Sunday, March 27, 2016

Celebrating Easter - 2016

This year for Easter we are celebrating it at our farm. Throughout the years, we have had Easter dinner at my parents' home, my sister's home, and mine. 

Olivia and Sophia decorating Easter eggs before Easter.

We've done a variety of activities on Easter: breakfast at church, watching the girls sing and/or play the piano as part of the children's choir, done Easter egg hunts, had visits from the Easter Bunny complete with leaving out carrots the night before for him, and hosted meals for family.

Healthy Easter baskets.

This year marks the first year that both my parents are no longer alive. Easter (and Christmas) were very important holidays to them and there was a lot of spiritual and cultural activities that we did. It feels different this year...less celebratory. Less joyful. Just a feeling of sadness and missing both of them.

The girls are ready for breakfast.
The Easter eggs are ones they decorated.

However, grief takes a backstage - when it comes to holidays. The expectation is that life goes on. And it does. Just in a different way. 

So, I continue to try to make meals special on holidays because that's what my mom would have done. 

We had Flaky Egg Bake for breakfast as well as bacon and fresh pineapple. The recipe for the egg bake is one that I clipped from a Taste of Home magazine in 2011 and have wanted to make for many years. This year I made it for Easter. I found the recipe online and pinned it on Pinterest. It was good. However, I wouldn't make it again. I like other egg bakes that I've made better.

A blurry picture of the Flaky Egg Bake.


3/4 pound bulk Italian sausage
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
6 large eggs, divided
1-1/2 cups (6 ounces) shredded Havarti cheese (I used mild cheddar cheese)
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil or 2 teaspoons dried basil
1 cup butter, melted
30 sheets phyllo dough (14 inches x 9 inches)


Preheat oven to 350°. In a large skillet, cook sausage, mushrooms, onion and peppers over medium heat until meat is no longer pink and vegetables are tender; drain. Return sausage mixture to skillet. Whisk five eggs; add to skillet. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until set; stir in Havarti cheese. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, basil and remaining egg. Brush a 13"x9" baking pan with butter. Unroll phyllo dough; trim to fit into pan.

Layer 10 sheets in prepared pan, brushing each sheet with butter. (Keep remaining phyllo covered with plastic wrap and a damp towel to prevent it from drying out.) Top with half of the sausage mixture.

Layer with 10 additional phyllo sheets, brushing each with butter; spread with ricotta mixture. Layer with five phyllo sheets, brushing again with butter; top with remaining sausage mixture. Layer with remaining phyllo and butter. Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 rectangles. Bake, uncovered, 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.

Freeze option: Cover and freeze unbaked casserole for up to 3 months. To use, thaw in refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake, uncovered, at 350° for 40-50 minutes or until golden brown and heated through.

Yield: 12 servings.

DINNER (2:00 P.M.)

This year for Easter dinner, I made:
- Ham with Cloves
- Cheesy Potatoes
- Carrots
- Asparagus
- Buttermilk Biscuits
- Banana Bread
- Coleslaw
- Frozen Lime Butter Mint Salad
- Easter Lamb Cake
- Easter Surprise Cupcakes

I tried several new recipes this year which I enjoyed doing.

Cheesy Potatoes


Buttermilk Biscuits




Easter Surprise Cupcakes

Another dessert we made this year were surprise cupcakes. I saw the pin on Pinterest, and wanted to try them. They led to Tablespoon.

We made cupcakes using a yellow cake mix, and followed the directions on the box for baking temperature and time.

Once the cupcakes were cool, we used a melon baller to scoop out the center of each cupcake (about one inch deep). We filled each one with one heaping teaspoonful of candies and Easter-theme sprinkles.

Rather than topping the cupcakes with green frosting from the store and a yellow Peep, we made homemade frosting and candy bunny feet. For the tail, we used an extra ball of frosting and topped it with shaved sugar.

Sharlee opening the cupcakes.

These cupcakes were a huge hit. Because no one knew what was on the inside, it was a fun surprise to open them. Everyone wanted to know how they were made. We'll definitely make these again.


A few recipes were ones that I made before that most everyone enjoys.

Grandma Olive's Banana Bread


1/2 cup butter, softened (I used dairy-free butter)
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon soda
3 bananas, mashed
1/3 cup chopped pecans (optional...I didn't use them)


Cream butter and sugar in bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs; mix well. Sift in flour and soda. Stir in bananas and pecans. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool on wire rack.


