Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Lesson I Learned from My Son

This morning I was reminded of an incident that happened when our son was small. The sweet memory immediately brought a smile to my face and I thought I would share the story with you today.

Let me preface this story by saying that we have tried to set a positive Christian example for Matthew as he was growing up. Although we have been far from perfect as parents, we have shared our beliefs and values with him in what we hoped were age-appropriate ways. He is an only child, and although we don’t have an issue with the term “spoiled,” we wanted to be sure that he wasn’t spoiled in a bad sense. That is to say, yes, he was showered with love and affection, but we wanted him to value people and to be a generous and giving person. At the same time, we wanted him to understand that we need to be good stewards of all that God has given us. (We need not have worried, because he is very saving and rarely asks for anything. Now, we know our child and know what he likes, but whatever we give him it’s because we want him to have it, rarely because he has asked for it.)

Keeping the good steward concept in mind, at some point I shared with him a verse from Matthew that my mother had used to teach me. It's Matthew 7:6 and reads: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.”

Yeah, I know that’s pretty heavy stuff for a little guy. And I also realize the passage this is taken from teaches us that we should not judge others. In our case, I used it to also explain that we need to be good stewards of whatever we have. We need to be generous, but at the same time we need to be careful not to “throw away” that which we have worked for.

And he seemed to get it. I can’t remember the circumstances under which I talked to Matthew about it that time, but I can certainly remember the second time it came up… It was when he was about 8 or 9. At that time I used to work in a neighboring town. Because I was already there during the day, I would often stop by in the evenings to get my hair done at a salon in the area. I also took Matthew to this salon. He has always been particular with his hair (not in a mom’s way particular, but particular, nonetheless), and whenever I found someone who cut his hair the way he liked, we continued to darken their door.

I later came back to our town to work and eventually realized that both of us would need to find someone new to assist us in the hair department. So, I needed to explain that to him. Now remember, this was a child who was very particular about who cut his hair. So with that in mind, I started to explain to him that since I no longer worked near that salon, we would need to find someone closer to our town to cut our hair. It simply didn’t make sense to drive 20 minutes to get a haircut, since we would be driving there just for that purpose.

I expected a little friction at my announcement; I shouldn’t have worried. When I started to explain that we needed to be good stewards of what God had given us (which really meant not driving JUST to get his hair cut), he smiled like he understood. Then he said, “Yeah, I know, Mommy. It’s like that Bible verse, right? ‘Don’t let your pigs wear jewelry’?”

At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about, then I realized he was referring to the “don’t cast your pearls before swine” part of that lesson! I laughed so hard for so long. I still remember it! He laughed too, but he wasn’t quite sure why. He thought I was just happy that he had remembered the lesson. Well, I was happy about that and I was also happy to know that even when we don’t think our kids hear us, they do. It’s just not always in the way we say; it’s in their interpretation!

We still laugh about that lesson. Whenever we wonder if we should purchase something or support a cause we’ve heard about, we know we have to be careful. After all, you can't let your pigs wear jewelry!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Unexpected Blessings

We have been on the road for part or all of the last five weekends for some wonderful events (well, most have been wonderful, and one 'weekend' was a Monday, but you get the picture....). As a result, it seems like our life has been rush, rush, rush. So, when this last weekend was filled with several reflective moments that truly stood out among the others, it made me think about just how very blessed I am. They have also made me think that God is telling me I should slow down and think about what I have. Instead of rushing forward to accomplish the next thing – whatever that thing is – that I should slow down and be grateful. I need to be more thankful for what I have been given and for what He has done. I thought I’d share these moments with you.

Our son brought nine members of Miami’s Table Tennis Team to our home to spend the night Friday night. They competed at the University of Akron on Saturday and we had the opportunity to host these young men while they were in our area. It was a special time and Ken and I loved every minute of it!

While they were here, Miami University (football) was playing in its conference match Friday night (MAC). After we welcomed the guys in and talked a bit, they were watching the game in the family room. I had taken a call in the living room, and after my call I just sat there, listening to the talk in the family room and looking at our Christmas tree, enjoying the beautiful lights.

