Monday, March 23, 2015

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Several months ago a friend mentioned a book about aging parents.  Over the last four years plus, I've watch my parents, aunts and uncles care for three of my grandparents as they've transitioned from their homes to nursing care to their heavenly home.  My remaining grandfather is in skilled nursing care as I write.

This is no small feat- not emotionally and not physically.  The countless decisions, conversations, financial considerations, phone calls, pop-in visits to check on things, home health nurses, the balance of honoring wishes and being realistic, nursing home applications and visits, the dismantling of homes full of decades of living, hospital visits, hospice care...the list goes on and on.

In an effort to possibly better understand what my parents have been going through AND to get a peek as to what (one day) lies ahead for myself and my siblings, I bought the recommended book, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast.

I was a little unsure about the cartoon aspect of the book.  I thought it might be distracting and take away from the content but it did the opposite and that surprised me.  Chast is an honest and highly entertaining writer.  I literally laughed out loud many times, read portions aloud to Jamey, talked about the book to friends and family, and found myself weeping over it at other times. Despite a smidgen of well-placed profanity (if there is such a thing), I savored each chapter and found myself pacing my progress.  While I was inclined to pick it up several times a day to devour as many pages as I could, I put on the brakes when only a chapter or two remained- partly because I knew what was coming and partly because I didn't want the book to end.

When I finally did allow myself to finish, I felt like I had just walked a very intimate road with a stranger and yet Chast and her parents didn't feel like strangers anymore.  In their story, I saw elements of my parents' and grandparents' stories and I'm thankful to her for this peek inside a very hallow journey that one day waits for many of us (if we're not living it already).

Whether you're in the midst of the journey yourself or are watching those around you enter into it, this book provides camaraderie, plenty of humor, and a glimpse into one woman's story as she walks with her parents and says goodbye at the same time.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

A Favor & Butternut Squash and Spinach Stuffed Shells

First the favor.  In the comments below, please tell me, what is the first dish (main meal, dessert, etc.) that comes to your mind when you think of Mennonite food?  Ready, set, go!  Then please scroll back up and read the rest of the post.  I'll explain myself at a later date:-).


It has been a LONG time since I've posted a recipe.  I honestly haven't been trying many new recipes.  Life has called for the predictable so that's what I've been providing and it's been working well.  But then somewhere in internet land I saw a link to a recipe for Butternut Squash and Spinach Stuffed Shells.  Our family loves our standard stuffed shell recipe (which does incorporate spinach) but I loved the idea of being able to use some of the butternut squash patiently waiting in the pantry.  I even had some roasted and mashed ready in the freezer.

Turns out, they are delicious!  So here we are:-).

I made a few adjustments to the recipe.  A major one was deciding not to melt an entire stick of butter and pour it over the baked shells.  I don't know- that just seemed a little excessive when a nice sprinkling of Parmesan cheese suited the shells just fine.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Stuffed Shells (adapted from here)

2 cups roasted and mashed butternut squash
1 cup frozen spinach (drained and chopped if store bought, crumbled small if frozen fresh)
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried sage
1 box large shells
Parmesan cheese

Cook the shells according to the directions on the box.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  While the shells are cooking, combine all the remaining ingredients except the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl.

Fill each shell with a heaping tablespoon of filling and lay seam side down in a 9x13 baking pan coated with cooking spray.  Stuff all shells.  Sprinkle with a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese and cover tightly with foil.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until heated through and serve

These offer a nice twist to a familiar recipe AND make use of butternut squash and spinach from the garden.

P.S.  Don't forget to answer my question at the top of this post.  Thanks! Pin It

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Sad Day in the Bee Yard

This past Sunday, we spent the afternoon harvesting honey. Four gallons and one quart.  But it was not a happy day.  While we are very glad for the honey, one is not supposed to be harvesting honey in March.  We found ourselves in the throes of this sticky task because all of our bees are dead.

