Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The 12 (Or So) Photos Of 2014 {link up}

I decided to hop on the bandwagon of top photos from the past year with House Unseen. It's always fun to look back at the year and remember certain things or be reminded of those forgotten moments.
2014 was a year of growth, sadness, trust, and blessing. Clicking through the photos of the year reminded me once again of the growth of my children in the span of a year. It also showed the beauty of family, the tenderness of loss, and the joy of friends of the heart.

Let's get started.

January:   Winter days, hazy days, nothing but inside days. This is when we rely on the craziness of toddlerhood to keep us laughing and grace to keep us going.

February:  When baby turns two, but still has a paci and it's the cutest thing ever. We got out a bit more, but winter threatened to rob us of our sanity.

March:  The hope of spring was in the air and the journey through lent kept us looking on toward a new season. Our parish held the annual Winter Carnival and the Olaf pinata is still one of my favorite memories from the year. 

April:  Easter arrived and the air was fresh and crisp. I remember it vividly, as if it were my first spring. It felt glorious! When my heart kept nudging me to visit my grandma on her birthday, I followed its command. It was the last time my kids saw great grandma and I saw her happy. It was a good day and I'll treasure that visit in my heart always.

May:  We continued on with our steady school days. It also began a season of field trips and family day trips enjoying the great outdoors. So too began the days of short sleeves, flip flops, and silly girls.  

June:  One event that clouded the year was the loss of grandma, just six months after grandpa. This photo is most of my memory of that day. As in life, so in death, she was surrounded by people and it was beautiful. 

July: The kids were making their final preparations for the County Fair while we were taking in our summer days. We again hosted Vocations Camp, enjoyed some time with grandpa and grandma, and decided to begin the adventure of raising chickens. 

August:  The days were warm and the garden continued to be bountiful. A visit with friends proved to be just what I needed. Many days were spent out and about as a family enjoying life and I finished a 5K walk/run with my big kids. 

September:  School was in full swing and the weekends were for adventure. Lily celebrated her birthday by getting her ears pierced, we took in the fall colors, and enjoyed a few days away

October:  I took my first solo airplane ride and lived to tell the tale. On the other side I met up with two amazing friends and had one of the most memorable trips ever. That weekend was one of my favorite memories from 2014. 

November:  Winter began with a big snow dump when I was least prepared. The snow gear was pulled out and we began settling in to another season. More days at home, but with holidays on the horizon we had the fun to look forward to.  

December:  My favorite season (Advent) was upon us and the days were marked with prayer, baking, memories, and traditions. A laid back, peaceful Christmas was just as it should be and our bellies were full and hearts content. 

Here's to looking ahead to 2015 and the days that will shape the new year.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

Wishes for a blessed Christmas season for you and your family, 

From our family...

And the angelic children at 1:20 AM....

Plus the crazy couple who raises these beauties...

I'll be back with more once the celebrating and eating is all wrapped up. 

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Final Days

I wish all days of winter or at least all the days leading up to Christmas looked like this:

That's my vision of the beauty I wish Advent had held. Sure, it really did on a good portion of the days. With the right mix of prayer, reflection, steady days, and family time, the past weeks have been good ones. While those proportions weren't evenly divided, we did our best to make our Advent the preparation time. 

The pink week gave us extra feelings of Advent preparing as we headed out of the house to enjoy the season. 

The girls were pumped.

Our more recent annual tradition of taking the kids to experience a local Live Nativity, was a hit once again. We bundled up and headed into the 20 degree weather to see the camels, goats, donkey, and of course those dressed up in costume. It's simple, but it has also become one of our favorite evenings each year. It is usually the week before Christmas and fills us up and puts us in the right spirit. We also take in some great Christmas light displays along the drive as well. 

The following evening, we again headed out (mark your calendars, that's two nights in.a.row out of the house!) and attended the kids' piano recital. 

Another job well done by both of the them and another excellent way to get in the Christmas spirit. 

They are growing up, don't you think? 

The weekend proved to be a fruitful one without much on the agenda. I have most all of the loose ends tied up at home, so I could help Reed with some of his baking and we could make our holiday meal plans. My parents came to visit and we enjoyed a couple of meals with them and a peaceful evening watching a movie together. 

