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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year Inspiration

Today is a treat we only enjoy once every four years.  Today is Leap Year Day!   In honor of February 29th, here is some inspiration from our day to help you leap into tomorrow and the year beyond.


"Hey Moooooooooom!  Could you please help me find my Buzzzz Wightyear sleep shirt?  
Thank you.  Hey, Mom?  I am going to be Buzz.  Here I go, "Whooooosh!"

~From E-Bear, who knows the importance of asking nicely
and that the best way to travel is to 'whoosh.'



"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"
"Sniff, sniff."
*smile*
~From Baby Bear, who knows that when you fall on your head,
you need moment to cry, 
a moment to refocus,
and the persistence to strike out again. 



"If I had a piece of hair on my pizza,
I'll tell you what I would do.
I would cover it up with mushrooms,
and eat my pizza with you."
~An original poem (in the style of Shel Silverstein) by G-Bear, 
who knows that sometimes life is messy,
and good food should be shared, not wasted :)



And finally, a quote that I needed to read today, thanks to my friend Kat and Father Najim:

"So you have failed?  You - be convinced of it - can never fail.  You haven't failed; you've 
acquired experience.  Forward!"  ~Saint Josemaria Escriva



Monday, February 27, 2012

Grocery Bag


This week, I am finding comfort and healing in the 'everyday details.'  Our grocery bag meal plan is part of that.  Here is my plan for dinner this week.


Day One
with parmesan potato wedges from Cooking Light
Potato wedge photo and recipe from MyRecipes.com


Day Two
Lentil soup from Martha Stewart Living
with pears and homemade wheat bread

Photo and recipe from MarthaStewart.com



Day Three
Crockpot chicken 
with wild rice pilaf and steamed peas
 A whole chicken meets my slow cooker in the morning, and 10 hours later (on LOW) I have a fully-cooked chicken ready for dinner.  Don't forget to cover the leftover chicken bones with water and cook overnight in the slow cooker for an awesome homemade chicken stock. 



Day Four 
Butter chicken from Tasty Kitchen
with basmati rice and steamed broccoli
Photo and recipe from Tasty Kitchen




Day Five
with broccoli slaw salad and oatmeal irish soda bread from Lunds & Byerly's
Photo and recipe from MyRecipes.com




Blessings on your kitchen!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent Preparations 2012




"Yet even now," declares the Lord,
"Return to me with all your heart, 
with fasting and weeping and morning;
and rend your hearts and not your garments."
Now return to the Lord your God,
for He is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness
and relenting of evil.
~Joel 2:12-13


Today we welcome Lent.  I wish I were more prepared.  I must confess I have been distracted by other things, other deadlines.  Thankfully, before us lies a whole season to prepare for Easter and focus on our daily opportunity to grow closer to God.  

The themes of Lent are prayer, fasting and giving.  With that in mind, I have tried to come up with ideas for our family that incorporate each of these elements in a special way.  Our plan this year is similar but not identical to our plan for last year.  As always, I have been inspired and encouraged by the Lenten preparations of our family and friends.  


Prayer:

~Prayer Chain Garland:  I know, garlands are usually for Christmas, but this one is for Easter.  Each day during Lent, the kids and I write a prayer on a piece of colorful paper and then attach them one by one to make a prayer chain garland.  Depending on the day, we may write down our prayers for other people, a new prayer we learn together or a Bible psalm.  By the time Easter arrives, we have a long, flowing prayer chain garland decorating our living room.  I also like the idea that at the beginning of Lent our decoration is rather sparse.  As Easter approaches, the decoration of our prayers becomes more visible in our home, representing the positive effects of our prayers in the world.
~Jesus Stepping Stones and Bible stories: Thanks to Equipping Catholic Families for this Jesus Stepping Stones activity, which is based on the Jesus Tree from Shower of Roses.  Each stone is decorated with a picture and Bible verse from an event in Jesus' life and is a wonderful way to incorporate the stories of Jesus' life and ministry into our daily routine.  We'll start tomorrow by making the stones together.  When reading the verses, we'll probably read parts from the kids' Jesus Storybook Bible where possible, and supplement with passages from my Bible when a story isn't included in their book.
Jesus Stepping Stones from Equipping Catholic Families.


