'Muff'in Dome

#write31days ~ day 9: counting your blessings

cornflowers

“Rejoicing in these singular moments of grace, I desired to see more of them and was better able to recognize His loving care woven throughout my days. My hope returned. The recognition of His presence in my life lifted me from the fog of despair and back into the light of hope.”

Today I am writing over at Blessed is She, sharing how the practice of daily gratitude can be an excellent way of keeping the joy of Christ in your life, even during turbulent, trying times. Whenever my mood is spiraling into a dark place for long stretches, I find that this practice of counting your blessings can bring great relief and inspiration through this great act of faith.

I often take an empty journal and just write in a thing or two each day that I’m grateful for. It’s an excellent practice to start during Advent or Lent as a devotion to enter into the season more fully. And one of the reasons I love the Blessed is She Liturgical Planner so much is that there is a space for this at the end of every day.

Two people that inspire me with their continual practice of this are Bobbi at Revolution of Love and Ann at A Holy Experience. Bobbi, a fellow BiS writer, is currently spending her Write 31 Days challenge sharing 31 Days of Gratitude. I read along with her last year as well when she kept this practice. {Although, this is actually her third year!} Ann has an entire book written on this practice {which I haven’t yet read, but need to!}. Her blog posts are filled with gratitude for even the smallest blessings in life.

 

#write31days ~ day 8: a gentleman in moscow

a gentleman in moscow

Last year, I happened across Amor Towles’ novel, Rules of Civility. It was richly captivating for me, reminding me, as many have said, of The Great Gatsby. It was one of my favorite novels that year. I went in search of more books by the author, but, much to my disappointment, discovered that that was his only published novel so far.

Fortunately, he didn’t wait too long to get back to putting a pen to paper. And, now, he has certainly outdone himself.

Towles’ latest, A Gentleman in Moscow, tells the story of a Russian man, Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, who is forced under house arrest in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow during the early 1920s. The narrative follows along with his adventures while living there, stuck inside the posh hotel. {But which he is no longer able to partake as fully of as he once was.} A man of culture and civility, it is interesting to read how he navigates the period of communist inculturation happening during his lifetime. The Count is a character who has you rooting for him throughout the story, and who stays with you long after the last page. I was certainly sad to see him go.

The other persons he encounters, both employees of the hotel and the visitors which grace the halls of the fine place, are full of depth and intrigue. The author does a superb job of weaving their lives together. There are many great moments which leave you on the edge of your seat, waiting to find out what happens.

Admittedly, I am not well-educated in Russian history, nor have I had the chance to read many Russian novels. But after this small glimpse of Russian history and culture, I am eager to learn more and pick up a Dostoyevsky or Tolstoy.

This may be my top pick of the year.

 

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#write31days ~ day 7: our favorite autumn activities {7QT}

1. baking
It probably comes as no surprise that my favorite autumn activity is baking. In my food blogging days, I think my greatest collection of recipes was during the fall months. The spices used, the warm foods with the onset of cooler weather, the delight of turning the oven on when the house isn’t already a toasty 85 degrees.

rolling out dough

Here is a collection of some of my favorite autumn baking recipes:

pumpkin pecan scones
chai spiced granola
pumpkin gingerbread cookies
soft ginger cookies
mendicino pumpkin muffins
pumpkin chocolate chip cookies 
pumpkin crunch granola
coconut chai coffee cake
pumpkin protein bars
apple cider donuts
pumpkin spice donuts

2. Apple Hill
If you are not in close proximity to Apple Hill {or a place like it}, I’m sorry. There is nothing quite like this location of all-things-apple that affords you the ability to go apple picking, munch apple donuts dunked in a cup of warm, fresh cider, pull apart a gooey apple cinnamon roll or fritter, or sip a glass of cool, crisp cider {of the alcoholic variety}.

apple hill treats

It is an annual tradition we’ve been doing since I was a tot with my grandparents and are now passing on to the next generation.

{I’ve got a great collection of apple recipes for you here if you like that kind of thing. ;)}

apple picking

3. breaking out the warm drinks : alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike

I drink tea year-round, but the delight factor is turned up a notch of that first cup in the morning when you wake up to the chill of an autumn morning. The chai comes out more often too.

cloves

oranges and cloves

My husband has a knack for making some wonderful libations in the fall/winter months as well. He’s especially good with glühwein {mulled wine}, which we like to fill our thermos with and take on a walk through the golden, rouge leaves falling. 