Sunday after Mass we had one of my aunts and a cousin over to our house for a baking afternoon. In honor of my grandma's love of baking and having family gathered around her, I decided to extend the hospitality that she always shared with so many people. We had a great time reminiscing and remembering my grandparents, laughing, and making cutout cookies using my grandma's recipe. 

Perhaps this will be the beginning of a new Advent tradition?

As the weekend came to a close, our priest's homily theme echoed in my mind....

There is still time: Prepare!

With the final countdown to Christmas ahead of us, let us not forget all that has led us to that Holy Night.

My hope is that my family can put our feet up, rest, and enjoy each and every day this week.

And keep on smiling.

I hope that you can do the same and enjoy each precious moment with your family too. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Drink, Smell, And Be Well

Every once in a while a random thought triggers a blog post and then hours/days pass by and it goes unwritten. Gone are those days of wonderfully inspired, thoughtful posts. I guess it's just the season of streamed (un)consciousness I am in these days.

I'll just roll along with the few free minutes I have and go with it. We're wrapped up in this beautiful, wonderfully good season of Advent (my favorite) and I'm trying my best to take in what I can.

Let's just call these my current top 5 things that have rocked my December. Ready?

Sure, call me living-under-a-rock. Or call me a Minnesotan who hasn't a Dunkin' Donuts near her. My trip out east in October brought about a great enlightenment to the wonder that is Dunkin' Donuts. It may not be Starbucks, but to this hometown gal it's a step up from my el-cheapo coffee and my tastebuds are in heaven. It has become my 'splurge' item of which I delight in a cup both morning and afternoon. Add in my flavored creamer of the week and it brightens my day. What can I say? I'm easy to please.

Another enticing drink that found its way to my home last weekend was the Apple-Ahhh-Rita. Have you tried these little treats yet? I had found the Straw-Ber-Rita late summer and not being a beer drinker, but a fan of margaritas, I gave it a try. Oddly, I liked it. I see that the apple variety is a fall limited edition, but it's still in my local store. I also see they have a Mango and Raz (among other flavors) that I may need to taste test in order to choose my favorite. (Patty, I highly suggest heading to your nearest wet county and trying these)

Let's talk winter, shall we? With the onset of dry winter air and being indoors most of the time with the furnace running, we've entered dry skin season. Being that I have sensitive skin, I am especially prone to notice these changes. Literally, in the span of a day my facial skin suddenly dried out like crazy dry. I searched online for something that would quench my parched skin, but being that I also have oily skin I had to be picky on what to try. I found several recommendations for Nivea Creme on your face at nighttime. I found it at our local Walmart and decided to try it out. I'm happy I did! I slather it on after my nighttime face washing and it makes my face ready for the morning without making it overly greasy. I was fearful at first since it appears oily on the skin after application, but after working all night it's completely fine.

I even tried it on the cracked heels of my feet (I am almost always barefoot) and saw great improvement just over a few days.

What would winter be without cold and flu germs swirling about? I was convinced this fall that we were not going to fall stricken with any of those nasty germs this year. 2014 started out with nearly a month of colds/hacking coughs that wouldn't go away and I wasn't about to revisit that. I decided to stock my natural arsenal survival kit with essential oils to use topically as well as in our Fan Fuser diffusers. While we did just suffer through two weeks of that same early 2014 crud (might as well finish the year the way we started), the oils did help us to some degree. I think that being more on top of these things with consistent use will help build up our immunity. I found a bunch of the oils online at Amazon for a good price. I have been looking up their uses when symptoms pop up and the diffusers are mainly used at night in the bedrooms. Eight hours of natural oils should help build up that immunity and push aside at least some of those germs. I also found that I must be going through sinus issues and eucalyptus has become my new friend. A drop of it on rubbed around the edges of my nostrils a couple times a day and at bedtime has worked wonders for me.

