Monday, September 30, 2013

What is the Aspirancy?

In the three years Oleander has been there, many have asked us,  "What exactly is this aspirancy/school she is attending?"  In researching what an "aspirancy" actually is, I've found many different definitions depending on the vocation and the order.  In general, it is a period of discernment prior to making any sort of vows, and for convents this means a period of living in the convent before actually becoming a postulant.  For the school Ollie attends, the aspirancy is a program designed for spiritual formation and discernment for high school aged girls that feel a call to the religious life. This formation is provided alongside a regular high school academic curriculum.  This seems very counter cultural, and is often met with skepticism when we try to explain her experience.

To set the record straight, Ollie was not recruited by the SSVM (Sister Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of MatarĂ¡) to attend this school.  We have family friends, whose son attends a minor seminary school run by the IVE, brother order to the SSVM.  He encouraged Ollie to pursue finding a similar type of school.  Why would he encourage our daughter to pursue this avenue, one might ask?  Since she was very little, our Oleander has ALWAYS wanted to be a nun.  At first we thought this was typical catholic girl childhood dreaming, but over the years this desire persisted and became more evident in the way she pursued personal holiness.  As Ollie researched, the only SSVM aspirancies she could find were in foreign countries, and there was no way we would have sent her so far from home.  She did not give up, and soon heard the SSVM was planning to open a school in Pennsylvania--only 2 hours from our home at the time.  We were still very hesitant to send our daughter away. Knowing she was more of the shy-shrinking-violet type, we told her that if this was what she really desired, she would have to make it happen.  You might imagine our surprise, when by her own devices, she obtained the name and phone number of the sister that was working on getting the US aspirancy up and running.  Not only did our daughter obtain the information on her own, she put her information to work, contacted M. Ephesus and got the ball rolling for her application.  As it became more clear Ollie was indeed serious about becoming an aspirant, we began researching and asking our own questions.  We would not go about this blindly.  We established and have maintained a very active and informed role in Ollie's life as an aspirant.  The SSVM would not have it any other way, as they adhere to Church teaching regarding parents as the first and primary teachers when it comes to the spiritual formation and education of their children.

Of great importance to Wingnut and I was the continued academic progress and achievement of Ollie while living in a house of formation.  The aspirancy's mistress of studies is a certified teacher and SSVM sister that oversees the girl' academic studies.  The girls are all enrolled in PA Cyber school and take live cyber classes alongside several self paced classes provided by the state of Pennsylvania.  The classes are academically rigorous, follow the state educational guidelines for high school academics, and are designed to give the girls an education geared toward further education; yes, even college if they so desire.  Wingnut and I have access to all class material, teachers, and grades as desired and we have been consistently consulted about our desires for Ollie's continued education.  We are confident Oleander is receiving a first rate education, very similar to what we would have had her study at home.

Not only does our aspirant receive wonderful spiritual formation and academic instruction, she has had some of the most wonderful opportunities for travel and experiences we certainly could not have provided for her ourselves.  The aspirants frequently travel to convents and missions within the order throughout the United States.  They have traveled several times to the SSVM's cloistered convent in New York. How many of us have been inside a cloister and gotten to know what life is like there?  They have enjoyed Ignatian spiritual exercises, retreats, mission work, hiking, camping, boating, biking, swimming, etc.  The girls do regular work with their local parish, including assisting with CCD classes.   And in the end, when Ollie graduates, the decision to pursue the religious life or not will still be hers to make.  No expectations and no strings attached, but with a much clearer idea of what the life of a religious might be like.

The question has been asked, "Are the girls brainwashed or coerced to stay?"  The evidence suggests otherwise.  Ollie is asked on a regular basis by her spiritual director, M. Ephesus, and us if she is happy where she is; is she homesick; is this where she feels she needs to be.  Her answer is always yes to all three--yes she does get homesick, but she also gets homesick for the aspirancy when she is home with us.  In the three years, since the school opened, several different girls have enrolled and a few have stayed and a few have returned home at their own choosing.  If at any time Ollie felt this was not where God wanted her, I know she would be encouraged to come home without question.

Counter cultural? You bet.  The right choice for every girl dreaming to be a nun? Absolutely not.  The right choice for our girl? Amen! Print Friendly and PDF

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Hiking Utah

One of the wonderful things about Utah is there is never a shortage of outdoor activities to engage in here. Our favorite fall activity is hiking, especially as the landscape begins to change color.  Fridays are a light schooling day for us, so we try to plan field trips for Friday afternoons.  This last week we went hiking about 1/2 an hour from the house.  This trail was perfect for the younger kids, and even though Lil' Lamb spent most of the hike in the backpack, it was an easy enough trail for him to hike along as he wished.

It's still a touch early for fall colors here; we should peak in October, but the weather was perfect.