The Frozen Lime Butter Mint Salad is one that I've made before that my dad thoroughly liked and requested several times. I found a similar recipe online and pinned it. The pin leads to

Frozen Lime Butter Mint Salad


2 (13 ounce) cans crushed pineapple in juice, undrained
1 (3 ounce) package lime Jell-O gelatin
1 (10 1/2 ounce) package miniature marshmallows
7 ounces butter mints, shaved
1 pint whipping cream (or 2 envelopes Dream Whip )


Mix undrained pineapple with dry Jell-O. Fold in mini-marshmallows. Cover and place in refrigerator overnight.

Next day, add shaved butter mints and whipping cream/Dream Whip. Pour into a 9"x13" pan and freeze.

Note: I mixed everything together at one time and froze it overnight.


Easter Lamb Cake

For many years, we have been making a lamb cake. This year, I saw a cute pin on Pinterest of a lamb cake that was decorated with flowers. So, we made the cake as usual using one box of cake mix. The two sections of the cake are "glued" together with frosting.

The eyes and nose are jellybeans, and the lamb normally has a ribbon around her neck.

She sits on a bed of green coconut grass with jellybeans (to represent flowers).

Unfortunately, we ran out of time to finish decorating the lamb cake since the other recipes collectively took longer than anticipated. It still tasted great...just didn't look like a lamb or much of anything except a blob of white-frosted cake.

Detox Your Finances - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 13

A couple of months ago, I checked out Detox Your Finances by John Middleton from the library. It wasn't until this past week that I sat down and read it.

Thankfully, we're finally at a point where the only debt is the mortgage. Other than that: nothing. No student loans, no credit card debt, no medical bills, no second mortgages on the home, no consolidation loans.

The only way this was possible was because of the inheritance from my parents through their home and selling it last month. Although this has been an incredible burden lifted and a pivotal point, it doesn't lessen the fact that I would rather have my parents alive and healthy so they could still be a part of our lives.

At any rate, had I had Detox Your Finances (or any financial book for that matter) when I was in my 20s, I think I would have managed and understood finances better. Now - despite the lateness in my life - I feel like I have a much better handle on this subject.

That being said, there's still a lot of room for education and improvement as I look at and prepare for the rest of my life.

So, this book had some relevant information once I moved through the first 12 chapters that were more heavily focused on debt. The ideas that I found helpful and that I want to keep in mind:
- Try saving first and then spending. In other words, set aside a certain amount each month as savings, and then make the remainder your budget for the month.
- Look at your life to make it more balanced. For example:
.....spend more time with you family and/or friends.
.....spend more time on leisure activities, hobbies, or personal relationships.
.....divide your time between a number of different income-generating activities.
.....devote more time to the local community or volunteer activities.
.....deliberately decide to sacrifice part of your income for a better quality of life.
.....gain independence through self-employment.
.....make a business from something you love.
- Disposing of unwanted possessions can improve your financial well-being.
- Do not go into retirement owing anything on your mortgage.
- Don't invest a lot of money into a home that won't pay itself back. Rather, do little things that can add a lot. For example, declutter the home, wash the paintwork, steam clean the carpets, and add small touches like rails and molding in period properties. Replacing kitchen cabinet doors, tiles, and work surfaces can be an inexpensive way of improving the look of a kitchen.
- Determine your net worth each year. Look at assets (liquid, personal, and investment) and liabilities (current and long-term).
- Start to think five, ten, and fifteen years into the future. What are your financial goals and how are you going to make them happen?
- Know where your money goes every month.
- Check the accuracy of your bank statements and tax notices.

The first thing we must begin to 
teach our children (and learn ourselves) is 
that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. 
We have got to learn to save and conserve. 
We do need a "new economy," but 
one that is founded on thrift and care, 
on saving and conserving, 
not on excess and waste. 
An economy based on waste is 
inherently and hopelessly violent, and 
war is its inevitable by-product. 
We need a  peaceable economy.
- Wendell Berry

- Teach children the importance and basics of money management from an early age.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Artist/Picture Study - Frans Lanting

This week for the artist/picture study we focused on Frans Lanting. Lanting is a photographer which is different than the type of artists who the girls have done artist/picture studies on up to this point. (All have been visual artists who use painting as their way to creatively express themselves.)

According to Wikipedia, Lanting was born in Rotterdam and later emigrated to the United States after being educated in the Netherlands. He lives in Santa Cruz, California and operates a gallery and studio as well as a stock photography services.

Lanting works in many different parts of the world including Amazonia, Africa and Antarctica. His photographs are regularly published in National Geographic, where he served as photographer-in-residence."

For this artist/picture study, we used the book Life: A Journey through Time. It is an over-sized, heavy book from the library that provides large images of Lanting's photographs. It was perfect for observing the details that he was able to capture in his work.

The girls looked at each photo and studied it for a while. I asked them after they observed each one what they could recall about it. Their responses are below.

 Giant Anteater, Brazil

Sophia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a giant anteater.
=> You can only see about the front two-thirds of it. The back legs are kind of missing from the picture.
=> The anteater has a long snout and a very docile appearance.
=> It has a black marking on its fur that is wider than a stripe and slightly curved.
=> It also looks like its paws might be black as well.
=> It has a mixture tan, black, and cream-colored fur all over.
=> It has shortish ears that are kind of cute.
=> It is walking on a bunch of green stuff - grass and leaves.
=> The anteater is in Brazil. ("How did you know this?" "Because it says, 'Anteater in Brazil' by the photo.")
=> The anteater is in the middle of a step (or walking) so one foot is in front of one another.

Olivia remembered:
=> There's a giant anteater. He's really cute!
=> In the background, you can see the outlines of trees.
=> The grass is kind of fuzzy since the picture is mostly focused on the anteater.
=> The anteater has a triangle-shape of black fur and surrounding that is a small outline of white.
=> The anteater's ears are kind of an oval shape an you can see the light reflecting behind them.
=> You can see a lot of details of each of the hairs.
=> The eyes are brown or black...more black.
=> His face is kind of tan.
=> He looks like he has silver hairs in his fur.
=> You can only see half of the anteater.
=> You can see his feet are black. They look kind of like hooves.
=> You can see a little bit of the sky. It's dark blue.


Fall Colors, Alaska

Sophia remembered:
=> This picture is taken in the fall and from where the photographer was standing the landscape is sloping down.
=> The deciduous trees are beautiful colors of yellow, orange, and a little bit of green.
=> The landscape has two sections - the one section has brightly colored mosses and lichens; and low scrubs that are yellow, orange, brilliant red, and golden with a couple of evergreens scattered in it. That's the first half. That's a little bit higher up than the second section. The second section has more deciduous trees with more evergreens, and have little streams and ponds that branch off into smaller streams.
=> To the far right of the picture, you can see what looks like the beginnings of a large lake or pond.
=> The picture has a very festive feeling of autumn and the coming winter. The colors are far superior compared to what we have in Minnesota.
=> It's very beautiful.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a very pretty landscape of trees and rocks.
=> You can't really see the rocks because they are covered with trees, bushes, and moss.
=> There's a hill at the bottom of the picture and the hill is covered with either grasses or bushes. The bushes are green, light green, yellow, and red.
=> There are some trees scattered around on the hill.
=> There are some pools of water or lakes of water; and beneath the hill there looks like an area that looks like a wetland.
=> To the far right there looks like there's a cliff. Beneath the cliff there's a lake.
=> The trees in the picture look black.
=> The moss looks like it is red, but it may not be moss. I think it may be something else. It could be lichen.


Orchid Native to Peru

Sophia remembered:
=> The background is a pitch-black so the flower stands out.
=> The flower itself has three petals, but they very close together so they almost look like they are one big circular flower rather than three individual petals.
=> The petals are slightly rounded at the top. Each petal has a vein running up the center and two more veins on the side of the center one. The side ones have a more bowed shape to them and they meet at the top.
=> The flower is a very beautiful pink color. Not hot pink because it has a little bit of purple in it, but very eye-catching.
=> The texture looks almost dewy.
=> The main part of the flower is a beautiful pinkish colors. The veins, though, are a darker pink color.
=> The  center of the flower is red and yellow from what I can see. The yellow part almost looks like they have a glow in them. They look almost luminescent.
=> On each of the petals, coming down from it, is a almost stem like part of the flower that extends further than the flower. It starts out pink, but then fades to a yellowish color.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a really pretty flower.
=> The flower has a circle with three triangles. It's an odd shape.
=> It is pink with a lighter pink on the petals and on the edges of the flower it's a darker pink.
=> On the petals (the three triangle-shaped ones) are two things that hang down. The one on top of the flower is upright.
=> The ones that are on the sides are a dark red and then it goes into a yellow.
=> The one on the top is a dark red.
=> The inside of the flower is a dark red and yellow. It kind of looks like it is glowing from the inside.
=> It has a green stem and it looks like the flower has water on it.
=> There are stripes on the inside of the flower.
=> The background is black.


Flower Hat Jelly, California

Sophia remembered:
=> The jellyfish in the picture has a blueish dome; and in the dome are three lines that are orange and peachy colored. They are attached to the inner part of the dome; and because they are evenly spaced they come together at the top of the dome.
=> On the outside of the dome there are black lines that run up and down the jellyfish.
=> Sprouting out of the top of the jellyfish and around the sides are "sprouts" except a little thicker. They start out a whitish color and then go to lime green and then to pink.
=> There are a couple of the sprout-like things that grow out of the lines of the jellyfish so the bottom part of those sprouts are black.
=> The sprouts that look like tassels that go around the bottom are thinner than the ones on top of the dome.
=> Along with the sprout-like things on the bottom there are a couple of curly ones. They look like curly fries except they are a whitish color.
=> It's a very beautiful jellyfish but a little strange.
=> The background is all black.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a jelly fish and it is the oddest looking jellyfish that I've ever seen!
=> It has tentacles underneath it and a few on top of it.
=> Some of the tentacles underneath it are white and a darkish gray. They are curled...of kind of curly.
=> The tentacles on the side are black on the bottom and change to a clear-whitish color and then near the tip it is a light, lime green and then it goes into pink.
=> Also, the dome is clear. You can see it - it's like it has arches that are a coral color.
=> On the dome, you can see black lines going up on it. From the lines, are the tentacles that are black on the bottom and change to the clear color and near the tip it is a lime green and then it goes hot pink.
=> The background is black.
=> There's a second smaller dome inside the bigger dome which covers the arches.


The Maned Wolf, Brazil

Sophia remembered:
=> The wolf has the colors of a red fox except it doesn't have a black-tipped tail. The tail goes from a reddish color to white.
=> The legs are longer than that of a red fox and has black stockings. The stockings are higher on the front legs than back.
=> The ears are rather large and the snout and face look more like a German Shepherd.
=> The wolf appears to be standing still, but the green vegetation is blurred so it has to be moving quite quickly.
=> The wolf isn't looking directly at the camera, but a little to the side and down.
=> You can't see the exact color of its eyes, but just the black part of its face.

Olivia remembered:
=> In the picture, there is a wolf that looks more like a red fox except it is bigger, has longer legs, and it doesn't have the black tip on its tail or ears.
=> On the back of it, there is a black line going down almost to the tail.
=> The face - on the side - looks like it is sticking out like a mane.
=> The face and neck is reddish, but has black fur mixed in.
=> The tail - half of it - is white; and it goes to the tip.
=> It has black feet.
=> The photo is kind of blurry because s/he is running and looking at the camera.
=> You can see its ears that are white on the inside.
=> It has a long nose or snout.
=> In the background, you can see a tree limb and maybe part of the trunk of the tree.
=> The grass is kind of tall.
=> The background is very green.
=> You can't really see the eye color.
=> You can't see the paws, but you can tell the paws are black because it goes almost up to the part where the knee bends.


Cheetah, Namibia 

Sophia remembered:
=> The cheetah has variations of tan and light-golden fur all over its body.
=> On top that the entire body is covered with black spots and dots.
=> The tail of the cheetah is a little fluffy and ends in black.
=> The spots toward the end of the tail are larger than the ones on the body.
=> The cheetah has a little bit of a mane on its shoulder....just a little longer and roughed up there.
=> It also has a bit of white on its body.
=> The cheetah is in the middle of running. In this picture, its whole body is stretched out. It's not touching the ground at all, an ts mouth is a little open.
=> It has short, rounded ears that are close to its head and black lines that are running from the corner of its eyes.
=> Its right front paw is splayed a little bit. The background is browns and golds; and so is the ground.

Olivia remembered:
=> You see a cheetah that is running very fast and it looks like it is chasing its next meal.
=> You can see on the neck some of the fur is standing up.
=> The cheetah is running with its mouth opened and you can see a little bit of its gums and one of its teeth.
=> The front legs are facing forward and the back legs are facing backward - like it's leaping.
=> You can see the fur on its belly.
=> The background is tan and the ground is kind of blurry because the photo is mostly focused on the cheetah.
=> You can see all the spots on it.
=> The tail is straight out.
=> You can see the back of the ears and they are black.
=> The cheetah is a goldish-tannish color. It help them hide while they are waiting their prey.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Composer Study - Igor Stravinsky

Igor Stravinsky was a Russian (and later, a naturalized French and American) composer, pianist, and conductor. He is considered one of the most important and influential composers of the 20th century.

According to Wikipedia, "Stravinsky's compositional career was notable for its stylistic diversity. He first achieved international fame with three ballets commissioned by the impresario Sergei Diaghilev and first performed in Paris by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes: The Firebird (1910), Petrushka (1911) and The Rite of Spring (1913).

