Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Reading . . .

It seems as if we went straight from cookie baking and the flu right into writing Christmas cards and wrapping gifts . . . but in those moments when we do get to sit down (usually because someone has stopped by) there's nothing as much fun as reading a book with a small visitor.

Here are some of our favorite Christmas books:

** The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree, by Gloria Houston, pictures by Barbara Cooney. Ruthie's papa is going off to war, but this is the year he gives the Christmas tree to the church, so he and Ruthie go up to the highest cliff in the mountains, where they find a fine, perfect balsam tree. They mark it with a red ribbon bow right at the tip-tip-top. Papa doesn't quite make it back before it's time to get the tree, so Ruthie and her mama are responsible for getting it, and Ruthie gets to be the heavenly angel. There are enough Christmas surprises for everyone by story's end. This lovely book always makes me tear up, but our grandkids love it, especially the description of Ruthie's heavenly angel dress.

** Christmas Day in the Morning, by Pearl S. Buck, illustrated by Mark Buehner. This story of a young boy's Christmas gift for his father illustrates what it means to give something of yourself to someone else. Perplexed about what he can do for the father he loves, the boy comes up with a unique gift, one he and his father will never forget. The illustrations in this book set the mood, evoking farm life with a quiet authority.

** The Shoe Box, by Francine Rivers, illustrated by Linda Dockey Graves. When Timmy comes to live with Mary and David, he doesn't own much; his treasures all fit into a shoe box. The story of what Timmy does with his treasures isn't a traditional Christmas story, but Christmas figures into the story as Timmy figures out what he might give baby Jesus when he is a wise man in the church Christmas pageant.

And of course, there is always Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, by Barbara Shook Hazen, adapted from the story by Robert L. May. We're partial to a Golden Book edition we have here, one from 1979, illustrated by Richard Scarry. It's a bit worn, with crayon marks on a few pages, and a torn page or two. It shows how much its readers have loved it.

The best books always do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Notes From the First Annual Christmas Cookie Extravaganza . . .

What a week-end!

Our first annual (maybe) Christmas Cookie Baking Extravaganza was a big success, except for the ending – which I'll explain in a minute.

Three of nine grandkids spent the night with us last Friday evening. We spent the evening with popcorn and a Christmas movie, a little reading together, then to bed.

Next morning, Grandpa made some of his specialty buttermilk pancakes and bacon, feeding the original three visitors as well as the other five grandchildren who got there early – and a few stray parents, as well.

After that, we cleaned up the kitchen and got on to the first order of business: decorating the Christmas tree. John and I had put up a tall Fraser fir the day before, and strung the lights. We wanted the kids to help us with the garland and ornaments.

Every year after Christmas is over, I pack the ornaments away carefully. Every year the unwrapping is a little more hectic, and this year was no exception.

Standing five and six deep around the ornament box, the grandkids were anxious to be the next one to hang an ornament on the tree. As we went I tried to tell the stories of some of the ornaments (and this is one Uncle Ted made in kindergarten . . .) but truthfully, the kids weren't too impressed with the story part. They just wanted to hang more ornaments!

Once the box was empty (in no time flat) we took time to admire the tree – a relatively short time – then it was on to the kitchen.

The icebox cookies I'd mixed up were perfect for the middlers – the grandkids between three and six – to help slice, decorate, and bake. (You can find the recipe for these great cookies below.)

The slicing was very exciting. With a little help from me, the two six-year olds took turns slicing the rolls of chilly icebox cookies on a breadboard with a sharp knife. Using a sharp knife, even with grandma's hand over yours, is dangerously thrilling!

Then the three, four, and five-year olds sprinkled those cookies with decorative sugars, and placed them carefully on the baking sheet.

After the icebox cookies were baked (and tested with a little milk) those grandkids watched a Christmas movie while the two oldest grandkids came and rolled out the sugar cookies and used the Christmas cookie cutters to cut them out. The two big girls did a good job rolling out the dough, cutting out the cookies, and getting them onto the baking sheet. Once they were baked we set them on a rack to cool for later icing.

Next was lunch – a feast of macaroni and cheese – then, with everyone helping, we mixed up the icing for the sugar cookies. Were we ready for this?

We divided up the icing into eight bowls and colored it red, green, blue, and yellow, plus one measuring cup of uncolored (white) icing. We had a good supply of decorative sugars, and down the middle of the long dining room table we put cooling racks for cookies with drippy icing. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

I gave each one of the grandkids (except for the two 18-month olds, who were down for naps by now) their own batch of cookies and we began.

The kids were highly skilled at getting icing on the table, various body parts, and occasionally, the cookies. (Once we were done, it took ten minutes just to scrub the table clean.) Some cookies were artfully done with imaginative decorations; others were simply thickly spread with icing and sprinkled with decorative sugar.

All of them were delicious.

We fixed a plate of cookies for each family as parents came to collect their children before the gathering ice storm got any worse.

All too soon, it was over – or so we thought. We sighed, smiled, and agreed that we'd had a wonderful, wonderful time, and now were ready for a long winter's nap!

As it turned out, the kids took home more than cookies. Sunday afternoon our oldest daughter called with the news that our grandson had the flu.

Over the next two days, he was joined by his sister, three cousins, one uncle, and ultimately, two grandparents.

Merry Christmas to us!


This is the recipe we used for the icebox cookies we made this past week-end. I found it in the Cook's Illustrated Holiday Baking 2007 magazine, pp. 50-51. It is a simple, delicious recipe, easily adapted to baking with children. I highly recommend it!

