Friday, November 30, 2012

December awaits

December is knocking on my door.

It feels like a rare treat to have a week between Thanksgiving and the beginning of Advent.  The past few years, Advent has started the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and with it, all the splendor, craze and expectations of December.  I love Advent, and I can't wait to break out our Advent calendar for the First of December.  But this week has itself been a gift, a brief reprieve from the holiday prep and hustle.  

At least, that is how I should have looked at it.  Instead of savoring this week as a calm before the storm, I have hustled it away.  "There is so much to be done!  Hurry up, and let's get on with it,"  I have hustled impatiently.  Our decorations, stockings and tree are not even up, and there is already too much Advent concern, craze and consternation in my heart.

Time to quiet myself to embrace the coming season.  Advent is too precious an opportunity, too precious a celebration, to fill with frenzy and worry.  

So today, I have made a few resolutions to help me rein in my schedule, curb my responsibilities, and make room for the season's blessing.

December blog break: only 1-2 posts per week.  
Writing is usually a relaxing break, but during the Christmas season it can become one more chore added to the list.  I will have to accept that if I stay true to this resolution, I will hit an all-time posting-low this month.  In a month where we'll celebrate a birthday, a baptism, many feasts, preparations and Christmas, this is hard to accept!  Still, the hope of more time freed and fewer To-Do list items is the worthy goal.

No new meal plans this month.  Break out the plans of weeks past!

Meal planning is usually time well spent.  But, with all the travels, parties and eating away from home this month, creating new meal plans each week has diminishing rates of return.  This season, there is no need to re-invent the plan every weekend.  One of the great blessings of posting our weekly meals is that I have a whole archive to work with.   There are over 70 Grocery Bag posts to choose from.  Talk about reaping a harvest in due season!

No more online shopping.
I have decided that online shopping makes me crabby.  Who cares what cyber deals I miss?  I can't scroll through another 100 pages of photos looking for another gift.  I turn into the Grinch.  If I need to get a sitter for a weekday morning of shopping alone, so be it.  I guess self-awareness is half the battle.

Daily Advent
In order to make our Advent a daily experience, I'll need to make time, everyday, to sit quietly with my kids, hang an ornament on our Advent Jesse Tree, read the Bible story together, and talk about it together.  Other afternoon activities will need to wait.  The mealtime dishes or daily emails might go untouched for a few extra hours.  I'll need to remember the investment of time is worth it. Hopefully as a result, we will all be growing together.  

Have a Blessed Advent.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


The devil is vying with God for beauty.  While God uses beauty to draw us to Himself,  
the devil manipulates beauty in an effort to lead us astray.  We, too, can use beauty, not out of vanity, but as part of our witness, drawing others to the Good.

A few weeks ago, I attended a Christian women's conference.  One of the speakers was scheduled to offer comments curiously entitled, "Does fashion matter?"  Reading the schedule prior to the event prompted me to say to a few of my close friends, "goodness, this conference is really going to cramp the jeans-and-athletic-shirt motif that I have going these days."  

While I promise that I shower on a (semi) regular basis, and I have plenty of presentable clothes in my closet, I am not a fashionista.  First of all, fashion has never been a forte or fascination of mine.  The most fashionable clothes in my closet are either hand-me-downs from my younger sister or gifts from my mother-in-law.  Second of all, I don't enjoy shopping all that much, and with a growing family and a limited budget, neither T nor I have purchased clothes for ourselves in years.  Third, what is the point of getting dressed up in the morning when my day will include crawling on the floor, changing diapers, all manner of mommy-gymnastics, and any number of bodily fluids being wiped on my clothes?

Needless to say, I listened to the speaker's talk at the conference as a skeptic.  But, I was surprised.  The speaker was a lovely, but not overstated, full-time mother of six, not much older than myself.  Her message did not extol fashion as an end in itself, nor did she pressure the pursuit of beauty for vanity or vainglory.  But she submitted that, just as we expect our children and spouse to be dressed and ready to represent themselves well each day, so too must we respect ourselves and our important work through the way we dress.  This needn't involve spending a lot of money, but it does require time to put together activity-appropriate outfits to reflect the dignity and importance of the work we are pursuing.  Dressing well for the day and applying some sensible make-up can also affect how prepared we feel for the day.  

The talk made an impression on me.  I was struck by the fact that, in the same way I want to present myself appropriately-dressed before my patients as a physician, I want to present myself well as a full-time mother before my husband, children and the people we meet each day.  In both cases, the image I am presenting isn't for my vanity or glory, but one of respect for the work I am doing and the role I am fulfilling.  Additionally, if I want my children to respect themselves in the way they dress, I need to set an example in that regard.  And finally, the way I present myself to the world can affect the witness of my faith.  The devil is vying with God for beauty.  While God uses beauty to draw us to Himself, the devil manipulates beauty in an effort to lead us astray.  We, too, can use beauty, not out of vanity, but as part of our witness, drawing others to the Good.  

Coming home from the conference, I was motivated.  A friend told me about the 333 Challenge, a minimalist fashion challenge involving three months of using just 33 items.  It sounded good to me! I cleaned my closet of all the clothing that I didn't wear (a surprisingly large amount), and organized the rest into coordinated outfit groups to make morning selections easier (think packing for a weeklong vacation).  Voila!  A handful of coordinated outfits did wonders for my daily wardrobe doldrums.

Next, it was time to tackle the cosmetics bag.  It took quite a bit of rummaging just to find it.  When I did, I realized how little make-up I have used since getting married.  If motherhood and medical school did nothing for my fashion sense, they did even less for my make-up routine.  The only mascara in my bag was a sample-size from our wedding day.  The eyeshadow, cover-up and lipstick were even older. Eew.

So, off to Target I ran.  Thanks to Brie, our Target make-up-artist-in-residence (I didn't know Target was that kind of store either, but seriously, this girl was great), I had four pieces of perfectly picked cosmetic staples within 3 minutes.  She singlehandedly revolutionized my 2 minute morning make-up routine (which didn't exist before now).  Thank you, Brie.

You know what?  These little changes have made a big difference in how I look and feel everyday.  Maybe others haven't noticed the change as much as I have.  But, I feel more presentable, put-together and more prepared to tackle my days.  This mini-make-over isn't just about how I feel, though.  It is about the respect and gratitude I am showing for my work, my calling, my family, my faith.  And hopefully, at the end of the day, even if it doesn't show on the outside, I want the make-over to shine from my heart.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving Sunset at Clear Lake

Untitled by emassopu

We have lots to be thankful for this year.
The sunset at the cabin on Thanksgiving Day said it all.


Happy Thanksgiving, from all of us in Happily Ever Johnson Land!

Happily Ever,
Queen B

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving Week 2012

Never mind that the Bears and I are currently playing Playdough outside on the porch.  
Pay no attention to this 70 degree November weather in Minnesota.  
Be not deceived by the green grass or an unseasonable thirst for a cold drink.

This is Thanksgiving Week, and there is much to do!

What we'll be making:
I tucked away this wonderful idea from Jessica at Shower of Roses.

Our Turkeys are a little different every year, but they are always thankful!  

What we'll be cooking:
After enjoying a Southern-style Thanksgiving with T's family in North Carolina last year, we'll be Northerners once again this holiday.  I am honored to be in charge of some Southern-style dishes for family Thanksgiving this year, and I'll be cooking some of T's favorites.  

With thanks to Nana, just like Grandma Johnson used to make.
Photo and recipe from

The Pioneer Woman recipe that can't be beat.

True Southerners may debate the inclusion of this salad among Southern dishes. 
Yet, is any other region better at cooking vegetables in bacon grease?  I love it, and I'll be making it.
Photo and recipe from Martha

Moist and delicious, I'll make this ahead for breakfast on Thanksgiving morning.
Photo and recipe from Martha

What I'll be reading:

The Catholic Home by Meredith Gould
My Thanksgiving reading is a new book from a generous friend.  This will be a great way to get in the holiday spirit, all the while reflecting on ways that the Liturgical year can help us celebrate each and everyday.

Our past Thanksgiving Week ideas, activities, and celebrations can be found here:

Have a blessed and thankful Thanksgiving Week!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Brother and Sister, Best of Friends

 We laugh, we cry,

we make time fly.

Best friends are we,

my sister and me.

Enjoying this weekend together.....

