Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My Dad, The Baker

Half and Half Bars

My dad is not really a baker, but while we were visiting with him for Christmas, I walked in the door to a Lemon Meringue Pie. He said that if he were younger, this would be his career.
Let's just say; I'm not surprised.
Growing up, I felt my grandmother was an amazing baker. She always said she wasn't but that her sister, Melva, was. I hadn't really understood that sentiment until recently.
I too, have decided that I am not a baker. Sure, I can make cookies and just about anything from a box, although I generally prefer not to except for cake mixes. I like knowing what goes into my food. Anyway, if you ask my kids, they would disagree with me- they think I'm a great baker. I think they will understand better when they are older.
Back to my dad. Growing up, he grilled and my mother cooked. At almost 70, I think my dad has found his true passion.
We arrived at his house on the 23rd of December and in addition to the Lemon Meringue Pie there were  three Plum Puddings(a long time tradition in our family), brownies, Half and Half bars and cookies. All of this after he had made a cake for the woman who works at the guard house in his neighborhood.
I'm happy for my dad. As a grandfather of 5 (with another one on the way via my stepsister) he's found a new passion in life. One that I'm happy to see has been passed down through the family (I think my grandmother would be happy if she could see this), and hopefully will be passed on even further through my own children. In the meantime, I'm happy to be the deisgnated taste-tester.

Millie MacDonald's Half and Half Bars
1 cup butter softened (2 sticks)
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

What's Next:
Sift dry ingredients together.
Cream butter and sugars.
Add egg yolks and sifted dry ingredients. 
Add vanilla. Spread in pan and sprinkle with 1 pkg. choc. bits

2 egg whites
2/3 cup superfine sugar
beat whites until stiff and slowly add sugar

Spread on top and bake at 350 for 25 minutes.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas is for Children

My mother used to say that Christmas was for children. As a child, I didn't really understand what that meant. As an adult, and after our first night up until 1am building and making things, I understood much better. As time went on and I became responsible for more shopping, more cooking and more children, I really got it. This Christmas though, I was able to appreciate both sides.
Yes, I was part of the hustle and bustle for the month following Thanksgiving, and in the two weeks before Christmas, really burning the candle at both ends. One friend mentioned casually in an email that he hadn't heard from me in a while. My response: "It's the week before Christmas. Really?!" And any other mother I saw was in the same boat; one roll of the eyes and we just knew.
But then today, I got to experience the fun part of Christmas; the "Christmas is for children" part. Since there wasn't much building and prep work on Christmas Eve, the building (of several varieties of Lego products) came on Christmas day. Guess who got to build? Me! Truth be told, I loved every minute of it. For me, building is fun and when you have a child anxiously awaiting the final product, and then actually playing with it, it's worth the hustle and bustle and running around. Today is a day to relax (I don't have to cook) and enjoy the Christmas that children enjoy. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Perfect Picture Books: 17 Things I'm Not Allowed To Do Anymore

It's time for Perfect Picture Books- a fabulous and resourceful, concept from Susanna Hill. This next book I chose because it's one of those books I don't think I will ever get rid of. It's honest, funny and fun to read. I like it for older kids because it (hopefully) won't give them any inspiration to try these silly activities. Or at least if they did, they would be old enough to understand that there are consequences for some behaviors.
Image courtesy of

17 Things I'm Not Allowed To Do Anymore
Written by: Jenny Offill
Illustrated By: Nancy Carpenter
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2007 
Suitable For: Kindergarten and up
Theme/Topics: Mischief, Fun, Siblings
Opening and brief synopsis:  "I had an idea to staple my brother's hair to his pillow. I am not allowed to use the stapler anymore." The story continues with a variety of silly and mischievous activities that give insight to the mind of a grade school child. Ever wonder why kids do things? Here are some answers with fabulous perspective.
Activities:  Ask children what silly things they have done and if there were consequences? Have they ever thought of doing silly things and actually carried them out. Ask how they think it would feel to have their hair stapled to a pillow or walk home from school backwards.
Why I Like This Book: From the very first page, I was laughing out loud! I had the best time reading it to my kids- my daughter had received it as a gift from a friend. It's just plain funny and also offers a good platform for dialog with kids about doing (or not doing) silly things.

