Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Sinterklaas, kapoentje!

I like traditions. Especially ones that involve chocolate. And Sinterklaas means chocolate. Not literally. For me it's more implied. We celebrate Sinterklaas because Jon served an LDS mission to the Netherlands and because Sinterklaas is awesome. You should celebrate it too.

If you've ever seen Miracle on 34th Street then you may already know a Sinterklaas song. There is a scene where a little Dutch girl greets Santa Claus and they sing together in her language. According to Jon, she sings the song with a thick American accent. But I wouldn't know, the only Dutch I understand translates into 'I love you' and some really bad words. (Thanks Jon) So it always just makes me happy and a little teary-eyed when Santa Claus sings with her.

Sinterklaas kapoentje
Gooi wat in mijn schoentje,
Gooi wat in mijn laarsje,
Dank je Sinterklaasje!

Translated into English it means:

Saint Nick, little rascal
Put something in my little shoe
Put something in my little boot
Thank you Saint Nick!

Sinterklaas has a cohort named Zwarte Piet or Black Pete. Black Pete is from Spain and is black from the soot of the chimneys he climbs down to deliver the goodies. However if you are a bad little boy or girl, Black Pete carries you home with him to Spain. A wonderful threatening way to convince small children to be on their best behavior, but I think I would rather enjoy an unexpected visit to Spain.

We began last night's celebration with a boerenkool stamppot. It is a traditional Dutch winter meal containing potatoes and kale. It's actually quite similar to our St. Patrick's Day tradition of colcannon. Other stamppots can include potatoes and carrots or potatoes and sauerkraut. They're all good. This is the first year we've had real rookworst to go with it though because I discovered a charming little Dutch shop in New Westminster, BC called The Holland Shopping Centre that carries traditional Dutch meats and cheeses (and chocolate). Farewell Hillshire Farms smoked sausage, I really won't miss you.

Here are Eli and Audrey showcasing the stamppot.

I served it with crusty bread, carrots, sauerkraut and brown gravy. I loved Jon's compliment when he came into the house from work, "Mmm, it smells like Holland in here!"

Before the kids went to bed they put their shoes out in front of the fireplace. We had to do things a little differently this year, because our klompen (wooden shoes) are still on the moving truck. And we aren't too clear on whether the shoes should go by the fireplace or by the front door, but either way Sinterklaas still came. Audrey wrote the letter. It read:

Dear Sinterklaas,

Do you know Santa Claus? He does the same thing as you, but Santa Claus comes on the 25th. Hope you have a safe trip!

Love, Audrey, Eli and Nate

P.S. Enjoy our treat!

The letter was longer but I made her erase her list of wants. That girl.

This picture was taken before the placement of the treat for Sinterklaas. The treat was a glass of water and some clementines.

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet must have concluded that our kiddos were pretty good this year because they left some good stuff, that or they really like water and clementines. Jon and Audrey were most excited about the stroopwafels. You must try one warmed after it's steamed above your hot chocolate. So good. I was happy to see a plentiful supply of peppernoten and speculaas. There were licorice drops shaped like little bicycles and coins, marzipan frogs, Droste chocolate pastilles and Mentos (cuz they're Dutch). Sinterklaas left a little note on Audrey's letter. It said, "Veel Dank! en Eet Smakelijk!" Translation: "Many Thanks and Bon Appetit!"

And of course the kids all received their first initial of their name in chocolate.

Happy Sinterklaas everyone!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Not a weekly reader anymore.

I've subscribed to Newsweek for 16 years. But I've read it faithfully every week for 19. I began reading Newsweek during high school study hall. My choices were limited when it came to news magazines. Our school library carried only Time and Newsweek. It was the 1992/93 school year and their pages were filled with news relating to the presidential election. My preference for Newsweek was probably because I preferred the political funny page Perspectives in that magazine over whatever Time offered. That's right, I've always liked my politics and world news coverage to be devastatingly opinionated, mildly humorous, ironic and quick.

My main goal in keeping up with the events of the day was so I could win. I like a good competition. And every Friday Mr. Spangler, my high school American History teacher, offered that to me. It was a game centered around the news of the week. The class was divided into teams and Mr. Spangler would ask a world event related question and the first team to answer correctly got a point. There was no prize. No frilly accolades or celebration. Just competition for the sake of competition. And, more likely, so we could learn stuff. I loved this game. That's where Newsweek came in. A quick study could arm me with enough "what's goin' on in the world" knowledge to make the competition honest.

I continued reading it in college, taking a break from library studies to grab the plastic encased copy from the magazine shelf and spend an hour making myself familiar with the current events of the day. Eventually I tore one of the postcards out of the middle and subscribed. And even though my magazine was always addressed to May Lewellen, even after I called to correct them, I still read it faithfully. I looked forward to its weekly arrival and was mildly disappointed when an issue would be a special double issue, thus eliminating a whole week of news. Perspectives was always the first page I read, followed by the letters to the editor and then My Turn. I never wrote a letter to the editor, but enjoyed finding validation of my own thoughts or discovering a counterpoint opinion concerning previous articles by reading others comments.

Somewhere in the intervening years however, I've lost interest. My past subscription renewal notices were always promptly returned with the next several years paid for. Now, weeks go by and my pile of unread Newsweek's wait patiently until I have a spare three hours to devote to their perusal. And while I still enjoy opening a fresh copy of my magazine, it's way too easy to just turn on my phone and pick my favorite news aggregator app and open a world of diverse opinion and around the world news coverage, for free.

