Finding joy, peace and light in my garden

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My dearest decided that for Mother’s Day, he would plant a cutting garden so I could have fresh flowers throughout the season. (Yes. Awww.)

The last of the season as frost threatens all those lovely buds.

So out went the veggies (eating fresh is overrated anyway), and in went some little bare root tubers – Chocolate and Candy; Firebird, and Tequila Sunrise Dahlias; a few perennials in the form of Regale Album Trumpet Lilies, and Edulis Superba and Bouchela Peony.

It looks great from inside, too.

He also planted some Pink Magellan Zinnia that we got down at Eastern Market just to get things going, since starting from those naked little roots was going to take a while.

We didn’t actually plan to plant this one, but she crashed the party anyway.

We didn’t see the lilies or the peonies flower at all, but they’re just getting ready for next year. The dahlias took some time to get going, but once they did: Pow! Soon enough, we’ll dig them and store them for planting next year.

So … how about a dahlia as big as your head?

This flower would almost be the size of Cliff’s head – if he didn’t have such a GIANT noggin.

As frost threatens those sweet unopened buds, I feel like cursing the weather – even though I love the changing seasons. The flowers, the experiment of the garden, and the thought behind it all has provided so much simple joy since May.

The children have loved the flowers – much more than they did the veggies. We can’t help but be mesmerized by their beauty and be grateful and amazed that things that look like that actually grow right out of God’s earth.

Unlike greenhouse flowers that grow straight and upright, these sweet beauties did what we try to do: seek the Light. They all ended up with a little bend, a little imperfect twist that made them a challenge to contain – but a joy to behold. (Reminds me of a handful of kids I know.)

Note to self – wipe her face before I aim a camera at her. ūüėČ

That’s alarming

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Even new-fangled technology can’t work without cooperation from the user.

Our fifteen-year-old is a go-getter. Mighty, indeed. These past few weeks we’ve had trouble waking her in the mornings. Usually she’s up before the rest of us and already reminding us of her (and thus our) morning plans.

Today, we decided to get to the root of it. Why wasn’t she waking? Was she depressed? She did after all just break her foot, calling off the remainder of her beloved swim season. Was she going to bed too late? No way. She’s a carpe sleepem, carpe diem kind of kid. Was there something wrong with her alarm?


She informed us that she set the alarm on her phone and on her clock, but she still wasn’t getting up. Something was wrong with both of them.

She set two alarms, and both were failing? Why? Did she not hear them? Yes, she heard them. But she set them both an HOUR before she needed to get up to fulfill some fantasy that she MAY choose to get up that early sometimes, but not all the time. But of course, she actually chooses to get up that early none of the time.

So she turns off her clock and then turns off her phone and, oddly (cough) falls back asleep.

We tried to explain that the purpose of an alarm is to get you up and going. Not to wake you so you can decide if you’re going to get going or not. Because chances are on a chilly fall morning without anything really pressing, you’re not.

It wasn’t the system failing her. It was lack of commitment to the system.

Later in the morning, she texted us a photo saying, “I need to use this.”

Click on it to go to the site.

My husband responded with, “No, you just need to use this.”

Building the house of the Lord


My dearest and I – with another couple – are part of a leadership team for a big stewardship campaign at church. It’s a¬†diocesan-wide thing, and we’re coming up with … (wait for it) … the children’s activities. The deal about this campaign is that all the planning and education has to happen in a pretty condensed period of time. So we’ve had to bust-a-move.

I’m excited. (Okay. I’m excited about everything.) The program is coming together, we’ve gathered some great folks willing to share their time and talents with the parish.

Yesterday, we delivered our first piece of the program for kids in the religious education program and those enrolled in our parish school: That’s more than 900 children.

We decided that the theme verse for our activities is “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15. With that as the focus, we have come up with a few very tangible ways to help students learn about stewardship. The activity we introduced yesterday was for every child to build a little paper house. There was a short lesson plan – introducing them to the theme verse, the theme song (A rousing version of Rorey Cooney’s “We Will Serve the Lord”) and the idea that all our gifts come from God. There was also a little room for discussion.