The kids enjoyed getting up close to some great rock formations.

Special K is our fearless girl and had to walk out onto every rock outcropping.

Lil' Lamb loved having acorns and rocks handed back to him to examine.

The end of this hike had a great reward that we hadn't anticipated in this little water fall.

This was our stunning view on the return hike. 

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Too Busy to Blog Much These Days

I've been remiss in posting lately.  We have been pretty busy here, with a new school year underway, three children enrolled in Religious Ed classes (we have two receiving sacraments this year), and the weather has been so lovely; too lovely to just hang out inside in front of a computer screen.  We've been hiking and to the park and we've recently taken up fishing.

Wingnut Jr. and I ran in our first group fun run on Saturday.  It was a bit of a let down.  The website was not clear regarding the distance, and I just assumed it would be a 5K.  The little guy and I trained for a 5K.  We were more than ready for a 5K.  It turns out the fun run was a measly little 1.5 miler.  Bummer.  Wingnut Jr. did enjoy the color dust that ended up coating us throughout the little jog.  I enjoyed spending some one on one time with my little man, even if it was less time than I had anticipated.

Our spending fast has been going fairly well, with just a couple little hiccups here and there.  I mentioned we took up fishing and fishing requires a license in this state, and so we broke our fast to purchase three fishing licenses.  We also broke our fast to purchase a state park pass for the year.  We decided that in the long run, once yearly expenses are worth it, especially when the activities that accompany these particular expenses get us all outdoors and spending quality time together as a family. Wingnut and I have been quite thrilled with our very low credit card bills this month.  We possess two credit cards which we pay off completely each month and these are what we use for our day to day spending.  We have saved a considerable amount of money this month by not using our credit cards for anything except groceries and gas.  It's amazing how much frivolous spending we engage in!

October is shaping up to be a bit of an expensive month after our fast.  We will need to purchase winter clothing for our four kiddos still at home--including new snow boots for all four.  We need to winterize our garden and will be hauling in some compost and hay before a hard frost hits us.  Towards the end of October, Wingnut will be hitting the ski swaps for our two youngest skiers (he and Skoshi picked up skis and boots at the end of last ski season for great prices). Finally, Skoshi A and I will both need new running shoes.  The great thing is we have the extra cash from not being frivolous this month to pay for those things we will need in October.

This fast has been wonderful for me, as I've really begun to better examine needs versus wants.  It has also taught me patience and perseverance.   Not everything needs to be purchased immediately and very often things that I can wait to purchase, really don't need to be purchased at all.  That, my dear friends, is detachment, and it feels pretty good. Print Friendly and PDF

Friday, September 20, 2013

{Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real} A Day Late

round button chicken

I thought I had taken more photos this week.  I should look at my phone camera.  I bet they are all there. Here are a few I took with my Canon.

{Pretty} and a bit scary, too

Yes, that is a tornado forming just outside our back deck.  It was a small little twister that hovered in the air for about 10 minutes and then was reabsorbed into the clouds.  It was cool and a bit eerie at the same time.


Lil' Lamb is happiest when he can maraud around the yard and throw rocks to his heart's content.  He's singing as he throws rocks in this photo.  Happy boy.


Lil' Lamb isn't always my most cooperative subject, but on this evening he was all about getting his photo taken so that he could then see what he looked like and then he would laugh at his expressions.  I love his sweet funny little face.


This is the third time this little flower garden plot has been featured as my real shot.  My poor girls must have weeded this spot at least a half dozen times this summer and then we never did get around to planting anything in it, too late now.  I did finally just spray it down with 6 month weed control, knowing it will be next spring before we do finally plant a flower bed.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Virtual 5K for a Wonderful Cause

My dear friend Katie founded a virtual 5K last year supporting a favorite charity of hers, The Little Flowers Project.  From The Little Flowers Project's webpage:

Our mission is to provide specialized services to abandoned children.  Recognizing the beauty and dignity of each and every individual person, we at Little Flower reach out to those who are rejected, abandoned, deemed as useless, and who have no voice. Our projects focus on providing special care to abandoned infants, nurturing the growth and education of older disabled orphans and providing loving care for children who are dying.  Whether by direct care, support, or education we are making a difference, one child at a time.

Katie's Run for the Little Flowers is an annual virtual 5k that anyone can enter and run or walk or just donate to at their convenience.  If you register at Katie's blog by September 25th, you will receive a really cute t-shirt and medal (if desired).  The Little Flowers Project receives $17 from each $25 registration, which is a pretty darn good ratio in the charity world!

I wish I had blogged about this earlier, but there is still time to register and get involved.  Visit The Little Flower Project's webpage and learn more about this wonderful organization.  Like them on Facebook and get regular photos and updates on all the beautiful children they work with and care for.   Head on over to Katie's blog and learn more about The Run for the Little Flowers Virtual 5K . Join my family and me, and run for The Little Flowers!

