Monday, September 28, 2009

Last Child in the Woods

We had a very special treat last weekend when we received a load assignment headed to the Carolinas. I have not seen one of my dear friends since she was a blushing bride of 21. Now she and her husband are the happy parents of two little girls with a new baby on the way. And we were headed to their current home town! Check out my friend's blog here:

After a little fancy footwork to get together, the four of us were cozily reunited in their lovely kitchen at midnight. Over homemade whole wheat apple pie, we caught up and swapped stories.

The following morning, both husbands headed off to work while we girls (both old and the toddler variety!) enjoyed a relaxing morning. We discussed everything from food allergies and teenage pranks to cloth diapers. I was excited to learn that FuzziBunz are my dear friend's diapers of choice since I've been doing a lot of research, but didn't know anyone who used them.

Eventually, we took the girls for a walk around the neighborhood and to the local park. While we searched (and found!) caterpillars and leaves our conversation turned to Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods. As a former camp counselor, we often used this book as a basis for the need for children to experience nature. Louv coined the phrase "nature deficit disorder". During a time when so few children do anything, but watch tv and play video games, this book shows the effect of children who have not grown up experiencing the beauty and creavtivity that can be discovered in nature. This book is a powerful reminder of a truth that is embedded in our nature.

Not only is it important for a child's physical and mental development that they grow up climbing trees and exploring nature, but it is in nature that children discover God through natural law. There are so many Church teachings on natural law, but the most natural way for a parents to educate their children is by taking them outside to discover the world He has given them to provide for their needs and to experience joy and beauty. It is sooo exciting that I could just babble on!

To sum up my thoughts on this way of learning I will share and anecdote about my Grandmother. When we were children, she would point out ever sunset, every flock of geese and every rainbow and then have us make the sign of the cross explaining that it was to remind us that God loves us so much that He made a world full of miracles for us to witness every day. Even as an adult I still think of my Grandmother's reminder each time I witness a sunset or any other simple miracle!

Indian Summer

Hubby and I were trucking through Tennessee a few weeks ago. We had to take a 34 hour break, so we stopped at a rest area west of Nashville on the Caney Fork River. Hubby gathered me some wild flowers (that the dogs immediately tried to trample!) to brighten up the truck. We packed up one of our inflatable kayaks in a backpack, loaded ourselves up with the paddles, water, etc. and put the dogs on their leashes. Our plan was to walk from the rest area to a dam upstream, put in there and paddle back down to the rest area.

We had to cross a beautiful old railroad bridge and then hike up and down the Tennessee foothills. It was a warm four and a half mile hike. Doesn't sound like much, but between the heat, our packs and the hills, it was a good workout.

Looking down from the dam we could see several lovely waterfalls.

The icy cold water was filled with fly fishermen, both young and old. Everyone was fascinated by the kayaking couple with the two big dogs, especially the children. People joked about the "trout dogs" and several even came over to pet them. It was amazing how many people were there and yet how calm and peaceful it was.

Like Tom and Huck, we explored the shore line and found a cave, cows, butterflies, herons and even a mink who caught a crayfish!

I wonder if it was our last chance to paddle this season. Its so cool where we are now that its hard to imagine getting back in the water, but I'm sure we'll be enjoying the warmth of the deep South again soon!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Whoopie Pies = Fall Memories

When I lived in New York, my friend/roomie and I used to drive up through New England to Vermont. This annual trek always included a very important stop for whoopie pies. I ate my first whoopie pie when I was about 18 years old. I believe God waited for me to have this life changing event until I was older so that I had the maturity to curb my desire to eat every one in sight!

Last Fall, my husband and I drove through Accidental Maryland, home of Annie's Kitchen, and there I introduced my dear husband to these fine delicacies. Now we have to stop there if we're ever in the area.

I have never met a whoopie pie I didn't like. Chocolate, Pumpkin Spice, Chocolate Peanut Butter...they are all amazing!!!!

When the signs of fall are flying by my window, I begin craving these oh so sweet treats. Here are a few recipes for you to try (and share!) on a crisp autumn afternoon or when the first snow falls (Please God, don't let it snow until Advent!).

Choclate Vanilla Whoopie Pies

1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup shortening
1 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

To make the cakes: Prepare mix as directed on package except using only 3/4 cup of water. Drop batter onto greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper to line pan) in 2 1/2 to 3 inch circles. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cool.
To make the filling: In a saucepan, combine milk and flour and cook, stirring constantly until it forms a thick paste. Let cool.
In a medium bowl, beat sugar and shortening until fluffy. Add vanilla. Add cooled flour mixture and beat until double in volume.
Turn the little cakes over on their backs. Spoon a dollop of filling onto half of the little cakes. Place the other half of the cakes on top of the filling to form sandwiches.

