Monday, April 30, 2012

12 in 12: April Update

During 2012, Sophia, Olivia, and I are doing a special challenge that we've named 12 in 12. We are doing 12 different activities that help people in need, animals, or the environment. 

This is what we did during April: 

- Take 1 bag of food to the food shelf.

The girls brought food to the collection art at church. Each month the food is brought to one of two food shelves the serve the area where church members live.

Olivia and Sophia with food for the food shelf.

- Volunteer 1 hour at a community organization that is chosen each month.

The girls practiced three weeks (45 minutes per week) for a short play as well as spent time at home memorizing lines and a song for the April 15th church service. It was done during the service and used as a message about grace. Each had speaking parts in the play.

Sophia and Olivia in the children's play at church.

Olivia also spent time coloring pictures of chicks for the "Buck-a-Chick" fundraiser that the children's choir did to help buy baby chicks that will help people in need. (More information is below under the Donate $12 section.)

- Donate 1 bag of clothing to a second-hand shop.

Rather than a second-hand shop this month, we donated a bag of clothes to US Again. There was a collection box outside Northwoods Humane Society which made it convenient to donate clothes.

Sophia with a bag of clothes to donate to US Again.

- Donate 1 bag of toys and other non-clothing items to a second-hand shop.

We donated two bags of craft supplies, toys, and household goods to Goodwill in Forest Lake. This is a new location and one that is closer to home.

Goodwill makes it easy to donate items. You simply drive up, the door opens, and you pull into a covered area where they help unload your car. Since it was raining, it was a welcome change from getting soaked while unloading donations.

- Donate 12 books that we no longer read to organizations needing books.

This month we are donating 129 books to the Library of Hope book drive that we are doing. Sophia came up with the name for the book drive. Our goal is to collect 1,000 books and raise $800 to store, pack, and ship the book to Lesotho, Africa.

The actual shipment of the books from the U.S. to Africa is being coordinated through the African Library Project. They also are the ones who work with African partners in establishing libraries in different countries throughout Africa.

Olivia and Sophia with 129 books in the bin.
We realized that there will be about 10 bins of this size
by the time they are done collecting books
to create the library.
(Olivia was in a good mood this day
as evidenced by her laughter.)

- Donate $12 to an organization that helps individuals, animals, or the environment.

We donated $4 to the church's "Buck-a-Chick" fundraiser that the children's choir was sponsoring this month.  All the money collected will go towards the buying of baby chicks through the ELCA World Hunger Campaign for people living in poverty.

The table that the children's choir used for raising money
for the ELCA World Hunger Campaign.

The chickens can be used for eggs for the family, and as a way of providing income through the selling of the eggs. The children's choir collected over $250 for chicks.

The other $8 the girls wanted to donate to Northwoods Humane Society to help the animals who are there until they are placed in their new homes.

Lady is looking for a home after her owner went to
an assisted living facility. She was so gentle and eager for attention
when I spent time with her. What a great dog!

- Write 1 letter to someone who has made a difference in our lives.

I wrote a letter to one of my college professors (Eileen Gavin) who I have maintained contact with since I graduated in 1988 from The College of St. Catherine. One of my majors was psychology, and that's the department in which she taught.

At the time, she taught one of the classes I wanted to take. There were quite a few tests that required memorizing names and dates. After a dismal performance on a couple of tests, she asked to meet with me. She was surprised at the difference between my knowledge/participation in class and test-taking results. There was too much of a discrepancy.

I told her I had trouble remembering all the names and dates. So, she asked what I enjoyed doing. "Research, papers...anything that I can explore at a deeper level," I told her. Her proposal: instead of taking tests, my assignment - the way she would grade me - would be by research papers that I would do about a topic she assigned.

She was the first - and only - professor of mine to make a major modification to the way I was tested. It was truly an eye-opener about different learning styles, testing abilities, and helping people show what they were capable of doing.

This flexibility and willingness to adapt one's teaching style for a student is ever-present as I teach my daughters. One of the benefits of homeschooling is being able to adapt my teaching methods to each daughter since they have very different learning styles and abilities.

My ultimate goal is foster a love for learning in both Sophia and Olivia; and the desire to share their knowledge and skills with others in a positive way. Eileen showed me how to do this almost 25 years ago.

She also approved an internship for a J-term that was in a field that was slightly different than my major (social work instead of psychology). She was insightful in recognizing that many of the subjects that I had already studied in psychology would overlap with what I was going to be doing.

Even more important, she knew the personal, lifelong  impact that the internship would have on me. Why? It was a one-month internship with my dad who was a school social worker at an inner-city high school. It was a gift then to be able to spend a month learning alongside him...and it is even more treasured now that he is no longer here (it has been three months since his death in January).