It seems my last issue is in the mail. I guess this is goodbye. Well, until I go to the dentist.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

No sweetie, that's a different kind of Pioneer.

It's Pioneer Day. So to celebrate this momentous occasion I'm going to tell you a story. If you've already heard it, feel free to bow out now. If not, then to really understand this post you need to know two definitions of the word Pioneer:

Pioneer - a colonist, explorer or settler of a new land or region.

Pioneer - a seed producing company headquartered in Iowa.

If I drew a Venn diagram of my friends, half of you would be thoroughly familiar with the first definition as it relates to the celebration of Pioneer Day. July 24th, 1847 was the day the Mormon pioneers first entered the Salt Lake Valley. Lots of people, mostly in Utah, celebrate this day with parades and picnics, fireworks and family. Although because today is Sunday, they probably did all those things yesterday. The other half of my friends, while understanding the first definition of pioneer generally, will also recognize it as a brand of corn or soybean seed. But as those two circles of friends overlap, there are a few of you whose intimate knowledge of both definitions will find a heightened hilarity to this tale.

Please know that if you don't fall into either circle, you can still finish reading this. (Pssst, the answer to the question in the green circle is: "No, it's Iowa!")

She was a professor at Brigham Young University in the college of nursing. We volunteered together every Wednesday night for two years at the Family History Library in Springville, UT where we helped people find and link together their ancestors. I don't remember her name, I wouldn't share it if I did, but she became a good friend to Jon and I in those early days of our marriage and parenthood. I looked forward to spending that one night a week talking to her about life, school, and during the second year, my pregnancy. She was good at calming any fears I had between check-ups. She fell entirely into the first circle of my above mentioned Venn diagram.

It was sometime during late summer one year that she told me she would be visiting Iowa. Her daughter and son-in-law had recently moved there for work and she was excited to go and see them and her new grandbaby. She was also excited about visiting Nauvoo in Illinois and Winter Quarters in Nebraska. She had never really been outside of Utah and she wanted to know what she should see and do while she was away. I was a little excited to draw up an itinerary of must sees in my home state that she and her family should visit. I included some destinations that most people don't know about like Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah, Iowa. Both locations have historical significance to the Mormon Pioneer Trail and weren't too far from her daughter's location in Des Moines. She wanted to know if the Mormon Pioneer Trail was marked and I remember telling her that yes there were markers along the trail.

I was anxious to hear her report when she returned a couple of weeks later. And I was glad to learn she had had a wonderful visit with her family. She loved visiting Nauvoo and Winter Quarters and had even driven to those out of the way spots I had included on the list of places to see. But I was a little perplexed when she talked about how far and how randomly the pioneers had traveled. According to her, their path of travel had zigzagged all over the state of Iowa, going so far as to almost reach the border of Wisconsin. Wisconsin? I wondered. What trail was she following? It was when she talked about how well the trail was marked that I gasped in realization of her error.

Pioneer, the seed company, as well as any of the other seed companies, whether it be Cargill, DeKalb, Garst or AgriGold make signs that farmers use to mark their fields as having been planted with that brand of seed. Here's an example:

Whole fields of corn, soybeans and other plants are lined with these markers, each proudly displaying the brand of seed chosen by the farmer. Sometimes the signs, as I think the ones above do, show rows of hybrids or test seed. But either way the markers clearly show the brand name. And that's where my friend was so unfortunately misled.

Pioneers are kind of a big deal in Utah. Pioneer is kind of a big deal in Iowa. But alas, neither really have anything to do with each other. My friend and her daughter explored a great deal of Iowa on their quest to follow the Mormon Trail. They followed those Pioneer signs around and around, sometimes circling entire fields, never once doubting that the pioneers truly had walked and walked and walked aaaaaaand walked.

Did the circles overlap for you?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Teachers are Appreciated!

As we approach the last day of school (TOMORROW!), may I offer my thanks and appreciation to all my children's teachers and to all of you who have chosen to devote your time and talents to the challenges of a classroom. I love your dedication, your resolve and your willingness to serve the children, or the teenagers - who sometimes act like children.

Many years ago I volunteered to do the centerpieces for the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon at my children's elementary school. The theme had something to do with The Fourth of July, or America, or liberty or something. I made fireworks out of formula cans, paper, oasis, cookie pops and picks. Sorry, no pictures. The next year they asked me to chair the event. I took it as a compliment, but I now know they were looking to pawn it off on someone else. So for the last several years the month of April and the first week of May have been a lot of fun for me.

One year, to celebrate our school's recent Blue Ribbon Award, I did a State Fair themed luncheon. I asked Jon to weave the word 'Terrific' with string between two boards like in Charlotte's Web and the teachers sat on a hay bale underneath the sign and had their picture taken. Another year I had all the children in the school trace their hands. Then we turned all their paper hands into flowers for the centerpieces. That year the theme was Helping Hands. And then there was the Cinco de Mayo theme where we brought in blenders and made virgin margaritas in the library complete with sugar rimmed glasses. Last year we went Hollywood and asked the teachers to get all dolled up and walk the red carpet before the luncheon. Fifth graders lined the "red carpet" (a long line of plastic red tablecloth) and pretended to be reporters and photographers with blow-up microphones and disposable cameras. And of course there were fans, screaming for an autograph. That was fun to watch.

