Monday, March 31, 2014

#HolyLens Week 5 Prompts

Greetings, Intrepid Lenten Photographers!

I hope you are enjoying the prompts so far and are having fun finding the sacred in the mundane with your cameras. It's hard to believe we're already on week five...but here are the prompts. This list begins on Wednesday of this week:

Don't forget to share the's not too late to join in the project.

Blessings on your week!

Lenten Meal Plan Linkup, Week #5: Rosti (Cheesy Potatoes)

It's hard to believe that Lent is more than halfway over. We're continuing the linkup for meatless meal ideas at Beth Anne's Best and Two O's Plus More and on the Meatless Meals Pinterest board.  If you have a favorite meatless recipe, we would love to add it to the collection. You can link it up as part of the collection at Beth Anne's Best or send it to one of us to add to the Pinterest board.

Today, I'm sharing a recipe that's become a family favorite because it is so quick and easy (and because it is kid-friendly in pretty much every way I can think of). The inspiration for this recipe came from one of my favorite cookbooks, Simply in Season, which focuses on using foods that are in season locally in your cooking. Since potatoes are a winter food, and since this recipe is so warm and hearty, we often eat it in cold weather (though its simplicity and speed makes it popular in our home year-round).

Technically, rösti does not have to contain cheese. It's really just the Swiss name for a dish of shredded potatoes that can be eaten at breakfast or as a side at another meal. It originated in the German part of Switzerland in the Canton of Bern (and, funnily enough, the dividing line between the German and French-speaking parts of Switzerland is called the Röstigraben, or "rösti ditch.")

What you'll need:
  • 4 Tablespoons of butter
  • Baking potatoes, about 3, shredded (about 4 cups total when shredded)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/2 onion, minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 1 1/2 cups of shredded cheese (we like cheddar, feta, or another cheese with a strong flavor)
Peel the potatoes if you want. (We don't.) 

What you'll do:
  • Melt butter in a large frying pan. Add garlic and onion and sauté about 4 minutes until onions are translucent. Add salt.
  • Add potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are slightly browned.
  • Press potatoes firmly into bottom of frying pan (like a big potato disc). Cook 1-2 minutes to brown the bottom, then flip over to brown other side.
  • Top potatoes with cheese and cover frying pan with lid to melt the cheese.
  • When cheese is melted, cut disc into wedges and serve.
We serve our rösti with sour cream, green onions if we have them on hand, and salt and pepper to taste. We have also served it with salsa on the side. Other variations include adding apples, peppers and even ham or bacon to the potatoes while they are cooking. You can be creative.

Enjoy- and be sure to share your ideas for meatless meals with us.

This post contains an Amazon affiliate link, which means if you click through and end up buying something from Amazon, your purchase helps support Surviving Our Blessings. Thanks!


Friday, March 28, 2014

Five-Minute Friday: Mighty

It's Friday again, and I'm taking the opportunity to write for five minutes in response to a one-word prompt. The goal isn't perfection or wisdom or perspective. The goal is just to celebrate the process of tossing words into the air and letting them fall where they may (without being too picky about how they land).

Today's prompt: Mighty.

Somehow, the superhero cape makes you look even sweeter (which I know isn't what you're going for, you with your Captain America doll clutched in your hand, flying around the room defending all that is good and right and defeating the powers of darkness). Whenever you put it on, I want to scoop you up and smell your hair and cover your head with kisses.

At night, when the real darkness comes and you fight back by leaving on all your lights, even the superhero cape can't keep your anxiety at bay. We talk in soft tones about the Worry Monster and the biology of fight or flight and your brain's production of melatonin and assure ourselves that there aren't really any saber-toothed tigers roaming the earth anymore. Extinction is permanent, you say with conviction, but your eyes look a little unsure.

Even superheroes can't guarantee there won't be nightmares.

I'm awash, sometimes- completely unsure myself. Are we doing the right things? How can we help you? And what will you remember- the times I sat down and talked calmly with you about your fears, or the times I snapped and lost my temper and said, "for the love of everything good and holy, would you please just go to bed already?"

I might be bigger than you are, but I can't force you to sleep...and I can't chase away the bad guys and random faces and shadows that seem to creep out of the corners of your room as the sun goes down.

But the God I serve (the one who is mighty to save) is bigger than me- bigger than my impatience, my weakness and my worry. He's bigger than you- bigger than your biggest, meanest fear. His power dwarfs all the bad guys and all the evil in the universe.

Lucky for both of us, he's not too big to come sit by your bed and watch over you while you sleep...and that's exactly what I'm asking of him.

For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Lisa Jo Baker's blog.

Five Minute Friday

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Vikings before Sunrise: Differences in tempo and project-based homeschooling

"I want to learn about Erik the Red. And build a life-size Viking ship out of cardboard boxes and put a dragon head on the front. And craft weapons out of cardboard and cover the shiny parts with foil so they look real. And be Viking invaders with my sisters and make a movie of ourselves doing that. Let's do THAT."

This conversation began SuperSam's second semester of kindergarten in our homeschool.

I thought it would be helpful to ask him about his goals for the rest of this year.
It was a good idea.
Otherwise, I would not have had any idea that he wanted to study Vikings.

I think it all started with a book about the Middle Ages we gave him for Christmas. He loves reading it during quiet rest time, curled up under his loft bed as if in a little cave. He loves for George to read him sections of it before bed, making silly sound effects for the sword battles and jousting matches.

The book has some information about Vikings...just enough to make him really curious about them.

Sam checked out some books from our local library and read through them, renewing them several times, but then his interests shifted to other things. He read fiction for a while and dabbled in the Olympics.

Then, he saw a book about Vikings on our trip to the Green Valley Book Fair yesterday. He read it all the way home. This morning, before the sun was all the way up, he was in my room with plans to build a Viking longship for his Playmobil guys.

When he is ready to start something, he is already halfway done.

I like to plan, to make lists, to sketch, to write drafts.
He likes to try things NOW and see what happens. He didn't even want to wait for breakfast.
I know I'm no good to him before breakfast, especially not before coffee, so I asked him to gather materials. He waved the perfect piece of cardboard in my face, already clutched in his hand...a long, flexible strip from a dish box that I had saved in case he needed it.

He was beyond ready to build.

I cut some lengths of duct tape to his specifications and went to get dressed.

He interrupted me three times with new ideas, design changes, and requests for more tape. He decided to use a toilet paper tube as the "throat" for his dragon head on the ship's bow "so the people can be eaten by the dragon and go in through his mouth and fall into the ship."
Playmobil Guy disappears into the dragon's throat.

I was amazed by how far his skills had come since he built the Roman aqueducts from similar materials last year. Having gained experience with construction and tape and cardboard, he already knew how things would fit together best, and he really needed very little help to construct the ship to match his vision. I just cut tape for him. Once, he asked me to brace the bow with my hand while he taped it into place. The ship was coming together beautifully, and I was so impressed.

This is the beauty of project-based learning. By working with things and manipulating them himself, by making and learning from his own mistakes, Sam has figured out what works for him. How much better is that than if I had told him, "That's not going to work; do it this way instead"? If the goal of education is to help people learn to think and to make them independent (and hopefully passionate about what they are learning), this method seems like a no-brainer to me. Sometimes, it's hard to keep my mouth shut when I can see that something isn't going to work the way he wants it to...but because I kept my mouth shut all those other times, today he didn't even need me to say anything. He hardly needed me at all!

He ran off to the bathroom to do some flotation tests with scrap cardboard, having decided he wanted to sail the boat in the bathtub by pointing a fan at it. A couple of minutes passed. He came running out and asked to listen to "Viking music."

The only thing I could think of was Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries. He is already familiar with this music and excitedly declared it would be the perfect soundtrack for his Viking movie. And just like that, he abandoned the ship.

The dead Viking hero, waiting to be picked up by the Valkyrie on a baby's rocking horse. (Sometimes you have to work with what you have on hand.)

He corralled his sisters, insisted I find a video of an orchestra performing the piece, and began explaining the girls' roles as Valkyries. He built horses out of kitchen chairs and stools, brought out blankets and costumes, and started acting out the Valkyries' descent to bring the "dead heroes" back to Odin's castle and the halls of Valhalla.

A cute little girl snuggling a hippo? No, a Valkyrie fetching the dead Norse heroes from the battlefield.

Apparently, it is all in the book he got yesterday.

At some point, discontent with the Berlin Philharmonic, he asked me how to spell Valkyries so he could google it himself. Pulling up a video of Wagner's full Ring Cycle, he parked himself in front of it for the next hour and read the English subtitles aloud, directing the girls at how to play the parts. (The link is to the beginning of Act 3 of the Metropolitan Opera performance with James Levine- it's worth watching the first few minutes to see the Valkyries slide down onto the stage and sing together - all 8 of them!)

Sam was distressed that we didn't have enough actors for all the parts, so he pressed some large stuffed animals into service.

A Valkyrie wraps up the bones of a dead Viking warrior sock monkey.

The speed of it all almost made me dizzy.

By lunch time, he was planning a movie shoot and storyboarding the scenes on an easel. He didn't want to stop to eat or take a nap, but I was exhausted just from watching him.

What I'm striving to remember is that our differences in pace are just that- differences. He has a plan for his work and a preferred working speed at which he'd like to execute that plan. My need for coffee and my hesitations and questions about drafts and sketches aren't helpful to him when his idea is already burning a hole in his brain. He needs to try it. NOW. Really, ten minutes ago would have probably suited him better.

One of the big advantages of doing school at home is that he can work at his own pace. He doesn't have to sit and wait until "it's time" for everything. His internal clock has him up before the sun, and he does some of his best work in that time before everyone else is up and moving around.

I think eventually (as he continues to need less help with tasks and has a better understanding of the adults' need for sleep in the predawn hours), this won't be an obstacle for us as a homeschooling family. Right now, I sometimes feel like throwing something at him when I hear him rattling the doorknob first thing in the morning. It means he's about to burst into the room with a fully formed idea and start asking me to cut tape and get out dowel rods and plug in the hot glue gun.

It's amazing to watch him work, even if I can't quite understand the need for such a frantic pace. I can completely understand the frustration of not being allowed to work when you're ready just because someone else isn't ready.

I don't want to be the one in the way of his process, so I'm doing what I can to facilitate it (starting by giving him access to as many materials as possible in his own space).

As I finished eating lunch and prepared to clean up and get the kids ready for nap, Sam (long finished with his food) was back in his workspace, tinkering with the ship again and humming Ride of the Valkyries. Nora was asking to get down and had stacked her dishes neatly on the side of her tray. And Lucy was still eating, very slowly working her way through her rice cake, deliberately dipping each bite into her applesauce. She grinned at me, her face completely smeared with peanut butter, and said, "I'm not nearly done yet."

It was a good reminder that as our family and our homeschool grows, we will have more people with different learning styles and different tempos to accommodate.

Good thing I'm up for a challenge.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Lenten Meal Plan Linkup, Week #4: Red Lentil Curry

The season of Lent is rolling along, and I'm enjoying seeing all the great ideas for meatless meals that you all have shared at Beth Anne's Best and Two O's Plus More. Beth Anne and Sarah have also been pinning lots of recipes on the Meatless Meals Pinterest board.  If you have a favorite meatless recipe, we would love to add it to the collection. You can link it up as part of the collection at Beth Anne's Best or send it to one of us to add to the Pinterest board.

This week, I wanted to share one of my favorite meatless recipes for Red Lentil Curry. It takes a bit of chopping, which adds to the prep time, but it cooks all day by itself in the slow cooker and is perfectly ready at dinnertime. I love the way my house smells when this is cooking. We usually just serve it as a stew in bowls with naan (often just the store-bought kind) and find it makes a very hearty meal. It can also be served over rice.

The inspiration for this meal is the Red Lentil Stew recipe in Slow Cooker Revolution. One technique frequently used in this book is microwaving the spices and onions before putting them into the slow cooker. This gives them a chance to start getting acquainted before all the rest of the ingredients go in, and it helps the flavors blend a bit better (so you won't have to wait until the second day's leftovers for the stew to be really good).

This one is delicious on the first day. I promise. It's also thick enough to be toddler-friendly- it stays on the spoon nicely. If you want it to be thinner, you can add water at the end of the cooking time.

What you'll need:
  • 2 medium onions, minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic (or 6 cloves)
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 Tbsp minced ginger (you can grate fresh ginger if you can't find the minced kind)
  • 1/2 tsp each: ground coriander, ground turmeric, ground cumin, ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/8 tsp red pepper
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 can coconut milk (14 oz)
  • 1 pound red lentils (rinsed and sorted)
  • 1 pound carrots, chopped
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 pound plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • minced fresh cilantro, roasted sunflower seeds and plain yogurt for serving (or cooked rice, if you prefer to serve it over rice instead)

    What you'll do:
    • In a medium bowl, microwave onions, garlic, oil, and spices until onions are softened (about five minutes), stirring once or twice to mix things up nicely.
    • Transfer mixture to slow cooker.
    • Add water, coconut milk, lentils, carrots and cauliflower to slow cooker and stir together. Add bay leaves.
    • Cover and cook 6-8 hours on low until lentils are tender. (You can cook on high instead for about 3-5 hours).
    • Stir in the tomatoes and the frozen peas. Turn slow cooker to high until heated through, about 5-10 minutes.
    • Serve topped with a dollop of plain yogurt, roasted sunflower seeds and fresh cilantro.

      Enjoy- and be sure to check out the other recipes at the Meatless Meal Linkup.

      This post contains an Amazon affiliate link - if you click through and end up purchasing the cookbook (or something else), a small percentage of your purchase supports Surviving Our Blessings. Thanks!)

      Sunday, March 23, 2014

      #HolyLens- water on a Sunday afternoon (and prompts for Week 4)

      Happy third Sunday of Lent, everyone!

      I hope you all had great weekends and enjoyed whatever you did. After last week's trials and exhaustion, it was nice to have some time to hang out as a family and rest a bit. I did completely lose it on Saturday morning over some dirty laundry and ended up shouting in the kitchen (breaking my no-yelling streak for the first time since Lent started), but my loving family members forgave me, and the rest of the weekend was lovely. I really enjoyed reading about how Rosie's weekend went, too...she and I have similar kinds of chaos going on a lot of the time, and it's encouraging to know I'm not the only one who can sometimes lose it with my kids.

      This afternoon, I still hadn't taken my picture for #HolyLens, so I put a bowl of water (today's prompt) on the floor and waited to see what would happen.

      Nora found it first.

      She blessed herself.

      Then Sam came over to join the fun.

      Finally, Lucy couldn't resist- she left her work of smacking all the magnetic letters down to make them disappear forever under the bowels of the refrigerator to come check things out.

      Then, it spilled. Dinner was ready by then, anyway- it was probably just as well. My kids love playing with water, and it's always hard for them when they have to stop.

      For you intrepid Lenten photographers, here are the prompts for Week Four (which starts on Wednesday).

      Also, if you are on Spotify and haven't seen the Lent-Inspired Playlist yet, here's a link. (I'm open to suggestions for more music, if you have them).

      Have a blessed week!

      Friday, March 21, 2014

      Five-Minute Friday: Joy

      Five Minute Friday

      It's Five-Minute Friday again...a chance to set the timer for five minutes and write in response to a one-word prompt, just to see what comes, just to let the words run out without over-editing or backtracking. Sometimes it feels like chiseling away rock to see what's underneath. Sometimes, it feels like splattering paint on the wall. Today, it feels kind of like throwing up. This is one of those days when I wish there was a different prompt, but I don't choose them. Here goes:

      When I woke up this morning, I could feel the whole week- the frustrations, the miles traveled, the effort, the two feast days and a pediatric neurologist appointment and an ultrasound and all the accumulated tensions of "we-can't-be-late-for-this" knotted up at the base of my spine, throbbing there. My head throbbed, too, as I sat up and saw the prompt for today.


      When the prompt is Joy, I'm supposed to be able to look past the difficulties and smile. When the prompt is Joy, I should count it all so. When the prompt is Joy, I should sift through the enormous amount of sheer effort it has taken just to arrive at the end of this week in one piece and find the kernel of truth, the peace that passes understanding, the deep, eternal happiness that comes from knowing this isn't all there is.

      Sometimes, though, I don't. I can't. Sometimes, the work of doing it all is too much. When I've said "yes" to too many things and taken us all to too many places and forced myself to hold it together just one more time when I wanted to fall apart, sometimes, I'm overloaded, and I just can't.

      Sometimes, it's just hard.

      However less-than-joy-filled I'm feeling today, what I've done this week and how I've felt about it has to be enough. It's sufficient. There's grace to cover the places I failed.

      Whether I feel joy or not, I take some comfort in knowing it is out there, somewhere. Tomorrow might feel joyful. Maybe Sunday. Or one day next week, when the sun is out and we're playing in the driveway and things are just not as hard as they were this week.

      And even though this week has chewed me up, spit me out, and left me with a headache the size of my backyard, I'm not giving up.

      For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Lisa-Jo Baker (and hey, if you're a writer, why not try it out this week?).

      Tuesday, March 18, 2014

      A Lent-Inspired playlist (and #HolyLens, Week 3 prompts)

      Lent's a real thing. Did you know? Everyone is always excited to break out the Advent and Christmas music during the season. Since this is a holy season, too, and one in which we should be focusing on spiritual things, I think it deserves its own playlist, don't you?

