Sunday, December 26, 2010

Hazards of Overindulgence

Christmas was wonderful! Having been at church Christmas Eve, we didn't get everyone in bed until around 11. Christmas morning, we came downstairs at around 9, and I let the kids open their stockings and check out the goodies. I held them off on opening the rest of the gifts until Beth arrived to join in. I know it may seem mean, but not only does the little bit of wait time in between gifts help them learn self-control and patience, it also gives them unfettered time to enjoy each gift a little more thoroughly before rushing on to the next "prize." Beth arrived just before 11, so they didn't really have to wait all that long, if you factor in time for breakfast.

We enjoyed fellowship time while cooking dinner, and the boys played pleasantly with their new goodies.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Keeping a Stocked Larder

Christmas is here and so too are the weather reports of our first major winter storm on the way! They're currently predicting 6 to 10 inches, but last time we had one along these lines, we ended up with four feet! More predictable than the weather in this type of situation, are the long lines and the empty shelves at the grocery store. I often hear comments about people wanting milk, bread, eggs, toilet paper, paper towels, etc. Along those lines, I have seen several posts on a networking site called "CafeMom" asking what sorts of things do you like to keep handy in the event of a storm. Having answered this post a number of times now, and in much the same way, I thought I'd post my basic answers here as well; for some of the more obscure items, I'll post what I might use it to make...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

... And Blessing Others (Traditions of the Past)

My mom called me this morning. She was talking about Christmas (of course) and happened to mention in the course of the conversation that they are really trying to use this season to bless others, instead of just blessing themselves. She was using the collective we that is her house, which includes 6 or 7 adults and 7 kids.

She mentioned that she had a regular customer who could not afford the $5 to cover the cost of the print for the santa photo taken at the shop where Mom works. (Mom told her to come pick up the pictures of her children with Santa.) She then talked to an uncle, who is a member of the Elks lodge out there and he hooked the woman up for a Breakfast With Santa event that the Elks put on for the needy each year. And my mom managed to find a way to get her children a few gifts and the Mom a gift card for groceries. My mom is a wizard with helping others.

Anyway... She also mentioned a tradition they had recently re-enacted to help another family with children, no job, and that are - essentially - losing their house before long. (There are so very many out there in this position this year.) They did a "Pounding" for the family last month, Mom said.

A pounding?

Silly visions of my family beating this other family up with stuffed socks flitted through my head.

"What is a 'pounding'?" I asked.

"Why has no one heard of this any more?!" was her rather exasperated reply. It turns out a Pounding was done for families with new babies, in new homes, or who were under extreme hardship to help them out. Other families - neighbors, friends, church families - got together to bring pounds of food for the family to help them out. Sometimes they brought food, sometimes other things to help out - but essentially, communities got together to help those in need.

Mom talked about my sister-in-law going to get a name from the giving tree, and finding them all taken. Blessings. They are all around us - being given and received. But that is a question that stuck with me.

Why has no one heard of this any more? Well, my guess is that we haven't heard of it because we don't do it as much any more. I think part of that stems from so many government groups who have stepped in where churches and communities used to help out. I suspect that as we move further into government debt, these sorts of community outreach ideas will see a resurgence - and, frankly, I am hopeful that it will. I would love to see communities draw back together in times of hardship and support one another - I think it will help us all to remember/realize that we all need help sometimes and that needing help, asking for help and receiving help are not shameful. Giving help is a blessing to all as well.

God bless us - and help us to bless others - as we are on our final few days before Christmas Day of 2010!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Ending 2010 Feeling Blessed

I saw a friend's post on Facebook the other day and she was (seemingly) stunned, excited, and feeling blessed all in one shot. She and her hard-working husband had found out that one of their bigger bills had been paid in full by an anonymous benefactor as a "Secret Santa" gift. I am totally thrilled for them!

Their family and ours have been concurrently working through the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover system this past year and I can think of no better gift to give than to help someone come one step closer to Freedom. Freedom from being indebted to "someone" (whether a large corporation or an individual person) else. Freedom from worrying at night over what bills might not be paid; Freedom from having to delay vacations, get-togethers, and nights out because the money is needed for something else.

Along those lines, I also am excited for our family! We started 2010 with about $17,000 in debts, not including our house, but including my student loan from years back. My goal is to have everything paid off in the next two years so that when Jeff retires in four years we have about two years of savings built up and don't have to worry while we move on to "what's next." I have been working towards this goal all through the year, and will continue to for the next two years as planned.

The bill I received in the mail today is for a now-cancelled credit card that I used when starting up my business. At the beginning of 2010, I owed $3,000 on the card. It is now down to $345 - something I can even conceive of paying off in one month! Jeff is sleeping, after pulling an all-nighter as he completed a final paper for a class he's in, so I get to share the news here first.

In looking back over the events of any given year, I am always amazed at how much we've achieved in spite of spending so much time feeling like I am trudging from day to day to day, spinning my wheels, getting "no where." Our three biggest this year are:
  • This year, I completed my Bachelor's Degree in Social Science - something I started eighteen years ago before I was even out of high school!
  • Jeff is finally re-enrolled in college classes and working toward his degree. He has been planning, hoping, and wanting this for sixteen years, but has been thwarted for many reasons over the years. Again, I am thrilled for him!
  • We are closer to being debt-free than we were at the beginning of the year.
So often it is easy to feel like we have let ourselves down in not achieving every single "New Year's Resolution" that we set at the beginning of each year. I don't put goals like weight loss, etc. in stone, but I do write them down, along with my intended path for getting there. I always end the year closer than I was when the year started, even if I didn't achieve the exact goal. In that, I am able to feel continually blessed as I come to Christmas and to the New Year. I hope, as you look at your achievements - not the ones you feel like you missed (the "should have's") but the ones you really managed to ring the bell on - that you feel as much confidence and blessing as I do entering into 2011. If you're not quite there yet, you have two weeks left to really look at what you've done, and realize it's always more than you thought!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Buttercup's Birthday Story

December 6 is not only the day St. Nicholas is commemorated in the Orthodox Church (see the previous post for more about him) but also our young Buttercup's birthday. Last night as I watched her sleeping, it occurred to me that there are things that I did for the first three, in some fashion, but never did for her. One was to create a "Dear You" book. For each of the first three - to lesser and lesser degrees - I began journals in which I wrote down thoughts and notes and memories for them to carry with them in the future. This blog has largely taken the place of those books. Keeping up with four was just too difficult because I had so much to say!

So here is a bit of her "birth story" - for it's good, bad and funny - mostly, just for her.

Happy Birth-Day! Maybe 15 or 20 minutes old here (? Someone will have to correct me in the comments!)

