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Monday Musings on a Wednesday: Onward and upward

20 Jun

She’s off and running

Well, we made it. We made it to and through our first child’s high school graduation week. It’s taken me a while to be able to sit and think about what I wanted to write, as I definitely wanted to mark this life event (for all of us) in writing.

It’s the craziest roller coaster of emotions–happy, proud, sad, thrilled. When our kids were babies, I was constantly feeling this need for life to slow down. They grew fast, they conquered milestones one after another. They rolled over, crawled, walked, ran, rode bikes, drove a car.

I kept wishing that the merry-go-round would slow down a little bit so we could stop, bottle up what we were seeing and doing, and then restart, but we couldn’t. It just kept going.

And going.

And here we are.

High school was hard. Lots of things were hard, but hard prepares you for real life. Life is hard. Throughout these past four years and the years leading up to it, we often said, “In the end you’ll be better off for having worked hard. Do you best, try hard, and most of all, be a good person, because that is what matters most in the end.”

In the end.

That’s the weird thing. As we drove to pick up the graduation cake and flowers on the morning of graduation, my husband said, “It’s weird, for us this feels like the end, but for her, this is just the beginning.”

If that didn’t make me cry, nothing would. (Or so I thought.)

But it’s true, what he said. We were finally finishing high school. There were days of high school that not only did I think we’d never get through the year, I questioned how we’d get through high school three times, but we did. This was the end. She had finished, made it, seen the success and reward of all her hard work and stress, and yes, she’d come out better for the grit and perseverance.

I have reflected in these recent months that you work so hard to get to a point that you see as a major goal or milestone. A benchmark: their first birthday, their 10th, 13th, 16th, 18th birthdays, and you think to yourself, “Whew…we did it. We made it. We survived.” And you think you get a break. We’re done. It’s done. She made it.

But, you don’t. That merry-go-round doesn’t actually stop. You don’t get off and take a break, a rest, a breather. You wake up the very next day and keep moving forward. I think I equated it to a wedding, all the anticipation and the build-up and then you’re done. It’s over. But you’re not, and I think that’s a good thing because there’s so much yet to come.

On graduation day I found myself to be more happy than sad. Proud, thrilled. On the next day afterwards, I found myself to have a bit of a delayed reaction, crying unexpectedly during a song at my youngest’s dance recital (In My Daughter’s Eyes) that I hadn’t expected to hear that day, or to be crying through in the audience as I saw my oldest at three in my mind’s eye, dancing on the stage for the first time and graduating high school in what seemed like the next instant. (In my defense, the mom next to me was teary too, and her daughter hadn’t graduated the day before.) I find that weird things get me emotional, and yet my biggest emotion is happiness and the events where I thought I’d be sad, I’ve been the most happy.

I am so happy for our daughter and what she achieved when she thought she couldn’t, what goals she set and then met, and most of all, what a good person she’s turned out to be at 18. As we read through her yearbook and read through various poster boards from culminating events for various year-end activities, over and over the most common theme was thankfulness for her goodness, her leadership, her help, her time, her kindness.

In the end, that will get her furthest.

There is a graduation speaker I hear at our city graduations each year, and he uses the same line, year after year no matter what else he writes in his speech, and I was so glad to hear him say it again this year. Each year, he tells the students that it is their talents, their grades, their GPA that has gotten them through high school and to graduation day, but that it is their character, their values and their morals that will get them through life, and I truly believe he’s right.

The merry-go-round does not stop now.

As we embark on this summer in between the end of high school and the beginning of the rest of her life, I am reminded of many things, as I have been all year long, and for the past 18 years. My own high school graduation quote in my yearbook was from a song from the campfires at summer camp, “The Circle Game.” The song has stayed with me since my days at camp and through my years as a young mother, through to today-and I know through to the days beyond today. It has run through my head day after day and week after week as I imagined this merry-go-round of our lives.

I think that ultimately, it’ll stay with me for the next forever and a day.

It’s not the end, it’s just the beginning.