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon table salt

16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool

¾ cup granulated sugar

½ cup confectioners' sugar

2 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Whisk together flour and salt in medium bowl, set aside.

In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter and sugars at medium speed until light and fluffy, 1 to 1½ minutes. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add yolks and vanilla and beat until incorporated, 15 to 20 seconds. Scrape bowl with rubber spatula. Add dry ingredients and mix at low speed until dough forms and is thoroughly mixed, 25 to 30 seconds. (Dough will be soft but should not be sticky. If dough is sticky, chill for 10 to 15 minutes.)

Divide dough in half. Working with one half at a time, roll dough on clean work surface into log measuring about 6 inches long and 2 inches thick. Wrap each log in plastic and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 3 days. (Dough can be frozen up to 1 month. Wrap logs in plastic wrap and then foil before freezing.)

Adjust oven racks to upper-andlower-middle positions and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Unwrap dough logs one at a time and with sharp knife, cut each dough log in half, then into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place slices on prepared baking sheets, spacing them ½ to 1 inch apart.

Bake until edges begin to brown, about 14 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Cool cookies on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then transfer to wire rack with wide metal spatula.

This article includes several variations on this recipe, including chocolate icebox cookies, marble icebox cookies, and ginger icebox cookies. You should still be able to purchase this issue of the magazine on any newstand. Cook's Illustrated also has a website with other delicious recipes at

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Getting Ready . . .

Eager children – that's what we expect this week-end.

I shopped this afternoon, making sure we have enough flour, eggs, and pretty decorative sugars for our cookie baking adventures with the grandkids this week-end.

As I shopped I marveled again at what a rich experience it is to shop. What choices we have - just the baking aisle is an adventure in possibility!

Tomorrow I'll bake some sugar cookies so they will be ready for the littlest hands to decorate, and I'll mix up some icebox cookies so they'll be ready for the slightly older kids to help slice, bake and decorate.

Some of the older grandkids are able to mix and measure themselves, so I'll get recipes ready for them. We'll probably make snickerdoodles, maybe some peanut butter cookies, maybe some peppernuts.

Cookies will be the pretext (as well as the bonus) but the reward will be the time we spend together, the skills and experiences we share, and the fun we have.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Christmas Adventure . . .

Planning has begun for our first grandchild Christmas cookie extravaganza.
Next week-end we've invited all nine of our grandchildren to come and bake cookies. We might throw in tree-decorating, too, and I have a craft project in mind if the kids get bored.
I have a feeling that my ideas might be bigger than my reality, but it is fun to dream: what kinds of cookies can children from 18 months to 15 years collaborate on? How do we fit in naps, lunches, and silliness and still get the cookies baked? Who will clean up the kitchen when it's all over? And how long will it take us to recover?
Stay tuned for a report!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Dressing Up . . .

Is there anything prettier than a little girl with a new dress? Or more encouraging than a little boy wearing a nice shirt?

At a family wedding last week-end we had the pleasure of seeing all our grandchildren dressed in their best, having fun together. They took to the dance floor exuberantly, twirling their skirts, rolling up their sleeves, laughing and smiling.

When I was a little girl I was sometimes frustrated when one of my grandmothers would give me fancy clothes for Christmas or a birthday. They were always pretty, and I wasn't ungrateful; I just didn't understand why she didn't choose gifts like roller skates or comic books.

I understand a little more now. There is something delightful about seeing children dressed up in their best for a celebration, hair combed or curled. You can see a little shift in attitude, a little self-consciousness, a little glimpse of the future, when dressing up will be a regular part of their lives.

I love the everyday ease of jeans and tennis shoes, and I wouldn't impose “good clothes” on them every day.

But it's sure nice once in awhile . . .

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today has been house cleaning, and tomorrow the cooking begins. The pies, the cranberry sauce, and peppernuts can all be done a day before; Thanksgiving is almost here!

As I go about all the pre-holiday chores and rituals, I wonder:

How will my children shape their celebration of this day as they grow older? What kinds of things will be most important to them? Do they realize how much their dad and I love them, and how thankful we are that we get to be their parents?

What will my grandchildren remember about their growing up years when they are my age? Will they recall holidays like Thanksgiving at our house? Cousins, aunts and uncles, a kitchen filled with good food, a house filled with love?

Will they feel they are part of something – a family – that has worth and significance? Will they understand their place in that family?

Will they know how much they are loved, and how thankful their grandpa and I are for them?

I've been thinking about my own attitude a lot this week. There is a lot to get done, and I want to be mindful of the blessing in it. God has blessed me with the resources I need to put a bountiful meal on a pretty table in a safe, warm home. I have people I love around the table. I'm able to take pleasure in the celebration.

When I think about that, I'm overwhelmed with a desire to go about my preparations with a grateful heart. I want to express my gratitude with my attitude. Instead of complaining or playing the martyr, pretending to be overwhelmed with all there is to do, I want to focus on everything I'm privileged to have at my disposal with a right attitude.

I want my children and grandchildren to remember and be glad we shared these celebrations together.

I hope it's that way for you, as well. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Grateful Hearts . . .

The Thanksgiving holiday is a good time to reflect, not just about the things we are thankful for, but as parents and grandparents, about how to help our children and grandchildren to have thankful hearts.

When children learn to be thankful, that thankfulness chips away at their natural self-centeredness and selfishness. By its nature, thanksgiving encourages an awareness of what we've been given already, and puts our wants into perspective.

And awareness of our own blessings allows us to consider how we might share those blessings with others. We become more other-centered, more generous.

When we make thanksgiving a part of our everyday lives, it doesn't just mean responding joyfully to good things. It also means we reframe those not-so-good daily events so we can see what's good in them.

