Monthly Archives: October 2012

Mama’s Girl

My mom is here! Well, actually she has been here since last Thursday but I am having trouble being a “timely” blogger. The point is, she IS HERE and we are happy campers – especially me.

I love having my mom around. I need her. No matter how old I get.

Mom, or Grandma as she is also known, swoops into town 3-4 times a year and whips things into shape around here. Within a day my fridge is purged of all things expired, questionable and/or downright unseemly. She organizes my freezer and makes room for the next Costco run. She catches my laundry up (for 34 seconds because laundry is never caught up for more than 34 seconds). She bakes banana bread and makes delicious meals from my childhood that always make me wonder “why don’t I make this more often?”; so far this trip it has been Chili-Stacks, Brats (not my children, bratWURST) with Apples and Sauerkraut and Hamburger Mac. I promise I will get all of the recipes out of her head and down on paper so I can share them with you.

What? you don’t like Sauerkraut. Yes you do, you just haven’t had it homemade like my dad used to make it or homemade from a farmers market. BIG difference, I promise.

Grandma and Nathan when he was just a little guy.

I LOVE having the extra set of hands (and a clean fridge) but I don’t expect her to do those things. She takes care of me, of us. Not because she has to. Not because we can’t or don’t do for ourselves. She does it because she has a servant’s heart (and because she can’t stand laundry piles). She is a caretaker. I have a servant’s heart too. It is the gifting God has placed on our lives and I believe it is so strong in me because she has modeled it for me my whole life.

Grandma and Sara, a special bond.

Whenever anyone – not just family, anyone – she knew of was sick or in need, my mom was always there to  meet that need. Sometimes it was just to drop-off a hot meal or care package but other times is was to nurse a sick family member through severe illness, a few even coming to live with us so that she could give them the 24-7 attention they needed. She has also been called to care for more than one loved one at the end of their journey. The most difficult for her was nursing my dad through a long and painful battle with emphysema. Watching someone you love weaken, suffer and ultimately pass is not easy but she wouldn’t have been anywhere else. God called her to this, she answered. He gave her the strength to do it all with grace and to model for her daughters selfless love.

I saw her have moments of difficulty, tears, stress.

She is not perfect.

But she never quit, no matter how hard it was.

I saw that too.

“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is a slave or free.” Ephesians 6:7-8

When Sara and David came back to us so traumatized and hurting, my mom put her own life on hold and stayed with us so that we could focus on the needs of the kids; including Nathan, who at 18 months old had just had his quiet, peaceful life turned completely upside down. She managed everything else, cooking, cleaning, laundry – everything – with never a complaint or criticism, not one – which is saying something because she and I may have big servant’s hearts but we also have big sassy personalities (she modeled “don’t mess with me” well too). I honestly don’t know how we would have done it without her and believe me, it was hard stuff.

David and Grandma. The two people in my life who are always cookin’ something up!

I grieve for my friends who have lost their moms or don’t have the close relationship that I am so blessed to have. Just a few weeks ago, I sat in the park with a sweet friend and felt every bit of her anguish, as she wept over losing her mom a few months ago. I have lost both my dad and my step-dad and I miss them both very much, but my friend’s pain was a reminder of just how fortunate I am to still have my mom in my life.

Don’t get me wrong, my mom and I have challenges and we butt heads and get frustrated with each other (remember big, sassy personalities) but none of that really matters much. She is always there for us, especially when we need her the most. I can count on her and I appreciate her.

I have not always appreciated her, at least not as much as I should have.

But I do now.

I wish she would let me build a little “casita” for her on the back of our property so that she would be right next door. But she’s not ready for that. She’s independent too.

When she is here, my floors and bathrooms are cleaner, the dishes and laundry are done, things are picked up and in their place.

But that is not why I need her.

I need her because she is my mom and she still, even at my age always makes me feel like everything will be okay.

Keep your father’s commandments and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them upon your heart forever; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you. Proverbs 6:20-22

She has made some mistakes and has some regrets, but I am who I am today because of what my mom taught me, modeled for me and expected of me. I pray my kids will say the same of me someday.

Disneyland, 2010

Maybe she’ll make cake after she reads all of the nice stuff I said about her.

Lucy and Ethel Plan a Halloween Party

We love being a part of Cub Scouts! David is learning new skills, we have made wonderful friends and are having A LOT of fun – Nathan can hardly wait to be a “Hub-Scout” (as he calls it) when he gets older.

Last Thursday was our Halloween Pack Meeting/Party. I am the Assistant Committee Chair and I LOVE putting a party together so I took up the party planning reins. Thankfully my friend, fellow party lover, Wolf Den Leader and kindred Pinterest addict, Eileen, became Ethel to my Lucy and helped me put the whole thing together.

Just like Lucy and Ethel were prone to do, we went a little crazy! At one point (I think it was when we were discussing the white chocolate dipped pretzel topped brownie skeleton treats) Eileen’s husband looked at us and said, “you know they’re just boys, right?” I think he was insinuating that the stack of hand dipped pretzels topped with a puffy Marshmallow face all resting on a homemade brownie decoratively wrapped in a cellophane treat bag, would be lost on them. I think he was suggesting that the “Cake Walk” would be just as successful if we were to just buy cupcakes at Albertsons.