This weekend was wonderfully warm, climbing into the upper 60's so it was a prime time to inspect our five hives.  Jamey was already concerned because on previous warmer days he hadn't seen as much activity at the hives as he thought he should.  Sure enough, after each hive roof was lifted off, the verdict was the same- they were all dead.

In each hive, the bee cluster was a mere inch or two away from honey but somehow they were unable to find it.  Robber bees from other local bee yards had found the honey, unguarded, and were already helping themselves.

I sent a quick message to our experienced beekeeper friends asking if they could put us on the list for more bees this spring only to hear back that they experienced devastating losses this spring- 79 of their hives dead.  They, too, can only guess as to what happened.  A combination of weather patterns and an increase of spraying along their road were two of their educated guesses.  You can read all about how herbicides and insecticides seem to be causing all kinds of detriments for honey bees by looking elsewhere online (here is a good place to start).  I, honestly, don't feel like getting into all that now.

I'm just sad.  Sad for our beekeeping friends and others like them who have invested so much time and resources into providing nutritious local honey for our community only to suffer such terrible losses.  We can only imagine what that must feel like.  We're just hobbyists.  For them, it's part of their livelihood.

New packages of bees and nucs might be hard to come by this spring if many others are experiencing similar losses in our area.  If we can, we'll try to start again.  We have equipment and some basic knowledge (although our knowledge doesn't feel very useful in times like these) so much of our investment is still intact.  We also have the gift of beautiful, sweet honey that our bees left for us.

We're also making available the remaining sticky goodness left on the strained honeycomb to neighboring bee colonies.  Maybe some of them will return the favor and come swarm into one of our empty hives this spring.

The term bittersweet has never described a day so perfectly.
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Monday, March 2, 2015

Slow and Deliberate

I realize we're already into the third month of the year but because last year was so very amazing (in a challenging, stretching, answer-to-many-prayers sort of way) I can't help but feel as if we could be on the cusp of another.

As we watch our (former) foster child adjust healthily back home to his birth family, we anticipate being needed less. This will open up space for our family and especially for me.  What will the year bring?  How can I help us get ready?  What projects are worthy of tackling?

This past Friday night as I lie in bed trying to fall asleep, the words "slow and deliberate" came to me as clear as an audible voice inside my own head can be.

Slow and deliberate.

It's a reminder to me that while my time is being freed up, I need to protect it.  Instead of filling up every extra weekend, evening, afternoon, and hour, I need to be slow and deliberate- weighing each opportunity.  Will this activity or project be life-giving to our family?  Will it promote peace, healing and rejuvenation?  Will it give us the rest and time we need to prepare for another possible placement?

Many people have asked me how we do or get done everything we do.  My answer is often one that seems so obvious to us.  We stay open.  We try to make ourselves available to those around us who may need our help and our relationships.  The idea of slow and deliberate confirms in me that we should stay this course.

While we don't know how our family will be used this coming year, I do know that I don't want to be caught off guard.  I don't want to turn down opportunities because we've over-booked or over-scheduled or over-exhausted us.

I challenge you, even as your year is already in full swing, to be slow and deliberate, too.   May we all live in a deliberate way- working toward whatever goals/dreams/visions God has placed on our hearts.  Let's pray for wisdom and God's guidance as we discern how our families should fill our calendars this year.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

And We're a Family of Five Once Again

The very day I posted this we received a call saying that in four days our foster toddler (who had been with us for seven months) would be going home to his mother.

It felt like a kick in the stomach.

Everyone involved acknowledged that it was much more sudden than anticipated.  I was expecting weeks of extended visits then overnight visits then weekend visits before packing up his remaining clothes and toys and kissing him goodbye.  The four hours notice we received in advance of his coming seemed much longer than the four-day notice of his leaving.