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Brown Sugar Pecan Coffee Cake with Maple Glaze

I made a lot of substitutions and changes to the original recipe seen here.  One thing I would definitely say is this cake does not need the extra cup of sugar found in the original.  As we can't have cow's milk around here, I made my own frosting, as much as I would have liked to try the caramel from the original.  We also had to forgo the toffee bits.  Even with all the changes, this cake was a huge hit and I will be making it again, according to my own take on it.  If I can find an all natural maple extract, I might add that in the future to the glaze to boost the maple flavor.

Brown Sugar Pecan Coffee Cake with Maple Glaze

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 cups brown sugar
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup goat's milk/or whatever milk your family drinks
1 cup chopped pecans

Maple Glaze
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup real maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3-4 cups powdered sugar 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a 12 cup capacity Bundt pan.  Beat butter in a large bowl until creamy.  Add sugar and beat until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and beat until incorporated, scraping down the bowl with each addition. Add vanilla and mix in.  In a medium bowl stir together dry ingredients.  Add dry ingredients in thirds alternating with the milk, mixing between each addition.  Spoon into prepared pan.  Bake for 60 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes clean.  This is variation is no where near as gooey as the original, but it was still plenty moist.  Cool for 15-20 minutes in the pan.  While cake cools mix the glaze ingredients together in a medium bowl, adding powdered sugar until a thick drizzling consistency is reached. Set aside as cake continues to cool.  Turn cake onto a serving plate. Cool until just warm, about another 30 minutes, and drizzle with the maple glaze.  This cake is best served warm or at room temperature.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

{Pretty, Funny, Happy, Real} September 12

round button chicken


We have such dramatic skies here in Utah, that make it a real joy working with different camera settings, like these lovely silhouettes.

Special K is always a willing model.  This was my favorite silhouette of the evening.


The children are really enjoying harvesting different things from the garden this year.  We have a ton of carrots right now that I really need to dig up and store.


Lil' Lamb is not a very willing model most of the time, but his never stop movement is great practice in using proper camera settings to capture him without a bunch of blur, with enough light, and within frame.

He found it hysterical to roll away from me as I tried to adjust and shoot, and adjust and shoot some more.

He did finally allow me to get one really cute shot of him before he rolled away again.

{Real} Smart

Lil' Lamb was playing a little Wiffle ball with Wingnut.  He figured out he could pick up several balls at once by putting his fingers into the holes.

He also found he could throw several balls at once. . . 

. . . thus confounding the batter.  He's a smart one.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

One Week In

We are one week into our homeschool year, and so far so good.  I'm actually very pleased with some of the new material we've introduced.  I love the Saxon Teacher CDROMs my two girls are using and they have both had a very good start in math.

I really, really love the First Language Lessons series we began using this year.  We had been in a workbook rut when it came to grammar, and these do require much more actual teaching, but I'm loving that and we are spending much more time discussing and reviewing grammar rules.  We've discovered Special K is definitely an auditory learner and for her dictation exercises will be key.  She really struggles with spelling, capitalization, and punctuation and so I correct her dictated writing and then have her recopy with the corrections.

After sitting through Skoshi A's first Italian lesson on Rosetta Stone, Special K decided she would rather take Latin this year.  I don't blame her!  Some of the Rosetta Stone lessons can take upwards of 40 minutes.  That is a bit much, even for my auditory learner.

The best part of our homeschooling week last week was having the opportunity to attend First Friday Mass as a family.  We haven't been able to do that for nearly two years.  It was especially nice to have Wingnut with us.

Our lingering homeschool failure has to do with Lil' Lamb.  The only way we can have any semblance of peaceful schooling is if we give him an iPad.  Definitely not ideal, but right now that is all I can think of to survive just the couple hours I'm needed by the other children.  I'm hoping we can wean him off the iPad.  We shall see.

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Harder for Some than Others

On September 1, following the example of our dear friends, Sam and Sardonic Catholic Dad, we began a financial fast for a month.  As promised, I am documenting here how we are faring.

So far, it hasn't been all that difficult.  I planned and shopped a very strict menu when I went grocery shopping last week, and while I spent a tad more than I normally would, I've eliminated the nearly daily runs to the local grocery store to pick up the things I might have forgotten that would lead to picking up other things on impulse.  My one slip up occurred out of charity.  We run a family football pool each year and the day I set it up I invited 12 family members to the pool, not realizing I had only 10 free licenses.  In order to circumvent confusion, I purchased 3 more licenses at $1 each.  Believe me, I was racked with guilt over 3 measly dollars.

Wingnut is hanging in there forgoing his daily Slurpees, Spree, and Rockstars.

