Tuesday, December 30, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column--December 17, 2014

I’ve learned two absolute truths since becoming a parent. First, children grow up too quickly, and second, my memory fails too frequently. When you put both of those together, it’s obvious that I need a video camera to record the first steps, the sweet baby jabberings, and the countless random and clever childish goings-on.

Last year at Christmas we received exactly what we needed-- a small digital recorder, a far cry from the bulky shoulder-mounted machines of my youth. My husband tried it out for the first time when he took the children sled-riding.

Although I stayed home with the napping babies, I was able to see a sampling of sledding spills and victories. I saw out-of-control sleds heading for trees, sledless children sliding on their own bottoms down the ice-glazed hill, and what seemed to be the longest sled ride ever in the history of childhood. 

From the comfort of the couch, my ears heard the giggles and later the inevitable complaints of tired children. The sled was too fast or too scary, or they just couldn’t make it back up the big hill.

Without a doubt, the most important thing the camera recorded was The Promise. My daughter was crying that she wanted her own sled, and her dear sympathetic father promised that he would buy her one for Christmas next year. Each time the children insisted we watch the video throughout the year, we were reminded of The Promise, and I was certain that, come Christmas, we would forget.

Amazingly, a few weeks ago when we made our big list and checked it twice, we remembered The Promise. My husband ordered a sled, and soon it was delivered and stored safely in a box in our garage.

Then one busy morning last week, in the midst of nagging children to brush teeth and changing a diaper, I noticed my two daughters were quiet. Too quiet.  I called out for them and heard them come inside from the garage, which was no big deal until I overheard the five-year-old whisper to her little sister, “Don’t tell Mommy or Daddy.”

They were up to no good, and within minutes the 2-year-old spilled the beans-- Daddy had bought her sister a yellow sled. She knew this because they had peaked through a tear in the cardboard box in the garage.

Now, I know that really super parents have hard and fast rules enforced by clear and consistent consequences. Unfortunately, we’re not super-parents, but from the beginning of our family, because of my own nosiness, we have had The Rule about peaking at presents. The Rule is often repeated so that it is clear for all: if you sneak a peak, the present goes back. 

In ten plus years, we’d not once been called out on The Rule. Sure, there may have been an instance or two that a child happened upon a gift accidentally or we perhaps left something unhidden, but not once had we uncovered an out-and-out sneak, peak, and cover-up operation. 

We were stuck between The Promise and The Rule. What should we do? On one hand, returning the sled seemed excessively mean. On the other hand, keeping the sled would teach our children that rules mean nothing and that their parents were total pushovers. 

We sat the culprit on Daddy’s lap for a big talk. We asked her if she knew The Rule. She did, and she hung her head, duly ashamed. And since we still weren’t certain what we would do, we did the most un-super-parent thing possible--we asked the child what we should do.

Our daughter replied meekly but stoically, “You should return the sled.”

Yes! She got it! She understood the importance of being consistent with discipline. How grown-up of her! Our job was going to be much easier than expected.

But she continued, “You should return the sled because yellow is my least favorite color. Well, really yellow and white, so you should buy a sled for me that is any other color than those two.”

Please allow me to add a third absolute truth I’ve learned--parenting is never easy.


It used to be that making tapioca pudding wasn’t ever easy for me. I had racked up a few failures, not getting the consistency right with ugly lumps and a bit of scorching involved. Then my mother changed all that by sending me this recipe for the crock-pot. Although some children may shy away from the look of tapioca, it is a fairly healthy dessert, especially if you use only half the sugar like we do.

Crock-pot Tapioca Pudding

2 quarts milk
1 cup sugar (or less, if you prefer)
1 cup pearl tapioca
4 eggs, whipped
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour milk, sugar, and 1 cup pearl tapioca in crock-pot, stir a little, put the lid on, turn to high, and cook 3 hours. Then take a ladle of this (about 1/2 cup or so) from the crock pot and pour it into a bowl.  Add the whipped eggs and 1 tsp. vanilla and combine.

Pour back into crock pot, cover, and cook on high for 30 minutes. Don’t overcook this or it will start to reduce. Put into a bowl and refrigerate.

This post was shared at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth for The Art of Home-making Monday.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Decorating? Check.

Well, folks, yesterday we finally decorated. We don't get really fancy around here, but the kids have been begging, and yesterday we let them loose to get it done.

Here's Mr. One-Armed Snowman:

Go find me another twig, already!

Although we use only about one-third of our huge assortment of ornaments, the tree was decorated. Here was a picture from one of the lower branches. Can you tell the children decorated?

One of my personal favorites: a cheap wooden Holy family hung backwards.

While we decorated, we enjoyed some home-made eggnog. It was tasty.

Good to the last drop

Last, but certainly not least, just before bed we pulled out the Nativity pieces my in-laws gave me. We all seem to have differing opinions about what the placement should be.

What it's all about

With that in mind, I think I'm about done with blogs and email and the internet in general until Christmas is over. There are other priorities that take precedence.

May you and yours have a blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Auntsy in Advent

I'm absolutely auntsy (a term my son coined) over the impending arrival of another baby. My sister-in-law is expecting her second baby, and the due date is this week. Because they live too far away, I rarely see her firstborn, my niece, but that doesn't seem to dampen my excitement. Somehow, expecting a new niece or nephew seems to complement nicely the expectation of the Advent season.

Advent is important to our family. We have so many family traditions based around the season before "The Season".

Of course, there's the Advent wreath we like to light each evening with special devotions and the memorization of a stanza or two of an Advent hymn. And there's Wednesday evening church with a capella singing of hymns. Early in Advent we begin getting out the Christmas things: first the box of children's books, then decorations. Each child gets to pick a favorite cookie to bake, and the tree goes up last.