Silly guy, doesn’t he know that this is our chance, our long awaited opportunity to try out ALL of the amazing ideas we have been pinning on our Halloween boards for months?

So between the planning meetings which doubled as play dates, text messages, phone calls and midnight e-mails, here’s what we came up with:

Games and Activities

We had two activity stations and five game stations, mostly because we have five different dens so each den could be in charge of a game and the den parents could rotate through making sure there was always be a parent at each station to help. Each game had a bucket of candy and small Halloween themed toys to be handed out to the kids when they finished participating.

The Guessing Table – At the entrance to the party was “The Guessing Table” where we had mason Jars filled with gumballs, eyeballs, malted milkballs, cheeseballs (aka: pumpkin poo) and candy corn. I used white jumbo cupcake wrappers topped with Halloween themed wrappers as decorative (and really easy) lid covers. We set up orange and yellow gift bags behind each jar for the boys to put their guesses in and whoever had the closest guess won the jar.

The Guessing Jars

The Eyeball Guessing Jar

For the “Eyeball Guessing Jar”, I topped it with a treat cup filled with candy so that the winner would have something yummy and not just eyeballs. Although I can’t imagine any elementary school age boy who wouldn’t be thrilled just to win a jar full of squishy, sticky eyeballs.

Grandma and Nathan making their best guess.

The Craft Table – Eileen ordered canvas treat bags from Oriental Trading Company for the kids to color and then use to hold all of the candy and goodies they would collect at each game station.

Coloring Treat Bags

The Costume Contest – Before the games got started, we had all of the kids parade across the stage for a costume contest. We had three of the pack leaders judge the costumes based on Originality, Imagination, Wow-Factor and “Selling-It” (being in character). We had some great costumes and all of the winners (1st, 2nd and 3rd place) put a lot of thought, creativity and effort into their costumes and each received a prize that included a black light (which here in the desert is great for night-time scorpion hunting – if you like that sort of thing, which I don’t), a frozen yogurt shop gift card, Halloween pencil and a bag of treats.

Eileen asking Nathan who he is for the Costume Contest, “I’m Nathan B.” he answers matter-of-factly. Eileen tries again, “But whooooo are you?”  “Naaaathaaan Broooweeeeer” he says slower and much more clearly so that the confused lady with the microphone can understand. Actually, he was “Chop-Chop” one of his super cool and much beloved Skylander characters.

Our Winner, Jacob the Giraffe!

Dara and Davin, the coolest Mother/Son Zombie team I know!

And David is a Ninja, three years running. He does make a good Ninja. Actually this year, he is technically “Snake Eyes” from G.I. Joe so he’s not really just a Ninja … again. Sara was a very pretty Genie but in the craziness, I missed getting a picture of her – I’ll get one on Halloween!

Let the Games Begin!

Station 1, Games for the Little Goblins and Ghouls – We set up an area, removed a little from the main chaos and craziness that comes with a large group of 6-11 year old boys, for all of the little brothers and sisters that came. I can’t believe I never got a picture of this station but we had a pumpkin bean bag toss, sticky spider web splat game, toilet paper pumpkin bowling (TP rolls with ghost eyes and mouths drawn on stacked in a pyramid and then bowled over with a small pumpkin – so cute) and pin the nose on the pumpkin.

Although I don’t have a picture, the TP bowling was inspired by http://bedifferentactnormal.com

Station 2, The Toilet Paper Mummy Race – Teams of three boys, two at one end of the race one at the other end, one boy would wrap another in toilet paper (using the entire roll), the newly mummified scout would then run down to the other end where he would be unwrapped by his waiting team-mate and then race back to the start. I’m not sure if the actual “race” part of the activity was successful but the kids sure had a lot of fun wrapping each other in toilet paper!

Mummified!

Grandma “mummifies” Nathan.

Station 3, Pop Goes the Pumpkin – Young children overly excited with party fever and consuming way too much sugar, why not add darts to the scenario? There were a few concerns about this but when did Lucy and Ethel ever let the threat of danger or potential harm stop them? Actually “Pop Goes the Pumpkin” was very safe, a lot of fun and VERY popular with the boys. Inspired by a Pinterest Post from http://marthastewart.com, Eileen took two foam core presentation boards, taped them together and then covered them with black cloth. The balloons were taped to the board in a pumpkin(ish) shape and she put a green paper stem at the top to complete the effect. Two big black garbage bags filled with extra balloons were standing by to replace the popped ones. We blocked off the area around the dart board and only one set of plastic darts was used so that just one boy at a time could shoot thus minimizing the risk of life and limb to the parent volunteers.

“Pop Goes the Pumpkin”

Station 4, Fear Factor Challenge – My friend Jenn, Cub Scout Treasurer extraordinaire, took this one over and did a great job. She covered bowls filled with “interesting” things for the kids to reach into and see if they could guess the contents. Were they feeling slimy worms or spaghetti noodles? Cockroaches or banana peels? Peeled grapes or gooey eyeballs? You get the idea. Gross and perfect for boys! Wipes and hand sanitizer were a nice added touch.