I've always had amazing women to help me carry out all the craziness. My vision is always way bigger than the budget or my own capabilities. I love all of them for their support, good humor and friendship. My wingmen through the years have been Dawn B., Jen, Patti, Deena, Dawn M., Kelly F., Allison, Cindy, Jackie, Holly, Jill, Alanda, Kelly J., Nancy, Pam, and many others who have been willing enablers. I've asked them to do some pretty crazy things. Like this:

The Harwood Elementary Walk of Fame. Each teacher's name cricut cut into a star by Patti. She even glittered the paper before she laminated them. So awesome! The director's chairs were given as the raffle gifts. Kelly J. embroidered them with the eventual winners names.

This year, because our school is celebrating its 40th anniversary, I wanted to do something with memories. I'm a lot sentimental that way. The theme was 'Memories are for the Keeping.' It all started when I had an idea for a poem about an elephant and a Whatchamacallit candy bar. You see, Teacher Appreciation Week isn't just about the luncheon. No, it's also about the daily treats the PTO leaves in their mailboxes and the fun gifts the students bring during the week. We would never ask any family to do more than they are able and most of the daily gifts are not something to be purchased. Here is the letter I wrote to introduce the theme to the parents and to let them know what to bring in each day:

First, thank you for all the support you have given to the Parent Teacher Organization of Harwood Elementary. You have given of your time and resources to help make Harwood a place where our children can soar. So we know you will join with us in giving the teachers and staff of Harwood a well-deserved thank you as together we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week, May 2nd – May 7th 2011. We have chosen “Making Memories for the Keeping” as the theme for the week. Below is the schedule of the school-wide planned events. Please participate as you and your family are willing and able.

Monday May 2rd, Teacher, this is for you!: Many children show their love by drawing pictures for their teachers. Invite your child to draw a picture for their teacher(s) or favorite support staff that is ‘refrigerator worthy.’

Tuesday May 3th, A Luncheon to Remember: We have planned a luncheon to celebrate our school’s hard working, dedicated teachers and their outstanding support staff.

Wednesday May 4th, Memories Are Forever: In order to keep a perfect memory alive forever, you have to have the perfect tools. Bring your teacher a box of crayons or markers, pencils or pens or any tool you think would help your child’s class record a happy memory.

Thursday May 5th, Don’t keep the memory to yourself, Share it!: Did your child come home from school with an especially funny story about their day? Did your child’s teacher make this school year memorable for your child? Spend a moment together and write a note to their teacher(s) or favorite staff to share those moments you’ll always remember.

Friday May 7th, If a picture of a flower is worth a thousand words . . .: Then an actual flower is worth at least a million! Bring in a flower for your child’s teacher(s) or favorite staff member for him or her to take home and remember how much they are appreciated. (Flowers can be store bought or picked from home!)

Parents, we hope you enjoy helping your child honor their teacher during Teacher Appreciation Week. Please remember we are very blessed to have such a wonderful group of teachers and staff. Every teacher and staff member is a credit to our school and the parents and students of Harwood Elementary are privileged to enjoy the benefits of their efforts.

Sincerely yours,

The Harwood Elementary PTO Board and Trustees

Daily Mailbox Treats

Monday - A magnet with a quote from an author named Jacquie McTaggart. It said "My students taught me how to imagine, and how to dream. They gave me wonderful memories, and left footprints on my heart." We used magnet paper and were able give all 66 teachers and staff a magnet for 13 dollars. I wrote a poem to go along with each of the days gifts.

Monday's Poem:

Teacher, Teacher it’s for you.

I drew it with a crayon of blue.

That’s you right there

Upon the stair

With really, really poofy hair

That’s me beside you, looking up,

As happy as a little pup.

‘Cause you’re my teacher and you see

You really mean a lot to me.

Please use this magnet for my picture –

A happy memory to hold and capture.

Tuesday - A piece of string. We really went all out with this one. Three packages of embroidery floss cost 1 dollar. With memory as the theme, and sentiment as the goal, Tuesday's poem says it all:

They say a ribbon on your finger

Will help a memory always linger.

So tie this on and remember

All the days since September.

If you’ve felt celebrated

For all your time and work,

If you’ve felt appreciated

For duties you’d never shirk,

Then those days since September

Are the ones to remember,

And the memories that will linger

Are worth the ribbon on your finger.

Wednesday - The elephant and candy bar. One of the dad's at our school is a Sam's Club manager and he donated a box of Whatchamacallit's for the cause.

Wednesday's poem:

An elephant recollects

The past with memory clear

A face, a place, a time sublime

Remembered year after year.

We hope you will remember

With (mostly) happy thoughts

The time you spent at Harwood

And all the kids you taught.

So when you’re in a rocking chair

And upon the porch you sit

May you think of Harwood fondly

And not as . . . Whatchamacallit?

The elephant was made using circle and oval die cuts and the question mark die cut.

Thursday - Post-it notes. This was the most expensive gift for the week. Two packages of 1.5inchx2 inch post-its cost around 40 dollars.

Thursday's poem:

Tired of to-do lists? Try this, we must insist.

Make instead to-be lists, allow us to assist:

Be talented, creative, diligent and fair,

Be courteous and helpful and always show you care

Be passionate, committed, please help our kids go far,

Be always and forever, exactly who you are.

So post it in the hallway,

And post it on the wall:

Harwood staff and teachers –

The greatest of them all.

Friday- A pen. But not just any pen, a blue Harwood Elementary School pen that one of the mom's on the PTO ordered through one of her business contacts.

Friday's poem:

I think it was Moliere who said -

(A comedic French playwright who now is dead)

If you must write it down to summon to mind,

Then what you write down is not worth your time.