How can we do this?

  • Be aware of Who it is you are thanking, and His presence in your life.

  • Thanksgiving means a shift of perspective. What is good in your life, in this particular situation?

  • How can you express your thanks? Prayer? A different attitude? Verbal recognition that something is a gift in your life?

As we practice these things ourselves, we encourage others around us to recognize the gifts in their own lives.

Beyond that, we can gently help our children and grandchildren realize it is God who has blessed their lives, and that thanksgiving is a good response to those blessings.

We may not choose our circumstances, but we have choices about how we respond to them. When we look for whatever good there might be and respond to that good with thanksgiving, we model a grateful heart for our children and grandchildren.

What are you thankful for?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Books for Thanksgiving Readers . . .

Having a few good books on hand to read together offers an opportunity for everyone to relax together and make memories during the Thanksgiving celebration. If some of your guests are younger, consider these Thanksgiving books:

  • For toddlers, try My First Thanksgiving, a board book by Tomie dePaola. His signature illustrations complement the simple text perfectly as he explains that we give thanks to God “for our being together.”

  • For grade-schoolers in the crowd, try Turkey Riddles, by Katy Hall and Lisa Eisenberg. You may groan but your young guests will be delighted, especially if you can't answer the riddles.

  • Older children will enjoy two Scholastic books, “. . . If You Sailed On The Mayflower in 1620” by Ann McGovern, and “If You Were At The First Thanksgiving” by Anne Kamma. These two books describe what happened, why it happened, and how the children involved experienced it. Interesting details will keep children intrigued.

  • N. C. Wyeth's Pilgrims, with text by Robert San Souci, is the kind of book the whole family can read together and enjoy. The illustrations by Wyeth are beautiful and evocative; the text gives enough details to interest readers without overwhelming them.

These books are available or can be ordered at a local bookstore or online, and while you're shopping, you may find others you would enjoy.

If you can't be there yourself, but want to share the holiday in some way, send one of these books to your grandchild. Tuck in a letter with some of your favorite Thanksgiving memories, or a list of things you are thankful for.

Grandchildren and books are sure to be at the top of the list!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Toy Recalls . . .

This afternoon I visited a local toy store – one of those home-town stores, located in an older house, where each room is crammed and jammed with toys, books, and games for children. Even the staircase has toys hanging along the wall as you go up the stairs. It's the kind of place you can happily get lost in.

I was looking for a set of wooden beads a child can string. I wanted something substantial and colorful.

There were four sets on the shelf of the toy store. Two of them were from Melissa and Doug – a toy company that, as far as I know, manufactures completely in the United States. The other two sets were manufactured in China.

The two Melissa and Doug sets were sturdy, substantial and colorful. The two sets manufactured in China were smaller, and looked somewhat flimsier.

I picked one of the Melissa and Doug sets.

When I got home, there was another recall of toys made in China being reported on nightly news.

I know my daughters and daughters-in-law are paying attention to things like toy safety and product recalls – but what if they weren't? What if I wasn't?

Just one more reason for a grandma to stay reasonably informed about what's going on in the world of baby and child care . . .

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

A Little Vicks . . .

Our granddaughter Leah had croup this week, and her mommy called to ask about the best home remedy to use.

I had to tell her I wasn't sure! Although both John and I are veterans of our kids' croup attacks, I read recently that some doctors no longer recommend steam as a home treatment.

We used to take the kids into the bathroom, turn on the shower to the hottest setting, and let steam fill up the room while we sat there holding our stuffy, coughing little one. Sometimes we'd rub their chest and nose with a thin film of Vicks VapoRub. They hated it, but it helped. Usually within a few minutes they were breathing easier and feeling better, ready to go back to sleep.

Now, evidently steam is out and cold air is in.

I'm not too sure about that, but it points up the importance of staying current with what's going on in the field of children's health and safety.

As a grandma, I'm not charged with the day-to-day care of my grandchildren. I'm not responsible for figuring out what to treat, how to treat, or when to treat those childhood illnesses.

I need to stay current, though, for at least two reasons: my own children call to see what I think or recommend, and if I happen to be caring for a child when she gets sick, I don't want to do something her doctor doesn't recommend or her parent approves.

So I read parenting magazines now and then, or check out parenting websites. I pay attention to new children's health recommendations reported in the news. I ask my own children what their doctors are recommending, and I try to stay current with each grandchild's health situation.

And I keep a jar of Vicks VapoRub on hand for emergencies.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Meg . . .

This has been a hard week at our house; our beloved golden retriever Meg died.

Last Monday evening she curled up for a before-bedtime nap in the living room. After settling in, she had what looked like a small seizure, and before my husband could cross the room to help her, she was gone, unresponsive.

We were both devastated. Meg had come into our family just when we needed her, and just when she needed us. Our kids and grandchildren loved her, our friends and neighbors loved her – even our postman brought her treats. She was a gentle, loving, lovable dog, and we miss her terribly.

It's easy to overlook how much our pets might mean to our grandchildren. When Carrie came to visit last week after Meg had died, she ran over and put her arms around my neck and said, “Grandma I'm so sorry Meg is gone.”

Later she peeked at me out of the corner of her eye and whispered, “I know what I'm going to give you for Christmas, Grandma – a dog!”

The rest of the grandkids have responded in much the same way. Because Meg was a fairly large dog, she sometimes intimidated the littlest kids til they got to know her. Once they got big enough to sit on her, pet her, play with her, they realized she was a dog they could trust, a dog they could have fun with.

She liked to curl herself up near the blankets of babies on the floor; she liked to grab sticks out of the hands of toddlers in the yard, and she loved to sit under the high chairs of dribblers.

