Reading

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Now that my kids are older (7th grade and 4th grade) book choices are SO MUCH more enjoyable for me! I volunteered at Mary Fowler’s book fair and bought several that looked yummy, planning to read them to the kids.

Davis, especially, loves to be read to. It is really a quality time activity for us. Right now we are reading Counting by 7s which is about a fabulously-interesting 6th grade girl who suddenly, tragically loses both her parents on the same day.

The story is about how she deals with this great loss and the motley crew of people she surrounds herself with. We were about halfway through the other night and I just had to finish it myself after Davis went to bed. Oh how I cried!!!!! I mean, sobbing. And it has a good ending, I just think it touched on one of my all-time greatest worries in life… how kids make it when they don’t have the family network so many of us do. It really touched a chord with me.

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Mary Fowler and I are reading I Am Malala- the young adult version (for my sake:). We are only a couple of chapters in because she has less free time available in the evening. I am hoping that the book will show Mary Fowler that to some children education is a privilege. I am SO proud of how she is doing in middle school but it never hurts to get a little world-perspective:).
I have found that my favorite place to volunteer in the kids’ schools is the LIBRARY! I love it! I love being around all those books and I love discussing books with the librarians! So much better than the cafeteria ūüė¶ ¬†And I love how the teachers at our elementary school read so many books in class to the kids. For example, I’ve always felt that a book (fiction or non-fiction) written from one child’s perspective during the Depression can teach so much more than just remembering facts of the Depression.

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And for me, I am loving The War of Art and You are a Badass! One a friend gave me and one I ¬†heard about it from one of my scrapbooking blogs. ¬†They¬†are SO, SO good! I usually try to get books from the library but I’m so happy I own these¬†because I’m going to refer back often!!

Little Things

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Lately we have been having some TRUE spring days and the weather is just invigorating!  I LOVE it!  My favorite climate is around 72 degrees (although I also love a good rainy day for staying inside and making soup:)

I’ve taken several walks and the blue skies make me feel all bubbly inside. ¬†This¬†morning I took my big camera outside because my Irises are blooming! ¬†I’m sure my neighbors thought I had lost it outside, still in my pajamas. ¬†But Irises are my mom’s favorite flower so I always think of her when I see them. ¬†She loves their sweet scent and we¬†can’t believe someone hasn’t invented Iris-smelling perfume or candles?!?

They are so delicate and it had just rained.  I have tried cutting them to vase indoors but it never works out for me- they kind of wither- so I snapped away and will have the photos to enjoy instead!

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The Spring blooms and clear, blue skies are two of my favorite things this week and here are some others:

 

 

  • This article from Parade Magazine (in the Sunday newspaper): Exceptional Minds Movie Magic¬†It makes me so happy to¬†know that society is learning about how different we all are and instead of focusing on what we can’t do, focusing on what our gifts are!

 

 

Venice

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My daughter and I traveled with a tour group through her school to Italy.  I had never been, but always wanted to go so I think I may have been more excited than her! Our first stop was Venice.

We arrived in time to¬†make our dinner reservation¬†– I can’t remember the name of the restaurant but it was in a kind of trendy industrial, re-done warehouse. ¬†The parents ordered ¬†wine and beer, and we had a set menu of first course: pasta (this was pretty typical of each dinner), second course: lemon chicken and salad. ¬†And then dessert, which here I believe was tiramisu.

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We were told there are some snow-capped mountains and some marble-topped ones.
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I thought it might be neat to have a picture of perhaps where my Carrara marble came from:)

 

The next morning we were up early to beat the crowds to the ferry. ¬†As you probably know, there are absolutely NO cars or trucks in Venice. ¬†It’s really neat to not have that normal automobile background noise. ¬†This particular day was overcast which made for great pictures with my big camera:) ¬†But it was a little bit chilly.

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We started off in St. Mark’s Square (¬†12th Century ) and our teacher told us about the architecture and¬†then we had some free time. ¬†We were told to go exploring- that Venice is full of mystery and intrique with all the canals and stone walkways. ¬†He just suggested we keep coming back St. Mark’s cathedral that to keep our bearings and not get lost. ¬†We also managed to find the Venice Hard Rock Cafe:) but just for a Tshirt.

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This mosaic is amazing!

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The girls found gelato and just had to have it before lunch:)

After we were on our own for lunch, we met up to have a glass-blowing demonstration on the “real” way Murano glass is blown.

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Besides glass, Venice is also known for their lace-making and masks.

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Hindsight, I wish we had spent more time exploring.  And I do think I would go the same time of year- not hot! And we were told it was not busy at all!  Usually it is packed.

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The Moorish architectural influence.

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We were told usually there are no gondolas parked like this ūüôā ¬†Usually they are all in use.
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So beautiful. ¬†I’m so curious about those who live here- would love to see¬†how they do their daily life of work, grocery getting, etc.

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My overall thoughts… I do think I would like to go back to Venice. ¬†I do think I would go in the Spring again, not summer or winter. ¬†And I would plan to stay there and have some kind of water transportation lined up so I could explore more than just the St. Mark’s Square area.

My daughter said she does not feel the need to go back to Venice. ¬†My guess is that, because it was our first stop, the kids were a little uncertain and nervous¬†about all the warnings and preparations we gave on pick-pocketing, getting lost, etc. ¬†The kids got¬†WAY more comfortable as the trip went on… really by our next stop in Florence. ¬†So I wonder if¬†her feelings would have been different if it wasn’t our first stop.

You may also enjoy reading about Vatican City

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

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I know it’s April but my kids made my mom’s Christmas chocolate crinkle cookies together¬†last night- and even cleaned up after themselves! ¬†It tasted like Christmas! It has never even occurred to me that they can be made year-round! ¬†Silly kids! ¬†But they are so easy and good, they should be made all the time! ¬†*Just leave time for chilling the dough*

In our house we use and love this cookbook. ¬†Note: I can’t stand how the¬†recipes are photographed or organized- it’s very confusing. ¬†And we have tried some recipes that were NOT hits, but we have several¬†favorites ūüôā

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My mom had an original version which has splatters and grease marks all over it.  And when I was pregnant with my daughter, my aunt bought my mom (the grandmother-to-be) a new printing of the original.  At some point I stole it and now my son claims it:)

Growing up, I didn’t give these crinkle cookies enough credit! ¬†Around the holidays I was fascinated by the¬†more fancy, decorated cookies. ¬†My aunt Mary Ann and Aunt Debbie would always make the multi-colored butter press cookies along with decorated gingerbread men. ¬†When our household made cookies, it was usually these or chocolate chip or snicker doodle or anything with lemon (my dad’s favorite).

I do love decorating cookies, but as I get older, I gravitate towards the nostalgic, tried-and-true recipes, so pour a glass of milk and enjoy!

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

1/2 cup vegetable oil

4 squares (4 oz) unsweetened chocolate, melted

2 cups granulated sugar

4 eggs

2 tsp. vanilla

2 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Mix oil, chocolate, and granulated sugar.  Blend in one egg at a time until well mixed.  Add vanilla.  Add flour, baking powder, and salt into oil mixture.  Chill several hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. ¬†Drop teaspoonfuls of dough into confectioners’ sugar. ¬†Roll in sugar and shape into balls. ¬†*We dip in confectioners’ sugar a second time to ensure a good-looking finished cookie.*

Bake 10 minutes.  Makes about 6 dozen.

Perfect Roast Chicken Breasts

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We eat a lot of chicken for dinner. ¬†The kids have started saying exactly what I used to say¬†to my mom, “Chicken again?!? ¬†We always have chicken!”

But this roasted, bone-in chicken makes everyone happy. ¬†My mom and sisters have been begging for my “recipe.” ¬†I hardly consider it a recipe, it’s¬†more like my¬†“method.”

The other day¬†when bone-in chicken breasts were on sale, I bought several to keep and freeze. ¬†While I was making dinner, I wrote down what I did and now it is here to share ūüôā

Note: I cook 2-4 (depending on their size) for dinner for a family of 4, but I also cook extra (2-4) because the juicy white meat is so good to have on hand in the refrigerator.  It makes the best chicken salad, chicken noodle soup, chicken enchiladas, or even plain- just added to your salad the next day.

Do NOT¬†remove the skin prior to cooking. ¬†The skin and the bones are what ensure juicy, white meat. ¬†After cooking, I peel off the cooked skin and toss it… unless my¬†parents are visiting… then my dad gets ONE. ¬†I know it’s bad, but he just loves it so…

Perfect Roast Chicken Breasts

Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Breasts

Olive Oil

Sea Salt & Pepper

Brush tops and bottoms with olive oil and then season both sides generously¬†with salt and pepper. ¬†Spread breasts out on rimmed cookie sheet; don’t crowd them. ¬†Bake skin side up at 375 degrees for 45 minutes (smaller size) or 55 minutes (larger size).

Remove from oven and immediately cover with foil.  Let rest, covered for 10 minutes.

Now, and only now¬†can you cut into the center of the largest piece and ensure they are cooked thoroughly, Mom ūüôā

Vatican City

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My daughter and I just returned from her school trip to ITALY!  I had never been but always wanted to go so I was possibly more excited than she was!

One of my favorite places was Vatican City. ¬†Probably because I’m Catholic. ¬†I could not help but see everything through my father’s eyes. ¬†While I wax and wane about my “church-organized” religious beliefs, he does not seem to. ¬†I had tears in my eyes many times imagining what¬†he would be feeling. ¬†I hope he visits the Vatican someday.

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Throughout Italy I found myself taking photos of the brick laying patterns.  Most of the bricks I saw were this longer, flat shape.

We arrived to the walled city in the morning and we were told that visitors who aren’t part of a group must wait in line and that it wraps around the whole city. This was one place our tour guide was very clear that we were to stay together because there is only one correct way in and out. ¬†He mildly joked that the other way out would be to jail. ¬†Not funny:)

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the Vatican wall

As you enter, you are herded through the Vatican Museums. ¬†They are all very intricate and beautiful. One of my favorites featured this long “hall” where the barrel vault ceiling was a work of art.

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On either side walls, there were painted maps. ¬†These were done before aerial shots and surveying… amazing. ¬†I loved the greens and cobalt blues.

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There were also very old tapestries.

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From here we were led out to one of the pretty courtyard gardens.  These were built to allow green space and quiet reflection for the Popes.

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Here our tour guide used one of several informational stands highlighting¬†the important details of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. ¬†This was helpful because you are not allowed to talk or take pictures inside the Sistine Chapel because it is¬†a holy space. The fame of the Sistine Chapel lies mainly in the frescos that decorate the interior, and most particularly the Sistine Chapel ceiling and The Last Judgment by Michelangelo. I enjoyed being reminded why the frescos are so famous.

The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored it between 1477 and 1480. Since that time, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new pope is selected.

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I’m a rule follower… not my photo

The last guided spot was St. Peter’s Basilica.

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It was surreal to stand¬†in front of St. Peter’s Basilica with my daughter where I¬†have seen the Pope speak so many times.

It was breathtaking. ¬†I love buildings and architecture so naturally I was overcome and amazed by the beauty I saw. ¬†The amount of intricate detail was overwhelming. ¬†I tried to imagine the tradesmen doing their work in the 1500s ¬†but the sheer vastness of the detail was more than I could wrap my brain around. ¬†My eyes could not rest. ¬†Everywhere you look there are more domes with ceiling treatments, more columns, more mosaics… and the gold! ¬†It was truly beautiful.

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the Holy Doors

I am Catholic so I was invited to walk through the Holy Doors which are only open every 25 years during Holy Years. ¬†The Pope is allowed to declare additional¬†years Holy Years and Pope Francis did that for 2016. ¬†On one hand, it is simply¬†walking through a separate doorway. ¬†But for me, I¬†felt overcome by emotion… it kind of felt like my chest/heart was lifted up to my head-level. ¬†One of my dad’s aunts (who is now deceased) was a nun and I definitely thought a lot about her while I was here.

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St. Peter’s Basilica

We live near Jamestown and the early settlements of America beginning in 1608. ¬†St. Peter’s Basilica began construction in 1506 and opened in 1626. ¬†The difference in ornateness is staggering.

Afterwards we were left time for lunch and time to do some shopping.  So of course I bought my whole family (and any Catholic friends) Rosary beads.  You could have them blessed and delivered to your hotel.

Most days we grabbed a prosciutto, cheese, and basil sandwich but this day I went with a bulgar wheat salad and it was so tasty!  The kids had gelato for dessert every. single. day:)

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What a special place.  I felt so much emotion here.  And I am so excited about the current Pope Francis.  Next stop Rome!