The day of the initial call was pretty devastating.  I managed to keep it (mostly) together in front of the kids, especially when telling them.  We talked about the simultaneous feelings of joy (for him and his mother) and sadness because we would miss him terribly.  It was a heavy day.  I found myself looking at him in a totally different way.  I vacillated between giving him extra attention and starting to gather his things.  When I'm stressed, I clean.  Evidently, when I'm about to send a foster child home I pack days in advance.

By the second day, as plans came together (when his overnight visit would take place, the actual time of his transfer, and plans to see him again), I began to feel peace.  I knew I wouldn't feel like a true foster parent until I had the experience of watching a child move on.  I was almost there.  This was part of it all.  I could do this.

The day I handed him back to his mother was emotionally charged but, oh, so positive.  We met at the office and talked of his routines and most recent new skills. I was nervous and I'm fairly certain his mother was, too.  Out in the parking lot, we exchanged tears and hugs.  On the way home, I lost it and bawled like a baby.


It's been almost a week since he's gone home and I could not be happier.  God is so good.  Our family is blessed to be able to provide childcare for him several days a week.  His mother and I are developing a voluntary relationship- one that is not forced, one in which we are equals.  Having her in our home is even more wonderful than I had imagined.

I feel like I'm walking on a cloud.  Sure, I miss him and wonder if he wonders where I am and when the kids will bound around the corner to play with him, but we get to see him and love on him every few days, often even a couple days in a row.  I count his mother as my friend and look forward to having them in our lives for as long as they want us.

Well before we knew of his imminent departure, I was anxious about what we would do when he left.  How long would be the right amount of time to wait until we accepted another placement? Would we all feel ready at the same time?  Would I feel like someone was missing again?  Would I be perpetually sad?

Being able to help with his childcare has been the answer to so many of these questions and prayers.  I consider this phase an extension of his placement.  There's no reason to think of my next step.  This is my next step.  Instead of breaking down in tears of loss, I weep tears of joy.  My heart and life are full.  This- the reunification of a family and the ability to remain in relationship with them- is why I wanted to do foster care and I feel bowled over and incredibly lucky to have experienced it on the first try.


My heart breaks for those who have had to send a foster child home to a birth family that doesn't seem to have it together.  My heart breaks for those who have had to send a foster child along when they wish they could call them their own.  My heart breaks knowing that it's possible that one day, no matter what our intentions, we could be some of "those" folks.  For now, I am incredibly thankful. And I am so very grateful to each of you who have prayed for us and reached out to us via email as fellow foster parents.  We have felt your prayers and your love.

While I do find myself with more time these days, this blog will likely stay fairly quiet until spring. We are all still adjusting to our new normal.  We are reestablishing old routines, sleeping longer (my alarm clock went home) and feeling out our new roles.  We talk often of new projects for the warmer seasons and look forward to sharing them with you in a couple months.  Until then, may you feel God's supernatural love and bask in His peace.  God is so good.

Jane Pin It

Monday, January 26, 2015


I anticipated the initial adjustment period of a foster placement to be difficult.  And it was.  I also expect the end of the placement to be challenging for a whole different set of reasons.  And it will be. But I did not expect the middle of the placement to be as hard as it is some days.  In many ways, things right now are easy.  He seems like just another member of our family. He goes with our flow and knows what to expect of us and us of him.  I'm well used to navigating baby gates, nap time and declining invites out after 7pm. But within the groove are rough patches.  Infants become more aware of their abnormal situation as they become older and deal with their confusion in ways I wasn't quite ready for but knew were possible.  I know the systems involved are not perfect.  I used to be a social worker myself.  But when you're watching a child grow up before your eyes and become deeply attached to you as if you are a mother-equivalent, you can't help but hope reunification comes quickly.  For the child.  For the mother.  And for yourself. (Assuming the birth mother is ready and has proven so, of course.)


So the other day I was walking through the house, semi-attempting not to step on the many toys and things-turned-toys strewn across the floor, when I accidentally stepped on a new canister of cocoa. The pressure broke the nifty foil covering and blew off the lid (with significant force) sending a dust storm of cocoa into the mudroom, school room and under the door (and several feet) into the bathroom.  While it made the house smell divine, it inspired Miriam to give me her wise advice once again, "If I were you, I'd move to a new house."