"The last of these transformed the way in which subsequent composers thought about rhythmic structure and was largely responsible for Stravinsky's enduring reputation as a musical revolutionary who pushed the boundaries of musical design."

As part of Sophia's and Olivia's homeschooling, I have them listen to six pieces written by different composers. The goal is to expose them to a wide variety of music and see what comes to their minds as they listen to it. It's interesting, to me, to see what memories and connections that music can make. Sometimes the things that are triggered by music are things I wouldn't have even thought of...yet, that's one of the powers of music: to awaken memories that have long-since been forgotten.

The Rite of Spring - Introduction (4:23)
From: The Rite of Spring
By: The Bad Plus

Sophia thought:
=> The notes go together...but at the same time they didn't. It's an interesting combination of notes.
=> It's different from other things we've heard. We've heard music from some composers who wrote music a long time ago. This definitely sounds a lot more modern.
=> It's okay...I wouldn't choose to listen to this normally.

Olivia thought:
=> The notes sounded like they were supposed to go together, but they were very different from one another.
=> It sounds like something you would hear in a mystery or horror movie.
=> It's good, but I wouldn't listen to this often.


Sonata for Two Pianos - Moderto (4:10)
From: Stravinsky - Music for Two Pianos 
By: Benjamin Frith and Peter Hill

Sophia thought:
=> It sounds like something from the Nutcracker. (Later on:) Well...not really.
=> I don't really like it. It's too inconsistent. I like the first song

Olivia thought:
=> This is something you would hear during a ballet.
=> It reminds me of someone dancing.
=> I like it. It sounds better than the first song.


The Firebird Suite - The Firebird and Her Dance (4:34)
From: Stravinsky
By: Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra

Sophia thought:
=> (At the beginning when it was quiet:) Sounds like it's thinking about starting.
=> Sounds like a ballet when they are creeping around.
=> Sounds kind of "starry" - like twinkling music.
=> I like some parts of this better.
=> I like the flute.

Olivia thought:
=> It starts out pretty quiet.
=> It sounds like the Nutcracker when the rats show up.
=> It sounds like music from a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Like Tom getting stuck in something or getting hit on the head.
=> I like this song.


The Song of the Nightingale  - Chinese March (4:48)
From: Stravinsky
By: Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra

Sophia thought:
=> I like this one. I like the high parts.
=> This is my favorite one so far.
=> In some ways and in some parts it sounded Chinese. Other parts didn't.

Olivia thought:
=> I like it too because it's fast.
=> I liked the Firebird song more, though.
=> I guess it kind of sounds like a Chinese march.
=> It's good - it sounded different than the music by this composer.


Praeludium for Jazz Ensemble (1:47)
From: Igor Stravinsky
By: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra

Sophia thought:
=> I like the beginning better than this part (up to 1:22). It sounded more like a fanfare.
=> The rest of the song didn't sound extraordinarily special.

Olivia thought:
=> This part (the beginning to :28) reminds me of the box where you wind something and the jack comes out.
=> I kind of like the beginning because someone someone was lighting a firecracker and they were throwing it back and forth.
=> It was okay.


Tango (3:27)
From: Igor Stravinsky
By: Orpheus Chamber Orchestra
Sophia thought:
=> It doesn't sound like a tango.
=> It sounds like something you would hear in a Nancy Drew movie.
=> This reminds me of a mix of an older one - but it also has qualities of a newer song. It sounds like what you'd hear in old movies, but more modern.

Olivia thought:
=> Sounds like someone is trying to sneak around, but is failing really badly.
=> I like this part more (around 1:25-1:49) because it is less loud.
=> I don't think I would listen to this music normally.
=> The ending (after 3:00) sounds just like the beginning.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Find Your Strongest Life - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 12

This week I read Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham. There were parts of the book that were interesting and relevant to what I was searching for when checking it out from the library. However, for much of the book I skimmed it because I wasn't getting as much as what I wanted from it.

I did the online test recommended in the book at to determine my lead and supporting roles in life. According to the test, my lead role is advisor and supporting role is creator.

As a side note, I took the test about a month or so ago and my supporting role was caretaker. It's interesting that this shifted because I was still seeing myself as someone who was providing support and/or encouragement to a senior at a nursing home who my daughters and I had developed a strong friendship with over the past three years. He had a heart attack on March 4th, went on hospice care the following week, and passed away on March 15th.

At any rate, this has truly thrown me for a loop because it is one of many deaths that Sophia, Olivia, and I have experienced since 2012 - first my dad in January 2012; then many people at the nursing home who we thoroughly enjoyed visiting and spending time with; then my mom in August 2015 followed by one of our cats (Maggie) in September 2015; and now John.