Lastly, a wonderful smelly feel good scent in my kitchen, aside from the Christmas baking. Last Christmas I received a wax melt plug in and it has been one of my favorite gifts. Ever. I enjoy changing the scents and trying warm, homey smells all year 'round. I generally get the inexpensive ones that fill shelves at Walmart. Last week in the holiday section I had a hard time choosing just the right blends of holiday scents. I threw the Sparkling Berry Garland one in the cart and hoped it was a goody. It's definitely a keeper. With the right mix of evergreen and berry, it is my new seasonal favorite. I also see that it's a Limited Edition for 2014 so it seems I will need to stock up for future use. 

I hope that your Advent has been a peaceful one and you are enjoying this season of preparing our King.  May you find many ways to Rejoice this week.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tugging Heartstrings

I remember well the phone call. I remember the sadness that clung to my heart. I remember the months when I could not blog here because I just simply couldn't. I lost the longing for the familiar connections and felt there were no words to be said.

While the days, weeks and months passed, a hidden part of me was paralyzed and found settling in difficult. A "normal" that didn't include a member of my family who had always been there was simply difficult to comprehend.

Caught off guard and unprepared to lose my grandpa, that December day and that phone call still echo in my head.The movements of the following days in which the the family who gathered to say goodbye were mixed with familiar hometown faces.

One year later, my thoughts turn to fond memories and many stories I heard through the years. I still hear his voice and see his every movement from my last visit with him just a few weeks prior. His bushy eyebrows, his hardworking, but softened hands, the way he looked at grandma and his hearty laugh.

Not surprisingly, just six month later, grandma joined him. As in life, so too in death, their souls longed to be together.

This Advent, I am comforted by the hope that they are together in heaven. I am consoled by the peace that I pray their eternity brings.

And yet, there is the finality that the sight of dates on a gravestone brings.

The bittersweet parts of our hope and our faith that touch our heartstrings a little more deeply on days such as this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Beginning December And Advent {Daybook}

Outside My Window...

There's a breeze outside and it's 14 degrees. The morning stillness in winter before the sunrise is a starkness I never get used to.

Thankful For...

The Thanksgiving weekend and lots of family time with my parents and brother's family.

Being healthy so that I can tend to the kids under my roof who are under the weather.

Thinking About...

This from our pastor's corner in this week's bulletin:

"Quite often, the hectic pace of the season becomes more of a passing blur rather than an entered preparation. The sadness is that when we miss the preparation, the moment we await is less fruitful. When we miss out on recognizing the journey, the meaning of the destination is diminished."

I am Hearing...

The usual morning chatter of children with the occasional outburst of crankiness. It seems many of them are not a morning people.


The St. Andrew Christmas Novena for a number of intentions, but especially for my SIL and my baby nephew that will arrive in spring.

For my mom on her 60th birthday today.

What I'm Reading...

Before my trip back in October, I stumbled upon a series of books I had read from in the past. I was delighted to find that the Tales from Grace Chapel Inn series has numerous books and authors that keep alive the stores from Grace Chapel Inn. These light reads are perfect for me right now when I have few moments to read, but I can make great progress each day. I am enjoying the tales from Acorn Hill and the lives of the Howard sisters as they run the local Bed & Breakfast. I was especially delighted when I just found out there are just under 50 books in this series.

What We've Been Up To...

The off-and-on approach to potty training yet another stubborn, reluctant trainer.

Twelve of our chickens met their destiny (aka our freezer) on Black Friday. Thanks to my brother's help, I could stay uninvolved and he and Reed took care of business.

Christmas shopping, mostly of the online variety, means many packages greeting me at my door. Seriously, what did people do before the internet?! Thankfully, the bulk of my shopping is complete and I'm eager to start wrapping.

Celebrating Thanksgiving and my mom's 60th birthday last weekend with my family. It was a lot of fun spending some rare time together for two whole days!

Preparing for Advent at home and at church. That means more hours spent with small parish projects as part of my job and constantly planning ahead during this liturgical season.

Lily and I enjoyed a girls afternoon and attended the ballet of Sleeping Beauty. It was Lily's first ballet and only my second. We agreed that it was an enjoyable afternoon out of the house.

Jonah has officially graduated from Speech services at the public school. It was a day to celebrate after just over one school year of weekly sessions. Both his teacher and I agreed that he had made great progress and had achieved all of his speech goals. Hooray!

From the Kitchen...