While bottles in my fridge, onesies in my laundry and smelly diapers in a bin outside my back door is the norm now, there are moments when it still shocks me.  I'm a foster mom.  I waffle between looking forward to the freedom that will come when I'll return to parenting my own three children, the near panic at the thought of his leaving, and the anticipation of what the next baby will be like (after a considerable break in between).

My emotions swing along from one pondering to another but are never allowed too wide a berth.  I can't let them swing out too far.  I reign them in and tuck them down and pull out the next school binder, clean off the high chair tray and fill another bottle.  I don't feel like I'm suppressing anything as much as I'm keeping it in check.  One day (or week or month), they will be given permission to swing their farthest and I'll most certainly break down.  For now, all I can say is that there is a season for everything and while my mind races forward, I really need to keep it (mostly) centered in the here and now.


I no longer wash Sam, Sadie or Miriam's clothes.  This is not a punishment.  It occurred to me recently that they are fully capable of taking care of this themselves.  And since they're home most days all day they have the time to do it.  When Sam or Sadie and Miriam's (Sadie and Miriam share a room) laundry baskets get full they bring it downstairs, wash it, dry it and fold it.  Sadie does Miriam's for her since their clothes are together.  Now I only wash Jamey's clothes, mine and the baby's.  I can't tell you how this minor shift in responsibility has lightened my load.


The baby has weekly all day visits with his mother.  We make a point of doing fun things with our older kids on these days.  The visits fall on our homeschool co-op day so we spend the morning there. Then, I take the kids to a local bagel shop for lunch.  In the afternoon I try to find something fun for us to do.

{If you know me, you know that this isn't really me.  I'm a homebody and a bit stingy, believing that children shouldn't need to be entertained all the time.  That said, my kids have been AMAZING through this placement.  It's not all warm and fuzzy but much of the time it is.  They're helpful, loving and incredibly understanding despite the hard feelings that surface now and then.}

So one day we spent the afternoon at a friend's house, another visit day we went to a paint your own pottery studio, one day we went to the movies (there were only two other people in the theater!) and most recently, Jamey took off work early and met us at the bowling alley. We want our kids to see and participate in the service that is foster care but we also want to remind them how much we love them and are so very proud of them.


Our foster child has been with us for six months and we are on our fifth foster care worker.  Fifth.  I know turnover is high and therefore experience/stamina is often low (which contributes greatly to the high turnover, I believe).  This is no fun, light-hearted profession. I get that. Thankfully, we haven't needed a lot of hand-holding and an amazing private agency has taken over visits and therapeutic services for the birth mom and her child.  If I did need more assistance from the actual foster care agency, I do feel like I could get it.  Having worked in child mental health in the past, I know who to call and what to say.  No matter how well each worker explains and passes on each case to the next, I do worry about continuity.  It's strange being on the other side of things and having to remember my place.  It's not that they don't want my input but I'm not a professional player on the team anymore. I'm the foster mom and in some ways this is freeing.  My job is to love and nurture the child and do my best to connect with and support the birth mom to increase positive interactions and transitions.

And that's plumb enough.


Until I can muster the time and courage to share more of this journey again....


my first forced amaryllis- off topic but glorious

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January Pantry and Freezer Pictures

My friend Mavis challenged her readers to send her photos of their pantries.  For every set of photos she receives, Mavis will donate $20 to a food bank!  I couldn't resist so I grabbed my camera and started snapping.

If you'd like to take a look, you can find my photos and a little write-up about what's in our pantry and freezers these days right here as well as more info. about her challenge.  Then, join in the fun!

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Princess the Pig: Part 4, The Finale

Part 1 (The Intro)
Part 2 (And She Grows)
Part 3 (Off to the Butcher)

About a week later, Jamey came home with Princess. In boxes.