- Donate 1 bag of pop cans to places that collect them to raise funds.

It was a rainy day when we dopped off the cans at Northwoods Humane Society. The girls are very committed to wanting to help animals there find new homes and families.

Olivia and Sophia ready to drop the cans
into the can collector.

We were surprised that quite a few of the same cats who were there last month are still there this month. We hope they find homes quickly.

Milo is still waiting for a home.
He is such an affectionate and playful cat.

- Donate 1 bag of Purina Kitten Chow (dry) to Northwoods Humane Society (where Gretel was adopted).

With kitten season soon upon Northwoods Humane Society, they are in need of Kitten Chow.

The girls with the Kitten Chow and a check for $8 to help
Northwoods Humane Society.

The girls were eager to check on the cats who were there - there were many new ones there as well as ones who were still waiting for new homes.

Sophia and Olivia visiting the cats.

They also went to visit the dogs as well. Not as many dogs were there on this visit. In fact, none of the dogs who we saw last month were there - all had been placed with new families!

Olivia spending time with a 13-week old puppy.

We received a thank you note from the "Northwoods staff and furry friends" that said, "Thank you for your recent donations. Through your support we can continue to provide food and shelter to the abused, abandoned, and forgotten animals in our community. Thank you again!"

- Spend 1 hour outdoors doing projects that help wildlife.

The girls filled the bird feeders this month.

The girls filling the birdfeeder by the family room window.
The cats especially like this feeder since
they can sit on the window ledge and
watch the many birds that eat here.

They also helped re-arrange the feeders so that they were more visible to the birds. Some were hidden under branches now filled with leaves, so we found other branches that were more accessible for the birds.

We also took down empty suet bags since they were serving no purpose.

The girls also brushed the horses on April 27th since they are shedding their winter coats. The birds like the horses' hair for nest-making. In fact, in one nest by the hobby shed there's a long piece of hair from Bailey's tail that we can see.

- Make and randomly drop off 1 toy for a child to find as part of The Toy Society.

I made a hand-embroidered bunny from wool felt and cotton floss. The toy is stuffed with wool from sheep I raised, and has a pom pom for its tail.

We put the toy along with a note saying it was free; and more information about The Toy Society and how people randomly place toys around the world for people to find in one of the children's carts at River Market Co-op.

The toy bunny waiting to be found in a child's cart.

We did this on a Saturday when there seemed to be quite a few children at the co-op. So hopefully it was found quickly and brought to someone's home where it is being enjoyed by a child there.

- Share 1 time the gift of music (piano and/or harp) or singing with others. 

Olivia and Sophia singing with
the adult choir at church on April 1st.

The girls sang at church twice on April 1st (Palm Sunday) with the adult choir and once on April 8th (Easter).
The girls singing with the choir on Easter.

They also sang twice (along with doing the children's play ) on April 15th.

Singing on April 15th after the children's play.

The girls also played the piano and Sophia played the harp for their grandma's 82nd birthday on April 24th.

Sophia playing the harp for her grandmother
on her birthday.

She was able to leave the Transitional Care Unit at St. Therese for a day at her home.  Needless to say, it was very happy and meaningful birthday for her.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Z is for Zebra Cookies - ABCs of Homeschooling

For the final recipe in the Alpha-Bakery children's cookbook, Sophia made Zebra Cookies.

Two of the zebra cookies that Sophia made.

The horse cookie cutter (which is the closest cookie cutter to a zebra that we had) was slightly larger than the stacked cookie dough that was sliced. We had to pushed the dough down a bit so it was big enough for the cookie cutter to fit.

With the dough that was leftover, Sophia put it in a ball and, using a rolling pin, rolled it out to about 1/4" thick. It was beautifully marbled at that point, and the next batch of cookies were marbled instead of striped.

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened (we used dairy-free butter)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/4 cup cocoa


Mix flour, both sugars, vanilla, margarine, salt, and egg until dough forms.  Divide dough in halves. Mix cocoa into one half. 

Sprinkle a surface very lightly with flour. Pat or roll each half of dough on the floured surface into a nine-inch square.  Cut each square into three 3-inch strips. Cut strips crosswise into halves.

Lift one brown strip half with large metal spatula and place on plastic wrap. Top with 1 white strip half; press firmly. Top with remaining 10 brown and white strip halves, alternating colors and pressing layers firmly to form into a bar, about 4 1/2 inches long, 3 inches wide, and 3 inches long.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, 1 to 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cut bar of dough crosswise into about 18 1/4-inch slices. Cut each slice with floured horse-shaped cookie cutter, about 3 inches x 3 inches. (Or, if you like, cut each slice cross-wise in half instead of using a cookie cutter. Makes about 36 cookies this way.)

