Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How to Make Time Fly.....

..... Have your parents fly 2200 miles to be with your family for Christmas!

Two weeks ago today we celebrated the much-anticipated arrival of my Mom and Dad. In almost 10 years of marriage, we have never shared Christmas together at our house, and so this was the year. And a wonderful visit it was.

The boys were thrilled to have Grandma and Grandpa (who is affectionately known as 'Toast-and-Eggs-Grandpa', or simply 'Toast and Eggs', a nickname #2 son gave Grandpa when he was about 3 years old--a descriptive name for Dad's usual breakfast!--to distinguish between my dad and their other grandpa) here for two whole weeks. We did lots of the usual Christmas-y things, all of which was a bit better this year just because they were with us.

We made cut-out cookies and fudge, listened to songs of Christmas by various singers from Dean Martin to The Chipmunks. We watched Christmas shows--The Polar Express remains at the top of our list. It's hard to choose my favorite part of that movie, but the Hot Chocolate number is right up there! We enjoyed the Christmas smells by way of simmering Spiced Cranberry drink (and though I leave off the alcohol in this one, we always refer to it as, simply, 'grog') and festive Yankee candles--Red Berry and Cedar is the best I've smelled yet!

And of course most importantly of all, we attended Holy Mass together, which is still a special blessing, knowing my folks--at then-ages 70 and 71--only just came into the Church at Easter '06.

Taking Mom and Dad away from the rest of my extended family for Christmas is something I didn't do lightly, knowing how my brothers and their families would miss them. So I appreciate their temporary loss, which was our joyful gain this time.

And so today we said good-bye. Again. It never gets easy to have 2200 miles separating us, and the farewell hugs are always the ones we don't want to give. But we thank Our loving Lord that we were brought together one more time, and look forward to the next embrace. Hopefully the time between will fly as quickly as did these past two weeks.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

To all who would venture by to share my morning cup with me...

A most Blessed and Merry Christmas to you and yours, as we celebrate the birth of the Christ Child. May this Holy Christmastide bring peace and joy to you!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kids' Lit

I love children's literature. There are so many treasures to be found on the well-turned pages of so many children's books, and it is so exciting to find one worth pondering, or reading over and over to the delight of eager young listeners, and to the olders as well. One such treasure is from The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White:

"My dear," said her husband, the cob, one afternoon, "do you never find your duties onerous or irksome? Do you never tire of sitting in one place and in one position, covering the eggs, with no diversions, no pleasures, no escapades, or capers? Do you never suffer from boredom?"
"No," replied his wife. "Not really."
"Isn't it uncomfortable to sit on eggs?"
"Yes, it is," replied the wife. "But I can put up with a certain amount of discomfort for the sake of bringing young swans into the world."

I love that. Life as a stay-at-home-mom can, indeed, be onerous at times. But is it not worth every hardship to raise these gifts God has entrusted to us?! I never expected to be spurred on in my vocation during the evening's read-aloud, but there it was. One of those treasures.

Another evening last Lent I read a new-to-me, but well-known, book to the boys, The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein. My goodness, talk about a treasure. By the end, the lump in my throat was so big, my oldest asked me if I was going to cry. I denied it, but truth be told, I was close. It is a sweet book about a tree that gave everything to and for the boy she loved. A wonderful Lenten read for young children, and even for kids who are a bit older. For us it prompted a conversation comparing this story to the greatest story of Jesus, The One Who gave everything for us. Worth pondering, to be sure.

Currently we are in the middle of The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. What a fun book. I think I'm enjoying it as much or more than the boys, and they are laughing aloud regularly at the silliness that jumps off the pages. The story is the adventures of a boy who passes through a tollbooth into the fantastic land of Dictionopolis where among other things, words are taken (and given) literally. For example, when the boy's car won't start and he is questioning why it won't, the native of Dictionopolis informs him, "Oh, it goes without saying." So when they are quiet, the car goes! The plays-on-words are seemingly endless. We've yet to get to Digitopolis, where numbers rule. I'm sure it will be equally clever.

There are so many books I want to read, and so little time, but if I can't sink my teeth into a book for myself (how would that phrase play out in Dictionopolis?!), I do find time to read to the boys. I love it and so do they. And as time goes by, their books are getting more involved and interesting. We're definitely beyond Go Dog Go, not quite to The Lord of the Rings, and now exploring a wonderful world of kids' lit in between.

We'll do our best to find all the treasures all along the way.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mom in My Kitchen

My Mom hasn't been in my kitchen for over a year. Fifteen months, to be precise. But as I go about my days preparing meals for my family, and especially surrounding Thanksgiving, I think of her often.

