Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chipping Ice: The Second Week of Lent

It is ice chipping weather here in Minnesota.

If the climate of your geographic area limits your familiarity with this hallowed, late-winter Minnesota past time, what a shame.   Ice chipping is incredibly satisfying.  The snow and ice have been accumulating for months in the sub-freezing temperatures.  By late-February or early-March, when we finally get a few days of 35 degree sunshine, the slow road to thaw begins.  Thirty five degrees and sunny is just enough to melt a few snow layers during the day, which then freeze again by night, thus a layer of ice coats most driveways and sidewalks these days.  To reclaim secure footing, it's time to get out the ice chipper.  

Nothing clears ice like an ice chipper!  The thin metal blade is perfect for cracking, chipping and scrapping up the ice sheets that cover concrete walkways and driveways.  It is hard work to be sure, but it's the kind of sweat that feels good after being cooped up inside during weeks of frigid weather.  Plus, there is real satisfaction in a job well done, gazing over a pile of ice chunks to the smooth, bare, secure concrete of a cleared driveway or sidewalk.

As the second week of Lent comes to a close, I realize that I need the Lord to clear the layers of "ice" out of my life.  Like the cold world outside, I have piled up plenty of disfunction and bad habits that make me just as insensitive, harsh and hazardous to others as the ice layers that cover my front steps. Jesus Christ is the master chipper, able to get through even my toughest layers when I avail myself to His help. And, boy do I need it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Signs of Hope

Papa's geranium bloom

Sometimes the littlest signs of the future are the most powerful reminders of what lies ahead.

Last Sunday when we visited my parents for dinner, we were greeted by a gorgeous geranium bloom from Papa's bedroom geranium plant.  Each of the leaves was the size of my hand, the bloom was the size of a grapefruit.  Such a lovely reminder that spring is near!  

Also on Sunday, Papa continued his tradition of giving the Bears a Valentine's gift of a blooming bulb garden.  The bulb flowers are little green stubs each February when we receive the potted garden.  By the time they fully bloomed and wilting several weeks later, the March sun is melting our snow in preparation for spring.  The garden gift always helps us through the doldrums of March and Lent.  Today we celebrated the emergence of our first bloom:  a lovely purple reticulated iris.  What a lovely reminder that the preparation of Lent bring forth beautiful blossoms.

As we enter this second weekend of Lent, it's time to dig our roots a little deeper amidst the snow and cold.  Deep down, away from the distractions and enticements of the world, may we meet the warmth of the Father's constant, sufficient provision.  In a few weeks, after this time of preparation, we'll feel the warmth of the Risen Son on our backs.  Then, we'll know it's time to rise with Him and bloom again.

Gracious and holy Father, please give to us:
intellect to understand You;
reason to discern You;
diligence to seek You;
wisdom to find You;
a spirit to know You;
a heart to meditate upon You;
ears to hear You;
eyes to see You;
a tongue to proclaim You;
a way of life pleasing to You;
patience to wait for You;
and perseverance to look for You.
Grant us a perfect end, Your holy presence,
a blessed resurrection, and life everlasting.
~St. Benedict
(This prayer, a lovely focus for the season, is also a part of an ongoing Novena prayed for Pope Benedict in the closing days of his pontificate.  You can follow the Novena prayers and sign up to receive novena emails at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

In Memoriam: Deacon Bill

Let me introduce you to a great man of God,
a dear friend we will miss,

Tonight we watched our beloved Deacon's funeral Mass.
He was the founding president of EWTN alongside Mother Angelica.
He succeeded Mother Angelica as CEO and Chairman of EWTN.
He was a faithful husband of 59 years, affected countless lives for the Lord,
and received the Pontifical Medal from Pope Benedict XVI for extraordinary service to the Church.

For all his impressive accomplishments, 
we'll remember him and be forever grateful to him
for the great things he did in our lives,
things that will never make his resume,
but which are eternally meaningful to us.