Of the 325 pounds that she ultimately weighed, we brought home 160 pounds of pork.  Taking into consideration the cost of the pig, feed and butcher fees, the cost for her meat averaged out to about $3/pound.  This was worth it to us- we know what she ate and where she grazed.

We surveyed the contents and loaded up the freezers.  We do not take this lightly.  We appreciate the utter extravagance of having freezers full of food to eat.  To be honest, I don't have a lot of experience with many cuts of pig other than bulk sausage and links so this will be quite an adventure. Some of the parts we ordered/received are spare ribs, butt roasts (surprisingly not from the butt but from the shoulder), quarter hams, the fat (labeled "fet" below), heart, tenderloin, sides of bacon, bulk sausage and links (and the kidney, not pictured).

The day after, the two sides of bacon went to a friend's house.  He has a reputation for making great bacon (a favorite of Jamey's).  The sides were given a dry rub and left to cure in his cellar for a week or so.  Then he placed them in his smoker to finish the job.  Below is what came home to us a couple weeks later.  In exchange for his bacon-curing, we shared with him some of his favorite pig parts.  Jamey divided the bacon into one pound slabs (wrapped in freezer paper) for the freezer.  He slices them just before frying them up- although most of the time he gets Sadie to do the frying- she likes bacon almost as much as he does.

Jamey had done some reading on the benefits of animal fat/lard and rendered the fat the day after the boxes came home.  He chopped it up, melted it and then strained it through cheese cloth.  The purest lard is white and odorless- this I've been using in baking.  The other lard is slightly discolored and smells like bacon/sausage.  This is used for other dishes where the flavor will compliment the dish. While some might get excited about bacon-flavored cookies, me not-so-much.  To be honest, I was a little skeptical about this whole lard business.  As with many things, the unknown can be daunting. This article helped a lot and now I'm pretty excited to be using it. About six pints of lard went into the freezer.

Christmas week, we had friends over for dinner and wanted to make one of our hams.  We had come across this recipe for making a "raw" (uncured) ham.  We followed the directions closely except that instead of using maple syrup, we used our honey:-).  The result was delicious.  It was certainly not anything like the cured hams you buy at the store.  This ham had the flavor of pork (think pork chops) but the consistency of tender roast beef- sliced thinly just like roast beef instead of in thicker slabs (like cured ham).  We will definitely be making our other hams this way, too, and may try the maple syrup version next since friends recently gave us a gallon of their family's maple syrup in exchange for a couch we no longer needed.  Sweet deal, indeed.

I'd love to hear your favorite ways of preparing different cuts of pork.  Please speak to me, lovelies!  
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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Princess the Pig: Part 3

Part 1 (The Intro)
Part 2 (And She Grows)

We have a trailer that we use to haul our trash and firewood (among other things).  Jamey reinforced the sides but as Princess continued to grow he wasn't sure it would hold her if she became disagreeable. So.  On the scheduled delivery day, he picked up a friend's trailer (that's used for sheep) on his way home from work, stopped in at our house briefly to change clothes and pick up the rest of the family and the precious kitchen scraps I'd been saving for three whole days.

We drove over to our neighbor's and he was kindly ready and waiting for us, opening the gate as we drove in so we could back the trailer right up to Princess' yard.  I hadn't seen her in a little while and was surprised as to how much she had grown.  Again.  We later found out she was 325 pounds.

Using pallets they made a little pig chute, released her into the outer yard and lured her with the scraps.  Princess then proceeded to calmly and mannerly walk right up and into the trailer.

And down the road we went.  A number of people asked how our kids took the whole situation.  It may make them sound like calloused, insensitive children but they didn't seem to bat an eye.  Sam took pictures out the back window as we drove down the road and the kids enjoyed seeing all the other animals in the pens waiting their turn to be butchered, including another pig Jamey believed to have been between 500-600 lbs.

