Epiphany… Finally

Every year, I like to do the Epiphany Home Blessing, a tradition in the Catholic Church.

Lord God of heaven and earth, you revealed your only-begotten Son to every nation by the guidance of a star. Bless this house and all who inhabit it. Fill us with the light of Christ, that our concern for others may reflect your love. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

We weren’t in Michigan last Epiphany, so the last time the house was blessed was 2021. It would be superstitious to say that it’s because it wasn’t blessed in 2022 that we had pipes burst and have to undergo major reconstruction, but…. 😉

This is the current state of our kitchen.

Today is the day we finally checked out of the hotel and moved back permanently into our house! Today, Donald also found the Epiphany Home Blessing card and chalk that we got from church. Together, we blessed the home for 2023.

We are so happy to finally be back home – really home! – and are looking forward to finding new local adventures!

Have a blessed day!

— Jenn & Donald

Stage Nature Center in the Snow!

Donald is great at always keeping an eye on the weather for us, so we knew that it was going to snow Sunday morning. I thought it would be a lot of fun – especially for my Florida boy! – to go for a walk in the snow at one of our favorite local nature centers.

We had a nice breakfast at the hotel, then stopped by the house to grab our wet weather boots from one of our moving boxes. Next stop: the Stage Nature Center, where we had previously seen a mink playing in the Rouge River!

Our car parked next to the snow-covered trees
Our car parked next to the snow-covered trees! Poor car isn’t used to this cold weather!

The snow was so beautiful on the ground and coating the branches of the trees! It was really good packing snow, too!

After living in Florida for the past few months, this was quite a change for us and we thoroughly enjoyed the scenery. There were a surprising number of people who were also out this morning to take a walk in the snow. We decided to take the Blackbird trail today, and it ended up snowing the entire time.

I don’t think it is possible for me to overemphasize how often one of us would exclaim, “It’s SO PRETTY!” or “Wow! Look at this, babe!”

Even without leaves, the snow-covered branches made for interesting tunnels to walk through.
I made this for Donald. I will always give him my heart!

We saw deer, ducks, and birds on our walk, but we’re particularly entranced by the trees. There are a lot of older trees here. (Above, Donald is playing among some of the taller pine trees.)

We love taking photos and recognize the importance of capturing our memories. We are trying to get better at documenting our adventures (and taking more videos!), so we played a bit with slow-mo mode. The clip below shows Donald shaking a branch to have some snow fall on him. This is towards the end of our walk, and you might be able to tell that the branches now have a good couple inches of snow on them – much more than when we began our walk!

Just after seeing some deer in the woods, we came to a hilly section of the nature center. I wanted a photo of Donald in the field, to show the scale of the terrain a bit. I think I ended up making it look like he was tiny and standing on the fence!

There had been a group of kids in a group who were geocaching when we started our walk. We didn’t want to interrupt their program, but decided to catch a few caches on our way out. There are definitely more caches out there, but we just grabbed a quick two. They are not too difficult to find; it is a fun, little “extra” that families can do together while enjoying nature.

There was just enough snow on the ground for Donald to make a snow angel. I think he did a great job!

We were out in it for a good two hours, then returned to our hotel home to warm up. We were so glad to get back to some of the things we love to do: hiking, taking pictures, and seeing the local flora and fauna.

See you next time!
— Jenn & Donald

The Great American Novel Puzzle Reading Challenge!

We wanted to pick up a new puzzle to work on, after *finally* finishing the Thomas Kincaid puzzle that was a pastel, fuzzy-edged nightmare to complete. We wanted something brightly colored, easy, and fun. This puzzle of 50 Great American Novels was just the thing! In fact, we started and completed it in one day!

After we finished it, we decided that it would be fun to turn this experience into a challenge. We both want to read more literature and classics, and enjoy reading books together. We also think it would be fun to explore them more academically and Donald suggested that we could even write little book reports on them and discuss the major themes and ideas that resonated with us.