Ewww, gross what is in there?

Station 5, The Cake Walk – Timeless and a necessity at any Halloween Party! Incidentally, neither Eileen or her husband had any idea what a “Cake Walk” was – how is that possible? To have never walked around and around in a circle desperately hoping for your number to be called so you can victoriously march up to the cake table and select whatever delicious treat your heart desires. It really is unthinkable.

The Cake Walk Treat Table

My youngest son, on the other hand, is the greatest cake walk competitor of all time. This child is serious about his cake walk and it is hysterical! We discovered this last year at his pre-school Halloween Party. He patiently and methodically stepped from number to number, no pushing, crowding, hurrying, he was all business – which was made even funnier by the fact that normally he is a run-away train barreling through his day at 100 miles an hour. When the number was about to be called he would wait intently, eyes wide, ears straining to find out if he was the winner. When his number was not called (and it was not, many, many, many times) to our amazement, he never got frustrated or upset he just continued on patiently walking around and around that circle somehow sensing that his “day” would come, even clapping for winner after winner as they walked up to select the sweet treat he was so determined to win. Finally, after what felt like a thousand trips around that circle, his number was called and you have NEVER seen a more excited, proud little guy. His patience and “never give up” attitude had paid off and as he approached that cake table to claim his prize, he reached out and selected … the tiniest individual cupcake on the table! I am NOT making this up, all that and then the tiniest cupcake on the table. But he was happy, thrilled actually, and that was all that mattered. Much to our amusement, the same exact scenario played out at the cake walk this year. About a thousand methodical trips around the circle and when his number was called, he proudly walked to the table and claimed … an individual cupcake. The table was filled with whole cakes, and dozens of cupcakes and he chose one lone little cupcake, just enough – so adorable! Okay, I’m done with my “mommy moment”.

Nathan anxiously waiting to see if his number is called.

Look at that intent little face and if you look at the bottom of the picture do you see how he is standing perfectly placed on top of his number (the orange square)? ALL BUSINESS. Precious boy! Okay, now I’m really done.

Some of our Cake Walk Treats …

The Skeleton Brownies – Ethel, I mean Eileen, did make them and they were amazing!

The skeleton Brownies were inspired by http://wantsandwishesdesign.blogspot.com

Jenn made “Brains in a Jar” – Yummy! Cake on the bottom, topped with raspberry preserves and then covered with light grey tinted frosting piped back and forth to look like brains. So cool! I do have some talented friends. This somewhat gross but really cool “Brains in a Jars” idea came from http://totallyloveit.com.

Candy Cups as a fun alternative!

My candy cups were inspired by http://thesugardiva.com but I put the cupcake wrapper inside of a small plastic cup for a little more stability.

So that does it for the fun and games, now onto the Party Food.

Sacks and Treats – We had a snack and treat table which, thanks to the help of our pack parents, was overflowing with apples and caramel dip, snack mix, cookies and cupcakes.

For the snack mix, I mixed equal parts pretzels, cheese crackers, cheese puffs, mini caramel rice cakes and then threw in some small ghost shaped marshmallows and fall colored plain M&Ms for good measure.

We also served a “Witch’s Brew Punch”. Our Committee Chair Tammy took care of the punch but the recipe came from one that both of my grandmothers often made; in truth was probably served at every bridal and baby shower from 1964-1975. Lime Sherbet Punch is green and foamy and delicious – PERFECT for a Halloween Party, especially if you freeze gummy worms into pineapple juice ice cubes and throw them in (which is only successful if you actually remember to bring them, which I did not).

Witch’s Brew Punch

Here’s how you concoct this venomous brew …

  • 2 Quarts Lime Sherbet
  • 2 Liters Chilled Lemon/Lime Soda, ginger ale, or squirt
  • 1 – 46 oz. Can of Chilled Pineapple Juice

Scoop the lime sherbet into the punch bowl (or cauldron) and let it sit for 10 minutes or so as it will foam up better if it melts a little. Pour the cold soda over the sherbet and then add the chilled pineapple juice. Throw in your pineapple juice gummy worm ice cubes (if you remembered them) and a chunk of dry ice for the spooky effect above.

All in all, the party went off without a hitch and the kids had a great time! I can’t thank my very own Ethel (Eileen) enough for all of her help and great ideas. I am quite sure there will be more Lucy/Ethel adventures in our future.

So for now “Thor” (my other amazing helper) and “The Mad Housewife” (me, inspired by the wine label), wish you a Happy Halloween! I hope you can use a few of the ideas here to make it sweet, fun and festive.

Thanks to the Pack parents and leaders for all of their help making our party such a success and thanks to our local Albertsons for donating cakes and punch supplies, they are always willing to help us out and I thought they deserved a shout out! Also, thanks to all of the talented “pinners” out there for their ideas and inspiration!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

In the Company of Great Teachers

This past week, David received an award at school,  a “Personal Achievement Award” for the quarter. In our world, this is a BIG deal!