But I’m sure Moliere wasn’t a teacher,

With multiple students (those lovely creatures),

With tests to make up and papers to grade,

Instructions to give - not to mention First Aid.

Assignments like these deserve a reminder

And writing them down, in a book or a binder,

Should not mean they’re worthless or inconsequential,

So accept this blue pen, a recording essential.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Can You Guess Who?

Cindy had the great idea to ask the teachers to bring in a picture of themselves from when they were in elementary school. We turned it into a contest for both the teachers and the students. The teachers pictures were numbered and displayed on a board in the library. Sheets were made up with corresponding numbers and the teachers and students guessed who was who. The teacher with the top correct number of guesses won a digital frame. The runner up won a 25 dollar Best Buy gift card, donated by Best Buy. Students with at least 5 correct guesses were entered into a drawing to win one of two disposable cameras.

The Invitations

Jill is my invitation creator. She is AWESOME! Here is the invitation she came up with for this year. So creative! She took a picture of her computer screen, printed out the pictures and made them look like polaroids. The bottom polaroid on the second page was the RSVP. The teachers removed that and handed it in to RSVP. On the RSVP we asked that they include their name, whether or not they were attending and if they would prefer the Chicken Salad or Vegetarian meal option.

The Centerpieces

Alanda is a photographer. All year she has taken pictures at all the school events. I asked her to print off at least 80 pictures of the teachers with their students to hang from branches at the tables. She did amazing work. She made all the pictures sepia toned, sized them so two pictures fit on one 4x6 print and got more than 80 pictures printed for less than 5.00 at Costco. Jon and I took the kids for a walk through the woods near our home and collected sticks. The other moms and I arranged the sticks in 12 of my quart sized Mason jars. We cut the pictures, attached them to cardstock and hung them with hemp string from the branches.

The Luncheon

Parents at the school have always been so willing to donate for the teacher luncheon and this year was no exception. This year I wanted the meal to be prepackaged. Other years have been a crazy hodge podge of what parents and area businesses were willing to donate. This year I was really specific about what to donate. We asked for croissants, chicken salad, sun chips, bottled water, apples and cookies. When everything was in the only things we had to purchase were the lunch boxes, ice to chill the water and one tub of chicken salad. I had wanted to go with gable boxes but cost wise it wasn't worth it and we were able to purchase 120 lunch boxes from Gordon's for less than 40 dollars. On the day of the luncheon, all my parent volunteers gathered and assembled chicken salad or vegetarian croissant sandwiches. We tied the boxes with the hemp string and included a little tag that said Thank You. We marked the vegetarian boxes. The teachers gathered and were able to enjoy a 'memorable' lunch.

And there you have it - Teacher Appreciation 2011, 'cause Teachers are Terrific!

Monday, May 30, 2011


I'm not from Michigan. I didn't know anyone when I moved here. Of course that only made the adventure more fun. But it was a passing conversation with my Granddaddy Mac after the birth of my daughter that helped to cement my connection with the state and metro Detroit.

Me: She was born in Troy.
Grandaddy Mac: Oh, your great, great, great Grandmother Polly was born in Troy.
Me: Really?
Grandaddy Mac: Yes, her family settled in Michigan in the 1820's.
Me: Really?

And so it was that I discovered that not only had they settled here, but they helped to establish cities, owned land, and were prominent members of the community. Our home is only a few short miles from the family burial ground in Greenwood Cemetery in Birmingham. Fun stuff huh?!

Polly wasn't born in Troy though. She was born in Southfield, but it's all good. Her husband Nicholas is my current geneological obsession. I'm trying to document who Granddaddy Mac suspects to be his parents. So far it's been rough. I went to the Birmingham Historical Society recently to see what they had on the subject. (After I left, they had significantly more having copied every document I already had.) In my conversation with the director, I mentioned that in my records it showed that Polly had a little brother who died in the Civil War. Polly's husband Nicholas also died in that war. The director asked if I had ever been to Shain Park to see the Civil War monument erected there. I replied that I hadn't because I was not aware there was one. She retrieved a document from her filing cabinet that included the names of all the men listed on the stone. Omer Fall, Polly's brother, was among them.

Omer enlisted in August of 1862 with his brother Henry. Omer was 20 and Henry was 18. They both fought at the Battle of Chickamauga in Georgia. Henry was wounded in action and both he and Omer were taken prisoner. Henry lived to see the end of the war, eventually promoted to Corporal in 1864 and mustered out in June of 1865. Omer died in Andersonville, a Confederate prisoner of war camp in 1863. The thought is horrifying.

Tonight we took the kids to Shain Park to show them the monument and hopefully instill a measure of respect and reverence for those who have fought and died for our country and our freedoms. It was a powerful moment for me and Jon, however there was also a playscape, so it was considerable less powerful for the kids. Here are some of the pictures I took.

This is the monument erected in 1869. The names of all the Civil War dead from Oakland County, MI are listed on each of the 4 sides. This is the side Omer's name is on. The marble slabs at the base are from the mountains of Georgia, the state where he died.

The flag, at half mast, slowly waved in the breeze. It was an appropriate backdrop. A fresh wreath of flowers had been placed there earlier in the day.

I asked everyone to place their hands around Omer's name. Eli put his own spin on the directions, appropriately.

Omer Fall, you are not forgotten.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


So it's raining. Again. Just like it has been for 75% of the days of April and May in Michigan. A quick look on the bright side of that statistic: everything is so green. I'll even use the word lush to describe my neighbor's backyard, instead of unmowed. I assume they gave up and decided to give back their yard to Mother Nature. If so, she's done a pretty good job with it. In a normally tended lawn what might be considered weeds, now just look like wildflowers in a forgotten meadow.