Those of you who know me personally are well aware that I know nothing of football. What I do know is the sound of excitement I heard coming from our family room as Miami edged closer and closer to winning that game. Sure enough, Miami took the MAC that night! I heard whoops and hollers and my, did it do my heart good! You have to understand that Miami did TERRIBLY last year (maybe they were even in last place in the MAC??? I’m not sure…). I can tell you with all certainty that they won Friday night. Those guys were so excited! I hope they will remember where they were that night, because I know I will. Even though I know nothing about football, I’ll remember that.

The following day we met the team at U of Akron for the matches. Now, cheering for table tennis matches is kind of like cheering for golf and tennis – you have to be fairly quiet and very reserved. That however, did not stop us from ‘doing the wave’ on occasion for our team and providing other support as we deemed necessary.

We had the opportunity to steal a little time away with our son on that day. Our time with him is always priceless. We saw a different side of him that day, though. Matthew has developed a real compassion for ESL (English as a second language) students at Miami. He shared with us how the development of the table tennis team (which he and his friends founded at Miami last year as an intra-mural sport, and has since been picked up by the University as a Club Sport) is a “home away from home” for many foreign students without family ties near campus. Several ESL students practice with the team each week and three came last weekend; two were from China and one was from Viet Nam. Seeing our son exhibit this kind of compassion and mature in this way has been an incredible gift for us. Personally, I see it as an extension of hospitality, so I see it as a double blessing.

Because we’ve been away so much lately, we have missed many church services. On Sunday we took two cars because Ken needed to go into work and had to leave before service was over. As we sat there holding hands before he left, I sat there thanking God for the blessings I enjoyed in the man he had given me and the life we enjoy. I know I take so much for granted and right there in that very moment, it was like time stood still. Have you ever had that happen?

Later that evening, when Ken returned, it happened again. I had a headache and Ken held me on the couch. It was late afternoon, the lights were off and the snow was falling softly outside. It was so quiet and we didn’t speak. I just let him hold me and enjoyed the moment and watched the snow fall. The world seemed to stop – if only for a moment.

I was so thankful for that moment. It was actually at that time that the other three events of the weekend came to mind and I realized that they were connected. I think God is telling me to slow down and be thankful. I take so much for granted and have been blessed with so very much.

It’s especially easy to get drawn into a frazzled pattern this time of year. I have been so guilty of that in past years. I pray I can keep my focus on the Reason for the Season and remain thankful for all the blessings I have.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

More Creative Ideas for Thanksgiving (and the Thanksgiving Dinner Table)


Lots of visitors to my blog still arrive from an entry I posted last year about game ideas for the Thanksgiving dinner table. Here are 10 additional ideas to make your time together as a family more fun!

1. Start story time. Remember when mom...? or remember when Cousin Fred broke his foot skiing….?
2. Using a journal or notebook, jot down a thought about previous get-togethers. Encourage others to do the same and add to it each year.
3. Ask a grandparent, aunt or uncle to talk about a memory from childhood. Ask questions to show interest. You'll be surprised at how much they remember.
4. Talk about a family vacation. Hopefully with time, even the less-than-pleasant memories will be fun to recall now. Hopefully!
5. Start a new tradition. Have the kids make placemats, placecards or help with dessert. Often the kids are stationed at a separate table and that can be fun, too. After the meal, think about how everyone can come together for a fun time doing a special activity together.
6. Some families “draw names” for Christmas at the Thanksgiving gathering. We did this in my mother’s family and it was always a time we looked forward to each Thanksgiving with anticipation.
7. Create a simple craft tradition. Even teens and adults can enjoy a fun craft. If you have an hour or two of open time, a choice of crafts can easily fill that time and help to create fun memories. Be sure to take pictures to document the occasion.
8. Play a game. As obvious as it is, sometimes just a fun game can help keep everyone occupied and out of trouble. Apples to Apples, Banana Grams, Scrabble, Outburst and more come to mind. What’s the favorite in your family?
9. Set up a puzzle table. Some people love to have an activity but just aren’t the game type. Consider setting up a game table in the corner for these folks with a puzzle. You’ll be amazed at just how many people can’t resist stopping by to place a piece or two - or a hundred! Word searches are popular with the older crowd, too.
10. Keep a camera handy. You’ll want to take photos to commemorate the kids playing, grandparents playing with the babies and that infamous football game in the backyard. Memories are priceless and photos help us to remember them longer.