The Circle Game
Yesterday a child came out to wonder
Caught a dragonfly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Then the child moved ten times round the seasons
Skated over ten clear frozen streams
Words like, when you’re older, must appease him
And promises of someday make his dreams
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone now
Cartwheels turn to car wheels through the town
And they tell him,
Take your time, it won’t be long now
Till you drag your feet to slow the circles down
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
So the years spin by and now the boy is twenty
Though his dreams have lost some grandeur coming true
There’ll be new dreams, maybe better dreams and plenty
Before the last revolving year is through
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
Songwriters: Joni Mitchell
The Circle Game lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Crazy Crow Music / Siquomb Music Publishing

Monday Musings: Childhood inspiration, revisited

14 May

I have never forgotten this childhood book.

I’ve always been a reader and I’ve always been someone who loves to cook, especially when it comes to baking. To me, there is nothing more exciting than reading a new cookbook and dreaming about all the new things I want to make. There is also nothing as relaxing for me as being in my kitchen with no place to be in a hurry, baking the day away. Additionally, I love the challenge of a good cooking contest, having entered my first ones back in the days when I was a young Girl Scout, entering and sometimes winning their annual “Girl Scout Bake Off.” I’ve also married someone who loves to cook, and together we turn some amazing meals out of our kitchen, and we enjoy creating great meals together. These are all passions that we have passed along to our children, who all love to cook and to bake, starting off when they were very young. They too have entered cooking contests over the past years, and have often won, which have given them some amazing opportunities, attending special events, such as luncheons with the First Lady or with our state’s governor.

When I was young, I remember reading a book called “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” It was written by Catherine Woolley, and I have remembered this book forever, since the time I read it, until now. I have never, ever forgotten it, and I have remembered very specific parts of it very clearly. It was a book I really loved, and it definitely inspired me in many ways. The book was published in 1966, and if I had to guess, I might have read it in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s. As my kids have grown up, I have always talked about this book and referred to it, and I often think of it when I’m baking in my kitchen or thumbing dreamily through a delicious new cookbook.

This book was just as I remembered it.

A while back, I tried searching the internet for this book, but I didn’t find it. Then later on when I talked about it yet again, my daughter found it for me on Amazon. I mulled it over in my head for quite a while before deciding to purchase it. Once I hit the “order” button, I was instantly excited, and I couldn’t wait for the book to arrive.

Last week, it finally came. I was so excited to open it up, it looked exactly like I had remembered, and this authentic vintage copy that I’d ordered had crisp yellow pages. My only disappointment was that the company I’d ordered it from through Amazon had put a UPC code sticker right across the front of the book, which I thought was just a terrible thing to do to a vintage book. I was able to peel it off carefully, and only a little stickiness remained. I could deal with that.

I decided to read it again, knowing that I was between books and that this one would not take me very long to read.

I settled in to start reading one night, and I was so happy. The story was exactly as I remembered it to be. I read along all over again as Ginnie decides to take a risk and enter a cooking contest, needing to create a menu and choosing one item from it to prepare for the contest. I got excited myself, as she poured through cookbook after cookbook, trying to choose a contest-worthy recipe. My mouth watered as she considered her choices, and I was surprised by some of the more vintage recipes that were being made then, that aren’t made now, such as a chicken loaf, for example. I followed step-by-step as she made a homemade bread for the first time ever, and I could almost smell the aroma that she described as it filled her kitchen. I smiled as she read aloud recipe after recipe from a cookbook to her little babysitter charge, knowing I’d read cookbooks aloud to my own kids as well.

I knew that this book had inspired me, I knew that I had read it and never forgotten it, but I truly had no idea just how much it had influenced my life, even to this day. I was so glad that I’d ordered it to read it again.

I’ve been inspired to read even more.

That said, I was inspired again, when I recently covered a story for work where middle school students were given the opportunity to hear a picture book read aloud every single day of the school year so far, and on Thursdays, had the opportunity for a “Throwback Thursday” book choice, a chance to request a favorite from their own childhoods. I thought the whole concept of revisiting childhood books we love was a great idea, and the teacher I spoke with said her students loved hearing the picture books read aloud.