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Roll a Word and Animal Words

Afternoons mark a very special lull in our day.  While G-Bear is in Kindergarten each morning, the boys and I run errands and catch up on chores.  This means that we are all excited to reunite at lunchtime.  Because Buddy Bear naps in the afternoon and the older Bears no longer do, we have a home-bound lull in our day and a great opportunity to spend time together.  Lately, this is when we do our Learning Time.  

My kids love Learning Time.  Our time isn't rigorous or fancy.  Many days, I have devoted minimal planning to how we will spend our time, although we do have a pattern to our routine.  I think what they love the most is the focused attention they get from me, the togetherness of the activities, and the excitement of getting to try something new.  The routine of the afternoon is comforting to all of us.  I let the kids start out with coloring (or play dough, when we can be at the porch table) or other light artwork while I put Buddy Bear down for his nap, then we do an activity together, and we finish with story time on the couch.   Then they choose a quiet activity to do until Buddy Bear wakes up, while I take a deep breath and start making dinner.  Before I know it, it's dinner time!

Again, there is nothing fancy about the activities we do together during Learning Time.  We'll do letter or number games, build on a skill that the kids are working on in school, or sometimes do a project with a faith-related theme.  As I said, I think what they like the most is spending time together!  Plus, kids at these young ages can learn something from just about anything we do together.  That being said, here are a few examples of our Learning Time activities last week.

Roll A Word

Last week, to help G-Bear with her Kindergarten sight words, we played Roll-A-Word.  We started with a paper word block that G-Bear made at school, but you could easily use a block with words taped to the sides or a simple dice with each number representing a sight word.   

Our sight word dice

Here were our instructions.  Similar templates can be found here or here.

The kids took turns rolling the "dice," and G-Bear would read the sight word and write it in the appropriate column.  We played several times, and each time a different word won.

Animal words

One of our favorite ways to practice letters is to copy them out of a favorite book.  This afternoon, E-Bear chose to write the names of the animals in one of our Bright Baby books.

Animals, by Bright Baby
 Here he is, hard at work.

 Great job, E-Bear!

Happy learning!

Monday, November 12, 2012

First Day of Snow

Today we awoke to quite a sight:
 a frosty world, such a delight.
With noses pressed to the cold window,
we joyfully welcomed the season's first snow!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Grocery Bag

Another week is upon us.  No matter how exhausted I am on Sunday night, pushing through to make a meal plan is always a worthwhile effort.  I feel so much better on Monday morning if I have the plan.  Hang in there!  Here are my ideas for the week.

Day One
All-American Chili from Cooking Light Magazine
with broccoli slaw & apple salad and homemade bread
It's cold this week.  That means it's time to make chili.
Photo and recipe from

Day Two
Brown rice pilaf from Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons
with honey-roasted vegetables from Cooking Light Magazine
These are two of my favorite vegetarian dishes.
Photo from

Day Three
with mixed green salad and homemade rolls
This is one of our favorite slow-cooker soup recipes.

Day Four
with basmati rice and steamed green beans
A new recipe from one of our favorite cookbook authors.
Photo and recipe at

Day Five
Tortilla pie with chicken from Everyday Food Magazine
with spinach pear salad
Photo and recipe from

Blessings on your kitchen this week!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bedtime with E-Bear

A good friend and a good book,

what more could a little boy ask for at bedtime?  

These are sweet days, my friends.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Happy Election Day!

Happy Election Day!

May God bless America.

Now go vote!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election Prayer

At long last, tomorrow is election day.  Go vote!
I'll likely be at the polling station with three kids in tow, but it will be worth it.
On the eve of the election, here is the prayer I have prayed in preparation to vote.
May our country be blessed with good, worthy leaders through the votes of its citizens!

Election Prayer
(Adapted from the Election Novena at Pray More Novenas)

O God,
I ask for the eyes to see others as your sons and daughters. I ask for help in forming my conscience according to your Gospel so that I may both vote and act for the common good.

Give me the courage to stand up for the weakest members of society. The poor, the weak, the unborn. Give me the courage to re-examine my political loyalties and to be first a faithful follower of Jesus before I follow others.

Remind me that my only true hope is in Jesus and that political power can never replace the will of God and the mission of the Church.

For my own vote, help me to cast it in a way that is pleasing to the Lord. Help me to do it reverently and with a well-formed conscience.

