Monday, January 28, 2008

Grandma's Advice

"Put on a pair of cotton gloves before putting on your pantyhose. It will prevent your fingernails from snagging them, and you won't have to worry about poking your finger through them."

--From my Grandma Adelyne, my mother's mother.

"If you need to sew a button back on a blouse but don't have any matching thread, take a length of thread from an inside seam and use that."

--From Frances Stevens, my aunt's mother-in-law (not technically my grandma, but close enough!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Keeping the Play Dough Pretty

I love fresh pack of play dough. The softness, the scent, the richness of the color, the squishiness as you mold fact, I would venture to say that a fresh tub of play dough is one of my little "mom luxuries."

But do you know what I hate about play dough? After pulling out several different colors for the kids to play with, somehow all of them end up smashed together. The truly bizarre thing is that no matter what colors are mixed, the result is always a weird yellowish-brown color! Very unattractive, and hardly a good motivation to pull it out and play with it!

It is for this reason that I have invented a new way to keep the play dough pretty, and your kids will still be thrilled with the variety!

When buying (or making) play dough, try making several colors in the same "family." For example, in our bucket right now my children have red, blue, light purple, deep purple, and white. Even after playing with each color, smashing little bits of one into the other, and sloppy clean up, the result is a nice lavender--which is still pretty enough to play with another day!

Below are two more color family combinations for your squishing pleasure:

Yellow, red, orange and white (smashed together makes peach)

Blue, green, yellow, and white (makes jade)

As a bonus, you can always make the dough "magic." The kids can't get enough of this one, and it's super easy to do. Take white play dough that you make or buy, and poke a little dent in it with your finger. In the dent, place about 5 drops of liquid food coloring, then ease the dough over the dent and roll around--gently--until it's smooth. Give the children the dough, and as they begin to knead it, it will "magically" become a different color! Truly thrilling if you're in preschool!'s to pretty play dough!

Monday, January 7, 2008


There is a quote that I read many years ago. I'm not sure how it goes word-for-word, but it is something like "God knows our needs, but it is usually through another person that he fulfills them."

My children have a preschool teacher that we all just love. She is kind, and warm, and sincerely cares about each child in her care. She is especially sweet and patient with my oldest, who because of some developmental delays, is usually the most difficult child in her class. As Christmas time started to roll around I began to think of what I could give to this special teacher to show her how much all of us appreciate her. Another child brought her a little holiday-scented box of air freshener and it's matching candle, and she mentioned to the girl and her mother how much she loved things to scent her home. So I thought about buying a Yankee candle for her, but it just didn't seem right. I thought about the "default" soap and lotion set from Bath and Body Works, but that didn't seem right either. I thought about buying something for the classroom--maybe art supplies--but I wanted to get something that she alone could enjoy. So for a while I didn't think of anything, and figured I'd come up with something at least, by the last day of school.

The afternoon before the last day of school I was at Wal-Mart purchasing things, and right then I decided I'd get her a gift card. I took it up to the register and told them how much to put on it. I was fairly generous, but I really wanted her to know how much we valued her. We got home and I had the kids decorate a card for her, but then I started to doubt myself.

What if she thought I was trying to show off?

What if it looked like I was trying to make all the other gifts look bad?

What if she was offended because she thought that I thought she was poor?

What if she hated Wal-Mart?

What if she thought I was trying to buy favors for my children, like wanting them to be "fish feeding helper" when it really was someone else's turn?

The "what-if's" were whirling around my head, an it was only because I was out of time that I went ahead with giving her the gift card. We went to preschool, and my oldest excitedly ran to give her the card. She praised their art work and gave them a huge hug, and then (a little teary-eyed) gave me a hug. I chalked up her happiness to the ABSOLUTELY STUNNING art on her card, and because class was about to start I slipped out the door.

Today, when I dropped off the kids she pulled me aside and said she wanted to talk about the gift we gave her. She said that she had been having a rough time lately. her boyfriend had left her, taking with him her car, camera, and other things. Her hours had been cut drastically because the Air Force wasn't seeing a profit from running the preschool, which of course affected her paycheck. She told me that the night before class she had been praying and told God that she loved all her children and the heartfelt gifts they gave, but asked Him to please--please--let someone give her a gift card for Christmas...from Wal-Mart.

She told me that we were a direct, specific answer to her prayers, and that because of our gift she was able to buy groceries for the week.

I was shocked. As far as I know, I have never been the literal answer to someone else's prayers.

At first I felt all warm and fuzzy, but on the way home I started to feel a bit guilty. You see, the "what-if" game is not uncommon for me. How many times had I felt a prompting to do something, or to say something, or to give something but didn't. I have such a fear of being seen as condescending or high-and-mighty that too often, I let it paralyze me and I end up doing nothing at all. The man I saw at Denny's, who was clearly homeless and ordered only water-I felt I should buy him a meal, but I didn't. The girl who seemed overwhelmed with her children, and I thought maybe I should offer to have them over, but didn't. The couple at the fast food place, who spread all their change out on the table, counted it carefully, and determined they had enough for a small drink--nothing more--I wanted to "accidentally" drop a ten dollar bill next to their table as I left...but I didn't. The elderly lady sitting next to me at church; I had the sudden urge to put my arm around her, and I didn't.

