Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gingerbread Play Dough

 This time of year always fills me with hope, as I ponder the 
miracle of Jesus' birth. If a King could be born in a stable, anything could happen. When I was a child, Christmas was a time of wonder. I hope to never lose that feeling of child-like wonder.

The wonders of His love, the wonders that He doeth, and the wonders of heaven.

It's a spectacular experience to see the wonder in Little Mister's eyes, now that he is getting old enough to comprehend Christmas a little more. All the tiny delights that prompt round eyes and mouth to form an "oh" of awe. I long for a heart filled with awe at the miracle of the season. To see everything anew, through the eyes of a child, is a gift meant for all of us. I'm sure of it, and think it's meant to be carried with us all year too.

 I did little in the way of decorating this year. Just some basics and a few things that were handy. When I decorate for this time of year, I do like to mix old things with new. Treasured and timeworn alongside new.

 One afternoon, as I do every year, I baked a large batch of gingerbread cookies. An army of molasses men waiting for decoration. What fun to surprise those little round eyes with all of those gingerbread men awaiting faces of icing and garments of sprinkles. 

But what's this? An impostor! 

No, it's NOT a gingerbread cookie. It's homemade play dough made to LOOK and SMELL like gingerbread! What a neat gift. One of Little Mister's teacher's shared the recipe for this unique clay. 

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 Tbsp. cream of tartar
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup water 

Food coloring (or Koolaid powder)

Optional: If you want it to smell like gingerbread dough, add 1/4 cup allspice, ginger, and nutmeg. But I want you, it really does smell like gingerbread dough and your kid will want to eat it. So will your pets. 

For gingerbread dough: Mix spices until you get the scent/color that you want. 

Mix all dry ingredients in a pot, then add oil and water to mixture. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture forms a mound. Remove from heat, cool slightly and knead together. Cool completely before having fun and store in an airtight container. 

For colored play dough: Add food coloring to oil and water before adding to dry ingredients, and omit spices.

Wishing all of my readers a Christmas filled with the joy and wonder of a mighty King.

Monday, December 8, 2014

No Cost or Low Cost Gifts for the Special Needs Parent

Would you like to give a gift that could cost as little as a couple dollars or even nothing at all? Chances are, you know someone who has a child with therapy needs, doctor appointments, endless meltdowns, and some tired parents holding the whole thing together. Sometimes we're just holding it together with string, chewing gum, and a little duct tape. In my experience, our loved ones want to help but don't know how. Sometimes they offer money, and hey, that's great. Depending on what kind of needs your child has, money might help. But for those of us holding our own in that department, there is something even more valuable you can give and that is TIME and CREATIVITY

Here are some ideas to get you started...

Offer to go on a doctor appointment and/or babysit the siblings. Children with a diagnosis often have extra doctor appointments, sometimes scheduled up to a year in advance. These appointments might be 30 minutes away or at some specialist 3 hours away. Offer to go along and be an aide while mom fills out paperwork or asks the doctor questions. Alternately, mom might need a babysitter for her other children. 

Make a busy pack. This so easy, inexpensive, and even a little fun. Find a craft of the appropriate level, assemble instructions and materials in a zipper seal bag, and hand it to mom. If you are not the crafty type, find a few inexpensive toys, maybe a small book, and a novelty treat. Give it to mom on the sly so she can add it to her arsenal to subvert a tantrum or rainy day meltdown.

Offer to help at church. This is a big one. Church should be a refuge, but for special needs parents it is too often a depleting war zone. I can't begin to tell you how many parents would be encouraged by someone asking if they could help with your child during Sunday School or take a child out to the playground after church so the parents can enjoy some fellowship after the service. It would absolutely be a gift.

Donate an hour.- Offer to run an errand, take their car to the wash, or take the kids to the park for a nature walk. How about an hour of respite in your home? It might just be the time a parent needs to make phone calls, do paperwork, or just decompress. We'll take it.

Give your special skill. Photographer? Offer a free mini session. Baker? Drop off a couple loaves of bread. Do you enjoy sewing? Take on the mending pile. It all makes a difference.

There are probably at least a dozen more ideas, but this could serve as a jump off point if you choose to bless a parent of a special needs child on any occasion. If you still find money to be the best option, no one in the history of mankind has ever turned down a gift card. Also, many parents rely on services from non-profit organization that do yearly fund drives. Ask when the next fund drive is taking place and donate at that time. 