Pumpkin Spice

3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp.cinnamon
1 tsp.ginger
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 cups pumpkin
1 tsp. vanilla

Preparation -Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and spices in a mixing bowl; set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, cream together sugar, oil, eggs, pumpkin and vanilla. Mix all ingredients together. Bake as drop cookies. Drop by rounded tablespoons full onto ungreased non-stick cookie sheets and bake at 350° for 10 to 12 minutes or until center of cookie springs back when lightly pressed. Cool thoroughly on wire racks or paper towels before spreading with filling.

2 egg whites
2 tsp. vanilla
4 T. flour
4 T. milk
4 cups confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable shortening

Preparation - Beat egg whites until stiff; set aside. Combine other ingredients and beat very hard - several minutes at high speed. Mix in beaten egg whites. To make whoopie pies - Spread a generous amount of filling on a completely cooled cookie, then top with another cookie. Wrap each whoopie pie individually in plastic wrap.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup cocoa
dash of salt
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup warm water
2 tsp.vanilla Preparation

-In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and cocoa and salt; set aside. In a separate bowl, combine sugar, shortening & eggs. Beat about 2 minutes. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture. Add milk & warm water. Beat at medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Add vanilla and beat again until mixture is thoroughly blended. This batter is for a cake like cookie. Bake as drop cookies. Drop by rounded tablespoons full onto ungreased non-stick cookie sheets and bake at 375° for 10 to 12 minutes or until center of cookie springs back when lightly pressed. Remove from from cookie sheets and cool on wire racks or white paper towels. Cool completely before spreading.

Peanut Butter Filling

2 T. butter
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup milk

Preparation - Blend butter and peanut butter. Add confectioners' sugar and milk. Beat with an electric mixer at medium speed to blend ingredients, then beat at high speed until light and fluffy. To make whoopie pies - Spread one cookie generously with filling, then top with another cookie. Wrap each whoopie pie individually in plastic wrap.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

In Memory of Ziggy the Squirrel

I was looking through some old pictures of when my husband and I first met while working at a mountain top camp in California. Ahhh, I love pictures! What would I do with out a camera? I love looking back on the moment that have been precious to me. When I look at a snapshot I am suddenly go back to an earlier place and time and am reminded of the amazing things God has done in my life.

Since I was a kid I wanted to get married at camp so that it could be a huge, inexpensive family reunion/retreat. God was preparing my heart. When I was 27 I went to work on the opposite side of the country at a beautiful camp and there I met my husband (who was my boss at the time!). It was the most beautiful and romantic summer. And on that mountain, by that beautiful lake, we fell in love.

During that summer we also adopted a baby squirrel that we found dehydrated and limping around camp. We feed him with an eye dropper until he was old enough to eat pine nuts and other fun things. He would run around the dining hall in a hamster ball (and sometimes without it!). The kids were enchanted. He was dubbed Ziggy and he became our mascot. Many fun times and memories are connected with that little squirrel. Ziggy, you are missed!

No other squirrel will ever be as cute as the Zig-ster!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Fashion Thoughts from a Not-So Fashionable Me

I am sooo not a fashion guru, but I have noticed that the '80's seem to be back. Something I never thought would happen! It is not a trend that I ever wanted to see again. I lived through it once and once was enough!

That said, I will say that I have had a recent interest in clothing trends. Like most women, I enjoy dressing nicely. It is a way of showing my husband that I love him enough not to wear my comfy sweat pants and dress in something a little more feminine. Luckily, my husband thinks sweats are cute and loves me dressed casually. Living in a truck makes casual dress an absolute necessity. Somedays I need to dress up for my own mental well being. I love summer dresses and cute modest clothes that I kind find for a steal.

My favorite places to shop for clothes are the Goodwill, TJ Maxx and Marshalls. A few days ago, while Paul and I were waiting for a load in Laredo TX, I did a little shopping and found 3 cute dresses for fall at Marshalls for $11.00!

My favorite dress is a fitted little blue plaid dress. Its strapless so my next mission is to find a cute little black sweater to top it. I have a great pair of tall black leather boots. I am so anxious to go home and get boots so I can wear this outfit.


Due to my excitement about my new dresses, I noticed some of the trends at the mall Paul and I wandered around later that afternoon (still waiting for a load assignment!). What I was seeing was that plaids seem to be very in right now. They always are in the fall, but there were a lot more bright plaids as well as very cute country girl-meets lumber jack styles (little girl blouse meets big red plaid) . Also, due to the alarming 80's trend, leg warmers are back. I used to like leg warmers...I guess I still do! Not the Jane Fonda look, but cute chunky knits and funky stripes. I like fun styles that aren't too overboard.

