Visiting with my grandparents

My grandparents have been gone for a long time.  My last grandmother died before Amelia was born.  My other three grandparents died several years before I married.  So, it was with joy that I spent time with them this past week.  Three of my four grandparents wrote letters to me that I found amongst long-saved and forgotten school papers.  I was surprised at the tender feelings they brought.  I was only blessed to know one of my four grandparents well.  Two lived in Canada–I saw each of them (they were divorced) just a few times and years apart.  The other, whom I have no letters from, was felled by Alzheimer’s.

I am so blessed to have these letters and so thankful for them.  I suspect I benefited from my birth-order with all three letter-writing grandparents.  I was my Canadian grandparents’ first grandchild and my Orem grandma’s first granddaughter.  There are many rewards to being a younger child, but I’m guessing that the strength of relationship with grandparents probably isn’t one of them.

I had just one letter from my Canadian grandfather.  It was sent from La Paz, Bolivia, where he had traveled for business.  It didn’t say anything important, but it reminded me that he had known me and cared about me, and thought about me once when he was far from home.  In the same box where I found his letters, I also found the three trinkets I have that connect him to me: a little coin purse made from Kangaroo fur (!) and imported/purchased (?) from Australia, a little coin purse that looks Bolivian-ish, and a dried-up seahorse.  I remember the day he gave me the seahorse.  I had been pouting because we were visiting him in Canada and my family and I were going to go on some outing; he didn’t intend to accompany us, and I wasn’t to be allowed to stay with him.  Pouting is perhaps not the appropriate word; I was genuinely sad.  I believed that his intention to stay home showed that he did not care about his American grandchildren. It is hard to remember, but I believe that after witnessing my emotion he ended up coming with us on the outing, and giving me the seahorse as a token of affection.  I love that seahorse.


I also had letters from my Canadian grandmother.  She wrote them very early, when I was less than a year old.  She hadn’t met me, but spoke of her excitement over my photographs.  She told me about how her own mother had just been told that her cancer was terminal and of her wish that I could meet her before she passed on (I don’t think I did).  I was amazed at how her letters radiated love for a little person that she had never seen or spoken to.  Perhaps I just read this into it because I wanted it to be there, but I was amazed at her ability to direct her thoughts and attention to me.  These letters didn’t feel like they were aimed at my mother, filtered through the cute gimmick of being sent to her baby daughter, they felt like they were actually written to me.  At one point she mentioned her hope that my mother would save and share them with me when I was older.  It’s been almost forty years, but I did read them, and I’m so thankful she took the time to write.

Most of the grandparent letters, notes and cards were from my Orem grandma.  She lived the latest into my life and was a natural-born encourager.  I found several notes of celebration over spelling-bees and other childhood accomplishments, but even more words of praise and encouragement.  In the same box as the notes, I found a little white box that had nothing in it.  A Christmas label was taped to the top.  It was addressed to me in her trademark red ballpoint-inked cursive with love from her.  I’ve apparently saved that empty box for two or three decades, but once again I found that I couldn’t bear to throw it out.  After all, the box was not actually empty, but full: it seemed to overflow with her love and caring for me.  I am lucky because I have plenty of memories of my Orem grandma outside her notes and cards.   The notes are cards are neat though because they exactly reflect the woman I remember.

I am greatly blessed to have had grandparents who loved me and who told me so.  I am so thankful that they wrote me letters.  It reminds me of the importance of giving lasting physical reminders to my children–letters, trinkets, whatever–but something that they can keep–so that they can always remember how much I love them.  I want to remind my children’s grandparents the same thing.  It is hard to say which letter or tiny  trinket might turn up in a child’s box of forgotten treasures 30 years from now, but don’t you hope one of yours does?

Next year . . . Mincemeat!

I had a lovely Thanksgiving.  At the last minute, I was even able to track down some mincemeat pie at my parent’s little grocery store.  It’s the small things!  I was very thankful.  For me, it simply isn’t Thanksgiving without mincemeat pie and my grocery store didn’t carry it at all.  Frustration!  Groaning!  Perhaps even whimpering.  Clearly, if I want mincemeat pie for future Thanksgivings, I need to learn how to make it myself.  I hereby resolve that next year, there will be mincemeat made by my own hands. 

