Brunch Party

My friend Jacqueline is holding a blogging brunch party today. Check it out and join us:

http://acookingpotandtwistedtales.com/2016/03/19/brunch-party-time-live-link-its-a-party

Liebster Award

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At the end of last week, Susan, at The Best Things in Life nominated me for a Liebster Award. I was thrilled, but before I accepted, I felt like I should achieve some crazy blogging milestone. So maybe I did not achieve a “crazy milestone,” but I posted my 50th post!

In the blogging world, 50 posts is not much—a drop in the perpetual post-bucket. However, for me, it feels pretty big. I put off blogging for a very long time because I was afraid that I would not be able to keep it up. I was afraid my hectic life would get in the way, and my blog would fall by the wayside with only 10 or 15 posts. While my posting has slowed down a bit since my spring teaching picked up at the beginning of February, I have still kept at it. I will get back to posting more regularly.

I took a look at the “Official Rules” for the Liebster Award —which seem to be ever changing and marginally “un”official. (The Liebster Award: The Official Rules). In looking at the rules, I realized that I had a little flexibility. And to me, flexibility means room to color outside the lines, something my creative self adores! But I will try to stay within the bounds of the rules as much as possible.

First of all, many thanks to Susan at The Best Things in Life for finding my blog in this jungle we call the Internet, and then nominating me for this award. Sometimes, finding the good stuff feels like magic, but other times, it seems like pure, dumb luck. As a blogger, I have to get better at the magic aspect of it.

Next, I will answer Susan’s questions:

  1. What state or country do you live in? The U.S.—New Hampshire.
  2. What is the best thing about where you live? Eventually, it stops snowing and spring arrives.
  3. What is your passion? Helping writers to develop their craft. Raising caring, happy children.
  4. How do you relax? Relax? Am I allowed to do that?
  5. Vanilla or chocolate? Um… is coffee an option?
  6. Favorite vacation spot? We have the most wonderful camp that we go to. It’s not really a “vacation spot” per se, but my children and I—and now some of our extended family and wonderful friends—have created some amazing memories there. Because it was the first “vacation spot” I was able to take my children to, it has become a very special place to us.
  7. Favorite band? Too many to mention—lots of bands and lots of solo artists.
  8. Why do you blog? I blog because I find it relaxing. I think that even though I am a little crazy creative and unique, there is much of who I am (to my kids, friends, students, co-workers, pets, etc.) that is part of the universal experience of humanity.
  9. What was the last book you read? I read a lot of YA literature. I just finished Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children for a class I’m teaching.
  10. Weirdest thing you have ever eaten? Lamb’s brain. Served on the half-skull.

And now that I have answered these questions, I will nominate six bloggers—who may, or may not, choose to accept the Liebster award—and pose some questions for them to answer:

EpicGran

Renaissance Musings

Hypedad

Scribbles and Crumbs

Motherhood and all the rest

Bari Nan Cohen

Here are my questions:

  1. Where do you live?
  2. If I were a tourist in your area, what should I absolutely not miss?
  3. How long have you been blogging?
  4. Is there anything you have found surprising or unexpected about blogging?
  5. What are your blogging goals?
  6. In one sentence, tell me about your writing process.
  7. What is the most interesting place you have ever visited?
  8. What is your favorite book/series?
  9. Do you have any pets, and what types?
  10. What is your favorite book?
  11. What is your favorite movie?

I look forward to reading your responses!

Family business

I was in the grocery store the other day, and I wandered into the bread aisle where a mother was arguing with her teenager. She was telling him how disrespectful he had been of late. She was disappointed that he wasn’t taking more responsibility around the house. She wanted him to be more involved with the family and their activities. He never went anywhere with the family anymore, she whined. Why did he have to act this way? His counselor said he was making progress, but he was supposed to be more involved…. Why wasn’t he doing what his counselor said??