Deacon Bill welcomed me to Alabama when I moved in 2003 to be closer  to T.
He walked along side us as we struggled with questions of faith and future.
Deacon Bill and wife Ramona stood with my dear family and T as I was confirmed in the Church.
He led us in marriage preparation, agreed to preside at our wedding,
and arranged for Father Anthony to preside in his stead when he was unable to travel.
Deacon Bill encouraged us with countless letters, phone calls and prayers.
Most meaningful of all, he baptized G-Bear and E-Bear with all proud grandparents present
the week before T's dad passed away.

Our family with Deacon Bill and Ramona at G-Bear's and E-Bear's baptism.

I hope that I never forget the sound of Deacon Bill voice saying his perpetually offered phrase, 
"Thank you, Jesus!"
These were the words that he offered the first time I met him,
he said this in greeting,
in saying good-byes.
He inserted this thanks into almost every conversation.
Indeed, these were the words by which he lived his life.

Thank you, Jesus, for Deacon Bill.
Lord, let perpetual light shine upon him.
Help us to follow his footsteps, which always pointed us to You.

Monday, February 18, 2013

On Temptation: The First Week of Lent

Duccio, "The Temptation on the Mount"
"The tempter is clever: he does not direct us immediately toward evil but toward a false good, making us believe that power and things that satiate primary needs are what is most real. In this manner God becomes secondary; he is reduced to a means, he becomes unreal, he no longer counts, he disappears. In the final analysis, faith is what is at stake in temptations because God is at stake. In the decisive moments of life and, in fact, in every moment of life, we are faced with a choice: do we want to follow the “I” or God? Do we want to follow individual interest or rather the true Good, that which is really good?"
~Pope Benedict XVI, On the First Sunday of Lent, February 17th, 2013

Grocery Bag

Happy President's Day!  Here is our dinner plan for the week.  

Day One
with salsas, cilantro spinach salad and oranges
A wonderful gluten-free recipe well-suited for dinner with guests
Photo by Happily Ever Johnson

Day Two
Parmesan chicken tenders from Everyday Food Magazine
with roasted cauliflower and brown rice pilaf
Photo and recipe from

Day Three
with spinach salad and homemade bread sticks
A cozy weeknight staple

Day Four
Corn chowder from Food & Wine Magazine
with homemade rolls and apple slices
Photo and recipe from Food and Wine

Day Five
Bourbon tofu from
with basmati rice and steamed green peas
This is originally a chicken recipe that works wonderfully with tofu for a meatless main dish.
Photo and recipe from

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

In high school and college, Valentine's Day was my favorite holiday.  I loved sweetheart candy, giving and receiving cards from others, and most of all, the color pink.

Valentine's Day has long since been replaced as my favorite holiday, but I can still relate to my kids' excitement and anticipation for today.  Our day will call for sprinkles on cereal for breakfast, special heart-shaped sandwiches for lunch, and heart-shaped brownies and whipped cream for dessert after dinner.   We have been busy for the past week, making valentines for friends and classmates and valentine boxes to collect cards during school parties.
G-Bear's valentine box
E-Bear's valentine box

A friend once asked me why I like Valentine's day so much, and my response was, "because it is a day for handing out tokens of love, which is appropriate, because love isn't love until it's given away."  You can spare me the sensationalized, sexualized hype of consumerist America over Valentine's day.  But, I appreciate the chance today affords me to teach my kids that sharing little acts of charity like handmade cards and thoughtful notes can truly make others feel special.

Yes, we made our valentines this year.  This is not because I have any artistic talent.   I simply calculated how much time it would take to get three kids in and out of Target on the weekend and compared that with the supplies I already had in our art cabinet.  The art cabinet won.  I was so proud of how diligently both G-Bear and E-Bear worked on their valentines.  G-Bear made cards with mini-muffin wrapper flowers.  The "flowers" pull off to reveal hidden cinnamon candies!  So fun.

G-Bear's valentines this year
E-Bear made lollypop flowers with our mini-muffin wrappers and wrote his name on each green "leaf" label.  Way to go, buddy!