 I started my googling towards this end on Thanksgiving Day itself.  I was stunned to find a recipe for Green Tomato Mincemeat and then further stunned to have my mother confirm that the mincemeat she had had as a girl was always of the green tomato variety.  Green tomato mincemeat??!! It turns out that there are dozens of internet recipes for this!  To go back a little, the reason Thanksgiving = Mincemeat for me is because my wonderful great aunt Joy served it at her Thanksgiving dinners that I attended each year as a child.  Those dinners were the stuff that tradition is made of.  Although some things have fallen away–Joy no longer hosts hundreds and I no longer play with Barbies on Thanksgiving–I haven’t stopped passing up the pumpkin and looking for the Mince pie.  Aunt Joy is from my Dad’s side of the family so I have always associated mincemeat with them.  Now I learn that my mother grew up eating it too–made out of green tomatoes!  This is tragic, because just a few weeks ago I had a lovely supply of green tomatoes and I could have tried it.  Now I will have to wait an entire year! 

Too late for a green tomato harvest here

My googling also led me to the information that Mincemeat is traditionally considered a Christmas pie.  Surprise # 2!  Again, my mother confirmed: “Oh yes, I always thought it was funny that they served mince pies at Thanksgiving.  It’s a Christmas pie!”  Oh.  I wondered if this was a Canadian thing (My mother is Canadian).  Further googling revealed that Mincemeat is definitely an English thing and that Mincemeat pie was long associated with Catholicism.  In fact, the Puritans refused to eat it because for them Mincemeat was tied up with idolatry.  I’m glad I’m not Puritan!      

I can’t help being drawn to the recipes that call for suet.  Something about suet screams authenticity (I’m not sure that I’m brave enough to go as far as the recipes that call for venison though!)  MinceMEAT, yeehah!  Apparently, it’s possible to substitute vegetable oil, although that doesn’t seem like a good substitute.  Any ideas on where I could get real suet anyone?  Have any of you ever made mincemeat–with or without green tomatoes, with or without suet?  How did it turn out? 

Meanwhile this resolving to make mincemeat post has reminded me that last year I resolved to do Advent and today is December1st!  I’d better get cracking, or there will be no reason to hold out hope for this year’s mincemeat resolutions!

Why I’m A Donor

I am a latecomer to blood donation .  I regret this.  I have always wanted to be a person who donated blood.  The 4th grade teacher I idolized, Mr. Dunkley,  took us on a fieldtrip to the hospital and donated blood before our eyes.  He was so noble! so brave!  I wanted to be like him.  Later, in high school, Hawkeye Pierce and the gang, my M*A*S*H friends, were always ready to lie down and pull up their sleeves when someone needed them–and someone often did. 

Well, I don’t live in a war zone, but the Red Cross tells me that every 2 seconds in the United States someone needs blood.  I can donate as often as every 56 days, but my blood’s shelf life is only 42 days.  In fact, last year a study suggested that patients who are transfused with blood older than 28 days are more likely to suffer infections.  So, the fresher the blood, the better.  That means the more donors the better.  The difficult part is that donors are hard to get.  Less than 38% of the U.S. population is eligible to donate blood.  Of those eligible, most don’t donate.  There are a lot of us who are squeamish and afraid of needles!

But if you are someone who can donate, consider the cancer patients, the new mothers, the car accident victims, etc., who may need your blood.  Some day you could be the one who needs blood or your mom, sister or daughter, your dad, your brother, your boss, or your best friend.  Or several of you.  One thing is almost certain: if you can donate regularly, you will help people.  The need for transfusions is rising 6% every year, and the number of donations isn’t rising that fast.  We hope for artificial blood, but it’s still a hope for the future.  Today what’s true is that if you can donate blood, YOU ARE NEEDED.  If you can’t donate, you can help by volunteering, organizing a blood drive, or my personal favorite:  babysitting for someone who wants to donate!  (The donation process takes almost an hour start to finish and no one wants to take small children to a blood donation center).

January–Back to the Slog or Resolutions

I like the idea of often using this blog as a gratitude journal. But I don’t always feel sunny. January, for example doesn’t seem to have much to recommend it. Weather = bad. Anticipation = none. Children = back in school. Pdad = back to work. My goals for the vacation = unmet. I really like the days we had off of work and school, I just wish there could be more of them. And now, as so often, it seems like there is so much to do. I wonder how I can possibly get it all done. I’m not sure which strategy to choose: first get the house clean, then make returns? First make returns, then get the house clean? First do errands (carwash, preschool signup, grocery shopping), then clean house? Meanwhile, outside of this routine, where do I find time to work on the new things, the things I wanted to do better or spend more time on this year? If I get all or even a lot of these things done as I so much want to do, will it mean that I am messing up on something else? That when Kate and Duncan asked me to read to them, I said “later?”

At Church today, we were counseled to make and honor New Year’s Resolutions. I think of New Year’s as a secular holiday and of New Year’s Resolutions as a therefore secular practice. However, I guess there is no reason it has to be that way. Making resolutions is a practice full of hope. Hope than one can change and that things can be different. Hope can transform a slog into something else. It is January. I am desperate for that hope.

It is tricky to set resolutions realistically–high enough to be worth doing, but reasonable enough to be possible to accomplish. I find that when I consider all the possible resolutions I could resolve–fix dinner every night, fix dinners that include vegetables, stay current with the laundry, file all paper and keep it filed, learn windows 7, learn word 2007, be in bed no later than 11:00, read with Duncan every day, make time to play with the kids every day, read several books, exercise, be loving, stop criticizing, donate blood every 56 days, help my neighbor improve her English, read the scriptures every day, blog every day–it is discouraging. It is discouraging because if I am honest with myself I know I can’t accomplish all of those things. If I resolve all of those things, I will fail. But I do want to resolve them, because these are things I really need to do and really want to do.

How do I select between such worthwhile resolutions? Suddenly, making resolutions doesn’t seem secular at all. I can’t possibly sincerely participate in this resolution ritual without prayer. I can’t accomplish my resolutions alone. I can’t even decide what to resolve. Despite my misgivings about January, I am grateful. I have a father to to turn to, to ask for counsel, to pray to. I can put my anxieties in his hands and follow his paths.

Greens w/ a side of clogged artery


I was craving something healthy.  I’d spent the past few days silently snitching bits of  birthday chocolate all day long.  I can easily go a few days on cold cereal, yogurt, and chocolate, but then I wake up:  What am I doing to my body?! Today was one of those waking days.  So, despite it already being 6 p.m., and despite an evening of single-parenting ahead of me (attn ax-murderers: Pdad’s flight should land within the hour)  I decided I HAD to make real food or perish.

It went surprisingly well.  Duncan played sweetly with Kate.  (Do you hear the choir of angels singing?  I hope so, because it was a miracle).  Amelia worked on her homework.  I cooked.  I made bistro salad–the number one best way to consume lettuce.  It was past kid bedtime before we all finally sat down at the table.  They hadn’t killed each other and I’d managed to keep them from spoiling their dinner or having hypoglycemic meltdowns with some carefully timed snacks.  It was a good moment.

I said the blessing on the food.  With great sincerity, I thanked Heavenly Father that we could sit down together and eat “real,” “healthy” food.  I finished the blessing and picked up my fork.  Amelia looked at me quizzically:  “Why did you say that about healthy food in the prayer?  Is Boursin cheese healthy?”

She got me!

For the uninitiated: Bistro Salad is mesclun mix coated generously with a thyme-mustard vinaigrette–plenty of oil, topped by bacon and eggs, and with a side of Boursin toasts.  Healthy?  On balance, probably not.  Delicious: Oh yeah!

Question: If one only enjoys vegetables prepared in artery-clogging ways, is it still better to eat vegetables than not to eat vegetables?