Growing up, Mom wasn't that kind of teacher-Mom who thought I needed sessions in her kitchen where she imparted to me the how-tos of all things culinary; in fact, just the opposite. Mom was (and still is) very practical and efficient in the kitchen. Always one who would rather be working in her yard or cleaning her house, cooking nightly meals was an important and necessary duty, but not one she enjoyed as much as her other 'chores'. Don't misunderstand, Mom is a very good cook. She just isn't the type of person who wants to spend a moment more time in her kitchen than is absolutely necessary. And so I had to glean what I could strictly from observing. If I didn't pay attention of my own accord, I likely wouldn't have taken much away from her.

When I remember my days at home (and they were many, as I stayed under Mom and Dad's roof for.... a long time) I don't remember taking mental notes on how to do things. But now, with a family of my own, I realize just how much gleaning was going on on my part. For the kitchen is perhaps where I think of Mom most. Thanksgiving, pre-, actual and post-, are all times I take what I learned and put it into practice. When I need to thaw a huge turkey that I forgot to allow enough in-the-refrigerator-thawing-days, which is the only safe way to thaw said bird, according to the all-knowing USDA, I hearken back to year upon year watching Mom thaw 25-pounders on the kitchen counter. We all lived to tell about it, and so I thawed mine this way. Thanks, Mom.

When the turkey comes out of the oven, the first thing I instruct my husband to do is get the bird on a platter so I can have the roasting pan and it's yummy drippings to make gravy. Pan over two burners, both on high, add the water in which the giblets boiled all morning, bring to a boil, mix flour and water in a cereal boil to a thick-ish liquid, slowly pour it in boiling drippings while quickly stirring with a whisk, and voila! Perfect gravy every time. Thanks, Mom.

Today, after boiling all the meat off the carcass (yeah, just like Mom did), I made homemade turkey and noodles. Yes, real egg noodles, made from eggs, salt and flour. Since I make these only once a year or so, I always guess on the number of eggs to begin with, but the rest of the process is just like Mom does it, down to unrolling the cut jelly-rolled-noodles with a table-knife. It so reminds me of Mom, I even remember the sound of her cutting the noodles and the knife she did it with. Tonight my family will enjoy bowls of these noodles and I know I'll start talking of how we grew up on them. Thanks, Mom.

There are countless other things that daily remind me of Mom, but somehow that she taught me so well how to cook for my own family, simply by doing it each and everyday of her life for her family, gives me a special pride in providing for mine.

And in just two weeks she (with Dad) will be welcomed into our home, and my kitchen, once again. I know she'll be making her 5-loaf batch of bread at least once, to the delight of us all, as well as helping me with the Christmas day feast, and lots of other tasty treats in between. I love reminders of her, but there's nothing like the real thing!

Once again... thanks, Mom, I can't wait for you to get here!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Innocence Preserved

This morning, as I prepare certain make-aheadables for a bountiful Thanksgiving table, I am given, out my kitchen window, a view of yet another thing for which to be thankful: my two sons, ages 8 (almost 9) and 7, at play. What? Boys at play? Pretty usual stuff, yes. But on this bright, crisp morning, my elder son is donning a Burger King crown, and it makes me pause in thanksgiving. For that one small, cheap cardboard item atop his head displays a world of innocent childhood, and that, preserved.

I say 'innocence preserved' because I can think of several almost-9 year old boys with whom I'm acquainted who would no more put a Burger King crown on their heads than they would admit to still liking Thomas the Tank Engine now and then. Yesterday when I was convalescing from a minor medical procedure, Dad brought home BK for dinner, and with the burgers, a surprise for the boys--the crowns. This is not everyday for our kids. When we do go to McD's, they will ask for a Happy Meal (only Grandma gets them these, but they still ask!), and our answer is always the same: you should be happy you're getting a meal! But I digress; both boys were thrilled with the crowns, and have worn them off and on since, sometimes brandishing a sword as well, surely conquering enemies untold.

I love to watch them at play. Away from the madding din of videos and computer games, I can see their imaginations taking them to the same places my brothers and I played as kids. But I think this scene is not as common now as it was among 7 and 8 year olds of 35-40 years ago. There is so much thrown at the innocent minds of our kids today to strip them of their most precious childhood years. It is a matter of constant vigilance on my part as a parent to do what I can to preserve these playful years, not so that they go into adolescence and adulthood immaturely, indeed not, but such that innocence is not lost prematurely.

Just as the days of diapers and rocking my babies to sleep passed all to quickly, so too shall these days of little boys ruling a kingdom with a cardboard crown. And so I will cherish them today as I did those baby-days, believing well that their healthy imaginations will soon enough give way to the requisite joys and sufferings of real life as we adults know it. And I am confident that my boy-conquerors of today will be prepared well for the realities of tomorrow, in part through an innocent childhood, played to its fullest.

So much for which to be thankful.