Monday, December 19, 2011

'Twas Time To Make The Cookies

The competitive side of me is always up for a challenge. So, when Susanna Hill put forth the challenge to come up with our own versions of Clement C. Moore's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, I was in.
I tapped into my inner Eminem and after several revisions and reading (over and over) to my kids and husband, came up with what's below. It's the essence of Christmastime with my kids. Cookies, baking, impatience, and lots of licking of beaters. Enjoy!

“‘Twas the time to make cookies,”
We said to our mom.
“I’ll get you started,
Please try to stay calm.”

We measured and sifted
Cracked and whipped.
The batter got fluffy
We tasted and licked.

Beaters spun into action
With food coloring of green.
We measured and blended
For hours it seemed.

Soon it was time
To put it all together.
“Let’s get Christmas shapes,”
We said to our mother.

And then on the counter,
We couldn’t believe.
The number of cookies
We both could see.

There were shapes of canes, of bells, of flakes, and wreathes.
And snowmen, and presents, and angels, and trees.

Now the cookies were
Ready to bake.
We set some aside
For St. Nick to take.

Sprinkles and glitter
And red hots we knew,
Would make our cookies
A dream come true.

When we were finished,
The kitchen was intact.
With boxes for giving
And ribbons that matched.

Santa’s plate was ready,
So we said good night.
We gave mom a kiss
And turned out the light.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Change is Good

Admittedly, I have trouble with change. I see it in my kids and try to appreciate it, rather then be frustrated by it. For them, change means trying something new for dinner (frustrating). For me, change started 10 years ago when I had my first child (challenging). I adjusted and am still here to tell the story, but it wasn't easy. I'm learning to embrace change. I'm not "there" by any means, I still have trouble on occasion with change, but I'm trying to be more open to it each day.
Speaking of change, I have changed the name of this blog. I think this is the third time I have done so, and hopefully this time it will stick. I don't remember what it was called the first time, but Births and Blessings was never really for me. I picked that name for the benefit of others and my feeling is that if this place of sharing, musing, laughing and writing is going to really be my place, it's got to have the right name.
The A2Z part is named after my kids, not because I actually know what I'm doing, but because it matches their names. Everything in between is what I live every day. The good, the bad, the messy, and the funny.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Perfect Picture Books- The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs

I love this story and I ended up with this book totally by accident. The author, Jon Scieszka, came to my kids school for an author visit a few years ago. I had not heard of him, or his books, but of all the books I've bought from author visits, this is one of the best. Susanna, thanks for creating a way for me to share this with others!

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs.
Written by Jon Szieszka and illustrated by Lane Smith
Viking, 1989
Suitable for: Preschool and up (including Grandpa who loves to read it to the kids)
Themes/Topics: Retelling of a classic story.
Opening and Brief Synopsis: Everybody knows the story of the Three Little Pics. Or at least they think they do. But I'll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story. Imagine what it must have felt like to be the wolf who was only looking for a cup of sugar while sneezing his way through a cold.
Activities: Ask how it would feel to be misunderstood and then get in trouble for an "accident." Talk about the differences between this version and the one usually told.
Why I Chose This Book: I chose this book for two reasons. The first is that it's just plain funny. I loved hearing the story as told by A. Wolf and it really is even better listening to someone else read it. As a writer, I love it because the story was rejected by editors and agents so many times before it was accepted and published. Similar to one of my other favorite authors, Stephen King, it gives me hope.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

It's Cookie Time!

I started making Christmas cookies today. Not a huge deal, but it's something I do every year, and actually look forward to doing with my kids. The funny thing is that 10 years ago (right after my daughter was born) I thought we'd be making cookies the next week! Boy was I wrong. It took me a long time to realize that kids have to be of a certain age to participate in the great cookie extravaganza that hits our house every December.
So, I learned to be patient and wait until my daughter was old enough to actually participate in cookie making, and that was about 7 years ago. Now, on my third child and with a little experience under my belt, I had the pleasure of making cookies with my youngest who was so proud of decorating all by himself. Even if you are not a baker, and even if you prefer a really clean kitchen, this is worth the mess. And while I hate cleaning my kitchen, the fun (and ease of making Spritz cookies) is worth the clean up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Birthday Baby

Today my daughter turned 10. So many parents I talk to mourn the growth of their children from babies into tweens and then young adults. Maybe it's just me, but I see it as a privilege to watch my children grow. New things they do each day, growth into their own persona, and increasing independence. To me, it's a beautiful thing. Yes, at times I have missed just hanging out on a cold winter day in my pajamas with my daughter, but I now appreciate the fact that we can get our nails done together. I like talking about symbolism in books, and the importance of doing unto others. We still cuddle, and she still likes me reading to her. We rub noses, but I give her space when I see her at school.
Growth is amazing, and I love watching my kids experience it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Perfect Picture Books- Santa Kid

In the spirit of Christmas coming soon.....

