Category Archives: The Parents

Maybe We Should Have Been Less Enthusiastic with Our Applause

self-awareness

Dad was ingenious. Each summer, our family vacation coincided with his paid speaking engagements. We thought it was normal. Traveling long distances in a car with two adults and four children {pre-air conditioning} to a remote family camp so our father could work all week while we, the kids, drove our mother nuts.

Pure bliss for us. Mom? That poor woman.

Dad scored a recurring camp invitation to the Rocky Mountains for several years. Oh, the memories, the scrapes, the madcap adventures.

The highlight of the camp each year, for me, was the talent show that dad MC’ed at the end of the week. I was continually amazed at the talent, or lack thereof, we witnessed. Singers, jugglers, musicians and would be thespians. Please people! Let’s try to have some self-awareness.

One year, a man of considerable, and I mean considerable, years came on the stage with his fiddle. What ensued was minutes of ear shrieking horror that was barely recognizable as a folk song. If you weren’t covering your ears, you were wishing you could. When the kindly old gent finished, the auditorium erupted in applause, cheers and much foot stomping. Thank the Lord. He is done!

The curtain closed.

Ah, the relief.

And then, unbelievably to our eyes, a bow came slowly slicing between the closed curtains as the old guy swung the curtains wide and stepped forward for an encore. What!?!

Maybe, we should have been less enthusiastic with our applause.

The auditorium was struck into complete silence. Please. Please. This cannot be happening.

He lifted his fiddle and a second song began but now the audience was not so polite. The grumbling started. The barely concealed ‘boos’ were emanating from the back.

Dad walked onto the stage and stood by the fiddling fool. He smiled at the audience, raised his eyebrows while shrugging and then began to clap. Taking our cue, we began to clap too. As we raised the volume of our clapping and cheering, the fiddling was overpowered with our own noise. We continued this way until the bow was lifted from the strings. Then dad gently grasped the man’s arm as he chatted with the fiddler and escorted him {bowing as he went} off the stage.

Now the applause was thunderous. What a night. What a man, my dad…

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My $75 Loaf of Bread

I am trying to adjust to my new normal. As a public employee in Wisconsin, transitioning from a teacher contract to an employee handbook, life has become very uncertain. People expect change to happen at work each year. But this school year, the wide variety of changes feel like a roller coaster ride with mainly a series of plunges and I am not a thrill seeker.

So, to give myself a feeling of control, and financial as well as mental stability in this time of cuts and uncertainty, I put myself on a strict monthly budget and took a second job at night.

Looking for a positive spin to this new need for frugality, I decided to resurrect the motto of my grandparents “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”

Dad grew up on a Depression era farm in North Dakota. He didn’t know he was poor until he was an adult and was informed so by people who had money. While his family was not rich in dollars, they were rich in food, family support and laughter. One of my fondest memories of my ‘granny’ is spending time in her kitchen as she created the most incredible baked goods.

I have longed to recreate the homemade bread that I can still taste if I close my eyes. I remember watching Granny hold a huge loaf of bread against her chest as she walked around the dinner table slicing portions for all of us to savor fresh from the oven. And I have thought, I can make my own bread. It will be delightful and… save money.

Finding a bread recipe that is equal to my memories has been a challenge. And, the flops I have created in my kitchen over the last few months have been disappointing.

Recently, I found a recipe for no-knead bread that was intriguing. Unfortunately, the recipe (adapted from Jim Lahey) called for a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic). I went to my cupboards and like Old Mother Hubbard my cupboards were bare and did not hold a covered pot that could withstand 450 degrees in the oven. So, I went shopping. With my coupons, I purchased a cast iron pot for $71.43. Seriously. That was more than I planned (certainly not in my budget) but I really wanted to make this bread!