We have each read a selection of the books already, but decided for the purposes of this challenge, we would re-read books and read them at the same time as each other.

Books Jenn has previously read:

  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  • The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
  • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Books Donald has previously read:

  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  • The Call of the Wild by Jack London

We love making choices using random methods. For selecting which book to read next (and subsequent books), we took a photo of the poster that came with the puzzle, printed it out, cut each book apart, folded it up and stuck it in a large jar, which Donald then proceeded to vigorously shake around. Then, I picked one without looking, and we unfolded it together.

Our first read is going to be Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut!

Keep an eye out for our review of this book after we have completed it!

In Search of Fall Colors

Since this is Donald’s first Fall in Michigan, I wanted him to get the best view of the trees changing colors as possible. I had always heard about the Tunnel of Trees at the north end of the lower peninsula, but I’d never made the trip at the right time to be able to see the leaves at peak color.

We are trying to do that this year! Most years, it seems as if it is nearing peak time, but then just before you go out to see the colors, it rains a ton and all of the leaves fall off the trees and you are left with bare twigs and brown leaves to look at until spring.

They are predicting that this year the colors should be more intense, since we are having a warmer than usual end-of-summer.

One of the ways we are trying to time our trip is to look at webcams near the Tunnel of Trees (which extends from Harbor Springs to Cross Village, MI). There is a YouTube feed of the Steeple Cam Live View of Downtown Harbor Springs, MI that gives us a good look around. It seems as if most trees right now are fairly green, but the colors can change fairly quickly. We will check again in a week to see how things are progressing!

Until then, let me know what your favorite spot is to view the fall colors!

— Jenn

Fantasy Football! Who Knew?!

I signed up for a Fantasy Football league with my coworkers, having no idea what I was getting into. 30 minutes prior, on the day of our draft, I was frantically combing YouTube and Google for some nuggets of information on what I should be doing. I didn’t know how to interact with the app, much less who I should pick or what stats were relevant.

Draft Time! Donald and I sat down in front of the computer and started picking players when it was our turn. In between turns, Donald would be researching the next position we wanted to fill, to see if there were any leads about who would be a good fit. Most of the time, I just sorted different stat headers and tried to go for the top suggestion. Sometimes it would be the person who scored the most Fantasy Football points the preceding year, or who had the most rushing yards, or the most passing yards, or whatever. To be fair, we really don’t follow football too closely and don’t know most of these people. Draft day was very exciting and we started to get into the spirit of it.

Week 1: We paired off with my boss. We didn’t think to look at any of the games until Monday Night Football. That was an exciting game and we very nearly won our match up! I mean VERY nearly. We lost by 0.04 points. We really wanted our running back to go in for the last 5 minutes of the game, but to be fair to the team, the other running back was having a better night and their goal was to try to win the game, not to help along our Fantasy game. 🙂

Week 2: Currently in progress! This time, we watched the Thursday Night Football game, which was playing on Amazon. Amazon as a place to watch sports was news to us, but there you go. It was also a very good game. Our quarterback was playing against one of my coworker’s quarterbacks (although we are not matched up in the Fantasy league this week). We ended up making over 30 points towards our overall total! I even went into the app prior to the game and changed out a few players to try and give us a better shot at winning our Fantasy match up this week.

The Winning Grillers with pic of us and our score at the time of the screenshot.
Donald and I are “The Winning Grillers”

We are starting to get into it and even think that it would be beneficial to watch more of the NFL games – even the ones where we do not have players – so that we can get a sense of who the real stars are and who are “on fire” this season. Perhaps we will be able to trade for them at some point during the season and help us win some Fantasy games!

We were so surprised to see that Fantasy Football as an industry pulled in more revenue than the NFL itself, but we can definitely see the draw!

Until next time, let us know if you are getting involved in football this season and, if so, what the best part about the sport is.