When I actually take the time to think about the number of picture books in my house, I'm amazed at how many are really good. While some have survived longer than others, and some are memorized while others are not, the one below is still a favorite. My daughter, who is 10, has had several years of me reading this to her various classes at school. This year, she'll be the one reading it to her 4th grade class. When we talked about what book to bring in for her holiday sharing, there wasn't even any hesitation. "Santa Kid," she said. Thanks Susanna Hill, again, for starting this series, it's given me great memories and reason to look at our library of picture books again.

Santa Kid
Written by James Patterson and illustrated by Michael Garland
Little, Brown and Company, 2004
Suitable for: Preschool and up
Themes/Topics: Christmas, Adventure
Opening and Brief Synopsis: A businessman, Warrie Ransom, has bought the North Pole and Christmas. His goal is for 50% of the children to receive presents, therefore threatening to ruin that special day. Only Chrissie, Santa's daughter, seems to believe Christmas can be saved.
Activities: Ask children what it would be like if only half the kids got presents at Christmas. Imagine: would you have the courage to try and save Christmas like Chrissie?
Why I Chose This Book:  I bought this book, theoretically, for my children. But, as an avid James Patterson fan, I just couldn't resist. My unexpected surprise: when Chrissie shows her strength and the importance of children, I feel my own lump in my throat when Santa asks, "Do you believe, Chrissie, something bigger than yourself?"

Friday, December 2, 2011

Perfect Picture Books- Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo

Boys love trains-or at least mine do. In Susann Hill's Perfect Picture Book series, this story was a must to include. It's been read so many times that it's been memorized by two children and part of the cover is missing. To me, that's the sign of a perfect picture book.

Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo
Written by Kevin Lewis and illustrated by Daniel Kirk
Hyperion Books for Children, 1999
Suitable for: Preschool and up
Themes/Topics: Trains
Opening and Brief Synopsis: The daily activities of a train are very busy! Rolling over mountains, delivering freight, and finally coming to rest at the end of a long day, the rhyme and meter of this story keeps it going and fun to read.
Activities: Build your own train tracks over, under and around furniture and simple objects in your room. Can a track go over a pile of toys and under a bridge made of books?
Why I Chose This Book:  I bought this book on a whim one day in Barnes and Noble. My older son would spend hours building his own tracks and piling up trains to ride on them. It didn't take long for him to have this story memorized and read back to me at bedtime.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Power of the Mockingbird

Cover courtesy of
As my kids grew and learned to read on their own, I virtually stopped reading to them. Truth be told, not reading to them became one less thing to do in my day. As their sports and various activities increased, this was a welcome change for me.
In an effort to expand my daughter's reading horizons, I decided to go back to it. Not because she needed help, but because there was a book that caught my eye and as she gets older and her questions become more difficult to answer ("Mommy, what does it mean on the news when they say a body was found by the water?") I find that books make a great platform for talking about difficult subjects.

The book I choose is called Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine. The subject matter is intense. The main character is 11 year old Caitlin Smith who has Asperger's Syndrome and has just lost her brother in a random middle school shooting. The story chronicles Caitlin's constant "Working At It" to learn empathy, find closure, and help both herself and her father continue on with their lives.

In our house, we haven't discussed much about Autism spectrum disorders, school shootings, or what it must be like to lose a sibling. However, at almost 10, I felt that these life situations need to be discussed, and discussed early. As my husband and I learned several years ago, if your children don't learn the important life lessons from you, they will learn them from other kids at school. As the "playground news" is unreliable at best, I saw this book as an opportunity to both start reading again with my daughter and open up conversations about Asperger's, empathy, and death.

As with any "new project" there was opportunity written all over this one. My daughter had the opportunity to read out loud, I was able to teach her about symbolism in literature, and she learned about the classic book, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. This was such a great experience for both of us that the next book we are reading together is To Kill A Mockingbird.
What I didn't expect: the connection to the Mockingjay in The Hunger Games series. I'm not sure yet if I'm ready for her to start that series, but with the continuing mockingbird theme, it's a possibility. Where it leads us after that is to be determined.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Perfect Picture Books- Not A Box

The collective we who read and follow Susanna Hill's blog were asked to recommend picture books. With three children, I've been through a myriad of picture books. Some fantastic and read until they fell apart, and others not touched more than once. Join us on Fridays as we all share our favorite picture books and how they spoke to either moms or children.