In somewhat of a twist on that idea, I decided that there were some books that I’d never gotten to read, like “The Phantom Tollbooth,” for example. Published in 1961, this book was given to my daughter by my mom in 2010 as it was about to turn 50 years old in 2011. I decided that I would like to read that book too. Another book I’ve decided to read is “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane,” by Kate DiCamillo. It is not a book from my childhood, but it is a book that one of my daughters read and loved so much, I was sorry I never got to read it. Kate DiCamillo is a favorite author in our family and I follow her on social media. The number of people that she posts about who stop her to talk about this book have really inspired me to read it. It was one that we saved as a “we can never give this book away,” book, and my daughter found it for me right away.

I’m excited to read these books, even though I am a grown adult, and I look forward to being inspired by them, as much as I was by “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest.” I am amazed by how much that book influenced me and helped to fuel my passion of cooking and baking over the past decades. I am looking forward to seeing how these “new” books will influence me in the days and maybe even for decades to come.

It makes me wonder, do you have a childhood book that has stayed with you forever? If so, share it in the comments. I’d love to know what some of my readers’ favorites are.

 

The taste of success is sweeter after failure

3 Apr

 

It took a lot of perseverance to get to this point.

Throughout their lives, whenever our kids have stumbled, fallen, failed, we’ve helped to support them in getting back up, maybe taking a quick break, and then trying again. It doesn’t matter whether it was learning to walk, riding a bike, passing a class, creating a project or practicing a role. At the end of their journey, we would celebrate their success with them, even if success looked different than they originally anticipated or took longer to achieve than they thought it would. In the end, that taste of victory was sweet.

Cooking can be like that. Sometimes you follow a recipe and make a creation that comes out right the first time. Sometimes you follow a recipe and even though you worked hard and did what you were supposed to do, it ends up having to go into the trash and you need to start all over again. No matter what though, it is my opinion that the taste at the end when you’ve finally gotten it right, is so much sweeter than it would have been the first time around.

It seemed to look okay coming out of the oven.

This Easter I had that experience. I wanted to try out a new recipe for an Italian Ricotta Cake, from “Tornadough Alli,” and to make it gluten free so we could all enjoy it. Because the cake called for using a cake mix, rather than making the entire thing from scratch, it would be easier for me to make a gluten free substitution in the ingredients.

I know that they say not to try out a new recipe for company, and I knew that it’s especially important when it’s for a holiday meal that you’re hosting, but I decided to try it out for Easter anyway. Our guests are forgiving, and really how bad could it go?

Luckily I gave myself an extra day for baking and started on Good Friday night. I had slept much later that morning than usual, so I could cook into the wee hours of the night and get ahead with my baking. It also gave me a buffer of a day or so in case I had to bake an entire cake recipe all over again.

I’m sure you can tell where this is going.

I followed the recipe to a “t” as they say. I only substituted out the white cake mix for a gluten free yellow cake mix so we could all eat it. I used a springform pan for probably the second time in my life.

As it cooled, it looked less and less promising.

However, after I cooked the cake according to the directions and had taken it out to cool, I had a sneaking suspicion that things weren’t going to go my way this time around with this new dessert.

The instructions had specifically stated to be sure the center of the cake was set when taking it out of the oven.

It seemed a little jiggly, but I used a cake tester to test it so many times that it seemed almost like polka dots on top of my cake. Each time, it came out clean, so I figured I was in the clear.

I wasn’t.

As the cake cooled, the center proceeded to sink and I knew the news was not going to be good.

At about 11pm I opted to try to slide the cake off of the bottom of the pan and onto a serving plate to see what would happen.

Not company-ready.

That happened.

Ugh.

I was so bummed out. I was going to have to toss this cake into the trash. There was still raw batter in the center and there was no way to salvage this dessert.

However, as I got ready to toss it, I tasted it. The cooked edges of the cake were delicious! I knew that if it had gone differently, this recipe could have been a keeper.

I still had a half container of ricotta cheese and of heavy cream. I had all the ingredients I needed, I just had to get a new box of gluten free cake mix.

Luckily I had my buffer of an extra day.