Following a recipe I found on The New York Times website for No-Knead Bread, I set to work. I mixed up my ingredients and then waited for 18 hours. As my dough did its thing, I was reminded of all of the dough Granny had in various stages of proofing in covered bowls in her pantry all those years ago.  I always thought it was weird (and slightly unsanitary) that she let dough sit out for what seemed like days.

As one day turned into the next, my dough was finally ready. I flipped it into my heated pot and baked my bread with fingers crossed. The smell of baking bread infiltrated every corner of our home. I could hardly wait to taste my first slice and when I did, I closed my eyes and savored.

I finally realize the secret of bread, which I wish I had learned from my experiences long ago…Great bread takes time.  And, as it turns out, a little bit of money.

I plan to stir up my fifth batch of bread dough this morning. Each time I bake a loaf, I divide my number of baked loaves by my original $75 investment (the cast iron pan + ingredients). Today’s loaf will bring my cost down to $15 a loaf. Makes me smile.

No-Knead Bread - Finished Loaf (294068096)
No-Knead Bread – Finished Loaf (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No Expiration Date

This summer, I truly have an empty nest. Our kids are launched into adulthood, their own lives and homes.

My empty nest is yielding hours and hours of time. What do I do with this abundance of time? Travel, read, spend time with family and friends and deep clean our house. How deep? Well, I was scrubbing the kitchen tile grout with a toothbrush yesterday. Never did that before.

Today, I organized mom’s handwritten recipes. While I was digging through the recipes, I found a folder labeled ‘Coupons’. I was about to toss the whole pile in the garbage when I started looking through them. Mom had meticulously stored hundreds of coupons with no expiration date from the 1980s and early ’90s.

I am sitting on a gold mine!

Or so I thought until I spotted products that no longer look familiar…

Oh the memories these products resurrect.

In mom’s pile, I also found coupons for brands still being sold today.

I plan to redeem these ‘no expiration date’ coupons at our local grocery store. Should be interesting as I use them to purchase crescent rolls, cheerios, band-aids and toilet paper. Products that stand the test of time.

While I did not actually discover a gold mine today,
it certainly has been a (gold) rush… {I sure did love those bars}

I Call This Family Meeting to Order

Every Sunday, mom and dad held a family meeting. This meeting was called to order around our kitchen table following the family luncheon, but before dessert.

The meeting began when dad finished eating (whether we were ready or not). Dad, sitting at the head of our table, was the chairman. Mom sitting on the opposite end, with pen and calendar in hand, was our secretary.  We, my sister, two brothers and I, were the peons…I mean dutiful subjects.

Roll call was unnecessary because it was obvious we were all present. So, the first order of business was to review the happenings (aka committee reports) of our previous week. As a family of six, with one family car and a variety of extra curricular activities, the amount of organization required to move the car and its driver (mom) from point A to Z each week was monumental. This meeting was extremely important to all of us because if we didn’t pay attention, we might be forced to walk home, alone, in the dark, for miles, uphill.

The committee reports from the previous week usually centered around miscommunications such as, “Why wasn’t I picked up after basketball practice?” “How come I had to walk home carrying a trombone and sissy got a ride carrying nothing?” and the dreaded, “I walked home but the doors were all locked and I had to sit on the front steps waiting and starving!” Mom did not enjoy the previous week’s grievances because no matter how hard she tried, we really had too many activities for one car and driver.

At this point, Dad would quickly move on to new business, the upcoming week’s schedule. Dad started by going through his week, one day at a time, Monday through Sunday while mom filled up the calendar. Then my eldest brother, seated at my dad’s left, had his turn highlighting all his events for the week. This usually resulted in calendar adjustments and much negotiating about pick-up and drop-off times. Next, in order of seating, was my baby sister. Dad would look to her and say, “What do you have on Monday?” Being all of four, she would look to my mom and whisper, “What do I have on Monday?” Mom would say “You are free on Monday.” My sister would look to my dad and say, “Nothing.” You get the drift, this continued painfully for each day of the week.