Since time in the Religious Education program is at a premium, we designed the activity to be doable in 15-20 minutes.

I found a great house template¬†at the most charming blog¬†site: Just Something I Made.¬†(One of my new favorites for creative ideas. Nice photography, too.) We needed something that was one piece, easy to follow, didn’t involve glue and was cute. (Okay, I needed the cute.) And after combing through what seemed like a mountain of examples, this template really fit the bill. I added graphics and some text, and we decided to print it on 11 x 17, 67 lb. cover stock. That made the finished house about the size of a pint Chinese takeout box and offered a little more durability since the children will be using these houses for activities the next five weeks.

The only decorating for the students was that they “cover” the house with their gifts and talents. For little ones, it could be drawing pictures, for older children, they could write them out. We made accommodations to the fact that the littles might not be able to actually cut out the houses. (Remember, time is limited.)¬†They instead just drew on them while they were still one uncut piece, and students earning service-hour credits cut out the templates and assembled the houses for them. I’m sure they’ll be excited when next week they see their work put together as a house.

We will continue to use the houses throughout the program – I’ll fill you in more on that later.

I actually provided photos with instructions for the teachers for ease. Here’s a peek at a few:


There were a few more photos – just for ease. But you get the picture. It all seemed to go well. We used a portion of the paper to add a bookmark highlighting the family event that will be the culmination and celebration of all of these activities – it also gave the children something to take home related to the activity.

Stay tuned for more. Next week, the houses go with the students to mass for a special blessing.

The magic 8-ball

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Late this summer, I became obsessed with these magical little zucchini¬†called “eight ball” squash. The price was right during our Saturday Eastern Market trips so I picked them up frequently. I sliced and grilled them or I halved and sliced to saut√©¬†with a little butter and olive oil.

Then I decided it would be fun to stuff them.


I carefully scooped the insides, trying to leave a uniform but thin wall. The outer peel on these squash seems a little tougher than traditional zucchini. I used a melon ball spoon to get close but keep control.

I set aside some of the inside for the stuffing, but it was much more than I needed.  I mixed the left over little zucchini balls with other fresh veggies for a side during another meal.

I stuffed them with a ground turkey mix. In olive oil, I saut√©ed two garlic cloves, a half of sweet onion, red pepper in a pan, and then combined it with some of the zucchini insides and 1.25 lbs. of ground turkey. I added some (not enough) chopped fresh basil, 1/2 cup of Parmesan, sea salt and fresh pepper. (I use the 85/15 fat turkey. I’m not a fan of the lowest fat ground turkey.) I covered and baked at 350 for about 45 minutes, and then uncovered until the turkey reached 165 and the skins looked slightly browned.

In the future, I’d brown the turkey a bit beforehand and rub the outsides of the zucchini with oil so it looked less dry. They were very tasty and really looked great. Plus they were well-received by the kids. I look forward to some new stuffing adventures next summer – maybe Quinoa with Gruy√®re cheese and wild mushrooms and roasted peppers. Something a little more exciting.


Getting speeched

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Lillian: Cliffy needs to get speeched again!
Me: Why do you say that?
Lillian: Because he needs to eliminate the potty language!
Me: (Thinking ahead to SAT scores ….) Wow! Lillian, nice word – eliminate. (And equally nice and careful articulation.) Do you know what that means?


What’s love got to do with it?


Sunday, I had the honor of attending a wedding of a long-time friend. Our last names started with S – so¬†our lockers were next to each other throughout high school. It was a small girls’ school. Alphabetical was as complex as it needed to be. So with a “Hi my name is,” a friendship was born.

Yes. That’s a prairie blouse and braces. I loved that shirt. I think I took this photo on a self timer. I can vaguely remember us trying to maneuver like that in 7 seconds or something. I know I printed the photo.

I can tell you that like many friendships that begin in adolescence, we had ups, downs and somewhere in-betweens. Sometime after I graduated from college, we lost touch for a stretch.

One New Year’s Day, I was at mass, and the priest made some comments about how and who we love, and asked us who we were missing most in our lives, blah, blah. It’s all a blur. I walked out of there and knew that I had to find her and reach out. So, I did. She reached back. I remain grateful. That was at least a dozen years ago. Time flies.

Over the years – long separated by many miles – we’ve laughed and shed tears. And have been there for each other. There’s been sickness and health, life and loss, grief and joy and a little of everything else that finds its way onto the colorful spectrum of this dramatic comedy we call life.

So, in what seemed like the blink of a very teary eye, 32 years of friendship happily brought me to that moment: witnessing two lovely people recite their carefully planned nuptials, surrounded by the people they love. Together they’ve already faced some trials – the kind that separate the men from the boys – and have emerged victorious. And they are indeed warriors: ready to tackle the world together. Beautifully. Lovingly. Thoughtfully.

I found myself moved to tears countless times. The beauty of the bride. The glowing pride of the groom. The happiness of their families. The joy of friends. Children singing and dancing. Beautiful vows and the groom stepping on a glass. Carefully chosen food. Cake pops and custom cocktails. A serenade by a close friend. Toasts with depth. No detail was missed. It was all so very personal. So very lovely.

I soaked in the surroundings and said a prayer of thanksgiving as I watching my friend thoroughly enjoy her day. And I didn’t – for a split second – take a moment of it for granted. When her youngest brother (who once stood in my kitchen and assured me – only a handful of years ago – that he probably wasn’t the marrying, fathering kind) sat next to me glowing and¬†sharing lovingly about his wife and sweet baby daughter, I was officially a goner. (Especially since we had prayed for him very specifically with that in mind.)

On top of the palpable joy, there was fun. That girl knows how to throw a party. Although I am most often one very upbeat, happy, more-than-slightly goofy woman, I don’t really break loose and have as much fun as I should. (The irony of that statement in this case is that I wanted to dance more at the wedding, but my back is still making me pay for the “fun” I had sitting with my 10-year-old in the front car of wicked roller coaster two weeks earlier. Fun gets those annoying ironic quotes because once the memory of the joy of the ride was more than 10 days old – and my back was still killing me – “fun” officially got pummeled by pain.)

I brought my camera to the wedding but left it in the car. I really didn’t want to see the day through a lens. A few times I uttered that I was going to go out and get it, and Richard looked at me like I was nuts and told me to relax. I snapped a few sweet Instagram shots to share with friends and family. My parents were so pleased to see them – texting me thanks for sharing and cheering her on. My mom called early the next morning to get details, to gush over the¬†beautiful the bride was and tell how handsome her new husband is and how gloriously happy they look.

That’s¬†because they are. It’s the real deal. I can’t wait to see the official photos. The few I’ve seen are really beautiful and clever.

So what’s my point to this rambling? Life is a gift. Time is a treasure. And real friendship is so completely worth hanging on to. So do it – if you don’t already.

And if the question is: What’s love got to do with it?

The answer is: Absolutely everything.

If you need it, I’ll give you a Hahn


When I was five, I went with my family to the Shrine Circus. I don’t claim to recall much about the actual show, but I do remember that I didn’t like the smell. Our seats were behind the area where collected animal waste was scooped and swept. It wasn’t a familiar odor or sight, and I’m afraid the memory of it clouds any recollection of what actually went on under that big top.

As a souvenir, I took home a pale blue balloon shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head.¬†Although I can’t picture a clown, trapeze, or animal trick from the event, I can clearly see and even feel that balloon. After getting out of the car ¬†– and before getting my prized balloon into the house – I lost my grip on its thin white cotton string, and to my horror, I had no choice but to watch as Mickey headed for the heights. I remember shedding a tear or two and then just following it with my eyes. Trying to hold onto the image of that balloon for as long as I possibly could. It was so close to the color of the afternoon sky that at times only the reflection of the sun betrayed its whereabouts. There was a slight contrast when a cloud was its backdrop, but then it was gone again, and I’d have to hunt for it. I imagined and hoped that someone would find my sweet balloon and love and care for it as much as I did.