So proud of my guy!

Anyone who knows David will be thrilled for him and so proud of him but I don’t think they will be surprised. Because anyone who knows David knows just how hard this kid works to overcome things that most of us can’t begin to imagine.

David is only eight. In his eight years, he has been unwanted, rejected, mistreated, neglected, abused, bullied, nearly broken, rescued, delivered, redeemed, wanted, accepted, valued, cherished, loved. To quote the beautiful song “What Love Really Means” by JJ Heller, “he’s the kid with the story no one would believe”. A story like that leaves scars. They are not always scars that you can see but they are there and they are painful and debilitating. Scars like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Oppositional Defiance Disorder and Anxiety and Attachment Disorders. Scars that on good days make “normal” functioning hard and on bad days, nearly impossible. Throw ADHD on top of all of that and you have a boy who fights a daily battle for self-control, focus and just a little bit of peace.

From the time this sweet boy first came into our lives at the age of 20 months, we have loved him. I have thanked God for the blessing of being his mom and have agonized over the struggles we have had. My husband and I have fought for him, worried and lost sleep over him, cried out over his loss and rejoiced at being reunited with him. We have protected him, rocked him when he cried or raged, sung to him, felt his pain, struggled to parent him, done battle with him, and celebrated small victories with him. We have cried with him, we have cried for him and we have cried because of him. We have laid hands on him and prayed, and prayed and prayed.

And, I have wrestled with my own fear, my own unwillingness to let go and with my desire to keep him protected and at home, safe in our bubble all the while knowing that God has a purpose for him in this world and I need to let him find it. He is not mine to keep.

I think most moms know what I mean when I talk about the “bubble” but I have no doubt that moms with children who have special needs or struggles know exactly what I mean; especially when it comes to education.

School. One word that strikes right at the heart of all moms with challenged kids. How do you fight so hard for them and then stand helplessly by while they walk out that front door into a world that doesn’t love them like you do? A world that doesn’t understand their needs, what they have been through or how they struggle.

At the beginning of each school year, my inner voice tells me “maybe I should just home school him. He’s been through so much. There will be time for him to learn to socialize, to make friends, to discover that home isn’t the only safe place … next year, we’ll do that next year.” And then the gentle voice in my heart whispering “trust Me, I will protect Him, I know what is best for him, I love him too, I loved him first, let go and just follow me.”

And so I am following and He has been faithful. I am trusting and He has provided, even when I have doubt and am not sure the next moment of grace will come. It always does. In spite of my uncertainty and my fear and in truth, my need for control (which is really just an illusion anyway, isn’t it?), He has truly provided and my son is thriving, even at school.

You see, David received this award not just because he deserves it but also because he has a teacher who sees beyond the challenging behavior of his hurts and special needs to his heart. She sees a child who fights hard everyday to do his best, even when his best for that day might just mean that he kept his hands to himself, didn’t pour milk on anyone’s head, did most of his work and only got out of his seat 6 times instead of 16.

When I heard that David would be receiving this award, I started thinking, reflecting and realizing just how blessed we have been by the teachers God has placed in his life. I thought about how David got this same award last year from his first grade teacher who also saw the perfectly beautiful child beneath the imperfect behavior. I thought about how four years of school (two years of kindergarten, first grade and now second) have brought into our lives not just one or two gifted teachers but many, including a few great aides, principals and support staff. I am overwhelmed to see how these people have not simply accepted the role of educating our son but have put in the time and care to reach out to him and to help him heal.

That is God at work.

That is the answered prayer of a mother on her knees giving her son to God, asking for His help and trusting in His provision.

“I lift my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2

These are people God has called to stand in the gap for us when we can’t be there to help our son self-regulate, or to diffuse the building anger and frustration or to bring him out of a dissociative episode that seems to come out of nowhere. When we can’t be there (because we can’t always be there), they have been. How do you thank someone for that?

They have accepted David for who he is and have met him where he is. They have expected his best and have not made excuses for him but they have also recognized his limits and given him the help he needs. They have worked with us to find the best solutions for him so that he can be successful. And most importantly, they have made school a positive place for him and have helped him to begin to realize that home is not the only safe place or the only place where he is loved, valued and wanted. How do you thank someone for that?

How can I begin to thank Ms. Vaudt, his first Kindergarten teacher at the wonderful little Christian school he attended right after he had come back to us and he was hurting so much. How do I thank her for holding him while he cried or for the countless tantrums she soothed through a year where his mind was not open to learning but his heart was open to healing. How do I thank the principal of that school for the day I came in to pick him up after he had been aggressive with another child on the playground. When I walked into her office expecting to hear how he was at the very least suspended or possibly wasn’t welcome there anymore but instead found her rocking him in her office chair and comforting him. When I apologized to her for his behavior her response to me was “there is room for God to work for all children in this school.” That school was a special place and it broke my heart to leave it when we moved out of the area at the end of the school year.