But poor little Wingnut Jr. has not quite caught on.  Nearly everyday he has asked for a trip to the local convenience store for one treat or another.  On Thursday I took the children with me to Skoshi A's orthodontist appointment.  They all behaved beautifully, which usually would have ended up with each of them receiving some kind of treat.  As we loaded into the car, Wingnut Jr. asked if we were going anywhere else and when I responded we were heading straight home, he asked with all sweetness and ignorance, "But weren't we Slurpee good?"  Poor little guy.  It doesn't matter how often I remind him we are fasting from impulse spending.  He just doesn't get it.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

{Pretty, Happy, Funny, Real} September 5

round button chicken


Pretty Special K showing off her multicolored hair.  Karate Kid found hair chalks at Target and made a new best friend when she brought them home for her little sisters.


My garden has made me so happy this year.  We've had at least 12 zucchini off my one plant and my tomatoes are beginning to ripen.  Our lettuce did extremely well too.  We had home grown organic lettuce for the entire summer.  I recently replanted and we should still have some baby greens in just a couple more weeks.  We'll also have a bevy of onions and carrots very soon.  (Smiles)


I'd seen a recipe for zucchini chips on Pinterest and I thought they looked delicious.  I filled two sheet pans with thinly cut zucchini rounds from one medium sized zucchini.  They needed to bake at a very low temp for over two hours.

This tiny bowl of zucchini chips was the yield.  So much time and work for such a small bowl!  They were really yummy, but not really worth the effort.


By my calculations we should be able to harvest some of our potatoes, especially my favorite "new" potatoes.  I emptied one potato grow container and this is all we managed to grow.  Really?! From what I planted we should have had 5-15 pounds of potatoes.  I still have another container and three mounds of "volunteers".  I'll wait a bit longer before I harvest potatoes again.  Sigh.

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013


You may remember Sardonic Catholic Dad for his mostly sardonic blog, but he has a new focus and it is an awesome one.  He now blogs about how his family of 15 lives on one income.  It is chock full of great budgeting advice, but what had most impacted me in reading is what a wonderful lesson in detachment can be learned by adopting many of his strategies.

He and his lovely wife blogged recently about a month long spending fast they went on with their entire family.  Sam blogged almost daily about her personal struggles and triumphs during the fast.  It was awesome and inspiring to read.

On Sunday, Wingnut and I began our own spending fast.  Basically we are fasting from spending on things we do not need.  We are continuing to pay all our normal bills, buying gas for the vehicles, and grocery shopping and that is it.  We all have a horrible habit of running out to buy stuff just on a whim. Usually I'm the most guilty of frivolous trips to the grocery store or Target for missing ingredients.  Of course, I almost never just buy the missing ingredients.  Wingnut's weakness is Slurpee's or candy.  Over the course of a month these frivolous purchases can really add up.

Thankfully, we are well off financially, compared to most, and do not NEED to do this particular fast.  We pay our bills on time and we pay off our credit cards completely each month.  We just feel it would be healthier--physically, financially, and spiritually--to fast from spontaneous spending and practice self control, patience, and a bit of detachment from worldly things.

So far it hasn't been too challenging, but it cracks me up how many times I actually think about running to the store for this-that-and-the-other-thing.  I'm having to be creative with dinners, too.  I'm making due with what I have and so far it's working fine.  I am really looking forward to grocery day on Thurday, though.  I'm going to really make a very detailed menu and list.  I don't want to have to scrounge and substitute like I've had to this week!

I won't keep as detailed of a diary as Sam did, but I will keep you posted throughout the month on our progress.

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Monday, September 2, 2013


The JayP, our 18 year old, moved out yesterday.  It was bitter sweet.  Bitter, because the direction his life is taking is not what I had hoped and dreamed for him, but it is his life and his life ultimately belongs to God and I know God is holding him in his hand right now, even if I cannot.  It was sweet, because there was too much tension in the house as long as he stayed.  He longed for independence and we longed for peace.

At the beginning of this summer the law was laid down.  He needed to get a job.  He got one fairly easily, at McDonald's.  It's a beginning.  He needed to save his money for either a car or an apartment or college, and he needed it before September, because come September we could no longer give him rides to and from work.  He bought a smart phone.  Not what I would have done, but there you have it.  In the end he did not have enough money for a car or college.  He did have enough for first and last month's rent for a room in a house just 1/2 a mile from work.  He'll be riding his bike or walking to work for the time being.

I was feeling guilty for forcing his hand until I had to get up at 4:30 am on Sunday to take him to work. I'm not feeling so guilty any more.  I'm too old for that nonsense.  Walking to work will be good for him.  Living independently will be good for him.  I've implored the Blessed Mother to wrap her mantle around him.  I have every confidence she has.  I had no clue such hard decisions would have to be made for the good of our children.  Parenting is hard.  God give us wisdom and strength! Print Friendly and PDF