In preparation for the holidays, we begin testing out our eggnog making skills. We can never get enough of this smooth drink.

4. pumpkin picking at a farm {or enjoying our homegrown ones!}
Of course, the fall wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a pumpkin patch or two! We like to visit Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm in our area. There are so many great activities for the kids, including a trampoline covered in hay, a petting zoo, and a train that takes you on a tour around the farm. The hay ride out to the patch and back for your pumpkins is a huge highlight of the day.

pumpkin picking

This year, we grew some of our own pumpkins too which we are very excited to finally display {they’ve been chilling in the linen cupboard since early August due to mama’s too-early plantings}. We just took them out yesterday to add to the fall decor on our porch. It’s so much fun for the girls to see the pumpkins they grew from seed. They are very proud!

5. decorating
On a related vein, I can’t wait for the opportunity to pull out all the warm colored decor to sprinkle all over the house. Our resident porch scarecrow is a favorite, and we enjoy picking out various squash, gourds, and Indian corn for a natural display at home.

porch scarecrow with pumpkins

6. hiking
We are fortunate to live in an area with hiking trails aplenty. Fall is my favorite time of the year to go meandering through the hills, observing the changes of the season.

hiking on the trail

taking a walk

7. watching fall sports : futbol and football

Both Steve and I were soccer players growing and intend to introduce our daughters to league play when they are old enough. {If they decide to take it to the next level will be determined by their interest.} The family enjoys going out to watch other family members play. This year our nephew is playing and being coached by his dad and uncle. We watched his first game a few weeks ago.

We are fortunate to have FC that started her a few years ago, the Sacramento Republic FC. Steve went with a few of my brothers to watch one of their first games, and we’re hoping to go together soon on a date night.

College football viewing runs deep on both sides of the family, with the biggest rooting happening behind USC, Stanford, and Notre Dame. It makes for some exciting Saturdays during these fall months.

playing in the leaves

 

What are some of your favorite autumn activities? 

{Linking up with Kelly this week over at This Ain’t the Lyceum. Go there for more of 7QT!}

#write31days ~ day 6: camping with young children

calaveras big trees camping

I’m no pro at this camping game, but I can say, without a doubt, taking the girls outdoors overnight several times this summer has been an excellent decision. The family/friend camaraderie is bar none when one is able to wile away the hours in the wild.

calaveras big trees camping
{photo by Jan}

We eased in with our first trip in July, staying just one night with some close friends at a state park we had been to before. I am glad that we only committed to one night this first time because it was relaxing to know that if things didn’t work out, we’d only be missing out on one night’s sleep.

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping
{photo by Jan}

Shortly after our camping trip to the coast, we began looking at other possibilities for a second trip this summer. We chose a spot none of us had been to, and invited Steve’s parents to come along for the fun. Our spot was the Calaveras Big Trees, not too far from Yosemite. This state park was a little closer to home than the last, allowing for more play and less driving.

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping

A few days before we left, we decided to extend our stay an extra night. We were only inconvenienced by having to move sites the second night {and the first was our favorite, boo}.

camping

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping

Evelyn continued her tradition of searching for “mysterious creatures” in the woods with her little headlamp. She also brought along her camera again this time and was capturing snapshots of all the things of interest–moss, bark on trees, a camp chair, the dirt on her sister….

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping
{photo by Jan}

calaveras big trees camping

Lucie got dirtier than anyone I’ve ever seen, announcing at the end of every meal, “I’m done. I go play in the dirt!” It’s a little hard to keep her out when it is everywhere. She took advantage of mama allowing this unbridled freedom by spending every possible minute in it.

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping {photo by Jan}
calaveras big trees camping {photo by Jan}

The BIG trees were truly spectacular. They soared to the sky–there was certainly some neck craning to catch a glimpse of the top. In one spot, we were able to stand on top of the stump of one that had been cut down. It was big enough to host a party on!

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping {photo by Jan}

We went on a little hike through the woods, and had planned on coming back the next day to the series of trails for another, but never made it. There are many trails to explore at this park, for various levels of experience.

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping
{photo by Jan}

There was so much for the girls to be involved in, including food prep, dish washing, journaling, tree identification, and, of course, plain, ol’ playing in the dirt, which I demonstrated as Lucie’s greatest strength when it comes to camping. 🙂

We actually got the girls to sleep for a nap {despite the neighbors practicing a hip-hop dance to some loud beats–who does that in forest?}. They needed that rest to make it through the evening with s’mores on the horizon.

calaveras big trees camping

calaveras big trees camping
{photo by Stephen}

My favorite part of the trip was witnessing the girls with their hot chocolate and mugs of oatmeal first thing in the morning. It seemed quintessential camping and they looked so cozy bundled up in their warm gear. That and s’mores roasting. They took to the camping traditions like fish to water.