This conversation went on at great length as mom carried on about all the things that were wrong with her child and his behavior. She palmed the loaves of bread, weighing one against the other, as she told the boy how much of a disappointment he was to her. Her voice became louder, whinier, and though she didn’t actually yell at him, it might have been better if she had. But she was in the grocery store, after all.

I was embarrassed for this woman. I thought about quietly suggesting that she take her conversation elsewhere. The boy probably would have appreciated it. No doubt, he would have been mortified if he had known how many people now knew about his business—his family situation, his counseling, and his inability to live up to his mother’s expectations. The store was quite crowded, after all, and the bread aisle is always popular.

But the boy wasn’t actually there. In fact, I don’t know that she was talking to a boy at all. I don’t know that she was talking to a teenager, though her tone and demeanor gave me my biggest clues. The entire conversation took place on her cell phone.

For whatever reason, cell phones allow people to believe that their private conversations should be held in public. They haul out their cell phones when they feel the need to say something, and they don’t bother to look around to see who might overhear. Or who might be offended. And they don’t consider that not all conversations are appropriate for all forums.

In this case, Mom was complaining that her son was disrespectful, and I’m pretty sure I know where he learned that trait. I would guess I’m not the only one who figured that out.

So the next time you’re tempted to haul your private business into the grocery store in a loud and unfiltered cell phone conversation, look around to see who might overhear what you have to say… and blog about it later.

Joseph

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Christmas is over, but my reflection on Christmas is not. This year, I have been drawn to a particular song and the story it tells; the song, “A strange way to save the world” by the group 4-Him, is told from the point of view of Joseph as he finds himself in the unlikely position of being in the stable in Bethlehem, staring into the face of Jesus. He wonders how he ended up here, and why God is using a mere baby to save the world.

We don’t often think about Joseph when we think about the Christmas story. He was not directly involved in the miracle of Christmas… or was he? He certainly had an opportunity to say no. He could have told Mary that because she was pregnant, he was no longer interested. Or he might have said he didn’t particularly want to raise someone else’s child, Son of God or not. He could have walked away and been free of the responsibility that God was asking him to take on.

But he didn’t.

First, he accepted that the child Mary was carrying was the Son of God, acceptance that was a miracle in itself (though the angels may have helped to sway him). Second, he agreed to raise this child as his own, to provide for the boy to the best of his ability. Third, he accepted the challenges that would arise in raising the Son of God. (“Jesus, you have got to stop walking on the lake! Bobby nearly drown yesterday because he can’t swim. His parents are furious…!”) Most importantly, he accepted that he would take a backseat to the child and to Mary, who figured prominently in our historical accounts of Jesus’s life. Joseph was a behind-the-scenes figure in this story.

When God said, “Joseph, will you…,” Joseph stepped up. And then he stepped into the background. The shepherds came and went. The Wise Men brought gifts and disappeared. Joseph remained constant, but we hear little about him.

No doubt, this situation was not what Joseph was expecting for his life. He was expecting to get married to the woman he loved. He was expecting to lead a quiet life with no fanfare and little drama; yet suddenly, he found himself with the heavy burden of supporting a child, raising the Son of God. What faith he demonstrated in accepting this challenge!

As we move through life, we should strive to be more like Joseph. We should strive to have the faith to accept the challenges that God throws our way. Joseph did not say, “I’m sorry, that doesn’t fit into my plan.” He didn’t reject the inconvenience of having a bride and a baby that wasn’t his. He realized that since God had chosen him, God would provide the tools to help him complete the job. He accepted God’s plan with all of its uncertainties and inconveniences, and he stepped out of the way to let God work through him.

Snowmen

Each year at this time, an army of snowman cookies arrives at my house. Uh, wait… let me start over.

Each year at this time, through a great deal of effort on my part, an army of snowmen arrives at my house. This year, I tried to gain support for the cause. On Sunday morning, I looked at W sitting on the couch surfing the Internet on the iPad. “Hey W,” I watched him intently. He looked up. “Do you like to make little balls out of clay?” I asked with a tone that implied I had something exciting in store for him.

