Friday, April 29, 2016

Yummy Chili

I was wondering what to make for dinner yesterday when my neighbor called.  She had made a big pot of chili for dinner the other night, and her children charitably declined to eat the leftovers because they knew we wanted it for dinner.  I made a pan full of cornbread and popped it into the oven.  Once our house was starting to smell delicious, I ran across the street and got the chili.  All this "popping" and "running" makes it sound like I was moving quickly.  Fear not - I still move in slow-motion.  I just want to sound more animated than I really am.  How I really live is hanging out on the couch and taking lots of naps.  Three-toed sloths have nothing on me in the slow department!

This is not chili but a delicious black bean soup she made for me last week.  Recipe below.

But last night, we had delicious home-made chili.  Thanks, nice neighbor lady and your very accommodating children!  You can cook for me anytime!

Black Bottom Soup (pictured above)
3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed (or 4 1/2 cups homecooked beans)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes (or 1-2 tomatoes, chopped)
1 1/2 cups water
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne

Throw it all in a large pot.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer for about half an hour.  Serve in a bowl over a scoop of cooked rice.  Garnish with chopped green onion and fresh tomatoes.

Fresh tomatoes.  Yummy.  I think I need to eat some soup and then think about planting a garden.  And bless my neighbors!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Supper on a Bread Slice

My mom wan't a great cook.  Mind you, she wasn't a bad cook by any means, and we were always fed.  Mom just wasn't fond of the traditional homemaking tasks.  Her dinner mainstays were simple and came out of boxes or cans.  One easy dinner I remember was called Supper on a Bread Slice.   It's not a very imaginative name, but I've never been able to come up with something better.

It's easy, and the kids love it.  Well, my brothers did as kids.  I didn't care much for it  - maybe because the sauce made the bread soggy?  But when Jay and I were newlyweds, visiting back home and Mom made this, he loved it too.  So I had to make Supper on a Bread Slice in my home, too.  And my kids love it.  It's basically hamburger pizza on French bread, but we have done it a number of ways.

Slice a loaf of bread in half lengthwise.  Place halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet.  Spread tomato sauce on both halves.  Cover with cooked, crumbled hamburger and grated cheddar cheese.  Bake at about 350 until heated through and cheese is melted and bubbly.  Do we cover it before baking?  I don't remember, so maybe.

I cook onions in with the hamburger to give it a bit more flavor.  Other variation are using spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, or barbecue sauce.  Sprinkle green onions, chopped fresh parsley, diced tomatoes, sliced olives, or chopped green peppers over the hamburger for a different feel.  Mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses are both delicious, and I'll bet I could even sneak leftover cooked vegetables under the cheese and no one would complain.  We make 3 French loaves worth, and every crumb is gone.  Gone!

It's a real family-pleaser of a meal, except for the mother.  I don't even have to worry about it anymore though, since white bread, hamburger, and cheese are now on my don't-work-well-with-my-body list.  I'll have something else thankyouverymuch.  So nobody complains.  Win.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blessings in Disguise

We had a women's meeting at church recently, where they were addressing some of the difficult things we go through.  They asked everyone to contribute a one- or two-word description of some of their hardest trials.  They gave me the list and wanted me to write the words on labels to be displayed on a wall at the meeting.  

The list was heartbreaking.  Rape.  Death of a child.  Bankruptcy.  Chronic illness.  Drug addiction.  Cheating spouse.  Depression.  Wayward children.  Widowhood.  My soul ached for these beautiful women.  Some of the challenges I know about - most I have no idea.  There were other less obvious trials that can be just as difficult and heart-wrenching: moving, difficult job, motherhood, messes, marriage, can't find joy...  I cried as I wrote the words.

Then something interesting happened.  It was surprisingly difficult to write these hard words in the beautiful script they wanted.  But as I saw the finished labels pile up, looking lovely and peaceful, I realized that some of these things that are sometimes so hard, like health or marriage or children, were actually some of my biggest blessings!  After the meeting, I asked for some of the labels and took them home.  I hung them next to my bed so I could see them often.  