My water broke unexpectedly - and at home. After four children, this is a first for me. It also is not a good sign because events go quickly for me once that happens. I have the greatly appreciated fortune of a long early labor (the non-painful part!) but it can make gauging when to take the kids to friends' houses difficult at times. In the case of Buttercup, we had taken the boys to our priest's house the weekend before so they could spend time with his family while I faced the possibility of going to the birthing center. After "imposing" on them for three days, we went back to pick the boys up - at that point it seemed clear, we were still in the earliest "hurry up and wait" part. How very military of my children!

When my water finally did break, the priest's wife had to leave town that weekend and so they couldn't take the boys. The next nearest family that I could think of on the spur of the moment lived thirty minutes to the west of us - the birthing center was around 45 minutes to the southeast of us - if there was no traffic (thank goodness it was a weekend, otherwise driving into Annapolis can cause quite a bit of trouble!)

So as I got the kids ready, made a phone call to see if this family could come out to get the boys at the last minute, unannounced, and tried to decide if this was really the time to go (or should I wait??), Jeffery worked to help me and convince me that he really did know me "that well" and that I needed to make moves to get to the birthing center - bless his heart. I finally agreed as the contractions got stronger and I was in increasing amounts of discomfort. I was putting my coat on a short fifteen minutes later, when he came over to give me a string of names "if it's a girl." Some of the names I'd heard before, but at the time it sure seemed like they were all new and out of the blue! In the end, she has three middle names and without the third middle name, her initials would spell "MACE." God has a sense of humor - ha!

We called the family taking the boys to tell them that we were on the way - but decided with them that it would be better if they met us at our church half-way in between to pick them up. Normally, it takes about 30 minutes to get to the church building - this time it took about 18, I think. Either way, as we pulled up, they were not yet there so I called them on the cell phone. They were almost to the exit to the church but told us to go on ahead and they would follow us there. Bless them - they were willing to take on a mad-dash to Annapolis on the spur-of-the-minute. It's good to have caring friends!

Here she is about 1 year old

I called the midwife to tell her we were coming - shoot! Answering service. Once she called back, she asked me all the standard questions: what's going on? What has happened? etc. probing to see if perhaps we didn't need to come in just yet. I told her that I was already on the way because once my water is broken, I have less than an hour (usually) before delivery. She agreed at that point!

I had also gotten in touch with our great friend Beth (the one who has the Spinster Beth blog) and she was on the way from her house to meet us at the birthing center. We have been friends with her for many years and she has been to all but one of my four deliveries - she is of immense help and is a wonderful friend to have at all times of the year! As we continued down the freeway, I believe I worried out boys a bit more as each moment passed. I alternately froze them out by opening the window and then warmed them up on closing it (it was early December, of course!) Labor is hard work.

After a point, I did not feel like I was going to make it as far as the Center so I called Beth and told her... then that "I have to go!" before hanging up on her. Poor girl spent the rest of the drive in fear that she would see our car pulled to the side of the road at any moment. She also said later that she had never been on the phone with me and heard such silence in the background! The boys were, as I said, a little unnerved, I think.

This past July 4th at about 18 months

I called the midwife and told her the same thing and she asked where we were at. As I looked up, I was greatly relieved to see that we were actually only about two or three exits away. Jeffery had cut a 40 minute drive down to about 20! Poor Beth, I did not have it in me to call her back to say we were okay. We pulled into the parking lot and the boys were hustled out by our friends and whisked away for a day of fun, Beth pulled in just behind them as I shuffled my way into the building. The birthing center only has three rooms, so I was relieved to see that (unlike the weekend before) two of the rooms were empty and I could go right in. Our lovely Buttercup was born a scant 40 minutes later.

In each of my four labors I have had some little thing stand out in my head even while in the hardest parts of labor. With Buttercup, as she was emerging, she was half-way into the world and I was sure that the midwife would do as other OB's do and help her shoulders so we moved along. This midwife just looked at me when I asked about it and said, "You're doing a great job!" with this nice smile. Hmmm... perhaps things were going well, but really? Well, okay thanks for the encouragement, I think. Either way, welcome to the world!

And our Buttercup at two years old. She'll make a lovely - if a bit forceful - lady someday!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Santa Clause - A Lingering Belief in a Real Man

I've mentioned once before that I occasionally post answers to questions on a site called "CafeMom," and draw inspiration for blog posts from those answers. Today's post is one of those times. The CafeMom question was what to do about children who attend her daughter's school and "enlighten" her by telling her that Santa Clause (the Tooth Fairy, etc) are not real. She wondered what others think of that and whether others are as bothered by it as she is. There were the typical mix of answers, including those that said that endorsing a belief in Santa is a lie, even if only a "white" lie. My answer, roughly, follows.

Santa Clause was a real man. Saint Nicholas comes from a combination of two languages, Santa being "Saint" in Spanish, and Clause comes from either German or Yiddish, I think. He is still actively remembered in the Christian Orthodox Church for his kind deeds while he was alive. He was a bishop/leader in the Orthodox Church in his town and so heard the stories and aches of each of the families he served, as well as knew the families well.

We get the gift-giving from a story in which he helped three maiden women to avoid a life of prostitution by giving them bags of gold coins. It is said that he secretly threw the bags into their window while they slept - giving us a Santa who comes down the chimney.

In many traditionally Orthodox countries (i.e.: Greece, etc.) he is remembered by putting the children's shoes out by the door on the eve of December 6th and in the morning the children find goodies and chocolate "coins" in their shoes (therein lies our tradition of putting socks on the mantle.)

Here is a Wikki link for him

And another link to a page that is all about St. Nicholas

We let our kids know about the real man (there are several really good kids books out there about him that are not necessarily "pushing" the Orthodoxy) but we also allow for the innocence of Santa Clause on Christmas morning. As an adult, I know that there is no one who drops down my chimney at night and puts things under the tree, but I don't see the harm in letting children believe in the magic of Christmas. They'll learn soon enough, and I never felt like my parents lied to me by encouraging a belief in something I can't see.

Is that not what Christianity - or most other religious beliefs in God - are? A belief in something we cannot physically see and cannot necessarily "empirically prove" is there? I remember feeling so special when I was old enough to get to wake up, late in the night, to help be Santa for my younger siblings. Those quiet nights with my parents are special memories for me - I got to have cocoa with them, and help wrap and place gifts... I cherish those times and enjoy passing them on to my own boys.

I get highly annoyed when other kids/adults/scrooges! try to burst my kids' bubbles. Leave them alone, Codger! They'll grow up in their time. When someone tries to do that to them, I explain that some people don't believe what we do and that faith is an important thing to have in life. The Tooth Fairy, for which I have no historical basis (fairies in the old Norse and Celtic stories were NOT the kind, cutesy types that we tell stories about today!) also comes to visit our home. I'm pretty sure that Maestro, now 11, "knows," but he does it still - there is money involved, after all! But I personally don't see the harm in it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Random Acts of Culture

I actually have two other posts that I'm in the middle of writing but this is such a beautiful thing that I have to share it. I am not generally a sentimental person, but there are a few things that truly move me to tears almost every time. One of them is Handel's Messiah - better known as the Hallelujah Chorus - no matter where I am, every time I hear it, I hear my mother's voice. Just beautiful.