      Although I could listen to the new Lent at Ephesus by the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles on repeat for days on end, not everyone in my household wants to subsist solely on magnificently beautiful, breathtakingly wonderful nun-chant. I get it. So, to change things up a little, I put together an eclectic playlist for Lent. Expect a little bit of a lot of things: some gospel, some folk hymns, some soaring classical chorales, some modern interpretations, and some secular songs that still make us feel Lent-y. We are a people of varied musical tastes, and there's a little something for all of us here.

      (Here is a link to the playlist, in case the player doesn't work for you.)

      Feel free to skip the ones you don't like, and feel free to share the playlist, too. If you feel like sticking to the calming nuns, you can start there and just listen to that part. I tried to group the songs a bit to put like things together. If you really want to live dangerously and mix it up, you can just shuffle the whole thing and see what happens.

      Also, if you've been waiting for the Lent-stagram prompts for this week, here they are:

      I think these are a little more down to earth than last week. I know a few people were feeling kind of stumped on some of the days this past week.

      How are things going for you, Lent-wise? Or otherwise?

      This post contains an Amazon affiliate link. If you click through the link to Amazon and end up buying something, they will give me a few cents in commission. Thanks for your support!

      Monday, March 17, 2014

      Lenten Meal Plan Linkup, Week #3: Easy Spinach and Goat Cheese Pizza

      It's already the third week of Lent, and our collection of meatless meals is growing nicely. If you haven't had a chance yet, be sure to check out the other recipes at Beth Anne's Best and Two O's Plus More. You can find the whole bunch of recipes we have shared so far (plus lots of others!) on the Meatless Meals Pinterest board. We'd love to have you link up your favorites, too.

      Today, I'm sharing a quick and easy recipe that tastes like it took a lot more work than it actually did. I think of it as a shortcut meal because of how easy it is to prepare. It's great for a "date night in" after we have put our kids to bed and want to eat some tasty grownup food. (It works for children, too, if your kids happen to like goat cheese- mine do.)

      I adapted this from a recipe made by Sam Zien on the show Eat This! (You can find the original recipe here.)

      What you'll need:

      • a premade thin pizza crust (or your favorite pizza crust recipe, already made). I usually use a premade crust for this one, because having to make the crust and wait for it to rise kind of defeats the purpose of this recipe for me.
      • baby spinach...about 2/3 cup
      • mushrooms, 1/2 pound, sliced- whatever kind are your favorite. Shitake? Cremini? We like to use the button ones for the kids- they don't have quite as much flavor, though.
      • goat cheese, 1/2 cup (softened)- not the crumbles. 
      • garlic, 2 cloves, minced (1 tsp of the already-minced kind you keep in the refrigerator for shortcuts)
      • olive oil, 2 tsp

      What you'll do:
      • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. In a large saucepan or skillet, saute the garlic and mushrooms in oil until mushrooms are soft.
      • Add the spinach, stirring in until wilted. (The original recipe adds 2 tablespoons of water here and covers the pan until the spinach is wilted. I usually just stir it in a bit at a time until it is all wilted down.)
      • Remove the pan from the heat. Spread the goat cheese evenly over the pizza crust.  Top with the spinach, mushrooms and garlic.
      • Place the pizza crust directly on the oven rack and heat for 10-15 minutes (depending on how crusty you like it).

      Easy as can be- and fast! It will be ready before you manage to get the wine open and poured. (Or almost.)

      Enjoy- and be sure to check out the other recipes at the Meatless Meal Linkup.

      Also, check back tomorrow- I'll be sharing a Lent-inspired music playlist with you (and the prompts for the #HolyLens project, week 3, in case you haven't seen them on Instagram yet). It's not too late to join us.

      Friday, March 14, 2014

      Five-Minute Friday: Crowd

      Considering the way this week has gone, I should probably choose sleeping instead of writing during nap time today. When I skip out on Five-Minute Friday, though, I feel I'm setting the timer for five minutes to see what comes out and then I'm going to take a nap.

      Today's prompt: Crowd

      The average human head is approximately 54 centimeters in circumference. The blessing of genetics and the visible evidence (seen above in the head sizes of some of my children) mean that my head is probably slightly larger than average. Still, there isn't a whole lot of space up there, considering how many things are occupying it at any given time.

      There's the perpetual to-do list, constantly rewriting, regrouping and reprioritizing itself. It has a written form, but the one in my head refuses to quit updating no matter how many things I write on paper. There's a grocery list, too, and a kind of running tally of things I should be keeping an eye out for - things we need around the house, things we'll need for school in the fall, boots and jackets in various sizes that are missing from our clothing lineup.

      There are the running requests from other people. Sam needs a refill on juice and Nora needs a tissue. Lucy has asked to read Curious George as soon as breakfast is over, and George needs me to e-mail him that person's address. My mom wants a call back for an opinion on a gift, and I need to find the wrapping paper box (which I haven't seen since Christmas but I'm pretty sure is in the laundry room).

      The things that take up the most room, though, are the words and phrases that roll around...things I think I should write about, sentences I could rewrite, clever ways I could have worded things that have already been written. Sometimes there are voices from the past, too. You could go pretty much anywhere you wanted for oboe performance, you know. Are you sure you're making the best decision? Why can't you be more lighthearted and lively? God needed another angel...he needed your dad more than you did. I can't believe you're having another baby...don't you know what causes that? Your dad would be so proud of you. This dessert is the best thing you have ever made. I love you as much as thirteen gazillion Jupiters in a row. 

      Not all of it is good. Not all of it is bad. It's just noisy. When I add to it my own I shoulds/I wishes/I coulds, the racket is nearly unbearable.

      How can I quiet all of this down to hear the only still, small voice that matters?

      For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Lisa-Jo Baker's blog.

      Five Minute Friday

      Thursday, March 13, 2014

      What if there isn't a Right Answer?

      (Not really the answer.)