It's a good reminder that it's often up to me to decide whether my challenges are trials or blessings.  They might just be two sides of the same coin!  Maybe that's some of what the Lord was talking about when He said that we need to have opposition in life.   It has made me a little more grateful for the adventures that come in my life.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Mission Monday

As the weather here moves into spring and warmer, it is growing cooler in Madagascar.  Ben told me that it's not as rainy as it has been.  Although it isn't as hot as it has been, it's still plenty warm!  I am glad he will be coming home to our summer instead of in the middle of winter.  I think he would freeze to death!

That's one of many things I can be thankful for.  I think I'll challenge the kids to write down as many blessings as they can think of in just a few minutes.  I think we would all be surprised at how many good things are all around us.  That's one thing Ben did in his last letter.  It's always interesting to see what other people are thankful for - and usually we are happy about things that we haven't always have.  Life lived too easily makes us complacent and we don't notice how good we have it.  I'm humbled by some of the things Ben mentions in his thankful list:

My stomach is not having problems.
I don't have a headache.
The power is going right now.
This cyber has GREAT internet.
I have clothes.
A roof that doesn't leak.
Washing machines and dryers
A stove.
My bed.
My parents were sealed in the temple and I was born in that covenant.
I've been healthy enough to do everything I could possibly need to this week.

That last one really got me, especially since I haven't been particularly healthy recently.  But I think I've been healthy enough to do the things that are most important.  Thinking about our blessings really does make us realize just how many blessings we have.  I am for thankful when I count my blessings!

More Madagascar blessings here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Happy at Home

Every day, I see so many little scenes that make my mother-heart happy.  I walk past a room and see a happy moment or hear joy shooting about and I think THIS is it.  This is the good life that I've been working for all these mothering hours.  I just want to soak in all the happiness and memorize the faces and never, ever forget.  And then something else happens and I do forget.

Some things that happen often enough that I remember:  Freddy loves to listen to Josh Groban's "Don't Give Up."  I think it is one of Eddie's favorite songs too.  Freddy puts the CD in the digital piano and sings his little heart out.  Georgie joins in, but Freddy really belts it out.  Often.  And during the worst possible moments: we have company, Trent and I are trying to have a difficult parent discussion, I'm on the phone...  Many times, Eddie will sing along, too.  His voice is just starting to change, but he wants to be a deep bass so he tries to sing lower than he actually can.  That song has a wide range, and it's cute to listen to Eddie struggle to hit the notes, or switch to a lower register and still struggle.  Anything to avoid showing that a teenaged boy can hit high notes, right?  Hearing them sing just makes me happy.

Legos happen here all,  the.  time.  The older boys have always bought new Lego sets with the birthday and Christmas money they get from Grandma Jeanne.  Hooray for generous grandparents!  So they each have quite a stash of Legos, in various stages of assemblement.  We also have a big bin full of more plain bricks that Gram found at a thrift store and gave to us for Christmas.  We have such wonderful grandparents!  AND we have two bins full of Legos that live here at the house that were Grandma Susie's.  I think I see a theme running here with grandmothers and Legos.  On Sunday afternoons, the back room becomes Lego Central and they all get out their bricks and start building.  Older, younger - age and gender don't matter as they invent and create and play...together.  That's the best part.  Together.

Another music thing I like is hearing the kids play the piano.  We have two pianos: a digital one and an acoustic piano, sitting side-by-side in the front room.  The rule is that whoever started making music first gets dibs on the airspace, but the digital piano has earphones, so two work mostly well.  David plays by ear, and will sit down and pick out a song.  He teaches the twins how to one-finger some songs, and I enjoy listening to them all play different parts of "Ode to Joy" or other little songs.  Love the music in our home.

I love walking into a room and seeing two boys engrossed in conversation.  Or one boy leaning over another on the computer, helping him figure out his technical difficulties.  Or hearing someone announce he is going on a bike ride, inviting others to go with him, and leaving the house with a group.  Or hearing giggles under a blanket fort that the big boys built for the little ones.  Or seeing the kids take turns pushing each other on the swings.

