Beautiful Day

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Finding Peace on the First Day of Fall

"Only by slowing down do we make time for one another. Only by
stopping long enough to observe our surroundings can we bring form and meaning
to our lives and make the small adjustments needed to stay on course."

~Katrina Kenison, "Mitten Strings for God"

(****Quick note: I apologize for the formatting in these first 2 paragraphs. Blogger is giving me fits and I just can't figure this one out!)

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I love it when the days start out cool but still warm up and there is something unique about the lighting outside this time of year. Fall just might be my favorite season. Three of my children were born in the fall, so I have especially warm memories of walks in the sunshine, colors of autumn blazing down as I hobble along determined to enjoy the outdoors for as long as I possibly can.

Fridays in our home are what I call "Project Days." That generally means I try to make more time for hands-on activities with the children, our nature study, and any other creative projects there aren't time for on other days. I had been planning what to do this week, sincerely feeling the need to slow down, enjoy creation and enjoy my children. So I was especially blessed in my morning devotional time to also have a few minutes to read from Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry by Katrina Kenison. This is a little gem I first discovered from Jewels at Eyes of Wonder a few years ago. I checked it out from the library then and found its short chapters to be inspiring in the journey to keep a life of simplicity. Now, contrary to what its title may sound like, it isn't a particularly Christian book. The title actually came from a quote of the author's son, which she describes in the book. I would say there are hints of new-age philosophy throughout the book. However, the author's desire and quest for a quieter life for her family amidst an age where the badge of busy-ness is flashed with pride is a noble one and even a biblical one (1 Thessalonians 4: 9-12 comes to mind). And her writing style engages the reader to identify with her quest and actually do something about it. So I am re-reading it upon finding a copy at Goodwill that I can keep in my personal library. Her chapter on "Peace" provided even more motivation to just soak in these days with my children and to engage them in the beauty of the world He has created.

So we started our day with a nature walk. Our science studies have been focused on birds lately and also an ongoing observation of the phases of the moon. So we were in search of some bird feathers and some small sticks (for a project later in the day). Country Girls were busy photographing and younger ones were busy collecting. All enjoyed finding the moon through the binoculars. We so enjoyed just taking our time to observe our surroundings so we lingered quite a bit on this walk. When we returned home, it was time for sketching in our nature journals. We only found a couple of bird feathers so we had to settle for the chicken feathers in our own yard to add to them.

After lunch, I had told my Littlest Princess I would help her finally make her handprint. I started this tradition for all of my children at about this age and now it is her turn to make one to join the wall gallery of her siblings. I love how these turn out, but I admit the process is always a bit frustrating. My average is it takes two tries per child to get the handprint done correctly before pouring in the plaster. But we did it! And she is so proud. Now she ever-so-patiently waits for it to dry so she can do the fun work of painting that she is so eager for.

After this project, I promised my Bigger Princess and her brother to help them with a finger knitting project. With three children playing with yarn in my house, Princess has been begging me to teach her. But I had to come up with something I thought was do-able for her age and so we came upon these cute little flowers. Every one of us joined in the fun of making these in the afternoon. (This is what we collected sticks for on our nature walk).

When our project time was over, I made a snack to enjoy during read-aloud time. Being the first day of fall, I wanted to do something fun but didn't think of it until very late, so I made some Apple Oatmeal Bread in the bread machine. We cut them into fall leaf shapes and then made this little sun out of cheese.

None too fancy, but a delight to the children while we sat and listened to a chapter of "Little Men."

Then came 5:00 and time to start dinner. The children played outside while I got busy making enchiladas--a double-batch so I can put one in the freezer for when baby soon arrives. I've been trying to do this once a week for the past few weeks.

Warrior came home and home remodel thoughts were flowing. We're trying to figure out how to temporarily cover our floor until we can afford the floor project, so that we can still use the space. Which means I should show another update. But I'll save that for later.

In all, it really was a peaceful, beautiful day. I wish for more days like this. That is true even though there were struggles and attitudes to work through and heart-to-heart talks were in order. As I have been contemplating "peace" and looked up some definitions in Strong's and my Bible dictionary, I find that peace in the New Testament is primarily concerned with unity, order and harmony. Jesus is about the business of restoring harmony and wholeness to our lives and relationships. This is really what this day has been all about. And I am so grateful for His prompting to make the extra time to focus on these things together TODAY.

"When we cultivate a mood of calm repose in our homes, we are scooping out a space for reflection and wonder, for contemplation and reverie. Our children are exposed to incessant commotion in the world that exists beyond our walls. Let home be the place where they can find the peace and quiet they need to make sense of it all. A place, too, where we can nurture our inner lives without distraction. The soul speaks softly. And so I guard our quiet times. Creativity flourishes in these spaces; grace and peace reside here, too."

~Katrina Kenison, "Mitten Strings for God"

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Maternity Fashion

Since I am fast approaching the end of this pregnancy (approximately 1-1/2 weeks to go!) I thought I'd take a moment to capture some of the creative fashions I've made this time around. Maternity clothes are kind of a funny thing. I know at least for me that when I first discover I'm expecting, I can't wait to wear some cute maternity clothes. I love to browse the thrift stores looking for lovely tops and just-the-right pants (decent skirts are a very rare find, but I did find one that I really liked). But by the time the ninth month rolls around, I am looking at my non-maternity clothes in the closet ever so longingly! Probably because there are fewer and fewer of my maternity clothes that I can actually wear comfortably. I most definitely look forward to getting out of compression hose! They do the job and I am grateful for them, but they are cumbersome. I think sometime I may do a post on "things I know now that I wish I knew in earlier pregnancies." But that's another subject...

I really do love to wear skirts. And some days I just plain like a comfortable pair of jeans or khaki twill-type pants (I don't know what you call them). I have managed to find a couple of those for this pregnancy. To be quite honest, most of the time I just find the pants to be not-so-comfortable in later pregnancy primarily because I always feel like they're falling down and then that I have 3 or 4 layers I have to wear altogether. Compression hose under pants aren't so comfy. And they're very hot in the summer!

So this time around I wanted to create some lovely things by upcycling (I love the trend of taking used things and re-creating them)! I made myself three maternity skirts, each a little different. This is what I am wearing today.

I call this my "Army skirt makeover." I found this skirt at Goodwill and picked it up to look at it. I discovered it was actually a women's Army uniform maternity skirt. I thought I could probably make something creative out of it and I liked the dark green color. I added some ruffles to the bottom and voila! Here it is! (If you didn't know already, I DO like pink!)

Last year I made my Country Girls some skirts modeled after an inspiration I received on a trip to North Carolina. I adored some skirts these young ladies had made and I asked them about it. On our drive time back to Virginia, I sketched out some plans and designs. So I decided to do the same concept with a pair of maternity jean shorts I found at a thrift store. This was the result.

This one has a definite Western flair and closely matches the skirts I made for my girls. The only bummer is that I won't be able to wear it soon! I really like it.

The final one I made was my motivation to try a technique I had been wanting to try for a couple of years and hadn't quite got around to--making a skirt out of a pair of jeans. So I took an old pair of maternity jeans from my box and went to work. This is what I came up with.

This one is very comfortable on the tummy. I'll be trying this technique again on a regular pair of jeans sometime. My girls have already made their own too.