Fasting:

~Food shelf box: I don't expect the kids to notice the absence of meat in our Friday meals during Lent.  So in addition, I plan to set out a box marked for a local food shelf.   Before we sit down to dinner each Friday I am going to let the kids go to the pantry and pick out a food item to put into the box.  It will give us the opportunity to talk about how thankful we are for God's blessings and for the chance to be a blessing to others.  We did this last year and it seemed to be meaningful to our kids.  Plus, it gave them their own "stash" of food to take to school and church on "food drive" days and other communal days of giving that come up during Lent. 


Giving


~Jar of Beans: This idea comes from an old March edition of Family Fun Magazine that I read several years ago.  On Ash Wednesday, we set out a large jar of dried beans on our coffee table next to a small, empty easter basket.  Each time one of us does a good deed or something nice to or for another,  he or she will get to go to the jar and move a dried bean from the jar to the basket.  I remind the kids that on Easter morning, when Jesus Is Risen, the dried beans will be replaced with jellybeans, representing the new creation we become through Christ: the old is gone and the new has come!  (2 Cor 5:17)  Last year this was a really special part of our season.  

Our bean basket from last year!


~Spring cleaning, 40 bags in 40 days: 

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." ~Psalm 51: 10

House cleaning may not be as important as the spiritual cleaning we pray for during Lent, but it can be a great way to bring Lenten themes alive in seasonal chores.  Details of the challenge can be found here, and I am inspired every year by our friends and family members who adopt it.  Our bags will be smaller this year than last year, but this remains a great challenge for us nonetheless.  It will certainly require an exercise of generosity and total family participation!  


May this Lent be a blessed season, drawing us all closer to the Lord as we prepare for Easter.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Daybook for February 2012

Ah, a Daybook entry, what better way is there to reflect and ramble about our latest musings and happenings?  Today's edition is a mix of big and small choices, difficult and delightful moments.  Like a small town newspaper, the news borders on gossip, but you can't help read it anyway.  As always, thanks to the Simple Woman's Daybook for providing the inspiration.



Outside my window...there is brown grass where yesterday there was SNOW!  We enjoyed our one and only snow day of the year yesterday.  Conveniently, school had already been dismissed for Presidents' Day.  We wasted no time getting outside and quickly made a snowman.  He wasn't Minnesota-sized, but he was pretty cute.  We built him in the shade so that he would last longer, and thank goodness we did!  By the time we finished playing in the snow, most of it had melted.  Even our snowman was gone by the evening, before I could snap a picture.  Ah, well, that's life in North Carolina.


Our back yard playground, covered in snow!


I am thinking...
about our Baby Bear, who turned ten months yesterday! 


A Bear and his daddy.


Our little man impresses us everyday with his new skills.  He loves to make people smile by waving hello and good-bye.  He likes to clap along, whether to a song or to show his delight.  He is standing, furniture walking, and crawling like lightning.  I can no longer let him out of my sight because he is getting into everything!   Big sibs, mom and dad have to be careful where we leave our toys and treasures if we don't want to share them with Baby Bear.  And oh, my, what a voracious appetite he has!  This boy is a growing boy.  


Baby Bear celebrates in style :)


I am thankful...to Neen for nominating us for the Versatile Blogger Award.  How kind!  I am most thankful that our blog has brought enjoyment and escape for her as she anticipates the birth of her twins!  Thank you.  I'll fulfill the obligation of passing along this award in a future post.



In the kitchen...I am cooking our Mardi Gras meal complete with roasted vegetable pasta and the last minute addition of a crock pot chicken.  What a treat!  Thanks, Whole Foods, for providing organic, free range chickens on sale.  Yum.  

I am wearing...fuzzy socks.  I found them at the back of my sock drawer yesterday, and they were perfect for our snow day.  They are oh, so comfortable.  