Well, a friend posted a YouTube link onto Facebook today for a performance of the Chorus held in Macy's in Philadelphia. The performance was done by members of twenty choirs and with the world's largest pipe organ playing the music. It was truly moving to watch. Well, at the end of the five-minute video clip they were holding up signs that said, "You've just experienced a Random Act of Culture" and gave the website for the Knight Arts Challenge

Before I go any further, here is the YouTube video that brought me to this post:

Hopefully I've put the embed code in there properly. But I followed the line further and went to visit the Knight Arts page and looked at some of the other Random Acts of Culture that have taken place. It is so wonderful to see people going to such elaborate lengths to get some of the classics out to random passers-by. From Opera at the Cosmetics Counter in Charlotte, to Jazz Music in the mall in Ventura, people are being exposed to (possibly) new things that they might not have seen otherwise. It is incredibly moving to me to become aware of this and share it here. I hope others will pass it on as I am now. God bless you all as we head into Christmas and the end of 2010. For me, this song is my "Season Opener." It makes my day to hear it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A "Crochet"-y Day

I have a friend who knits wonderful things - her blog is here: Spinster Beth.

We love our Beth socks - both the older boys slept in them the first night she brought them over!

Ignore the pregnant belly - the bolero-style sweater she made me for Christmas 2009 is awesome.

Another friend recently started a healthy cooking blog. Her food looks delicious and you can see her thoughts here: Fit, Fun and Yum. Their blogs show their every-day accomplishments or "WIPs" - that is, "Works In Progress."

My hobbies come and go as I have the time, so you won't see as many of my completed projects on here as you will see my thoughts on raising children and what to do with them next.

All that aside, I had a rather "crochet"-y day today, if you'll pardon the pun! We woke up early to take Jeff to the airport. The kids and I almost always go in with him instead of just dropping him off curbside, and today I'm glad we did! As it turned out, there was a huge mess up in the paperwork and we stayed there for more than six hours waiting on Jeff to get a new ticket to fly to the base he was supposed to visit.

Under Beth's recent re-encouragement, I've started carrying yarn and crochet hooks with me, in case an odd pocket of time comes up when my hands are free and my attention can be fairly easily and safely divided. Today was just such an occasion!

The washrag I made is one of the best I've ever used - even if I do say so myself! Before it was a washrag, Buttercup used it as her pillow.

Beth's ulterior motives are for me to start knitting my kids the annual socks, blankets for the newborns, etc. Well, I'm not ready to go quite that far, but here are some pictures of the two projects I did finish today. I just want to say that I am rather proud of myself! On the flip side, enjoy the hat, laugh if you like. I won't be hurt.

It was by total coincidence that her hat matches that shirt. Don't they look great together? You can see in the side view that I tried to put in a bubble stitch. It didn't work out so well, but I didn't want to take the time to take it out, and it's not that bad.

The hat does NOT fit me so well, nor does it look as cute!

Finally, a not-so-great close up...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Flying in the Right Direction

I saw a flock of birds riding the currents yesterday. Birds have always fascinated me - we've all heard of the way geese work with their V-formations, the fresher goose taking the lead and falling back when tired, two geese staying with an injured goose, etc. These were some other, smaller variety of bird. I'm not sure what type because they were too far away from me. Their formation was more like a ball - a ball of birds. What was interesting to me is that they stayed in their "ball" formation even when the wind blew them about this way and that, never running into one another, seemingly never losing their place in the rest of the group.

How often do we move this way in society? Accepting what is supposedly our position in life, not jostling for a better position within our own social circles, and enjoying the ride? My growing "flock" of birds often jostle for a better position - more like dogs in a pack, I suppose, than birds working together. If the birds don't work together, they will end up crashing into one another and bring the whole flock down out of the sky.

When my children are given a job and they act more like a flock than a pack, they manage to finish the job fairly quickly. I love those moments and cherish them. The last time we raked the leaves and bagged them up, we were a flock. I didn't have to yell - everyone grabbed a tool (rake, shovel, bag, etc.) to get the job done, and we floated on the breeze.

Getting their beds made this morning was a whole 'nother story. I found myself praying for serenity and asking God for help to not yell and scream to get the pack in line. They snarled and bit (at one another, not me!) vying for who was going to be top dog, beneath the Alpha. Needless to say, more work was needed in fixing the situation - if they're working, eventually harmony comes - or bedtime. Either way is a win-win situation for me and for the family.

As we get closer to our 25- 30 person Thanksgiving dinner and as families all over these great united States work to make feasts, may we all strive to be more like the flock of birds than the pack of dogs (and God give me patience when the Dogs come out!)

This post is linked to: 


Monday, November 8, 2010

Thanksgiving on a Grand Scale


We're flying out to Washington state for Thanksgiving this year. We'll be there for just over two weeks and haven't been since 2007! How long has it been since you last saw your mother?! Well, I have a big family: my grandfather was one of six children (all boys!), so there are lots of cousins and aunts (the uncles are all gone now, sadly.) My mother is one of ten children, I am one of six, my brother and sister-in-law have seven, we have four, another brother has three... As you can imagine, Thanksgiving will be a FULL HOUSE! We're expecting to cook for 25 people, minimum.

The logistics involved in a "regular" Thanksgiving are enough. In our house "normally" we schedule the menu about 3 weeks in advance so we have time to figure out who will bring what, how much to make, etc. We also schedule a timeline out so that the food all comes out hot at the same time (relatively speaking) and we're aware of what needs to be made in advance (pretzel salad, for instance.)

I have been asked two questions: 1) what do we "normally" have for Thanksgiving? and 2) Can we provide the rolls (apparently Mom went home and talked about my bread.) SO, I'm guessing the list so far for 25 people looks about like...

100 yeast rolls
3 pans of pretzel salad (an absolutely yummy dessert dish - that it seems like only my in-laws make anywhere)
2 turkeys (my guess)
2 stuffed acorn squash
6 lbs. of stuffing
6 pies
6 - 8 lbs. of potatoes for mashing
1 lb. of brussle sprouts (I'm probably the only one who will eat it!)
8 - 10 cans of cranberry sauce
3 lbs. of homemade cranberry sauce
3 gallons of apple cider
5 gallons of milk

I know there is more - in our house here in Maryland, we usually also have roasted root vegetables (carrots, turnips, parsnips, garlic, apples, etc. drizzled with olive oil, topped with rosemary and baked for about 20 minutes at 450) and the family back home has their favorites - just like I know there will likely be more than 25 people attending. Always plan for one thing, and expect more to show for something like this!

In spite of the chaos that I know will ensue and the noise and confusion - there is also the excitement, the fellowship and the love of being with family and friends, both old and new. My one request was the pretzel salad and stuffed acorn squash (to make a main dish for us vegetarian-types.) What does your Thanksgiving look like? Do you have a favorite "must have" recipe?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Special Christmas Gifts Come from the Hands - and the Heart

For me, a Christmas gift doesn't need to be a purchased item to be "great." I have mentioned before some of the home made gifts we've given to others, and what has been done for us. Often it is the time, love and effort put into the gift that makes it so special: my mother-in-law's fudge, for example. I hate to stand, stirring at the stove for so long but how I love to eat it! My friend Beth's cozy, toasty knee socks - made three years ago, worn almost daily in the cold months as I skate over my wood floors in them, still going strong. I don't knit, but am a huge fan of her knitting! My mother's singing - she is one of the top voices in the world, as far as I go. She could go pro, but has decided to use that talent to bless others and honed her other talents to earn a living. Which brings me to what I'd LOVE for the children to receive for Christmas this year (never mind that she has already beat me to it and purchased things for them - this gift would be a great add-on!)

If my mother were to take a digital recorder (you can get them for $50 - $100 at Radio Shack, where my brother can buy it for her at a discount... hint, hint!) or a tape recorder and sing some of the songs I grew up with for my kids to have for later (and who am I kidding? For ME to have for later too!) That would be a lasting gift that will never fade away, if properly cared for!

What songs would she include...? Daisy, (I Like To) Catch Brass Rings, old summer camp songs from Camp St. Alban's, her part of the Hallelujah Chorus, I know she has more - she's had a running list of "what to include" on her refrigerator since 2007 (!) Wipe the dust off, Ma and sing on! Or, if you run out of songs to sing, how about some of those wonderful and funny childhood stories you've told? My kids LOVE those - and so do I!

And how about from my niece, who is said to be a wonderful cook: a hand-drawn recipe book with some of the "family faves" would save her money and suit me just fine! I'd bet her aunt and uncle and grandma on her mother's side would be happy with that too!

From my brother, who takes mah-velous family portraits: (what else??) New family portraits for me to share around, please!

We'll be there for Thanksgiving; I'll bring nice clothes for all of us and huge smiles!

For you all in the Tacoma/Seattle (Washington) area, I'm putting in a little plug for my brother here - he has been s-l-o-w-l-y building his photography and portraiture business over the last four or five years. He is phenomenal with kids (has seven of his own, so it just figures!) and getting them comfortable and smiley-happy. He could use a boost if you know anyone in the Seattle/Tacoma area who would like some done, spread the word, eh? (Okay, clearly I need to get him to get on the ball for posting his stuff outside of Facebook! But I'm sure he would be happy to send samples if you'd like!) Anyway, he's awesome at photography and reasonably priced. (He didn't take the one at left - I did - and that's why I need someone else until my skills improve!) If I did the link correctly, you can see some of his photos here.

From my brother-in-law, he makes yummy cookies :9 We would never turn those down!

I know it looks like I'm using this post to ask for things - gimme, gimme, gimme - but really, what I'm looking to do is get people thinking about those things that we each have our own unique talent for, and encourage the use of those talents to bless others at the time that we honor Christ's birth. The "season" is truly about loving, sharing, visiting, and blessing those we love. The gifts Jesus was given by the Wise Men were blessings as well as portents to His future here on Earth and I am working, within myself, to recall the spirit of those three gifts in the blessings that I give to those around me. A home-cooked meal, a hand-made book, goodies, things we can use, things that I know the recipient will love... blessings all.

When I was younger, we never knew what to get my mom and so would end up getting her the little boxes of jewelry sold in between the counters at the department stores. The only worse thing we could have purchased for her would have been make-up! Little did we know (and she never told us) that small jewelry pieces don't look right on a larger woman. When I left home, she packed up much of that old junk-jewelry and passed it on to me; I have since passed quite a bit of it on to the young lady down the road. The gifts we give should show that we are really considering the person receiving the gift: what do they want or need, what will bless them - what will "curse" them with a future of, "so-and-so gave it to us, we can't use it/don't care for it, but we can't give it away because so-and-so bought it for us."

On the rare occasion that I can't give a gift that I really feel will be a boon and a blessing to the person, not just more of life's clutter, I purchase a card and give money to a charity in that person's name. In the card, I explain that I just didn't see anything that I felt would bless them more than to bless someone else in their honor.

I suppose instead of just "asking" for things, I could say what we're giving out for Christmas... but that would ruin the secret, wouldn't it??

Monday, November 1, 2010

2010 Hallowe'en Follow Up -

Well, at the expense of my originally-planned "election day" post (which I've just deleted - the overall message: make sure you vote but whomever you choose, make sure you've educated yourself as to who is the "right" candidate for your area and why they deserve your support!) here is my post-Hallowe'en post (hee hee) with the promised pictures included! Hello to the grandparents...

First up is "Herman Munster" - okay, he got many compliments on his "Frankenstein" costume, but Maestro even had old Herman's walk down! And his new clunky Heelies helped complete the look!

Next in line is our "Wii Console" - Smeagol has always thought a little (if you'll pardon the expression!) outside the box - and now it's put him in the box! Well, we went to great lengths to make sure every detail was included - you can't see it in this photo, but the "back" of the console has the ventilation slots and next to the "DVD" in the front (shiny half-moon thing that you can see in this pic) is a blue glow stick, just like when the console lights up when ejecting a disk!

Bruiser really wanted to be a "Ghost with a Sword" and not just any sword, but the one he saw two months ago at the Dollar Store near post. And the face on the ghost had to be done just that way, I suspect to imitate the Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin costumes. I messed it up though - poor guy had such a hard time seeing out of the left eye :-\ He had a great time.

Ahhh... Here is Buttercup - sporting her lovely butterfly look. Can't have a scary basket to go out as a beautiful butterfly, so her colorful Easter basket was brought out to take care of the conflict. Two things to notice here: I managed to get her hair to stand up for the "antennae" (Awesome!) and she is squeezing her eyes shut in anticipation of the flash! These kids crack me up!

And one final costume - this one from a bit farther off, hailing from Tacoma, Washington, we have my mother - the Great Pumpkin. Notice the green topknot and the striped orange shirt. She had a gal doing face painting at the shop and had her put the make up on.

Perhaps it's a little scarier than Mom wanted, and a tad less Great Pumpkin-ish, but then again, if you were a Great Pumpkin and only giving one shot a year to the believing boys and girls of the United States... wouldn't you look a little scary too? (Either way, I think it's an awesome Nana-ish thing to do and hope all the local Tacoma Grandkids had a blast with her!)

In the Charlie Brown movie, Linus gets worried over a slip of saying, "If the Great Pumpkin comes..." So the big question is: did she find a pumpkin patch that was sincere enough to leave toys and presents? Well, our ghost, featured above, might have something to say about that... but he is out cold from a sugar-induced high, and the resulting crash that comes after! He'll have to tell us all about it tomorrow!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hallowe'en Memories: Before There Were

One of the purposes of the business I run from my home is to preserve memories. On occasion I want to share some of the more poignant memories I come across - whether in my day-to-day activities or in my business.

On one of the religious discussion forums on which I am a member, we recently had the annual "Hallowe'en-is-evil/good/okay" debate. This is the discussion during which we go over whether or not Hallowe'en is of Satanic or Pagan origin, whether it is okay for kids to dress up and go trick-or-treating, whether we should be rejecting the holiday all together - even whether or not it should even be called a "holi (holy) day!"

Well, we "do" Hallowe'en with a pretty closed view on which types of costumes are allowed and which are on the "banned" list. The kids go door-to-door with their friends before retiring to one porch or another to check out their hauls. Some memories, when shared, just grab me and invite me to become part of that world, if only for a few minutes. There were two people who shared their Hallowe'en memories on the forum that reminded me of my own childhood. Several of us on were inclined to remember our own memorable Hallowe'en moments as a result. These are the two I'd like to share in this post.

Both are from around the time of WWII, during which rationing was taking place and things were harder in terms of day-to-day life. I share their memories here, with their permission...

This first was written by Theodora in the Mounain (Hermit,)

During the war, that is the WWII era, rationing and hard times were the sign of the times (and for you young ones who think all of this wasn't real but just propaganda for the movies, it was life as lived then) Halloween was quiet different. Now remember these are the days before "M&Ms" for these little treats were developed for the have a high energy pick up that would not melt all over everything. What we got was "homebaked" cookies, candy in the form of sticks or hard handy (also homemade or saved up over the year just for the kids) and asorted nuts (we had pecan tree in our back yard and saved alot for this night and Christmas) and if you were really lucky you got real fresh apples or oranges (things you couldn't get much on rations). My brothers and I would bring the apples and nuts home to my father who would diced them up and make apple turnovers the following Sunday. What a treat for all. We dressed in homemade outfits: hoboes, soldiers (if you were lucky to have a real army metal helmet), Huck Finn, tramps and princess, nurse, gypsy, etc for the girls. We would usually meet after"doing the neighborhood" at someone's house and dunk for apples (more to take home to dad) and play games and such. You see it wasn't until after WWII that the soldiers got home to discover that the bits of chocolate they came to love wasn't make for us civies. And when one could save enough coupons for "dried chocolate" it was used only for that special cake. But the soldiers wanted their "M&Ms" (Military ---- I forget what they called them). I remember eating my first when a neighbor came home from the war and brought some and gave us kids a few each. We didn't celebrate the devil or anything "bad", it was just "kids' night" and yes, All Saints was observed and in many a family one went to Church and then to the cemetery to put wild flowers or bright leaves on the graves of those we loved so..especially those killed in action.

And a recollection from a man in the same generation, who was in a California neighborhood...

Ah! You bring back memories: the neighborhood 'haunted house' where the kids lined up to crawl through the window, and had to feel the 'dead man's eye balls' (peeled grapes) and the dead man's guts (cold spaghetti!) and a few other things, and then we had the party in the living room. We had ghosts in old white sheets, fairy princesses in little ballerina costumes with tinsel crowns and glittered wands, and pirates etc. Lots of fun for all. And there were lots of apples and oranges handed out.

In our house, these are the types of memories we try to encourage. My own childhood Hallowe'ens were similar - my most memorable costumer was when I wore my mother's wedding dress and went as a bride. She worked so hard to pin the dress up so it wouldn't drag the ground! I don't remember ever buying our outfits, but I remember all the excitement and planning and anticipation that went into making our costumes! What could we pull together from what was already in the scrap bag?

I am fond of those memories - so for those who say that Hallowe'en is borne from times of pagan worship, well, perhaps it is historically, but in our church it has been said that God makes good come of all things. For me, those long-ago Hallowe'ens were times that helped bring me closer to my then-new stepfamily. I use it now to help my children come closer together as they plan and create their own costumes, learn to compromise over the "favorite" candy, and bond in ways that they will reminisce over in the years to come. In three days - I'll post pictures of the costumes they have picked this year - for now, I give you pictures of past outfits. Last year we had a scarecrow, a bumblebee, a horse, and I do believe a campy vampire did sneak into the fray, using an old tux shirt and a handmade cape - no blood allowed though, he was a sugar vampire ;) Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Operation Purple - a Worthwhile Cause

While watching the comments fly on Facebook about the Susan G. Komen foundation recently, it occurred to me that I know of yet another organization that is entirely deserving of support and encouragement, besides Honor Flight, which I've blogged about once (in five installments) before. I will not give my money to the Komen Foundation because they like to support Planned Parenthood, one of the largest abortion providers in the United States. The Komen Foundation's support seems like a total conflict of interest because abortion makes breast cancer more likely to happen.

So here is a post about the ever-worthy Operation Purple Summer Camp program. Operation Purple provides free summer camp for children who have a parent deployed. Maestro went in 2007. It was his first sleep-away camp experience. I applied for him to go because I really felt like he could use some contact with other military kids who could understand what he was experiencing when his pop had to go away.

I'll admit that I was a little worried about my then-eight year old being with older kids for a week away from Mom. I worried that perhaps there would be foul language used that I didn't approve of (come on, they are military kids!), social pressure about dating, etc. In picking him up the following week, I found none of those things - and, he had a blast!

When we first arrived to drop him off, we entered the building where they were staging the check ins. They had us fill out paperwork (medical forms, etc.) and took his picture in front of a flag. They asked us if we would be willing to fill out an evaluation form when we picked him up - all those good things. He was assigned a cabin and we helped him carry in his gear. On each bunk bed was a small teddy bear to welcome the children in. After that, away went the rest of us - on back home. My oldest boy didn't seem at all nervous about being away from me for a week. I suppose that made me a little sniffly to think I was no longer needed in the same way that I once was, but life does have to move forward at some point, doesn't it?

The house was so quiet that week! All of a sudden, it was me, our five year old (Smeagol) and Bruiser, then three. So... a three and a five, maybe not so quiet as all that, but quieter at any rate!

A week later, we hit the road for the hour-long drive to pick Maestro up. He was exuberant. He won a dance contest (a complete surprise to me, because he tends to take a little while to warm up for things like that), and a grass hula skirt for a prize. He talked a mile-a-minute all the way home. They had a man come out and talk to them about various military jobs, he gave them each a dog tag of some sort, and answered all their questions. To that end, he helped put Maestro's mind at ease about the jobs our military members do when they have to go off to war.

He had the option of going out to camp in a tent for a night, and took advantage of it. My only complaint? They let him watch High School Musical - and I tend to be kind of... overprotective... when it comes to the media my children are exposed to. As parting gifts, he received a mouse pad with his photo printed on it and a DVD that had photos from the week, set up as a slide show to music. He also had contact information for many of the kids he met while he was there.

