Monday, November 14, 2011

Coming Right Up . . .

Thanksgiving is coming right up, which means that this week means getting down to cleaning and baking.

It feels like stage management: what we're doing is setting the stage, so to speak, for our family and friends to come together and celebrate. Pleasant surroundings and good food contribute to the over-all experience, and that's where the cleaning and baking come in.

A clean, welcoming home, filled with the fragrances of good food, is the foundation of fun. Making sure there are comfortable places for guests to hang their coats, to sit and visit, to eat, and to have fun together means our guests are more likely to have a good time together.

So this week is scrubbing, washing, dusting, and maybe even a little furniture moving; it's baking and planning menus and shopping. The goal is to create a space and time when we can relax together, and remember how much we love each other; to cherish old memories and make new ones. We'll take pictures, tell stories, laugh -- and eat!

Building a family can seem difficult at times, tedious at others -- the work of it sometimes seems to go on and on and on. But what a harvest! The day comes when all that hard work bears fruit, and we see our loved ones enjoying one another's company, caring for each other, welcoming spouses and children and friends into the family circle. And that fruit, that harvest, is something to give thanks for.

It's coming right up!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Need to Nest . . .

As the season changes, I'm reminded of the importance of a cozy nest. We all need one: some place where we are sheltered, protected, comfortable.

I love to study the ways birds build their nests. They use all kinds of materials: mud, straw, string, bits of plants and flowers -- they are practical and creative and what they end up with is usually sturdy as well as pretty.

We're looking around our nest with an eye to change. What do we need to change, adjust, rearrange so our nest will be more efficient, more practical, more pretty?

And how about you -- how's your nest?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Change of Season

Is there ever a time when things aren't changing?

We had to cut down a tree this fall, to accommodate some construction work being done on the bridge by our house.

It seems wrong to cut down a healthy tree, but in this case, cutting down one linden tree may have saved at least one other healthy tree.

Still, change is difficult.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Sandwich Generation

These past few weeks have been busy ones.

I’m the peanut butter in a generational sandwich, helping my aging mom at the very same time my kids are raising their own kids and looking to me for a measure of involvement in their lives, and even occasional help.

It’s a rich blessing to be involved with multiple generations. It’s also a recipe for intense busyness.

I find myself sandwiching mom’s doctor appointments in between end-of-the-school-year events my grandkids have invited me to. Or I fit in watching a 2-year old between my mom’s women’s group game night and fixing my husband’s dinner.

Speaking of my husband, he has his own calendar of events and occasions he’d like us to be part of; he’s a patient man, but he’d like some time and attention, too. It almost seems selfish to mention the long-delayed career, the hobbies and interests, the other friends I’d like to have time for.

I’m certainly not alone in facing these issues. Many women – and men – around my age are helping to care for aging parents even as they carry responsibility for younger family members, work, and civic duties.

How do we fit it all in? How do we make it all work? Where are the practical tips that will help us manage all the things we’re trying to manage?

Let’s talk about that over these next few weeks.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What's Cooking?

I’ve promised myself I’m going to exercise self-discipline. I’m just going to say no. I’m not going to buy another cook-book.

It’s not like I don’t have enough. We have an entire bookcase of cookbooks, and in the kitchen, several more shelves of cookbooks and recipe card files.

But one of our daughters is tempting me with her new favorite cookbook. It’s filled with recipes for things I’ve always wanted to try, both to cook and to eat. The directions are clear, and the text is fun to read – just what I like in a cookbook.

I like to cook, and I like to read about cooking. Reading a good cookbook is like having a conversation with someone who likes the same things I do. The photographs and illustrations inspire me, new ingredients and recipes intrigue me.

“I could do that,” I tell myself smugly, as if creating a three-layer coconut cream cake is, well, a piece of cake.

The problem is that all the hungriest people have moved out of our house into homes of their own, and the preacher and I can’t possibly eat everything I can cook or bake. Oh, the hungry people all come back regularly, and they bring their own little hungry people with them, but their visits aren’t regular enough to justify the kind of cooking I used to do. And while the preacher’s a good sport, he does occasionally take note of the left-overs.

Sharing a meal with people you love is one of life’s most persistent blessings. Like most blessings, it involves a fair amount of effort, but even that effort becomes something of a blessing when the work is shared. Showing the kids you love how to shuck corn or peel potatoes or make a piecrust is not only helpful – it can be fun. The cook gets some help, and the helper gains a new skill, not to mention that lovely feeling of contribution and accomplishment.

A good cookbook is an encouragement, offering direction, instruction, and vision. It’s a back-up for when the cook runs out of ideas – or patience in instruction. And having a shelf-full of cookbooks is like having a kitchen full of friends.