This is about the time the family meeting started to become extremely frustrating for me… and being seated at dad’s right, I still had mom and my little brother’s schedule to listen to before it was my turn. Yep, every week I was last and this whole process was aggravating because we were not allowed to interrupt if it wasn’t our turn. So, even though I knew my Monday and Thursday were in direct conflict with someone else’s pick up times, I had to keep my mouth closed and wait.

To curb my growing unrest, I would tune out and become creative. I have never believed you have to eat everything on your plate, so my leftover food became my canvas for artistic expression and tension relief. I was especially proud of my mashed potato sculptures and you should have seen what I could do with peas. While this completely entertained me, Dad was not a fan. In fact, I began to draw his negative attention. “Sit still.” “Stop playing with your food.” “Put your hands in your lap!”

This is the point in the story where it could have become very ugly. But luckily, I was blessed with parents who believed that children should not only be seen, they should be heard. One family meeting dad bellered, “Why can’t you just sit still and wait your turn!” I put my utensils down, turned and said, “Dad, why don’t you change the meeting so we go around the table and talk about everybody’s Monday. Then, we talk about everybody’s Tuesday. That way I don’t have to sit here waiting for my turn when I know that I have a conflict with everything that mom is writing on that calendar.”

Dad looked at mom. Mom looked at dad. They had a way of communicating without talking that was wonderful and also slightly creepy. Mom finally nodded and Dad said, “You know, you would make a good lawyer.”

From that day forward, our family meetings changed. While it was still painful, it was no longer excruciating. And, being wise, wise parents, they made us clear the table before the meeting commenced so I was no longer tempted to use food as art. Kind of miss those days.

Got Goals?

“Let us cultivate our garden.” 
― Voltaire, Candide

Dad used to schedule meetings with us. He thought important times in our lives required special recognition. He wrote these meetings in his calendar.

The summer after sixth grade, dad scheduled a meeting with me. These meetings were usually held at the kitchen table but occasionally at a restaurant or local ice cream parlor.

This particular meeting was at our kitchen table. I remember it with clarity.

Dad: “This fall you will be starting junior high and I want you to think about what you want to do with the next three years of your life. What are your interests? What do you want to accomplish? What classes do you want to take?”

Me: “Okay.”

Dad: “To help you do this, I want you to write down three goals on this piece of paper. Once you have written them down, I will put them in this envelope and seal them and keep them for you. In three years, I will give this envelope back to you. Then you will be reminded of this day and the goals you wrote and reflect on your junior high years. Did you accomplish your goals? Did you alter your goals? Did you achieve more? Less?”

Me: “Okay.”

Dad: “You see, it is important to go forward in life with purpose. Anyone can live from one day to the next with very little effort. To get somewhere in life you need to make plans, think about your talents, think about your dreams and then forge a pathway to that reality.

Me: “Uh huh.

Dad (pushing a piece of paper and pen across the table to me): “I will give you some time to think. Then I want you to write down three goals for your junior high years. Do you have any questions?

Me: “Ya…Daddy, what’s a goal?

Dad looked at me with his lopsided grin, realizing he had forgotten to factor in my age and inexperience. Then he continued our meeting with more explanations and much encouragement.

I learned a lot about goals that day. His goals. Mom’s goals. Work goals. Family goals. With fledgling confidence, I wrote down my goals and started a journey of being forever driven.

Three years after our meeting, true to his word, dad returned that envelope to me. Not surprisingly, I accomplished all three of my goals plus more.

Goals prepare us for the future. Goals provide us with direction and the freedom to reach beyond our wildest imagination. Goals help us believe in possibilities while distancing us from the voices of those who would be our detractors. Some goals are reached, some goals are altered and some goals are abandoned as we adapt to our ever-changing life.

This weekend, as my husband and I were traveling, we talked about our goals for the next ten years of life. Where do we want to be (both literally and figuratively) ten years from now? I am not sure yet, but I will be, once we finish writing down our new goals.