— Jennie (and Donald)

Mémère’s House

For some reason, I woke up at 5 am this morning with some very vivid memories of my Mémère’s house. Mémère was my great-grandmother – my mom’s mom’s mom.

Her house was in Madison Heights, MI on a street called Harwood, if I’m remembering correctly. It was a brick house with an extra lot to the left side, where Mémère had a bunch of raspberry plants.

My mom and her older sister, Marilyn, in Mémère’s backyard.

When you went in the front door, the hallway would turn to the right to bring you into the living room, but immediately to the left was a low, rectangular curio cabinet. Inside, Mémère kept her collection of salt and pepper shakers. She must have had hundreds of pairs, in all different colors and shapes.

In the hallway, there was either some chairs or maybe a couch. I don’t recall this precisely, but I do remember seeing Mémère sitting down in that hallway area praying the rosary.

The living room, I think, was a light green color. On the far right wall, there were two large, oval black and white photos – each showing a portrait of a man. When I asked Mémère who they were of, she would answer “Pépé.” What I didn’t understand as a kid was that they were two different people, and that Pépé could have more than one meaning. One was our Pépé, her husband, who had passed away when I was about a week old. But the other one was Pope John Paul II, our Holy Father at the time. So, yeah, I grew up thinking that an image of the pope was my great-grandfather.

Mémère and Pépé

Once you turned the corner into the living room, the house went straight back. On the left were two fairly small bedrooms, and on the right just behind the living room was the bathroom.

The hallway ended in the kitchen. There was a small table on the left, the refrigerator straight ahead by the back door, the sink to the right, and the stove on the wall opposite the refrigerator. On the counter between the sink and the stove was a large toaster oven, which I thought was really cool; I had only seen the kind where the bread pops up from the top.

One of the things that Mémère was known for was always having tomato rice soup waiting for you when you came over. Mom says that it was very simple: just rice and water and tomatoes. I just remember that there was always a pot bubbling away on the stove and it was delicious. I think I added a bunch of salt to mine – I was really into a lot of salt in my food when I was younger.

Isn’t it interesting how places can leave their own imprint on you, even decades later? I could relay some of my memories of Mémère, but I think I’ll leave that for another blog post. If you have any specific memories of a loved one’s home or a special food item they made, please share in the comments.

Until our next adventure!
— Jenn

Stage Nature Center

It has been a little while since we have indulged in one of our favorite lunchtime pastimes: finding a new city park to explore. We tend to do this a little more in Tallahassee, but we have found that there are quite a few local parks in Troy which are beautiful and fun to explore – particularly in summertime. Today, we returned to the Stage Nature Center – where we had seen the mink earlier in the year – to see how it looks when everything has had a chance to green up.

This is the Rouge River, as it is here in Troy, a little more than a creek.

We only had about 30 minutes to spend at the park during my lunch hour, so we made a quick trip around the Sugar Maple loop. It was really neat to see the different colors of green in the leaves and how the sun lit up the trees. The part of the loop that we walked also had a display of the various stages of tree/forest lifecycle, with logs in various stages of decay and decomposition.

The nature center has programs in the winter/early spring where you can rent a tap for a sugar maple tree, then collect the maple syrup produced from the sap.

We spent a few minutes at this crossroads in the paths to watch some chipmunks. They are FAST little ones! One of them ran up a tree and started chittering very loudly for quite some time. At first, I didn’t know what was making that sound and ended up recording it on my Bird ID app. I’m not sure if he was mad or excited, but he certainly wanted everyone in the forest to hear what he had to say!

Just as we were about to move on from the chipmunk area, we spied four deer running parallel to our path. Donald’s phone has much better zoom on the camera and he was able to get this incredible photo.

A view of the Rouge River from the other side of the Sugar Maple loop.

We just did the short 0.4 mile Sugar Maple Loop today, as I only had an hour for lunch. It was really pretty and we want to come back after work one day to see what animals are active in the early evening, as well as spend more time in the back half to see if we can spot our mink friend again.