Blogger Brandon Vogt¬†collected a list of some of the outstanding Catholic speakers and writers in the Catholic blogosphere and – after 82,000 votes – came up with a ¬†top 100 Catholic Speakers in what he’s calling Support a Catholic Speaker Month.¬†I voted for many that made the top 100: (Actually, everyone I voted for made the tops). But there is no speaker on that list that I quote more than Kimberly Hahn.

I think it was in 2004 when she was one of the speakers at an early Archdiocese of Detroit Women’s conferences. It was held locally at what would eventually become our parish – St. Joan of Arc. And wouldn’t you know it? I couldn’t go. I had to chauffeur daughters to ballet lessons and was on a looming deadline with two unfinished Halloween costumes. Thankfully, Ave Maria Radio was broadcasting the program live. And although my reception for the station was often spotty, for whatever reason, it was really clear that drizzling Saturday.

Prior to hearing her talk that day, I had read the book she wrote with her husband, Scott Hahn, Rome Sweet Home. It’s a very engaging account of their conversion story. After I read it, I read it again aloud to Richard when we were traveling on vacation. I credit that book with really igniting my husband’s desire to learn more about and truly live our faith. Which he has done,¬†vigorously. I had also picked up¬†Catholic Education Homeward Bound, which had some good homeschooling tips since I had begun to ponder that option. I had purchased her tapes – yes tapes – of her talk Women of Hope, Women of Courage,¬†and was happy to hear her live – even if only through my minivan speakers.

The title of her talk was Life Giving Love. I can share that my sensitivity to the subject was profound, since I had just a few months before suffered loss through a miscarriage. I remember listening and crying. (Okay. More like sobbing.)¬†I’m pretty sure I hung on every word. Oddly, like my circus encounter, I can’t actually tell you much of anything she said other than it was good, sweet, compassionate and truthful.

But there was one specific saying from her talk that I do remember and that I repeat all the time. If you know me, and if you’ve ever shared your troubles with me, you’ve heard it, too. I share it freely and always attribute it to Kimberly Hahn (and for all I know, she attributed it to someone else). So here it is:¬†Give your troubles to the Lord like balloons – not kites. Let them go. Don’t keep reeling them back in.

I know it’s a simple sentiment, and her contributions to Catholic press and speaking are broader and deeper – but since¬†I actually shared the saying with two people in this past week alone, and they both responded with an “a-ha,” that little nugget of wisdom is¬†a gift that just keeps on giving.

Since that talk, I’ve read and listened to much more of what Kimberly Hahn has written and said and taken something wonderful from all of it. And, my husband and I regularly recommend so much of Scott Hahn’s work as required reading for those interested in learning about and growing in their faith.

But when I am holding tight to my burdens, I find comfort imagining my troubles floating away like that long-lost circus balloon. And when life sometimes finds me seated right in front of (or right in) a pile of stinky stuff, I feel fortunate that I can get on my knees and willingly unwrap the sweaty string I am holding – with a death grip – and just let it just slip away. And yes, although I might catch a glimmer of those woes now and then, I accept that it’s just a gentle reminder that they are being cared for with love, and it’s a comforting reflection of the Son.

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light. Mt 11:28-30

Princess me some smarts

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Glowing after Princess Camp

I will admit – I had a few pangs when Lillian received the gift of Princess Camp for her birthday. As a completely non-princessy girl turned grown-up, I’ve been hell-bent on protecting my daughters’ intellect, and even after all these years of parenting the fairer sex, I sometimes can’t wrap my mind around where princess fits into the equation. Even though we’ve watched princess movies, have had princess birthday parties and all, I just can’t help myself from exercising a certain level of restraint when it comes to cartoon royalty.

But I took a deep breath. Because Princess Camp IS Lillian. And it was a sweet and thoughtful gift from my parents.

The first day of Princess Camp.