But mostly, whenever one of the littlest ones would come in, her tail would wag, her face would look as if it were smiling, and she would run to find something – anything – to offer that child as they came into the house.

We'll all miss her so.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Telling Stories . . .

When our children were small, we often had to wait -- in line, or in the doctor's office, or in the car. "Tell us a story," they would ask, or "Would you like to hear a story?" I would offer. Sometimes, familiar fairy tales got a new twist, or I'd tell the story dramatically, complete with voices and faces, just to keep their attention.

Now that our kids are older, the stories have changed. The grandchildren still hear about three bears, or the troll under the bridge who scared those nice little goats, but our children are more interested in hearing about how we bought our first house, or why their grandparents moved from one place to another.

Telling our stories about “who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way” is, as Frederick Buechner says, profoundly important.

As parents and grandparents we have the opportunity to enrich our children and grandchildren's lives by sharing stories about our experiences, our hopes and dreams, our failures.

How do we do that? How do we know our children and grandchildren want to hear those stories?

Storytelling is an art, one that storytellers practice – that is, they work at making their stories artful, interesting. We can do the same thing, too, by being aware of the difference between preaching and telling a story, by working at being artful and interesting, by listening as much as we talk so that our stories are pertinent and welcome.

We can share stories in different ways: directly, as in “When I was your age . . . “ or indirectly, by weaving them into our everyday conversations. It is the sharing of stories that is important, not necessarily how we share them.

Sometimes a familiar object – a quilt, a necklace, a cooking utensil – might trigger a story. Sometimes a chore we are doing together might remind us of something we can share. Other times a difficult situation might stir up a story we are willing to tell.

In his book Telling Secrets, A Memoir, Frederick Buechner doesn't shy away from sharing difficult stories – secrets - because in them he sees God at work.

And isn't that one of the ways we learn to recognize God at work in our lives, in the good, in the bad, in the everyday – because of the stories we tell about ourselves and our lives?

What stories do you want to share?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Something Sweet for the End of October . . .

All the littlest people in our family are excited – Halloween is coming. By next Wednesday, our family will include a couple of hula dancers, at least two vampires, a princess, a puppy dog, a hippie, and a fairy, all of whom hope to score at least one bag of candy while trick-or-treating.
While we wait for the big day, a good book helps us all calm down. Here are some fun reads to share with your own little ghosts and goblins.
Too Many Pumpkins, by Linda White, illustrated by Megan Lloyd, is the story of Rebecca Estelle, who hates pumpkins. When a smashed pumpkin on her lawn bears fruit, Rebecca Estelle can hardly bear what happens – but she figures out a way to cope that everyone can appreciate. You will, too!
Grandma's Trick-or-Treat, written and illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully, is an “I Can Read” book for level 2 readers, but anyone who will fit on your lap will enjoy this story of Grandma Nan (very strict) and Grandma Sal (not so strict) who come to visit with different ideas about how to enjoy Halloween. How they resolve those differences is a treat for everyone who reads this story.
If there are older children in your family, read an old favorite togther, something like Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, or something by Edgar Allen Poe. They are guaranteed to cause a few shivers!

A Sixth Key to Good Intergenerational Relationships

When it comes to intergenerational relationship keys, the sixth key, prayer, is one of the most important.
It's hard to overestimate the power, the value of praying for our children, their spouses, their children, their in-laws, their friends. Prayer is a profound way of loving our children.
But what sounds simple can be more difficult than we think. How do we discipline ourselves to pray regularly, honestly, humbly for the people we love best?
A lot of books, seminars, and other resources are available if you want to learn more about prayer, but in my opinion the best way to learn is simply to begin.
Prayer is a conversation with God. Usually I don't have trouble talking! Most of the time I try to begin with a recognition of Who it is I am talking with. Often this involves praise and thanksgiving. I concentrate on God's best qualities – His faithfulness, His strength, His kindness and mercy – and how I've seen those qualitiies at work in my life, and in the world around me.
Then I focus on my requests for those I love: I pray for their safety, their relationships, their opportunities, their spiritual growth, their joys, their concerns. All that keeping in touch with them pays off now; I have some idea of what to pray for. I remember that Emma has an algebra test or that Kristen is dealing with a teething baby and I pray for them. I think about Scott's stressful work, or Natalie's unreliable car, and I pray for them. I pray for Carrie in pre-school and for Erica's new job. I think about Nathaniel's career choices, or Katrina's health, and I pray for them. I go through my heart's list one at a time, and think about what is going on in their lives. I ask God what they need, and I pray for them.
I try to finish the way I began, by praising and thanking God. What a privilege it is to pray for the people I love!
My intention is always to pray daily, but my practice falls short. I don't let that stop me, though, or discourage me – I pray whenever I think of something I want to pray about.
The important thing about all this isn't that I do something, but that God does. He answers prayer. I see it all the time. It's not always exactly the way I thought He might answer but He answers, because He is faithful, and He loves us.
And that's what matters.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Rent A Grandma . . . ?

I wonder why there isn't a “Rent A Grandma” franchise somewhere.

Think of it – a grandma you could rent, who would come in bearing cookies and smiles to give you a little relief on a stressful day – no advice (unless you asked specifically), no complaints, no criticisms.

She'd wear a sweater, carry a pocketbook, and ask if you wanted to take a nap for a few minutes while she washes up a bit.

She'd love your kids, spoil your husband, and go home to grandpa at the end of the day, leaving your house clean, cookies on the counter, and you, smiling.

I think there might be a possibility, here . . .