He looked at me with a raised eyebrow before he sighed with a hint of disgust. “Do you want help with your snowmen?” Yep, he was on to me. Every year, I try the same tactic.

I nodded too fast, like an excited puppy. “Yeah! You wanna help?”

“Not really,” he replied as he returned to the iPad. I went to the kitchen, hauled out the bowl full of dough, and began to roll it into balls. Tiny balls. Actually, three different sizes per snowman. These cookies are labor intensive, but they are the local favorite—in my house, in my neighborhood, and among my family. The fact that they have been a favorite is why I have continued to make them. Every year. For seventeen years.

It wasn’t long before I had an army of little snowmen on my kitchen table. And taste-testers hovering. My daughter had her first bite. “I think we should keep them all this year. We give away too many.” This thought was one that would never fly with my neighbor who believes I make these cookies specifically for her and then withhold all but a small number.

I turned to Facebook with this thought. To my neighbor I posted, “My taste-tester just tried a snowman and says we need to keep them all this year.” The reply: a resounding “NO!” and the annual “war of the snowmen” had begun.

At least daily, I receive a text, Facebook message, phone call, or an in-person assault. “Where are my snowmen?!” And daily, I have to deliver the difficult news that they are still naked, they have to stick together for their “army” training, or they have not yet said good-bye to their friends. (Really, I’m stalling while I make other cookies to “fluff up” the plate). Soon, my neighbor on the other side adds her two cents in anticipation of receipt of her yummy snowmen.

These little snowmen have evolved over the years. Initially, they were simply a part of my cookie tradition. But through the annual battle, these cookies have taken on a life of their own. They add extra fun to the holidays in my neighborhood, and they bring us together each year. I imagine I will continue to make them for another seventeen years. And I wonder how the tradition will evolve from here.

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Packages

My youngest and I were discussing a package that I recently ordered—not a present for anyone, but a necessary item to make some presents that I will be giving. Because I never think of it quite early enough, stores generally run out of the item by this point in the season. So I went online and found what I was looking for; and I ordered some. If I’m lucky, the package will be here before Christmas. “Maybe the package will arrive today?” W said thoughtfully.

“I’d be surprised. I don’t think it has even been shipped yet.”

His expression brightened in thought, and I could see his mind churning. “What if the government discovered the ability to teleport things, and they only shared the technology with the USPS and UPS?” Yeah… because that’s going to happen. But imagination is an amazing thing, isn’t it?

“So your packages just appear at your house? Like… Boom! There’s my package!?” I pantomimed a surprised look as I glanced at the kitchen floor.

He laughed. “Yep, like that.”

“Darn! I just tripped over my package. I wish those people would stop delivering things to the middle of my kitchen when I’m not expecting it!” I dramatized tripping over a package that appeared via this new delivery method.

“What if you ordered something heavy, and it landed on the cat?” He cringed for effect.

“Ooh, that would not be good! Hopefully, the cat could run away fast enough.”

“Especially if you ordered something really big!” he added.

“Yikes!” I responded, thinking back to a time when something very big was mistakenly delivered to my house. I had to call UPS to come pick it up because it wouldn’t even fit through my front door. I briefly wondered if they would be able to teleport a pick-up as well as a delivery….

“Imagine if you ordered a car, and it landed right on your kitchen table!” W said, and we both laughed. I imagine that would be the end of my house, not just my kitchen table.

And with a little imagination, I now know how thankful I am that the government does not (yet) have this technology!

Dark

Each weekday morning, when I drive my son to school at the ungodly hour of just-the-other-side-of-dawn, we see people engaged in their early morning activity. Early in the school year, there was the woman who walked her dog not far from our house. She wore clothes the color of dusk as she walked her dusky shadow of a dog along the line on the road that separates the travel lane from the shoulder. One day, as she and her dog were crossing the street, their shapes emerged from the darkness just in time for me to swerve to avoid them.

