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.