These are a mother's payday.  This is when the hard work, the late hours, the heartache and tears are all worth it.  And I want to cherish each of these moments and remember them forever, but I can't.  Fortunately, new joys are always coming up to replace the old, faded ones and life is still good.

I hope that one day when I'm old and my brain isn't working quite like it does now, those happy bits will come back to me at random times.  My rocking chair will slow down, I'll set down my knitting needles and laugh - a little gravely old lady chuckle - and be happy all over again.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

New Chore Chart

I was at my brother's house and saw a nifty chore chart he had.  There was a row for each child, magnets for each chore, and five columns: jobs to do, assigned to you, finished, approved, and needs help.  Most of the jobs start out in the first column, which is owned by everyone, and then either the child picks a certain number of chores or they get assigned out.  As soon as the job belongs to a child, they move the magnet to that second column.

As the child finished a job, she moves that chore magnet to the "finished" column, and the parent checks it off and moves it to the "approved" column, When I asked him about the "help" column, he explained that it was for jobs that the child could ordinarily do independently, but something unusual is preventing its completion, like the lawn mower ran out of gas.  I think he got this from his job - or maybe he made it up.  I dunno which, but my brother is crazy organized like that.

I loved it, and determined to make my own.  Since I didn't have magnets, I started out with jobs scrawled on sticky notes and stuck on the fridge.  That's the largest smooth space we have, since all the walls are coated with that extra-lumpy orange peel texturing.  I grabbed some random washi tape from my one-day-I'll-do-something-cute stash, and marked off a grid - older kids on the freezer and younger kids on the fridge.  The sticky notes soon lost their sticky, and I held them on the fridge with magnets.  It worked fairly well, but looked a mess.  

The chore chart's next incarnation happened when I found some clear glass stones and decided to do a little craft project.  I chose pretty paper in different colors to differentiate between daily, weekly, and periodic chores.  I cut them down , wrote the name of the chore in a nice font, and glued them to the backs of the stones with clear-drying glue.  As soon as they were completely dry, sanded the edges of the paper to make it smooth and hot-glued on a magnet.  Tada!  What a great crafter I am!

For two whole days, the fridge was a happy thing to behold.  All the chores were on cute little magnets, all organized in their slightly less-than-level grids.  I even thought about fixing the lines.  I told the kids we were going to make a new, concerted effort to get the chores done.  Anyone with all daily chores in the "approved" column would get dinner.  Hooray for incentives!

It was a little bit hard to read the chores through the rounded glass, but no matter.  We could get close and peer at them.  The colors I so carefully chose didn't show up well, either, but cute trumps practicality!  Yes!

And then on the third day, I realized that our magnets were stronger than the glue that held the paper to the glass stone.  When the kids tried to move a chore (or more often, playing with them), the glass came off but the magnet stayed stuck to the fridge.  I glued several back on before I gave up.  There is now a small pile of glass stones with lovely paper - but no magnet, or magnets glued securely to naked paper - sitting the next to the refrigerator.  The pile is growing each day.  

And now that I think about it, at no time during all this lovely crafting, have the chores actually gotten done any better.  Sigh.  Back to the drawing board.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Senior Prom

How did it happen that Chris is on the end of his high school experience?  Senior Prom was last weekend.  SENIOR!  Sigh.  

He made his own corsage this year - his first flying completely solo.  I didn't help him much with last fall's Homecoming corsage either, but I wasn't even there when he made this one.  He did a fine job.  He calls the flower... a flower.  But all the other bits of frippery - ribbons, small flowers, beading -  is "garbage."  Little insights into a teenaged boy's mind.  He chose great garbage and arranged it well, didn't he?  He was not disappointed to have an excuse to run to the store and get a new tie.  All good-looking: the corsage, and the tie.  But especially this handsome boy who isn't fond of having his picture taken!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Mission Monday

Every week, I send a regular letter to my missionary sons, and one additional email with the question of the week.  This is my (sometimes vain) hope to get a better feel for customs of the country, health issues, personal questions and other things I just wanna know.  That way they don't have to answer a slew of my questions, just one a week.