This is a reality of life.  If we eat meat, its good (we believe) for children to understand where that meat comes from as well as the importance of raising animals in humane, clean and natural ways to ensure their health and therefore ours.

behind the butcher's

I hate to drag this out but in the next post I'll show you what we got in return and what we're doing with some of it thus far.  Here's a little preview....

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Honey Bee Update

Happy New Year to you all!

It feels like forever since I posted about our bees.  The last time was back in August and before that it was May.  Having a little person in the house again meant that while Jamey was making regular summer visits and adjustments to the hives, I wasn't able to be out there to photograph and document what he was doing.

If you remember back to our first year with bees, we had three top bar hives heading into winter and two of them survived to spring. Despite losing what seemed like many, many bees to swarming (our fault) in the spring, the colonies rallied.  We were able to divide them and even harvest some honey. We headed into this past fall with five colonies.  Three in top bar hives, one in a homemade Langstroth and one in a nuc (mini-hive). We fed them some sugar syrup, tied down the roofs to keep them from blowing off and provided a wind barrier.  We felt like we were much more hands off this year as compared to our first year- partly out of necessity and partly because the bees know better then we do in regards to what needs to be done.

We had a couple very warm days just after Christmas and I was thrilled to hear an occasional buzz outside from a honey bee flying about.  A walk out to the bee yard showed activity at all five colonies.  This doesn't mean they'll all make it.  It's very possible that one or more colonies have died out and the other bees found the stores they couldn't get to.  But let's hope that all is well and that they enjoy a little early spring flying and cleaning (cleansing flights- to poop- and clearing out the dead) before needing to hunker down again.

I hope that this spring I'll be able to join Jamey in the bee yard more often.  I miss the smell and the awe-inspiring creation of these little creatures and their homes.  I'm also thrilled to be teaching a Honey Bee class to our older homeschool co-op class starting this week.  I hope to post about how it goes and the resources I've found to use once I try them out.

In the meantime, if you're considering beekeeping, now's the time to read, read, read and research, research, research.  A couple of our favorite books are... Top-Bar Beekeeping by Les Crowder (he even answers my emails when I have questions), Beekeeping for Dummies and Beekeeper's Handbook. It may be too late in some areas, but you should also place orders for colonies- checking local resources first because local colonies have a better chance of doing well where you live. Makes sense, right?

And if you're not ready to jump on the beekeeping wagon (a precarious thought) you can just follow along here with us:-).

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year Goals

It seems like everyone is setting goals for the New Year.  They sound less threatening than resolutions but still invoke pangs of pressure and guilt before I've even picked up my pen.

I'm a planner at heart.  But setting myself up with a plan at this stage in my life just seems cruel and unusual punishment.  Instead, I'm trying to rest in God's arms, trust that His timing is best and even when it doesn't seem to be best, know that He will grant me the peace and energy to handle whatever it is that has come crashing (or sweetly crawling) through my door.

So my goals for this year look a bit different.

1) I want to take each day as it comes, commit it to God, and try to strike a good balance of praise, rest, work, and loving others.

2) I want to take better care of myself, physically, so that I have more energy and stamina to succeed at #1 above (going to bed earlier, walking a couple days a week, etc.).

3) If, on any given day, I fail at #1 and/or #2 above, I hope to grant myself the grace to try again the next day (without guilt and brow-beating) and extend that same grace to those around me when they mess up.  Because, Lord knows, we all mess up.

There you have it.  Those are my goals for 2015.  They are plenty for the year that lies ahead.

Love and Peace,

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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Our Pig: Part 2

You can find Part 1 here (in which we introduce you to our pig).

Well she enjoyed Swine Summer Camp as far as we could tell.  She and her two cabin mates would occasionally break out of their pig yard and frolic (a.k.a. chase) the sheep around, requiring occasional fence reinforcing.  We didn't realize pigs were such good climbers and they're always looking for the feed that looks yummier on the other side of the fence.

