Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Magic Words

Today our house saw more Christmas festivities since Grandma, Grandpa, & Co. showed up. There were presents, games, and even a play.

During the play, the Christmas Fairy Queen reigned supreme while her servant prepared a feast for their dolls. My favorite line from the play? "Bibbity, bobbity, duct tape! And frogs!"

Kids make Christmas so much fun.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Kindness-- One Definition

There is a lady in our congregation who has decided to give us a most delightful Christmas gift for the last two years. She watches our children so that we can go on a date and finish up our Christmas shopping for the children without them seeing what we're buying.

This year, she stepped it up a notch because when I walked in the door, this is what I saw.

A table set for supper. (And, evidently, a funny blur to the right.)

And this is what I smelled.

Homemade beef noodle soup

Though it is possible that I also smelled these, too.

Chocolate chip cookies that she also baked at our house.

I didn't, however, smell this because it's artificial. Our kind friend not only rushed to make food with the children to surprise us, but she also helped them make our personalized wreath.

How did she know I've been wanting a wreath for on our door?

The kids had a blast, and we did, too. What an amazing Christmas present! 

And because I didn't post a Merry Christmas post. . .

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Vacation Leftovers

I thought a few other vacation pictures were noteworthy because they were taken by my children. I don't know why they chose their subject matter, but it's an interesting insight into the minds of boys. So, in no particular order. . .

Braum's was a fast-food joint we visited twice on our journey. Only my husband ran in, but we all enjoyed their burgers and shakes. But not their fries. I wasn't impressed by their french fries at all. If you see this one along the road, try it out.

The only fast food place we stopped on our trip.

Punch Buggy!

A giant gold dome

I'm guessing this one is because it's not Hardee's.

Oklahoma's capitol building


I'm sensing a vintage vehicle theme.

My fault. I thought it was a cool fence.

Historic Route 66 sign

Old school I didn't notice when we were driving

We actually stopped at this next one. Pops it was called. Giant soda bottle and. . .

. . . super cool soda store!

Cool architecture and pretty displays.

We went in for a potty break and to buy Daddy some souvenirs for his 40th birthday. I was more than nervous taking the little ones into a store with so many glass bottles, but we didn't break anything. AND if you're ever driving by, it had the coolest bathrooms of our entire trip. Cool faucets. Cool architecture. Tourist trap, but a must see.

Friday, December 16, 2016

_The Hancock News_ Column--December 14, 2016

My first year of teaching, a fellow teacher assigned her students to create a “50 Things To Do Before I Die” list. I hopped on board and made my own bucket list. I don’t know what notebook or box it might be tucked away in now, but if I ever find it, I can cross off one more item; this weekend I made a gingerbread house.

I took full advantage of my daughter’s birthday and convinced her she needed a cake with a gingerbread house on top. I didn’t have to twist her arm for her to agree to a cake topped with huge upright cookies covered in frosting and candy.

Visions of five lit candles on a pile of crumpled cookie walls flashed through my anxious head, so multiple times I ran to the computer to see what kind of advice I could find from the total strangers online. Miraculously, I managed to construct four standing walls topped by a roof tiled with chocolate nonpareils. A gingerbread girl wearing a pink sugar dress stood in the snowy frosted front yard surrounded by a white chocolate pretzel fence. Even if it looked like it was made by a preschooler instead of for a preschooler, I was proud.

Even better, the kids were wowed. (It doesn’t take much to wow kids.) The preschooler was thrilled with her cake. What they didn’t know was that while the outside looked nice, inside the house a bottle of balsamic vinegar was propping up one side of the heavy roof to keep it from caving in.

So often when people hear that we have seven children they exclaim, “I don’t know how you do it!” So here’s the magic answer: I have lots and lots of bottles of balsamic vinegar. If you know me, you’re probably one of those bottles. 

None of us can build the gingerbread houses in our lives without a support system of some kind. I have a husband who fixes breakfast so I can type up a newspaper article. I have a mother who entertains the little ones by “pretending” to take a nap while they play house so that I can make ready for a birthday party. I have a father who teaches my sons to play cribbage because I don’t often have time for games. I have children who walk the dog, feed the guineas, and unload the dishwasher.

In our church, I have friends who teach my children music. I have friends who always have an empty lap and a willing ear to listen to the little ones. One friend who sits behind us in church always lends his watch to quiet the baby; while my babies have proven that those watches can literally take a licking and keep on ticking, he is sporting his third watch in twelve years. 

I see bottles of vinegar every time I go to town. When I visit the library, the librarian helps me as I juggle overdue books, oversee book selection, and change baby diapers. The lady at the bank is so kind to remember my children with a lollipop each time we go through the drive-thru. People at the grocery store are nice even if my frazzled brain is distracted, and I nearly collide into them with my cart.