This week's question was about how we learn things from difficult situation.  I asked Ben what he had learned last week.  His response was thoughtful, and has made me and Trent both examine some of our own attitudes.

What I learned this week is that you can do anything. We taught as many times this week as I did in my best week in Fort Dauphin and had a Fort Dauphinesque amount of people at church too. It just takes a good attitude and lots of work and you can do crazy things. I love it. Like it's not all about the stats, but there's this terrible mindset in my mission that the work goes way good in fort d, toliara, and mahajanga and everywhere else it's not super great, and because they have that mindset, that's what they get. But it's not true. I love that.

His letter this week was short, but enough for my mother-heart. You can read it on his blog.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Grandma Lucy

My maternal grandmother, my mother's mother, passed away when I was 5.  I don't remember much about her except a sweet powdery smell and the way she bounced me on her knee and sang,
Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse.
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
She will have music wherever she goes!

Then she would make me sway on her knee as she exclaimed, "Whoa, horse!"  I've jogged my own children on my knee countless times, reciting this same little song.  I love that I have a piece of my grandma that I can pass on to them.

A few months after Grandma died, Grandpa found a new sweet lady and married her - much to the surprise of his children!  She became my Grandma Lucy and we loved her.  She taught elementary school, and I thought she had a treasure trove in her downstairs closet because she had so many books!  They lived just up the street from us and I loved to spend hot sticky afternoons in the cool of her basement, lost in the dusty pages of her wonderful books.  She was always so good to us, and we never thought of her as a step-grandma; just Grandma Lucy.

Grandpa passed away 10 years ago, just the month before Jay did.  In the past few years, Grandma Lucy has gotten more and more frail.  A few weeks ago, she too crossed the bar.  We miss her happy smile, but we are happy for her.

The family has been cleaning out her house, and I found this stack of old school lunch trays there.  They were so cheerful, their pastel shades sweetly thinking back to a simpler time.  Just looking at them made me happy, and reminded me of Grandma Lucy.  Thanks for loving me, Grandma.  I hope I can encourage little children around me half as well as you did!

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

General Conference

We enjoyed watching General Conference last weekend.  Sometimes we make a big party of it, with an all-you-can-eat buffet of mostly indigestible food and conference games for the small fry.  This year we just sat around and watched.  So lucky to be able to see it on the big screen instead of having to... you know... get dressed and all.  We are so spoiled!

I was taking notes and Georgie came over with his "whatcha doin'?" face on.  I showed him that I was writing down the things that I liked best because they would help me to become a better person.  Next thing I know, he was asking for a paper of his own.  I tore one out of my notebook for him, and got him a pen.  Unprompted, he wrote:

"The things that Jesus said"

Through the next few talks, he wrote down a few things and I was impressed with his sober nature.  He's a deep thinker, that one.  It will be fun to watch him grow!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Welcome Home!

He's back!  I can hardly believe it's been two years already.  I wasn't sure what to expect when we saw him, but it's been good to have him back.  He looks older, more confident and sure of himself.  It's been fun to see him smile and the dimple in his cheek.  

Some of his aunts and uncles came over the house to welcome him back.  He actually wasn't home very long before he was already off again.  This boy knows where he is going and has a plan to get there.  He had an appointment with the drivers licence division to renew his lapsed licence.  After that, he has freedom (as long as he can borrow my car!).

After he came back, he sat and told stories to his uncle and aunt, who have spent time in Africa themselves.  It was fun to hear his experiences.

I sat and watched as he visited with his brothers.  Makes my mother-heart happy to see him.  I was struck by some of his mannerisms - just like his dad!  I wasn't expecting that, and it took my breath away for a moment.

Welcome home, my first-born.  Whether you know it or not, your mama will always love you.  

It does my mama-heart good to have most of this crew back together again, even if it is for only a moment before the older ones go their own ways.

Now, on to your next adventures!