On Saturday, my husband picked up the cake mix as I made our other dessert and I mentally prepared myself to start this one all over again. I was determined to make it work.

I followed all of the steps. This time, on the advice of my mother, whom I was frantically texting out of state at almost midnight the night before, I cooked the cake much longer. Her own recipe usually takes almost 20 extra minutes to cook and set properly, so with that in mind, I cooked it until it no longer seemed jiggly in the middle-about 20 extra minutes-and then I pulled it out and crossed my fingers.

Seemed to look much better this time.

It had to work this time or else there was a gluten free bakery down the street that I’d soon be visiting instead.

I left it to cool, went to the mall to get the last kid their Easter dress for church that night (yes, day before Easter and night of when we needed it, I know) and hoped and prayed that when I got back it would still be solid in the middle.

And it was.

We arrived home in time to color our eggs and head off to church that night. I had my two desserts ready to be frosted the next day and I was good to go. I had managed to pull it all off.

On Easter morning, as I was frosting this cake and sprinkling the spring-colored sprinkles on top, I was glad I’d tried out something new, and glad I’d not quit after the first try. Had I not given myself that extra day for the trial run, I may not have had the chance to try a second time, but I’m glad I did.

That evening as we cut into the cake, I was so proud of it and everyone raved about how good it was. It was definitely a keeper, and I definitely think that I enjoyed it more than I would have if it was something I’d accomplished easily. My kids were definitely more proud of me, more complimentary of this particular cake, knowing how much of my time and effort and how many prayers had gone into making it.

I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, I’m pretty sure that this cake had that extra sweet taste of perseverance as it was going down.

Happy Birthday Don and Alexandra!

23 Mar

So what’s the best birthday gift *you* ever gave someone?

ORIGINALLY POSTED MARCH 23, 2012

Today is a very special day.

Today is Alexandra’s birthday.

Today is also Don’s birthday.

That makes me the best wife ever because seven years ago for Don’s birthday at 1:22 am I gave him our third daughter.

I know, I know, best gift ever, right?! It’s hard to top that one though, so I don’t really try. I’m back to t-shirts, pajama pants and stuff like that for his birthday gifts.

Alexandra’s First Birthday 2006

Since sharing his birthday with his daughter, Don has been blessed with getting to have a Snoopy party, a My Little Pony party, a Dora party, a Purple party and this year…Hello Kitty. Technically they’re not his parties obviously, but you see what I mean.

Birthday crowns all around on Alex’s second birthday.

Thankfully, my parents have this neat tradition that they started with us where we celebrate the adult birthday parties at their house each year and we “kids” get to choose our meal and our cake. I choose….well I won’t tell you what I choose until it’s my birthday this summer. But Don chooses a totally opposite type of meal and cake than I would choose, so I guess it’s good that we each get a chance to choose our own, to choose what we like. Don chooses meatball sandwiches (made with my mom’s homemade meatballs and gravy) with lemon cake for dessert. It’s probably the only time all year we have it and he really enjoys it.

Therefore, today I thought I’d share with you the recipe for Don’s birthday cake of choice each year, the lemon cake. It’s really yummy, I particularly love the corners.

***********************************************************************************

LEMON CAKE

A cake *just* for Daddy!

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup oil

1/2 cup water

2 beaten eggs

Duncan Hines Lemon Cake Mix

1 can lemon pie filling (divided)

DIRECTIONS

In bowl by hand, mix together oil, water, eggs, cake mix.

Add 1/4 can of lemon pie filling into the mix.

Put into greased 9×13 dish.

On top, distribute the rest of the pie filling.

Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

When cool, glaze with:
1 cup confectioner’s sugar mixed with 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. Add a little hot water if necessary.

THE BIRTHDAY TWINS CELEBRATING THEIR SPECIAL DAY IN 2016

 

 

Fun Friday: How picky an eater are you?

16 Mar

Do you eat your beans?

Every so often on social media, a fun questionnaire will come across my husband’s feed and he’ll call out the questions, and have us answer them. It’s all just for fun, but the one he had us answer this past weekend was interesting as we heard each other’s answers, and I thought I’d share it here as well.