Were their prayers unanswered because of me? Because of my fear?



...I think I just found my New Year's resolution.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

For all the mothers building their own cathedrals...

I'm invisible.

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I'm thinking, "Can't you see I'm on the phone?" Obviously not. No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I'm invisible.

Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this?

Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, "What time is it?"

I'm a satellite guide to answer, "What number is the Disney Channel?"

I'm a car to order, "Right around 5:30, please."

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude -but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going ... she's going ... she's gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a
friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean.

My unwashed hair was pulled up in a clip and I was afraid I could actually
smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this."

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: "To Charlotte, with
admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devoured - the book. And I would
discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

(1) No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of
their names.

(2) These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see

(3) They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.

(4) The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes
of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the
cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it." And the workman replied, "Because God sees." I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to
notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a
disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own
self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride.

I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one
of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree.

When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's
bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, "My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table." That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, "You're gonna love it there."

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're
doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel,
not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

God Bless You as you build your Cathedrals!
Monologue by Nicole Johnson

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Expanding the gift closet--or why you should keep pizza dough in the house

I'm sure many of us have read articles about keeping a little box of miscellaneous gifts on hand. As for myself, I have a place in the pantry where I keep fancy notebooks, foreign cookies, a few miniature bottles from Bath and Body Works, and a few other little things. I also keep a few packages of tissue paper on hand, along with matching gift bags. My gift box comes in handy all the time--when we are invited to someones house for dinner, when I pay a visit to the four ladies from church I am responsible for contacting once a month, or whenever I go to meet a new neighbor (which happens all the time on an Air Force base!). My gift box has been indispensable--but only when it comes to houses with ladies! I don't know of any men who would be thrilled to receive a bottle of raspberry hand lotion--even if it was partnered with sincere thanks!

The need to have an appropriate gift for anyone--including men--was brought to the forefront of my mind a few months ago.

My husband left early one morning to the airport on one of his many little trips. Normally he flies very early in the morning, and leaves while I'm still asleep after a kiss goodbye (him) and mumbled, snore-y wishes for a safe flight (me). On one of these mornings, I got a cell phone call from him at around 6 in the morning. He frantically told me that he was about to board the flight, but just realized that in his pocket he had both sets of keys, leaving me with NONE! No car keys, no house keys, no computer desk keys! Luckily, he was able to get a hold of his boss, who told him that if he left the keys with the airport personnel, he would be happy to drive to the airport, pick them up, then deliver them to me. Since his boss was going so far out of his way to help me out (at 6am on a Sunday morning) I knew that I should probably have a little something for him when he arrived. I threw on some clothes, ran downstairs, and pulled out the gift box. Nothing in there would be appropriate for a man. I immediately decided to cook something, and set a record speed for flipping through cookbooks. I needed to work fast, because the Air Force base actually shares runways with the city airport, and despite having to drive all the way around to get there, it still only takes about ten minutes. Not finding anything appropriate, I pulled open the fridge hoping for something...anything...and then I had an idea! In there was a tube of Pillsbury pizza dough. I'm not sure why, since I never use it, but on a whim I decided to throw some in cart at the grocery store. I unrolled the dough, cut it into strips, dipped it in butter then cinnamon and sugar, and baked it. I packaged it up and barely got it out of the oven before hubby's boss delivered the keys. When my husband came back a few days later, he told him how much his family had enjoyed the treat and actually asked for the recipe! It was a strange mixture of pride and embarrassment when I had to admit how incredibly quick and easy they actually were!

It was because of this incident that now I almost always keep some sort of refrigerated dough product on hand. They bake up quickly, and can be re-formed to look almost completely homemade in case you are in need of a "speed treat."

Besides the cinnamon-sugar bread stick idea above, here are two other ideas that come together in a jiffy:

**take crescent roll dough, unroll the triangles, and put in a square of chocolate (or a few chocolate chips if you don't have chocolate bars around), sprinkle the top with sugar for decoration, and bake according to the directions. The chocolate will become delicious and melty, and the crescents will be nice and flaky. A friend's mother taught us how to make these at a slumber party once. She called them "petite pan."

**take the same crescent roll dough, and after unrolling, take a marshmallow, dip in butter and then in cinnamon and sugar and completely seal inside the dough. Upon baking, the marshmallow will melt inside and be nice and tasty. This is a great recipe for kids, and one that won a Pillsbury Bake-Off prize some years ago.

Either of these can be thrown together and completely finished in under 30 minutes, and make fantastic, quick treats for anyone--especially the men!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

It's a good thing I like crumpets!

I was at Wal-Mart the other day (buying new socks for everyone, if you must know!) when my cell phone started to ring. I looked at the screen, and recognized the number that shows up when my husband calls from Iraq. I answered and we chatted for a bit. After a minute or two he said "well honey, it's probably time for a new round of de-cluttering."

I asked why, thinking that maybe he had bought the kids a playhouse or something for Christmas, and it would be delivered in a week or two. But I was wrong!

He said "you might want to start de-cluttering, because it will easier for us to move."

"Move where? Where are we going."


So yes, it turns out that our little family will be moving to England! Land of tea, crumpets, and Bob's-your-uncle.

At first I was shocked, and tried to hold back the tears. England? That's so far away from everybody--and everything I love. Plus, I just now got my living room the way I want it; finally sprung for curtains, a eucalyptus wreath, and hung all the pictures just how I want them. It seems I forgot the first rule of military transfers; they always occur just a couple of months after you've finished decorating and everything is perfect!

I was a little out of sorts the rest of the day, but in the light of the next morning I could feel my excitement start to brew. I have always wanted to immerse myself in a different culture, and the travel, education, and cultural benefits that all of us will receive are going to be priceless. I have already looked at the website of where we will be living, and it looks so cute! I can hardly wait! It's called Molesworth and it's in the county of Cambridgeshire. Oh, I hope I spelled that right!

There are still a few things over which I am apprehensive--fear of the unknown and all that--so I have decided to use the marvelous tool of the internet to help me out. So now, I am pleading for knowledge!

Do you live in England? Do you know somebody who does? Do you know somebody who knows somebody who does? And does that person have a blog?

It is going to be such a change; and to be honest I'm really not sure what questions I need to ask. I'm basically looking for general information that you think might help me out.

I have heard that most houses over there are much, much older than the ones over here. In fact, I don't think I have ever lived in a house more than about 50 years old. Generally speaking (and I know it's hard to generalize), what are the chances of me having a dishwasher? How about a washing machine and dryer--I heard a rumor that they are quite a luxury? What are the chances of me having more than one bathroom? Are the rumors about having a teeny fridge and only one power outlet in the room true? If you moved over there from here, is there anything unavailable in the UK you wish you had taken with you?

Please understand, even if my lifestyle has to change dramatically, I won't mind at all. I solemnly swear that I will not be one of those Americans who comes over and complains about everything and insists that everything is so much better "back home." I'd just like to be prepared!

Thank you to everyone who can help me out!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Guest Bathroom

With the holidays coming up, many of us are preparing to have guests in our homes, at least for an evening, but possibly for a few days. With that in mind, I thought I'd post some "do's" and "don'ts" of the guest bathroom when preparing to have people over.

Do make sure there is an ample supply of toilet paper within easy reach. There is nothing more uncomfortable than realizing the roll is empty, then having to search all over an unfamiliar bathroom for an extra. And please, please make sure there are multiple rolls available! Some of your guests may use it up faster than others and faster than you anticipate. Please don't make a poor party guest resort to rooting through her handbag for a half-crumpled kleenex!

Do make sure any potential odor problems are taken care of before they arise. If it's feasible, leave a lighted candle in there. A scented votive in a little glass holder will do just fine. Also, even if you don't use it yourself, leave a can of air freshener by the sink. There is absolutely nothing more mortifying than having to leave a bathroom smelly after you've used it, and most would rather die than ask their hostess if there's a can of air freshener they can use.

Do keep the comfort of your guests in mind. Make sure the soap dispenser is filled, the garbage can is empty and lined with a bag, the towels are freshly washed, and there's a little plug-in night light. Provide little necessities like tissues, a bottle of lotion, and Dixie Cups for drinks of water. You might consider leaving a small box of--uhh--"feminine necessities" out as well. Most women will come prepared, but a few might be caught by surprise. Another nice touch is to leave a small bowl of breath mints by the mirror, and remember, a small vase of flowers makes everything seem more beautiful--even a bathroom!

Don't forget to clear out and tidy the medicine cabinet and cupboards. People will open them to snoop! Don't leave rusted nail clippers, medication other than aspirin (or similar), or anything you wouldn't want placed on your coffee table in front of everyone. Nobody needs to know that you color your hair, that you suffer from allergies, or your husband has IBS. Clear it out.

Don't forget that some of your guests might have babies in diapers. It's probably a good idea to leave a supply of baggies in there for any horrific diapers. And please have mercy on your guests! They are probably already embarrassed to have to carry a yucky diaper out of the bathroom; try to discretely take it from them and whisper "let me just put this outside for you." Save them the trouble and embarrassment.

Don't forget that your guests are people too! Think back to parties you have attended or other houses you have visited. What did you appreciate having in the bathroom? What did you wish you had? Use your own experiences and create a little oasis of calm--one that you'd be pleased with--for your guests.