Finally, sharing this list in some way would be a free gift, too. Who knows where it might touch a heart and inspire goodness?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hanging in the Balance

You know, when Little Mister started his daily afternoon preschool program I thought, now I'll have plenty of time to get things done.

You know who that joke was on, don't you?

Most days still feel a lot like I did as a young waitress many, many moons ago when I struggled to get meals to table five just as table six ran out of drinks, while tables seven and eight sent up smoke signals for their check.

 I do not want to be one of the people who glorify "busy-ness".  No one wants to stand in a monsoon when they can sit beside the still waters. Sometimes I think my life will be spent finding the balance, a way to keep everything gliding like a smooth carousel while I ride the horse of my choice. 

There is a selfishness inherent in busyness. When the preoccupation with our to-do lists and the constant focus on our own interests take over, can we spare time to look outside of our families, our house, our own little worlds and extend love to others? I struggle with finding a balance when dueling priorities come knocking at the door.

Recently, someone complimented me on something I do for Little Mister. It's nice when that happens, and rare. Mothers don't get nearly enough of that sort of thing. It was so unexpected that I shrugged it off with a yes, well, I do that because it's fun. It's something I can do, so I do it. I can't do everything, but I can do that. It taught me the truth of an old saying:

You do what you can. 

Part of finding balance, I think, is noticing what you can do and finding some satisfaction in knowing that there is something you often do well. It makes up for the chronically un-swept porch or leftovers that went to waste. There's no perfection this side of eternity, but there are certain things that you do well. It's the heavy weight on your scale.

Isn't it funny how some tasks can be done effortlessly, while others can so thoroughly deplete you? I could probably spend substantial time baking in the kitchen and never notice the clock. I could travel many miles and loose track of the days. A Sunday afternoon can disappear faster than a drop of water evaporating in a glass on a warm day.

I spent one such afternoon gathering up a few apples that had been hanging around too long and turning them into a deliciously moist Apple Crumb Bread. I adapted it from a recipe out of The Busy Mother's Cookbook. I love a cookbook that doesn't shy away from simple ideas. If this strikes your fancy, just know that I modified the original by adding a lot more apple and decreasing the sugar.

Wouldn't it be fun to dab some apple butter on it?
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. milk
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. chopped apples

1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Cream butter, sugar, and eggs in the mixer.
Dissolve baking soda in milk and add. Add flour, salt, and vanilla. Add apples last. Mix thoroughly and put into one large greased loaf pan. Mix topping and sprinkle on top. Bake at 325 for an hour. 

LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Psalms 39:4

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gifts of November

 It is seven in the morning as I walk around the perimeter of our beloved Compound, and deceptively noisy. The wind and a light sound of battered leaves surround me. In a matter of hours the leaves will fall from this tree, a skeleton of branches left behind.

With a light frost on the ground, my feet crunch with every step.

Honking, honking everywhere. Geese en route to warmer places fly overhead and take a break at their rest stop in the field.

I don't recall ever noticing that November is so alive.

 At our church's annual Thanksgiving carry in, I am one of five people who were asked to give a brief testimony of gratitude. My first thought was all the obvious blessings- family, friends, food, shelter, health. Especially health. I had a broken ankle and a walker this time last year, so I'm especially mindful of that one. My next thought was that everyone is going to get up and say that they are thankful for those exact things. I wanted something less rote, something more specific and easily hidden, something unique to my life at this point in time right now.

I spent a week being mindful of the lesser blessings, those small but meaningful moments of thanks that get lost in the fold, or perhaps never even make it out of the dryer.

Here are some things I found and sorted.

I am thankful for opportunities to give, and am thankful every time I witness someone who wants to give their time and resources to others in need. This is a good time of year to observe this, as it becomes more abundant with Christmas approaching. I am thankful if someone in need is being fed, clothed, or comforted by any laborer in the field. It happens often, but it's a bonus if I get to see it.

I am thankful every time someone asks about our son, asks about his progress, or just plain asks about his unique diagnosis. Any opportunity to share the joy of his accomplishments or educate someone about Childhood Apraxia of Speech is a personal blessing. To advocate for your children is a special extra-credit assignment.