David & Ms. Vaudt, 2009

Our next school was also a small Christian school where we had David repeat Kindergarten. He was still having a very difficult time emotionally and had a lot of challenging behaviors that the school was not equipped to manage. His teacher, Mrs. Roach, however, loved him and never gave up on him. In the end, the school was not a good fit for us but I can never thank Mrs. Roach enough for her willingness to work with David and for helping him through such a difficult year. She is a wonderful teacher with a heart of gold and I will always consider her a friend.

David ran into Mrs. Roach at Disneyland, 2010.

After a lot of prayer, reflection, research, discussion and advice from friends with experience in IEPs and 504 plans, we decided that public school was the best answer for getting David the help and services he required. We are beyond blessed to live in an area with a fantastic neighborhood school and so, we enrolled David in first grade and were given one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever met, Ms. Alfonso. I can’t begin to tell you how this gifted teacher turned school around for my son. She is exactly what he needed; loving and kind but firm in her expectation of what he was capable of. He LOVED her (actually, he still loves her and so do I) and he started to love school. He continued to have trouble with less supervised times (lunch, recess, etc.) but thanks to a caring and accommodating principal, Mrs. K, he was allowed to keep a back-pack of Legos in the office so that he could spend those times quietly playing instead of being overstimulated in an unruly environment he longed to be a part of but wasn’t ready for.

David and Ms. Alfonso, 2011

Suddenly, our son began to excel. His needs were met, we had an IEP in place and he started Resource Classes to catch up on some reading challenges and get whatever behavioral support he needed. Which brings in Mrs. Walsh, David’s Resource teacher. Mrs. Walsh has advocated for David and has helped him to “catch up”. She is sweet and professional and puts him at ease by offering him a safe, calm and accepting environment to retreat to when he needs it – as all children with trauma issues do (I don’t have a picture of her yet but I will).We ended last year on a huge high and spent the summer swimming, fishing, relaxing, visiting family and gaining a little weight (sadly, not just David – his was needed, mine not so much) while he was off of the ADHD meds.

As the summer came to an end, second grade began to loom over us and my old fears began to creep in. What do we do? How will we make it without Ms. Alfonso? Can we beg her to teach second grade? Should we research every teacher and request the one that we determine is best? He’s had such a great summer, should we keep him off of the ADHD medication? Should I just home school (it is always in the back of my mind)? And here’s the kicker, we will have a new principal. Does Mrs. K not know what her leaving to improve her quality of life and increase her time with her own family will do to my son’s progress? Anyone who deals with special needs of any kind will tell you that when you have a great team in place and you lose a valued member of that team, it is haaaaard! Before she left though, she promised me that the new principal was great and that we would love him.

Him? A guy? Could you repeat that please?

All of our amazing teachers, our team, up to this point have been women. I’m not against him (or hims in general for that matter, I’m married to a pretty awesome him). I know some fantastic male teachers, I just don’t know this him. Will he have the compassion and understanding my son needs? Will he be too strict, too demanding, too unrealistic in his expectations? Oh, why does the summer have to end?

In the end, all I could do was have faith – which, as always, is what I should have done all along. I met with our new teacher (Mrs. Skinner), Mrs. Walsh, and the new principal (Mr. K), before the school year started. Mr. K was very nice, straight forward and to the point, very Mr. like but approachable and considerate. He didn’t even seem too uncomfortable when I established myself as a crier in front of him, which I hate and I’m pretty sure he does too; or too hurried when I talked A LOT longer than most Mr.’s normally allow time for. I left that meeting feeling pretty positive about the upcoming year, realizing that once again, God had provided for our son.

So now, we are through the first quarter of second grade and we have certainly had some difficulties. It was hard for David to begin a new school year. His fear and anxiety were high and we had decided to try school without his ADHD medication. Many children have great success managing their ADHD without medication. For David, trying to manage ADHD, anxiety and other trauma related disorders, proved to be too much. The first few weeks of second grade were terrible, old behaviors and anxieties resurfaced as did my fear and uncertainty and his anger and frustration. But through all of it, Mr. K, Mrs. Skinner and Mrs. Walsh worked with us and came up with solutions that have helped to get David get back on track. We did put David on a new ADHD medication which is working well for him and the school has provided him with a wonderful aide, Ms. Julie, for the transitional times he still struggles with. He is happy and has settled into a great routine. How do I thank Mr. K, Mrs. Skinner, Mrs. Walsh and Ms. Julie for what they do for my son everyday?

David with Mrs. Skinner and Ms. Julie his Aide, 2012

David and his buddy Reagan receiving their awards from Mr. K

How do I thank any of them? The truth is, I won’t ever be able to offer thanks enough. But David will.

That JJ Heller song I mentioned earlier also goes on to say “He prays every night ‘dear God won’t you please … could you send someone here who will love me?’

He will thank them by growing up to fulfill his potential. He will thank them by become the man God intends for him to be. He will become that man because of the people God works through to love him and that includes his teachers.

So often, we focus on the challenges that come with educating our children and become frustrated by negative experiences. No one likes standardized testing or timed tests, homework is always a battle, we’ve all had to look on math.com for the current methodology involved solving long division (methodology that seems to change on a yearly basis) and we ALL want to hang up the phone when we answer to hear “Hello, Mrs. __________, this is principal __________, we’ve had a little problem today …”.

