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Enjoying February:
The Present-Month Project

It’s February. The luster of the snow has faded, winter continues in its third month, Valentine’s Day over-hype can be grating … maybe it feels like there’s a reason it’s the shortest month. So what is there to enjoy about February? I’m glad you asked! Here is this month’s Present-Month Project post about enjoying February.

Enjoying February - Present Month Project

Similar to January’s post, there will be sections of “Taste”, “Listen”, “Do”, and “Learn”.


– Chocolate is huge in February. And not just for Valentine’s Day – there are a whole assortment of national chocolate-related days in February. But really – does it actually have to be National Chocolate-Covered-Nut Day to enjoy chocolate? I think not. But it is really nice that your favorite coffee shop will probably be featuring specialty chocolate drinks this month, and all sorts of varieties of chocolates will be on sale after Valentine’s Day. Hot cocoa is so nice this time of year when you’ve had to spend time out in the cold. Or if you’re looking to create a chocolate treat at home, here’s something I came up with this month. I love the combination of chocolate and peppermint – so I baked a chocolate cake, and added in a few drops of peppermint extract. I got whipping cream to beat into whipped cream, and added peppermint extract to that as well. And then, using an idea my husband came up with, topped it off with crushed peppermint candy canes in a spice grinder. It was a glorious chocolate peppermint experience. But, if that’s not enough – you can also melt chocolate chips, white chocolate, and peppermint chips on top of the cake as well.
So, enjoy! (But don’t over-do it. Bear in mind that February is also host to National Toothache Day.)

Chocolate Peppermint for February


– February might tend be the month where cabin fever sets in the strongest. So, for those days where you might be indoors more than usual, this is a perfect time of year for listening to a book being read aloud as a family. As Emily Dickinson said, “There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away.” I’ve been reading Snow Treasure aloud to our kids this month, and they have been loving it! And it’s a fun experience for me, too, both enjoying the story, as well as the excitement I see on their faces as we read the book together. Tonight after reading a chapter of the book aloud, my eight year old said something along the lines of, “Isn’t it amazing how a book can take you places?” A similar thought as Emily Dickinson! So pick a book, and have someone in your family read it aloud – or do it yourself! Do voices for the characters, get into the story. Snow Treasure is a book I remember reading as a child myself, all about children in Norway helping to sneak gold out of the country on the sleds, past the Nazis. It’s definitely a kids book, but still very neat, and it’s the perfect time of year for it!

Snow Treasure - February Read Aloud Book


– I remember when I did NaNoWriMo (November’s National Novel Writing Month, where you write a novel in a month), I thought to myself – “Why November?? That’s such a busy month, with holidays and travel! February would be perfect – there’s nothing much going on then.” And while there are legitimate reasons for NaNoWriMo to be in November, the argument still stands that February is a good get-something-big-done month. One year in February, I participated in a group project called “Thing A Day”, where the challenge was that every day in February, you were supposed to make something. It didn’t have to be anything huge, or take tons of time each day – but just the goal of making something everyday, and then posting a picture of what you made on the site. It was a fun project – sometimes it was something as simple as a doodle, or it might be that you baked something, or sometimes it was a bigger art of craft project like making a piece of jewelry. But it was really neat to look over your own pictures and see the different things you made in the month. The site is no longer up, but even so, I found myself kind of mentally noting this month what things I made. I wasn’t doing the full challenge, but even just noting the little accomplishments of things I made this month, whether a meal for my family or something artistic for my shop was a fun experience – even if I wasn’t intentionally setting aside time to make things. Late in the month this year, I started using the hashtag #makingfebruary on Instagram as a simple way to note some things I made this month. Even though it’s not as official or large scale of a challenge as Thing a Day was, it’s still fun to see progress and little accomplishements – especially in a month where it can seem like we’re just trying to get through. But whether you want to do a large scale project, or just enjoy the small everyday things, February is a great month for making things.

Making things - Febrary

– Speaking of making things, I want to share an idea of what my family did for Valentine’s Day growing up. I am intentionally not including much in this post about Valentine’s Day. It seems to be one of those holidays that gets so over-hyped that is becomes either a big pressure and high expectations, or depressing, or any number of things, which are pretty much the opposite of this post. Also, February is much longer than Valentine’s Day. However, what my family did growing up, I thought was really neat, and we’ve just recently started doing it in our family. For Valentine’s Day, we all would make homemade cards for each other person in the family (you know, construction paper and drawings and what-not) and made a big envelope for ourselves. Then at the end of the day, we gathered at the table to put our cards for everyone in their envelope, and we would maybe have made some sweet treats to eat, and we would all sit together and open our Valentines from each other. It was really fun and sweet, and an expression of love for each other. The cards were often funny, or clever, or artistic – I still have ones from my family tucked away, including some hilarious ones from my brother who has since passed away. Of course, you don’t need a holiday to tell people you love them, obviously. But if there’s a holiday about love that is unfortunately stressful or overrun by high pressure for lavish gifts and expensive dates for couples, feel free to reclaim it as a simple and happy time to let your family know you love them.