      So...I've been thinking about today's #HolyLens prompt and feeling more pressure than usual. Since Cari and the rest of the Theme Thursday folks are joining in our themes for their Thursday prompts, it feels like more "real photo people" will be looking at this picture than the daily ones we've been putting on Instagram. I'm so excited that Cari joined up with us, but today I feel like it ups the ante a little bit.

      (I'm not sure that makes any sense.)

      Unfortunately, feeling more pressure to take a good photo didn't help me find the time to do it. I never saw just the right thing or had that moment when I went, "Oh! I should do that..." 

      What I did have was a pretty challenging day dealing with the anxiety of the eldest of my offspring.

      I freely admit that he comes by it honestly. Both his parents have had bouts of anxiety at various times. We've definitely struggled, and we can understand where he's coming from...but for all my empathy, I can't figure out how to help him.

      His anxiety takes the form of "What If." What if I have a bad dream about that thing I thought about earlier today? What if I think about a random face appearing and then I get convinced that it will actually appear? What if I forget to sleep at all and when I wake up, I'm really tired? What if the power goes out in the night and my nightlight bulb blows up in the power surge and then I don't have another one to replace it with?

      I want him to feel like I am hearing him. I want him to feel like I care about his worries. I want him to know that his feelings are important to me.

      And sometimes, I just want him to be quiet and give it a rest.

      Right now, he's sleeping with all the lights on every night. That's two nightlights, a closet light, and an overhead ceiling light. There can be no shadows. A few weeks ago, I decided it wasn't worth fighting the battle over the lights. When I made that decision, though, I really thought this would have blown over by now.

      It's gotten worse.

      He is coming out of his room many times every night, sleeping really lightly when he does sleep, having nightmares, and spending the majority of every day grouchy, sleepy and with dark circles under his eyes.

      We go back to the pediatric neurologist soon for our regular 6 month visit, and they might say his growth in the last six months means his medication dosage isn't right any longer. Then we'd have a reason, something we could blame for the sudden worsening in his sleep.

      With his continuing seizure-free status, though, he'll be going off that medication in another six months, anyway.

      Part of me is worried that there isn't a right answer. What if we just have to figure this out? What if we just have to be parents and decide how to balance sensitivity and compassion with firm guidance and boundary-setting?

      I am not posting this so people will tell me to read parenting books, or so people will tell me how we're taking the wrong approach, or so people will pat my head and tell me we're doing a good job.

      I'm posting this because sometimes, being a parent is just hard. It's hard. It's tough to realize that I'm the one in charge and that there's no guidebook. It's humbling to think that I am making a decision based on my experience and my instinct and my knowledge but that it might not be the best decision for my child. It's frightening to arrive at the conclusion that, despite my research, careful consideration, and prayer over the situation, there might not be one right answer.

      Sometimes, we're kind of just fumbling around in the dark and hoping for the best.

      Tonight feels like one of those we're leaving the lights on.

      Monday, March 10, 2014

      Lenten Meal Plan Linkup, Week #2: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Burritos

      Welcome to the second week of the Lenten Meal Plan link-up! I'm joining with Beth Anne of Beth Anne's Best and Sarah O. of Two O's Plus More to help share ideas about what we're eating on the Fridays of Lent. We had many yummy recipes shared last week, and I can't wait to see what you post this week.

      I'm sharing another recipe today that is a family favorite.

      This is a simple, filling dish that I first had at a friend's house a few years ago. The combination of ingredients was new to me, but everyone in my family loved it. I adapted a few things to suit our taste and will share our recipe with you now.

      What you'll need:

      2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut up into 1/2" cubes
      1 small onion, chopped
      2 cloves of garlic, minced
      cooking oil
      1 can of black beans, drained (or about 2 cups of cooked black beans, if you have some left over)
      1 1/2 tsp of cumin
      1/4 tsp of cinnamon
      1/2 tsp salt
      cooking spray
      8 flour tortillas
      2 cups of shredded cheese (we like a blend of Monterey Jack and sharp cheddar)
      sour cream and salsa for serving (and fresh cilantro makes it really nice!)

      What you'll do:

      Saute the onion and garlic in a large saucepan with a little oil until the onions are translucent.
      Add the spices and the sweet potatoes. (If things seem sticky, you can add a little water at this point.)
      When the potatoes are soft, add the black beans. 
      Cook until the beans are heated through (about 5 minutes), stirring occasionally to avoid sticking.

      Meanwhile, spritz a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray. Fill tortillas with spoonfuls of the potato-bean filling and sprinkle with cheese. Roll up each tortilla and place (seam-side down) in the pan. Top with remaining cheese. 

      Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until hot.

      Serve with sour cream, your favorite salsa and fresh cilantro.

      Serves 6-ish people.

      I also like to add leftover rice to the filling if I have it- it makes the burrito filling stretch a bit further so we can have leftovers. If you do end up with more filling than you have tortillas (or space in your pan), the filling makes really tasty quesadillas on the second or third day.

      Enjoy! Don't forget to go check out the other recipes at Beth Anne's blog and link up your favorite meatless meal idea.

      Sunday, March 9, 2014

      #HolyLens, Week Two Prompts

      Hello, Intrepid Lenten Photographers!

      Here are the prompts for Week Two of the #HolyLens project:

      (You can find the daily scripture readings here if you want to see the prompts in context.)

      Be sure to use the hashtag #HolyLens when you share your photos so everyone can see them.

      I've been really inspired to see so many pictures on Instagram. They've been showing up on Twitter and Facebook, too, as well as on some blogs. It's so exciting to have so many of you participating. Feel free to invite your friends- it isn't too late to join in the (completely somber, liturgically appropriate) fun. :-)

      Also, I'm sharing the Gospel reflection over at CatholicMom this morning- I'd love it if you took a minute to read it.