Farther along on our trip, there was the man who walked to work in the early morning murkiness. His walk was brisk, and he bent slightly under the weight of a small backpack. As the temperature dropped, his pace began to quicken, and he always walked with his back to the traffic, unaware of the dangers. When it was raining or snowing or foggy in the pre-dawn, I would notice his form just beyond the edge of my car as I drove by.

More recently, perhaps because we have changed our departure time by a few minutes, we have seen one of my son’s friends standing outside his house waiting for his bus. We always look for him as we approach, but some mornings, we cannot tell if he is standing by the side of the road until the very last minute. Occasionally, it is only after we pass him that we notice his form lurking by the mailbox.

We started to think of ways to make this young man more visible in the dark. My son and I thought of light up clothing, but finally decided on a flashing Christmas necklace that looks like a string of lights. What does the friend think of this idea? He went along with it. He even discovered that the necklace had three different light settings. The one morning that my son didn’t go to school early, he wore it, and we didn’t get to see if it would work as we hoped.

Now (a day later), I hear the necklace broke. Its quality $3.54 construction couldn’t hold up to the morning routine of a 16 year old. We are looking to replace it before the holiday season is over and these necklaces are long gone. I definitely think we’ll be able to see him much better with the necklace.

While the necklace is a fun way to deal with this issue, our morning entertainment began as a simple lesson in visibility. For drivers young and old, the pale dark on the ends of the day is a tough time. And it is tough for pedestrians, as well. My son, a new driver, has had a great lesson in how challenging the dark hours can be. Being mindful of one’s clothing, and wearing bright colors (reflective or lighted!) can make a huge difference—for all parties involved.

Reversal

We are sitting at the table eating dinner. Our kitchen table is right next to the window, and only the window shade and a thin pane of glass separate the cozy kitchen from the cold evening outside. If I were to stretch out my arm, I could almost touch the winter night that tries to filter in to share our meal.

I do my best to make sure we sit down to dinner as a family as often as possible, but I am finding that as the kids get older and busier, it becomes more difficult. On this night, not only have I had time to cook, we have time to sit together. The evening meal usually provides our best family conversation, and we all look forward to this time together. In fact, my children have commented on how many of their friends and acquaintances eat dinner on their own or in front of one screen or another.

As I converse with one of the boys across the table, in my periphery, I can see my daughter intently studying my face. We are discussing an incident that happened in the lunchroom at school, and though I try not to be distracted, my daughter leans a little closer, tilts her head.

There is a pause in the discussion. “Mom…” she says, moving even closer. On her face there is the scowl of a question. I turn to address her.

“What?” I ask, wondering what she is going to say, but knowing it has nothing to do with the conversation we were just having. I believe she has no idea what we were just saying.

“Is that my eye glitter you’re wearing?” she asks. Huh… I wasn’t expecting that.

When my daughter emerged all sweet and little-girl-cute at birth, I prepared myself for the day she would borrow my clothes, my shoes, my scarves and jackets, my jewelry and make-up. I prepared myself to be minus a vehicle when she borrowed the car keys and, of course, the car. But this—the reverse—I was not prepared for. And I certainly was not prepared to be caught in the act.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have eye glitter. We didn’t wear sequins and crystals and all things shiny. So the fact that I find these things appealing speaks both to my feelings of deprivation and to my slightly distractible nature. Shiny? I am there! The glitter make-up was purchased to enhance her performance make-up (because everyone uses glitter) and not because she wanted it. In fact, she doesn’t even like it anymore. Nor does she use it. Since I bought it, and it has now ended up in with my make-up, don’t I have some unspoken right to borrow?

“Indeed, it is yours!” I admit with pride. “Or… it was.”

“You can have it,” she tells me. “I don’t use it anyway.”

Share and share alike, I say. My day will come to share my stuff. Then it will be my turn to catch her in the act!

Real Estate

“Mom, can we grow some fresh herbs on the windowsill?” C—my culinary kid—asks me out of the blue. We live in a townhouse, and we have windows on only our north and south walls. We have one main window where plants will actually grow, our south-facing kitchen window, and thankfully, it is a picture window with a deep sill.