Non-stressful approach to Valentines Day - The Flourishing Abode


– While February might feel like the season of cabin fever, you might be surprised to learn what all might be in your area to go and do out and about, even in the depths of winter. We, for the first time this year, were able to attend a big winter festival here in our city, which happens every year in February! Some friends of ours also found a February winter festival near their town. I’ve heard that Quebec has a huge winter carnival through much of February. I think various communities that experience cold winters realize that February could use some winter cheer, and you never know what you might find in your neck of the woods. And while you might not find something as winter-specific as that, at any time there might be jazz concerts, or craft nights at the library, or quirky vintage markets, or an art gallery opening, or any number of other things. And it is good to find ways to get out and enjoy something out and about, even when it’s cold! Search your city’s name and calendar of events, and find out what pops up. Here’s a few shots of the WinterFest we went to here in Lowell – I’m so glad we found out it was going on in our area!

WinterFest Lowell - February on The Flourishing Abode

WinterFest Lowell

WinterFest - Enjoying February

– There are also great individual or smaller-group things to do outside in February. Sledding or skiing or snowtubing can of course be great for this time of year – but also stargazing! It’s often in the early months of the year that there are the most interesting things to view in the night sky. And you don’t have to stay out all night (and freeze) to enjoy a little stargazing – but bundle up with blankets and hot cocoa (and I even made a printable stargazing chart for kids in a past post), and on a relatively “warmer” night clear night, head out to a low light area and see what you can see for even just a little while! You can check astronomy sites online to find out when and where events like meteor showers, the northern lights, or visible planets might be happening, to find a good opportunity as well! Stargazing is just one of those things that fills me with wonder, and this is a good time of year for it.

gostargazingphoto heavensdeclare printablechalkboard

I hope that gives you some happy February things to think about or do. This being a leap-year, we have an extra February day, so I hope you enjoy it! Any unique ideas for what to do on a leap-year day? What are your favorite February things to do? Let me know by clicking here to leave a comment below the post, I love to hear from you! :)

The Present-Month Project

The Present Month Project - TheFlourishingAbode

I love living in New England. One of the things I particularly enjoy is that we get to truly and fully experience all four seasons. Fall, in particular, is absolutely glorious here, not just a quick blip in time, like in some other places I’ve lived. However one of those seasons is, obviously, winter. That’s not naturally my favorite time of year, and we certainly do experience it fully! But even winter has its advantages. Peppermint mocha and mittens, for instance.

The Present-Month Project - The Seasons

One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot lately is choosing to enjoy whatever season I’m in – whether it is a season of life, whether it is a season of the year, or whatever the circumstances are where I find myself — instead of wishing for something different.

I remember when I was about 10 years old, we were living in Europe. It was an amazing experience, and one of my favorite places I’ve ever lived. But I had to leave all my friends in the US to go there, which made me sad. And then when I was about to move back to the US, I was really sad to leave Prague. I was pretty down about it, and in both directions. I remember my dad sat down with me and explained something that affected me deeply. He said:

‘You can be the type of person who is always sad about what things you don’t have right now – you can spend your time in Europe being sad you’re not in the US, and spend your time in the US being sad you’re not in Europe, and you’ll just stay sad wherever you are. Or, you can be the type of person who focuses on what good things you do have right now, and spend your time in Europe being glad you’re in Europe, and then when you get to the US, then be glad you’re there. And then you’ll spend your time being happy. Which type of person would you rather be?’

I knew which kind of person I wanted to be, and I decided that then.

Seasons - The Present-Month Project

This past year, I started noticing a trend with my daughter, who is 8. If you asked her what her favorite season was in January, she would say “Winter!” After a couple months then she would answer, “Probably Winter – but also kind of Spring.” Soon the answer was “Spring!” Come July, it was “Summer!” In September, she would answer “Summer and Fall!”, and by November, it was fully “Fall.” I don’t know that she even realized that her answer was changing. She just fully appreciates whatever she is getting to experience at the time. She’s that type of person, and I admire it in her, and I tell her so.