Not much after the Thanksgiving feast and weekend of irregular eating schedule. I really need to get back to a menu plan. I hope to warm the oven and my home soon with yummy Christmas cookie baking with the kids.

From the Schoolroom...

The students will keep plugging away on their usual schoolwork while I try to keep the little girls entertained with projects. Gianna especially seems to enjoy busyness and "projects" to do while the kids are schooling. I am working on compiling some easy Advent/Christmas projects, coloring sheets and worksheets for the coming weeks. I just found a bunch of preschool goodies over at first-school yesterday and I'll seek out a few more today. These will all go well with the stack of Christmas books I recently snatched up at the library.

Around the House...

There's still Thankful decor, lots of turkeys and pilgrims on the scene. I'm looking forward to Christmas decorating and changing a few things this upcoming weekend.

On Tap for this Week...

Getting a couple kiddos healthy again.

Piano lessons tomorrow, plus a few errands and Christmas shopping for a few of Reed's gifts.

A three evening mini-mission at our parishes focused on Mary, that includes confessions on Thursday evening. I hope to attend at least a couple sessions and settle into Advent with prayer and quiet.

Picture to Share...

**I'm sharing more photos via Instagram these days. If you don't see me much here, I am over there and joining the HolyLens project this Advent. Click on the icon at the top of my sidebar to find me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Real People Behind A Blog: Meet The Martins

I've talked about it enough, you know, THE TRIP. I know you've been waiting.

Colleen is the best and has already posted her version. Really, hop over there. Her version is probably way better and thorough and well, she just writes better than I.

What happened when I arrived back home was that my computer crashed while I was away and hubby had gone out and bought a new one. Problem is, I'm not good with change and there's a learning curve to this Windows 8 thing.

The other thing that happened was that I haven't felt 100% since the day after I arrived home. Suffering and pushing through homeschooling, back to home life, Halloween, and 40 hrs devotion/adoration/All Saints/All Souls day things with my church job last weekend was my goal. Then Monday hit and I wasn't any better. A quick trip to my doctor friend (truly, she's the best) got me meds for sinus issues. It still took almost two days to get out of the clouds and back to daily living.

Which, by the way brings new meaning to these photos I took while on the plane to Colleen:

Let's get started, shall we?

I wish I could explain Colleen in words that could even do her justice. I can't. All I can say is that sometimes in blogging you run across some really amazing people. Actually, lots of times you do. 
There are those bloggers that for one reason or another you cling to, gravitate toward, and suddenly they become real. One day you take the leap and assume they are not serial killers or wackos and give them your address and eventually your cell number and you begin texting. 

You talk about them like they are the bees knees and you've been forever friends. Then you realize that's a little weird to all your friends and family IRL and talk about them a little less. The bond is there though and that place in your heart is forever written with their name on it. 

Nearly seven years ago, God blessed me with stumbling upon the Martin Family Moments. Over time Colleen became a role model in so many ways to me. I was in awe of her family, her amazing husband, her growing family through her self proclaimed 'super fertility', her faith, how she worked full time and mothered so well, her genuine awesomeness that could not be explained, and the sweetness she exuded.

In time, she also became my prayer partner, cheerleader and personal trainer. She inspired me to be more physically active and make working out a priority, including taking up slow granny running. I knew she was a real person and I knew that if God ever saw a way for us to meet, I'd take it.

Last year I began entertaining the idea of a visit to casa Martin. I waited too long and the cost of flight tickets jumped, which only fed my fearful self and therefore I pushed the trip to the back burner. This past Summer I began watching flights after I had saved my pennies and Reed had encouraged me to take the trip. One day I leaped and bought the ticket.

I'm so glad I did.

In the midst of our back and forth text conversations prior to my trip, Colleen kept asking what I wanted to do. Even when I was there, she'd ask. I truly didn't know. My one and only expectation and thing I really wanted to do was to meet her, hang out with her and the Martin crew. That was it. In my mind anything additional was just fun stuff to do with her. 

The only other two things I also wanted to do was meet up with Marijanna (this trip was also about being a two-fer and getting to meet another blogger whom I met through Colleen online) and her sweet babies, along with seeing the ocean. 

