Goodbye’s the Saddest Word

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One month ago today was one of the saddest, hardest days of my life.

One month ago today, I wrapped you in a towel, placed you in the car, and pulled out of the driveway to start the drive to the vet’s office. Each moment the wheels turned us closer and closer to our destination, my heart broke a little bit more, crying out, “No….” And yet I knew it was the right thing, you were suffering so much and that was the biggest heartbreak of all.

We walked inside, and I shakily signed your name on the sheet, so painfully aware it would be the last time I’d ever do that. As we waited, I stood and rocked you, still wrapped in your blanket. You weren’t anxious as you normally are, just very quiet and calm. As another person entered the front door with their dog, you turned to look and see behind my back, setting your little head on my shoulder, as you did so often.

They called your name, and we went into the green room with the fluorescent lights and no windows. The tech had forms for me to sign, and it has never been so hard for me to write my signature.

Our vet came in, and explained how quickly the injection would work, so she let us have some last moments alone together. I didn’t have much to say to you that I hadn’t already in the past many days, so I just held you close, whispering, “I love you” and “good girl” as silent tears rolled down my cheeks.

The the doctor came back, and asked, “Are you ready?” I nodded, for I couldn’t speak the words. In the next minute, I held you wrapped up as you slowly closed your eyes and lowered your head very peacefully, as if drifting off into a sweet dream.

After several moments, the doctor checked your heartbeat and then asked if I was ready. I passed you into her gentle arms. I reached out one last time to touch you. You were warm, but you were gone. The vet looked into my eyes and with so much kindness said, “I’m so sorry.”

Saying goodbye to you was harder than I’d ever imagined it would be. The end came for you so suddenly, and I felt robbed of the few years I’d assumed we’d still have left with you.

I feel your absence acutely. How could I not, when you were always at my feet, laying by my side or in my lap any time I sat down. For the last 11 years, save my eight months in Hungary, you have always been with me. You were a rock in my life and you brought me joy incomparable. You were my family, and one of my very dearest friends.

It still hurts to have you missing from my life and I think of you so often. Forever and always, I will hold you safe in my heart, my dearest darling Annabelle.

A Festive 4th

Happy post-Independence Day! Celebrating the 4th of July has always been a favorite thing of mine. It’s such a fun-filled, splendid holiday, right in the middle of the season, perfect for celebrating all of summer’s most wonderful delights.

This year, we had the pleasure of hosting a gathering at our house for two sets of close family friends coming into visit from Indiana and Illinois. The six of us adults all attended college together and were a part of one another’s weddings. Now, between us, we have eight children ranging from 7 years old to 7 months old! With so many kids gathering to play at our house, it was fun to try to make things a little more festive for them. Oh, alright…to be honest it was also partially for myself, because I so sincerely enjoy festivities and putting some pinned Pinterest ideas to good use!

The thing is, we have a fairly strict monthly budget, so I did my best to add small touches to bring lots of July 4th fun without adding a whole lot extra cost-wise. Here’s what I came up with:

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Fruit skewers for the kids–a Pinterest idea. My daughter called them “Magic Princess wands.”

 

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Then I also had the same festive fruit for the adults, minus the skewers.

 

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Cute patriotic napkins from the Target Dollar Spot to go with my red paper plates {not pictured} from the dollar store.

 

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I added a bit of red, white, and blue to my mason jar-utensil-holders thanks to some pipe cleaners I had on hand. A few months ago, I saw a woman use pipe cleaners {twisted like this} in lieu of ribbon on a wrapped gift. It was adorable and I can’t wait to start using pipe cleaners to decorate gifts!

 

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Ice cream sandwiches dipped in red, white, & blue sprinkles were another Pinterest idea I found for the “Kid Dessert.”

 

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The dessert for us adults was Strawberry Cheesecake Trifle. I absolutely love this dessert and I relish any and every opportunity to make it! The star crafted from blueberries was made by setting down a large star-shaped cookie cutter and then filling it with the blueberries. I actually had originally tried to free-hand the star design…it did not go well. My husband admitted it didn’t really even resemble a star. Whoops!

**{Recipe for this trifle coming soon, so stay tuned!}**

 

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I love having fresh flowers in our home, but it doesn’t always fit into our budget. That’s why buying flowers at Trader Joe’s is my favorite flower-trick. They have amazing prices on beautiful bundles in a wide array of prices. These lovely flowers were a mere $3.99.

 

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We all ate outside and this cute little bunting was another Target Dollar Spot win to help make things festive.