But what we sometimes fail to recognize is that there are truly amazing teachers, people, out there who give so much of themselves for our kids and ask little in return. In fact on the numerous occasions I tried to find the words to thank Ms. Alfonso last year, her answer to me was always, “stop thanking me, you don’t have too, I’m just doing my job.”

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach …” Romans 12:6-7

I love her gracious and humble heart and I will say this because she won’t. A gifted teacher is not simply doing a job. A gifted teacher answers a calling and in so doing, allows God to work through her (or him) so that a little boy with a broken spirit can feel valued simply because he is doing his best.

Someday that little boy will grow into a loving man who values others because he was loved and valued in spite of his challenges and that will be thanks enough.

“Real Good” Pumpkin Bread

Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying “Wine is constant proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.” While I don’t disagree, I think the same can be said for pumpkin bread – well pumpkin anything really, but pumpkin bread in particular. It is especially true this time of year with the air turning cooler and the desire for the rich smells of fall to fill our kitchens with comfort and contentment.

The best pumpkin bread I have ever had is from a family recipe of my good college friend, Kathy. Her mom sent the recipe to me many years ago in a Christmas card and I have made it countless times and given it as a gift to just about everyone I know. The original recipe card was entitled “Aunt Gladys’ Real Good Pumpkin Bread”, circa 1925. “Real good”? A strange and simple sentiment and let me tell you, the understatement of the century!

This ‘Real Good’ pumpkin bread is in fact one of the most amazing, fantastic, over-the-moon delicious quick breads ever. Moist and tender and full of flavor yet incredibly simple to make. You can literally dump all of the ingredients together in a bowl, mix it up and it will turn out great. No sifting, no adding eggs one at a time, no slowly incorporating dry ingredients – this bread is forgiving, just another reason to love it.

Yesterday, I made some to put in a care package I was putting together for a friend who’d just had surgery. Of course, I saved a loaf for the family which was devoured almost instantaneously. By dinner time, Nathan, my five year old, was begging me to make more which I promised him I would do “tomorrow”.

This morning, my eyes barely open while waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, my sweet baby boy comes tromping into the kitchen, blanket dragging behind him. Normally I get a big hug and a precious “good morning mommy”. This morning, however, the first words out of his mouth were “mommy, you mayka dat pun-kin bread for me now?” He woke up thinking about pumpkin bread. This is just further confirmation that he is without a doubt, my son.

How could I say no to that? So Nathan and I did ‘mayka dat pun-kin bread’, together.

My helper dumping in the flour and giving me his “cheese-ball” smile.

Looking good!

When you are a boy who doesn’t like loud noises, even the mixer can be a little much. But pumpkin bread is worth it.

Would you like the recipe? Oh, good ’cause we’d love to share!

“Real Good Pumpkin Bread”

  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 – 16 oz. can of plain pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup chopped walnut halves (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three loaf pans (or spray them with “baking” spray). Mix dry ingredients together (I dump them all in the bowl of my stand mixer and then mix them together for about 30 seconds – start slowly or you’ll have a messy cloud of dry ingredients hanging over your kitchen). Add oil, eggs, water, pumpkin and nuts and mix until ingredients are just combined.

Divide batter evenly between the three 4″x8″ loaf pans and bake for one hour (or 45 minutes for six small loaves). In my oven, 3 loaves bake up perfectly in about 55 minutes so be sure and check for doneness before the hour point as you don’t want to over bake. Also, I never put the nuts in. I like nuts but my husband and kids don’t and in this case, I have to agree that the bread is better without them.

Fresh from the oven, smells great!

I know one five year old who can hardly wait for it to cool off!

Finally it is done! That is one happy boy!

“Mmmmm, pun-kin bread. Thank you for makin’ me dat pun-kin bread mommy.” – Nathan

I hope you and yours enjoy this recipe as much as me and mine do. Be sure to leave a reply and tell me how it turned out for you – I’d love to know. Enjoy!

Laughter and Perspective are Good for the Soul

Laughter is good for the soul. Learning to laugh at ourselves and let go of our failings brings contentment and the ability to have patience amid life’s more frustrating and irritating circumstances. Often times these very circumstances turn out to be pretty funny in the end anyway. It is all about perspective, and I certainly have a lot more of that these days. I had just such a circumstance this past week when I spent an afternoon frantically searching through every nook and cranny of my house looking for my social security card.

The search began when my husband asked for the card for the recent re-finance we did on our house. Sadly, up to that point I didn’t even know it was missing.

I started the search in the most obvious place, the “Important Papers File”. Among many other “important papers”, I found my Honorable Discharge from the military (yes, I was in the military), the receipt for my wedding ring (circa 1995), and my husband’s high school transcripits from 1982-83. Which is a relief because I might need those someday.

No social security card.

Where to look next? Purses.

