Monday, November 23, 2015

Redland's backyard.

I miss cold weather around the holidays...

But, I certainly can't complain about our little Autumn world in November.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Meal Planning Mondays: Hosting.

This is my first official holiday hosting family in our home. We usually find ourselves at either my parents' or Tyler's parents' homes for every big occasion. This year, I wanted to relieve the good matrons of the family of the burden of constantly hosting crowds of people. Thanksgiving followed by Christmas is no easy feat, as any host can tell you. So many details to plan, so many mouths to feed, so many people tromping in and out of your home. The dishes, the cleaning, the entertainment, the grocery shopping, the gifts, the cooking, the seating, the planning, the preparation! Lions and tigers and bears, oh MY.

As a child, you assume (or at least I did) that these events conjure themselves up like dependable magic. Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas Eve celebrations, Halloween festivities, birthday celebrations, they all simply happen. You don't give much thought to the wizard behind the curtain, and it isn't until you attempt your first adult go at serving a meal or hosting a gathering that you realize the painstaking details that can go into even the simplest of occasions. Cooking up hot dogs, and guess who forgot the condiments!?! A summer BBQ in the backyard, did you remember utensils? It's Christmas, and your guests will be hanging out long before Christmas dinner is served: what have you planned in the interim for snacking? Oh yes, Auntie has arrived with an extra guest as well. Seating arranged? What about an extra gift for them in the exchange? DETAILS. SO MANY DETAILS.

There are those who say meh, details don't matter. I have found that it is typically a male who says something like that. Don't worry so much! It doesn't matter! Quit stressing about stupid stuff! Mind you, it will be he who will first publicly lament the lack of condiments at the hot dog bar. Don't ever listen to that man. Make sure he does the dishes following the event. ;)

Some of my best memories of warm holidays filled with cheer, as I look back, were directly linked to that wizard behind the curtain, always sacrificing her own ease to conjure up holiday magic, and caring very much about every last detail.


There was NO WAY I was going to offer to host Christmas. Just thinking about it gives me stress hives. However! I can do Thanksgiving! It's a one meal (albeit, a large one) event, and selfishly, I love cooking. Controlling the menu assures I get my favorite dishes. Buahahahahaaa.

We will have visitors in the area for a few days (HOORAY!!!! I'M SO EXCITED!). Family will be staying in hotels and our house, so I wanted to send out a general (although extremely flexible) itinerary.  I think it helps when a group has some general guideline of what to expect. I sent out these printed invitations/itineraries....

I've recruited plenty of help for our menu, which is wonderful because it means I won't have to make every last dish. Many of the sides can be prepared in advanced and reheated. I thought I'd share with you and link the corresponding recipes. Even if you aren't hosting, maybe you have been asked to bring a dish to share. If so, these are recipes we love: 

Pies will be provided by guests:)

Favorite Spiced Tea Sold Here. Cinnamon Orange, naturally sweet and completely decaf. My favorite tea ever and I was so excited when I learned you could order directly from the restaurant's website.

That's it folks! Definitely wishing you peeps a HAPPY THANKSGIVING!



Thursday, November 12, 2015

Joy, today.

Oldest, youngest.

Oldest, capable of reading to youngest. hallelujah.

Messy rooms, healthy kids. 

Cold night, warm home.

And Lundy girl, in her Lundy world.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Blessed Art Thou.

Years ago, when cleaning out a storage area, my mom gave me a large, dusty container filled with various linens. She said they belonged to her mother, who had amassed a large collection from her mother. Although I regular champion the cause of decluttering, delivering uninvited sermons on a regular basis about the merits of  mercilessly rooting out and eliminating all hoarding tendencies, my mom still knew my affinity for the seemingly impractical yet romantic things of the world. She wisely figured that a collection of handmade doilies smelling faintly of must and cigarette smoke would only have a chance of survival if left under my care.

I stored them away for a couple years - unable to muster the grit to say goodbye during my semi-annual garage purges. I wasn't sure if I loved or hated myself for the attachment. The jury was still out as we carried the container between moves and across statelines. All I knew was that I simply didn't have time to render final judgment on whether or not the contents of the mysterious box stayed or went out with the goodwill piles.

I finally found time to sort through the pile of cloth last month. Among countless doilies and half finished, cross-stitched runners (which I love), I found these unbelievably, amazing, gorgeous, pinch-me-beautiful old tablecloths.

I excitedly texted photos to my Mom, who mentioned that they were probably worth a fair amount of money. They will not be sold. Nor, stored away in a hutch for display only to be retrieved on special holiday occasion. I decided I will use them. For Sunday family meals. Such times are sacred enough in an otherwise manic, microwave-meal sort of world. I like to think my deceased grandmother, Mary Jane Bergese Amaro, would agree.