Being that I'm so behind with getting this post up, I'll make a feeble effort to recount just parts of my trip. There's just too much to share all of it (again, Colleen did a great job with her post and you can read more there). I've picked out a number of photos to share with you all so hopefully you'll enjoy those too.

It was smooth sailing on the airplane, I survived security checks, a layover in Detroit and then my final landing in Providence, Rhode Island. Much to my delight, just outside of baggage claim my eyes finally caught sight of the real, in person Colleen. 

That moment began the fun and the surreal experience of a weekend with the Martins. 

After a short evening getting to meet the Martins and finding my place, I hit bed fairly early. I had been up since 3:30 am to make the drive to the airport, plus the full day of traveling was tiring. 

I think I was exhausted every night when I went to bed during my visit. It somehow seems that traveling and having fun all day is more tiring than being a mom on my feet all day. Or maybe the Martins are just crazy fun people who really know how to entertain their guests.

The next morning I was quick to learn that Colleen had indeed done her planning. Most everything we did over the weekend she'd reply with "I've got a Groupon for that" or "I have a gift card." She's thrifty that Ms. Martin.

We hopped on the bus that first morning and headed to Boston for most of the day. I enjoyed the BIG city and sights I hadn't ever before beheld. 

Everything from arriving at South Station, to the trolley ride with the driver with the killer Boston accent, pizza lunch at a little spot in 'Little Italy' and walking the freedom trail together.

There is so much history in that city. I only wish I was better at historical facts and remembered things. Reed (a history major) would totally love Boston!

I loved that we could take the trolley tour and then venture out on our own two feet to take in more of the sights. Good exercise (to make up for all the yummy eats and treats during my visit) and good conversation with a good friend.

We hit the shops at Feneuil Hall, walked in Copp's Hill and saw the Old North Church.

Along the way as we were walking, there suddenly was a courtyard with beautiful greens and old statues outside a Catholic church. You know me, I had to stop for photographs. 
It was beautiful and so serene. 

The other major point of interest that we simply had to stop at (per Phil's request that we bring home cannolis) was Mike's Pastry


I only took a photo of one small section of the goods. There was a huge display counter filled with this stuff and people galore. Busy place. 
Being ever the tourist, I chose an authentic Boston Cream Puff which I ate later that evening. Of course by that point we clearly deserved the treat after all of that walking earlier. 

The next day was my birthday and the Martins were bound to help me celebrate. The four oldest were off to soccer in the morning, but they took the time to capture a photo with the birthday gal.

I know, really, how cute are the kids??!! The weekend really made me appreciate even more large families and also the value of a really good husband. Phil is amazing and like my husband, of a genuine and generous variety. Phil and Reed were the untold heroes of our visiting weekend and surely earned some extra merits in heaven. I cannot even tell you. 

You know what? Being with these great kids all weekend also made me totally get why Phil and Colleen keep having them. They are really good at what they do and are raising some amazing kids. Each has their own personality and place within the family and it was so fun watching that. Again, so well displayed on the blog but equally evident in person. 

We were then off with Xander and Declan to visit Marijanna. You know her, right? If not, you must. 
Kid you not, God bless that woman. She has Ava who is 3 and Clara who is like 20 months.

And then she has those twin babies in that belly right there. She's a saint. Those babies are like full term, 7 lb each boy and girl. Yes, she's still up and walking around with them like a real person. 

Even crazier, in the midst of that her husband works crazy hours and she manages to be a really great mom. Again, I learned so much from her even in our short visits during my weekend. 

Marijanna is a chatty woman, has an opinion, smiles a ton and really is just the cutest. She's even taller than me, which says something because apparently I'm "tall" (5'9"). She embraces her faith and the gift of her vocation so beautifully that I couldn't help but be encouraged.

Her girls, her girls, are really like the sweetest things ever. I cannot even say how darling they are in person. 

As you can see, Ava and Xander had a little breakfast date while we visited.

Afterward, we rounded up the Martin troops and headed to a pumpkin patch/corn maze/hayride place. Declan was my van mate during my visit. If I could have rationalized it and it were legal, I probably would've smuggled him home. 

He helped with my baby fix. So precious and like the happiest baby you've ever seen. EVER. 