Image courtesy of

Not A Box
Written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis
Harper Collins Children's Books, 2007
Suitable for: Preschool and up
Themes/Topics: Imagination, Adventure
Opening and Brief Synopsis: Why are you sitting in a box? It's not a box. What are you doing on top of that box? It's not a box! Little bunny is constantly being asked what he is dong with his box. He continuously explains that it is not a box, but many, many other things.
Why I Chose This Book:  In my house, the laundry basket is often the "not the laundry basket" and becomes a car, train, tent, or table. This story speaks to the unlimited imagination of children, and I love it.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Whatever, For Dinner

As I was washing the dishes tonight, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I'm not sure why, since it happens at just about this time every year, but still it seemed like a surprise. I am recovering from the two days of no school last week, so focused on the upcoming half days this week, and thinking ahead to Thanksgiving next week, that dinner just becomes "whatever." Whatever I can throw together and whatever is not chicken. One year I actually made a roast chicken the night before Thanksgiving. - Really????? You ask. Yes. It's so easy and requires almost no attention while cooking it seemed like a logical option. I made chicken tonight, but I have exactly 10 days until Thanksgiving actually hits, so I think I'm in the clear. Getting creative over the next few days, and remembering to order groceries for regular dinners, not just Thanksgiving, will require some thought, but can be done. Right now, pasta is seeming like a good option, but 10 days of that can be tricky. Maybe vegetarian? That won't fly for sure. I'm lost, but no longer feeling surprised.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Never Ending Halloween

I was actually done with Halloween on the 31st of October. However, here I am on November 4th and it's time to celebrate Halloween. Again. We missed it this year because of a freak snowstorm in the Northeast. Everything was put on hold. And then extended. And then recreated.
I'm not cynical enough to say that Halloween is only ever on October 31st, but my kids were "done" with it and ready to move on. So was I, but this was also an opportunity to have a little fun. We decided on an indoor candy hunt that would resemble the Easter egg hunt coming in about 6 months. The plan was all set: order pizza, hang out, and hunt for Halloween candy (whatever was left that we hadn't already eaten through the week), and call it a night. I was worried that having other kids come to our house for trick or treating would upset my kids, but everyone seemed really happy to just hang out and move on. We ordered pizza, but never got around to actually hiding and looking for the candy; we just ate it. Happy (belated) Halloween.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloweensie Hide N Seek

Considering where my focus has been with Pizza and Juicebox, the characters in the story shouldn't be surprising. Thanks Susanna for the contest, challenge and creative push! Enjoy!

Sugar Pie pumpkin peeked around a large tree looking for her friend, Candied Apple. There was a crackling sound as Sugar Pie’s foot stuck to a leaf. Candied Apple had been here.
“Boo!” Jack O’Lantern said jumping out from behind a bush. Together, Sugar Pie and Jack looked for Candied Apple. Carefully they climbed up to the tree house.
“Boo!” Sugar Pie screeched when they reached the top. But the tree house was empty.
Jack and Sugar Pie continued looking for Candied Apple. Following her sticky foot prints, they found her by the door ready to go trick- or- treating.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Up for the Challenge?

I started writing about three years ago. Some of the work has been really good, and some has been frightening when I've gone back to read through those early drafts. It started as a cathartic, sharing (to no one in particular) type of exercise. A way to get the thoughts (all on parenting) out of my head and onto paper.
As time went on, and I listened and watched my children more closely. The result; a drive and motivation to create children's books. With my own children as models and creators of story outlines, without even knowing it, I started writing.
Now, I've joined the PiBoIdMo challenge, where the plan is to create an idea for a children's picture book each day in the month of November. As I only have about 4 working ideas, this could be daunting, fun, challenging, exciting, and really test the few creative brain cells in my head. Let's see how it goes, and wish me luck!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Anniversary China

After ten years and three kids, the floors in our house were in serious need of repair. We finally had them done this past summer. The good news is that they are beautiful. The better news is that this beauty prompted some serious cleaning and rearranging on my part. A major by-product of that rearranging has involved trying to make, and keep, my dining room functioning as a dining room rather than a 12' x 12' closet. I'm fairly certain the table in there is meant for eating more than it is for piling. My closet also needs some rearranging but that's another beast entirely.
Part of my dining room conversion involved bringing the four or five remaining place settings of our china up from the basement. Yes, fancy Wedgewood wedding china. Do brides still even register for china? I have no idea. Most of the pieces we received as wedding gifts were unwrapped ten years ago and have been consistently used on holidays throughout the years. In case anyone's wondering, I still love my china pattern today as much as I did when I picked it out.