Place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake cookies unti ledges begin to brown, 8-10 minutes. Let cookies cool slightly, then remove from cookie sheet with a spatula.

Makes about 18 cookies.

3 in 30 April Goals - Update #4

This week's progress for the 3 in 30 challenge is rather limited as it was last week. I was still sick through last weekend and the early part of this past week.  I've just started feeling like my "regular self" and tackling some things I've wanted to do this month. 

One thing I didn't include in my goals which I should have (rather than my second goal which is listed below) was preparing for and having a party for my mom's 82nd birthday. She is still in the transitional care unit as a result of a cracked ankle and now complications from diabetes. Despite this, she was able to go home for part of the day which was good.

Basically, on Tuesday morning (April 24th - her birthday) she enjoyed having birthday cake, mixed nuts, and coffee with 16 other ladies from her quilting group (they make quilts for people in need, without a home, or who were in domestic violence situations).

After the gathering, my sister joined my mom, Sophia, Olivia, and I for lunch. I made chicken noodle salad (the kind that my mom use to make when my sister, brother, and I were growing up – with little noodle rings, bits of chicken, onion, Watkins potato salad seasoning, Miracle Whip, eggs, celery, and radishes…the last two ingredients being added “for color” as my mom would say), whole grain rolls, fruit salad, deviled eggs, pickles, Sun Chips, pretzels, applesauce muffins, fresh vegetables with dip, and sugar-free lemonade.

Sophia played her harp as my mom was walking in the door and for a while (she played each of the songs she knew since my mom asked that for her birthday that Sophia play the harp); the ladies from the quilting group asked Sophia to play another song while they ate cake (she chose a song from "Sound of Music"); and then both Olivia and Sophia played a song on the piano after lunch. My mom enjoyed listening to the music.

My sister, mom, Olivia, and Sophia.
We are celebrating my mom's 82nd birthday.

So, here's what else I was able to do this week in terms of the three goals I set in April:

1 – Prepare and host an Easter gathering. This was done during the first two weeks of April.

2 – Clean half my office. I cleaned my desk off (as much as possible) and well as the top of a filing cabinet that is next to it during the first week. I still have some pending projects that I would like to complete and papers to go through.

It's a matter of sitting there for a half a day and going paper by paper...or project by project...and simply completing what needs to be done.

I also was working on one of my closets this month. During the first two weeks, I cleaned off four shelves on the two bookshelves (there are ten shelves total). This past week, I began working on another shelf. I cleaned and organized the craft and sewing supplies in each of the bins on that shelf. Found items to donate, toss, and reorganize so all like items are in the appropriate bins.

So, this project is left uncompleted as the month wraps up. It was too big of a project (even though I had broken down the major goal of cleaning my office into smaller steps).

Given that April included anticipated events such as Easter, the three-day homeschool conference, and my mom's birthday as well as unexpected events such as a health crisis with my mom (resulting in a change of her discharge plans from the transitional care unit from going home to going to assisted living for a month) and personally being sick for over a week and a was too big of a goal. There's next month to hopefully finish it.

3 – Clean the blue room. This weekend, Sophia, Olivia, and I went through all the toys, games, costumes "dress up" clothes (for playing), and the play kitchen in the blue room. We ended up filling five trash bags with items to donate. There were also two doll cribs/beds to donate.  In addition, there was one bag of items for the trash. 

Items to donate: five bags of toys, costumes, and household items
plus two doll cribs. Also have one big bag of trash.

Last week, I went through the two small bookshelves in the room and chose books that I thought the girls were done with. They each took a look at the books - some they still wanted, but others they were ready to donate.

We added them to the collection of books that we are going to donate to the African Library Project for a library in Lesotho, Africa. Read more about the project HERE. (As a side note, if you're interested in helping by donating some children's books you have that you no longer need, the link will give you more information about how to get your books to us so they can be shipped to Africa.)

Once all the bags were out of the room, I vacuumed the room. I have not yet dusted or washed the walls and windows. Although technically I'm not quite done with meeting this goal, I do feel very happy with the fact that so many items were removed and can be donated or tossed.

A side benefit to removing what the girls no longer can fit into or play with, is that what is left is what they want and it is now organized and easy to find. Both girls wanted to play yesterday after the room was cleaned, and did so again this afternoon. It's been a while since they've played with things in the blue room, so it was nice to see them doing this again.


