Monday, November 22, 2010

Counting Cranberries . . .

Family traditions are one way of knitting a family together. There is something sweet and satisfying about shared anticipation, shared experiences, shared memories. Some of those traditions are handed on to us, and we are responsible for carrying them on, or reinterpreting and updating them; sometimes we create a new holiday tradition without meaning to.
Several years ago, I was trying to think of something that would be fun for the pre-schoolers in the family to do. I filled a mason jar with cranberries, set out some cards that asked “how many cranberries?” and promised a prize for the closest guess.
That simple game was an instant hit, and a new family Thanksgiving tradition.
I was surprised that the pre-schoolers remembered the cranberry game -- and requested that we do it again. So, the next Thanksgiving we did it again, substituting candy corn for the cranberries. Some of the older kids and grown-ups in the family joined in the game, and the “big reveal” was fun for everyone.
A holiday tradition that creates anticipation, offers fun for everyone, and leaves good memories is a winner all around. Sometimes we stumble into such traditions, but other times, we can be deliberate about trying something new that we hope will continue on: a special recipe, or a unique way of decorating, or a special way of expressing our thanks to God.
What new holiday tradition could you create this year?

Thursday, November 18, 2010


The preacher loves the movie Fiddler on the Roof, and one of his favorite songs from that movie is “Tradition.”
There is something satisfying -- reassuring -- about doing certain things the same way, over and over and over again. And messing around with family traditions has a price, as one of our daughters found out. (You can read her story about that, here.)
As grandparents, we have multiple opportunities to create, refine, and sustain family traditions. Those traditions help hold a family together, give the family a unique identity, and inject a sense of meaning and fun into our family life. While family traditions can become burdensome, that just means we need to take a look at how they are working, and perhaps update them.
And in truth, as our families grow up, those family traditions will change. The trick is to allow the shape of them to adapt to changing realities (children growing up, moving away, having children of their own) while retaining the inward meaning and pleasures of the tradition.
Like Advent calendars: it would be foolish to expect our grown children to come home every morning to open up an Advent calendar with us, wouldn't it? So how do we adapt that sweet family tradition to the new reality of grown-up children?
Maybe we provide Advent calendars for the grandkids, now, instead. Or perhaps we find a fresh Advent devotional booklet to share with our grown-up children.
In Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye teaches us that tradition is important because “it helps us keep our balance.” He's right, I think, but keeping our balance can be tricky, sometimes. Giving our families traditions that help them “keep their balance” is worthwhile.
Tradition -- how do you keep it fresh, but meaningful?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Holiday Baking

I like to cook, and that's a problem.
It's also one of the most fun aspects of the holiday season.
The preacher and I have become true empty-nesters -- and connoisseurs of left-over cuisine. One pot of chili is good for a week of non-stop soup suppers, and a roast chicken can last at least that long, although at least the chicken can be disguised in casseroles and sandwiches.
I'm fortunate the preacher is a good sport, and not given to complaining.
But the holiday season is a different story -- we'll have family dinners, and drop-in company. And grandkids like cookies, lots and lots of cookies.
I'll be able to bake without loading up the freezer, safe in the knowledge that nothing will get stale.
How about you? What are you planning to cook up for the holidays?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thanksgiving Mural Project

If you're looking for a project to keep younger grandchildren busy on Thanksgiving while grown-ups are busy getting dinner on the table -- or cleaning up the table -- here's a simple project your grandkids are likely to enjoy.
Spend a few minutes re-telling the story of the first Thanksgiving. Explain what a difficult time the Pilgrims had after they arrived on the Mayflower, and how the Indians helped them survive. Describe some of the difficulties in detail: building shelter; finding and growing food; illness, bad weather, and the need for resourcefulness in problem-solving. Tell them about how the Pilgrims hosted a feast to thank God for their blessings after the harvest.
Then give them a roll of paper, some crayons, pencils, and basic craft supplies, and a place to work. Ask them to create a Thanksgiving mural for you. If necessary, get them started by suggesting a part of the story for each one to illustrate, then let them get busy.
By the time they've finished, you'll have a unique Thanksgiving decoration, and your grandkids will have a whole new perspective on the Thanksgiving story.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Can You Make a Cherry Pie?

My grandma McG made the best cherry pies I've ever tasted. Her crusts were always flaky, and the cherry filling was just the right balance of tart-sweet. Her pies were pretty, too, with perfect lattice tops, shiny with egg white and delicately crusted with sugar.
Her chocolate pies -- and her lemon pies -- were good, too, piled high with meringue.
She'd learned to turn out perfect pies quickly when she and grandpa lived out on the farm when they were first married. Grandma cooked for the crews of threshers who'd come by each year, and she told me once it was better than a cooking class. “Those men were hungry, and they wanted lunch, not excuses,” she told me.
While I sometimes watched as grandma baked, I never thought to ask her to teach me what she was doing. I guess I just assumed she would always be around. And she never presumed to teach me.
She wasn't always around, of course. She died suddenly, leaving behind a grief-stricken family -- and a cherry pie on the counter.
I've thought often about that missed opportunity, and I'm pretty sure that if grandma had known how much I'd wish I could bake pies like she did, she would have shown me all her pie-making techniques and tricks. I just didn't think to ask, and she didn't think to tell me.
If you are blessed to still have a grandma who can show you how to do things, ask her to teach you. And if you are a grandma who might be able to share a skill with a grandchild, why not ask if she might like to learn?
Passing on skills is a gift that lasts.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Over the River . . .

Remember that song from grade school? The one about “over the river and through the woods, to Grandmother's house we go . . . “
If you have grandkids coming to your house for Thanksgiving or any of the other holidays coming up these next few weeks, you are probably thinking about getting ready.
And if you have babies or toddlers coming, you might want to add “baby-proofing” to your list of things to do.
If it's been a while since you baby-proofed a house, you can find help by checking with your grandchild's parents, or online at Safe Beginnings.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Time for a Good Book

Don't you love reading? Don't you love books? Sharing the magic between the covers of a book with our kids and grandkids is one of the pleasures of being a parent.
But books are more than just fun. Books can encourage, educate and elevate the character of their readers. And when we share a favorite book with a friend (or one of our kids or grandkids), we share a part of what makes us who we are.
I like to introduce my friends and family to the characters I've known (in the pages of books) and loved. Some of my favorites include Amelia Bedelia, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and Mary Poppins.
The Amelia Bedelia series by Peggy Parrish reminds young readers that everyone gets things mixed up. As a child, that was reassuring information! Amelia Bedelia is a maid who does exactly what she is told, to great comic effect! This series now includes some “I Can Read” picture books for early readers, but they are also great fun to read together.
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, who lives in an unusual house, understands everything she needs to know about children. Do you know an Answer-Backer or a Never-Want-to-go-to Bedder? Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle knows just what to do! Betty MacDonald's books will keep you all laughing even while you begin to recognize the benefits of good behavior.
If all you know of Mary Poppins is the movie, perhaps it's time to check out P. Travers' books about the practically-perfect nanny who has surprising ways of making children mind their manners as well as their parents. This is another good book to read together, and offers an easy way into a conversation about why manners and minding matter.
It's always a good time to share a good book with a child you love!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Hurry Up!

The four-year old was helping pass the offering basket in church last Sunday. When she got to a row where the dad was taking a little too long to get his wallet out of his pocket, she put her hands on her hips and whispered emphatically, “Hurry up! We need that money!”
Kids -- you've got to love them!