire.


On the eleventh day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Eleven songs a playing,


ten forks fonduing,
nine toy sets assembling
eight cousins smiling,
seven cousins swimming,
six types of cookies,
five picnic plates!
Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

This Christmas season, songs and carols played a central role in our preparations and celebrations.  Just before Christmas, we enjoyed G-Bear's second grade music performance.  Throughout Advent, we enjoyed carols from the piano as G-Bear practiced her lesson material.  By Christmas, she had quite a repertoire.  We've listened to the Classical Christmas station on Pandora around the house for weeks now (its fantastic, so much better than the radio).  The kids' favorite car-ride songs of the season included selections from Straight No Chaser and the Barenaked Ladies holiday album.  I love the fact that my kids don't need the song sheets to sing along with the Christmas songs at church, and that they seem to enjoy a good rendition of "Mr. Grinch" and "O Hanukkah" as much as I do.


On the twelfth day of Christmas, we were as thankful as can be:
Twelve skates a skating,


eleven songs a singing
ten forks fonduing,
nine toy sets assembling
eight cousins smiling,
seven cousins swimming,
six types of cookies,
five picnic plates!
Four on the steps,
three red sleds,
two tenderloins,
and one grateful, joyful family!

Thank goodness for Play it Again Sports, our local used sports equipment retail store, where we were able to outfit our entire family with ice skates shortly after Christmas.  I estimated that we paid slightly more for all of our skates than we would have paid for one new pair.  We rang in the new year at our neighborhood rink, sufficiently refrozen after the December thaw.  I am hoping that the new year will bring many afternoons at the rink!  Skating was great exercise and was (for the most part) enjoyed by everyone.  We're learning, improving, slowly but surely.


What a Christmas!  We are thankful for each and every family member and friend who brought joy to our Christmas in innumerable ways.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sledding at with the Cousins

If you are a kid, or a kid at heart,


when new snow falls,


there is no better place to be than the hill at Papa's house.


It's just right for wee riders.



I know, I speak from personal experience.


Better still is sharing the hill with cousins,


 moms, dads,


aunts, uncles,


 brothers and sisters.



As long as Papa is at the bottom, you can be assured a good ride
(unless, of course, you slip off getting off your sled).



On Papa's hill, everyone has a good time, especially the parents who would be towing the sleds up a larger hill.  Here, it's every kid for themselves.


Believe me, they wouldn't have it any other way.



Happily Ever,
Queen B


Friday, December 26, 2014

Christmas snapshots, 2014














Happily Ever,
Queen B

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

All I want for Christmas is my front tooth!


Twas two nights before Christmas, 
and since Christmas day looms,
preparations were ready,
all through the rooms.


The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
and four kids were all hoping cousins soon would be here.


The Momma was making a dinner ho-hum
while Daddy worked late to avoid Christmas doldrums.  

When what to my wondering eyes should appear, 
but sweet G-Bear declaring,
"Look what's missing in here!"


Her front loosed tooth alas was no more.
And soon came discussion of Toothfairy lore.
Are quarters delivered at Christmastime too?
Worry not, sweet G-Bear, for this special tooth
deserves two shiny quarters at least!
Surprise, the next morning they were there, a relief.

So, may this toothy smile help your spirits be bright,
Merry Christmas, y'all!  To all, a good night.



 Happily Ever,
Queen B