He really wanted to go back the next year, but alas, we were not able to send him. They do have kids who return multiple years - because their parents deploy so frequently. Like almost any military family, we have been separated a few times but are fortunate enough to have Pop home for quite a little bit of time this time around. So I've contented myself to tooting the Operation Purple horn whenever I can and donating money to let other kids go as well.

To find out more about Operation Purple camps, make sure to visit the link I've provided - you can donate from that link as well. For my money, it's a far better organization than some of the others that get so much notice and attention.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Divorce and the Military Family

I wrote most of the following as a response to a question posted on I realize that parts of it may upset or offend some people. If you get offended, forgive me, but it is what I truly believe. The original post was talking about how many military folks get divorced and how sad that is. I agree: it is sad. It is also largely preventable, and really not so different than the civilian world. My answer seemed to touch some of the other readers, so I am posting it below.This is the second part.

The divorce rates are sad - and as in the civilian world are rooted (so it seems) in a bit of selfishness (which I'll delve into below) and a lack of communication - with the spouses themselves and with the outside world in general. Not sure what else the military can do to help except be more encouraging of spouses joining various "military-focused" groups such as the spouses groups or the other volunteer opportunities out there.

I have several friends who are in the midst of divorces right now: one was/is dual-military and I honestly don't know what happened there. I pray every day that they reconcile for the sake of their awesome boys. The other is single military/civilian. I know what happened there - and it is too common a story but one that plays out in all areas of society not just military. They also have children. I have one neighbor that has divorced in the past three years. I don't know what brought it about, but I know that their children are suffering from it and the aftermath. I pray for them too.

I suppose the point is that some of the problems are inherent regardless of your status in life. Unfortunately. But in my mind, it comes down to a bit of selfishness, a lack of communication and a lack of determination. This has been a topic of recent - and frequent - discussion between Maestro and me.

I've felt it important for him to understand this concept before he meets any potential future wife. So I have pointed it out to him: like it or not, every divorce I've ever seen has involved an element of selfishness. Please see that I did not say that all who divorce are selfish, only that there is an element of selfishness somewhere in the mix.

If you're cheating on your spouse, you want to have that bachelor/ette lifestyle still; if you are fighting all the time over money, children, etc., you have not worked hard enough to listen to one another as well as you should - you want it "my way or the highway." If you work so many hours "for the good of the family" that your family rarely sees you, you've placed money and "things" too high on your priority list. You get the idea. Perhaps this seems harsh, but how often do we work on what we're going to say next instead of really listening - not only to what is being said to you, but to how your words sound coming back. (Communication: another post altogether!) I will say it once more: every divorce I have seen - since I was a girl - has involved an element of selfishness. You can't be selfish and be in a happy marriage.

My oldest son has watched his friends' parents divorce and fight and he has asked if we will ever divorce. We decided long ago that divorce is not even an option. If divorce is not an option as far as you are concerned, then you look for other ways to solve the problems that come with living in close quarters with another human being.

That's my opinion on divorce.

I hope someday that our society comes to see that we can change the divorce dynamic, and that it doesn't require simply not getting married, but more of a willingness to put our personal "wants" to the side for the good of the family unit as a whole.

Linked to:
Christian Marriage Advice

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stress in Military Families

I wrote most of the following as a response to a question posted on I realize that parts of it may upset or offend some people. If you get offended, forgive me, but it is what I truly believe. The original post was talking about how many military folks get divorced and how sad that is. I agree: it is sad. It is also largely preventable, and really not so different than the civilian world. My answer seemed to touch some of the other readers, so I am posting it below. I have split it into two parts because of the length. For non-military readers, perhaps this will give people something to think about into the life of the military family and divorce in general.

When my husband and I first met, we were both active duty. Many of the people we've known over the years have been dual military. We've seen marriages that have worked and those that have split up. DH has now been in 16 years; I was in for six (four married) and have been out for nine.

For dual military couples, there are a few factors involved that we've seen. 1) you work in a VERY close environment a lot of the time and so feel like you know each other better than you really do

2) people marry regardless of their chances of getting to be stationed together in the future

3) the jobs tend to be high-stress regardless of whether or not your job is "high stress." I suppose that is confusing.

As an example, Jeff was a flight chief in his unit at one time and had almost 50 subordinates. Each of the nearly-50 needed to have evals done, reports turned in, counselings (sometimes) done, etc. Even though he was "home" (i.e.: not deployed, which is a whole 'nother story) he was never - and I mean... er... almost NEVER - home in reality. He would routinely spend up to 30 hours at the office, with me driving him in and back so that he wouldn't crash. Alternately, he would come home after about 15 hours, sleep for two hours and head back in. That was stressful in a different way than the civilian world might consider - I heard more than once, "at least he's not deployed." Well, no. not really. At that point, he might as well have been deployed because of how little we actually got to see him at home!

From the perspective of a "mixed-military" family (one civilian, one military) - a lot of times, the spouses don't know what to expect from the military. The scenario I've described above is not something that one might expect coming from the civilian world. Add to that deployments and a lack of information and you have a high stress environment no matter what you do. Many bases offer classes for the spouses to take prior to a deployment, and those are marginally helpful. They give needed information but no one tells them: get to know your spouse's commanding officer, finance and support personnel, etc. 

No one takes spouses under their wing the way they should. The services try: the Army has a family support thing (sorry I forget what it's called) and the Air Force has the Key Spouse program. When properly used, these programs can be huge advantages, giving the spouses access to *someone* who can hook them up with the "right people" when needed. But the spouse has an obligation to step out of her shell and find friends and join groups as well. There is a real need for the spouse at home to see that those military links, whether or not they like it, can be a huge benefit, at the least in terms of being with people who understand what they are going through both during deployment and during off times.

So what is a spouse to do? Reach out, ask for friends, let people know that you're looking for someone to get together with. Know that those deployments, and deployments-at-home will come, and they will be hard. 

Most importantly: Support one another. Look to give as much as you receive. Here are links to two other posts that I think dovetail with this one. I hope you'll give them each thought as well.

The first is How to Support a Military Family Member During Deployment - I give 10 ways to support those around you whose spouses are away. 
The second is Divorce and the Military Family - in truth, this post can be applied to civilian marriages as well

At the end of the day, let's find ways to uplift one another and support each other in our day-to-day struggles. It can make such a HUGE difference to know that others care enough to reach out. Do you?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Book Review: The Boneshakers

I try to screen books before Maestro reads them. This is a difficult task because he is such a voracious reader. One day not long ago, I was trying to put Buttercup down for a nap and wanted something to look at to pass the time. Enter The Boneshaker by Kate Milford. This is not a book we would normally purchase ourselves perhaps, but was sent to us by Jeff's sixth grade teacher, and the author's uncle. Please do not mistake this book for the one written about zombies in WWII. This Boneshaker is actually using the term as a reference to the early bicycles, which went by that name. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The book is set in a small town in the 1920's, a time when superstitions were prevalent and traveling shows were easier to find than they are in the present day. This is very much a "good versus evil" book. I enjoyed it and was struck by the depth of some of the passages, but I will not be allowing my own ten-year old to read it until he's closer to twelve. Some of the imagery is quite haunting. There are no graphic scenes, in terms of violence or sexuality. There was one description of the devil that was particularly vivid - and relevant to later parts of the story - that made me shudder a bit.