I also discovered a website that has a pattern for knitting your own legwarmers. I haven't done any knitting in years (since I discovered crocheting), but this seems like a fun project for me to undertake while riding in the truck. Check it out:

When I bought my dresses I was thinking how cute they'd be for fall, but it was so hot in Laredo that Fall still seemed far off. We finally recieved a load assignment from our company. We were headed to Tennessee and from there to Denver. Yeah Colorado! We were still driving through Kansas when I noticed how much cooler it was getting with each mile we drove. We are about an hour and a half outside of Denver. The sky is gray and the air is crisp. I am so excited that fall is on its way! I love this weather. I've been snacking on crisp Gala apples dipped in caramel and sipping hot cider.

Enjoy the weather where ever you are and take the time to appreciate the changes in the air (and your wardobe!).

Friday, September 11, 2009

Eternal Rest Grant Unto Them, Oh Lord!

So many memories, so few words. I miss those that I've loved and loss and pray for those I never knew. I pray for the repose of all their souls and for blessings upon their families. We will all remember where we were, what we were doing and how much our lives have changed since that Sept. 11th.

Today I have been thinking about Firefighter Frank Palombo, the father of 10 who was killed at the World Trade Center. He was a close friend and spiritual mentor to one of my friends. I found this quote from Frank's wife and thought it was such a great witness to all those people who don't understand the blessing of a big family.

Taken from The Place of Hope by Marco Bardazzi:

“So much is being said about what type of memorial to build on that spot. For me, the cross is enough,” Jean Palombo said to some friends after the service in St Peter’s. Her testimony–given with her arm in a sling because of a fracture that has complicated even more a life that was already hard–moved the people listening to her in the church, who broke into a long applause. Jean is the widow of firefighter Frank Palombo. Hers is a history of a conflictual relationship with faith, one full of questions. “Seventeen years ago,” she recounted in St Peter’s, “Frank and I had already been married for three years and had no children. I didn’t want them; I knew that having them meant bringing them into this world of suffering.” It was Frank’s insistence that brought her back into the Catholic Church, from which she had moved away, and helped her understand “what God wanted from me.” In sixteen years, the Palombos had ten children. And now that the head of the family has disappeared under a tower where he had rushed to save other human lives, Jean thanks God for the children she has been given (“without them, I wouldn’t have made it”) and for the friends who are close to her. “My husband is helping me,” she said. “His presence is stronger every day. The Lord has been faithful with Frank, with me, and with all of us who are faithful to Him. Every day I think that I am a widow, I have ten children and a broken arm, and I can’t make it. And God says, ‘That’s right Jean, you can’t, but I can, and I will.’ And He does, every day.”

May God bless the Palombo family and all the families of those killed on 9-11. God bless our country.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Lemons into Lemonade

I couldn't figure out how to link this article from the Hanford Sentinel, so I copied it to share. This is an article about my brother-in-law who turned 21 this past week. Happy Birthday, Daniel!

These pictures are from Paul and my wedding. The first is Paul and his mom. The second is of Paul's brothers, Matt and Daniel, pretending to be penguins in there tuxes!

Turning lemons into lemonade
Daniel Coakley quenches the thirst and lifts the spirits of those in his Hanford neighborhood
By Heather Halsey

If life hands you lemons -- make lemonade, like Daniel Coakley has done for the last five summers.

After he found out that his father, Joe, had a lemonade stand when he was a boy, Daniel started his own in 2005 and has been peddling lemonade and conversation ever since.

"It's fun," Daniel said. "I get to see my old friends."

The gregarious 20-year-old with Down syndrome sets up shop from Monday through Saturday at 3 p.m. on Easy Street in Hanford where he has no qualms about waving to a passing car or chatting up a neighbor or two.

Liz Cleveland lives across the street from Daniel and routinely pops over for a quick chat and a cup of the sweet lemony drink that he makes from a powdered mix.

"We have a big jar of change that we keep for my grandkids when they come because they always want to come over here to Daniel's," Cleveland said.

Just like any other shrewd businessman, Daniel has business cards to promote the stand that he made on a computer with the help of one of his seven siblings.

He also keeps detailed records of his customer demographics and transactions, which show that last year he sold 43 cups of lemonade from May 27 to Oct. 29.

While he runs the booth he frequently calls friends and acquaintances he's met at St. Brigid's Catholic Church to invite them over for some lemonade.

He sells a large cup for 50 cents and charges 25 cents for a small or refills.

The money he collects are mainly dimes and quarters, which he adds to a jar that electronically tallies the coins for him.

On July 15 it was filled to the brim with coins, and the digital screen said he had $72.79, which Daniel said he probably won't spend on anything at all.