So what's your favorite new cookbook?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Spring Flowers

Lilacs are blooming now, even the ancient bush that blooms purple at the very back of our yard. Last fall, we thought it was done for; it looked ragged, as if it would not survive the winter. Somehow it rallied this cool, damp spring, and is crowned with blooms now.

All the spring bulbs’ blooms have lasted a long time this spring, courtesy of the cool damp. Even the anemones are still blooming, dark blue punctuation marks in the grass. The lily of the valley is almost ready to bloom, and sitting in the swing is a lovely, fragrant adventure.

By the end of winter, I am so ready for warm – OK, hot – weather. The past few years I’ve gotten my wish, and spring has gone by so quickly that even the spring flowers bloomed a day or two, then succumbed to the heat: a perfect example of be-careful-what-you-wish-for.

This year, though, our yard has been a long-running show of spring flowers, and it’s been fun to see the kids we love playing among them, hiding Easter eggs in them, trying to pick them to bring in the house, leaning over to smell them.

One of the pleasures of gardening is the way it transforms outdoor space into a place to live in, a place of grace, beauty, and delight. Sharing it with the kids we love is just another way of enjoying the fruit of our gardening labors.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Too Wet for Gardening? Not Too Wet for Reading . . .

Here in the Midwest, it’s been a soggy spring – not the best for early gardening outdoors. Even so, there are things we can do to encourage a love for gardening: starting seeds indoors, looking through gardening wishbooks (otherwise known as catalogs), reading up on new plants, or new ways of doing familiar tasks in the garden.

And we can read those books about gardens and gardening with the people we love.

Here are some of my favorite garden books to share with the kids I love:

** Of course, for the youngest set, Beatrix Potter’s Peter Cottontail books. I remember being all curled up in a big double bed while my grandma read them to me and my sister when we were little girls. Peter was her special favorite – I think she had a thing for bad little rabbits! I can remember looking at the pictures of Mr. MacGregor’s garden and wishing I could visit. These gentle stories are still fun to read to little people.

** The Gardener, by Sarah Stewart, tells the story of a little girl who’s been transplanted into the city during the Depression. In this Caldecott Honor book, the seeds her grandma sent with her from the family farm transform her corner of the city as well as the people who live there.

** Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden, by Edith Pattou, is a fun book about a different kind of gardener. Perfect for the child who will be going to school next year for the first time!

So, what garden books do you like to read with the kids you love?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Grow a Garden, Grow a Relationship . . .

Want to have a lot of fun with the kids you love? Grow a garden together.

Sharing an interest in something green and growing will help to grow your relationship, too.

Plan what to plant together, and keep track of how it grows. Even if you don’t live near one another, you can share your experiences by e-mail, or snail mail, or on Skype, or by taking photographs of what’s happening in your garden and sending them to one another. Ask questions. Volunteer information. Look things up together, either online or at your local library, and share what you find out. Rejoice in one another’s successes, and learn from each other’s mistakes.

If you live close enough to one another to actually share the work of a garden, share the work! Invite the kids you love to help you get the soil ready and plant together. Water, mulch, and cultivate together. Pull weeds together. Keep track of how the garden is doing together. Harvest flowers and vegetables together. Put the flowers on the dining room table, prepare the vegetables, and share a meal together, and enjoy the fruit of your patience and labor – together.

It takes patience to grow a gardener. Kids who are just beginning to garden are almost sure to walk in the wrong places, water the weeds, and pull the carrots out before they’re quite ready, just to check on them. (Seriously, how do you think chefs figured out the value of baby carrots?)

Working together in a garden is one way to encourage the kids you love to appreciate gardening. It’s more than that, though. The conversations you have about gardening – whether they are long-distance or in person conversations – help shape your relationship. And the experiences you share -- having fun together, learning new skills, accomplishing something tangible – nurture the relationship and help it grow.

Watch for more ideas in the days ahead!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring Planting Time!

This time of year, I love to find seed packets at the grocery store.

What a fun thing to share with your grandchildren!

Why not pick up a packet of radish seeds, or sunflower seeds, or seeds for some other green and growing thing, and send it to your grandchild, along with a note encouraging them to try planting it?

And while you’re at it, share your seed-stories with them. Tell them about the gardens you’ve grown, or the vegetables you’ve harvested. Share your stories about herbs, or four-o-clocks, or zinnias as an encouragement.

Pick up a few seed packets for your own garden, too, and let your grandkids know what you’ll be trying your green thumb at this season!

Watch for more grandkid-gardening ideas in the days ahead!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just for Fun . . .