When we hit the middle of winter, though, I struggle to keep that in mind. It doesn’t help that culturally, people here bond by commiserating together about how bad the weather is. And, to tell the truth, it really can be bad – here in Lowell last winter, we broke records for amount of snow, and were at the time the snowiest city in the country. It was blizzard after blizzard. But for some people I know, and in some areas of the world that do a better job embracing the cold, that is exciting, and this winter I want to focus on the positives. Because the fact is, it is going to be the current season whether I like it or not, so I might as well enjoy it!

And after all, in any season there are amazing things that you typically can only find peaking at certain times of the year, and that gives them a delicious feeling of expectancy and exclusivity. Fresh strawberries sliced on a puffed German oven pancake in June. Going apple picking in October. Hanging twinkle lights in December. Fireworks at the baseball park in July. Baking pumpkin pies in November. Juicy red ripe tomatoes in August. The scent of bountiful lilac bushes in May. A day of sledding ending with mugs of hot cocoa in February. And recognizing these things is what I’m calling “The Present-Month Project”.

The Present-Month Project - enjoying the season of each month

I often hear people talk about how they want to do a better job of eating seasonally- focusing their cooking on the particular produce that is at peak for that time of year. This is the same concept, just broader than food alone. The idea is that each month I want to come up with things that are unique or particularly enjoyable for that time of year, and take the time to recognize and appreciate them. Not all of them will necessarily be absolutely exclusive to that month, but I do want to really focus on what makes that particular month special, whether foods, activities, holidays, opportunities, or what-not-and-what-have-you.


I want to make this more specifically focused than just by season – I’ve already made illustrated art lists of general seasonal activities, above – and I love them, but those are fairly broad. Because after all, even though both are associated with winter, December is very distinct from February. And September has a very different feel than November, even though both have autumn. The Present-Month Project is about finding the particular tone of the present time of each month.

This project is not only about months that are perhaps not as popular, either, because even in months I just naturally enjoy, sometimes opportunities fly by and I suddenly realize I’ve missed it for the whole year (I always miss pick-your-own strawberry season, for instance!).

Also, it can be easy to mentally skip past special and wonderful times of year, in the hurry to get to something else down the road. For instance, how Christmas season often starts the day after Halloween. There’s still a lot of fall (and Thanksgiving!) to be enjoyed before winter begins, and it often gets missed or overshadowed — and in the meantime we hype up all the winter-cheer, but then Christmas and New Year’s Eve are over in just the first two weeks of winter and the whole freezing remainder lies ahead, with the festive side of “winter” having passed while it was actually still autumn. That’s just a weird set up, to me personally. We do only a little for Christmas, and just use it as a spring-board into the winter season, and have our big winter holiday (WinterFest) at the end of January. I know that very non-typical, though! While not all my monthly focuses will be so different from the norm, I still do want to be aware, as I go through the year, and as I go through my life, that I’m not neglecting to see current blessings in my hurry to move on to something else I want.

I think this will be a fun way to really take advantage of each month for myself and for my family. Plus, with a list in mind of all the happy things about each month, that will be an easy way to combat the list of complaints that can sometimes pile up at certain times of year. *cough cough* winter *cough cough* I’ll be planning to share each month’s post here on my blog. January’s is in the works, I want to get it up soon before too much of the month is gone!

I’m really glad I live in a world where God made seasons. All four of them.

(But I still totally reserve the right to have fall as my favorite.)

What is your favorite season, or some of your favorite seasonal things to do? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Six years + the advice that has stuck with me

Six years ago this weekend was when we said “I will”. When we got married, we said “I will” instead of “I do”, because we were committing not only what we agreed to for that day – but for all days to come.

I remember when I was a younger, deciding what I was looking for in a spouse. I wanted a man who would love God more than he loved me, but who would love me more than any other woman in the world.

No one said marriage would be easy, and it hasn’t always been. There are ups and downs, but God gives us that strong foundation to face whatever life may throw on our path. I’m so glad I get to go through life hand-in-hand with my best friend who truly desires to lead our family in our walk toward heaven. God’s blessings are countless and beautiful.

Along the way, many older/wiser people have offered us marriage advice in words and example, which I appreciate so much. Here are a few that have stuck with me and continue to teach us…

– Marriage is not 50%/50%. It’s each person giving 100%.

– Laugh and play together.

– You must have open lines of communication for your marriage to thrive.

– Love is not just a feeling – it is a choice.

– Don’t go to bed angry.