I am creating...my annual plan to help us make the most of Lent.  With Ash Wednesday tomorrow, it is time to add the finishing touches.  Lent is a season that offers us the tremendous opportunity to regroup, reflect and recharge in our walk with God.  I say, bring it on.


I am going...actually, I went to the grocery store with the Bears today.  You might think I have a death wish or just get a kick out of tempting fate.  Actually, I was desperate for ice cream.  With three in tow, I chose the grocery store with the mini "shopper in training" shopping carts.   My kids love the mini shopping carts.  Thankfully, both mini carts (they only have two) were available at the entrance, so both G-Bear and E-Bear got to push one.  We have two rules when I allow the little shopping carts:  #1: Everyone must stay behind mommy and follow me at all times.  #2:  We walk, we don't run, with the carts.  Often, someone has a lapse of behavior and looses their cart privileges part-way through our shopping trip.  Not today.  Today my Bears were cherubs, and they were rightly showered with compliments from the other shoppers.  "Oh, my, aren't YOU TWO big helpers?"  "What excellent helpers you have there, Mom!"  And my personal favorite:  "Hey, Sam!  Look, it's a train!"  My kiddos beamed with pride as they pushed their carts.  I would like to thank the legion of angels over my shoulder.  And yes, we bought a lot more than ice cream.

I am wondering...why, with so many wonderful toys surrounding him, Baby Bear is most interested in chewing on the power strip hidden behind the couch.  Like I said, I can't let that boy out of my sight! :)

I am reading...phonics books from Progressive Phonics with G-Bear.  Actually, I should say that SHE is reading them with me!  I am so impressed and amazed as she develops this new skill.  The look on her face is priceless as she sounds out a word and realizes she has read it.  So far we have done the first book in the series, the short "a." Now we are onto the second book, and we are all excited to start it.  Even E-Bear asked if we could read it for story time today.
Photo from Progressive Phonics

I am learning...
so much from the women in my Bible Study.  Right now we are reading James, and I love our discussions about how to practically live out our faith. 

Around the house...we are missing our three cousins, who joined us yesterday for playtime and dinner!  We had so much fun.  G-Bear said today at lunch:  "I miss them.  It was so LOUD when they were here.  I felt like our house was shaking we were so loud."  I can assure you that this was a most sincere compliment on her part.    


I am look forward to... Thursday.  Why?  Rank lists for all residency applicants are due tomorrow by 9pm.  I can't wait to wake up on Thursday and have the deadline behind me.  


I am pondering...residency.  With rank lists due tomorrow, this is the eight hundred pound gorilla in my room.  Actually, to say that I am "pondering" residency does not do justice to the amount of mental energy and capacity that this decision has consumed for the past two years.  I somewhat ashamed to admit that I am so nervous about tomorrow that my hands are shaking right now, even as I type this.  For me, the question is not only what rank list I will submit, but whether I will submit one at all.  Eight hundred pound gorilla, indeed.  

A favorite quote for today...


"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it shall be given to him.  But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord."  ~James 1:5-7

One of my favorite things...is snuggling with my Bears.  Whether we are reading a book, tucking in for the night or watching a movie, their sweet snuggles make my day.  

A few plans for the rest of the week...Ash Wednesday and a decision tomorrow, basketball with T this weekend, and a visit from Uncle C round out our plans for the next week.  

A peek into my day...



Our porch yesterday, more proof that it really did snow.



Monday, February 20, 2012

Grocery Bag


It is a rare, snowy day here in Winston-Salem, Ash Wednesday is a few days away and Lent starts this week.  Good thing we have a meal plan!  Here are my dinner ideas for our week.



Day One
Honey ginger chicken bites from Cooking Light Magazine
over basmati rice with broccoli slaw salad
These bites are delicious.  If you are short on time, as I often am, mix up the marinade as you cook the chicken in a skillet or wok, then add the marinade for a quick asian saute and serve over rice.

Photo and recipe from MyRecipes.com



Day Two
with pineapple slices and spinach salad
Cauliflower is in season!  It's the perfect time to make this dish.