If you’re on the fence about taking the leap with your family, I’d say, Go for it! At least one night. It’s an excellent adventure that’s great to have in the family memory bank.

#write31days ~ day 5: planning ahead for Advent

Advent-light

It’s on the horizon, folks.

It seems like Advent is always upon us so much sooner than I had anticipated, so I’m making an extra effort this year, at least, to have a general plan about what we will be doing so I can prepare things in advance.

Last year, I purchased Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest GiftWe are already set to do it this year {minus a “tree” to hang our ornaments on} as I printed out her wonderful ornament accompaniments for the children to color while we read the passage for the day. It seems an excellent way to introduce children to the Jesse Tree, as well as involve them in the spirit of anticipating Christmas. There are several questions at the end of each day easily tailored for different ages.

nativity-advent-calendar

My girls love the hands-on aspect of working with an Advent calendar. We our on our third year of using one similar to this. We may have a chocolate one for each of the girls too. {I waited too long last year to pick ours up at Trader Joes so I will be running to the display this year.} I imagine we’ll also do a paper chain. These girls love their countdown helpers. We greatly anticipate the unwrapping of our Advent/Christmas books that Elizabeth introduced us to last year. It’s definitely worth the extra effort. It’s one of the reasons why I get started early — so I can find those books to add to our collection from used shops! And we love, love, love this child-friendly Nativity that gets played with throughout Advent into the Christmas season too.
blessed is she advent 2016

Coincidentally, Blessed is She just released their Advent products for this year, today. The artwork of the journal by Erica is strikingly beautiful; I know the words by Elizabeth Foss will equally be. I’m adding mine to my cart pronto because these typically sell out very quickly. I purchased the Jesse Tree cards last year and they are a great addition to our devotions for the adults in the family. Not sure I can pass up the print this year either.

 

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#write31days ~ day 4: circus

circus vargas roseville ca

About a month or so ago, Evelyn remarked that she would like to attend the circus. I believe the idea came from learning about the circus in The Story of Babar. She’s repeated this request several times since then.

enjoying the circus

I had no idea when the circus would be in town or whether we would be able to go. But some fortuitous events coincided recently that meant not only would it be in town imminently, but also that we would certainly be able to go.

circus vargas

I was scrolling through Instagram one evening when I noticed that one of the local events accounts mentioned that Circus Vargas was coming to town. On that photo, they were having a contest for locals to win a family four pack of tickets. I commented saying that my three-year old was anxious to go and we would love to take her.

Lo and behold, within the week, I found out I was the lucky winner of those tickets!

circus vargas

We attended this past weekend and it truly exceeded even my expectations. The high-flying trapeze, the circular cage traversed by two daredevil motorcyclists, the limber acrobatics {which Evelyn claimed were ballerinas}, the kamikaze trampoline bounces by a troupe of male gymnasts. It was truly an amazing spectacle.

img_0449

#write31days ~ day 3: BIG painting

big painting

With two little people who are super inquisitive, I decided to glean a little extra help with a structured, yet very loose, curriculum from The Homegrown Preschooler this school year. It’s called A Year of Playing Skillfully. I am very much into play-based learning, hands-on experiences, etc. and this curriculum fits that to a ‘T’.

big painting

big painting

Last year, I read The Homegrown Preschooler, written by the same authors of the curriculum, Kathy H. Lee and Lesli Richards. I appreciated their educational philosophy and incorporated some of the activities offered into our day. Between this and Twenty-Six Letters to Heaven {which we LOVED and are supplementing with again}, we had a great thing going last year.

big painting

big painting

But I could tell this year that Evelyn needed a little something extra. I was faced with the decision of, essentially, putting together my own curriculum or seeking a bit of help. I chose to do the latter because I was feeling a tad overwhelmed at the prospect this time around.