These were fun ideas to implement and I'll be using the ideas as springboards to more adventures with the sewing machine, I'm sure. I'm glad to have made some practical and pretty items to get me through this pregnancy. I've never had much of a maternity wardrobe, having borrowed many throughout my season of motherhood and maintaining a rather small maternity wardrobe otherwise. It's nice to have some classic items or ideas to make them. The modern maternity trends don't strike me as very lovely. Everything seems made of knits to cling to the belly, and made out of cheap fabric. I think pregnancy should be a time for loveliness (I think every thing should be an opportunity for loveliness in a woman's life). Because what God is crafting in the womb is one of the most amazing, lovely things there is.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Two years ago I decided to add two elderberry bushes to my herb garden landscape. I enjoy gardening and I enjoy learning about how to use the plants God provided to aid our health. One of those gems is the elderberry. Elderberries contain potassium, a large amount of vitamin C, and antioxidants. They are also known to strengthen the immune system. The most popular variety of elderberry is Sambucus nigra (also called Black Elder). It produces dark blue berries. You should stick with varieties that produce this color of berries, as opposed to red berries, in order to protect yourself from potential toxins in some varieties of berries. It is also important to make sure your berries are ripe! Sources vary on whether to eat these raw or not. Some people experience some stomach upset. The berries are a little bitter, but we do eat a small quantity raw. They are best when cooked and sweetened. We have made elderberry pies and combined them with other fruit to make fruit cobblers or crisps.

These bushes have yielded quite an abundance of elderberries. They grow fast, so they make a nice hedge in our yard too. The chickens appreciate hiding in their shade and have eaten a good share of elderberries; we've even caught them jumping up to higher branches to eat them off! The girls say they should have very healthy chickens! Which brings me back to the immune system....

One of the primary things I wanted to do with my elderberries is to make our own elderberry syrup to take in the winter cold and flu season. You can take 1 TBSP daily as a preventative in the winter time or a teaspoon every 2-3 hours during illness. For children under 2, you will want to heat the syrup in hot water to avoid any microbes in the honey. I used this recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs (and you can read more about elderberry syrup here).

Elderberry Syrup Recipe

- 1 cup fresh or 1/2 cup dried organic Elderberries (harvest blue or black, avoid poisonous reds)

- 3 cups water

- 1 cup raw local honey

- 1 organic Cinnamon stick, 3 organic Cloves, and organic Ginger (optional)

Place berries, water, and spices in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Smash the berries to release remaining juice and strain the mixture. Allow liquid to cool and stir in honey. Will last for 2-3 months stored in the fridge.

You can also pour the syrup over pancakes or ice cream or anything else that sounds good with berry syrup (however, I might not count on the health benefits if eaten over ice cream!). I am glad to have finally made some to have stored up for our family for the winter.

If you don't have access to fresh elderberries, you can purchase dried ones through both Mountain Rose Herbs and Bulk Herb Store.

****Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and am not dispensing medical advice. Please do your own research to make wise decisions for your own family.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Home Remodel Progress

This summer has been extra full as we have taken on another home remodeling project. I mentioned that my Tender Warrior likes the challenge of taking our space and shaping it into something that "fits" our family better. He really is a genius. He amazes me with his ability to "see" a project in his mind's eye and bring it to fruition. As for me, I cannot picture such things until they are actually in progress. Fortunately, Warrior is also gifted at knowing how to use computer programs that help create a visual for his poor wife to at least try to envision what it is he has in mind. I guess it must be a little like how he feels when I create something within the home, be it planning a party, or meal, or sewing something and he is puzzled at just how I do that too.

It's been an adventure. First it was our unfinished attic when we bought this house. Then it was landscaping the slopes of our yard over about 3 to 5 years. Then it was a more functional kitchen design, for our kitchen was rather small considering the size of the house (we figured the former owners who built it did not care much for cooking). Now it is an expansion of our living and dining rooms. Our dining room was pretty tight and cozy. And by expanding the living room, we can make some space to put in an alternative heat source (like a pellet stove) which is something we have missed in this home. We like the idea of snuggling around a cozy fire while reading stories together.

So we started with this:

My, that was a deep hole! We didn't know they'd have to dig down so far to find native soil! It provided fun adventures for children though!

We weren't without some construction mishaps though--like Young Warrior and his first stitches. So we were thankful for the urgent care clinic close by and healthy healing of the wound.

The hole was filled in (and how much fun it was to watch concrete be poured--in between the rain).

A little framing before the insulation:

Now I'll skip ahead a lot to the framing of the exterior

When the framing was done, it was time to demolish the interior wall. While we went on our anniversary trip, we gave Grandma and the children permission to decorate and adorn the wall however they wished. When we came home, this is what we found.