I am thankful that my husband will be working on Thanksgiving day. It means he has an important job that is in demand. Yes, once in a while we have to reschedule a holiday, but not every holiday. You get used to it when you have a loved one who works in the medical field.

Finally, I'm thankful that I don't shop in any actual stores on the day after Thanksgiving. I can't think of any place I would rather not be than out in the crowds. My Christmas shopping is done, anyway. I guess I can be thankful for that, too.

South bound journey.

What are your unique blessings?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Prayer in a Season of Thankfulness

We're adjusting to a new routine. The Little Mister has started a special preschool program where so far, he is thriving. Even as I blinked back some tears the first time he got on the bus, you can't begin to imagine the depth of my gratitude for this opportunity. So far, he loves it and has adjusted seamlessly in the small classroom of peers. He receives therapy, and so much more. He has two words now: "Yes" and "No". He also has some half words such as yuck, uh-oh, ah-hah, and he is working on "ok."

It has been the answer to a very long prayer journey.

There is a song that says "Someone is praying for you." I always thought it was kind of ridiculous. Who, and why? How or why would they pray for me if they did not know me? How would they even know what they should pray about?

On Little Mister's first day of school I was adjusting to the new routine with my regular Monday trip to the grocery store. When we first were married and moved to this area, I used to sometimes shop at a store on the other side of the county. It was located in a large shopping center and I could do several errands at once. There was a lady I would sometimes see in the grocery store who caught my eye. Perhaps in her fifties, and dressed so flamboyantly that it bordered on a costume, I surmised that she might be self employed in a manner completely off the books and in a very old profession. Her garish clothing caught my attention every time. Once I saw her shopping with a man. She kept rough company. Beneath the flashy and cheap, I could see evidence that she was once very beautiful.

They built a store closer to where we live, and I no longer saw the lady. In fact, I forgot about her.

Until last week.

It was the high spiked heels of her boots and the skirt shorter than her worn out fur coat. Maybe the coat was a Goodwill find, or a gift from long ago. Now, she was pushing a cart through my new store, more creases on her face than even five years ago. How did she get out here? Her cart was far from full, just a few things for a single lady to get by on, pasta sauce and soda. As I encountered her in aisle after aisle, she never once noticed me, the denim skirt mom who was praying that the world would show her some kindness. Winter is coming, will she be warm? Is there anyone to look after her? What about in twenty years?

We ended up in the check out lanes next to one another. She was having a hard time paying. After using the balance on her food stamps, she was scrounging for seventeen dollars and change.

My heart longed to help her. What should I do? Lord, please let her have the money. I don't want her to have to put anything back. Should I help if she needs it?

She leaned over her cart, calmly sifting through her large purse. She was unfazed, and after a while produced something to pay the balance.

We paralleled again on our way out of the store, and I wondered as she pushed her cart through the parking lot. Could she actually have a car? She had too many bags to take on the bus, and she wasn't headed for the bus stop. She confidently strode to a vehicle and began unloading the cart into the back of something. I craned my neck and saw an elderly man helping her. They were putting the bags into the back of his van, while his wife waited in the front passenger seat.

Ah, familiarity. I recognized him as the Deacon from a nearby church, an extremely kind man whose acquaintance I had made a handful of times. So they were looking after her. No doubt doing more than just giving her rides, but maybe also feeding her physically and spiritually.

Thank you.

Someone is praying for her.  

Maybe someone is praying for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Easy Baked Apples

It was before I even heard the first flock of geese fly away for the winter. The unmistakable whirrrrr of a combine started in the field one evening. Can you see its lights? Like a thief in the night, he began taking down the field. My beautiful corn field was being harvested by a green and yellow monster, driven by a friend and neighbor who sits within twenty feet of me every Sunday.

The next day, Little Mister and I went out to wave and watch as the field out front was harvested, the corn was poured into a truck. He bent down and picked up a husk, and peeled it back to nothingness.

"Waaaah!" He expressed his disappointment at the cob that had disappeared.

"No, no, that's GOOD!" I tell him, and then go on to explain how it all works, ending with "...and that's how he makes money." 

I think he understood, but he still seemed suspicious. 