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Forgiveness -- A Little Key

There are several small keys on my keychain, but their size doesn't reflect their importance. One very small key opens our safe-deposit box – not a key I want to lose!

One of the “small” keys to intergenerational relationships is equally important. Forgiveness may seem insignificant, but this key opens a treasure. When we lose this key, relationships become stuck.

Every relationship will eventually experience difficulty; it's inevitable: the wrong things are said, or the right things are said the wrong way. Someone is insensitive or even deliberately mean. We forget to pay attention to what the other person is feeling, or needs, or wants from us.

Someone don't listen, doesn't call, doesn't seem to care.

Occasionally there is thoughtlessness, or jealousy, or competition. We neglect to nurture a relationship we claim is important to us. Or we simply give up, overwhelmed by the work required to deal with a difficult person.

All kinds of things can go wrong: the end result is a damaged or broken relationship.

Forgiveness opens the door to a renewed, refreshed relationship.

That doesn't mean it's easy, though.

Sometimes forgiveness requires us to overlook negative things – a grouchy conversation, a forgotten birthday, a lack of thoughtfulness. This requires discernment: when is it important to speak up honestly and gently about something that bothers you, and when should you simply forgive and forget, bearing the cost of the offense your own self?

Other times we need to confront another person, with a willingness – even an eagerness – to forgive.

Then there are times we ourselves need to ask for forgiveness. Whether we have deliberately offended or inadvertently offended another, asking for forgiveness isn't easy, especially the part about asking without offering excuses or explanations to subtly justify our own bad behavior.

This requires good communication skills, humility, and grace. It means loving someone other than our own self. Forgiveness is about setting things right, and sometimes that requires heavy lifting.

Sometimes our apologies aren't accepted. Sometimes we don't feel like asking for forgiveness. Sometimes someone who has offended us doesn't apologize or act as if they are sorry for what they've done.

In those cases, love is our only resort. Love calls us to forgive, to ask forgiveness, to turn away from our own hurt, to turn away from hurting others. In Eugene Peterson's paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, he says, Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn't want what it doesn't have. Love doesn't strut. Doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always “me first,” doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end . . . we have three things to do . . . trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7, 13 -- The Message

Love enables us to forgive when we need to, and to seek forgiveness when we should.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Working Yourself Out of a Job . . .

Someone observed that mothers work themselves out of a job, and I think that's true, at least in one sense. We work to train our children to become independent, to be able to live on their own, without our help.

In another sense, though, I think once our children are grown, we are blessed if they invite us back into their lives, not as someone they need, but as someone whose presence and help they want.

If – when – this invitation comes, we have to be careful not to fall back into our old mothering patterns of teaching and training. The relationship changes when our children take on adult independence.

Even if it looks to us as if they haven't quite accomplished maturity or independence, once they become adults, a healthy relationship is not the same as it was when they were children.

It's hard for me sometimes – OK, most of the time! - to refrain from telling my kids what I think they still need to know. I try, but often I'm in the middle of a “lesson” before I realize I've started talking. I'm trying to do better!

How about you? How do you maintain a healthy relationship with your adult children, respect their independence, while still remaining available to help when they ask?

I'm just wondering . . .

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More about books . . .

Board books make it easy to read to babies and toddlers.

They are almost always sized for little hands, and if a reader chews the pages it doesn't really hurt anything.

At our house, favorite board books include Margaret Wise Brown's Big Red Barn and Good Night Moon. We also enjoy a little set of four books from Baby Einstein: Babies, Dogs, Birds, and Cats. Each of these four books includes a picture of an appropriate baby, dog, bird, or cat drawn by a child, as well as a variety of descriptions with accompanying art: babies crying, or dogs chasing Frisbees.

A lot of the books older children enjoy have been adapted to a board book format. In some cases the text has been shortened but the illustrations are often the same. Look for stories like Watty Piper's The Little Engine That Could.

Whether you have regular small visitors or just occasional ones, board books make a good addition to your home library.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A Fourth Key: Constructive Help

A fourth key to intergenerational relationships is constructive help.

At first glance this seems pretty easy: our kids need help, so, if we can, we help them.

On the other hand, sometimes it's not as simple as all that.

When our granddaughter Elsie was just starting to walk, her mommy, our daughter Amy, regaled us by phone with stories of her first steps. I was happily excited, thinking about Elsie toddling around in a pair of ankle-high white walking shoes, just as her mommy had done years earlier.

At that time, Amy and Jack lived several states away. I knew I wouldn't be able to go shoe-shopping with Amy and Elsie. Since I couldn't be there myself, I carefully explained the importance of choosing good shoes.

"Oh," she said, "I don't think Elsie needs shoes just yet."

"Sure she does," I said. "Now that she is walking you want to give her feet and ankles plenty of support. Those little white walkers like the ones you wore are perfect. I know just where to get them."

"No, but thanks, mom," said Amy. I could hear her choose her next words carefully. "It will do her more good to go barefoot. Our doctor says that will help the muscles in her feet develop properly. I don't think I want to put her in shoes just yet."

In my mind's eye, I could see a little parade of white walkers, from the ones my younger brothers had worn right through the pair I'd bought our youngest son not so long ago. What I heard in my daughter's voice convinced me that the parade was over, and it wouldn't do any good to argue the point.

Whether it's a major holiday celebration or simply an everyday tradition like a first pair of shoes, change is difficult. We invest a lot of ourselves in choosing how we give meaning to significant times in our lives. It isn't easy to erase or amend those choices, or to stand by and smile when our children seem to diminish them by easily giving them up.