“Mom, this isn’t regular SCHOOL!” She told me on Monday as I offered her a skirt and shirt when dressing to leave. “This is PRINCESS camp! Get me a puffy skirt!” she demanded, finger pointing to her room. I obliged and did as was told.

She announced her nervousness on the chariot ride there (in the Dodge Ram Van). But also decreed that it would not stop her, and she knows now – from experience – that it is normal to be a little nervous when faced with something new. I guess it’s just something princesses deal with regularly entertaining heads’ of state and prince charmings and all.

We arrived and joined the other princesses in training. I’m not sure, but I think Lil actually floated in. Ready with a curtsy and a regal bow,¬†the princess trainers welcomed her with joy, she glanced back – only once – and gracefully sashayed into the training room, eager to learn the proper ways of a real-live fairy princess. Her smile and wink conveyed confidently, “You’re free to go.” So I did.

On the ride home, I asked her if she enjoyed herself. “I had a fantastic time!” She declared. “And I even made a friend!” She reminded me of her initial apprehension and how she took a deep breath and overcame it. And like a wave of a fairy godmother’s wand,¬†my intellect suddenly swallowed the experience whole.

And I got it.

Living in a princess world is a wonderful place – especially if it helps you come out of your shell, conquer your fears, make new friends and learn new things – all with the added benefit of being sparkly.

A perfect princess curtsy.

By the end of camp, I’ll admit, I shed a few tears. I watched with joy and embraced the confidence that pretend continues to give my sweet angel of a girl. My dad came to watch the final princess parade, and a smile never left his face.

“What a great gift!” I thought. For her, for him, for me.

Later in the day, I received a call from Helen telling me she just got a great new job: As a PRINCESS for children’s parties!

(True confession: She gets to be my favorite princess. Belle has the best songs, ¬†she’s smart, a book-worm and doesn’t care about her hair.)

And twice in one day, I realized that being a princess actually pays off – in so many wonderful ways.

Two princesses in training – and two princesses extraordinaire – at Rhythm-n-Jump Dance Academy.

Go Mom, Go! Finding sweetness in the small stuff


Today is Small Successes Thursday over at – a gentle reminder not only to not sweat the small stuff – but to celebrate even the smallest successes over the past week – because they add up. So, here’s what I’m celebrating. (One of my successes should be that I’m actually participating in this, after a slow recovery from the first time I did – which was a¬†catastrophe.)

1) Although I contemplated removing my high heels during mass and chasing full-speed ahead and barefoot after my three-year-old track-star of son as he ran laps up, down and across the aisles in church, as the prayerfully giggling congregation was preparing to receive communion …

I did not.

I kept my shoes on.

I stood patiently and (may I add) rather calmly and only watched in horror as he dodged every outstretched hand and turned on his heels to run the other direction. Again and again. This almost counts for a two-fer, since I didn’t holler, “Get that little *&@%$!” That, my friends, is success. (With a dash of decorum, I might add.) And a special public-thank you goes to the brave usher who finally nabbed Cliff, legs still treading air.

Go Dog, Go! This is what Cliff looks like running in church. Not our church, but an exceptionally lovely one, just the same.

2) Three times in this one week, I thought about what to make for dinner BEFORE my kids were crying that they were so hungry they were going to die. (AND, I didn’t remind them that they don’t even know what hunger is.)

Grill food, Grill! This is was food looks like. On my grill. Food I cut. With a sharp knife. I know. Impressive.

3) And, I actually caught at least glimpses of three of the six races my kids were swimming at their meet last night. I missed the others because I was busy yacking on the pool deck. (Sue me, I’m desperate for adult conversation.) But if parenting was baseball, I’d be batting .500 and earning some serious cash. Cabrera’s average for 2011 was .344 and he raked in $20 million last year. I figure my average earns me a pedicure. Or a Snickers. Or a lick of a lollipop. Or something.

Swim Henry, Swim! This is what water looks like. When Henry is swimming in it. I know, it’s a stupid picture. But that is actually Henry swimming the fly. Not that you could even tell that.

So what’s your success? (I, obviously, cannot include good swimming photos in mine.)