What are my three goals for May?

1. Finish the projects I did not complete during the past four months. For example, during January I was unable to paint part of the master bedroom; and during April I did not finish cleaning part of my office.

2. Do the Biology of Behavior program. This was something that I learned about at the homeschooling conference in mid-April. It is designed for children who are having learning challenges and/or health issues (the latter of which can affect the former).

Dianne Craft (the speaker) recommended quite a few books as well as a comprehensive three-month program that includes dietary supplements and a change in the way one eats. Sophia, Olivia, and I began the program on Thursday by using acidophilus (this is an article by Dianne Craft about its use and how it fits into the program). Even within four days, we each are noticing positive effects that it has on each of us.

During May, I want to read the recommended books as well as continue adding the different supplements or modifying what we eat each week.

3. Do a nice Mother's Day meal. As with Easter, we will have Mother's Day at my mom's home. We will take her out of the transitional care unit for part of the day so she can spend it at home.

I will make the meal and bring it to her home so my mom; my sister + her family; my brother + his family; and my family and I can enjoy the day together.

Friday, April 27, 2012

P52 Photo Challenge - Green - Week 17

For this week's P52 challenge, the theme is "green."

This photograph shows a small part of a much-larger quilt that was displayed at a quilt show that Sophia, Olivia, and I attended on April 21st.

Each of the white squares had a flower and leaf - each with a different fabric. From a distance, you could see that it was a green and white patchwork quilt. The closer you walked to the quilt, the clearer the flowers became...and then the patterns within each of the flowers  became much clearer.

This quilt was one of many at a biennial show produced by the Forest Lake Memorial Quilters. Sophia, Olivia, and I were very inspired by the diversity and number of quilts shown. The talent and creativity of the quilters was impressive.

The Memorial Quilters was formed in 1979 with about 12 members. It held its first quilt show in 1980. Today, there are more than 50 members who meet once a month. They have educational meetings, guest speakers, teachers, and parties.

The guild also has two day-long retreats - one in the spring and the other in the fall; and field trips. They  do a variety of challenge projects, and block exchanges, and service projects. They make quilts for seniors at a local nursing home; a quilt for the first and last baby born each year at a nearby hospital; and quilts for those in need.

I left the show thinking the Memorial Quilters would be something that I would enjoy participating in once the more intense part of the homeschooling year is done (end of May).  I like the combination of education-social-service...especially the last component (using quilting to help and serve others).

project 52 p52 weekly photo challenge

Monday, April 23, 2012

Embroidery Journal Project - April

For this month's embroidery journal project I found a pattern at Sue's Treehouse that reflected the main focus and highlight of the month: Easter. I made some modifications to it to make it more personal, and reflect the happenings of the month.

Starting at the top of the Easter egg, there are four whipped wheels. They stand for my mom and us three children (my sister, brother, and me). This is the first Easter without my Dad there with us.

The next block is done in the chevron stitch. It is purple - one of my favorite colors.

The next section includes dark blue French knots and light blue hearts. I picked blue because that is my mom's favorite color. Sophia, Olivia, and I (represented by the three hearts) did quite a bit together to prepare for the Easter dinner which was on April 8th (thus, eight French knots).

We tried some new things (like the Peep-mobiles which everyone thought turned out great and Jello eggs which the children devoured), and did some things that we normally do each year (like make the lamb-shaped cake, buttermint Jello salad, and banana bread).  

The focus was trying to make it a memorable and positive Easter for my mom who has spent her time in a hospital and then transitional care unit at a nursing home since February 28th to heal a cracked ankle and now deal with her diabetes which needs to be stabilized.

The next section is done in the chevron stitch again. It's green - another one of my favorite colors.

The next section includes three pink rabbits - also a symbol of Easter. In addition to the holiday tie-in, this section also represents a three-day homeschool conference that I attended. For Sophia, Olivia, and I, homeschooling is such an important part of our days. Learning and doing fun activities together is something that I feel so fortunate to be able to do.

The conference was a way to learn some new and innovative methods for teaching as well as get the curriculum and resources I need for next year. I'm very excited about what we will doing next year!

The next section is done in the chevron stitch and is yellow. This is to represent the warm days of early April.

The last section of the egg itself are orange circles. I picked orange because it also represents warmth.

The bow is done in two shades of green. I think of green as representing spring - new life.  The intriguing thing about this spring has been that the frogs in the pond were singing in late-March when it was very warm. They were quiet then, and then began singing again - this time around their normal time of mid- to late-April when they typically emerge from hibernating.

This "double spring" - where the frogs sing twice - is something I've never heard since I've moved here in 1995. To be able to hear them sing again, was truly a gift.

The outline of the bow is done in the chain stitch. The "shaded" parts are done in a darker green in the back stitch.

On the bow are two blue snowflakes. In the middle of the month, after temperatures in the 70s, two mornings reminded me that I live in a state with unpredictable - and quite varying - temperatures. One morning, there was a light covering of snow on the ground. The other morning, there was a layer of frost.

Thankfully, all the blossoms on the fruit trees and flower shoots that had emerged safely made it through the drop in temperature.

In fact, the crabapple tree is covered with beautiful pink blossoms that have stayed on the tree for what seems longer than usual. As a reminder of the beauty and fragrant apple-blossom smell every time I walk by the tree, I outlined the Easter egg in pink.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Take a Stitch Tuesday - French Knots - Week 16

This week for Take a Stitch Tuesday (TAST), the goal was to learn or practice French knots. I have done French knots before, but not with much success. For some reason they would unravel or not sit tightly against the fabric.

I looked at examples of what people had done with French knots on Flickr and Google images. There are some very impressive pieces. If I was more skilled with French knots and embroidery, it would be nice to be able to an image with hundreds of little French knots. In reality, that would take me a very long time to do that.

So, I opted to do one sampler this week that used linen for the background fabric. After cutting it to the size I wanted, I frayed the edges by taking out the individual threads (about a half dozen on each side).

I sewed on two types of lace, and then began adding French knots directly on the linen as well as onto the center piece of lace.

One thing I found was that if I pulled the needle and embroidery floss too strongly through the linen, the whole knot would come right with it. With a more gentle-mindset and hand on the needle, I didn't have that problem for long.

As with past weeks, I combined a journal entry about the past week, a list of what I'm grateful for, and some images from greeting cards and scrapbooking paper. For example, the robin is representative of the ones I am seeing quite frequently now. The yellow bird is the closest image I had to a goldfinch which now are visiting the feeders decked-out in their beautiful yellow plumage.

The elephant, lion, and giraffe paper is a reference to the Library of Hope Book Drive that Sophia, Olivia, and I began earlier this month. Our goal is to collect 1,000 books and raise $800 to start a library in Lesotho, Africa. (As a side note, if you have children's books you want to donate or would like to make a donation to help ship the books to Africa, please click on the link above. We certainly would welcome your support!)

3 in 30 - April Goals - Update #3

This week's progress for the 3 in 30 challenge is rather limited. Last Friday and Saturday I was at the annual homeschooling conference (which was very informative and inspiring); and then I've been sick since Sunday.

Concurrently, on Sunday my mother experienced a serious drop in her blood sugar level (she has diabetes) which has now resulted in a change of plans in terms of her moving back home this past week. Rather than helping her move from the transitional care unit (where she's been recovering from a cracked ankle since the first week in March), the doctor said she now will have to go to an assisted living apartment until her diabetes is stablized and it is safe for her to return home.  Needless to say, dealing with this matter has taken priority over my personal goals.

So, here's what little I've done during the past week in terms of the three goals I set in April:

1 – Prepare and host an Easter gathering. This was done during the first two weeks of April.

2 – Clean half my office. I made no progress on this goal.

3 – Clean the blue room. I went through the two small bookshelves in the room. Both the girls went through books that I was ready to donate to the book drive that we are doing for the African Library Project (we're calling it the Library of Hope Book Drive).

We are collecting 1,000 books to create a library in Lesotho, Africa. Read more about the project HERE. (As a side note, if you're interested in helping by donating some children's books you have that you no longer need, the link will give you more information about how to get your books to us so they can be shipped to Africa.)

Anyway, with the remaining books in the blue room, I organized them on the shelves so they look more orderly.


So, by far, this is the briefest update on my goals this year. With one week left in April, I'm not sure I'll be able to meet the remaining goals. At this stage, though, I'm happy with any progress (versus none).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

P52 - Things that Grow - Week 16

Growth through change.
Growth through loss.
Growth through challenges.
Growth in nature.

Growth -- some of it inevitable….some painful, yet necessary…and some welcome.

I’ve seen all of these in my life during the past couple of years, especially during the last 3 ½ months.

Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but
it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.
~ Tom Barrett

Part of dealing with watching the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease in my father and dealing with the continual losses on a monthly…weekly…and then, ultimately, daily basis, I began using art as a way to express my feelings, document my life, and the effect caregiving had on it.

I have made monthly journal quilts (small 9” x 12” quilts that were accompanied by several-page journal entries); wrote poetry; made full-size quilts; blogged on a regular basis; took photographs; and embroidered.