My grandma was a large, colorful, Portuguese woman with enormous breasts that literally suffocated you when held in her grandmotherly embrace. Once you emerged for air and managed to untangle yourself from the long crucifix necklace around her neck, you could stand far back enough to momentarily examine the trace whisker growing from her chin. She had a distinct, grandma sort of smell. Perfume laced with the slightest bit of old lady. A smell that I'm really quite fond of. She wore orthopedic white shoes, complained of her bodily ailments with brief grunts, and regularly prayed the rosary each night before bed. 

We visited with her a few times a year, when we either managed to make the trip to the farmlands of the Sacramento area, or when good ole' Mary Jane tortured our Grandpa Al with a drive over the mountain pass to our home. On the few times I had the good fortune to ride as a passenger witness, I'd watch from the back seat as she gasped for breath and clenched the handles of the door nervously,  constantly bracing herself for perceived impact while alternating between making the sign of the cross and using the Lord's name in vain. This was her standard, protocol reaction to Grandpa Al driving a reckless 47 miles per hour down the slow lane of the highway. 

They always arrived with a trunk filled to the brim with fresh, California produce. The kind you purchase at farm-stands along the side of the road. It was completely dreamy, especially to a Nevada desert kid like me who had been mistakenly born in the wrong climate. As they would open up the car you could just smell the air of California with the crate of fresh bell peppers that our family would inevitably never eat. They also brought a large tub of licorice, and big liters of Coca Cola and Mountain Dew. My mother would shoo us away as we lunged for the desired carbonated goods, annoyed with the fact that Grandma Amaro willfully chose to repeatedly ignore the fact that for a circa 1995 Mormon family, Coca Cola was widely rumored to be on the list of forbidden beverages. Hmmmff. Grandma Amaro. Catholic.

Grandma took her professed Catholic faith very seriously, something which served as a source of wonder and mystery to us grandkids when we'd visit her home. While there, we always slept in what seemed to be her personal holy grotto, a detached office and living quarters in the back of Grandpa Al's pristinely landscaped California backyard. The yard always smelled of fresh lemon blossoms and the carefully laid brick path led into a room filled with dozens of statues of Catholic Saints and candles. Some were as tall as we were. Looming, stone-carved eyes of veneration surrounded us upon entry, with Saints crying tears that had been crystallized on their porcelain faces, holding crosses or naked babies with with adult-like facial features. It was a scandalous, visual feast that greeted our little Mormon eyes at every turn. It scared my younger siblings late at night to be sleeping next to Saint Agatha or Augustine, staring down at them, weeping. Personally, I relished its Da-Vinci Code vibe and spent most of those night hours imagining myself as an enchanted, fully-garbed nun tucked away in a medieval monastery in Europe.

When morning came round, we would listen in wide-eyed amazement as Grandma would tell us of Manuel, her elderly hispanic neighbor who regularly met apparitions of our Lady of Guadalupe on his back lawn. She would pull down a binder, with carefully laminated pages of documentation, pointing to photographs she had taken of the particularly greener patches of grass in his backyard; clearly the indisputable proof of the monthly miraculous appearance. She would direct us and say "Look at dis. And dis. And dis!"

I had always assumed her mispronunciation of the word "this" was a remnant of her Portuguese heritage; the product of a good, authentic foreign accent passed down along with colorful mosaic tiles and chinaware. I didn't figure out until more recently that she was born and raised in Hawaii. That really rocked my world. Anyways, even as naive children, we casually dismissed Grandma Amaro's declarations of faith, preferring our much more sane and superior religious narratives about angels with swords and golden plates swallowed up in mountainsides and three tier-ed heavens, all made accessible by peering into stones. Don't listen to Grandma, we'd whisper...she thinks you're eating Jesus during the Sacrament! She even prays to a GIRL!

{Hand embroidered. Scalloped edges. Portuguese. Perfection.} 

Most every Easter, we would attend Mass with Grandma Mary. Wearing our Easter Sunday best, we would walk with our mother, and her mother, across the street to the church, a small sanctuary brimming with fresh lily flowers and ancient ritual. The pews would fill with families, the congregation peppered with elderly women's heads, covered in lace. Incense filled the walkways, carrying with it the prayers of the people, circling aromatically towards heaven. The priest proceeded along the stone path to the decorated altar, wearing white robes which symbolized reverence for the blessed mother Mary and the celebration of Christ's renewal, victory, and resurrection. Later, we would hunt for treats and eat the glazed ham that Grandma had prepared in her small kitchen. 

I still miss Easters there.  