It's too much loss. Too much grief.

And, perhaps, with John's death I'm seeing in myself a shift away from caregiver/someone who others depended on for either care and/or friendship. Since 2009, when my dad was first diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease, I've been in a caregiver role. I feel like that ended on March 15th. That's how deeply I'm feeling these collective losses.

I'm still a parent. Yet, that is a very different role - to me - than being a caregiver.

So, back to Find Your Strongest Life.  The two roles reflective of who I am at this point in my life are an advisor and creator. A description from the book of each role follows.


You begin by asking: 'What is the best thing to do?'

Your thrill comes from knowing that you are the person others turn to for the answer. You don’t necessarily want to be the person who actually makes the changes happen. Rather, what excites you is being valued by others for your insight and your judgment.

You know that the best advice is never general, but rather is tailored to the unique characteristics of the person or the situation.

You can be demanding and opinionated, but above all you are discriminating: "good enough" is never good enough for you. There is always a better arrangement, a better solution, and you come alive when you are called upon to find it. And when you do, you don't question your decision.

The reason people seek you out for guidance is precisely because you are so assured, so confident in your intuition. Instinctively you know this, and you're proud of it.

Your best quality: Your ability to find a solution.

Always: Search for data to support your advice.

Be careful you: Don’t get frustrated by other people’s failings.

Your smartest career move:  Any job where you’re paid to be opinionated.

You know you are an Advisor if: 
- You ask lots of questions.
- You are impatient for things to get done.
- You take pleasure in fine distinctions.
- You are always explaining things.
- You trust your gut.

Your strongest moments are when:
- You discover the few critical improvements that make the difference.
- Someone calls you up out of the blue and relies on your opinion.
- You clarify a complex issue for someone, she acts on what you told her, and you see her succeed.

To make the most of your role:
- Do your homework.
- Learn to tailor your advice to the person.
- Learn to hide your impatience.
- When you find yourself in a management role, be sure to surround yourself with action-oriented people.


You begin by asking: 'What do I understand?' You aren’t immune to the feelings and perspectives of others, but your starting point is your own insight, your own understanding. You are a thoughtful person, someone who needs time alone to mull and muse and percolate. Without this alone time, events pile up on you haphazardly, and your confusion starts to overwhelm you. So you look forwar to time by yourself - early in the morning, late at night, long flights - and you use this time to get clear.

You are a creative person. What form this creativity takes will depend on your other traits and talents, but whether you write, paint, sing, complete projects, or make presentations, you are drawn toward making things.

Each thing you make is a tangible sign that you have made some sense of the world, that you have organized the chaos in some useful way. You look at what you've made, you take pleasure in what you now understand, and then you move on to the next creation.

Your best quality: Your ability to find patterns invisible to others.

Always: Find time to be by yourself.

Be careful you: Don’t think so long, you never do anything.

Your smartest career move: Any job where you’re paid to produce new content.

You know you're a Creator if: 
- You feel uncomfortable if a day goes by without producing some tangible sign of insight or understanding.
- You push yourself hard, rarely stopping to celebrate your accomplishments. There's still so much left to make sense of.
- You read a lot of nonfiction.
- You are inspired by the achievements of others - not their growth and development, necessarily, but what they have achieved. You are more interested in destinations than journeys.

Your strongest moments are when:
- You figure something out.
- You spend time by yourself reading, writing, preparing your mind.
- A fresh insight dawns on you.
- You have an in-depth conversation with someone.
- You get a chance to show your expertise.

To make the most of your role:
- Take time to celebrate what you've achieved.
- Explain to others that you are at your best when you have time to think things through, that you're not good at making snap decisions.
- Deliberately involve other people in helping you think things through.
- Carry a notebook with you. Insights pop up at inopportune moments, and you will want to have a place to capture them.

What do I do with this information? I don't know. There's a lot to reflect upon given what has happened over the past four years and where I envision my life going in the future.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Celebrating St. Patrick's Day

This year for St. Patrick's Day Sophia and Olivia didn't make a Leprechaun Trap. It's been a few years now since they made them.

Back in 2012, they had book theme for the trap:

In 2011, they used jewelry as bait:

In 2010, they used a variety of items from their dollhouse and doll toys:

It was important to leave their shoes out so the leprechaun could put some gold coins and gold flakes to show where he'd been:

In 2009, the girls painted and decorated a trap. They used coins to bait the leprechaun to their trap:


They enjoyed putting food out for the leprechaun to eat (notice the tiny plate and cup in front of Olivia):

Of course, the shoes were placed out to be repaired since the leprechaun is a cobbler.