The main character is a girl of about thirteen named Natalie. She is talented with her hands and very interested in "automatons" - what we now call wind-up toys, and really all things mechanical. She has other ... gifts, of which she is not really aware though and has to try to use those gifts to fight the evil that comes to the town later on. With the help of her four friends, and a few choice adults, she works to understand what is happening within the town and the gift that is slowly revealing itself to her.

One of the additional things that I really liked about the book that also makes it a particularly good fit for the older "tween" set are the little unspoken lessons scattered about. I'll give one example, but I don't want to give them all away so you'll have to look at the book for yourself to see more. There is one of the four friends of whom Natalie is not so fond, finding her obnoxious and tedious to be with. She turns out to be one of the stronger friends in the book and someone who stands by her and supports Natalie at some of the toughest times. The lesson I took from that was that sometimes we are a little too quick to write off those that we dislike for (mostly) superficial reasons. For me, this lesson is particularly dear because some of my closest and dearest friends now are people I didn't particularly care much for upon our first meeting. Boy am I glad God overtook me in my stupidity and personal arrogance!

The book does move quickly. On one hand, it has to in order to get in all the detail that it does; on the flip side, the fast pace means that fleshing out many of the background characters cannot happen. For those characters, I would have liked to have seen a little more, but given the scope of the book, and that it is Ms. Milford's first published effort, the details included made up for the lack of detail elsewhere.

In the end, I'm glad to have spent the time with The Boneshaker. I found my thoughts wandering to the story line while working around the house, and in the end, spent most of last Friday absorbed in finding out what was to happen to them all. In my house, that is a sign of a good book!

Incidentally, here is a link to the books official site. Small though the site is, it does give a fuller review of the book (I didn't want to risk giving away any secrets!) Clock Work Foundry

And a link to order the book (including another reader's excellently written review and a fuller synopsis): Powells Booksellers

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Last night... I did it. I snuck out. I have needed to buy some new underthings for a little while now, but it is hard to stand and look for the right size bras with three boys and a girl antsy to get moving on to do other things. And really, don't we all just need a little time for ourselves every so often? Even Mother Theresa took time each day for silent, personal prayer time during which she was alone.

So, as always, using that innate sixth sense that nearly-two-year-olds have, Buttercup came to me and was very agitated. I picked her up and told her that I would not be gone long, that she would stay home and play with her Pop and her brothers, etc. Don't we so often try to find a way to go out without all of the tears involved in helping our youngsters become comfortable with separation from us as parents? This is never an easy process but sometimes seems to be a needed one, at least for the parents. I have not felt it harmful for the child as long as we make sure they are with someone that is trustworthy and loves them - such as their Pop, in this case. When I told her I'd be gone for a little while, etc., she put her face in my shoulder and in a very muffled tone said, "No."

Not crying; not wailing or hollering, but just, "No."

Then I went up and got some change from Jeff's change box. I set the pennies and nickels on the table alongside a piggy bank that we have, (the "Nana Jar") for her to use. She took the ... ahem... bait immediately. I took that opportune time of distraction to take out a bag of trash - through the back door. And, looky-here, somehow the keys just happen to be in my pocket. So into the car I went, backing silently down the driveway in neutral with the engine off. Once I hit the street, I turned the key... and ran, leaving my pint-sized warden behind, happy and content with her pennies and bank.

At the mall, I got my new clothes, bought myself a small bag of swedish fish, and took my cell phone to a "corporate" store to see if it can be repaired or do I need to send it in for replacement? With that, I closed down the mall and headed home in triumph. Being that it was only 9:30 when I arrived home, the kids were all still awake but all were happy and well cared for. They had had "Papa time," which I think is important for children to get on occasion. Even Smeagol, at eight, has commented on society's tenancy to marginalize the father's role in the life of a child.

(How's that for home schooling? Yesterday we had a whole discussion about in-vitro fertilization and whether papas are really necessary for life and for children... I was a little surprised, I'll admit, because he doesn't tend to think that deeply on a lot of things, or so it seems, but there were good questions in there.)

And I agreed with him: Papas are more important than society - and sometimes our friends - give credit for. And so my sneaking out was of benefit to all. For me, surely, but to the rest of my family as well. Think I'll have to do that again every few weeks. Where to go next? Perhaps just for a walk in the park, or to get my hair done, or to take a friend out for tea, or.. or... or... so many options I will have to make time for them all!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chef's Secret... Spiced Nuts for Christmas

Okay, I hesitate to write this recipe out because so many of my gift recipients get these for Christmas... I don't want them to feel like they're getting the short end of the stick because of how easy they are to make. Don't tell, okay?

These spiced nuts are gift recipient favorites for those who like spicy foods. I have a "Sweet" recipe that I do for the people who can't stand the heat, but that is for another time. I get my gift tins for $.50 or less at garage sales, thrift stores or free if I just ask people for them (believe me, neighbors tend to be happy to give them away because they take up so much space but are too nice to throw away!)


Olive oil
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste
1/2 tsp. chili powder or to taste
1 c. mixed nuts - I'm not a peanut fan so I use the Deluxe variety
2 to 3 Tbsp. soy sauce
paper towels (2 or 3)


1. Over medium heat, warm 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a frying pan; add the cayenne pepper and chili powder and heat for about 30 - 45 seconds - if you do it too long, the spices will turn black and will lose some of their potency.*

2. Add the mixed nuts and coat them with the spices - for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add the soy sauce to the nuts and coat the nuts. Stir over the heat until the pan is nearly dry. This will be the longest part of the recipe.

4. Put the nuts on the paper towels off to the side to cool.

5. Once the nuts are completely cooled, put some saran wrap into your gift tin or box so that the wrap is coming out over the top - it should make a little "Saran Pouch" inside the box. Fill the pouch with the nuts and tie off with string or ribbon. Put your lid on to keep them relatively air-tight and to complete your gift wrap!

* The amount of cayenne pepper and chili powder is easy to adjust. I would play with it a bit before sending these out as gifts. You might like a little more... or a little less!

This is one of our healthy snack recipes in the fall. Try some out - you can make them as spicy as you like! Check out for more great tips, ideas and Christmas goodies!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Get Back to Work!

Diligence... Lacking in so many, so hard to maintain in oneself, especially when working from home. I have three jobs that I count as "top line" in my occupation list: my children (that encompasses homeschooling, training, upkeep, etc.), my house, and completing the books I've been working on for far too long. Obviously, my children are going to come first, then the house - work that I do throughout much of the day. But the books are contracted, I've been paid for them and have set my goal for finishing them up. Those books are far more important to me than any contract though. I suppose I need to explain...