      + Blessings on this first Sunday of Lent. +

      Friday, March 7, 2014

      7 Quick Takes: The Humble Edition

      Humbled. (#HolyLens, Day 3)

      I spent today looking at my world from a slightly different angle.

      I've been struggling lately with feeling grouchy at my kids, and they've been struggling with listening and following directions. After a big meltdown last night when I confessed to George that I felt invisible and like no one ever heard anything I said, I decided to do some things differently today.

      I sat on the floor a lot.

      I realized that much of my day is spent above or beside my children, but not usually below them. I do make an effort to get to eye level when I have something serious to discuss with them, but many of my "regular maintenance" comments fly around above their heads. "Don't forget to put your plate in the sink." "Time to make your bed." "We need to get dressed." "Please get your coat on."

      Today, I tried saying everything directly to them, looking into their eyes, either at or below their level.

      It sort of worked. The girls listened. They were sweet and compliant and helpful. They were even kinder to each other and did more talking about their feelings to each other and less hitting.

      At one point, sitting in the kitchen on the floor with Lucy as she matched up magnetic animals' heads and rear ends, I kept hearing a noise. Kind of a clicking noise. What WAS that? It was driving me crazy.

      I finally realized it was the rivets on the back pockets of my jeans- my maternity jeans- the more comfortable of only two pair I have, which means I wear them almost every day.

      If I've never before heard the sound of them clicking on the kitchen floor, I haven't been sitting on the kitchen floor very much.

      Based on today's results, I'm planning to spend more time there. Clicking rivets be darned.

      My new strategy still didn't work with Sam. He had a really tough day. I'm pleased to say that I didn't yell at him one time, not even when he was yelling at me. Beyond that, I'm thinking we'll just try again tomorrow.

      Lucy had a to-do list. I had no idea she was keeping a list in her head of "her work," as she called it, until she asked if I could help her write it down.

      Here it is:

      Lucy's List
      • do alphabet games (this involved arranging letters and numbers in lines on cookie sheets and singing the ABC song)
      • research what a hippo says
      • read Jump Frog, Jump (but not just read it...act it out with a frog puppet and jump off the couch screaming whenever the frog jumps)
      • play "the duck game" (which turned out to be the magnetic Fridge Farm that I hid on top of the refrigerator months ago. How did she even remember that?)

      By the end of the day, we did all these things.

      (In case you are wondering, a hippopotamus sounds remarkably like a pig...a really, really big pig.)

      Nora spent most of the day playing with magnetic letters. She holds up each letter and says, "Na-na-na-na-Sam!" or "Na-na-na-na-ice cream!" with great relish and pride. She's so thrilled about it. I hate to correct her every time (especially because Sam does correct her if he hears her make any mistake, ever), so I always get excited when she picks up an N and says, "Na-na-na-na-Nora!" It feels so great to see her face light up.

      (I keep telling Sam to give her a break. She's two. She has plenty of time to figure out the right sounds. At this point, it's just fun for her. He says she'll never learn if he doesn't tell her she's wrong. As the oldest sibling in my family, I know how he feels, but I still feel bad for the girls when he is hard on them for making mistakes. I also feel like I should probably issue blanket apologies to all my younger siblings.)

      I'm sorry, guys.

      We spent some time before lunch playing the piano and singing songs the kids requested. In the middle of the sing-a-long, there was a knock at the door. It was our friendly neighborhood Jehovah's Witnesses, who always come at the worst possible times. Once, they caught me tandem nursing (and kept on knocking and knocking because they could see I was sitting on the couch right beside the front door). After that, I stopped leaving the blinds open. Another time, they came when I was holding two screaming babies and two poopy cloth diapers. (Sam opened the door that time- I didn't even know he could do that.). After that, we put a childproof doorknob thingy on the door so he couldn't open it. A different time, they came right at the beginning of nap time and rang the bell repeatedly, causing the twins to wake up and cry loudly. Sam was already having a tantrum on the floor in front of the door because he didn't want to nap. (After that one, I took a reader's suggestion and put a sign over the doorbell informing visitors that we were napping.)

      Anyway, they don't have the best track record with timing.

      Today, the lady looked surprised to see all the children lined up on the piano bench. I told her we had been singing some songs. She ignored this and wanted to talk to me about the papers she had brought to share. She read me John 3:16 from her Bible. (I told her that was a great verse.)

      I think she might have preferred me to remain silent and let her evangelize without interruption.

      As I stood there, pretending to listen to her, trying to think of how to get rid of her, she suddenly said, "Do you like being a mom?"

      The question caught me off guard. This woman, always perfectly dressed and smiley, has seen some things just inside my front door. Usually when she's been here, I haven't showered. She's witnessed toddler tantrums and heard me speaking in my not-quiet-mommy-voice just seconds before she rang the bell. It's not like I could pretend that it's all smiles and rainbows.

      "Well, I think we all have our moments," I finally said, "and I know you've seen some of mine. Most of the time, though, yes. I really love being a mom, and I feel blessed to have this time to stay home with my children and nurture and teach them."

      She looked satisfied and told me to have a good day. As I closed the door and turned around, all three of my children were beaming at me from the piano bench.


      Speaking of humbling, I've been so amazed by how our little photo-a-day project has grown. We have a bunch of people faithfully posting their photos on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. It's inspiring to see how everyone is interpreting the prompts, and I love hearing from people around the country (and some from Canada!) who are participating.

      If you haven't joined us yet, it's not too late. Look here for the list of prompts for the first week. I'll have the prompts for next week up here on Sunday so you can plan ahead. Remember to use the hashtag #HolyLens when you post your photos so everyone can find them.

      I did a great big list of Lent links earlier this week, and I'm adding to it as new things come my way. If you have a link you'd like me to include (for a resource, a craft, a family activity, an app or a book recommendation), please let me know. I'd love to add it to the list and help promote it.

      Thanks, as always, to Jen for hosting this party.
      For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

      Thursday, March 6, 2014

      Theme Thursday: Dirt (and #HolyLens)

      I'm doing the double linkup thing and posting my #HolyLens cross photo for today's Theme Thursday at Clan Donaldson.