Miriam named her Charlotte (although we think she meant Wilbur but got confused).  Since Charlotte didn't live with us, there were no real fears to us becoming attached.  Our neighbors fed her along with their pigs so except for the help mending fences and the occasional walk over to visit, we didn't see her much.

But boy, she grew.  And grew.  And grew.

By mid-fall our neighbors were ready to butcher their two pigs (the runt didn't make it).  Ours was still on the small side at the time- partly because she was female and partly because we heard the boys often helped themselves first to meals.  We decided to wait and let her eat and grow a little more.

This is when Charlotte became Princess.  Jamey renamed her and the name stuck.  He and Sam took turns watering and feeding her.  Our kitchen scraps were re-routed from the chicken yard to being bowl-fed to Princess.  Jamey had some concerns as to how we were going to get Princess into the trailer once it was time to take her to the butcher.  He wanted her to become tame enough to be led up and in (our neighbors had less than stellar luck getting one of their pigs loaded up).  Hence the name Princess- she was getting lots of attention.

How did the load-up and trip to the butcher go?  Jamey was practically losing sleep over it.  He would have one hour between getting home from work and when the butcher closed to get her there. I made sure I was available that afternoon, camera in hand.  Stay tuned for Princess the Pig: Part 3 (Off to the Butcher).

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and I have nothing to pack.

For the first time in forever, I will not be at my childhood home Christmas Day.  I will not pack up gifts, clothes, snow pants, sleeping bags and toiletries.  We will not have to rush through our little family's pre-Christmas celebration.  I will sleep in our bed.  I will watch the fire in our stove.

It will be decidedly quiet compared to all the normal festivities of extended family celebrations.  Part of me will miss it terribly.  The other part of me needs the relative quiet.  I need the good night's sleep.  I need to gather just us (in all our messy glory) around our table.  I need to help us focus on the last of our Advent devotional reads (which we never seem to get to).  We need the stability and predictability of being at home.

This past year has been one of many changes and much emotional stretching for all of us. It only seems right that we slow up, hunker down and rest as we usher in God's miraculous gift to us.  He's been giving us gifts all year long that have felt down right extravagant.  To focus on the Gift of Christ almost makes me come undone.  And I want to be home if I am to come undone.  It's just what I need because I know that the grace, peace and love that will put me back together makes me stronger than I was before.  And I need all the Holy Strength I can get.

Whether you're traveling or staying home this Christmas, my prayer for you is that you will allow yourself to come apart a bit.  Contrary to what the world tells us, this week is not about gifts or food or even family.  It's about ushering in the most amazing event of all time.  Be present for it.  Allow it to break and strengthen you and draw you ever closer to the Holy Gift Himself.

Grace, Peace and Love,

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Monday, December 15, 2014

Stuff. Grrrr....

When I was a little girl I dreamed of being a mommy.  I envisioned cradling tiny babies, putting them down for naps, feeding them in a high chair, changing diapers, and even nursing them (I had four younger siblings who ate that way- not all at once, of course).

But never did I imagine all the time I would spend managing STUFF.  It is (as of right now) my very least favorite part of managing a household.  I don't mind cleaning very much (when I have the time to get it done) and I don't mind doing laundry.  I wax and wane excitement regarding cooking these days and don't really mind paying the bills.  What I DO mind is all the time, brain space and energy that goes into dealing with stuff.

Now granted, I am thankful for the stuff.  I am not complaining about the *actual* stuff.  The stuff we have is stuff we need and are blessed to have in our possession.


When you live in an old farmhouse with very few closets, managing stuff is hard.

When your attic's access is just wide enough for your husband's hips to fit through (forget about bins, Christmas trees, etc.), managing stuff is hard.

When you are over-the-moon fortunate to get beautiful hand-me-downs to clothe your children but have to pile bins of clothes in your bedroom, managing stuff is hard.

When you homeschool and need to save each year's books for the children who will grow into them so you don't have to sell and repurchase books every year, managing stuff is hard.