Photo and recipe from MarthaStewart.com



Day Three
Lima bean corn chowder with apple and parmesan by Happily Ever Johnson
with chopped corn tortillas and apple slices
This pureed soup is sweet & savory.  We like it best with the toppings.  My kids like to sprinkle the parmesan, minced apple and diced tortilla onto their own soup.  Plus they are more likely to eat their soup after they have "made it" the way they like it! 

Lima bean corn chowder with apple and parmesan
by Happily Ever Johnson

Ingredients:
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water
1 small potato, diced
2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/2 cups frozen lima beans
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cups sweet corn kernels (drained if using canned)
1-2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup half-and-half
1 Tbs corn starch

Toppings:
1 apple, chopped fine
fresh grated parmesan cheese
3 corn tortillas, chopped

1.  In a large stockpot or dutch oven, heat oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and cook 5 minutes or until tender and beginning to brown at the edges, stirring frequently.  Add the broth, water and rosemary.  Bring the mixture to a boil and then reduce heat, add the potato and simmer for 10 minutes, covered.
2.  Add the lima beans, corn, red bell pepper, salt and pepper.  Simmer for 5-10 minutes more or until potato and veggies are tender.  Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.
3.  Carefully ladle the soup solids into a blender or food processor along with 1-2 cups of broth.  Puree until smooth, taking care when blending the hot liquid.  Return the puree to the pot and stir well. 
4.  Mix the half-and-half and cornstarch together until smooth.  Add the cornstarch mixture to the hot soup and stir to combine.  Simmer 1-2 minutes more until slightly thickened.  
5.  Serve soup sprinkled with parmesan, chopped apple and tortilla.





Day Four
with dried cranberry, orange and spinach salad
The rich and creamy sauce makes this a great choice for a cold night or a make-ahead freezer dish.

Photo and recipe from MarthaStewart.com



Day Five
Spaghetti with veggies and peanut sauce from Everyday Food Magazine
with orange slices
This is quick and tasty for a weeknight dinner.  
I separate out the ingredients for my kids on their plates, but they love the sauce.
Photo and recipe from MarthaStewart.com



Blessings on your kitchen this week!







Saturday, February 18, 2012

Prepping for Lent

I have a big decision looming.  
T has been out of town.  
We have had two days of sixty degree weather in a row.  

It is easy to forget than Lent begins next week.  

I find that my Lent is more meaningful if I do a little forethought and preparation.  So today, I laid the groundwork:

Christmas lights still up? 
Took them down.
Moldy fairytale pumpkin hiding on my porch since October,
sorry, buddy, into the trash you go.
The last surviving Christmas books and toys that we couldn't bear to put away in January,
packed away into yet another Christmas treasure box.
The pile of arts & crafts supplies that Baby Bear is always tearing into?
Tucked away into a basket for E-Bear and G-Bear next to their art table.


Today was all about making space to make space.
It is easier for me to pray when my space isn't a mess, and I have a lot of praying to do this week.
The bonus?  T will be so impressed when he gets home.





Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hugs and Kisses


Valentine's Day has past.  Nonetheless, today has been filled with hugs and kisses. 
As I take the time to think about it, praise the Lord, most of my days are filled with hugs and kisses.


This morning E-Bear and G-Bear jumped on my bed and hugged me to wake me up.
T had a kiss for each of us as he walked out the door to work.
Baby Bear was smothered with sibling hugs as he waited his turn to be dressed.
G-Bear and E-Bear gave me hugs and kisses in the car as we hopped out at school.
Everyone got hugs as we said our goodbyes at our classroom doors.
Daddy got hello hugs from all of us when he joined us for a special lunch.
Baby Bear got hugs and kisses as I carried him off for his nap.
He was smothered in sibling kisses again when he woke up.
I got lots of mid-bite hugs and kisses from G-Bear, sitting next to me during dinner.
Finally came the hair-brushing hugs, the story time snuggles and the goodnight kisses.
"I love my mommy," said my Bears.
And T always kisses me goodnight.


There are always so many things trying to worry, annoy, and bother me.
The difference today?  
I chose to notice the hugs and kisses of my everyday life.
And I remembered that the biggest hug of all is from our Father God.



Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy St. Valentine's Day!

Happy Valentine's Day!



E-Bear and G-Bear did a great job decorating valentines this weekend for their preschool classmates, neighbors and friends.

From E-Bear:




and from G-Bear, a fun "jewel ring" craft that we made out of pipe cleaners and Hersey kisses:

See Family Fun Magazine February issue here for the tutorial.

Hugs and kisses from all of us in Happily Ever Johnson Land!



Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tips and Tricks from our Disney Vacation

Our last day at the Magic Kingdom.


I looked forward to our Disney vacation for months, but never in my wildest dreams did I believe we could have as much fun as we did.  Above the entrance to every Disney theme park hangs the inscription:  "Let the Memories Begin!"  We made enough memories (and pictures!) for at least three Disney trips, maybe even two lifetimes.  But it only left us hungry for more.




So, before I finish putting our suitcases away and begin planning our next trip ;) here are some of the tips and tricks that helped make our Disney getaway especially wonderful and memorable.  

Tip #1:  Invite the whole family:  We were fortunate enough to con all three grandparents to join us on this epic adventure.  The benefits of this for us were enormous.  

E-Bear takes his first steps into the park with Papa. 

Not only did adults outnumber the kids for the first time in recent memory, but we were able to share all kinds of things, like larger hotel suites, stroller pushing, line waiting, even swap ride duty.  Don't like the twirly rides that E-Bear is begging to go on?  No problem!  Papa and Daddy LOVE them.  Mom and Nana can sit this one out!  The line to see Tangled is an hour long?  No worries!  One lucky adult can sit in the peace and quiet of the line while the rest take the kids on another ride to pass the time.  We loved it.  Most of all, we were able to treasure the magical moments together.  E-Bear and G-Bear got a priceless picture with Papa in front of their make-believe-game inspiration "Evil Mr. Dr. Porkchop" (otherwise known as Hamm from Toy Story), and took them for a memorable ride on "It's a Small World."  MoMo was there to see how much the kids loved wearing the prince and princess capes and costumes that she had given them for Christmas.  And Nana was able to see how T now towers over Pluto, while he used to fit under the crook of Pluto's arm.  These were moments I treasured and wouldn't trade for anything.  

That's Mr. Evil Dr. Porkchop to you.

*N.B. Just because everyone goes together does not necessitate that all activities or parks need to be pursued together or at the same pace.  It is fine and wonderful to split up at points, do different things, perhaps plan only one meeting spot or meal together each day.  In our case, we were all pretty much attached for the whole trip, but we conceived of how we might split in the future as our family grows in age and interests.  

Tip #2:  Go in the off season:  Let me tell you, Disney World in January is awesome.  Not only did we get the lowest rates on our hotel room, but deals abound in the off-season, and we actually got our dining plan thrown in free too.   We rarely waited in a line longer than 15minutes, and often we walked right on to rides with no wait at all.  The weather was warm during the day and perfectly cool at night.  After going once in the off-season, I can't imagine going any other time of the year.

Note to self: take the white gloves off before driving the car!  I still haven't gotten the black sludge off.

Tip #3:  Go at your kids' pace:  We let our kids set the pace each day, and boy am I glad that we did.  We certainly didn't accomplish as much as the adults could have on our own.  We saw more shows than rides.  We went back for naps in the afternoon rather than pushing through at the park.  The kids only stayed up for fireworks a few of the nights we were there.  But as a result our days at the park were a treat with excited, refreshed kids and excited, refreshed adults.
4pm and still rolling!



Tip #4: Planning for the parks:  We had five days to play at the Disney parks.  We tackled them in the following order:  Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and a final repeat visit to Magic Kingdom.  We tackled one park each day, and I was really glad that we did not pay for the park hopper option.  With young kids and the transfer time required to see more than one park in a day, park hopping would have been too much for us.  I did spend time planning our park experiences before we visited.  I checked out the opening and closing times, sketched out lists of not-to-be missed shows, rides or parades and noted locations frequented by beloved characters.  It was extremely helpful to have these suggestions along on our days at the park, not because we always stuck to them (we didn't), but so that when we were looking for our next thing to do, we had a prompt or suggestion.