– When there is a problem, even if it is 90% the other person’s fault, you still need to apologize for the 10% that is your fault.

– Keep dating after you’re married … be his wife, but also still be his girlfriend.

– Respect the roles God gave for the husband and the wife.

– Give and receive criticism with love.

– Flirt with each other – and with no one else.

– Pray together.

– Men and women are different. Learn to speak and understand each other’s language.

– Grow closer to God and grow closer to each other.

– Make your bed everyday. (Um, yeaaaaah, still not very good at that one!)

We are so imperfect, but I’m so thankful that we have each other to help along the path, to grow and encourage each other. Happy anniversary, Tim, I love you more than I can say!

What marriage advice has someone given you that really stuck with you?

Let’s play a game! Next year’s WinterFest theme


WinterFest has a different theme each year.  This year it was Russia. We loved the theme ideas many of you posted – and for next year, we were inspired by the suggestion of Lori B from IMK,IML to think outside the box of theme by country.  We’ve already decided for next year, and I thought it would be fun to play a little game here to see if you can guess the theme!

I’ve posted 8 pictures below, all tied into next year’s theme – and then the 9th image has the answer!  So, scroll down slowly and see how many picture clues it takes you to figure out the theme! Post in the comments how quickly you got the answer – did you figure it out after 2 photos? 5? 8?  Not till you saw the answer? I’ll be curious to see! :)

(The first eight photos are all lovely items from Etsy, just click on the photo to check them out!)

jahnavashtiangelikasswissbakeryniklomissquitecontrarysewnnaturalisabellasartlauraleeburchboxlotSo have you figured it out? Next year’s WinterFest theme is:

grimm's fairy tales

I’m very excited about a Grimm’s Fairy Tale WinterFest!  There are so many fun possibilities with this theme … and plenty of food options, even though it’s not a country: porridge from Goldilocks and the three bears, a basket of goodies from Little Red Riding Hood, and so forth.  Plus, I just love the folklore woodland feel!

So how quickly did you get the theme? Let me know in the comments!
If you have any ideas about what we could do with a Grimm’s fairy tale theme, too, I’d love to hear them too! :)

It was a lovely day: WinterFest 2012

Happy Winterfest
Yes, snow! This is my little girl playing in the snow the day before WinterFest.
snowflakes and twinkle lights
We decorated the walls with twinkle lights and snowflakes we made.
winterfest decor
Why not combine storage and decor? I kept bows in a big bowl on the book shelf. :)
cooking winterfesteve
My little one love to help stir while I am cooking, she's my little helper!
winterfest eve dinner
For dinner on WinterFest-Eve, I made Curried Butternut Squash Soup and little poppyseed ham and swiss sandwiches. Soup and sandwiches make great winter meals!


Tim cooking

My husband, Tim, makes breakfast on WinterFest … this year he made blini, a thin Russian pancake
(you can see his recipe is taped up on the microwave)…

Tim makes blini
... and they were sooooooooo delicious!



 Apparently, they are eaten both savory (with sour cream and fish) or sweet (with fruit spreads).
My favorite was with a little sour cream and blackberry jam … ahh, it was SO good.

eating blini
Our daughter loved the blini too. :)
april cooking
Then, after breakfast, I got to work on cooking the Russian dinner.


In the meantime, my little one was hunting down the clues we had hidden for her to find throughout the day.
Finally it was time for dinner! First there was a spread of Russian zakuski (kind of like appetizers you eat throughout the whole meal).



It turns out various pickles are an essential part of a big Russian meal – my daughter put them into pretty little bowls, and enjoyed them very much. :)


First we had Pomegranate Broth Soup, from a Russian cookbook. It was ... interesting...


tart soup
... maybe a little tart for my daughter. :) She was a good sport though!

pork and potatoes

The main course was roast pork paprikash with garlic smashed potatoes, and a delicious sauce made from the vegetables cooked with the meat. We loved it! Not very photogenic, though.

Dessert was a cheese and blueberry pie. I totally cheated and used the wrong kind of crust as opposed to authentic Russian crust, but it tasted good, so just don't tell anyone. ;)


After supper, she found the last of a set of five clues about Russian nesting dolls I had hidden for her;
she was very excited because now she could put them all together…

clues 2

She had to put the nesting doll clues in order of size;
each one had a letter inside, and once they were in order….

clues 3
... she could read the word they made: SNOW!
clue 4
Yep, she knew where she needed to go to find the last clue - out in the snow!

bundled up

Time to get bundled up! She and Daddy went outside;
I lagged inside a minute behind to get everything set up while they went out to hunt for the last clue!

last clue
Found it!


go inside
... it said to go inside for a WinterFest surprise ...