These were all ways to creatively express myself, learn new skills, and grow despite the chaos in a changing world – the caregiving world – around me.

I think that our fundamental belief is that for us
growth is a way of life and
we have to grow at all times.
~ Mukesh Ambani

As my father was in the active dying process from late-November 2011 until the first week of January 2012, I still believe he was teaching me despite his ability to actively communicate with words or open his eyes.

I chose to be at his bedside from January 1st through January 5th (when he died). Being able to be with him, help care for him, ensure that he was receiving the medicines he needed, and giving people the opportunity to say “goodbye” to him all were emotionally challenging.

But I grew.
I was touched.
I learned.

He showed me – through the many visitors he had – the impact that he made by giving of himself. Of listening. Of genuinely caring for others.

Seeds of faith are always within us;
sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.
~ Susan Taylor

Because my father was a deacon, his funeral was attended by many deacons and their wives as well as priests. Hearing their wonderful voices in unison as they sang the songs provided healing comfort when I needed it.

Although I knew my father’s faith was strong, in going through his offices at home during the past few months, I have found countless Bible verses that were handwritten, homilies, and resources that showed how strong faith can be, and how it truly was such an integral part of who he was and what he believed.

He began his life in one religion and changed to another as a teenager. Within his chosen religion and throughout his entire adulthood, he continually chose to grow, learn, and inspire others on many different levels.

Education is growth.
Education is not a preparation for life;
education is life itself.
~ John Dewey

During the past week, I attended the annual homeschool conference. Most of the workshops I attended focused on special education and children who have special educational needs.

Being able to gain new ideas and methods of teaching along with thousands of other parents who are experiencing similar challenges with their children was invigorating and inspiring.

There are some basic changes to the way of teaching as well as feeding my daughters that may have a significant impact on their learning.  Truly, I am excited to make these changes and see the growth in their learning.

I am incredibly thankful to the workshop presenters who shared their knowledge so as a parent (and teacher) I can help my daughters learn and grow.

The garden is growth and change; and
that means loss as well as
constant new treasures to make up for a few disasters.
~ Mary Sarton

As the month progresses, the weather continues to be unpredictable – one week it is warm and in the 60s and 70s. The next, there are mornings with a light snowfall or frost. There have been calm days and days with extreme wind.

Yet, the bushes and trees are in full bloom and have sustained these setbacks – these challenges that the weather has put forth. They have held onto their blossoms and flowers. They have welcomed the bees and butterflies as they have drank nectar and spread the pollen.

The crabapple tree – with its beautiful pink flowers – provides a fragrant canopy over the walkway from the driveway to the door. Its other half – which fell over in an ice storm in November 2010 – has grown new shoots from the fallen trunk. Tiny white flowers are gracing the ends of the branches.

Then I look over at the garden – overgrown already with weeds and grasses. Yet within the mess, signs of sustenance – chives, rhubarb, lettuce, raspberries, and strawberries – all have begun to emerge.


So, despite the changes, loss, and challenges that – at times – seemed too overwhelming, it was (and is) important to focus on positive growth.

:: Recognizing good changes in myself, my daughters, and others.
:: Taking the time to be grateful for things and people I can often take for granted.
:: Making a commitment each month to give and serve others (especially those in need), animals, and the environment.
:: Using photography, embroidery, writing, and journaling to make it through an emotionally-difficult year.

project 52 p52 weekly photo challenge

Thursday, April 12, 2012

3 in 30 April Goals - Update #2

At the end of the second week of the April, I have done the following towards my three goals in the 3 in 30 challenge:

1 – Prepare and host an Easter gathering. Since the last update, my focus was on making the food for 17 people, transporting it 50 miles to my mom's home, and getting it set-up (for both the dinner and dessert parts of the meal).

My mom with her nine grandchildren (in front) and
three children (standing on the couch).
Sophia (in the pink shirt) and Olivia (in the blue dress)
are on both sides of their grandma,
and I'm standing directly behind Sophia.

The Easter meal included the following items (the items with a * by them are ones I didn't make): ham, BBQ ribs*, scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole*, vegetable casserole, croissants*, banana bread, zucchini spice bread, applesauce, asparagus-strawberry tossed salad, deviled eggs, lime-mint jello, and jello in the shape of eggs.

Some of the food for dinner was on the counter.
The rest was on the tables.

We made fresh vegetable wagons with two types of dip. Olivia saw the instructions for the wagons in a recent Taste of Home magazine. She thought they'd be nice to have for Easter.

Two skewers are put through four cucumber slices.
Four slices of celery are laid on top of the skewers.
The rest of the fresh vegetables are piled on top of the the celery.
Dip is served in bowls on the side.