As our children marry, form new families, and begin new family traditions of their own, our attitude can be one of condemnation and criticism, or of blessing. We can guilt them into doing things our way, or we can bless their efforts to incorporate our values into their traditions. Insisting on our own way of doing things, demanding their presence at traditional family events, or complaining when things change is not the path to blessing; it is, instead, a good way to alienate the people we love most.

So that afternoon on the phone, I reminded myself that the issue of white walking shoes was not a make-or-break issue in Elsie's development. I quickly thought about the times I failed to take my own mom's advice about various child-rearing choices. I decided this would not become a bone of contention between my daughter and me.

"Going barefoot will certainly strengthen the muscles of her feet," I said, and smiled to myself at the picture of that tiny barefoot girl.

Offering constructive help to our children as they parent means, first of all, listening and watching carefully for what they really want and need from us. We need to be sensitive to our children's need for encouragement and support even while we respect their independence and their right to make decisions for their own children.

Sometimes we simply have to ask: what could I do that would be genuinely helpful to you? Other times we need to just pitch in: mopping up a flooded basement, or caring for our grandkids so they can accomplish errands or go out for dinner.

It's important for us to recognize that while, most of the time, our children may be managing so well they don't seem to need help, there may still be times when they could use help but are shy about asking. We also have to be honest with ourselves and with our children about what we are able and willing to do to help them.

Learning when to ask, when to offer, and when to simply pitch in is just another “learning objective” for us as grandparents.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kindness - The Third Key

Kindness is a virtue often underrated, but when it comes to intergenerational relationships, this third key is one of the most important. Kindness builds warmth and affection, and expresses our love. With imagination and love, we can find so many ways to be kind when it comes to our adult children!

Sometimes it's little things: inviting them over for a meal, or offering child care so they can have a day or an evening out, or it might be an affirming note or phone call, even a gift – something as small as a favorite candy bar or magazine can be a kind gesture that speaks of your love.

Other times kindness is more costly or significant: listening carefully, sympathetically, without offering answers (this one is always hard for me!)

Kindness can be speaking well of, and being considerate of your child's in-laws, her “other family.” Kindness might mean graciously accepting your child's decision to do something different for a holiday, even if it means they won't be home with you.

Sometimes kindness is more about what we don't do. Some problems can't be solved – illness or loss – but they can be eased by the kindness of allowing your child and her family space and time, without hovering, trying to “fix” things. Kindness may mean we listen sensitively or simply spend time together without bringing up painful subjects.

Remember that hospitality is not just for holidays! Kindness is often expressed when we create opportunities for friendship in our family. It is important for us to adapt old family traditions to our new reality of married children, in-laws, grandchildren, and give everyone opportunities to spend time together in a relaxed, loving setting.

When it comes to special occasions or the holidays, be kind: relieve stress for your family. Remember that an invitation is not a command performance. Explain to your family that if it REALLY matters to you for them to come to an event or do something, you'll tell them so they don't have to wonder!Even then, if they can't come, or choose not to come, kindness keeps us from complaining or nagging.

Hospitality is often as much a matter of the heart as it is what we cook or serve. Inviting her over spontaneously for coffee, sharing everyday activities, making a meal together to share, staying in touch with pleasant news and ideas and not just problems and complaints – these can all be everyday ways of showing kindness.

Does your child enjoy it if you just drop by? Be sensitive to this, and if she does, then drop by, either in person or by phone, or note, or e-mail. If she prefers you call first, then call first!

Kindness really involves a giving of yourself, or a giving up of something that matters to you for the sake of the other. A pattern of kindness sets the stage for a good relationship, and helps heal a damaged one.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Together, Wherever We Go . . .

I love it when my kids invite me along on an outing with their kids!
A trip to the zoo is fun so many ways: watching my grandchildren as they interact – or don't! -- with animals they don't see regularly, watching my kids as they parent their kids, remembering trips to the zoo we took when they were small themselves, and, of course, watching the animals themselves!

We've gone hiking, shopping, to the zoo, to the state fair, to various programs and sporting events with our kids and their kids – it's always interesting and fun to be included this way.

We provide an extra pair of hands and eyes, the kids provide the fun!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Temper Tantrums

Temper tantrums are loud, scary, and frustrating.

Sometimes it's a small person (also known as “the grandchild”) having a big tantrum, and sometimes it's a big person (also known as “the grandma” -- that is, me) having a small tantrum. No matter who it is, it's no fun.

Surprisingly, the causes are often the same: a feeling of frustration or lack of control, being overtired, boredom.

Whatever the cause, the important thing is to bring the tantrum to a quick, satisfactory end. You need to remember whatever instructions your grandchild's parents have given you about how to deal with the child. But, having a few tricks up your own sleeve can't hurt.

Here are some tricks to stash up your sleeve:

If the tantrum's cause is your grandchild's frustration, make your voice and demeanor quiet, get her attention, and ask if she can tell you what the problem is. Listen carefully to her answer, and help her deal with whatever frustrates her in a constructive way. If she isn't able to articulate what's bothering her, “lead” her with simple questions she can answer with yes or no.

Occasionally, especially in a younger child, the out-of-control feeling she experiences is scary. Not only do you need to defuse the tantrum, you also need to comfort and reassure her that everything will be OK, she is safe, and she can learn to manage her frustration.

If you are dealing with an angry tantrum, use physical activity to draw off the anger's energy. Have him go outside and run a few laps around the house, or do jumping jacks in the basement. Then, deal with whatever made him angry in the first place.

If the tantrum is the result of an overtired child, have her take a nap, rock her quietly in your lap, or choose a quiet, restful activity for her to do. Again, your calm quiet will help soothe her.