With all this rain, comes lots of worms, and while trying to not squish a few today it reminded me of a poem I wrote in elementary school. I offer it here for your enjoyment. The first time Jon read it, he laughed out loud. After he explained the reason for his unexpected outburst, and I healed from the painful wound of constructive criticism, I renamed it. Here it is:


Raindrops are falling all around.
Worms come up from the ground.
The sun peeks out behind a cloud
And dries them up without a sound.

Of course I was referring to the raindrops, but apparently that wasn't clear. Right now, I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a forecast filled with sunnier days.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Let The Wild Rumpus Start!

The Assignment: Plan a party for your daughter's 3rd grade class and their pen pals from a neighboring school.
The Details: There will be 56 children, 2 teachers and 7 parents in attendance. Your budget is a graciously donated 75 dollars from the school principal and whatever you can get donated from parents. The party will start at 10am and end at 1pm. During the course of the activity, children will need to play games together, make a craft, eat lunch, and have some free time. You have one week. Oh and one more thing - given the weather trend over the last several weeks, it will probably be cold and rainy, so everything will be indoors.
The Theme: Ya gotta have a theme kid, makes it more memorable. Do you remember your 3rd grade pen pal party? That's too bad, it shoulda had a theme. So troll blogs and teacher sharing sites until you come upon a theme that is both creative, entertaining and age appropriate. Know you'll be able to pull off anything with your team of highly talented parent volunteers. Modify the games to fit your time, space and weather issues. Get approval for your theme "Where The Wild Things Are" based on the book of the same name by Maurice Sendak.

This is how it will go:

When the children arrive, introduce them to their pen pals and place them into teams of 8. They will be a little shy and uncomfortable at first but give them something to do right away to alleviate any jitters. Coloring a Wild Thing nametag and playing I'm Going to Where The Wild Things Are is a great place to start. One child begins the game by saying Hello. My name is . . . I'm going to Where The Wild Things Are and I'm bringing a boat. The next child says Hello. My name is . . . and I'm going to Where The Wild Things Are with . . . and her boat and I'm bringing a tent. The next child says Hello. My name is . . . and I'm going to Where The Wild Things Are with . . . and her boat, and . . . and his tent and I'm bringing a hiking stick. This continues until all the children have had a turn. It helps the children on each team get to know each other quickly.

After they have completed their nametags and pinned them on, the teacher will read the story Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. She'll use great voices and the children, although they have read or heard the book several times, will be riveted.

In the book, Max, dressed in his wolf suit, makes all sorts of mischief before his mom has had enough and he gets sent to his room without eating anything. In a game we called "Mischievous Max," the children had some fun playing dress up - at their teachers' expense. Have lots and lots of dress up clothes available. Give each pen pal partnership the chance to choose something from the pile to put on their teacher. In the end it will look something like this. The children will laugh hysterically, I promise.

The next game gives the kids a chance to roll their eyes without getting in trouble for doing so. We modified the game "Roll Your Terrible Eyes" by eliminating the water bottles and having the teams blow the eyes across the lunchroom floor towards the finish lines. Every team had a differently colored set of eyes (ping pong balls). The first team to roll all their eyes across the finish line, using only their breath, won. This game was so fun we played it twice.

Lunchroom tables and 50+ other children made it into somewhat of an obstacle course, however they enjoyed the challenge.

If you've ever eaten lunch in an elementary school cafeteria, you know the noise level can get a little out of hand. Most of the time the roars of the children are quickly quieted. The next challenge "Roar Your Terrible Roar" gives the teams the chance to roar their roars without fear of penalty. Teams are asked to come up with a terrible roar. Each team is given the chance to roar that terrible roar as loud as they can. None of the teams will have a problem with that.

To be the "King Of All Wild Things," one must have a proper crown. A standard size piece of poster board yields three Max sized crowns. We used 20 pieces of yellow poster board from the supply closet at the school. The kids decorated their crowns with markers, crayons and sticky-backed foam cut outs purchased from a craft store.

Can the kings of all wild things be called adorable? 'Cause these guys are.

By this time everyone was ready to "Gnash Their Terrible Teeth" (eat lunch), and because the lunchroom was about to be taken over by kindergarten and first grade students we moved the party to the library. Every child had brought a bagged lunch. Instructions had been given previously to bring a blanket to sit on while they ate. So with blankets laid out on the library floor, the kids enjoyed eating their lunches.

We supplemented what they brought for lunch with bottled water, watermelon slices and veggie trays. Which was a wise idea because it seemed most of their lunches were packed with only Ho-Ho's, Cheetos and pop.

You'll need a large space for the next game "Show Your Terrible Claws." We used the gym. Teams line up single file on one end of the gym and are instructed to remove their shoes and socks and show their terrible claws. (Seriously some of them really do have terrible claws.) A small pile of pebbles is placed in front of each team's line. At the signal the first person in each line grabs a pebble with their toes. They then move the pebble from one end of the gym to the other. The first team to move all their pebbles across the gym wins. Kids walk funny when they are trying to hold onto a pebble with their toes. The parents and teachers will laugh hysterically, I promise.

And the kids will want to play this game again:

And again:

And again. But this time you won't let them. Instead you suggest that maybe it's time for dessert. And they'll agree.