I love seeing all the different colors of green!

This was a very BIG bee on this flower. It’s in an area of the nature center which has been planted as a monarch butterfly migration station.

I love when parks make boards like this to help people know what kinds of flowers and plants are indigenous to the area, and to promote planting native plants in gardens. Sometimes, you will see a companion board, where they will inform you of invasive species in the area and ask people visiting the park to help remove the invasive species if they are seen during your walk.

This was just a quick out and back visit, but we had a lot of fun. It was great to take a break and get away from the house for a bit, as well as to enjoy the warm, sunny, non-humid weather while we have it!

You can now listen to our blog via our podcast! It is available from Anchor via Spotify, but we are also working to get it published to other podcast platforms. Don’t worry, we will be working on our audio quality as we go! Enjoy!

Golf Newbie!

In the beginning of our relationship, we talked about playing games together, and Donald wanted to teach me how to play cribbage.

We bought a cribbage set and would play every so often.

A couple of weeks ago, I brought up that I remembered having fun playing Gin Rummy with my Dad as a kid. We looked up how to play on YouTube and played a couple times.

This afternoon, after work, I felt like learning a new card game. I was anticipating researching one online, but Donald had a suggestion ready to go: Golf. He remembers playing it with his Dad.

It is kind of like a game of Memory, as you keep your set of 4 cards face down and have the opportunity to swap one out each turn, but have to remember what you had. The goal is to have less points than your opponent. When you think you are as low as you can go (or lower than your competitors), you can “knock,” which signals the last round. Then, all players turn over their cards and count the points. Number cards are their value, Aces =1, J and Q are 10, and K=0.

Donald is both lucky and a great strategist. It looked while playing that he had a commanding lead over me. But when the round of Golf (9 “holes”) was completed, he had won by the slimmest of margins! 😀

Gameplay is very quick and the game is easy to learn. We will have to teach this to Gabby when we are in town; that little card sharp will love it!

Beef Stew

I started by combining 1/4 c flour with a tablespoon of pepper and some salt in a mixing bowl. I added the beef stew meat and mixed until it was coated on all sides. I added some canola oil to a skillet and cooked the meat to get brown on all edges.

I added McCormick beef stew seasoning and 3 c water to the slow cooker, then added in the beef. I put the slow cooker on high while I prepped the veggies.

I cut up 5 carrots and 1/2 bag of small potatoes into bite sized pieces and boiled them until tender in chicken stock (I didn’t have any beef stock). When they were done, I added them, the chicken stock and the rest of the flour mixture to the slow cooker and let it cook on high for 4-6 hours.

We served the stew over some jasmine rice. It was delicious and we had enough leftovers for another meal.

Funeral Preparations/Plans

I originally had these plans listed on a separate page at the top of my blog under “The Bucket List,” when my terminal illness loomed more menacingly and present before me. However, I’ve been feeling great for a while and things do not seem to be progressing, so I’d rather file these away under a standard post that people can look for if needed and repurpose my Bucket List into an actual list of things to do and see. 😊 Below is the un-updated funeral plans. Remind me at some point to update them.

Okay, so Fr. JJ thinks that I should have a “Bucket List,” a list of the things that I would like to do before I die.  Fr. John thinks that it is a good idea to plan for your funeral.

Here is as good a place as any to do that, I suppose, so that people can just look it up online, instead of trying to find that one scrap of paper where I would have scribbled this stuff down. 

Funeral Songs:
The Servant Song
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee (or one of the other Ode to Joy variants)
Here I Am, Lord
Taste and See

Divine Mercy Chaplet: There’s not a place for this in the Funeral Mass, but as a rule, I prefer it sung. I don’t know the words otherwise. 😂

I.  Vigil for the Deceased

Opening Prayer A:

Lord our God,
the death of our sister, Jenn
recalls our human condition
and the brevity of our lives on earth.
But for those who believe in your love
death is not the end,
nor does it destroy the bonds
that you forge in our lives.
We share the faith of your Son’s disciples
and the hope of the children of God.
Bring the light of Christ’s resurrection
to this time of testing and pain
as we pray for Jenn and for those who love her,
through Christ our Lord.