Not surprisingly, there were a few things that struck me while opening my boxes:

  • They  had survived the mold problem we had a few years ago in our basement. A plus when you are eating off something for sure.
  • My sincerest thanks and appreciation to the people at Michael C. Fina for doing such an excellent packing job. Nothing broken, even 14 years later.
  • Not only did I have a few more place settings, but I also had a ton of cardboard to break down flat and take to the garage. One more thing to do in my day.
  • And finally... how my husband and I have withstood the test of time as much as these plates, tea cups and saucers have. We probably have more chips and nicks than they do for sure, but we're still here and using the china in the dining room.
I can say that while looking at my "new china" I had moments of combined nostalgia and feeling productive at the same time. I remembered "doing the twist" with my dad and sister (a long time wedding tradition for the three of us). I remembered dancing just for fun with my new husband. I thought of what a pain it would be to pack up all the china when it comes time to move one day. And then I thought of what else I could move around in the basement to get rid of the old and make room for more storage (or less). How much stuff do I really need?
So, all of these things mark my 14th wedding anniversary. There are others too, but I'll save the ones that make me smile for my husband who, like my china, has withstood the test of time, mold, dust, and moving around. Happy Anniversary.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Postcards from the Sand

As a kid one of our first missions while on a family vacation was to find post cards, buy stamps, and get them written and in the mail so they would arrive to friends and family before we got home. Admittedly, it was exciting and fun to find just the right post card for each person.
I haven't sent a post card since 1993.
When my parents take a trip, now we get the post cards. They are beautiful and the notes are simple: having a great time, playing lots of golf, weather is beautiful, went into a pub and thought of you. Things like that. The art of the postcard is totally lost on my children. They have no understanding of the searching, the writing, and the mailing of that 4" x 6" piece of paper.
Because of technology, we take pictures and can send them immediately by phone or computer to anyone who wants to see them. We can make a call from anywhere to the grandparents and tell them all about the fun things we are doing on vacation right then and there. Went to the beach, had some ice cream, ate at a great restaurant and thought of you. Why wait or try to stuff it all into a small post card?
And then I wonder. 
Our vacation is over. My kids didn't call their grandparents and the pictures I took are still sitting on my camera, not yet uploaded and placed into an online album. Has the art (and fun) of the postcard gone by the wayside? Do people still even buy them?
Like so many other things, I love technology but wonder: will my kids know how to write a post card? How to write a sympathy note? How to write a written response to a wedding invitation, if someone (other than yours truly) were to ever do such a thing? They will, I suppose, but only if I teach them.
Change is good, there is no doubt of that, but in a time when emailing is "easier and faster", yet can be easily misread and misinterpreted, should we go back to "sending postcards?" It would mean choosing words carefully, really thinking about what we are saying, finding just the right photo, and actually buying postcard stamps. In a fast paced world where thoughts are shared in milliseconds, it doesn't seem like such a bad idea to take the time to send a post card from the sand. Perhaps I'll try it next time.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Confusion and Fun Photo Friday

In Susanna Leonard Hill's Fextravaganza (I'm going to borrow this word from her as it's my favorite name for her new Fun Photo Friday series) the theme for today is Confusion.

The confusion here is mine. Not the deer's. I have never seen deer in my yard before, but this explains the tops that were missing from my lillies two summers ago. I'm not surprised to finally see the culprit, but my confusion is how they are going to get back over the fence (there were 3 in total). I had heard that deer can jump fences, and clearly they did to get into my yard. However, as I'm a seeing is believing kind of girl, I needed to see it for myself. And I did, and it was beautiful (see other photo below).
By the time I took this picture, the first two deer had jumped the fence and I was not sure of what this one was going to do. Would it charge? Should I run inside to safety or just wait and see? Never being one to run (unless I really have to) I waited. Eventually she turned and hopped the fence with the others.