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A few weeks ago, I started a weekly countdown of six things I am most thankful for, each of which begin with the letters of the word “THANKS”.   So far, I’ve covered:

Today
Health
Abode
Necessities and niceties

This week, I am once again thankful for two more things.  For one thing, it’s hard to limit myself to just one idea per week, and second, these words always sound good together, (especially when Chevy Chase lisps them, “The most enduring traditions of the season are best enjoyed in the warm embrace of kith and kin. Thith tree is a thymbol of the the thspirit of the Grithwold family Chrithmath.“) Yes, today I’m thankful for …

kith and kin
Or better known in modern English as friends and family.  We choose our friends, but fate has a hand in things, determining our pool of potential acquaintances based on where we live, go to school, work, work out, worship, etc.

We have even less say about who’s in our family:  we’re all born into one, and many of us marry into another.  We get what we get (and they get us, too.)

No matter how we wind up with them, friends and family provide the stuffing that makes our lives full and rich:  love, laughter, tears, even heartache, pain…and the hope of reconciliation.  The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 shows us the enduring and fierce love of family, which is only a mere reflection of God’s love for us, and I especially love imagining the scene where a humbled, broken son returns to find his father was always waiting and watching for him:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him...”
Norman Rockwell never met the Griswolds.

Friends and family can and will disappoint and aggravate us to the breaking point.  But our family members also put up with our quirks  and eccentricities, and they (usually) forgive us of our transgressions.

Maybe that’s why I’m so fond of this particular Christmas movie: it shows the best and worst of holiday togetherness, and in the end, love for family trumps  everything else.

Because no matter what, the bonds of family and friends are the ties that bind us until we are loosed from this earth.

Have you hugged or called a friend or family member today?  Whatcha waiting for?  Only two weeks left before the tryptophan hits and you’ll be too tired to do more than slouch on the couch and dream of pie!

Happy thanks-giving,
 
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I never knew where this expression came from, but apparently there was a time in America when saloons offered “free” lunch as long as the gun-slinging patrons were buying drinks.  (Back when bars were called saloons, and patrons carried sidearms, I guess.)  But then as now, the expression rings true:  there’s a price to be paid for everything.

There’s also no such thing as “free” time, even though we’ve brought the full force of technology to bear in our attempts to create more discretionary time in our 86,400 seconds of every day.  Cooking and cleaning time has been drastically reduced by the introduction of appliances and “convenience” foods, and I love my washer and dryer, as well as my refrigerator, freezer and stove.  It’s common that they are all going simultaneously, in fact.

But sadly it seems whatever free time we created has been sucked up by other activities: longer office hours, longer commutes, more activities for ourselves and/or our children and more hours spent in front of an electronic screen, whether it’s a computer or television.  (Or for those of us who are multi-taskers, both.  Simultaneously.)

I fear we have made some poor trades in our relentless pursuit of “free” time, starting with cooking.  Or the dearth thereof.  Our grandmothers (and for some of us, our mothers) thought nothing of taking fresh, raw ingredients every day and preparing them into delicious, nourishing food for their family – there were no other options.  Eating out was a rare treat.  Food was never fast, except maybe the occasional grilled cheese sandwich.

Yes, it took time to cook beans or a roast, or to make cornbread or biscuits from scratch.  But whether they recognized it or not, they had the advantage of knowing – and controlling- exactly what they fed their families.  Now many families rely on purchased meals for more dinners than not.  (Let’s face facts: there is nothing happy or healthy about a drive-thru dinner.)  For many families, a home-cooked dinner consists of heating up frozen, canned or boxed prepared “food” full of unpronounceable chemicals and laden with salt and sugar to preserve them.

Time and again, economists have pointed out that foods made from basic staples (dried beans, pasta and rice) and plain vegetables and meats are the most economical food choices, bar none.  It makes sense there’s a price to be paid for the convenience of someone else cleaning, dicing and cooking, even if that “someone” is an assembly line of robots and minimum-wage workers.

The hidden cost is even more insidious – our backsides are bloating and our arteries are clogging, even as our wallets are shrinking.

What is our family’s health worth to us?

I know (I do!!!!) that it’s not easy to choose to spend any of our “free” time preparing food, especially if you view it as a drudgery or chore.  That choice may be harder if you lack confidence and experience.  And even your best efforts may be met with resistance if your family’s palates are hardened through repeated exposure to high doses of fat, salt and sugar, courtesy of processed foods.  That’s a lot of negatives to overcome.

But look at the positives: a gradual shift toward real food is healthier and eases your family’s cash outlay.  Whether they realize or appreciate it now, your children will one day be glad you established a tradition of weeknight family dinners, prepared and eaten at home.  It’s worth it when you find recipes your family likes and their eyes light up when they hear (or smell) a favorite is on the nightly menu.   That seems like more than a fair trade for the investment of some time and effort in the kitchen most evenings.  And who knows, you might find yourself enjoying it more than when you spent that time in other pursuits.