You will have spent way too much time on these (which I realize do not look like the monsters from the book, however I wasn't this ambitious):

But the smile will be worth it:

You'll even have enough left to share with your fantastic team of moms. These women are awesome. I have such great friends. From left to right, Michelle, Jen, Jackie, me, Faye, Diem, and Holly.

After all the fun and games of the morning, there wasn't much spark left for A Wild Rumpus. Besides, it was raining and A Wild Rumpus would be more fun on the playground outside anyway. Instead the pen pal pairs took turns reading to each other from their favorite books. I think it was a fabulous way to end the afternoon together.

For a take home gift from our class to theirs, Jackie had the idea that they could give their pen pal a pencil. The children drew pictures of themselves with their pen pals and attached them to these monster pencils I found at Target. Now they can continue their pen pal friendship and remember their monstrously good time Where The Wild Things Are!

The End

Friday, May 13, 2011

A question of faith.

There's a new billboard about a mile from my house that warns of the impending end of the world on May 21st. Simply stated it says: Judgment Day May 21. And then there's a number and web address for viewers to call or visit. I imagine if I called, someone would answer and assure me if I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior than all will be well for me on May 22. I hope, if it happens, the way I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior is acceptable to whoever is making those decisions. Also, wouldn't a 30 second commercial during the Super Bowl be a better venue for getting the word out? I mean, The Judgment Day, that's kind of big. Is money an issue if you won't need any beyond the 21st?

One of the basic tenets of my religious belief is that everyone should be free to worship how, where or what they may. I know that my own beliefs are oftentimes viewed as narrow minded, strict, stifling, or ridiculous. Those who are not Mormon, or who no longer associate themselves with the Mormon faith, might think all of those things. But it's true - shredded carrots really do taste good in green jello. Of course I jest.

I find that often people's view of what I believe is based on several things, sometimes inaccuracy and misinformation and other times a simple unbelief in anything they have studied. Depending on what they have studied, I am much more accepting of the latter. I try very hard to be understanding of other people's faith, or even lack of faith. I'm sad to say this has not always been the case. I'm sure my rigid, holier than thou attitude was found to be off putting for many. But I have worked hard to foster respect for those who are unwavering in their commitment to what they know to be true. It's like what I tell my kids sometimes when they come downstairs dressed for the day - "If that's what you're wearing - you better own it." Nothing is more disheartening than to watch the tottering soul.

Is it true that after dying in a suicide mission that men of the Muslim faith are met by 72 virgins and eternal happiness? Um, I hope not. Is it true on May 22nd, if I'm still here, that I am in hell like the billboard suggests? Um, I hope not. What I also hope is those are just myths, perpetuated by a crazy few but not representative of a whole faith or creed. There are many men and women who practice polygamy under the entirely false pretense that they are still members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Their confusion should not be viewed as my belief, no matter what their insistence, or others ignorance. I know people of the Muslim faith who are appalled that their religion is muckraked by those who are unwilling to educate themselves - those willing only to be spoon fed a never-ending feast of media sound bites and hype for the benefit of their perceived patriotism and next social gathering diatribe. Are there those who have absolute faith in the rapture, whenever that might be, who live their lives in humble preparation but who are dismayed to see others stoop to fear mongering and scare tactics to win votes for Jesus?

The one thing I can't shake about that billboard is what if, come May 22, the followers of the people behind the phone number and website are still here? The reality of waking up in your own bed on that Sunday morning would seem unbearable. Does faith exist for the disillusioned?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Maybe later.

Dear Blog,

I know I said we'd always be close. And I want you to know our friendship means a lot to me. But I'm kind of busy right now. Sooo . . . .



Thursday, April 7, 2011

A plethora of P's for producing a peck of pickled peppers.

(I'm teaching two half-hour classes of Vegetable Gardening 101 for a Relief Society meeting tonight and I'm using my blog to organize my thoughts. The theme of the night is A Thyme and a Season. The other presenter is focusing on herbs and flowers and I will not mention them here. But they're fun too. Also, my presentation is specific to southeast Michigan and my own experiences with gardening, it is not meant to be an exhaustive overview of the subject.)

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked.
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
- English Nursery Rhyme

A Plethora of P's for Producing a Peck of Pickled Peppers

So how's Farmville working out for you? Harvested anything yet? What did you do with your harvest? Jar of Salsa? Garden fresh salad? Pizza sauce? Yah, I didn't think so. Winter's almost over my dear and it's time. Time to put down your phone or mouse and put on a pair of gardening gloves. Let's dabble in reality for a season.


Everyone has their own purpose for starting a garden. My number one reason: Vegetables taste better if you grow them yourself. Seriously. A homegrown tomato, with just a dash of salt, tastes far superior to its mealy and bland counterpart found at the grocery store. Beyond taste however, I've found home gardening to be more economical, environmentally friendly, and well, it's just a lot of fun. Keep a purpose in mind though as you begin your garden. You'll want to remember it when the midday sun is beating down on you as you crawl through the dirt looking for weeds. Also you'll be able to remind your children when it's their turn to do the same. "Remember kids, this is fun!"


Now that you have your purpose, it's time to create a plan. Always have a plan. It's just easier that way. Grab a notebook and write down what you want and how you want to accomplish it. Begin by laying out how you want your garden to look. How large will it be? Where in your yard will it be located? What vegetables do you want to plant? (Preferably ones your family likes to eat. Nothing like trying to feed your children the bumper crop of okra, right Mom?) When I first started our home garden in 2004, I wanted to dig up most of the backyard. Jon talked me down and we started smaller. Each year we have added a few more feet. Today our garden is currently 24 x 10, or 240 square feet. Remember, your garden will need lots of sunshine to grow, at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. Hiding it in the corner where the sun doesn't shine might give your kids more room to run around, but does little to help the beans grow.