Disclaimer: I am not a hoarder. I am a busy mom whose purse seems to take on a life of it’s own – girl’s, I know you can relate. When I switch to another purse, I take out the essentials and toss the previous one on a shelf in the closet, usually with all sorts of interesting things tucked in side pockets or left to linger at the bottom of the bag.

I looked through what felt like 3,496 purses and 562 wallets but was really about 30 and 12. Here is what I found. HUNDREDS of cards; grocery store VIP savings cards, discount punch cards, business cards, insurance cards, cards, cards cards. More receipts than I care to discuss, old grocery lists (which being the foodie that I am, proved to be an interesting distraction), movie ticket stubs (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 2009), 14 lip glosses, 16 pens (ironic considering I can never find one in my purse when I need one), 6 packs of gum, countless breath mints, an assortment of  small toys, a few packets of fruit snacks, flushable wipes, enough feminine hygeine products to stock a Walgreens, and so much spare change that I am pretty sure the college tuition for at least one of my children is now covered. Oh, and $20 bucks. Yeah!

The low point came when I discovered the side pocket of one purse to be filled with loose M&M’s which were most likely used to placate a restless toddler in a public setting. Considering my youngest child just turned 5, we can assume the M&Ms were at least two years old. Thankfully, they were plain because at that point had they been peanut, I probably would have eaten them.

No social security card.

Next? Junk drawer, keepsake boxes, my craft room/office. Lord have mercy on my soul.

Here I will just give you a small sampling of what I found in the interest of protecting any dignity I might have left. My college ID (I graduated in 1991), the medal I received upon completing the P.F. Chang’s Marathon in 2004 (marathons are 26.2 miles, a fact that in 2004 did not terrify me nearly as much as it should have), newspaper clippings, quotes, poems, old pictures and “yet to be tried” recipies.

No social security card.

In fact, I still have not found my social security card, but I did find something else in the process of looking. While, at first it was frustrating and irritating to have to spend my Thursday afternoon digging through my disorganized and cluttered failings, as it turned out, I actually had an enjoyable visit with some old memories. I purged and organized and I now have a fresh clean start on the purse shelf, more lip gloss, and a few new recipies to try. Oh, and $20 bucks! Perspective.

Next? The forgotten boxes in the garage from our move two years ago or I could just go to the Social Security Office and request a new card. Either way, I’ll need you to pray for me.

Happy Monday, may it be filled with laughter and perspective.

Pesto – the reason God made basil!

Even in Arizona, it is starting to cool off … finally! The kids are still swimming – because they are crazy little people who won’t admit they are cold even when their lips are blue and their teeth are chattering – but even so, it won’t be long before my basil is done for the season.

Ahhhhh, basil!

So, last weekend David and I harvested most of the basil in my herb garden and made 6 batches of pesto. I love pesto. I could eat pesto on anything, even ice cream (well that might be an exaggeration but not by much). My favorite pesto recipe comes from one of my favorite foodies, Ina Garten – The Barefoot Contessa. I was very excited to share this amazing recipe with you so that you could make your own pesto and be fulfilled and happy.

Did you catch the “I was” part? Surely, it would be okay to share another’s recipe if you give them full credit, right? Somewhere in the back of my head that little voice was saying “you’d better check before you do it” – look before I leap, what? Okay, just this once though.

As it turns out, I learned two things; 1. it IS NOT okay to post another person’s recipe, even if you give them credit and 2. apparently I should listen to that little voice in the back of my head more often. I am very disappointed by this (actually, by both of these). I get it but I am bummed because I have made some really great recipes that are not my own. The good news is that I have also made some really great recipes that are mine, or at least my family’s, that I can and will share. I will also still share some of my other favorites and will point you in the direction of finding the recipe for yourself.

So, for now, here is what I can show you of Project Pesto …

The necessary ingredients, when properly combined become a little taste of heaven. I can’t tell you how to properly combine them and I sure hope you can’t read that recipe because I took the picture before I knew the rules – story of my life. I can show you what the finished product looks like though …

And I can very subtly give you a clue where you can find the recipe for yourself …

So the moral of this story is “look before you leap” (why is that so often the moral of the story), “give credit where credit is due” and buy Ina’s cookbook because as far as I’m concerned it is impossible to have too many cookbooks or too much Pesto.

Meet The Company I Keep; “The Main Cast of Characters”

I went a little out-of-order the other day when I told you how my husband and I became parents before I even told you much about said husband and children. I will be talking about them a lot as I continue to blog and I would love for you to know a little bit more about them. Next to the Lord Almighty Himself, they are the center of my universe and the reasons why I do pretty much everything I do. I am a very blessed and thankful wife and mom and here are the reasons why …

The Brew Crew

Gary or “Brewdog” (I do not call him that but I will explain it later) is my husband of 16 years (It will be 17 in January) but we have been together for 19. He is a family man who has his priorities straight. As the godly head of our home, he leads our family with love, compassion and his whole heart. He is kind and funny, strong and steady and seems to have infinite patience, all qualities I am quite sure God gave him when He made him for me – He KNEW that he was going to need them!

Never give up. Never surrender.