Liturgy of the Word:

1st Reading:  ?  (Sir2:1-11, Jer 31:10-14)

Psalm:  ?

Gospel:  ?


Concluding Prayer A:

Lord Jesus, our Redeemer,
you willingly gave yourself up to death,
so that all might be saved and pass from death to life.
We humbly ask you to comfort your servants in their grief
and to receive Jenn into the arms of your mercy.
You alone are the Holy One,
you are mercy itself;
by dying you unlocked the gates of life for those who believe in you.
Forgive Jenn her sins,
and grant her a place of happiness, light, and peace
in the kingdom of your glory for ever and ever.

II.  Funeral Liturgy — MASS!!!

Processional Song:  Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee

Opening Prayer B

O God,
to whom mercy and forgiveness belong,
hear our prayers on behalf of your servant Jenn,
whom you have called out of this world;
and because she put her hope and trust in you,
command that she be carried safely home to heaven
and come to enjoy your eternal reward.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Liturgy of the Word:

1st Reading:  Ezek 34:11-16 (or 11-31)

Psalm:  118 This is the Day

2nd Reading:  James 5:13-16

Gospel:  John 10:1-18, 25-30

Homily:  Fr. John

Intercessions:  ?

Liturgy of the Eucharist:

Eucharistic Prayer for Masses for Various Needs and Occasions:
III. Jesus, Way to the Father

It is truly right and just,
our duty and our salvation
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Father of holiness, Lord of heaven and earth,
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Through your eternal Word you created all things
and govern their course with infinite wisdom.
In the Word made flesh
you have given us a mediator
who has spoken your words to us
and called us to follow him.
He is the way that leads to you,
the truth that sets us free,
the life that makes our joy complete.
Through your Son
you gather into one family
men and women created for the glory of your name,
redeemed by the blood of the cross,
and sealed with the Holy Spirit.

And so we praise your mighty deeds
and join with the hosts of angels,
as they proclaim your glory without end:

You are truly blessed, O God of holiness:
you accompany us with love
as we journey through life.
Blessed too is your Son, Jesus Christ,
who is present among us
and whose love gathers us together.
As once he did for his disciples,
Christ now opens the scriptures for us
and breaks the bread.

Keep your Church alert in faith to the signs of the times
and eager to accept the challenge of the gospel.
Open our hearts to the needs of all humanity,
so that sharing their grief and anguish,
their joy and hope,
we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation
and advance together on the way to your kingdom.

Be mindful of our brothers and sisters
who have fallen asleep in the peace of Christ,
and all the dead whose faith only you can know.
Lead them to the fullness of the resurrection
and gladden them with the light of your face.

When our pilgrimage on earth is complete,
welcome us into your heavenly home,
where we shall dwell with you for ever.
There, with Mary, the Virgin Mother of God,
with the apostles, the martyrs,
[St. N.,] and all the saints,
we shall praise you and give you glory.
through Jesus Christ, your Son.

III.  Rite of Committal

Scripture Verse:  John 6:39

Concluding Prayer A:

God of holiness and power,
accept our prayers on behalf of your servant Jenn;
do not count her deeds against her,
for in her heart she desired to do your will.
As her faith united her to your people on earth,
so may your mercy join her to the angels in heaven.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

And I would really, really like Fr. John to do the homily.  It would be nice if Fr. John, Fr. JJ and Fr. Stanley were there.  And any of my other priests.  And the Pope — I like him.  Someone make sure to invite the Pope.  Thanks!

Pieta Casket

What else do I need to plan out? Suggestions and comments welcome in the comment box!