I can feel her in these cloths, my Grandma Amaro, as crazy as it seems. That is just the sort of idealized, romanticized statement any family member would expect me to say. But it's true, damn it! Am I crazy? I am crazy.

Mary Jane was a unique and complicated woman, a reality I continue to discover as time passes, even long after her death. Merely tracing out her children's multiple paternal lineages has made more sense of her almost compulsive need to pray the rosary nightly in her later years. I imagine that after confessing her more scandalized {and even downright shocking} past with multiple men to the wise priest, she was instructed at some point that she probably needed to pray an approximate 7 million Hail Mary's to clean that mess up. Most likely a Listen girl, you best start prayin' and beggin' Jesus' Mama to help YOU out kind of advice.

She was complex and secretive and difficult to understand in many ways, but also simple in the universal fact that she was human. And by my recollection, a very loving and inviting one at that. I definitely loved my Grandma Mary.

My Mom frequently remarks that I remind her of Grandma, with my love of cooking and affinity for fresh produce. I am happy she lives on, particularly in my passion for stuffed bell peppers that nobody else enjoys quite like I do. 

This Thanksgiving, I will use these tablecloths for my first official time hosting family in our home. And true to my penchant for daydreaming, when I shake them loose and look them over, I will wonder about the few generations of women who owned these linens. 

She who laundered, who scrubbed their small stains and folded and tucked them away for the next meal. Meals on hot, hurried days. Meals on holidays. Meals hosting family or friends. Meals welcoming one in on a freezing, wintery evening. Meals prepared with care that had been simmering in the small kitchen throughout the day. Meals prepared in haste for hungry mouths and served up by tired, overworked hands.   

I can feel the work of women who didn't have the convenience of take-out. I can feel the luxury they must have felt running their fingers over the colorful stitching as they unfolded and pressed the scalloped seams in preparation. I can feel her satisfaction over a well set table. I can feel the resolve of a single mom, trying to feed her children, regretful of failed relationships, poor decisions and vulnerable choices. I can feel the fatigue, and the ordinary, and the extraordinary of a life spent cooking for the people you love. I can feel her faith, her presence in my memory, her pleading prayers...Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee...blessed art thou among women...

Friday, November 6, 2015

Friday: Family Culture and Links

Happy Friday! Here's what's been on my heart and mind this past week...

I can feel the winds turning in our family's season. My girls are getting older, and in many ways so much more manageable. Primarily in the physical sense. I no longer have four little ones to literally dress each day, brush teeth, tie shoelaces, hoist in and out of vehicles while running countless errands. I'm not sprinting to save a toddler from running into the street, or helping pour each glass of milk. I'm no longer nursing an infant at the dinner table while trying to eat. My nights are mostly entirely uninterrupted blocks of sleep, aside from the occasional visit from a girl with bad dreams.

And I can feel it in my joints, the relief! 

Life has shifted from the more immediate physical demands to that of a more abstract, deeply rooted kind of child-rearing. Its emphasis is less focused worrying primarily about nutrients and immediate safety and sleep schedules for a forming brain, to instead considering seriously how they think autonomously and behave in the world. Both internally and externally. It's even more about their emotional resources. Their social skills. Their moral foundations. Their value systems. Their minds and their hearts.

With this new season of our lives, the lift in physical burden has left me more free to be intensely interested in creating a unique Haack family culture. This part is so much fun. Have you ever thought about your family culture? Its strengths? Its weaknesses? Would you say there were features that made your own family so definitively YOURS? Things that you hope to pass on or cultivate in your own family now?

As a mother, I feel pretty humbled by my power to shape this culture. My girls are real thinkers, and this is becoming more and more apparent as they grow; their questions and their dependence on us for stability and guidance. I'm trying my best to constantly seek out the best forms of recreation and resources to meet the ever growing need to nurture their big souls. I'm trying to stay in big picture mode, even during the minutia of each moment of a busy week.

When thinking about what I want MY family culture to be, there are a few anchors. I want order and tradition. I want growth and nourishment. And I want fun. Good, plain, regular family recreation. I would also love a family motto. I've been thinking up a simple statement of who we Haacks are as a unit. Double points if it's alliterative. Tyler and I have talked and hope when people think of the Haack ladies, or interact with us, that ultimately they would agree the Haacks are Honest, Hardworking, Helpful, and Happy. 

I'm going to have our motto made from either  this or this shop on Etsy.