If boredom causes a tantrum, devise something interesting and difficult for him to do. Building a house of cards is usually both quiet and absorbing. A good conversation can be an antidote to boredom and will often stop a tantrum in its tracks.

Don't forget the power of a good sense of humor, wisely deployed. If it's possible to help your grandchild laugh at her situation, you may defuse a tantrum – just be very careful not to make her think you are laughing at her.

Occasionally, it's a grandma tantrum – a rare, but serious problem. That's when a calming cup of tea, a solitary walk around the house, or even a nap can help a great deal. And don't forget the power of chocolate - even a handful of M and Ms can help a grandma's tantrum!

Tantrums are no fun for anyone – tame them!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Perfect for a Fall Day . . .

On a fall day like this, what could be better than baking cookies? Especially since, last week when our granddaughter Carrie was here, the cookie jar was empty!

Pumpkin Harvest Cookies

Combine ½ cup softened butter with

1 cup packed brown sugar and

¾ cup granulated sugar.

Cream thoroughly.

To this mixture, add: 1 cup pumpkin

1 egg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

Beat together til light and fluffy.

Add 1 ½ cups flour

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

Mix thoroughly.

Stir in ¾ cup raisins

¾ cup chopped pecans or black walnuts

¾ cup uncooked (quick cooking) oats.

Drop teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased cookie sheet;

bake at 375 degrees for 12 15 minutes. When cool, frost with Spicy Frosting.

Spicy Frosting

Combine 1 cup powdered sugar

3 Tablespoons softened butter

1 Tablespoon hot coffee

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ teaspoon cinnamon

Beat together til fluffy. Spread on Pumpkin Harvest Cookies.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Algebra and A Second Key

Our granddaughter Elsie is just getting ready to start a unit introducing algebra. She is apprehensive about equations and how to read them, how to understand them, how to solve them.

Listening to her, I was instantly transported back to the stuffy math classroom I sat in every day as a high school freshman, trying to make sense of the same things. Suddenly I could understand her apprehension very well!

It can be scary to learn new things. What if you don't understand it? What if you fail?

One thing algebra taught me is that failure isn't fatal, and it often isn't final. If you just keep trying, most of the time you'll master whatever it is you are working on.

Maybe that's the most important equation of all: (2)T +E(P) = S. Or to put it another way, (Lots of)Time + Effort, multiplied by Perseverance = Success.


A second key to good inter-generational relationships is to show interest in your adult child and in your grandchildren.

This sounds like a no-brainer, until you start to think about how busy you are, and how busy your children and their families are. We get caught up in our responsibilities for our own aging parents, our jobs, and our volunteer work; our children are busy with their own work, school activities, soccer practice, band lessons, and all the other things that go along with parenting young children. It's a wonder we can make time for one another!

And for a lot of us, it's so easy to show interest in our grandchildren that we forget our adult children still enjoy knowing we care about them, too.

Sometimes our interest seems more like intrusiveness to our children. Instead of encouragement, we dispense discouragement and criticism.

Or perhaps we insist it's too difficult to learn about the technology our children and grandchildren use to stay in touch, or we fail to use the technologies we are familiar with.

Here are some ways we can show interest in our children and grandchildren:

* Make time. Pencil it in on the calendar. Invite them for regular family meals if you are close enough, or schedule a regular family phone call if you aren't.

* Educate yourself about things they are interested in. If your granddaughter is playing soccer, read up about soccer. If your son-in-law is interested in woodworking, learn the difference between a jig-saw and a table saw.

* When you call, talk to your child first, before you ask to talk with the grandchildren!

* Look for ways to affirm what is good in their lives. Think before you offer critical comments, or before you share advice that hasn't been asked for.

* Share things you are interested in or have been doing. Ask questions about their lives, but be sensitive to their privacy.

* Learn about new technologies you can use to stay in touch – e-mail, a family webpage or blog, a video phone, instant messaging. Model a willingness to keep on learning and to stay involved in life.

* Use other ways to stay in touch, too – everyone likes to get a real letter or an interesting postcard in the mail.

In the long run, what's important is that we demonstrate by what we do that we care about what's happening in our children's and grandchildren's lives. Our interest and caring is an affirmation of our love, and helps to keep inter-generational relationships meaningful to everyone.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Self-Awareness, Key #1

One key to a good relationship between generations is self-awareness. We need to be aware of what we want from a relationship, as well as what we are willing to give to it.
When we think about our relationship with the parents of our grandchildren, what exactly is it that we want from them? Do we want to be included in their everyday lives, and if so, how do we want to be included? As a mentor? a helper? a cheerleader?
Or do we prefer a bit of distance?
What are we willing to give to the relationship? Are we willing to set aside activities we might otherwise choose so we can be more involved in their lives?
And what do they want from this relationship?
All the skill in observation, communication, and negotiation we've acquired over the years should be helpful as we navigate this part of a good relationship!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Books and Boomer

One thing moms and grandmas usually agree about is the importance of introducing children to books. The best way to stimulate a love for reading in a child is to share a good book with her.
A good illustrator adds to the pleasure and fun of a book; often small children “get” the illustrations even before they understand the words of a book.
One of my favorite illustrators is Mary Whyte. A painter from South Carolina, Whyte has illustrated Constance W. McGeorge's series about a lovable dog named Boomer, among other children's books. Her illustrations advance the story and add visual details that make each image feel familiar, as if you could walk into the story and inhabit it.
In Boomer's Big Day, Boomer's family is moving. Whyte shows Boomer, crammed into the family van under boxes and lamps. Using soft colors and careful detail, her illustrations of the difficulty Boomer has figuring out the new back yard, and his happiness when he finds his dinner bowl, his bed, even his old green tennis ball in the new house invite the reader to imagine what it's like to move even as Boomer explores his new situation.
The other Boomer books – Boomer Goes To School and Boomer's Big Surprise – are equally fun as Boomer romps his way through days filled with surprises and fun. The cover illustration of Boomer Goes To School, with Boomer on the school bus, ears flying as he leans out the window, will delight any child – and the person reading to her.
And the expression on Boomer's face when Baby finds Boomer's favorite old green tennis ball in Boomer's Big Surprise might remind you of the expression on the face of any child who has to make room in her life for a baby.
You should be able to find the Boomer books at your local library, through an on-line bookseller, or at your local bookstore. Curl up with someone you love, and read!