      It just so happens that all my windowsill herbs are dead, dead, dead. When we look out the window now, we see bare whiteness everywhere and bare dirt in the window.

      I had a farmer scold me once for calling it "dirt." 

      "You clean dirt," he said, eyes wide and serious. "If you grow things in it, it ain't dirt. It's soil."

      Today, these pots just look like dirt to me.

      I'm holding out hope, though- isn't that what Lent is for? I can actually hear snow melting today. My fingers are itching to get into the soil in my garden, and although I can't currently see it because of the snow, I know my chance will come.

      You can't stop the spring. It is on its way.

      In the meantime, why not take some photos to pass the days? You can join our Lent photo-a-day project by using the daily prompts as inspiration, sharing your photos on Instagram, Twitter or wherever you'd like to share them using the hashtag #HolyLens so we can find them. There are so many good ones already, and it's only Day 2!

      Here are the prompts for the first week, in case you want to play along:


      For more dirt, check out Clan Donaldson.

      Tuesday, March 4, 2014

      Lent for the Perpetually Late (a collection of resources)

      What are you doing for Lent?

      It's a pretty common question this time of year. We're supposed to DO things. Holy things. Self-sacrificing things. And then there are other things we're NOT supposed to do. Eat chocolate, maybe? Drink caffeine? Swear?

      With the abundant resources of all the bloggers out there sharing their ideas, it can be easy to think that everyone else has Lent all figured out and that we need to DO all.the.things right now to DO Lent well.

      I don't know about you, but I just don't have it all together. Not right now. Not ever, really. I'm late to library story time every single week. It takes me time to get my little people all moving in the right direction (and just when we're ready to leave, someone almost always has to poop). Being prepared for an entire liturgical season before it starts is out of the question, I'm afraid. The minute I jump on Pinterest and start looking up craft ideas for my kids to teach them all about all the Lent-y things, I start heading toward the deep end of the pool, and that never ends well for me.

      The thing about Lent is that it's not really that much about what we DO at all. It's a journey. It takes us through the desert for 40 days, giving us the opportunity to put aside distractions, to focus on our spiritual lives and to grow closer to Christ.

      I need the full length of that journey to feel like I'm getting somewhere. 

      For me, Lent needs to feel different than the rest of my life, but it needs to be simple.

      And it can be. Really.

      There are three categories of things we're called to do during this penitential season.

      1. Prayer. We should pray...more than we usually do. Or in a more focused way. Or something.

      Our family is adding the traditional table grace after meals. It goes like this:
       We give Thee thanks, Almighty God, for all Thy benefits,
       Who lives and reigns, world without end, Amen.

      We haven't done this prayer before, so I've written it on a little card to keep on the table. We'll read it together after each meal until we have it memorized. Sam has requested we also learn it in Latin, so we'll do that after we have the English down.

      I'm also reaffirming my commitment to pray the Angelus at noon. On the days we do it, it really helps calm everyone down and refocuses us before lunch (which is still the craziest time of the day around here). Here's a little background on how we got started with this ancient prayer (and a link to a beautiful slide show of the Angelus in Latin sung by the Daughters of Mary).

      2. Fasting. We should fast.

      Catholics are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We're obliged to abstain from eating meat) on all the Fridays during Lent. Other denominations practice fasting, too, in different ways. If you need suggestions for meals without meat this year, Beth Anne has a great linkup going on with meatless meal recipes every week of Lent. You can also check out her board on Pinterest with recipe ideas.

      If you need to do more than that, you can try giving up something else as a fast...but that's extra. It's a tradition to give things up, but sometimes we get so hung up on what we're supposed to be giving up (or how it's already Tuesday and Lent starts tomorrow and I still don't know what I'm giving up and what am I going to do??) that we forget that this is just one small part of Lent.

      3. Almsgiving. We should give charitably. More than usual. Or differently. Or something.

      Our family eats out less during Lent and contributes the money we save to Catholic Relief Services' Rice Bowl through our parish. We do this because it's simple and concrete and manageable. I hope as our children grow, we will be able to do some volunteering or otherwise give of our time during Lent to help others. It's not easy to do that right now...and although it might never be easy to do it, there will come a time when it's more possible. Part of making Lent manageable for me is accepting my limitations...I can't do everything I'd like to do right now. Maybe you're feeling like that, too.

      It's okay. Journey, remember? We don't have to have it all figured out yet.

      I've rounded up a bunch of links here with Lent-related stuff. Some are posts about ideas of things to do for Lent. Some are resources- books to read, music to help you focus, family activities to do together. They are separated by category, and I'll add to the list as I find new resources to share with you.

      Please keep in mind that these are just here to help you. No one is going to do all these things. If you think that you'll get stressed out reading about what other people are doing, then just skip this part.

      Lent is not about our stress. It's not about our needing to figure things out. It's not about how we need to improve our lives or how we ought to be more holy. It's not actually about us at all. It's not about any of us...and nothing we decide to DO is going to change that.

      Lent is a chance to strip away some things that obscure what is most important...that while we are wandering around down here in the confusion and self-importance of our lives, God loves us and sends Christ to show us the way to Him. That we are so oblivious to what is happening that we kill Him. That Christ, the embodiment of Love, willingly sacrifices his life for us. That Love is so powerful that even death can't defeat it. That Christ is ultimately victorious over death, and that we (in spite of all the ways we've screwed up) get to be God's, forever.

      That's huge, life-changing and amazing...and it's much bigger than any resolution or penance or sacrifice we can make.

      We have 40 days to walk through the desert and meditate on all of that, using whatever tools and resources are the most helpful for each of us. No hair shirts required. It's a journey toward grace, and there's grace along the way for the times we'll inevitably slip up. 

      Just take a deep breath, head out on your journey tomorrow, and resolve to take Jesus as your companion and to keep him company between now and Easter.