 

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Our yard was set up for kid play while us adults sat and enjoyed catching up. The weather was absolutely perfect, thank goodness! I can’t imagine how crazy it would have felt in our tiny house with six adults and eight youngsters running all around.

And finally, like many other moms, one of my biggest joys is dressing our children up in cute holiday outfits:

 

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{$9.99 dress at the Gymboree outlet store; I couldn’t pass it up!}

 

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{David’s shirt reads: “All American Hunk”}

Our evening with friends ended with the kids lighting sparklers on our front lawn, just as dusk set in and the fireflies starting coming out.

The next day was a blast as well, spending a long day together enjoying the Detroit Zoo and then grabbing dinner afterwards. It was such a wonderful weekend!

Hope your 4th of July celebrations were equally special, dear reader!

 

Unexpected Sweetness

A couple of weeks ago, a powerful windstorm swept through Michigan and slammed our area with near record winds, which lasted all day.  Hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses lost power (over half a million, to be more precise). Emergency crews came in from surrounding states to assist with restoring the grid as a cold front made its way to our area.

Our home did not lose power during the windstorm, so imagine my surprise when around 2:00 pm on the following day, our power suddenly shut off. I shrugged it off as a temporary thing, due to the work being done to restore power to other areas, but became increasingly concerned as the hours passed.

Matt came home from work early. We only had a couple of hours of daylight left, and with it not looking favorable for our power to be restored, had to make the decision to either hunker down for the night in our cold house, or pack up our family of four (plus the dog) to drive two hours to my in-laws.’

We sat at the dining room table, eating our carry-out food by the last light of the setting sun shining through our window. I convinced Matt that we should stay at home, hoping that the power would be restored sometime during the following day. He reluctantly agreed, so I scurried to the basement to grab my bin of candles.

We decided to camp out together in the living room to stay as warm as possible. As Matt carried the futon mattress from downstairs and laid it on the living room floor, our four year old was absolutely dancing about with excitement.

“We’re having a camp out!”

The temperature had started to drop a tad, and feeling chilly, Matt suggested that I make us some hot cocoa since we have a gas stove. Now we were all in an adventurous spirit.

By the time the cocoa was ready, all four of us were in our warmest pajamas. It was completely dark outside now, but our home was filled with a lovely glow. Thanks to a large stock of Ikea tea lite candles I’ve been hoarding, our main rooms were well-lit.

We all grabbed our mugs of hot cocoa (well, except for our eleven-month old, David) and sat down together on the futon mattress. We laughed at our children’s goofiness and giddiness at the thrill of the whole event.

Matt and I stayed off of our smart phones, trying to conserve battery life. I was relishing the unexpected hours to be “unplugged” from our modern conveniences (which are also often distractions).

It was already past 7:30, when both of the kids are usually in bed. We all brushed our teeth by the light of two tea lite candles, blew out the remaining candles save one, and snuggled into our beds: I on the couch, David in the pack n’ play, and Matt and Makenna on the futon mattress.

I broke out my tiny book light to enjoy some quiet reading time. After several attempts at settling the kids, it was just after eight o’clock, and everyone except me was asleep.

A few chapters later, I set down my book and curled up under my blanket. As I watched the flame flickering on the wall, I suddenly noticed how quiet, how still, the world was. Not just our home with it’s sound-sleepers, but the whole neighborhood.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had encountered such quiet peace. Albeit gentle and soothing, even nature contains an array of sounds. Besides the sounds of deep-breathing from my husband and two beloved babes, the only sound I could hear was the faint tic-toc from our wall clock.

It was astounding, to live in the midst of suburbia and to suddenly find myself in the dark and the absolute stillness. It was a peace my soul needed desperately, and I didn’t know it until the moment it found me.

I lay awake for as long as I could keep myself, drinking in the sweet quietness. Even though our house was very slowly growing colder, I was filled with a warmth I can’t put into words. I don’t know when I’ll ever encounter such quiet and stillness again, but I feel certain it’s something I’ll need to deliberately seek out. I fell asleep thanking God for the beauty of that unexpected evening and the gift it turned out to be.

The Power of Prayer

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Prayer has always been a part of my life. Being raised in a Christian home, I learned to pray as soon as I could speak, even though my three year old prayers consisted of only, “Dear Jesus, Amen.”

There have been so many answered prayers in my life and so many,  many answered prayers by those dear to me. There have been lots of unanswered prayers, too. And there have been many prayers that have been answered in a completely different form than I imagined, showing me that God truly sees the bigger picture of my life and knows whats best for me much better than I can know for myself.