For the deviled eggs and jello eggs, I used a ceramic plate that Sophia painted a couple of years ago in her pottery/ceramics class at the homeschool co-op.

Jello eggs and deviled eggs on
a ceramic platter that Sophia painted.
(Under each egg is a different spring color.)

For dessert, we had key lime bars, mounds bars, and peanut candy bars. (The first two were the favorite ones.) There were a variety of Easter candies and mixed nuts available as well.

My sister and mom by the desserts.

There was also a cake in the shape of a lamb which Olivia and I make each year.

Olivia with the lamb cake.

Oh...and Peep-mobiles! Sophia and Olivia made a bunch of Peep-mobiles this year. Family Fun magazine had the idea several years ago. I've wanted to make them, but never did. With all the young kids at Easter, I thought it would be fun for them to see (and eat) a Peep-mobile. The girls had so much fun making them.

Peep-mobiles that Sophia and Olivia made for Easter.

I had made lemon curd tartlets with fresh raspberries and mint on top, but forgot about these in the refrigerator since they needed to be assembled right before eating them.

To drink, there was a red punch, juice, and water.

Olivia making the punch. The recipe came from the
Five in a Row Cookbook that we're using this year
as part of her homeschooling.

I also filled 99 plastic Easter eggs with one coin (if it was silver) or two (if it was copper). Some of the eggs were hung on the crabapple tree, as my Mom and Dad had done for many years. The rest were hidden around the front yard.

Sophia choosing an egg from the Easter egg tree.

Melissa also filled about 30 Easter eggs with candy so the children had quite a few eggs to find on the Easter egg tree and around the front yard. My mom was able to watch the children do the Easter egg hunt from the inside front window.
Sophia and Olivia with two of their cousins
finding Easter eggs in the front yard.

It was an enjoyable afternoon for everyone there. Of course, in the back of my mind was the fact that this was the first Easter without my Dad. I'm sure others there had similar thoughts about how their Dad/husband/Grandpa wasn't there. Hopefully, gathering together and sharing a meal help lessen the loss a bit for us all.
2 – Clean half my office. I cleaned two more of the ten shelves in my closet (that makes four now). There's still a long ways to go on this project because there also are areas on either sides of the shelves as well as a smaller shelf to go through.

In addition to the closet, I worked on cleaning the remaining two-thirds of my desk top by filing items or placing them back where they should have been put in the first place. It's nice to have it looking more organized again.

There are still a couple of small stacks on my desk of things I want to go through. They need to stay on top of my desk because these are things of immediate importance that need to be addressed.

3 – Clean the blue room. I still have not worked on this goal at all. With the homeschool conference this weekend, it looks like this goal will need to be worked on during the last two weeks of April.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Take a Stitch Tuesday - Stem Stitch - Week 15

This week for Take a Stitch Tuesday (TAST), the featured stitch is the stem stitch. It is one that I have not done before, so I learned it this week thanks to this year-long project.

I embroidered the stem stitch in dark green cotton floss for the three flower stems, and a light green cotton floss for the grass. The fabric is tie-dyed using a few different colors.

The flowers are made from several different patterns and textures of paper. Two of the flowers have colored "gems" in the center. (The flowers were made by someone else. I received them in exchange for a window star that I made.)

This sampler was part of a two-page spread that I did in my embroidery journal. Along with the embroidery, I had a written personal reflection, list of things for which I am grateful, the name of the stitch, and different images that represent (to me) spring and different things I saw this week (e.g., birds).

The candle symbolically represents my Dad who wasn't here for Easter this year (the first Easter without him)...but was with us in spirit.

According to the Embroiders' Guild, to do the stem stitch, "Work from left to right, taking regular small stitches along the line of the design. The thread always emerges on the left side of the previous stitch. This stitch is used for flower stems, outlines, etc. It can also be worked as a filling stitch if worked closely together within a shape until it is completely filled.

P52 Photo Challenge - Sacrifice - Week 15

For the fifteenth week of Project 52, the theme is Sacrifice. In the context of the Easter week, it is easy to see why this theme was selected.

Stretching a bit beyond this connection, I think of sacrifices that people have made throughout the generations. I heard of many sacrifices that my parents and grandparents made during the Great Depression.

- Of making do.
- Of being content with what you had...even if it paled in comparison to what others had.
- Of losing the family home because of not earning enough money to pay the mortgage. Clients paid with what they had - chickens, eggs, a hot dish. Unfortunately, that didn't help my grandparents keep their home.