      Really, it's the least we can do.

      Now, for the big list of links!

      Things to listen to and/or read

      Christy at Fountains of Home put together a lovely list of great books to read for Lent with thoughtful descriptions. I found several things on her list inspiring and am just having trouble narrowing it down.

      Here's a list of book suggestions by Simcha Fisher at the National Catholic Register- mostly non-fiction reflections and theology with a bit of fiction thrown in for good measure.

      Elizabeth Foss shares an annotated list of what is in her family's book basket for Lent (a time of year in which our book basket seems pretty anemic- I'm hoping to add a few things from her list this year).

      And for your ears, try the beautiful voices of the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles on their newest CD release, Lent at Ephesus. Here is a glowing review by Kathy Schiffer on Patheos.You can stream the album at Spotify or purchase on or from a Catholic retailer (and probably some other places, too).

      Finally, I put together a Lent-inspired playlist for Spotify. You can find it here.

      Ways to connect on social media

      Follow Virtual Abbey (@Virtual_Abbey) on Twitter for daily morning and evening prayer tweets. I have my phone set so that I get a notification when those tweets come, and it usually reminds me to stop and pay attention to them. The prayers are usually short (less than 5 minutes) and come from a variety of sources, depending on who is doing the tweeting. You can follow along silently or retweet the prayers line by line.

      Kimberly Hartman (@dancingcrane) faithfully tweets the Angelus every single day. You can follow along with her or retweet, also. For some history and information on the #twitterangelus, go here.

      Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas has created a great board on Pinterest with lots of links and resources for liturgical living in March, and there are plenty of good Lenten resources there.

      You are warmly invited to join my Lent-stagram photo-a-day project. We will have daily photo prompts based on the lectionary readings for the day. Share your photos with our community on social media using the hashtag #HolyLens. You can also post photos on your blog.

      Here are the prompts for the first week.

      Apps and web sites for people who like apps and web sites


      The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has a page set up with lots of resources for Lent, including a downloadable daily calendar.You can also find the daily lectionary scripture readings there (in the clickable calendar on the right-hand sidebar).

      Rice Bowl app from Catholic Relief Services is a new app that goes along with the Rice Bowl program used by many parishes (including mine). There is a daily calendar along with recipe ideas and suggestions for actions you can take to have a global impact with your Lent practices. You can also follow @CRSRiceBowl on Twitter and sign up to have weekly e-mail reflections delivered to your inbox.

      Laudate app is a free app that contains the readings and Daily Office for each day, plus information on saints of the day and traditional prayers for reference. 

      Sacred Space is a daily prayer site hosted by Irish Jesuits based on the lectionary scripture readings for the day. It follows a lectio divina model- scripture is presented artfully on the screen with prompts or questions for reflection. It's beautiful.

      If you find yourself worried about "the meat police," FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) has released a free app called Lentsanity that will send you daily reflections and reminders not to eat meat. (My college roommate used to just write it on a dry erase board in our apartment, but this is a new era.) Check it out here- the funky Meat Police video will make you giggle, even if you don't have a smartphone.

      Ideas for families to observe Lent at home

      The St. Nicholas Center has set up a great Lent page this year with activities, food and prayers beginning with Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday) and continuing through Easter. There are lots of great resources there. (Bonus: you can bookmark the page to go back to it in Advent.)

      Here's how we set up our Bean Jar for small acts of sacrifice (inspired by Karen Edmisten). This post also has some ideas about decorating (or undecorating) for Lent at home.

      How to Make a Lenten Sacrifice Jar at two Os plus more - a different take on the bean jar with individual jars for each family member.

      Try planting Lenten grass on Ash Wednesday (from Kitchen Parade). This is a new tradition for us, but we are planning to try it this year.

      Make a Stations of the Cross box to pray the Stations with young children. We made one last year based on Bonnie's thoughtful ideas at A Knotted Life, and it was pretty successful with my oldest (then 4 years old).

      Sarah at two Os plus more also has a great list of developmentally appropriate ways to help young children observe Lent.

      Ideas of things to do (things to give up, things to add, things to think about)

      100 Things to do for Lent by Meg Hunter Kilmer

      Outside the Box: A list of 66 things to give up or take up for Lent at Catholic All Year

      Molly of Molly Makes Do offers an easy-to-remember framework for deciding what to do for Lent 
      (and a beautiful graphic to help remind you)

      A list of 40 things to do for Lent by Nadia Bolz Weber is organized by day with one task for each day of Lent. (Remember, Sundays don't count...if you do a task on Sundays, you'll run out before Easter arrives.)

      Try chanting the psalms. This introductory series is easy to follow with clear instructions. I used it to start learning to chant many years ago, and it has served me well. Even if you think you can't sing, chanting lets you experience Psalms in a completely new way. Plus, if you ever find yourself at a monastery during prayers, you'll feel right at home.

      Last year, I gave up social media entirely from Ash Wednesday until Easter.  Here is my list of 30 things I could do instead of Facebooking my way through Lent.

      Ideas for meatless meals during Lent

      Lenten Meatless Meal Plan Linkup at Beth Anne's Best

      Meatless meal ideas from Rosie at A Blog for My Mom

      A collection of meatless meal ideas from Sarah at two Os plus more

      That should get you started, anyway.

      If you have any links to add, please let me know! I'll be adding all of these to my Lent board on Pinterest- feel free to follow me over there (I'm dere_abbey).

      Whatever you decide to do or stop doing this Lent, I hope it's fruitful for you and that your Lenten practices help you and your family to prepare for Easter. All of you are in my daily prayers. If you have specific intentions for which I could pray, please let me know- you can e-mail me at abbey(dot)dupuy(at)gmail(dot)com or reach out in any other way that feels good to you. I'd be so happy to be able to pray for some specific need you have.

      Blessings to each and every one of you- I'm so glad to have your company on the journey.

      This post contains Amazon affiliate links.