The job description for moms and grandmas is a long one, and includes things like “inspire-er” or “encourager” or “resource person.”
Resource person? Well, yes – even the inspire-er and the encourager need inspiration and encouragement now and then. We need to know where about resources that inspire and encourage us, so that we can inspire and encourage our families.
Here’s a fun, inspiring, encouraging site for those of us who enjoy being outdoors, who enjoy the natural world, and who want to encourage our families to enjoy those things, too.
Sharon Lovejoy has written a number of books , including Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars, that encourage exploring the natural world. Her blogsite, Sharon Lovejoy Writes from Sunflower House and a Little Green Island, does the same thing on a regular basis.
Make time to visit – you’ll be inspired, encouraged, and challenged to learn and do more, and to have fun in the meantime!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Work Worth Doing . . .

Most of the work we do as wives, as moms and grandmas, is the work of a support staff.
It’s not particularly glamorous. It’s not always exciting or stimulating. It’s not usually financially rewarding.
But it is extremely satisfying.
It’s satisfying to see the long-term reward for your effort.
It can be hard in the day-to-day to see that keeping the counters wiped up and the floors vacuumed and mopped is creating a place that is clean, that smells fresh and inviting, that feels like a place your family wants to come home to.
It can be difficult in the moment-to-moment to realize that kind words, thoughtful deeds, and beautiful touches are crucial in creating the kind of home where your family feels safe and nurtured.
It can be exhausting in the long term to consider how often you will set the table for a meal, or make the beds, or load the dishwasher or the clothes washer or give the kids a bath, even though those are the things that make up the rhythms of family life, and create a foundation for your family’s health and stability.
Creating a home and family life together involves its fair share of drudgery, but it is also a work of faithfulness, a work of art, and a work of significance, and it is work worth doing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Five Ways to Share Your Love for Music

How do you share your love for music with your children and grandchildren?
Here are five ideas:
** Play a variety of music for your family to listen to. Change up pop and rock with a little bit of country, a little bit of classical, a little bit of sacred music.
** Experiment: be willing to listen to music you’re not familiar with. Try music your family likes. Occasionally try some music none of you have tried. Make use of radio; with internet radio stations, you can find almost any kind of music you’d like to try.
** Make music together. Sing together in the car. Have age-appropriate instruments to play – even a small child can practice rhythm with two pan lids, and older children will have fun with harmonicas, recorders, or finger cymbals. Don’t forget to join in the fun!
** Go to concerts, even if you don’t know any of the performers. From school concerts to concerts in the park, to a local concert hall – experience live music.
** Connect the music you listen to with stories of the musicians and their lives and times. Music is an integral part of history, and affects everything from the evolution of instruments to costumes and clothing. Knowing the background can enrich the music.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

And Now -- This Week's Top Ten . . .

Music is multi-purpose. It moves us, it motivates us, it makes us happy.
If you had to choose the songs that would give your kids or grandkids a sense of who you are, which songs would you choose? And why?
Here are some of the songs I’d be choosing from:
** Be Thou My Vision . . . because it’s become our family hymn.
** Rocky, Rock . . . a lullaby I sang to my kids and now, sing to my grandkids; it’s a tune I made up, woven into Jesus Loves Me and Tura Lura Lura.
** Handel’s Messiah . . . yes, the whole thing, because how can you just choose one part?
** Sheep May Safely Graze, a song of home, and Home
** Beach Boys, Fun, Fun, Fun
** Holden’s Evening Prayer, especially “Let My Prayer Rise Up” . . . a foretaste of heaven when sung with people you love
** Star Spangled Banner, because I love being a citizen of this country
** Bali Hai, from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, because I always wanted to go there
** Moonlight in Vermont, because I always wanted to go there, too
** Cape Cod Bay, because I always thought I would go there
That’s just ten pieces of music, and that’s just a start. It doesn’t include anything by Johnny Cash, or Garth Brooks, or Trisha Yearwood or Alison Krause. There’s no Huey Lewis or Stevie Ray Vaughn in there, and no Yo Yo Ma. No Beatles, no Tom Petty, no Bonnie Raitt. And no Frank or Dean or Ella or Tony.
And it leaves out most of the hymnal, which is almost a category to itself.
So what would be on your list? How would you choose the music that identifies you?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ten Things for Spring . . .

We’ve been rushing the season at our house: the sidewalk chalk has already been in use. Giggling grandkids created a welcoming mural on the front sidewalk the first warm afternoon of the wishing-it-were-spring season. While a wet snow erased most of their hard work, a rainbow survived to remind us that spring really will come soon, and with it, the chance to get outside and play.