The kids loved the rides where they could control the height of the car.
Here we are riding the Dinos in Animal Kingdom

I also tried to alternate longer days (i.e. Magic Kingdom days) with shorter days (i.e. Epcot and Animal Kingdom) so that we wouldn't get too exhausted.   Also, knowing that our kids would enjoy dressing up each day, I planned daily wardrobe suggestions based on the character encounters that would be most likely at each of the parks (certainly not necessary but added to our fun).  In the end we found that each of the parks had special experiences and characters that delighted our kids.  

Meeting Aurora in Magic Kingdom.

                  ~Magic Kingdom:  We spent two long days at Magic Kingdom.  Our favorite experiences here were the character encounters, parades and the shows in front of Cinderella's castle.  In terms of rides, we enjoyed Peter Pan's Neverland ride, the cars in Tomorrowland, It's a Small World, the Winnie the Pooh ride, the Walt Disney Rail Road, and Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride.  Even with two days here, we only scratched the surface of all there was to do.  The kids dressed as a princess and prince for our days at Magic Kingdom.

Tangled meets her protege and her prince.

                 ~Epcot:  We planned a shorter day at Epcot.  We enjoyed the Seas with Nemo and Friends, the predictable character encounters around the Worlds Showcase, Spaceship Earth, and Universe of Energy (maybe a little to loud and intimidating for our kids in retrospect).  While we thoroughly enjoyed our day, if we had a shorter visit, this park would be missable.  Again, the kids wore their princess and prince outfit.

We met Buzz in Tomorrowland.

                ~Hollywood Studios:  This was another one of our longer days and we loved it.  We enjoyed the Beauty and the Beast show, the Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Muppets 3D, Disney Jr Live with the Mickey Mouse Club characters, the Pixar characters' parade and many Pixar character encounters.  Our kids dressed as Woody and Jessie from Toy Story (their Halloween costumes), which was perfect for this day.  After Magic Kingdom, this was my second favorite park for our crew.  

Hugs for Woody at Hollywood Studios.

Jessie and Bullseye took a break from their parade to give hugs to G-Bear and E-Bear.

              ~Animal Kingdom:  We planned a shorter day at Animal Kingdom.  We enjoyed a morning safari ride and then saw the awesome Festival of the Lion King and the incredible, unmissable Finding Nemo Musical (we loved it so much we now have the soundtrack).  The food and shows here were great, as was the safari ride.  The park requires a lot of walking and it is obviously very zoo-like in nature.   Like Epcot, if we had a shorter visit this would have been a park to save for later.

On the bumpy Animal Kingdom safari.

 Tip #5:  Take time to meet the royalty:  For our kids, meeting the characters was as much of an experience as any of the rides.  They were often more delighted to stand in line to meet a character than they were to wait for a ride.  The characters do such a great job of individualizing attention to each person they meet, that my kids always left the characters feeling special.  The kids were each given an autograph book as a gift at the beginning of the trip, and we filled all the pages by our third day.  The parks each have listings on where characters are likely to be when.  



Tip #6: Get the meal plan!  This post is turning epic and already has taken me days to write.  So, I'll stop here by recommending the meal plan (especially if it's free in the off season!) and record our favorite eating spots and food solutions separately.  


Dreaming of our next Disney vacation already......

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why do I have a dishwasher when you are looking at her?

We are definitely home from vacation.  How do I know?  I am doing the dishes.

I always scrape, scrub and rinse our dishes before loading them in the dishwasher.   If I don't, they emerge from the washer with caked-on specks and streaks.  Later, when the washer is finished and we are unloading, we always have a towel in hand because most of the dishes emerge soaking wet.

All of this begs the question, with all of this pre-washer scrubbing and post-washer drying, what is my dishwashing machine accomplishing??  What step am I really saving here?  Why do I have a dishwasher when you are looking at her?

Maybe I'll give our dishwashing machine back to maintenance.  Just think of all the things I could do with more kitchen space.