Nope. Still not time to plant. First you need to pick out a really cute pair of gardening gloves and a hat, your hands and nose will thank you later. Enjoy them now though, cause they're going to get dirty.

Now it's time to think about the soil. If you want your plants to have the best finish, give them the best start. I wish I could take you all on a field trip to Iowa right about now. We could set up lawn chairs on any country road and watch the farmers till up the prettiest soil you've ever seen. The rich black dirt is beautiful, a perfect chemistry of nutrients and minerals. I may be biased, but it's far superior to the clay I have to work with here in Michigan.

But that's what soil amendments are for. Begin by giving your soil a test. This will help you decide what type of fertilizer your garden needs. Soil test kits are available at your local garden store. There are two soil tests available at Lowe's. One cost about 3 dollars and the other cost about 10 dollars. They are basic tests that determine your soils pH levels as well as its nitrogen, phosphorous and potash levels. This year I purchased the Michigan State University Soil Test from Telly's Nursery in Troy, MI. The cost is higher, 19 dollars, but they test more things and include a list of personal recommendations specifically for your soil. Properly amending your soil is the best preparation you can do for your garden, besides the cute pair of gardening gloves.


Amending the soil is a continual process. Each year the proper nutrients must be returned to the soil in order for the plants to thrive. Full confession: I've never done a soil test before. My primary soil amendments thus far have been sphagnum peat moss, manure, Miracle-Gro potting soil (specifically for vegetables) and last year's fallen leaves. And really there's only one way to properly get these amendments in the ground. You gotta till it in. We purchased a tiller from Craigslist for 175 dollars a few years ago. It has saved us, as well as several of our friends and neighbors, from the back breaking work of turning over the garden. The first year I planted our garden after only a superficial turning of the dirt. My neighbor Naima, who is Syrian and doesn't speak English, conveyed her disappointment with a series of tongue clicks, head shakes and a demonstration on how to properly turn over soil. That's when we bought the tiller. We till the soil once a year in the spring, when the dirt has dried out sufficiently. We till to a depth of about 8 inches. And when I say we till, I mean Jon tills.

When you are adding things to amend the soil, be sure to throw in some earthworms as well. The more worms your garden has, the healthier it is. Plus, they're great at amending the dirt naturally, if you know what I mean.

Perusing Seeds and Selection

I don't like choosing seeds from catalogs. I enjoy looking at the catalogs, just not ordering from catalogs. I've never had a problem with purchasing seeds from Lowe's or Home Depot or my local nursery. They all carry name brand seeds from respectable seed companies. If you determine that ordering seeds from a catalog is what you prefer, then more power to you. Many people simply purchase already sprouted seeds, called transplants, from a local nursery and skip the seeding process altogether. This can make a lot of sense if you only want four pepper plants. A packet of seeds will produce tens of pepper plants for about a dollar. At our local nursery, four pepper plants for transplanting will cost 1.25. It's all up to you and your budget, time, purpose and plan.

Seed sharing is also an economical way of starting a garden. If five people each purchase a packet of seeds, then start those seeds and share their starts with each other, everybody wins.

When you purchase a packet of seeds, there are several things to pay attention to on the back. First look for the sell by date. Seeds planted after the date on the package may not germinate. Also notice the map of the United States. The waves of color indicate the window of opportunity you have to plant that seed depending on where you live.


Now, we plant. Here is where it can get complicated. Say you've decided in your plan, that you're going to plant zucchini, peas, beans, tomatoes, beets, lettuce, peppers, and green onions. Fabulous! Those are all wonderful vegetables that grow very well in Michigan. But wait. Don't just start pushing seeds in the ground. Lettuce, beets and onions are cold season plants. Tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and beans are warm season plants. Planting lettuce in full sun in the middle of July isn't going to produce a lot of crisp lettuce, unless it's in a container you've placed in the shade. And planting tomatoes before the last frost will yield a lot of dead tomato plants. So while planting lettuce, beets and onions in April and early May is a wise idea, don't expect your beans to do very well if you do the same. The last frost date in southeast Michigan is usually May 15th. But this is Michigan and I wouldn't put it past her to throw a snowflake or 10 inches before Memorial Day. So pay attention to the forecast as you plant your seeds.

It's also wise to organize the plants in your garden by how they mature. I like to plant zucchini. Not enough to over run the neighborhood, just enough to have some to grill all summer, bake a few loaves of bread and still have some to grate and freeze for the winter. But zucchini plants are a vine that need lots of room to grow. If you plant your pepper plants near the zucchini plants without leaving proper room for growth, your pepper plant is doomed. Be sure you have planned for proper spacing in order to allow sufficient room for growth, air circulation, and access.

I hate to thin my plants, but it's always for the best. Plant your seeds according to the directions on the seed packet, but be sure you thin them. Carrots will be a tangled mess if you don't and you really don't want that many radishes. Or if you can't stand the thought of killing a living thing, space the seeds farther apart.

Plants like to be cozy, so put down a layer of mulch around their base. You can use anything from straw, to plastic as long as it is garden friendly and fits into your plan. Mulch will help with water retention, weed control and, if you use the right stuff, add some nutrients to your plants.