As spring warms up and family members head outdoors to play, it’s good to have some “tools” for the work of childhood: play.

Here are ten things you might want to have on hand to facilitate outdoor fun:

** sidewalk chalk.

** bubbles

** jump ropes

** jacks

** a bucket for water play, with sponges, old measuring cups, butter
tubs, or other dipping containers

** balls of all kinds and sizes

** a wagon, trikes and bikes, scooters

** outdoor games like badminton, croquet, or whiffleball

** a sandbox with sandbox toys

** a blanket or two for tent-making or star-gazing

Throw in a sense of humor and a big dash of curiosity, and everyone involved will enjoy the new season.

What's your favorite thing for spring?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Come to Dinner . . .

The front hall needs to be scrubbed, and I’m pretty sure there is an extended dust-bunny family living behind the dining room buffet. Someone – me? – needs to clean up the backyard where the dog has been. There are probably cobwebs in the corners of the living room. And while the basement certainly looks better than it did last fall, it’s also not entirely ready for guests.
Still, most of the family will be here for dinner tomorrow evening, and I’m so looking forward to seeing them.
The house won’t be perfectly in order, but then, it hardly ever is. If I waited for that to happen, no one would ever come to our house.
It’s a funny thing about hospitality – it sounds fun, at least until we begin thinking about all the getting-ready part. If we’re going to have guests, we think, we’d probably better clean up this, sort out that -- and before we know it, we’ve talked ourselves out of the whole thing.
Even – and sometimes, especially -- when it’s “just family,” we can be intimidated by what we think we need to do before we offer an invitation. And while it’s lovely to be invited into a well-kept house, it’s even lovelier to be welcomed with warmth and love.
That we can do.
Oh, I’m sure I’ll be picking up and polishing tomorrow, in between the cooking. Because I love my guests, I want to offer them the best hospitality I’m capable of.
It’s just that I know all too well it won’t be perfect. That’s all right. What will be perfect will be the laughter, the visiting, the sharing of an evening.
And that will be enough for me.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Investment Advice

Although we've had a little bit of family time these past two months, it hasn't quite been the family time we'd hoped for.
Weather, flu, and extended family obligations kept us from getting together as often as we'd hoped. And while there's a lot to be said for planning, scheduling, and being pro-active, sometimes life simply doesn't cooperate, and our plans and schedules must bow to other realities.
In times like that, it's important to communicate to family members that we love them, even if we can't spend a lot of time with them at the moment. Whether it's a text, an online note or tweet, a postcard, or a quick phone call, just letting a child or grandchild -- or parent -- know we're thinking of them helps keep the connection between us in good working order.
So make that call. Write that text, or that note. Send that card.
Let them know that you love them, and that you are thinking of them.
It's one of the best investments you'll ever make.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Invitation List

One of the granddaughters asked at Christmas if we could have a “cousins' tea” sometime after the new year. She was having so much fun playing with her cousins, she wanted to do it again -- soon! The only question is whether or not it should be an “elegant” tea, or a “baking” tea. (An elegant tea is one where the cookies are already baked.)
After consultation, we're thinking about sometime close to Valentine's Day. That means decorations, recipes, and all the other things dear to little girls' hearts. If we do it right, it will be quite some party!
And the next question is: do we invite the grandsons?
Do boys like tea parties? Or just cookies?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Write Me a Letter . . .

Who doesn't like to get real mail?
For a child, a hand-written letter from a grandparent is something special, especially if it's written in a way that shows genuine appreciation for who the child is, and who she is becoming.
I was blessed with a letter-writing grandmother. From the time I learned to read, she took the time to write at least occasionally to fill me in on what she was doing, and to ask what I was up to.
Grandma favored a simple tablet of lined paper for everyday letters, but she took advantage of every card she sent to include a personal note, and if she had fancy stationery, she used it. Her letters were often no more than a recitation of who she was going uptown with, or what she was making for dinner, or which chores she was trying to get done, but despite their apparent ordinariness, I treasure the ones I still have -- they are a window onto her life.
I use a variety of post-cards for quick notes to grandchildren, because they allow me to share interests, encourage curiosity, and engage a child's imagination. I can dash off a postcard quickly, so I keep a good stock in the stationery drawer in my kitchen, along with stamps, stickers, and addresses. That way, if I have a moment while something is simmering, I can write a quick note to a grandchild.
I try to write thank you notes, too, when I receive gifts or pictures from my grandchildren. Besides showing my appreciation, thank you notes allow a child to experience the pleasure of receiving thanks for their gifts and effort. What better way to encourage them to write their own thank you notes?
E-mail, texting and twittering is all good, but a hand-written letter has staying power.