A mix of Civil War generals and horses (we're a little partial to the Confederacy), along with random art of little ones. We thought it was great! The funny thing is, the wall is still here. We decided to separate the rooms, with an open entry way in between, so that we could create more wall space (an important thing for bibliophiles!). Thrifty people we are, we just turned the wall and rotated it to where we wanted it to see if we wanted to keep a wall in between. We did lose some of the art work and the rest will shortly be painted over, but it always brought about conversations with contractors. We will miss it!

Yesterday it was a trip to Home Depot for paint as we get close to wrapping up the drywall and texturing process. It's always fun to pick colors. So here we are at present.

I'm having fun dreaming up how to utilize the space the best. I'm so proud of my hard-working husband and how he takes care of us by providing us a beautiful home to make our little haven. Stay tuned for pictures when we finish!

"The home evenings present another field rich with possibilities of lasting influence and holy impression. It is one of the misfortunes of our times that the home is being so robbed of its evenings by business, by pleasure and by society. Some men never spend an evening at home in all the year. Some women do little better. Is it any wonder that in such cases heaven's benediction does not seem to fall upon the household? The days are so full of occupation for most of us, from early morning till nightfall, that whatever real home life we make we must make in the evenings. 'To the evening, and especially the winter's evening, belong mainly the influences of domestic life. Its few short hours are all the uninterrupted time we have at our disposal to know our own or be known of them. The impression that home leaves upon the child comes largely from its evenings. The visions which memory delights in conjuring up are the old scenes about the evening fire or the evening lamp.'"
--J.R. Miller, "The Home Beautiful"

Thursday, September 1, 2011

When Life Gives You Zucchini (make cake!)

Aaaaaaahh.....zucchini. The brunt of all summer jokes about leaving zucchini in people's cars and such. I read an article in a recent issue of "Hobby Farms Home" magazine that was quite humorous about these garden monoliths that somehow become giants when you aren't looking. The author also had a few great ideas about what to do with the abundance of zucchini. The other day, Country Girl 1 was harvesting produce in the garden and we heard her say in the distance, "You don't want to see these zucchini." That was quickly followed by the yelps and cries of children and then an abundance of laughter by us all when we saw just how BIG they were! The picture above doesn't quite give the perspective on just how big it looks or is, but I'm sure you can imagine it.

So, what to do when life gives you zucchini?? And LOTS of it? Well, that is something that internet search engines sure can be helpful for! But I have been blessed to find quite a few winner recipes for these green beauties--even ones that my children will eat without necessarily knowing there are zucchini in it (shhhhh.....don't tell!)

I've made these zucchini fries (though they served more than 2) and they were pretty popular. And last week I grilled zucchini like this:

Last night we had a delicious dinner of Zucchini Garden Chowder (I purposely left out the name "zucchini" when telling my little children what was for dinner) and some Zucchini Yeast Rolls (again, following the above little rule). They were quite devoured. My Young Warrior, upon seeing the title of my post today, said it should say something like "The Not-So-Yummy-Zucchini Except in the Soup." Makes me laugh.

These recipes came from the "Simply in Season" cookbook, which is one of my very favorites for good recipes using local and in-season produce.

In addition, of course there is the standard zucchini bread which I am stocking in the freezer. And my friend gave me a great recipe for zucchini chocolate chip cake. What's that about cake? I did mention it in the title of this post. The picture doesn't quite do it justice....but oh yes, I've recently discovered a wonderful chocolate zucchini cake for all of you chocolate lovers! We've been making this one a lot lately too (it's also good for the freezer). And it's absolutely true that there's not even a hint of the taste of zucchini in it, yet it uses a fair quantity. Rich, moist chocolate cake---which is perfect with a little vanilla ice cream. This doesn't last long around here! I think next I'll try the zucchini brownies.

So, you see, zucchini can bring out the adventurous in our culinary skills. And I, for one, am enjoying it. I think my family is too--even those less-than-enthusiastic about zucchini. For who can pass up chocolate cake after all?


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