I think of the sacrifices that my uncles, grandfather, and dad made in serving during WWII and the Korean War.

And I think about the sacrifices that my parents made in order to move from the inner-city to a safer a home they designed that was on the east side of a quiet lake so we could enjoy beautiful sunsets throughout the year and live in the country.

They did this on a social worker's salary. When things got really tight, my mom worked at night in a toy factory on an assembly line and later at a bakery so that she could be there for us children when they came home from school. My dad would take temporary jobs during the summer to supplement his income. Anything to make ends meet.

To me, everyone has had to make at least one sacrifice in his or her lifetime. For some people, their lives seem pretty easy. Yet, for others, they need to make many sacrifices - sometimes on a daily basis - just to survive.

Sometimes those sacrifices are easy to notice by others...and other times they are silent sacrifices that are known by the person but not shared with others.
The door of a shed...still functional,
yet desperately in need of repair.
It must wait while other more critical things are addressed.

I've learned that nothing comes without sacrifice.

According to "Sacrifice is Such a Hopeful Word" by Rev. Tim Kutzmark, who echoed the same sentiment, "Think about it — the snow must melt, the ice must thaw, the seed must crack, the bulb must be buried, the bud must break open — in order for spring to unfold."

He continued, "Think about it:

- A problem drinker must give up the bottle in order to claim health and clarity.

- A parent must give up untrammeled freedom and unrestricted sense of self in order to raise children.

- A rambunctious teenager must give up some of their desire to confront and confound in order to sit down and get the education that will allow them to secure their way through life.

- A preschooler must share their teddy bear in order to make a new friend.

- An unhappy spouse must risk financial insecurity in order to end the marriage that has stifled their spirit.

- A person who is lonely, grieving, or ill must give up the illusion of independence in order to gain the support of friends and family who will walk with them through the valley of shadows.

"The spirit of spring, the spirit of Easter, the spirit of Passover, the Spirit of Life calls to each of us to consider our lives, to consider our circumstances, to consider our choices, to consider what we must risk, where we can stretch, how we can dream.

"...Easter...asks of us, of our lives, today: what must we let go of, what must we crack open, what must we plant, what must we grow?"

project 52 p52 weekly photo challenge

Help Create a Library in Africa!

Help create a library in Lesotho (Africa) for primary school children by donating your gently-used or new books!

Sophia and Olivia (ages 11 and 9 respectively) and their mom (Ann) are organizing a book drive on behalf of the African Library Project to collect 1,000 books and raise $800 to store, pack, and ship the books to Africa. As a homeschooling family, an important part of education is service, giving to others, and trying to make a positive impact in the world.

Over 50% of the people in Lesotho live on less than $1 per day. That isn’t much money to purchase anything beyond the basics. Books truly are a luxury – both at home and at school.

Books Needed for a Children’s Library in Lesotho

We need to collect 1,000 books for a primary school library in Lesotho by September 30, 2012. The items should be in good condition (they can be gently used or new). The most appropriate and needed items are:

Ø  Baby board books
Ø  Children’s picture books
Ø  Children’s fiction and non-fiction
Ø  Early readers
Ø  BIG books
Ø  Teacher's resource books for school libraries
Ø  Children’s dictionaries/picture dictionaries
Ø  Encyclopedias less than 15 years old
Ø  Children’s encyclopedias/picture encyclopedias
Ø  Children’s thesauruses
Ø  Children’s health books
Ø  Paperback textbooks in math, English, geography, health, and science at appropriate level (kindergarten to 6th grade)
Ø  Books with universal themes (e.g., friendships, animals, love)
Ø  Accurate up-to-date atlases
Ø  Books about Africa or African-Americans
Ø  Educational children's science and literary magazines in good condition
Ø  Brain teasers, flash cards, educational games, and puzzles

Books may be mailed to: Ann Rinkenberger in Scandia, Minnesota. Please visit our book drive webpage for the address for where to mail books HERE.

Donations can be made by: If you prefer to donate money, we can accept checks, money orders, or cash. (The checks and money orders should be made out to Ann Rinkenberger with “Library of Hope Book Drive” in the memo.) Monetary donations may be sent to the address on our book drive webpage.

Donations also can be made via Paypal. Please use the email account when Paypal asks to whom you want to send money.

For more information about the book drive and the progress we are making; Lesotho; and additional ways to help, please visit our website at:

We believe every child has a right to read; and reading will give the students in Lesotho an opportunity to have bright futures. We would like to see every child in Lesotho to be able to enjoy a library and reading just as we do in the United States.

Please make a difference by donating to the Library of Hope Book Drive.
Your help will give children hope of a better future!