"What a marvelous system God designed to feed us," I tell him. He looks pensive. No way to know if he is actually listening and thinking about what I tell him, or planning his next adventure. 

I often feel like motherhood is just casting some seeds and hoping that somewhere, something good will grow.

I've encountered all of the usual suspects this October: Apples, pumpkins, hayrides, and of course, harvest festivals. Our local apple festival included all kinds of seasonal goodies, like fried candy bars and cookies...


I much preferred these neat gourds that look like enormous green apples. They are about the size of a medium pumpkin and would make unique decorations...

At one farm we took a hayride that turned out to be an apple picking hayride. I kid you not, it was like an abduction where we were forced to do the lightest and most enjoyable farm labor imaginable, all for our own benefit. It was fun to pick a few fresh apples, even though it meant a hearty surplus at our house.

I wanted to do something quick and easy with some tart apples, so I carved out the centers and cores, and filled them with butter, raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, and, just because I had some at the moment, a piece of caramel candy. Sprinkled with cinnamon, I placed them in the slow cooker with a little apple cider, and cooked on high for two hours. They were delicious for dessert, and reminded me of the baked apples we always made on Christmas morning when I was growing up.
It hasn't all been hayrides and apple picking this month. Some of Little Mister's most important services, such as speech therapy, end in just a few weeks and we have been working on securing new avenues for help. I feel awash in paperwork, phone calls and meetings, all on top of some yearly deep cleaning projects that I'm anxious to start. With that in mind, I'm trying to keep life as uncomplicated as possible right now. I hope to share some of my recent simplifying domestic/parenting/life tactics in an upcoming post.

Autumn selfie.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Five Fall Moments

Those green fields are yellowing, the sunflowers have hung their heads in a sorrowful pose. That chill in the air has come too soon and whispers a warning of long, cold months ahead. I know how to make it all go away. Want to know a secret? I will just pull out the cool weather clothes for the seasonal clothing swap, and that will guarantee an eighty degree day. You just wait

The cooler days suited me just fine since I spent a few afternoons with the oven running non-stop in preparation for the bake sale at our church's community outreach day. I was packaging up a few dozen cookies when I saw that I was going to be late picking up Little Mister from a therapy appointment. I quickly grabbed my purse and jumped into the car. About halfway there, I made an awful realization. All of my packaged baked goods, including the previous day's work, were in a laundry basket left out in the open, in close proximity to a mischievous dog.

A dog who devours everything.  

A dog with super scent-tracking capabilities.

All of my hard work. Right there in that basket. The basket I had meant to put away somewhere before leaving, and then was forgotten. There was no time to turn around and run back home to save them, if it wasn't too late already.

I'm sure a tear or two sprang to my eyes. I started praying.

"....and dear Lord please protect the banana bread too..."

Almost a half hour later I pulled in the driveway, my heart heavy in my stomach. Would you believe I found a perfectly untouched basket, with all my goodies neatly wrapped and undisturbed? Buddy laid nearby, completely uninterested.

Exhale. Thankfulness. Laughter. 

Then, on the first official day of Fall, my true love gave to me....

A giant bucket of paw paws. I've never heard of these, and certainly had never tasted one. Years ago, The Mister planted a paw paw tree at his parent's farm and they are just now bearing fruit. In case you have never eaten one, I'll describe it. They are very fragrant with a sweet aroma. They are easy to peel and have a soft yellow texture inside that reminds me of a cross between an avocado and a mango. They are mildly sweet and kind of tropical tasting. Some say they taste a little like a banana. 

The last blooms before winter are the Montauk daisies. They bloom in a big shrub all through September.


It wouldn't be early Fall without applesauce.
Remember our big strawberry harvest? I pulled some berries out of the freezer and did one batch of strawberry applesauce, just for something different this year. It was five pounds of apples to three cups of frozen berries, simmer and sieve. It smelled wonderful cooking on the stove!


Finally, window washing. DO NOT be impressed by our housekeeping. We just happened to have the scaffolding up for a home repair, and I suggested we leave it up so we could clean off the picture window properly. Window washing occurs around here on an as-needed, as-is-convenient basis. It works out to once every other year in which there are fourteen full moons and two months with additional Wednesdays. Or something like that.

Not a bad start to the season. I hope you're enjoying it, too.


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