The next day, the girls would see what the leprechaun did and if they trapped him. Although they never caught the leprechaun, they enjoyed seeing the messages and special gold coins that were left for them.

This year we had just finished with the 4-H Wildlife Project Bowl - weekly practices since January capped off with a regional competition in mid-March. 

Needless to say, much of our time was spent during the past 2 1/2 months preparing for that. We didn't have much time to focus on preparing for St. Patrick's Day. 

We did, however, spend Friday, March 11th, at the nursing home. Sophia and Olivia made mint shakes for the seniors; and I facilitated a Skype call with one of the seniors and his son (and family) in Australia. During the call, I brought John one of shakes which he enjoyed. 

I took a look at the St. Patrick's Day board that I have on Pinterest. Out of the ideas I pinned, I chose a healthy treat for the day which led to Michelle Paige. That website, in turn, led to Fit, Crafty, Stylish, and Happy for a fruit kabob that used green and white fruit.

Sophia with the fruit kabobs.
Aspen is in the background seeing if 
any fruit fell on the floor for her.

To make the fruit kabobs, I used:

1 green apple, quartered and cut into chunks
2 kiwis, peeled and sliced
1 banana, sliced
Green grapes
Wooden skewers
8 oz Cool Whip (though not the full container)

Each of the skewers was slightly different and gave each person a choice in how much fruit of a particular type that s/he wanted.

Our meal was simple that evening and not very Irish. However, we did have a table runner with leprechauns on it and napkins with four-leaf clovers that I sewed many years ago. Dinner was a herb-roasted chicken, salad, corn, and fruit kabobs.

For dessert, we had Green Velvet Cupcakes that Sophia made. She frosted them with vanilla icing and put green sprinkles on them.

The hedgehog salt and pepper shakers are perched on the edge of the plate.

As I looked back on pictures from past St. Patrick's Days, I know that I'm missing some of the decorations. Perhaps they are in another bin in the hobby shed.

Window decorations I made a few years ago.
The darker areas are paper designs that I cut out, and
the dark and light green papers are kite paper.

Next year, I'd like to get back to putting more effort into celebrating the holidays. When I look back at photos, it's nice to remember these special moments in our lives.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Bringing Nature Home - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 11

For the 11th week in the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I read Bringing Nature Home - How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants by Douglas Tallamy.

The book is a very detailed and informative resource for those wanting to learn more about the impact that non-native species have had on the environment. There are many concrete steps that the author suggests for transforming one's property into a wildlife-friendly environment using native plants.

What I enjoyed reading about was that the author didn't just focus on mammals. He showed how to attract beneficial insects, moths, butterflies, and a host of wildlife that often are overlooked when landscaping one's property.

One of the photos in the book showed larvae of cecropia moths - the big lime-green caterpillar-looking things with the pale-blue, yellow, and red protrusions from its body. I remember seeing one of these when I was in Kindergarten. My parents put it in a container for me to bring to school because it was so unusual and colorful.

Apparently if you plant black cherry trees in your yard, you'll see more of the cecropia moths since it is its favorite food.

There's another section about woody plants that are ranked by their ability to support the lepidoptera species. I was surprised to see how many hundreds of species can be supported by some plants. For example:

Oak - 534 species supported*
Willow - 456 species supported*
Cherry, plum - 456 species supported*
Birch - 413 species supported*
Poplar, cottonwood - 368 species supported
Crabapple - 311 species supported*
Blueberry, cranberry - 288 species supported**
Maple, box elder - 285 species supported*
Elm - 213 species supported
Pine - 203 species supported*
Hickory - 200 species supported
Hawthorn - 159 species supported
Alder - 156 species supported
Spruce - 156 species supported*
Ash - 150 species supported
Basswood, linden - 150 species supported**
Filbert, hazelnut - 131 species supported
Walnut, butternut - 130 species supported
Beech - 126 species supported
Chestnut - 125 species supported

* Currently have at our farm.
** Will be planting in Spring/Summer 2016.

Another useful section of the book is the list of native plants specifically for the Midwest. There are about six pages of plants that would thrive in this area. As I looked at them, many were unfamiliar. How different the landscape - and types of wildlife that lives here - would be if even a fraction of the native plants were grown.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The Artist's Way for Parents - Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 10

This week I read The Artist's Way for Parents by Julia Cameron as part of the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

Many years ago, I read The Artist's Way and did the morning pages, artist dates, and questions. It was a worthwhile use of my time and I got a lot out of actively reading and doing The Artist's Way. When I heard about The Artist's Way for Parents I was intrigued to see how it differed from the original book. Although it would benefit any parent, the book is definitely geared more for parents of young children (toddlers, preschoolers, and early-elementary age children).