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Generational Mother conference

Last week-end Julie and I had the privilege of speaking at a conference about The Generational Mother at St. John Lutheran Church in Burlington, Illinois.
Our friend Cheryl Pacilio was the morning's keynote speaker. She talked about the Proverbs 31 woman. Her presentation has changed the way I think about the Proverbs 31 woman – is this passage a description of a paragon or a mom's wish list? Cheryl convinced me that the Proverbs 31 woman is the woman every mother wants her son to marry, not necessarily a woman to be intimidated by.
Then Julie did a workshop for moms while I did one for grandmas. Julie talked about why generational connections are so important to us and to our children. She talked about some of the things that keep us from connecting well with one another, brainstormed with the moms about ways to improve those connections, and discussed how we might react when those connections prove challenging.
In the workshop for grandmas, I talked about six keys to a good relationship between us and our now-adult children: self awareness, showing interest in our children and in our grandchildren, kindness, offering constructive help, forgiveness, and prayer.
After a break for a delicious lunch we gathered for one last workshop. Julie and I spoke together, going over ways moms and grandmas can forge a good relationship. The hour flew by!
We so enjoyed meeting the women who were there, and thought the event organizer, Beth Knief, did a great job organizing the conference. We were especially impressed with the banner her mother-in-law Marita Knief created for the event, using the theme verse “She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.” -- Proverbs 31:26
Conferences for women are a great opportunity to take time away to reflect, be restored, and to renew your commitment to your faith and family – if you get a chance to go, go and be blessed!

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Failure to Communicate . . .

Failure is a funny thing. A lot of times we blame ourselves when things go wrong, and often rightfully so.
This time, though, it really isn't my fault – it's the hard drive on my laptop.
It's been, if not dead, then sick.
That helps to explain the lack of posts this month.
Our computer guru Jason has a new hard drive to install sometime in the next few days, and then we should be back on a regular basis.
Til then, I'm thinking about failure – mine, and not mine.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Fireboat . . .

Next week we observe the anniversary of the September 11 attacks on our country. Often our children look to us for clues about how to respond to difficult events and anniversaries. Our response sets the tone for their response.
Fireboat, The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, explains the events of September 11 in New York City in a way children can understand. Written and illustrated by Maira Kalman, this true story of a retired fireboat, renovated by a group of friends as a way to have fun, reminds us that when the worst was done, many people gave their best, using every resource and skill they possessed, to help others.
That day, Kalman writes, “the Harvey was snoozing at the pier.” But after the attacks on September 11, the friends who had renovated the little fireboat wanted to help.
“They all had one thought. Get to the Harvey. And they did. They called the fire department. 'John J. Harvey, ready to help. How can we help?' The answer came: 'You can't help fight the fire but you can ferry people to safety.'”
What happens next is both surprising and inspiring.
A good story, well told, transforms us. Even now I can't read this book out loud without crying; I suppose my grandchildren will learn something from that, too.
If you have a 6 – 10 year old with questions about the events of September 11, Kalman's book, published in 2002 by G. P. Putnam's Sons, will help you answer those questions sensitively, honestly, hopefully.
It's a fine book to share with a child or grandchild. I recommend it highly.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

More back to school notes . . .

Back to school also means the end of impromptu games of baseball, unless there's not too much homework . . . baseball in the back yard is easy-going fun, but also sometimes a little intense – there's always the threat of a broken window or two, or a little mud and gravel on your knees if you get to slide home. Whether you're cheering on the batter, chattering at the pitcher, or sweating out a 3-and-2 count, back-yard games are where skills and interest are built, and fun is found in a brand new bat or a well worn mitt.
I'm not a good player, and I'm not even a faithful fan unless I know the players. Then my interest intensifies and I don't want the game to end.
But end it will, if only because it's time for going back to school.

Back to School Notes

It's back-to-school time for our children and grandchildren, which means at our house, it's also cookie baking time.
Sharing cookies and a glass of milk after school offers time to talk and relax together, to catch up on the news of the day.
Since no one is coming to our house after school these days, we send those first-day-of-school cookies to them. The Unites States Postal Service kindly provides flat-rate boxes which hold two big zip-loc bags of individually wrapped cookies and a little packing material. It's a long-distance way to celebrate the start of another school year.
Here's a good cookie recipe for serious students and the moms and grandmas who love them:

1 ½ cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon almond extract (or lemon)
1 egg
2 ½ cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
Cream powdered sugar and butter. Beat in vanilla, almond extract, and egg. Sift flour, baking soda, and cream of tartar together, and add, ½ cup at a time. Let dough rest 2 hours, preferably in refrigerator. Roll out on chilled surface and cut out cookies. Put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet; dust with sugar or cinnamon sugar if not icing. Bake at 375 degrees for 7-8 minutes. Makes 5 dozen cookies.