For these elections, Oh God, please bless us with the best leaders possible at all levels of government.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Grocery Bag

Happy November!  It is time to tackle another week.  Here is our meal plan for dinner.

Day One
Split chickpea curry from Anupy Singla
with basmati rice and steamed peas
Here is one of our favorite lentil curries, even better because it uses the slow cooker!
Photo and recipe at

Day Two
with romaine and apple salad
A yummy looking pizza using all the best fall flavors.
Photo and recipe from Food & Wine

Day Three
Easy Paella from Everyday Food Magazine
with broccoli slaw craisin salad and homemade bread
Photo and recipe from Martha Stewart

Day Four
Sloppy Joes from The Pioneer Woman
with carrot sticks and sweet potato fries
This is my go-to sloppy joe recipe.
Photo and recipe from The Pioneer Woman

Day Five
Curried red lentil soup from Whole Living Magazine
with homemade rolls and apple slices
Photo and recipe from Whole Living

 Blessings on your kitchen!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hard at work

Our lawn looks great,

thanks to these energetic bears.

How much do you think I owe them?

Happy November!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

These Hallowed Days

Happy Halloween and a blessed All Saints' Day!
These days have been wild, in the best possible ways.

We have had a wonderful time taking in both holidays.  E-Bear and G-Bear have worn their Halloween costumes for most of the week, and anticipation has been mounting for days.  Yesterday, G-Bear was able to wear her Rapunzel dress to school, complete with ribbons and flowers in her braided hair.  Not to be outdone, the boys wore costumes all day as we ran errands.  We were a sight walking home together after picking up G-Bear.

We continued our tradition of meeting at MoMo & Papa's house for trick-or-treating.  As Papa said last night, "not much has changed about Halloween over the past 30 years in this neighborhood," and that is a good thing. The treaters are plentiful, the decorations festive, and the houses close enough together for even the littlest tikes to join in the fun.

This was definitely our boldest treating year yet.  We made it up and down two whole blocks!  G-Bear and E-Bear ran their hearts out (they didn't wear coats and never once complained about the cold).  G-Bear would squeal in delight to E-Bear,
"E-Bear, isn't trick-o-treating fun??!"

Buddy Bear was so excited to get a few treats that he clutched his little paper bag to his chest as T carried him around the block.  He was so eager and willing to toddle up to the door and hold out his bag for a treat.  He was so careful to sign a big 'thank-you' before turning to leave.  We didn't quite get him in the traditional 1 year old pumpkin suit for pictures.  I thought he made a pretty cute "X-Ray" in his skeleton pjs!

Buddy Bear was so excited to show off his treat bag.
G-Bear counted 89 pieces of candy when we got home.  Heavens, what will we do with all of it?  

As always, MoMo and Papa's pumpkin was the largest on the block.  It's smile was just as inviting and joyful as ever (perhaps why they always get so many treaters?).

"The bright Jack-o-lantern with it's friendly, big grin reminds us God's love is a light from within."
~From P is for Pumpkin: God's Harvest Alphabet by Kathy-Jo Wargin


We may have been up late, but we were up early this morning with more to celebrate:  
Happy All Saints' Day!

This morning, Buddy Bear and I watched as G-Bear processed with her fellow Kinders as the 'March of Saints' in her All Saints' Day all-school Mass.  Each Kinder wore a saint hat with their name on it.  It was a beautiful  reminder that God calls all of us to join in the march of faith toward sainthood.  I teared up just watching them!

Tonight we hosted MoMo and Papa for an All Saints' Day dinner party!  We decorated the dining room with pictures of the saints, and everyone got their own "saintly" name card.  My favorite decorations were the Mandy Groce "Armor of God" paper dolls, made by E-Bear and G-Bear.   We made them a few weeks ago as part of our Year of Faith craft & learning time, but they were perfect decorations for our table tonight.  We need to put on the Armor of God in our daily walk of faith toward sainthood!

For dessert we had apple spice cake with whipped cream and sprinkles.  Everyone got a piece with their own candle, and we sang "This Little Light of Mine" before blowing them out.  Delicious!

Our table was full for All Saints' Day.
Tonight was truly a celebration.  We are so grateful for these joyful moments together.

Blessings to you on these All Saints' and All Souls' Days.