The topic was “How Picky an Eater Are You?” There seem to be several versions of this test out there, with a different variety of food items on each one, but they’re all fun to explore.

We often categorize children as picky eaters, and it’s often quite challenging to feed a picky eater, but adults can be plenty picky too! As a kid in my own family growing up, on our 12th birthday we were allowed to choose on thing we never had to eat again. My one thing was orange juice and my brother’s one thing was green beans. What would your one thing be?

How picky an eater are you? To find out, read the 60 types of food on this list and give yourself one point for each thing you don’t eat. The more points you have, the pickier you are. There were some things we just couldn’t eat because of allergies (seafood and gluten) but other than allergies, it’s all about what you do and don’t like.

To give you something to compare to, my husband’s score was three, mine was 12 and our youngest daughter was 34. He had no food allergies to contend with, but we each have one.

It’s all in fun and clearly not scientific data, so go ahead and see how you fare. If you’d like to, you can share your score in the comments.

How do you score?

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: a couple of new-ish recipes for you

14 Feb

Dinner is cooking!

Happy Wednesday and Happy Valentine’s Day!

As I mentioned recently in one of my posts, the past few weeks have been challenging and therefore, a little bit of a blur for me. If you asked me what was for dinner yesterday, there’s a good chance I can’t remember and if you ask me what’s for dinner tomorrow, I’m pretty sure I don’t know yet. We have shopped, we have a list of meals, but we’ve been a little less planned out than we normally are and I’m trying to keep a lot of balls in the air at the moment. Everyone has hectic weeks and months though, so I’m sure you can all relate.

That said, we’ve had a couple of surprisingly delicious meals in the past couple of weeks and I did want to share them with you. They’re kind of new, but not really. New-ish, I guess. One I have posted about before, and one I never have, but we’ve eaten it before.

First, I will share with you the recipe we’ve had before but not for so long that I have never posted about it on my blog before. It is the one shown here to the left, and to the right and it might make a perfect Valentine’s Day meal for you!

It was so good to have this meal again. I hope we don’t wait another two decades to make it again in the future!

Many years ago when we lived out of state and in apartments, we used to make a pasta dish that we loved. It had a pink tomato cream sauce and pasta, along with chicken or shrimp and sun-dried tomatoes. For some reason we fell out of the habit of making it, for about 20 years. A recent new meal that we tried out sparked a memory of that recipe, and we put it on the list of meal requests for the following weeks’ menu. We didn’t have a specific recipe for it, and my husband put it together as he went, but this recipe from Allrecipes.com is a similar one. Some use vodka in their sauce, making it a true Pink Vodka sauce, but  we did not and we enjoyed it just as much.

Next, I will share with you another rediscovered recipe, but this one was made a little bit more recently, but not by much!

This meal was so delicious and even better the second day as the flavors settled in.

Last week my daughter was asking me how chicken could be made with brown sugar. It was something she had seen (I think on television), but the two ingredients didn’t seem to go together in her mind. I told her that they did in fact, go well together and that I was pretty sure I’d made at least one brown sugar and chicken recipe in the past. I was pretty sure I would find it on my blog, and sure enough….I had two! When I looked them up this week, they both looked so delicious that I decided to scrap any meals that I might’ve pulled from our Two Weeks of Meals choices, and make one of them instead. One of my other daughters was home at the time and I let her choose the one she wanted. She ended up choosing this Brown Sugar and Lemon Chicken recipe that I’d last made in 2012. I had everything for it except a real lemon. Instead I had a bottle of lemon juice that I felt would suffice. It would mean no lemon zest on top, but I felt that we would still enjoy the meal either way. I was right. This chicken was so incredibly most and delicious, it melted in my mouth. I could not believe I hadn’t remembered this recipe sooner, although I was glad that I’d remembered it sooner than the tomato cream pasta recipe above.

I could not wait to eat this for lunch again the next day!

I served this meal with rice and a veggie saute that our oldest daughter loves, just a simple mix of zucchini and squash cooked in the cast iron skillet. It was a hit with everyone except the daughter who originally asked about chicken and brown sugar, who really only likes chicken on a wing or in a nugget, but I’m still glad our conversation sparked this memory for me.