E-Bear's valentines this year

The time we spent making valentines together will tie as my favorite part of today.  My other favorite memory will be how T called E-Bear on my phone on his way home from work to ask him for his help.  T honked the horn when he arrived home, and the boys ran out to help him as he brought in surprises.  T brought a big bouquet of red roses for me (always special, because I never got red roses from him until we got engaged), and E-Bear and Buddy Bear presented G-Bear with a big mixed bouquet.   G-Bear loved every minute of helping me arrange her flowers in a vase.  Talk about making two girls feel loved.

Happy Valentine's Day from all of us in Happily Ever Johnson Land.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent Preparations 2013

"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

Lent has arrived.  For the past week or so, I have been working on a plan to help us embrace this Lenten season as a family.  Like Advent, Lent offers us a special opportunity to focus as a community on our relationship with God and our love for our neighbor.   I have found that within our own family, Lent has become a very special and meaningful season, one to which I (almost) look forward. :)

Our Lent preparations from 2011 and 2012 helped lay the foundation for my plan this year.  As I look back over our preparations of previous years, I am able to appreciate not only how much my kids have grown, but how much I have grown too!  Of course, I also see plenty of ways that we can continue to improve.

The three pillars of the season of Lent are prayer, fasting and giving.  Each of our Lenten undertakings is aimed at helping our children, our whole family, embrace these themes in a personal and age appropriate way.

~Prayer garland:  Our prayer chain is now in it's third year, and is one of my favorite ways to "decorate" our house for Easter.  Each day, the kids are given a chance to offer up a prayer for someone or something, and I write their prayers on a slip of paper.  Over the course of Lent's 40 days, we link our prayer papers together in a chain that decorates our windows.  As Holy Week approaches, the visible evidence of our prayers for others is the perfect decoration for Easter.
~Christmas card prayers:  Remember all those Christmas cards we received during December?  As recommended by a friend, this year I have saved them.  Each day, as part of our prayer time, we will pull out a few cards and pray for our friends or family members that sent them.  Since most Christmas cards we receive include pictures, this is a wonderful way to help my children personalize and remember the people for whom we are praying.  Plus, who doesn't like finding another use for all those gorgeous cards?

~Story time: In Lent our story time takes on a special theme.  This year, we will be reading stories from our Jesus Storybook Bible leading up to Easter Sunday.  We'll alternate those stories with a book of children's prayers, Really Woolly Bedtime Prayers.  After each story, we can add a stone to our Jesus Stepping Stone activity, inspired by Equipping Catholic Families.

This great Stepping Stones of Jesus Lent activity can be found at
Equipping Catholic Families.  

~Food giving box: We have many opportunities to give to those less fortunate during Lent.  T and I observe the Church's Lenten call to fasting and abstinence, but our children are young to do this, and I don't expect them to miss meat during our Friday meals.  Still, I want them to learn the importance of meaningful fasting in other ways.  On Fridays and other days of communal fasting, the children get to choose a box of food from our pantry to add to our Lent food giving box.  Then, on Sundays or days at school when there is a request for food donations, the kids get to take a piece of food out of their giving box to bring to share.  I hope this is a way to help them personalize part of the heart behind fasting.

~Jar of Beans: The kids have been asking about our Bean Jar for months!  It is arguably our most beloved tradition during Lent.  An idea originally inspired by an old edition of Family Fun Magazine, our Bean Jar appears each Ash Wednesday, full of dried black beans, along with a nearby basket.  Each time one of us does a good deed or something nice to or for another, he or she gets 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) Each year, our basket has been full of jellybeans on Easter.  We're hoping for a similar bounty this year :)

Our bean basket on Easter morning a few years ago.

May this Lenten season be full blessings and growth!  Through all our special preparations, may God help us to love others more and give us a greater desire to be united to Him.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Grocery Bag

This week includes Marti Gras, Ash Wednesday, Valentine's Day, the first Friday of Lent and G-Bear's 100th day of school.  That is a lot for one week!  Our meal plan will help keep us on track.  Here are my ideas for the dinner.