I hope the recipes and ideas I post will help others to take control of their family’s nutrition and finances.  It may not seem natural or easy at first, but anyone can choose to invest some time into weaning their family off convenience foods and introducing real food to their table.  One of my favorite Facebook feeds is LifeHacker, and they recently gave a list of foods that everyone should know how to cook.  It’s a decent list, and if you start with basics like spaghetti sauce and chicken soup, you can slowly fill in with other favorites you and your family like.  Once you’ve established a repertoire of “thumbs-up” recipes, you can look for make/freeze adaptations like once-a-month cooking.  A few hours of prepping and freezing once every few weeks can mean a month of hot, delicious dinners on your table faster than the pizza guy can deliver. Not to mention way cheaper.

Since there’s really no such thing as a free lunch, or free time, let’s choose wisely how we spend our family’s time and money.

Happy cooking,

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It’s time

The Fantasticks musical debuted in 1960, three years before I made my own debut into this world. But the opening song, “Try to Remember” was a piece of music I had to learn for something in my childhood and the song has always stuck with me.

“Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow…”

It seemed fitting this plaintive, sentimental song came to mind as I looked through our old photos for some fall images to decorate the mantel last week.  It’s hard to believe these photos were taken so many Septembers ago but they were.  Eleven years ago, swimmer girl was a cute kindergartener and middle son was just a boy and his dogs, aptly named Duke and Daisy.  Just a few years before that, oldest son was a proud middle school football player back in Oklahoma.

Whether it’s just the inevitable progression of the season, or Hurricane Irene pushing around the pressure systems, the first hint of cool breezes hovers just under the radiating heat of July and August.  It’s time.

It is time to do a few things.

Things like…

  • Change the flag to show the world our orange on September 12 (just not before 9/11.)
  • Update the mantel (watch for photos this week…)
  • Plan our fall break getaway (I am SO looking forward to heading somewhere warm and southern and sunny for a week with swimmer girl and a group of friends!)
  • Purchase some spring bulbs to plant in the next few weeks.
  • Finish up the canning and preserving season (figs and tomatoes are almost done; pears and roasting peppers are next.)

    Yes, it’s still plenty warm — downright hot most days. Indian summer will not put in appearance for a while, but it’s time to do these things. Because as sure as I breathe, autumn is on its way. The days are getting shorter and everywhere I turn, there’s a whisper on the wind, letting me know that fall is not afar off.
    We’ve now experienced a full season – the entire summer – in our new home. I have loved every minute of it, even the heat.  And now when I stand at my kitchen sink in the evenings, the western sky hints at what is to come. If I close my eyes, I can envision the cool rainy days that so often follow the tropical storms and hurricanes. Mornings will soon be wrapped in a cool fog.  Impossibly blue fall skies will be punctuated by days of gray and the cold rains of late fall and early winter. If our summer is any indication of Mother Nature’s temperament, winter is already isn’t likely to wait demurely in the wings this year.

    For once, instead of dreading the approaching colder weather, I can hardly wait. I look at our home and I already see it bedecked with the trappings of the holidays. It is a house meant for gathering family and friends, and it’s been heartwarming to see family and friends gathering together frequently here.  Baking bread, bubbling soups and stews and hearty meals and fellowship await. They will buoy and sustain us through the gray months of winter.

    But for now, it is time to feel the warmth of summer tamed by the faintest hint of fall breeze, and all that comes with it. Welcome, fall and all it holds in store for family, friends and football.

    Happy Monday,

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    A thought for all the super-busy superwomen and supermen out there.  The adage, “if you want something done, give it to the busiest person you know” is true…those of us who manage to juggle a lot of things can usually manage to juggle a few more when we are asked to, or feel we need to.

    But the truth is, our days are finite and they can only be filled to capacity – the laws of time and space dictate how much we can do in a given day.  And at some point, saying yes to one more thing – no matter how worthy the cause or how potentially wonderful the outcome – we are saying no to something (or someone) else.

    • We are saying “no” to a few precious minutes with one of our children, our spouse or to family time.  
    • We are saying “no” to some alone time, to meditate, pray, or study as most of us say we want to.  
    • We are saying “no” to our health and missing sleep or exercise time.
    • We are saying “no” to some uninterrupted quiet time to be contemplative and give our minds time to rest.

    If we want to our children to have high self-esteem, we must esteem them enough to give them regular doses of our undivided time and attention.   (If we don’t make time for them when they are young, they won’t make time for us when they are older.)  If we want to cultivate a deeper relationship with our spouse, it will consume time and energy – no amount of candy or flowers or gifts can substitute for it.  If we want to be more spiritual and draw closer to God, He demands (and is worthy of) of our time and attention. If we want to be physically and emotionally stronger, we must set aside time to build a strong body and healthy perspective on life.

    So every time you tell yourself that you can’t say “no” to requests for your help, remember when you say yes, you ARE saying no to something or someone else.  Knowing that can make it a lot easier to learn to say “no” to that next project or task that we really DON’T have time for.

    Happy prioritizing,

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    Christmas Eve

    My family – like many families – allowed the children to open one present on Christmas Eve.  It was intended to placate us as our anxiety levels peaked by giving us a new toy, book or garment and distract us until bedtime.