Then there are those bottles that I don’t see often or at all. I have one far away friend, a mother of eight, who calls whenever she has a semi-quiet moment. She sweeps her kitchen while I rock a baby, and together we try to support each other in friendship. Other “friends” are people online who write knowledgeable articles about cooking, stain removal, or homeschooling. A quick call to my mother-in-law answers any questions the internet doesn’t know.

That bottle of balsamic vinegar didn’t have to do anything special to be helpful; it just had to be its own sturdy self. Sometimes we think we need to do something extraordinary to be helpful, but I think that most often we just need to be ourselves. 

In this time leading up to the holidays, it’s easy for stress and chaos to reign. As you prepare for all the fun, remember that ordinary little acts of kindness by ordinary people add up. Holding the door, not scowling when you are cut off on the road, or offering your place in line to somebody with little ones grabbing at candy bars could be the one small bit of support that keeps a stranger’s day from crumbling around her shoulders. I never thought I’d give this advice, but go ahead and be a bottle of balsamic vinegar!


I could offer you our gingerbread cookie recipe, but after digging into that house and cake several times now, I’m tired of sweets. I imagine you will be, too, before the season is over. Instead, here’s a balsamic vinegar recipe. While balsamic vinegar is a bit sweeter than others, it’s still healthier than cookies when you pour this basic vinaigrette over a salad. We often add our favorite herbs or seasonings to change things up a little.

Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing

2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil

Add all ingredients to a small glass jar. Screw the lid on tightly, and shake it up until it’s mixed well. For variations, add 1 tsp. dried herbs, dijon mustard, minced onion or garlic, or curry powder.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Pioneer Woman Experience

Way back at the beginning of November we traveled for two weeks. We drove too much for the liking of some little kids, but we did get to see new sites.

The one that was most exciting for me was this little spot in the middle of nowhere, Kansas. This log cabin is a replica of Laura Ingalls Wilder's little house on the prairie. That was the first big book I read as a child, and I've worn out copies of the series from so much reading. They're still my favorite books as an adult. While this site was closed for the season, we were still able to walk around and see what was outside of locked doors.

I actually started to get emotional when we pulled up here!

Since we were headed to the Oklahoma City area from here, it wasn't too far out of the way to go to Pawhuska, Oklahoma, where Pioneer Woman (a.k.a. Ree Drummond, blogger extraordinaire and Food Network star) had just opened her new store, The Mercantile, earlier in the week. My kids watch her show with me on Saturday mornings, and my little girl (the middle one) really loves her.

Pawhuska is a little town, but it seemed hopping on that Saturday afternoon. You can see why in this picture. 

Approaching The Mercantile, the line to get into the store.

And on the other of the building, there was another long line.

I'm guessing this was the line for the restaurant.

At this point, my husband and I knew we'd not be stopping because seven children and a line that looks like it would take hours isn't my cup of tea. I'm also not into waiting in line to shop in a store of any kind. But I decided I wanted to take a picture of the lines for this blog, so we hung a left and turned around. While we were doing this, two children swore they'd seen Pioneer Woman's husband, Marlboro Man (a. k. a. Ladd). The adults weren't buying it. 

On our way back through town, we saw this:

This hand-held sign reads "Cool Stuff".

So we followed and went around the block. And wouldn't you know, cool stuff appeared. If we hadn't been driving for so long with little children, I would've stopped to look at the cool stuff more closely.

Metal bison and roosters qualify as "cool stuff."

On the way past PW's store, I did get some pictures (namely the ones above). AND see the fellow in the cowboy hat below? That's the husband the kids had spotted before, out mixing with the crowd. 

Ladd Drummond

So then we drove on out of town, into the eventual sunset. And there were many, many tears from my disappointed little daughter. I felt horrible. It was the one thing on the whole trip she was looking forward to, and I just couldn't make it right. 

However, on our way to the interstate from there, I saw some gorgeous scenery. I pulled out the camera to take a picture, rolled down the window to take a picture of it, but since we were driving the speed limit which is so fast out there, I clicked on this instead:

The Drummond Ranch

While I didn't plan it and don't actually know if that is Pioneer Woman's family's ranch, I thought it was a funny accidental shot. And the possibility that the vehicle we saw coming out of the drive might have been her beloved Pioneer Woman seemed to calm the crying girl down a little bit. But not entirely. Disappointment is a sad thing.

This was some of the scenery I was trying to get a shot of:

Not long after, we noticed this field.

Windturbines, oil, and cattle grazing 

We guessed that whoever owned that land was making a killing on one spot of land. Talk about maximizing potential!