Presents! In ice blue and cranberry red, of course. :)
We exchanged gifts - one of the biggest hits was the box of legos ... I think my husband was almost as excited about them as she was!

clues and gifts

On the left are all the WinterFest clues from throughout day!
We also really liked the Russian dolls my Mom let us use, and the cards my younger siblings made.

I love being a momma!
It was definitely a day of special memories that we enjoyed spending together. Happy WinterFest!

Happy WinterFest!

Tomorrow is WinterFest, so everything is bustling with cozy-winter happiness around the Starr home!

Winter Lights by ElleMoss

WinterFest is our family’s celebration of all the things that make winter a special, beautiful and cozy time of year.  The holiday colors are ice blue, cranberry red, black and white (one of the reasons I love ElleMoss’s photo, above, is because it has three of the four colors!).

Each year has a different theme, usually a country, and we celebrate in the style of that culture.  This year’s theme is Russia, so our kitchen will be filled with the aromas of Russian cooking and baking.  I have never been to Russia, but I did live in Eastern Europe for a while growing up, and in researching Russia for WinterFest, I found many similarities between the two cultures.  And that makes this year’s theme even more fun and nostalgic!

Vintage Russian Nesting Dolls from ArtRachel

The morning of WinterFest starts off with hidden clues … the first one will be hidden on the child’s bed.  This clue will lead to other clues throughout the day, which eventually will lead to presents at the end of the day! Yay! (WinterFest is when we do our family’s gift exchange). Right now, with just a four year old, the clues are pretty simple, but as our kids increase in number and get older, the clues will get trickier, and will probably involve the theme … like part of the message being in the country’s language, etc.  Our little daughter loves this part of the day!

Russia Photo by HappeeMonkee

My husband, Tim, is in charge of breakfast on WinterFest.  Last year the theme was Spain, and he made a delicious Spanish potato omelette .  This year, I believe he is planning to make blini, which are thin, buttery Russian pancakes. I can’t wait! Plus, it’s a treat for me to not have to cook that morning, since I will have been cooking and baking up a storm in the days leading up to WinterFest in preparation for the official feast!

Vintage Russian Village Tray from Kejeara

The main meal on WinterFest usually is a middle of the day feast, kind of like Thanksgiving, but with food from the theme country. I’ve been reading up on Russian food, both on traditional dishes, and how the courses are served.  I love this part … its a fun way to get into the spirit of things leading up to WinterFest!  I love to learn, so discovering how people all over the world eat and celebrate is just my cup of tea.  Here is what this year’s menu looks like:

Zakuski: (a small buffet of Russian hors d’oeuvres)
– Eggplant Caviar (which is not really caviar!)
– Assorted pickles
– Salad Olivier in tartlets
– Aromatic meatballs with pine nuts and raisins

Soup Course:
Pomegranate Broth, served with bread

Main Course:
Roast Pork Paprikash, served with garlic potatoes

Tea and Cheese and Blueberry Pie

I can’t wait! Most of these came out of a Russian cookbook I found at the library, but several I came across online, too.

Vintage Russian Book from RussianTale

That menu means that today, on WinterFest-eve (say that outloud, its very fun to say … fest-eve sounds like festive with a funny accent), is a cooking marathon.  My Etsy shop is on vacation, we have fun winter music like Frank Sinatra’s “Marshmallow World” playing in the background, and my little 4-year old helper and I are having fun in the kitchen preparing all these festive Russian dishes. And don’t worry, I’m not taking time out of this special day to blog … I wrote this a few days ago and scheduled it to post today.  Technology, for the win!

Snowflake Tags by ForeverYoursTruly

I’ll look forward to posting pictures of tomorrow’s festives here on my blog, hopefully next week.
But until then, Happy WinterFest to all of you!

Or, Huzzah WinterFest!, as we like to say.

Or this year, we could say Khleb da sol!, a Russian well-wish that translated as “bread and salt”.

But however we say it, you get the idea. :)

The day after WinterFest, we decide what the next year’s theme is going to be – any suggestions or ideas?
Post them in the comments below! :)

Winter Typography by FlourishCafe

Don’t forget to leave your suggestions for WinterFest themes! So far we have done Italy, Japan, Spain and Russia.  But it doesn’t have to be country … it could be a time period, a literary theme, or so on! Some time I want to have a “High Seas” WinterFest … or perhaps a Agatha Christie mystery WinterFest.  If you have any ideas, let me know in the comments!