When your children's ages range from one to just shy of twelve, some toys and books will naturally accumulate for said ages (and in between) making it hard to manage all the stuff.

When you delight in organization, tidy rooms and open spaces, managing an overabundance of stuff is hard.

When your "attic" is an old, detached-from-the-house smokehouse that is mostly sound but not sound enough to trust storing said clothes and books, managing stuff is hard.

When the only exercise you get some days is rearranging and lugging around bins and boxes, managing stuff is hard (even though the exercise is good).

I don't wish this stuff away. I am doing my best to keep us organized.  Yes, an addition would be nice as we seem to be bursting at the seams but it's not in the cards right now.

So I live with the stuff.  I walk past and around the stuff.  I sneer at the stuff and try to will it invisible.  I resent how it makes our spaces look cluttered and hope no one thinks me a budding hoarder.  I am constantly trying to think up ways to house it more discretely but the cold, hard truth is that as long as I have a family and means to clothe, entertain, and school them, I will have stuff.

So, STUFF, BRING IT ON!  I'm armed with bins and I'm not afraid to use them.  Like it or not, I will kick your butt into organized submission.

The end.

Merry Christmas!!

Jane Pin It

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Our Favorite Christmas Treats

Originally posted November 20, 2013.

Just because we're waiting until the week before Christmas to bake, doesn't mean you are.  You all are much more disciplined about not sneaking them from the freezer or gobbling up half a dozen while they're still warm, right?  Not that there's anything wrong with that.  Of course.

In the event you're already baking or will be baking soon, I wanted to offer up our favorites.  If you've been around here for awhile, you'll see that our list hasn't changed much.  That's because these are the cream of the crop, in my opinion, and improving on the list would be tough.  That said, I'd love to hear what your favorite Christmas cookie is.  Would you tell me?  Please, please, please?

Almost all of these recipes below can also be found here.

First off- Lemon Bars. Oh, how I love them.  My infatuation began in our college cafeteria where I ate them for the first time.  Imagine how I now enjoy these in contrast with the albeit tasty cafeteria version (they actually baked them there, I believe).

Next, we have my mother-in-law's Caramel Popcorn.  Hers is the best I've ever had- well-coated, not grainy, just melt-in-your-mouth heavenly.

These Chewy Chocolate Gingerbread Cookies are my favorite cookie in the world and I'm not exaggerating.  I could eat them every day at every meal.  Boldly spiced and chocolaty, they are divine.

Ahhhh.  These are my mother's Chocolate Mint Brownies.  You can add green food coloring to the mint layer to make them more festive, but I like leaving them pure white so your unsuspecting company is wowed by the flavor punch.

Such a classic- Peanut Blossoms.  These were my favorite growing up.  I'd always eat the peanut butter cookie around the kiss, saving the chocolate for my last bite.  Hmm.  Come to think of it, that's exactly what I still do:-).

This Gingerbread Cookie recipe came from my mom.  She use to pipe white icing on her gingerbread men, giving them faces and little pants, shirts and shoes.  Several years ago, I decided to decorate them by dipping them in melted chocolate and then let the kids decorate with sprinkles.  As you may have noticed above, I love the chocolate-gingerbread combination, so these are my second favorite cookie.  And I can still give the illusion of little pants, shoes and hats.

Do you know about Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies?  Well, I am happy to introduce you.  The bark can totally stand alone as a treat (or sweet gift wrapped in a cellophane bag), but add them to chocolate cookies?  Be still my beating heart.

In the back of Beth Morre's Bible study book on Esther comes this recipe for Haman's Ears.  Soft, sweet cookie is wrapped around your choice of filling- we use apple butter and different flavors of jam.  Not only are they delicious, but they remind our family of the way God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

Lastly, Homemade Marshmallows.  If you've never tried these, you really must.  They are surprising easy to make and taste so much better than the store bought variety.  And!  Your kids will love dropping one big giant marshmallow into their hot chocolate instead of those of itty-bitty ones.

Happy baking, loves!
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