Day One
Mexican Spaghetti from
with napa cabbage cilantro salad
Photo and recipe from

Day Two
Crockpot chicken from Finding Joy in My Kitchen
with roasted vegetables and couscous
Photo and recipe from Finding Joy in My Kitchen

Day Three
Wild mushroom and lentil cottage pie from Cooking Light Magazine
with homemade bread
Photo and recipe from

Day Four
Pesto tortellini 
with strawberries and steamed broccoli

Day Five
Moroccan chickpea chili from Cooking Light Magazine
with homemade bread and broccoli slaw salad
Photo and recipe from

Blessings on your kitchen this week!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

No ordinary fairy wings

Today, during playtime, I found E-Bear riffling through our dress-up drawer.

"Mom, I REALLY need the fairy wings."

Hmmmm.  I wasn't quite sure what to make of this novel inspiration.  E-Bear is not particularly interested in Tinkerbell or her buddies. G-Bear wasn't around to blame for coercion tactics.  Who was this new fairy, impressive enough to spark such urgency and imagination?

I went back to sorting the mail.


A large, winged creature exploded through the room.

Then came the clarifying announcement:

"Make way for the pteranodon!!"

Of course it was a pteranodon!  What else are fairy wings good for? 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Grocery Bag

We're off to tackle another week!  Here are our plans for dinner.

Day One
Sweet and spicy chili from
with steamed corn and sweet potato fries

Photo and recipe from

Day Two
Barley risotto with mushrooms from Fine Cooking Magazine
with roasted carrots
Photo and recipe from Fine Cooking

Day Three
Cauliflower and cheddar soup from Everyday Food Magazine
with homemade bread and steamed peas

Photo and recipe from

Day Four
Pizza margarita from Finding Joy in My Kitchen
with mixed green salad and apple slices

Photo and recipe from Finding Joy in My Kitchen

Day Five
Lentils from Kate in the Kitchen
with basmati rice and roasted brussels sprouts

Photo and recipe from Kate in the Kitchen

Blessings on your kitchen this week!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Overheard in the house, January 2013 Edition

Overheard in the kitchen, after the bechemel sauce has boiled over onto the stove, as Queen B is about to loose it:
E-Bear: "Mom, are you feeling mad?  Remember what you are supposed to do:
(musical tune from "Daniel Tiger") 'When you feel so mad that you want to ROAR,
take a deep breath,' AHHH, HAAAAA, 'and count to four.'

Overheard in Buddy Bear's room as G-Bear and E-Bear go to wake him up:
Buddy Bear:  "Hi!!"
G-Bear: "Good morning, Buddy Bear.  How did you sleep?"
Buddy Bear: "Geee." (Good.)
E-Bear: "Do you want a book?"
Buddy Bear: "SSSSSSssss." (Yes.)
G-Bear: "Which one do you want?"
Buddy Bear: "Toot Toooooooot!"
G-Bear: "Your Thomas book?  Okay, here it is!"

Overheard in the kitchen as Buddy Bear comes in from the living room:
Buddy Bear:  "MaMA!"
Me: "Yes, Buddy Bear?"
Buddy Bear, tugging at my arm: "MaMa, Uh-oh."
Me: "Oh, dear.  You better show me what happened."

Overheard in the car, commenting on the color of our house:
E-Bear: "Dad, I like green houses.  I don't like skin-colored houses."

Overheard at the dinner table while sharing riddles with Auntie K (who is expecting twins):
Auntie K: "I have a riddle for you.  What has four hands, four feet, and is very, very full."
G-Bear:  "A cow?"
Auntie K (glancing at her belly):  "No, but good guess."

Overheard in the bathroom at bedtime:
Buddy Bear, running into the bathroom:  "MaMa!  Elmo!"
Me: "Okay, Buddy Bear, here is your Elmo toothbrush."
Buddy Bear, jumping up and down and reaching for the toothpaste drawer:  "MaMa!  Too TOO!"
Me, smiling:  "Okay, Buddy, here is your Thomas toothpaste."

Happily Ever,
Queen B