Nonetheless, there are many activities and reflection exercises I would like to do as mentioned in the book:
- Do morning pages (three pages of longhand daily writing that the parent does alone).
- Take a creative expedition - a once-weekly dual adventure that the parent and child plan, look forward to, and take together. For example, visit the zoo, go to a children's museum, go to a new playground, visit a cathedral, or go to the library.
- Do "Highlights" - a daily bedtime ritual in which the parent and child each share their favorite moment from the day. (In all honesty, this would be easier to do when children are younger. Starting this at a tween/teen age would be challenging.)
 - List 5 thing you love and think about ways you could share each of them with your child. For example, if you like apple pie - bake a grandmother's pie recipe. If you like flowers, go to the plant store together and buy them and draw the flower together.
- Go on an Artist's Date. This is something a parent does alone. For example, outings that would be fun to do (e.g., getting a manicure, attending a concert, visiting a bakery).
- List five adventures you could take with your child. Choose one together and take a creative expedition.
- List 10 "frivolous" things that make you happy but that you believe you no longer have time to do, such as cooking or yourself, listening to classical music, and knitting. Then choose one of these things. This week, spend 15 minutes a day indulging in it.
- Go on a 20-minute walk with your child. The walk should have no agenda. Simply getting out into nature is enough. Allow yourself to take in the sights and sounds. When you return, take pen to page. Did any insights come to you as you walked?
- List three "tools for exploration" that are already in your house. Are they being used regularly or have they been dismissed? The simplest tools are best, and often inexpensive and already at hand.       - List 5 of your favorite interests. Now list 5 interests your child has that you are unfamiliar with. Can you consciously let those interests be hers alone, and allow those interests to blossom?
- List 5 places you could take your child where she could be exposed to flora (e.g., backyard, nearby park, flower section of the grocery store). Let your child have enough time to absorb the scents, colors, and shapes.
- List 5 botanical adventures you could have inside the house. For example, Press flowers between large books. Let a child choose flowers from a florist an then arrange them together at home to display in a prominent place. Another idea would be to purchase a small window box or herb garden and plant the seeds/transplants with a child.
- List your 5 favorite animals. Now ask your  child to name her 5 favorite animals. Find a way to interact with one o the animals (e.g., at a zoo, park, friend's house). After you have done this, ask your child to draw or write about her experience with the animal.
- Take turns with your child to name one thing you are grateful for. Choose one item that you named and ask your child to do the same. Make a "Creative offering" referencing the thing you are grateful for - draw a picture of it, write a song about it, make up a poem.
- List 5 talents you see in yourself. List 5 talents you see in your child. Are any the same?
- See i there is a place that could become a sort of "creative haven" for you or your child. Ideally, there should be two separate places. It is the quality, vibrancy, and thoughtfulness of the space that matters more than the size of the space itself.
- Create a "creativity corner" in your home where your child can go to begin projects. Stock the corner with assorted items that can provide inspiration.
- List 5 creative endeavors you could encourage your child to try. Now list 5 creative endeavors you could try. These needn't be time-consuming or expensive. They should simply take you slightly out of your comfort zone. For example, buy colored pencils and draw the flowers in a window box or write a poem. Choose one item from your child's list and one from your own. Try them.
- Cook something together with your child.
- What was your favorite childhood book? Do you see the themes of this book in your life and values today? Can you give that book to your child?
- Listen to several contrasting types of music with your child. Offer, without judgment, exposure to several styles and eras of music.
- Listen to your child perform something for you. Now plan to take your child to  be an audience member at a local event (e.g., high school concert, gallery, movie, play). When you are done, ask your child to name something specific that they enjoyed or appreciated.
- Take one entire evening and turn of all devices. This includes anything with a screen.
- What steps can you take to improve your own health and nutrition?
- Find one small change you can make in your own sleeping area and one small change you can make in your child's bedroom. Do you notice a difference as you begin bedtime routines?
- What rituals from your own childhood do you remember the most fondly? What small ritual could you create with your children today? Could you bring one of your cherished childhood experiences into your child's life, carrying on the tradition?
- Collect magazines and give each person a pair of scissors, glue, and a piece of poster board. Choose images that speak to yourself and arrange them as you like. Each person in the family should do this and compare the results.
- Play a game. Not a video game. What memories resurface?
- Look for an opportunity where your child can help someone with something. When it is done, ask her how she enjoyed being of service.