“Um, sorry,” comes the voice of W from the other room. “I’ve already reserved the windowsill for a science experiment.”

“Dude!” C replies (because for some unknown reason, boys always call each other “dude”). “You can’t reserve the windowsill!! What kind of ‘science experiment’ do you have planned that you can do in the kitchen anyway?” His attitude is typical of a 16 year old who knows everything, and it is designed to be off-putting to a younger brother. W doesn’t bother to respond. He knows he will be criticized and chastised for even thinking he could take over the windowsill. In fact, through his brother’s tone of voice, he already has been.

“You can’t claim the windowsill,” C continues on his rant. “All I want to do is grow some herbs. Herbs belong in the kitchen. We can use them for cooking… we can dry them… and, your science experiment… in the kitchen? Really?”

“Mom already said I could do my science experiment. On the windowsill.” W is quiet but firm in his response. Personally, while I remember him saying he wants to ionize soil to see if plants will grow better, I can’t remember any other experiment; so I am hoping that this is the one. The combination of the stress of single-handedly raising three teenagers and middle age is not always the most conducive to productive thought processes. Things get lost in my head more often than I would like to admit.

“W, remind me again which experiment you want to do? I remember several you mentioned recently,” and it’s true. There is always something brewing in the head of this kid. Newer, better, more effective ways to do whatever the task at hand. And unlike his Mama, he has no problem accessing his thoughts and ideas in his amazingly complex mind. Thankfully, I am right that he wants to test plants and soil.

“Why don’t you combine your projects?” I suggest. “We can see if herbs grow best in soil that is ionized as opposed to soil that isn’t.” I, of course, think this is the perfect solution to the problem, and one that will limit the clutter on my windowsill. My boys do not.

“I don’t want my herbs to be part of some science experiment! He can grow his own plants in his experimental soil!” Clearly, this discussion is going nowhere. At least nowhere positive.

“Well, that would be a way for you to both use the windowsill and to collaborate. Ionizing the soil isn’t going to hurt your herbs. It’s not like he’s using radiation or something hazardous.”

“No way, Mom!” C leaves the room, and W and I look at each other. I roll my eyes. It is going to take some convincing. Teens are tough that way. Once they know something (and by know, I mean yup, he’s the expert), it can be difficult to sway them otherwise. Experimental soil or not, it seems this is the most likely solution to the real estate issue.

Of course, there is another option. I could continue to hog the windowsill with my plants. I do, after all, pay the mortgage.

Words

It is 6:40 in the morning, and I am sitting in my car outside the high school. The drizzly not-quite-rain, not-quite-ice precipitation that has been falling for days has rendered the darkness a sooty mess that severely limits visibility. As on every way-too-early weekday, I am waiting for my son to wake up enough to exit the car, cross the street, and board the bus.

Our morning drive and wait time are sometimes quiet and sometimes filled with talk of this or that. Today, the sound of the wipers, intermittently slopping a mix of water and ice from my windshield, punctuates my thoughts, which center on an early meeting and the morning tasks that stand between now and that commitment.

The radio drones on, barely noticed until a clip of The View is played in which Whoopi Goldberg purportedly broke wind on air. Next to me in the front seat, I detect some movement from my son. The laughter of the DJs on the radio catches our attention, and their discussion moves to the etymology of the word “fart.” My son snickers.

The word, from Old English, has been kicking around much longer than I would have guessed. When the DJs start in with the Middle English, farten, and they speak in funny accents, both my son and I begin to laugh. We mimic their accents, and I sense this will not be the last time I hear this particular phrase spoken in this particular manner. We are still laughing as he says good-bye and gets out of the car; the DJs move on to another topic.

It was a perfectly timed radio segment. It grabbed the attention of the teen in the car, and shook him awake more effectively than I could have. And as an English teacher, I wonder what could be better to wake a kid than a rousing discussion of etymology? Sometimes, discussions of emotionally (socially…?) charged words have practical use as well as philosophical merit.