"He would do this for free just for the people that he meets," Joe Coakley said about his son.

He said that Daniel gives a lot of his profits to church and to homeless people that he passes on the street when he makes his weekly treks to Blockbuster and back.

"At least half the people in town know him because he waves to everyone that passes," Joe Coakley said.

It's evident that Daniel's business sense and wit never cease to amaze his father, who was surprised when he saw that his son had even dug up an old photograph of him when he was 8 years old serving lemonade in Mariposa.

The Coakleys moved from Mariposa to Hanford in 1985 so that Joe could teach special education to students at Shelly Baird School while Daniel's mother, Kathy, home-schooled their eight children.

When Daniel isn't sitting behind his lemonade stand he is often canvassing his neighborhood, knocking on doors to collect money for specific charities like he did last winter when he collected money for the Walk for Life in San Francisco.

"It's fun I got to see different cultures," Daniel said of the people he met while going door to door.

Fundraising for charities is one way he works to accomplish his biggest goals, many of which are all listed in a notebook he keeps titled, "Daniel's Dream History."

Of course one of the dreams he lists is to sell lemonade but he has more lofty goals, including creating homes for the homeless.

"I'd like to save my community," Daniel said.

For now Daniel is spreading hope one cup at a time from 3 to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, before he closes up shop and heads inside to eat dinner and watch two of his favorite TV shows -- "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune."

Thank You!

I just wanted to take a quick moment to thank you, my dear friends and family, for your comments on my recent postings. It's lovely to hear from you all and to get feedback on what I've written. I am praying that everyone enjoys this beautiful Labor Day weekend!

May God bless the work of your hands!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Catholic Symbolism in our Marriage

We are rolling down the highway listening to Family Net Radio on Sirius. We caught the tail end of a special on marriage and they were discussing the fact that the key to a sucessful marriage is keeping God at the center of your marriage. Simple fact, but so true. Paul and I are so blessed to have such an amazing and holy marriage and we do believe that is because we truly try to center our lives and our marriage on Christ.

This got me to thinking about the ring Paul gave to me when he propsed. It is a beautiful, simple engagement ring. We knew within less than a month after we meet that God was calling us to spend our lives together, so we had discussed a lot of things, including rings. As a woman, I have to admit that I had given this subject a lot of thought :) Paul and I looked at rings together, but he did pick the specific ring himself.

As Catholics we believe in outward signs that show an inward truth. The ring we choose was a simple gold band with a large diamond in the center and two smaller diamonds on either side. To us, the largest stone represents Christ, the center of our lives and our marriage. The smaller stones on each side represent Paul and I united to each other through Christ.

The ring Paul surprised me with has three additional diamonds on each side. We laugh that each of those six little diamonds represent AT LEAST TWO of our future children whom Paul and I will lead to Christ!

As for my wedding band (or band[s], in my case), we decide that rather than have a band that would distract from the "theme" of my engagement band, we would have two gold bands joined to the center engagement ring- once again symbolizing Paul and I joined by God as our center.

When we began looking for Paul's ring, he felt strongly that since he, as a husband, was called by Christ and the Church to love [me! :)] sacraficially (Ephesians 5:22-24), he too wanted an outward symbol of how he was called to a vocation of sacrafice. He decided that a ring with the crown of thorns on it was the perfect symbol. I spent many hours online looking and we went to dozens of shops before we found a beautiful (non-cheesy looking!) ring.

Isn't it perfect! And it was made by a Christian husband and wife team. How perfect can you get? Because it took us so long to find, we didn't receive the ring in the mail until two days before the wedding! You must check out Samaritan Arts website. Their jewlery is so rich in tradition and sybolism. See for yourself:

I have shared this special prayer that was the wedding favor Paul and I had printed for the guest at our wedding, but I wanted to post it on here as well. These are the words of St. John Chrysostom which he told to young husbands. They should say to their wives: "I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being separated in the life reserved for us.... I place your love above all things, and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different mind than you" [St. John Chrysostom, Hom. in Eph. 20, 8: PG 62, 146-147].

Paul and I look into eachother's eyes daily and repeat these words. I never fail to get a good old fashioned case of the butterflies when I hear my loving husband speak these words! I Swoon!

Keep your marriage centered on Christ and you can never go wrong! God bless you friends!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Tears of Joy!!!

Yesterday I received a call from my cousin, Bre. She asked for continued prayers as she continues with daily radiation treatments. Praise God, she is doing remarkably well and is loving mommyhood!

She had a special reason for her call. She asked me to be her beautiful daughter's Godmother!!!!!!!! I was so overwhelmed that I immediately began crying tears of joy! I am so honored to be the godmother of this little angel!

Please keep praying for my goddaughter and her mother.
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