Be prepared for how much one plant can produce. One year I planted 9 pickling cucumber plants. CRAZY! No family eats that many pickles. But not as crazy as a friend of mine who once planted twenty zucchini plants, thinking one plant produced one zucchini. There really are no words. You also want to pay attention to how much room a plant will take up if it is producing very little fruit. For example, and I feel like a traitor for saying this, corn. Great if you have a lot of space, but a few short rows of corn are going to take up a lot of space and not yield very many ears for the effort.

Because plants eventually stop producing, it is wise to space your planting or plant more than once. You can plant a spring crop of peas, harvest them and then plant them again for a fall harvest. That also applies to lettuce, spinach and other cool season plants. Beans should be planted every two weeks to ensure beans are available for harvest throughout the season, not just one big bushel full in late July. Keep track of your planting schedule in that notebook you started back in the planning stages of your garden.


Once your seeds or plants are in the ground, YOU ARE NOT DONE! Now comes the care and keeping so that in several weeks you can enjoy the fruits, or vegetables, of your labor. Planting a garden is not a leave it and forget about it undertaking. My mom would plant our family garden, a space many times as big as my garden, right before we left on our annual family vacation. Upon our return it was always a weedy mess. Guess who got to weed it? And while being able to tell the difference between a weed and a tomato plant might be useful knowledge, I wouldn't consider it a life skill or anything. Uuunnnllleess. I bet she was just using it as a lesson in how to work. Nice Mom.

Your garden will need proper watering (not too much, not too little), fertilizing, weeding, and pruning. But hey, good news! You can stay on top of things with only minutes a day, depending on your garden's size. As long as you are actively participating in the growth and development of your garden, you can limit the amount of time you need to spend in it.


Okay, I mean harvesting, but the word plucking fit my angle. You can expect to start harvesting your garden in as little as a month for things like lettuce, but tomatoes and beans will take a little longer. If you spaced your planting, you can benefit from a long harvesting season, well into September and even October. Be sure to share some with your neighbors. If they aren't into fresh vegetables like you are, then look into donating some to Forgotten Harvest or a local food bank. It's always good to share.


The purpose of my garden last year was to create a salsa garden. I planted several roma tomato plants, which produced in abundance. The onions and peppers also did very well. I was able to can over 30 pints of tomato salsa and 10 pints of jalapeno salsa just from tomatoes and peppers from our garden. That bumper crop of pickling cucumbers a few years back supplied enough cucumbers for two years of dill pickle spears. Green beans freeze well, and so do peppers. The benefit of gardening is long lasting and although it can be hard work, the rewards are worth it. So, if it's a peck of peppers you want to grow in order to pickle, or tomatoes for saucing, hopefully you are now better equipped with the basics to begin a garden adventure of your own. Let me know if you have any questions, or need clarification on something.

Have fun as you plan your garden for 2011!

Sunday, April 3, 2011


It's General Conference Weekend! Conference weekend only happens twice a year, the first weekends of April and October. It is a time when members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gather in homes and church buildings throughout the world. We gather to listen to guidance, revelation and the inspiring words of those we sustain as leaders of the church. There are three 2-hour sessions held on Saturday and two 2-hour sessions on Sunday. The third session on Saturday is the Priesthood Session which men and boys older than 12 attend. The Young Women Conference session is held the weekend before the April conference and the Relief Society Conference session is held the weekend before the October conference.

We have gone through many traditions as we have tried to best meet the needs of our family in regards to General Conference. We acknowledge that it is difficult to listen to talking heads for eight to ten hours over the course of two days. Nothing ever endured until we decided on what our kids call Listen Up!, the conference keyword game. For each session of conference the kids choose several keywords. Those keywords are assigned a food. Each time we hear a speaker say one of the keywords for that session, we get the assigned snack. Yes, this is a variation of a common drinking game. And yes, we think it is very fun. Especially when the kids have assigned chocolate to the word revelation and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland says revelation or a variation of it more than 20 times, like he did in an April 2008 talk. Cause variations count.

We learned early on however to temper the sugar with substance. It's hard to keep the spirit of conference when one is screaming at the kids to stop jumping on the furniture. Now, instead of an array of M&M's and Skittles, the menu is more likely to include fruit and popcorn alongside the Twizzlers.

Saturday Morning keywords and snacks

Excited (not even kidding) for conference to start

Saturday Afternoon

Sunday Morning

Sunday Afternoon

For five years I taught a religion class for high school age students called early morning seminary. Best. five. years. I was always a little sad when incoming freshman couldn't tell the difference between Elders Packer or Perry or Ballard and Scott, who as members of The Church of Jesus Christ we sustain as prophets, seers and revelators. If Latter-day Saints want our youth to do the same, than we need to introduce them early and often. Conference is an excellent place to start. I find great peace and joy in hearing the leaders of the church bear testimony of the Savior and His plan for us, from both the Quorum of the Twelve and First Presidency, as well as the Auxiliary leaders, i.e. Primary, Young Women, Sunday School and Relief Society. I want my children to feel that same peace, not because I tell them so, but because they have gained their own desire to know.

Some of my takeaways from this weekend:

- Our trials and tribulations are not beyond our capacity to bear. We can do all things through Christ which strengthens us.

- Be kind to the poor.

- I'd rather hear Well done thou good and faithful servant instead of Well you're done.

- I am quite normal.

- Make to be lists instead of to do lists

- Growth doesn't come by taking the easy way.

- A loving Heavenly Father is mindful of me.

Our semi-annual tradition of playing Listen Up! and watching conference, hopefully transitions into a lifetime desire to listen to a prophet's voice and being stalwart and true. Amen = You choose