Somehow, as a military spouse, you have more free time when your spouse is deployed. I've never been able to explain why that is, since when Jeff is not deployed I have an extra set of adult hands in the house to help me take care of things, but somehow I am busier when he is around. Regardless, when Jeff was deployed in 2007, I had enough time and extra money to start up on a business idea that I've long considered but never knew quite how to begin. My idea was to write personal histories for people - the family stories you tell around the dinner table at Thanksgiving, Christmas and family gatherings. I thought to record these family members telling their stories, transcribe them and put them into bound books.

As I researched the idea and looked for a printer, one printing company in Utah mentioned that they print short-run books for many clients that are members of the Association of Personal Historians. Well, I joined the association to get some inside tips on how to get started, and had someone contact me from Afghanistan. My new client had had five members of his unit killed while doing an operation on deployment; all five men had families and young children and the unit wanted to have memorial books made for each of the widows. The timing worked out perfectly for each little step of the way... at first. Then we hit some snags in getting the interviews made and to me through the military postal system. We were unable to truly get moving on the project until mid-2008 as a result.

I finished the interviews - again - at the end of summer, 2009. Throughout this year, I've worked on finishing the transcription and have only two interviews remaining before I put everything into its final form and get it to a printer - before my client leaves with his family for Europe. Needless to say, now time is ticking down. My conscience weighs on me with these books, but not because of my client, he has been beyond patient and understanding. I worry about making these books truly worthy of the memories contained inside. Most of the work I've done this year has been at night, after Buttercup is in bed, sound asleep. I can get more uninterrupted work done that way and get further along in less time.

In completing my degree earlier this year, I hope to have shown my children that their education is important; in completing these books, I hope to show that being thorough and taking care to do a good job are also important. Through other events this year, my children have also seen what happens when we don't worry about the smaller details: the extra work that someone else has to do when trying to pick up the pieces, or how much work we cause ourselves when we don't do the job correctly the first time. They have also seen that postponing the work does not profit them either. Schoolwork and chores still have to be taken care of, regardless of whether it's during work time or time designated for play.

Do they always understand the lessons we're trying to teach them? You and I never did as children and pre-teens, so I'm sure they don't either. I am equally sure that over time they will see these lessons manifested more and more as their friends are not always held up to the same standards or as they see people in their own age groups leaving work behind that has to be taken care of by someone else. So what now? What can I do, while Buttercup is napping, to show my children the value of diligence? I can...

Get back to work!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hitting the Patch

Ahhh... We have lived here for seven years and now hit at least one (if not more!) local farm a year - for pumpkins, apple picking, berry picking, peach picking... you get the idea! The last couple of years I have tried to hit a farm with a corn maze. Now that the boys are older, I don't have to coax them through it and can let them run a little more safely. So here are the farms we've visited, and our thoughts on them. I am not including pricing because prices change, of course, but I will include web links!

This is one of the more popular farms in the Columbia area - and so frequently crowded. Clark's is located off of Rte. 108. We've been there for pumpkins, Christmas trees, hay rides, and games. We also went with friends one year for a birthday party.

The hayride is one of the better ones we've been on. They take you on a trail through the woods and along the trail are old faces salvaged (saved) from Enchanted Forest over on Rte. 40. Enchanted Forest is closed now, but the dragons and other characters are being preserved by Clark's for all to enjoy. As you ride along, sitting on the hay bales, you hear shouts of joy and surprise as new faces are spotted. The ride ends at the pumpkin patch where you disembark to pick your gourd.

Clark's also features animals to feed, a horse ride and a haybale-type city for the smaller children. There is not as much to do for the oldest children, but all do enjoy the hay ride and it is not too big for the youngest, who might tire out more easily.

Larriland is also one of the better-known farms in the area and frequently very busy, especially on the weekends. The best time to go? When there is a light drizzle - then you practically get the place to yourself (better bring a jacket though!) Larriland is open most of the year and has multiple fields that they rotate through, depending on the crops and the season. It is a good idea to check the website before going so you can see what is ripe and ready. We have picked apples, peaches, blackberries, spinach, and pumpkins there ourselves.

Standard Fall/Hallowe'en things at Larriland include apple fritters and cider, a hay ride, pumpkin picking, a small hay maze for the youngest kids, and a haunted house. Their hay ride is also pretty good and winds along around parts of the farm and a small lake on the property. Along the way are signs to read, ghosts hanging from the trees and riddles to solve. All of these enhance the ride as you keep an eye out for what's next.

The haunted house is short but the kids enjoy going through multiple times and you do hear occasional shouts and screams coming from within! I usually have a small child with me so have not gone with my olders so have not seen the inside. The hay maze is where the kids tend to go... and stay. The walls are tall enough that the kids cannot see over so for them it is great fun as they usually get a game of hide and seek going or something along those lines. The older kids get bored a little more quickly but enjoy it all the same.

This is where we went this year. As it seems to be with most "corn maze farms", the biggest draw for North Run is the corn maze. I'll get to that in a second. North Run features two corn mazes - 0.4 miles and 2 miles - and you solve a mystery while inside. They also have a hay ride, pumpkins, animals and a couple of "hay structures" for the children to run on, around, and through.

The hay ride is ... "eh." It goes in a simple squared-off circle around a smaller corn field and then you get off. It's too short to be exciting, you don't really sit on the hay unless you sit in the middle (benches line the two sides) and except for the youngest riders, it's just kind of dull.

Bruiser on a crawl tube in the mini-maze
Some of the pumpkins here had HUGE vines attached. Wowee! They had "regular" pumpkins, white, purple, and all the various gourds you would normally see at a fall farm scene. They also had a selection of apples that were very tasty but not too many of those. There was a mini-hay maze for the very youngest kids, with short walls that made it suitable for even our 22 mo. old Buttercup to go through and walk on. In another section, they had half-tires set up into the ground for the kids to climb around on. They had a corn teepee the kids could go into (and back out of) and then "Hayland" for the biggest kids to climb and jump around on.
Maestro and Smeagol jumping down at Hayland

As I said though, their big draw is the corn maze and the North Run folks put the bulk of their effort into that. To the left (this year) is the 0.4 mile maze. As you go through the maze, sound is muted, breezes are largely blocked off an you enter a kind of creepy little world! You take a maze guide in with you that shows the path and where certain clues are located. There are additional unmarked clues scattered throughout as well. The remainder of the clues are located in the 2-mile maze. They do a different shape each year and this year the maze is in the shape of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. I do believe we hit every tooth! We had a good time looking for the clues, but being with the youngest child in our group (22 months), did not finish. Two other groups that we were with did finish though, including the group with the five year old. The teens petered out before the fivers
- go figure!

Those are the three that we've been to most often or most recently. I hope they are helpful to some!


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