But it is in the last five to ten years of my life that I feel I have started to learn to unlock the power that prayer harnesses. I have heard over and over again to not be afraid to pray for very specific things, and so I have. This in particular has taught me that God is interested not only in the big things in our lives, but He will watch over even the smallest of details, as well.

In my prayers over the last several years, I have become increasingly vocal in asking for God’s protection over my husband and children. I have a growing awareness of the battles that occur moment by moment in the unseen realms. The forces of darkness, of Satan and his minions, are real, are ever present, and are always doing their utmost to engulf anyone and everyone. I believe God invites us to join in this fight with Him, and prayer can be used as a powerful weapon against the enemy.

I could write pages upon pages about all the answered prayers in my life, but today I’ll share a recent incident in which God answered the specifics of my prayer in a huge way.

Praying for Matt when he leaves for work each morning has become my routine. There are numerous things I pray for him, but two things I always ask for is God’s protection while Matt is out driving on the roadways, as well as for God to “surround him and protect him from anything and everything that Satan would try to send his way.”

Then one day last month, Matt came home from work and told me quite the story.

“You won’t believe what happened today.”

“What?” I asked.

“I was driving to my interview appointment today, but I was driving our car instead of a work car. {Matt often drives a work vehicle to travel to interviews he has to conduct}. I was on the interstate and the road was really icy. All of a sudden, not far ahead of me, a car spun out and a big accident happened. It was a chain reaction and a whole bunch of cars were involved. I didn’t hit anyone and no one hit me, but I was in the middle of all of it so I pulled my car over and got out to check on the people who got hit. We had to wait for emergency vehicles to come. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured, but some people did get taken away in ambulances. One guy was bleeding from his head and we had him sit down. Lots of airbags had gone off.”

He continued, “As I stood there looking at all the accidents, I realized the accidents literally made a circle around me and my car. All the cars around me were in the accident, except for me.”

My mind instantly jumped to my prayers for safe commutes and my specific prayer asking for God to “surround Matt with protection.”

“It’s because I prayed for you!” I shouted. “Thank you, God!”

Some might dismiss the event as mere coincidence, but I know better. I know my God, and I know how He provides. He protected Matt that day, of that there is no doubt. I praise the Lord for his provision and answering me when I call on Him.

 

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”

Jeremiah 29:12

 

 

Recipe: From-Scratch Hot Cocoa

Hot cocoa is often thought of as a holiday-time treat, but when you live in a frigid, snowy state like Michigan, it becomes a staple during the entire winter season.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate the process {and the flavors!} of making recipes from scratch. So I was delighted when I recently came across a great recipe that I was able to tailor a bit. My previous from-scratch recipe was almost sinfully-rich; so much so that I could never finish drinking it, which says a lot from a chocolate-lover like me.

This recipe is still decadent and sweet, but just enough so that it hits the spot. Even better, it can be whipped up in mere minutes.

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From-Scratch Hot Cocoa, serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips {mini for faster melting}
  • 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons light-brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

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Directions:

In a small saucepan, whisk all ingredients together while heating over medium heat. Make sure the chocolate chips are thoroughly melted and cocoa is piping hot without boiling. Serve immediately.

Extras: I’ve always been partial to hot cocoa served with mini marshmallows or whipped cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon, however, I do feel that this simple hot cocoa is perfect on its own. Still, you certainly won’t go wrong with one of these toppings, or something  extra like a peppermint stick.

Enjoy!

 

 

Shining New Year

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Photo taken at Inveraray Castle, Scotland

Always, we begin again.” ~St. Benedict

I just love the beginning of a new year. As the first few days of 2017 creep in slowly, I can’t but help feeling full of excitement and anticipation. No one loves the holidays more than I do, but it still always feels like such a breath of fresh air as the New Year arrives. I can breathe again. 

When I start thinking about planning for this year, my mind starts building to-do lists and making mental maps month by month. Yet my heart cries out and I am forced to stop and refresh, to slow down after all the hurriedness that the end of year brings. I look ahead to 2017 and firmly say, “I will do my best.”

If I sit quietly, it’s as almost as if I can hear a page turning, ever so softly. Life is just like a novel with twist and turns, joy and sorrow awaiting us at each new chapter. And just as that keeps a novel exciting, it also keeps real life exciting, don’t you think?

Although our Christmas icicle lights are glimmering through the living room curtains, I can hear the rain falling outside, washing away the last of our 2016 Michigan snow. Everyone is asleep in the house and it is delightfully quiet. My heart is warm, and my mind is whispering, welcome 2017, welcome.