We’re a month in, and although we didn’t get to half the prescribed activities in September, we had a great time with the ones we did. It’s a great program because Lucie can easily get involved too, even though she is only a fresh two years old. {She’s much more interested in kinesthetic learning, so she truly has no problem diving into many of the activities!}

big painting

big painting

One of last month’s activities was BIG painting. We took out a large roll of paper, cut about 15 feet off, and got to work on it with paints, sponges, paintbrushes, and a few other natural items we found in the yard {Lucie really liked stamping with a large rock}. Evelyn surprised me by instigating the body painting, which she is usually hesitant to try.

big painting

big painting

They had the best time working together…and individually when they each needed a bit of space. It easily allowed for that.

big painting

big painting

Since we used washable paints, clean-up was relatively easy. Even mama got some on her shirt and it washed out. 🙂

painted

painted

Looking forward to sharing more of our projects with you as the year progresses!

#write31days ~ day 2: rain

resting in an easy chair

Today was our first day of rain in California in I don’t know how long. Even a touch of snow up in the mountains. {I know! Already?!} The crisp smell of rain hit my nostrils the second I stepped outside. Just the scent was relieving since this terrible drought we’ve been in. It meant somewhere it was coming down and, likely, soon would be hitting the earth immediately below our feet.

………………………..

It has been terrible watching one lawn after another die off. One tree after another turn brown and wilt. One bush after another languish with thirst and crisp. One reservoir after another become like a desert land, cracked and dry.

When we drove up into the mountains near Yosemite last weekend for our camping trip, I couldn’t believe the number of fir trees I was witnessing brown from tip to bottom. It takes a lot for these towering, majestic firs to flag. And here they were dead. So many of them.

There was a windstorm amongst the tops of the trees in our final night in the forest. It was rather disconcerting to have those BIG trees standing above, swaying so mightily in the wind. Even more so, with their desiccated limbs flailing. Every so often, you could hear one crashing to the ground at a short distance. I prayed more than once to our guardian angels that night to keep our tents and bodies safe from harm.

………………………..

Rain is most welcome here. To fill our rivers. To quench our trees. To enliven our flowers. To satisfy our living animals. To heal our dry land.

#write31days ~ day 1: sunflowers

sunflowers

Last year, we grew these sunflowers in our garden. It was the first year that, after their planting, they actually decided to show up. Although, I doubt the late arrival to the party was their own fault. Those birds that swoop through the yard many times throughout the day, I’m sure, may have been the influence.

The sunflowers uplifting presence was a bright highlight every day as I walked into the garden to water. Their orientation toward the sun reminded me to soak in its rays after the chilly, grey days of winter had fallen away. Their radiance brought their own source of light to cheer me. My daughters loved to stand near them and gaze up at their grandeur, their large heads providing a small source of shade from the blazing sun.

………………………..

My grandmother had a great affinity for these delightful flowers. Just recently, we began the process of emptying her house as she and my grandfather both have passed onto their eternal reward. As I swept through her kitchen, painted a sweet shade of pastel yellow, I began unhooking the pictures she had hanging there: all ones depicting in a variety of ways her favorite sunshiny flower. I wrapped them up to bring them to my home, thinking very fondly of her and our times spent in the kitchen, hoping soon to hang them on my own walls to bring back those memories from time to time.

………………………..

We planted another round of sunflowers this year. My eldest finds great delight in the color red, so we threw in a few of that shade as well. I’ve hidden them along the fence, away from the sight of the snatching birds. They do so much better in that spot. We, even, had a several volunteers from last year’s fallen seeds that produced stalks nearly resembling sunflower trees, with multiple heads shooting from the main stem.

What a joy they bring! I’m beginning to understand why they were my grandmother’s favorite. They may slowly make their way up my chart of favorites to the top as the years roll by.

#write31days ~ 2016

 

I’ve said nothing on here for sometime. Truth is, I’ve fallen out of the habit. And, for me, once I’ve fallen off, it’s hard to get back on. {This goes for me and physical exercise right now too.}

Last year, I participated in the Write 31 Days that occurs every October. I posted with a focus on my photography. It was a good exercise. It got me picking up my camera more often, thinking about some of the skills I wanted to work on further, and resulted in a great collection of photos at the end of the month. Part of me wants to do the same again, but I’m itching to exercise my writing fingers. I’ve missed the process of writing. I’ve missed engaging with my readers on this space. I’ve missed sharing the words that yearn to pour forth. I’ve felt stuck, not knowing where to begin, so just begin I must.

I’ve tossed around the idea of writing with a theme. I had settled on one yesterday, but I’m hesitant to saddle myself with one topic. I have dancing fingers; there’s much to say. Instead, I’m going with my original idea of writing freely for at least 10 minutes every day.

You might get something informative, funny, or just plain mundane. It’ll be a surprise…for both of us.

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