Our wreath with crooked candles sitting in it's box

This year we're a little more than just behind. We've used the Advent wreath only three times. I'm ashamed to say that, whether it's due to a child who hasn't had a nap or a mom who's just frazzled, the kids and I haven't made it to a single Advent service. All the books and decorations are still in the basement, and although the cookies have been chosen, nary a bowl or spoon has been dirtied in making them.

Part of me is disappointed, but the other part of me is okay with my failings. Afterall, if I were perfect, I suppose I wouldn't need Christ--you know, the Baby-King we're all more than a little excited about welcoming this time of year.

This post was shared at Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife for their Advent Link-up Party and at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth for The Art of Home-making Monday.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column--December 3, 2014

Saying the final good-bye is tough. This week my family is saying that good-bye to one of our church’s members who passed away. Although our children didn’t interact with him much, I think my oldest daughter will remember him fondly forever. 

When she was still just a wee thing, he gave her a $2 bill. We put that crisp bill in a safe place to keep until she was older, and we’ve shown it to her several times. By today’s standards, two dollars really isn’t a huge gift, but it was a gift worth more than its face value.

You see, in my daughter’s mind, it means that somebody did something special just for her. I’m not sure if this gentleman remembered the gift he gave, but because of him, she feels special. 

A few weeks ago my husband helped me carry out one of my hare-brained ideas. I’d won tickets to the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, and I thought it was most important for all of us to go. Yes, even the potty-training toddler and the baby were dragged along to the Sunday matinee. 

I knew ahead of time that it would be challenging for them to behave quietly. Despite the contraband Cheerios and other small treats I brought to bribe them, it soon became clear that I’d be lucky if the littlest ones lasted until intermission.

At intermission, my husband and I decided the little ones needed to go for a quiet drive instead of further cultivating their music appreciation skills. I stayed with the school-aged children while my husband lulled the youngest ones to sleep with an afternoon spin around Hagerstown.

Although the older children were antsy by the end of the performance, they really did enjoy the music. I was happy to have taken them, but still a little upset about the distraction I’d caused by bringing the little ones.

As we waited outside for my husband, total strangers walked up and asked where the babies went. They gushed over and complimented them for their good behavior. While every whimper and fidget sounded like a freight train to me, evidently these folks didn’t even notice. 

An event destined to be labeled a complete failure in my brain was filed away instead as a great family memory by the kind words of strangers. The symphony was great, but those words of encouragement made my day. I don’t know if I thanked them or not, but I wish I could. 

In a time of busy stores and long lines, I guess I’ll have ample opportunity to pass their kindness on to others with my own encouraging smile or helping hand. After all, sometimes the small things do matter most.

I received even more warm fuzzies about the same time in an email--the first email sent to me by a reader. Sylvia from Hagerstown was kind enough to share a good and healthy soup recipe. I’m thankful for it, too, since this time of year we’re tempted with so many holiday treats. Plus, a little added warmth in the midst of the cold weather is most welcome.

LENTIL SOUP            8-10 Servings

3 cups dry lentils                       2 med. carrots, shredded
3 qts.  water                              2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. instant beef base         2 tsp. salt
1 qt. stewed tomatoes               1/2 tsp. pepper
4 Tbsp. parsley                          2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, chopped            2 cups diced ham

Combine all ingredients in a soup pot and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer until lentils are soft - about 2 hours.

Note: Sometimes Sylvia replaces the beef base with ham base, and if she has beef or ham broth, she uses that in place of the base and water.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Trip Down Donut Alley

It's not often we're out with the children in the big town (Hagerstown, Maryland) after 7 p. m., but last night we went to a concert that started at 7:30. That could mean only one thing. Krumpe's Do-nuts!

Simple box

For the past few years, we've made it a tradition to be in Hagerstown late when we were buying, wrapping, and dropping off the last few gifts our church donates for children in need. Then we would swing by a grocery store and buy some milk so that we could be prepared for a real treat.

Bag of beauty

I'm sure you might wonder why a little donut shop tucked away in an alley is worthy of a blog post and the lines that form outside of that little hole-in-the-wall spot. Well, if you live in the Hagerstown vicinity, you know that Krumpe's certainly is most worthy. I remember my first Krumpe's donut. I'm guessing that it was at least 2 days old by the time it hit my lips, and it was better than any other donut that had found it's way there before-- even fresh and hot Krispy Kremes.


That's why my husband bought 3 dozen plus donut holes last night! You might notice in the picture that the plain old glazed donuts are nearly gone first. Surely my favorite frosted and filled one should have been smeared this way and that all over my children and myself, right? Nope. When my husband handed me the boxes, I noticed the glazed ones were warm. Warm! You have never had such a delight. Trust me.

Of course, I stole a donut whole after my warm glazed one, and it was cold, but equally delightful. That's why there's a blog post and that's why you must make it a priority to be in Donut Alley after 7 p. m. (Sunday-Friday) if you happen to be passing through the area. And this is not a paid advertisement; I have far too few blog readers for that. 

Now I must go enjoy my unhealthy breakfast.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lunch Talk

Maybe it's the approaching holidays. Maybe it's the fact that we are going to a concert. Maybe it's because the kids ate cake with frosting yesterday and they had the excitement of Daddy's deer hunting adventure.

Whatever it is, they were something else at the lunch table today. Giggles and laughter, spills and general rowdiness prevailed.

One conversation, in particular, made me wonder if I should re-focus our studies just a wee bit.

In an attempt to clear up some confusion about the word "Celsius" and help them to realize there are different ways to measure the same thing, I asked the question, "We can measure the length of things in either inches or. . .?"

"Asteroids!" pipes up my 7-year-old.

Why, yes, that was exactly the answer I was looking for.