He’s a great dad and is the biggest reason our two older kids are overcoming their trauma as well as they are. He makes them feel safe. They know they are loved and protected and that any harm coming to them will have to come through daddy.

“Small boys become big men through the influence of big men who care about small boys.” – unknown

Why Brewdog? Gary is a full-time pilot and leader in the Arizona Air National Guard, which we think is pretty cool. Military aircrew are often called “crewdogs”, his last name is BREWer which translates to Brewdog. Get it? Deep, I know. Don’t let the nickname fool you, he is all business about work and is a man of honor and integrity who cares deeply for the men and women he serves with and for their mission. I am so proud to be a military wife and of the servant’s heart God has given my husband.

Proud to Serve

I am a pretty pragmatic person and not much of a romantic so I can’t really say something like “he completes me” or “he had me at hello” or “he is the wind beneath my wings” and keep a straight face (or my lunch down) but the truth is, he does, he did and he is. Sorry, I know, too much.

Moving on, lets meet the ten and under crowd …

All three of our kids are epic forces of nature with strong personalities, strong opinions and iron-strong wills – persistent, insistent and resistant. I have come to the conclusion that when God knows a child will face extra difficulty or challenge in life, He gives them a little bit of extra spunk for good measure. In our case, anyway, there is not an easy-going, laid back  baby in the bunch and I wouldn’t change them for anything. They are who God made them to be. He has given them personalities that are perfectly suited to the calling He will place on them. Personalities that have fought hard to overcome all that they have already faced in their young lives. They are indeed fighters and I am equal parts amazed, enriched and exhausted by them. Each has been placed in my life to teach me something unique, to push me further and make me better; a better mother and a better person.

Sara

“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” – Bethany Hamilton

Our oldest, Sara, will be 11 soon but seems to already be a teenager. She is a future Tony Award winner (I am just sure of it) with a flair for the dramatic, a larger than life personality and a booming voice that was made for the stage (the girl can project). She is sassy and spirited, adventurous and brave (we have yet to find a roller coaster that is too fast, too high or too anything for her). She is a smart girl but walks to the beat of her own drummer and has a little trouble staying grounded and in the here and now; the dreamiest of daydreamers. I love that from the time she was little, she would watch any old movie with me, beginning to end, especially if there was singing and dancing. She challenges me to the core (dreamy and pragmatic do not always see eye to eye) and is my lesson in understanding and accepting differences in having compassion and learning to slow my pace to meet her where she is. Speaking of where she is, recently she informed me that she has a crush on Johnnie Depp – so, hooray, it looks like we are in for a new season of growth. Sighhhhh.

David

“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.” – Pooh

David is our middle guy and I adore him. He is crazy smart, has a lightning sharp wit and a wicked sense of humor. He is an impossible smart-alleck who keeps me on my toes because he doesn’t miss ANYTHING. On top of not missing anything, he is also quite adept at putting to use, that which he does not miss. Translated, be careful what you say because it will come back to haunt you, probably at the worst possible time. For now, I manage to stay one step ahead of him – mostly. He is a very analytical, logical thinker who will no doubt be either an architect or a lawyer as he also has quite the gift for argument, rebuttal and negotiation – skills he practices and hones on a daily basis. He is constantly “testing the fence” and is my lesson in patience and resolve. He is a sharp dresser with a style all his own and an easy charm that draws everyone in. He is loving, affectionate and a great helper. He cooks and gardens with me all the while regaling me with facts about snakes and Lego mini-figures. Speaking of Legos, we have 1,872,468 of them and I have stepped on every – single – one! Ninjas, Star Wars, knights, swords, video games and all things “Animal Planet” round out his list of favorites. Keep an eye out for posts entitled “The Stuff David Says” – I promise you, you will not want to miss what this kid has to say.

Nathan

“There’s this boy who stole my heart, he calls me mom.”

Nathan is my dreamy little brown-eyed baby boy (incidentally, he has noticed that he is the only one in the family who has brown eyes but is okay with it because “Gracie (the dog) has brown eyes too”. He is feisty, stubborn and charming and knows just how to get to his mama with a flash of his dimples or a hug around the neck followed by a whisper in my ear of “mommy, you my besss fren” (best friend). At just 5 years old, he is a 60+ pound 4+ foot tall future NFL linebacker who has speed and size and knows how to use them – which is not always appreciated in the pre-school classroom. He has been a “runner” from the moment he found his legs at 10 months of age and turned me into “that mom” – you know the one who puts her kid on a leash at Disneyland. Don’t judge if you’ve never had a runner. I can not fill him up or slow him down or get him to take a bath without a fight but he always makes me laugh and gives me more joy than I can find words to express. He has filled my world with CARS, Skylanders, miles and miles of train tracks and millions of sticky kisses and big bear hugs. This child has my heart and I will never get it back.

Well actually, they all do.

No, I have never carried a baby in my “tummy” or experienced the miracle of birth. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced a miracle, or two or three. I am a mom, made so by God in a very unique and amazing way. In fact, I’m not just a mom, I am the luckiest mom in the whole world!

Another snuggle from my sweet boy.