That evening we headed to Mass, Colleen and I hit a local store to get small tokens of love for my kiddos, and we grabbed Five Guys for supper (or dinner which is what they call it). Having never been to Five Guys and to top off another great day, it was the perfect ending for my (29 and holding) birthday.

Sunday was my last full day with the Martins and we had plans.

I was going to finally run an entire 5K without wimping out or walking. Yes I was! And I did.

WE did. I was able to do my first "official" 5K from start to finish with my Best Bloggy Friend. For years this was my goal, to one day exercise with Colleen. I was excited (but tried not to show it) and nervous. Thankfully, Colleen made me feel like I was actually running, encouraged me all the way, and kept up a good course of conversation to keep my mind busy. 

I wasn't the fastest runner ever, but as Colleen chided it was about finishing the race 

In the afternoon we headed to lunch with Marijanna at a local restaurant. Another excellent round of food (local haddock with a pesto cream sauce served with rice and veggies that pretty much made Colleen display a serious case of plate envy) and great friends with enjoyable conversation. 

Sadly, after that it was time to say good-bye to Miss Marijanna and the babies. While for their sake I'm glad they were still inside growing, there is a little disappointment that I didn't get to meet them in person. Perhaps one day. 

Afterward, we picked up two of the boys from altar server training and headed home. We had decided that we'd go to do one more touristy thing that afternoon and chose the Cape.

For fun, Miss Maggie joined us that afternoon. I really enjoyed the one on one time with her because she is so sweet and obviously I kind of understand girls. The other reason is that I've kind of been a big Team Maggie fan for all these years. She stole my heart early on and as she stands alone in that house full of boys, I find her even more endearing. Sweetheart.

Off to the Cape we drove, hitting up the beach where the Martins go in the summer, seeing the ocean once again, checking out the amazing houses along the way, and walking along the Cape canal.

Pretty awesome.

Colleen even drove across the bridge to Cape Cod, drove around the rotary (Minnesotans, think large roundabout) twice for me to get photos and we headed back over the bridge. At least I can say I was technically to Cape Cod.

Before heading home, Colleen took my past some more beach houses on the way to this lighthouse. I know, stereotypical, but I wanted to see a lighthouse while out East. And we did. 

That evening the Martins had two priests over for supper and they were a hoot! I can see why Phil and Colleen have included them as Godfathers for two of their children and why they fit so well with their family. So much fun! They made me think of a couple of our priest friends who joke and feed off of one another the exact same way.

Best and most hilarious part of the evening was when the conversation came to how Colleen and I knew one another. We'd discussed this several times during my visit and how awkward we felt when we tried to explain our oddity of a relationship to other people prior to my visit.  Everyone was like, so you're friends but you've never met? You only know each other online? 

So, when this point came up that evening, we looked at one another and giggled, neither of us speaking a word. Phil was totally reveling in it and was so gonna make us admit to two priests that essentially we were 'strangers'. I think the priests said random things that perhaps made us connected and we answered 'no' to each one.
Looking at one another confused, Fr. Dave's eyes suddenly shot open as he shouted (in an accent, of course) "FROM THE BLOG!!??" I almost died laughing and still do every time I replay it in my head.

Yes, we were two dear souls who met on a little obscure place called a blog. That little place became a bigger place where we shared our lives, our families, our joys and sorrows, our struggles, our realities. Those little blogs formed a safe place for a friendship to blossom and grow. 

I am so glad that God put us both in those little places so that we could meet.

Since my return home a couple of people have asked if Colleen was what I thought she'd be. I wholeheartedly reply with "YES!" She turned out to be the wonderful woman portrayed on her blog. A unique, golden hearted woman, wife, mom, and friend who is definitely changing the world one diaper at a time. 

I promise, she really is. 

I am honored to call her friend, to have shared life in her shoes for a few days, to have conversed in person, and to have hugged her. 

I truly hope that each of you who longs to meet some of those computer friends of the heart, one day that you do. It is like a balm to the soul and a completeness that God gifted me with being able to experience.

Don't forget to read Colleen's post because hearing both sides of the story is always good. If you haven't already read over there or met Colleen, you really should. You'll soon see why she became my Bestie and how she blessed my life from over 1,000 miles away for all these years.

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