In case you’re wondering, here is the other brown sugar and chicken recipe, it’s also from 2012. It’s one I’m hoping to try again in the near future and it also calls for garlic, which is another favorite of ours.

I hope that these blast-from-the-past meal memories have provided you with some meal memories of your own and that you find an old recipe you’d forgotten all about. If not, feel free to give our recipes a try! I can promise you won’t be disappointed.

Have a wonderful rest of your week!

 

The unexpected healing power of the kitchen

7 Feb

Baked oatmeal is one of our family’s favorite meals for breakfast, or any time of the day.

Happy Wednesday, everyone! It’s the middle of another week, and February is flying by.

We have had a busy few weeks here, and I’ve been unable to post as frequently as I’d like to. However, today’s post was one I just had to make the time for.

Three weeks ago today, our youngest daughter hit her head getting into the car, after slipping on some slush in a parking lot. Although all of us have bumped our heads getting into the car at one time or another, this bump turned out to be different. She hit it just the right way and ended up with a concussion.

It’s our first concussion from any of our kids and neither of us have ever had one. However, with all of the new emphasis on the proper treatment of brain injuries and brain damage, we knew of many kids her age who have had them. What we did not know, however, was just how long a recovery it could be. Each injury is different. Some recover in a matter of days, others in a matter of weeks, still others take many months and there is no way to know which kind you have until you’ve fully recovered.

When it first happened, a friend of mine whose daughter has had several sports injury concussions warned me, “She’s going to be SO bored.” She was SO right. There is not much they can do. No screen time, no reading, very little writing, no bright lights, no loud noises. Sometimes even normal-level noises seem too loud.

Initially she didn’t want to do a ton. For the first five days or so she was spending her waking hours in total darkness, sometimes listening to a book, sometimes sleeping. About a week in however, as she started to feel slightly better, she was awake more. She’d already listened to about 20 hours of audio books and was downloading eight more. She could listen to a TV show in the background, but not watch it. She was bored out of her mind. We each tried to find things to entertain her. Her sisters would do her nails, her hair, her makeup. They’d listen to a movie with her. We’d take her for rides. She’d clean her own room. Then we’d find her cleaning a sister’s room. She was bored, bored, bored.

“When I am sitting here doing nothing, I am stressed,” she said to me more than once. “When everyone is doing something, and I can’t do anything, it makes me crazy.”

I get that.

However, as time went on, the one thing she could do, and truly enjoyed, was cooking. One week in, she was asking to make something in the kitchen–anything at all, she didn’t care what. She could measure, mix and stir, and watch something bake, and then she could share it with everyone as they came home at the end of the day. All I had to do was read out the ingredients to her as she went along.

Here, finally was something she could do. She had a new apron and a new purple cooking set, courtesy of a Christmas gift from her oldest sister, and she was going to put it all to good use. Although our kitchen renovation project from the summer is still awaiting the next round of its finishing touches, it’s fully functional, even though it’s not fully beautiful.

She made baked oatmeal for our weekend breakfast one week, and homemade stove-top oatmeal for an after school snack another week. She made green pancakes for breakfast and then purple ones another time for dinner. She made cupcakes from scratch with homemade frosting and she made a carrot bread with glaze. She chattered on and on about fractions as she measured: double 1/8 and  it’s 1/4 and half it to get 1/16 and on and on and on.

As she cooks, she’s in her happy place and her stress about all she’s missing out on momentarily disappears. The lights are low, and the things she can’t do turn into something she can do and enjoys doing. Never have I been more thankful that we’ve raised our kids to know their way around the kitchen. Not only is it a life skill, but for the past few weeks it’s truly been a life saver. It’s had a healing power that I had never thought about.

In the coming weeks she should be continuing to feel better and better, and I hope that when she looks back on this period of time, she’ll not only remember the rough patch she’s been through, but also think back on some of the bright spots mixed throughout the weeks, such as the time she spent in the kitchen creating, mixing, measuring and relaxing.

In her happy place during what has proven to be a very challenging time.