Here are a few of the activities that we regularly utilize to strengthen our little family culture. None of them are entirely regular and regimented, but on most weeks my kids count on one of the following things happening:

Family Meeting 
Every Sunday night before family prayer and bed, the kids gather in our living room and we discuss "Triumphs" of the week, and also "What we need to work on". Tyler and I will go around and tell the girls things we noticed them doing well that week, and toss them a gummy bear (their favorite part). There is some good family clappin' and hootin' and tootin' of horns. Then, we will address problems or issues that need to be worked on, both individually and collectively as a family unit. We also give the kids the chance to ask Mom and Dad what they would like us to work on as parents. Oh boy, do they run with this one. Overall, it's our special time to get a good temperature read on our family each week. We're trying our darnedest to model some civility with open and frank conversation, hoping it will stick as the years pass. So far, this really has made a huge difference in our household. 

That's Mormon lingo for Family Home Evening. FHE means one evening a week dedicated solely to family and edification. It usually means a small devotional centered on spiritual matters, singing an ill-tuned song, playing a game, and some treats. Although I'm not particularly in the mood to brag about Mormon news right now (WHAT A MESS!!!!!), you know what I LOVE? This kinda stuff. So, I guess it's two thumbs down for current policies (boo), and two thumbs up for FHE! I will be forever grateful for this tradition, and I love these packets. All the work is done for you: just print, cut, and go! Wherever you are in your spectrum of belief/non-belief/religious traditions, I'm pretty sure you will find topics that can fit your values. (The website isn't the best, but look under the "packets" tab and scroll through the pages for topics).  You get a cute story with cut-out graphics, a corresponding recipe for a snack, songs outlines, etc. Our last FHE we had a lesson on Being Thankful. Slam dunk.

Family Movie Night
Usually on a Friday, with some pizza. Once again, it's the little fun things that count. I hear my girls talk about this tradition a lot. 

Reading time
Every day, we shoot for a solid block of reading time. This is sometimes met with a spirit of compliance and cheer, or threats. Doesn't matter. Reading is NOT an option in this house. Once a week I like to read a more substantial book to the big girls. The Boxcar Children, Little House on the Prairie series, The Secret Garden, and now Harry Potter!

Holy Reading
The New Testament is where it's at for us. We like reading from this version of the Bible, and there is excellent commentary provided in the bottom margins. We read a few verses at a time and have plenty to think about. Just the other day Lily came downstairs shouting, "Mom! London has a PLANK IN HER EYE!" and London followed shortly thereafter screaming, "NO! Lily has a plank in HER eye!"....and I looked at my brawling children and wept tears of biblical literacy joy. Matthew 7:5 in da house. Well done, girls. Well done. A mother finds no greater joy than hearing her children scream bible passages at each other. After all, we adult Christians especially excel this, right?! 


Maybe a couple of these traditions might help you on your family journey as well, so I thought I'd share. I'll finish up with this last link:

I listened to this lecture last week. My school offers an online Master Lectures Series for free. This lecture on Digital Attachment had me thinking for days about ways I want to be more aware and conscious about our family and our digital choices going forward. It was fascinating, relevant, and important for all of us to consider. You'll be glad you listened, promise.

{Lundy Girl painting outside. The arts/craft section of any store always helps me in my efforts to pull kids away from less digital forms of entertainment. Try the Dollar Tree for plenty of good stuff.}

Happy Weekend peeps! Hopefully you'll enjoy and celebrate the gift of time spent with your own unique and miraculous family - whatever they look like or how GAY they may be!!!;)

Love to all!


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Golden Girl.

Today is our Ellie Jane's 5th Birthday.

Born in the evening on the 5th day of November.

 I remember feeling like her birth was my best birth experience yet. It definitely foretold of the pure joy and bliss that would unfold being her mother. This child.

Happiness, she is.

So much happiness she has brought to our lives.

So animated, so full of life, so dang funny. Her eyes twinkle and she smiles with her entire body and always speaks with her pudgy hands illustrating every detail.  

Laughter comes easily to Ellie-Jane. Laughter and charm.

An amazing sister,

 and an especially loving and caring watch-keeper of her little sister Emerson.

I remember feeling guilty when I found out I was pregnant with baby #4 while Ellie-Jane was only 8 months old. I cried holding her, feeling overwhelmed, feeling like I was cheating her out of baby-hood, feeling like she was somehow going to get the short-end of the stick. But oh my, how time and perspective and God's grace can have me face palming myself for ever feeling fearful.

Her spirit is one of vivacious good cheer and warmth. She is a LOVE. And a SASS. 

And a complete MANIAC on our tree swing.

And there ain't NO WAY this kid is EVER going to get lost in the birth order mix.

{yoga poses by Ellie}

Happy Birthday Ellie-Jane, the magnificent.

Your Mama and Daddy and sisters love you like CRAZY.


A peek into the past: