Thankful Thursday: End of Summer Vacation edition

I’m thankful today for a great summer vacation, in which my children…

  1. Learned that their not-so-comfortable-with-heights mother is not above (below?) flying head first down the Patriot’s Plunge waterslide with nothing but a swimsuit, some water, and a 2-inch thick foam mat separating her from certain death
  2. Stood three feet away from me with their jaws on the floor as my hairdresser unwrapped the highlighting foils from my hair and revealed for the first time anywhere a younger-looking, partially blond version of “me” (imagine if I made the switch to contact lenses—the kids might spontaneously combust!)
  3. Finally realized that when I say, “Do you want to go and take a shower/practice your trumpet/clean up your room?” I really mean, “Your world will self-destruct in 5 seconds if you don’t get your behind moving and do what I asked you to do.”
  4. Repeated back to me some of the things that I say, thus highlighting my utter ridiculousness (case in point, Hayley says, “Mom, when you say ‘cute’ do you mean ‘cute-cute’ or ‘cute juvenile’?” then looks at Craig, after which the two of them point at me and laugh her heads off)
  5. Showed me—and themselves—that while practice may not at first make perfect, it certainly makes progress…and that’s not nothing

Back to the lonely school year for me. Miss you, guys.

Thankful for the me I see in them

from penguingeek.files.wordpress.com

Question: By what fractional part does four fourths exceed three fourths?

Answer: Ouch, can I have an aspirin for my aching brain?

Here in Delaware, the schoolchildren are plowing through state testing this week, with yesterday and today dedicated to math. It’s funny that such testing should coincide with Jake’s discovery (under his bed) of a little book from my childhood called How Many 3-cent Stamps in a Dozen (or How Logical Are You?). In the spirit of Martin Gardner, this gem contains questions designed to stump your friends, bug your teachers, and allow your grandparents to show off their vast and insightful knowledge of tricky little classics that they’ve already heard a million times over.

Take, for example, the straightforward “When you take two apples from three apples, what do you have?” Let’s say it all at once now, “TWO APPLES!” Or how about this one—”How many times can you subtract 2 from 21?” That would be once, because after that you’re subtracting 2 from 19, then 17, then saying “Darn you, you smart aleck kids for asking me questions way too fast that are meant to trip me up and make me look like I didn’t actually ace AP Calculus in high school. Yup, thanks a lot!”

Interesting, though, that as annoying as I’m finding these questions that the children keep asking and asking and asking, I can still remember, most vividly, buying this very book back in like 1980. I was 11 and on vacation “down the shore” with my aunt and grandparents. We had walked (as we always and everywhere walked) to the hardware/sundries/things to keep your bored kids from clawing their eyes out store, and that’s where I got the very book that my kids are so hooked on now.

Relatives have told me that Hayley is a little version of me, and I know that is true for appearance, but I wonder too if there’s a personality resemblance as well. If there is, then I can only imagine how the patience of Job was demonstrated that week in the bungalow after I shelled out the $1.50 for that book. “How many cubic feet of earth are in a hole that is 2 feet wide by 8 feet long by 3 feet deep?” “In which book of the Bible can you read about Abel slaying Cain?” “Would it be cheaper for you to take 2 friends to the movies at the same time or one at a time?” Come on, Grandma. Think fast!!!

So as Jake and Hayley are reading the book, memorizing the answers, and delivering the gotchas to Craig, me, and all their friends, I’m thankful that, once again, my children are giving me a little window into myself. They, like I, enjoy a little clever twist. They, like I, like all of us, want to know all the answers.

Speaking of answers, four fourths exceeds three fourths by one third. You were just about to say that, weren’t you?

The Return of Thankful Thursday

Due to the grueling trials of our record-breaking amounts of snow this winter, Thankful Thursday has been on vacation at a secret, unseasonably warm, undisclosed location where you never, ever, no matter how badly you play, ever get knocked out of the ping pong tournament by the pool. However, with temperatures rising (sort of), Thankful Thursday has returned (mostly because he’s afraid that Big Melt 2010 will create a new swimming pool–in his basement).

With all of that in mind, I must confess that I am most thankful today that my family and I have finally been able to observe in our lives real manifestations of self-control, a “fruit of the spirit” promised in the Bible. The evidence is this: we’ve had Girl Scout cookies in the house for 2 weeks now, and we’ve still got some left.

I can’t say the same for the Grandma Utz kettle cooked potato chips that we had with our sprout subs this evening. Those things are GONE.

Baby steps, right?

Thankful in difficult times

Over the weekend, in describing her experience as a mother who is also a terrorism correspondent, NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly said,

“Once you’re a parent, if you go looking for it, you’ll find danger lurks everywhere.”

I wrote down that quote, because when I send my son out to walk to the bus stop or let my daughter ride her bike around the block or send my husband off to work, sometimes, but not often, I think, “This could be it.”

I know that for some people in the world (as in Haiti yesterday) and some people in my world (as in a local family who lost a husband and daughter in an accident on Tuesday), sometimes our worst possible fears as humans are realized. We meet face-to-face the danger that was otherwise just lurking, and it pulls a rug out from under our feet that we hadn’t ever even realized was there.

Even as I’m thankful for my family, my health, my home, and my usually 100% carefree existence, I’m saying a prayer for those whose cares are weighing more heavily than I may ever imagine. I may not be able to do much, but at least I can do that.

Thankful for long walks…with the kids?!?!

When I enrolled Jake for kindergarten several years ago, the school secretary looked at my address and said, “He’s a walker!” If I’m remembering correctly, I think I said, “What’s a walker?” Back home growing up, none of us walked to school, so it was all news to me. It also sounded crazy, as there are .9 miles and 2 streets with double yellow lines between us and the school, meaning that as long as the children were still in elementary school, I would pretty much never feel comfortable with them walking all the way there themselves.

Walking to school has never been an every day of the week thing for us, but we’d do a morning or an afternoon a couple of times a week if the weather was nice. What I came to realize, though, was that those little treks to school were perfect for kid-initiated conversations about nature, school, friends—whatever.

Neither Jake nor Hayley attend our local elementary school anymore, so we don’t walk to school, but we do use that route for exercise sometimes. Jake jogs, I jog (believe it or not), and Hayley rides her scooter. Yesterday’s walk gave Jake the opportunity to discuss his lunch money bankruptcy issues, his progress report observations, his concerns over possible favoritism in the classroom, and his assessment that his teacher is just plain mean.

At one point, Hayley, who rides up on the sidewalk, asked Jake to jog down on the street. He harshly replied, “Why? I’m behind you” to which she said, “Oh, you’re not in my way. I just want to hear the conversation.”

That just about made me cry.

So today, I’m thankful for long walks with my children, who, with fresh air and a little exercise seem to open up about things they never would otherwise.

And if it’s not already too much, I am thankful for Scott Snyder and Dario Varga, who came to my rescue when my e-mail got glitchy to the point of unusability the other day. My email service is with my alma mater, Lehigh University, and I had no qualms about relinquishing control of my computer to two guys whom I’d never met, but who were sitting out in Bethlehem, PA throwing all they had at my little problem. You guys were great, and the email’s working great! Go Engineers!!

Bake. Eat. Live.


I’m thankful today for my neighbor Judi, who just brought me over a baggie filled with Caramel coconut brittle, which in real life translates to shortbread-like, buttery wonderfulness reminiscent of the marble cookies that I loved as a kid.

Cookies make it aaaaaaalllll better.

Judi’s the longtime food columnist for our local paper, so you, me, and the rest of the Dover reading public will have access to the recipe next Wednesday. In the meantime, here’s my very favorite cookie recipe, from The Silver Palatte Cookbook. It takes a lot of time, a good bit of work, and more butter than I’d like to admit. Believe me, though, it’s worth it!

Shortbread Hearts
Ingredients:
3/4 pound (3 sticks) sweet butter, softened
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Instructions:
1. Cream butter and confectioners’ sugar together until light.

2. Sift flour and salt together and add to creamed mixture. Add vanilla and blend thoroughly.

3. Gather dough into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and chill for 4 to 6 hours.

4. Roll out chilled dough to 5/8-inch thickness [I usually make them about 3/8 inch thick and just cut down on the baking time]. Using a 3-inch-long heart-shaped cookie cutter [I like a star or moon too!], cut out cookies. Sprinkle tops with granulated sugar. Place cut-out cookies on ungreased cookie sheets and refrigerate for 45 minutes before baking.

5. Preheat over to 325°F (160°C).

6. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just starting to color lightly; cookies should not brown at all. Be careful removing from the pan–they are fragile! Cool on a rack.

Yield: 20 cookies

Thankful for a tradition transition

This year, I’m thankful for a little different Thanksgiving celebration.

My Mom and Dad didn’t come to us this year because they were here last weekend for my Dover Symphony concert (thanks for coming, Mom and Dad). They were only staying until Monday, though, and considering how busy, sick, and exhausted we’ve been over the past few weeks, we weren’t really interested in making the Thanksgiving trek of eternal traffic to visit them in New Jersey. Since our dear friend Sybil (aka, Scott, my brother-in-law) and his wife (hi, Beth!) have hosted the Scheir side of the family for about the past 10 years or so, we figured they’d have their hands full and didn’t invite ourselves along. Nor did we invite any of them here. Ultimately, Craig and I decided that we’d be spending Thanksgiving here at home, with the kids, alone.

We were so excited when my sister hit on the money idea of the decade: Chinese food. Chinatown Buffet (the one by Toys ‘R Us and TJ Maxx), she said, would be open on Thanksgiving Day. Crazy? Crazy enough to really work, I thought, especially since it seemed silly to make a turkey dinner with all the trimmings for 4 people, especially when 1 is a vegetarian. I trial ballooned the idea on Facebook and got all the affirmation I was looking for. My favorite response was from Connie, our pastor’s wife, who called me and said, “It’s so nice that you’re making memories for the children. Just think, someday they’ll say, ‘Remember that time Mom went crazy and we had Chinese food for Thanksgiving?'”

Amen, sister. Pass the chopsticks.

So, 4 hours after a lovely breakfast of cranberry sauce, spoonbread, and eggy/cheesy biscuits, off we trekked to the Chinatown Buffet. And it was aweSOME!!! Sushi! Noodles! Egg rolls! Brownies! Happy service! Happier customers! And no darn dishes to boot–gosh, am I thankful!!

I’m especially thankful that we could be upfront and honest with the rest of the family about our temporary tradition transition. Come to find out that when Craig called his Mom, she said that Scott and family made a tradition departure of their own, going instead to his sister-in-law’s for the day (which, in case you’re reading, is perfectly A-OK by me, Scott), leaving Aunt Kay, Aunt Bebble, and Mom and Dad Scheir on their own for dinner (again, different, but perfectly OK). So it was a low-key change of pace for everybody this year–and the Chinese option was a fun conversation piece.

Would we do it again? I don’t know. But it was the right thing at the right time for a family that bit off way more than it could chew this fall. For the rest and relaxation, we are so very thankful.

At just the right time…

Sallys flowers…Sally called.

I was in the midst of preparations for my evening book club, and my lovely neighbor Sally called with an offer of cut flowers from her garden. How could she have known I was wishing for exactly that? That I had already been to the market and passed up every last bunch? That I had 2 huge brownies in the cupboard to offer as a thank you to her and her dear husband, who is sometimes misunderstood, but unceasingly generous to me?

Sally’s offer really made my rainy, rainy day. A not-so-random kindness. A blessing.

No drama mama

scripts

Children’s Theatre auditions for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were Tuesday night, and they brought out in me every ounce of self-conscious insecurity that I’ve been toting around since my own childhood. My children, Jake and Hayley, decided to both stick their necks out for this one, a play with around 25 parts for which 84 (!) children tried out. Those 84 included the amazing Sydney, currently playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Eric (playing Oz himself), and Kyle, who is both the mayor of Munchkinland and the president of the William Henry Middle School Student Council. Stiff competition, yes?

But that’s just the thing. I don’t want to look at the other children as competition for mine. I hated myself for thinking, “They wouldn’t choose a kid who’s swaying like that,” or “I can’t understand a word she’s saying,” or “Is that kid serious with that British accent—show off.” Petty, petty nonsense. I can see now how stage mothers are born. That seed of comparison creeps in, and before you know it, you’re taking your kid out of 4th grade and homeschooling her in the car on the way to acting lessons in NYC just so she can come out on top.

Despite telling myself to cool it on audition night, I found the day after a little challenging. Will he get a part, I wondered. Will she? What if he does and she doesn’t? What if she does and he doesn’t? What if neither of them do and both are so devastated and hateful toward the theatre that they swear it off forever, squandering what could be the two greatest stage talents of the 21st century? What then?

When I came to my senses, I realized this: if I am a believer in a God of the universe who listens to our prayers and orchestrates things for our good and His glory, then why am I worried about this? So I prayed, “God, please let the children receive (or not receive) whatever role is best for them…even if it means their disappointment…or some other child’s disappointment. All I want is what’s best for them.” And then I waited for the call.

So Jake (age 11) starts rehearsals tonight for his role as a member of the evil army. He was excited, and Hayley (age 9, and without a role) was excited for him. We all learned a lesson, I think. Jake learned that it’s worth taking a risk. Hayley learned that not getting a part isn’t the end of the world. And Craig and I learned that one disappointment (or even more than one) does not a loser make.

It only took us 40 years on that last one, but here we are, and we’re thankful for it.

Thankful for…

jumbo muffins
…my jumbo muffin pan

…the smell of fresh-baked banana nut muffins when I walk in the door

…boxed brownie mix

…my electric blanket

…author Ian McEwan, and every heartbreaking page of his book Atonement

…websites that let you turn your pictures into products (shutterfly.com, zazzle.com, cafepress.com, moo.com)

The Adventures of Flat Alonzo (our “Flat Stanley” friend from Ms. Von Steuben’s class at Ebert-Palmer Elementary School)

…mall walking with Hayley in the morning, before state testing

…straight A’s on Jake’s room cleaning report card

Craisins

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