Postponing the Inevitable

To cover the garden with sheets or not to cover, that is my question. I have several nice looking tomatoes–nice except that they are still so green. I would like to save them, but they are ripening so much more slowly now than before. If we are to have just one or two days of freezing temperatures, followed by several warm days, then covering is probably worth it. If it going to be near freezing almost every night all month, then probably not.

I have become so disenchanted with the cucumber and so exhausted by the zucchini that I don’t much care what happens to them any more. I do play favorites– I would pretty much be willing to cover my basil every night all month if I thought it would work.

We did cover last night. It did work. Things that were covered survived (except for small branches on the tomato plants that broke off) and some of the things not covered shriveled (But apparently that cucumber laughs at cold!).

In other news, this is my birthday week. A sudden attack of paranoia prohibits me from revealing exactly when or exactly how much, but this is the oldest I have felt in approaching a new birthday in a long time (since I turned ten? eighteen? thirty?) I am not yet forty, but to me this particular birthday means “almost forty” and it is a weighty feeling. I wonder if when I turn forty it will still feel weighty or if I will be used to it by then?

Anyway, I am getting pretty old. I have seen the first few silver hairs. I am almost too old to have children. A lot of the milestones in my life are past. Weird. When did this happen? I wasn’t paying attention.

And what next? My zucchini is wilted and pathetic. Hopefully, I am not. What does my new season bring?

Grandmas Against Entropy

My mom visited all last week and it was great. I enjoyed talking with her and I felt like it was a wonderful opportunity for my children to get to know her better. Duncan, particularly, was like a purring kitten after a little extra grandma attention time.

The only problem with having my mom visit is that it reminds me of what a poor housekeeper I am (Despite some at times half-hearted, at times a lot more than half-hearted, efforts to be otherwise!). Somehow the neat and tidy gene that both my parents seem to have has skipped me. I inherited their desire for neat and tidy but not the make-it-happen part.

Anyway, one of the truly helpful things she did while she was here was to organize our games closet which had fallen into a state of entropy so complete that some of us doubted it could ever be restored. Et voila!

What a difference a grandma makes!

The Pfamily Game Closet: What a difference a grandma makes!

I was so inspired by the transformation that on Monday I tackled my own clothing closet and completely cleaned it out. Take that, entropy!

This post is about entropy and grandma appreciation. Come back tomorrow for a discussion of which games are good/fun and why. I’d love to hear what’s in your games closet!

What I Hope for My Children

I started writing this in reply to Julie’s comment [the 500th comment on this blog and by a new reader to boot! Hooray!] on the Shinguards Go Inside the Sock post and realized I wanted to put it up here as a separate post.

Julie, I think you make a really good point about how important it is to help your child celebrate who he is and what he is good at.  All children need that.  Actually, we all need that.  In pushing one’s children to “fit in” so that they can find greater happiness, it is possible to accidentally send the message that not fitting in is truly terrible.  This is a shame.  I don’t need or want cookie cutter kids (and I’m not likely to have any).  While I want them to feel comfortable socially if possible, I also want to teach them that they don’t have to be like everyone else to be wonderful.  This is important for them to know because a) they aren’t like everybody else and b) they are wonderful.  It doesn’t mean that those other kids aren’t wonderful as well, but clichéd or not, we are all wonderful in our own way.

I hope my children can learn to appreciate other’s talents and gifts without feeling that they are worth less because they didn’t get those particular talents and gifts.  I also hope they will grow to feel mightily thankful for the gifts they have received, while keeping the perspective that being better at x doesn’t make you better, it just makes you better at x.  I  hope each of my children can find areas in which they are able to work hard and excel, because the discipline of applying oneself and learning the rules of any practice–whether it be soccer or swimming, storytelling or spelling bees, crocheting or kayaking–and then seeing improvement and ultimately success, is powerful rest-of-your-life preparation.  We all like to feel that there is something we’re good at.  We all want to know that if we work hard we can accomplish great things.  This knowledge gives us courage and strength.  It also gives us a secure position from which we are better able to appreciate other’s accomplishments and abilities.