    My husband tells of his childhood Christmas Eves, when his father couldn’t stand to wait for Christmas morning, either.  So he let his children open ALL their presents the night before.  At first I rejected this unorthodox approach, but the older I get, the more I like it:

    1. No more agonizingly slow Christmas Eves spent trying to keep the kids occupied and entertained until bedtime.
    2. No more 2 a.m. “I can’t sleep” whispers from children who simply can’t stand to wait until sunrise, or squirmy children lying in their parent’s bed, counting down the hours and minutes.
    3. No more stumbling to the den at dawn’s first light, trying to match your children’s enthusiasm without benefit of caffeine.
    4. No more “bed head” shots of the family opening gifts, captured for posterity. 

    Our children are now past the age of pre-dawn gift openings.  In fact, last Christmas, Mr. Official and I were the first ones up and we watched an entire movie on our new blue-ray DVD player (our gift to ourselves), sipped a couple cups of coffee, and finally woke our kids to get Christmas day started before noon.

    My father-in-law (the instigator of the Christmas Eve gift opening ritual) has been gone from us for a number of years. But the tradition lives on–we gather at my mother-in-law’s house for dinner, and a gift exchange.   It’s a fun evening to catch up with the siblings, inlaws and outlaws.  We laugh too much, talk too much, eat too much and eventually part ways, promising to get together more often in the new year.

    Whatever your traditions are, I hope your season is merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.

    Happy holidays

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    The Holiday Sprint – Week 1

    The 8-week countdown has begun!  It’s November, do you know where your Christmas cards are?

    In addition to getting the tree up, getting the cards in the mail is high on my list of early December to-do’s.  Last year, I broke a very long sabbatical from sending holiday cards, and managed to crank out not only a newsletter but a family photo card, no less!  (That over-the-top effort could explain our weird weather last winter.)

    Of course, that means I need to repeat the magic this year; and time is of the essence.  (What does that expression mean, anyway?)

    To meet my looming, self-imposed deadline, now is the time to start thinking about corralling our offspring for another family picture.  (If you think getting your toddler to sit on Santa’s lap is hard, just wait until you have to get a teenager and two 20-somethings to agree on a date for a family picture!)  Not only that, I need to choose the *perfect* card so I can merge photo with card, spellcheck our names, order enough cards, then sign, seal and deliver to my trusty mail carrier.

    Shutterfly was kind enough to send me an offer for 50 free photo cards, which was an unexpected gift (the very best kind!)  And they are offering 20% off all their holiday cards – so what are we waiting for?

    Browsing through their huge selection of Christmas cards, it’s going to be hard to choose just one – the designs are all great!  I especially like their “story” cards although I’m not sure I can sum up everything in a card…the tradition of the blah, blah, blah letter is just too deeply entrenched.  Most likely our friends will find a flat photo card tucked inside the ubiquitous family update letter.  (Yes, that would be my attempt to sign our names at the bottom, and no it’s not legible.)  Hey, at least I don’t send you a fruitcake.

    Happy countdown!

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    My grandma’s portulacas

    My grandmother was the best grandmother in the whole world.  (I’m sure yours is/was wonderful too, but really – mine was the best.)  This unflappable, indefatigable woman could turn a bare pantry into a hearty meal for droves of road-weary adult children and their spouses, plus ravenous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  She did it with a smile because she loved her family and nothing gave her greater joy than to have us all under her roof.  (I suspect she also relished the peace and quiet after shooing us all out after a long holiday, though.)

    She had a quick, dry sense of humor, and sometimes you’d have to think about what she said in order to get the joke, but she’d wait for you to catch up to her, always with a twinkle in her blue eyes.

    Her life was modest.  She was a wife and mother to seven children, raising them in a two-bedroom house.  She survived the Depression and the infamous Dust Bowl.  She worked as a cook for a while, but most of her life was spent tending her home and family.  She buried two of her sons: her youngest and then her oldest.  Those losses exacted a toll on her, but somehow she endured and found a peace that passes understanding.

    She was a gardener.  She grew vegetables out of necessity and flowers for herself;  gladiolas that she carefully dug and stored each year to protect them from the brutal Midwestern winters.  And each year, she planted portulaca, which have the sunniest flowers ever.  This summer I planted an old canning kettle with these pink portulacas and they’ve cheerfully bloomed all summer, with little care or encouragement from me.  I can’t pass by the garden without smiling at these tough, resilient plants that my grandmother had such a fondness for.

    My grandmother had a stroke in the summer of 1992, and on September 5 of that year, she went home.  I am so grateful I had an opportunity to see her on her last birthday.  My parents and my family converged on her and my grandpa’s house in late March.  I gave her and my dad each an ‘Eden’ rose bush as birthday gifts, and planted a third one in my garden.

    I deeply regret that I let so many opportunities to write, call or visit her pass by.  I was busy being a young wife and mother, but she could have taught me a lot about life and motherhood, had I taken the time to seek her wise counsel.

    If you still have your grandmother with you, cherish her.  Ask her to tell you the stories you’ve heard a hundred times.  Make new memories with her.  If you’re like me and your grandmother is gone, I hope you look for her when you see her favorite things.  She’ll be there.

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