Happy Thanksgiving, friends. I wish you and yours a blessed holiday!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hospitality is Not Wasted on the Young!

You know how they say youth is wasted on the young? Well, I tell you that hospitality is not wasted on the young; it is alive and well! I am so impressed with this new generation of young people who will soon be entering the professional workforce. Just within the last two days, I’ve learned of two amazing examples and I want to share them with you.

When we met in Columbus with our son and one of his friends last weekend, we learned that their group of friends is planning a trip to Chicago soon. I offered to contact a friend’s daughter, who is a junior at the University of Chicago, to see if she could make a recommendation for a nice hotel close to downtown Chicago. They liked the idea of information from "an insider," and I offered to contact the young lady.

So I emailed Chelsea (whom I have met only once, when she was about 5 years old) and asked if she could suggest a hotel for the guys’ trip next month. Within hours I had a response from Chelsea. Imagine my surprise when I read her return email which had not only the hotel recommendation, but also information about the shuttle service the hotel offers as well as info about public transportation options in the area. And it didn’t stop there. Chelsea gave specifics about walking distance, time needed, costs and a even link for additional information! She also included a link to the hotel she recommended, which also offered a discount, if you can imagine that!

As if that weren’t enough, Chelsea offered her cell phone number and invited my son and his friends to call her with questions about directions or restaurant recommendations. Is that not amazing?! She took the time to give really useful information and all I asked for was a hotel recommendation! Yet, Chelsea thought of everything and truly exceeded my expectations with her amazing hospitality.

I heard a while back that Chelsea was considering law or journalism. I'm not sure the direction she has chosen, but I am very sure she will be successful in whatever career path she selects. I know she would be a HUGE success in the hospitality or traveling industries!

Just prior to my contact with Chelsea, I became aware of our son extending hospitality to a business associate of my husband’s. Matthew learned this gentleman would be at his college for a career fair and emailed him to offer his assistance. Upon learning the man would have no one to help him at the career fair, Matthew offered to help him set up, navigate campus and even meet him for a meal, if he would like. Even though he is pursuing a career path different from the one the man represents, Matthew offered to send some friends and acquaintances in his direction who might be interested in the field. We learned this from the emails they exchanged, which the man forwarded to my husband.

We hear so much about this generation being me, me, me! Frankly, I think we’re being unfair. Many in this generation show incredible character and maturity. If this generation is our future – and let’s face it, they are! – I think we’re in terrific, capable hands.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Brower Bash


Ken with his parents and sibs.
From bottom - up, L to R: Judy, Janet, Ken, Kevin, Keith, Bob and Jane


Pops and Nana with the 9 grandkids who were present. 4 grandkids (one with a spouse!) and 1 great grandchild were not able to attend.


The whole bunch - as Matthew called it, "Browerpalooza!"


The Outer Banks are near to my heart. If you’ve been a long time reader of my blog, you know that I’ve written about the Outer Banks before, focusing on how wonderful it was for us to “host” family and friends at a rented beach house. [To read this posting, please go to "Hosting Away from Home," from August 15, 2009.]

http://aheartforhospitality.blogspot.com/2009/08/hosting-away-from-home.html

I still contend hosting away from home is one of the best ways to entertain, as there is none of the fussing I do to get our own house ready for company!
We have such fond memories of all the times we’ve been to the Outer Banks and I highly recommend the area as a fun place to host a gathering with family or friends. We’ve rented beach houses there a number of times and had wonderful family vacations in various places along the narrow strip of land that spans miles and miles.

One year we took our boys (our son and his close friends from high school) the summer before they started High School. Four 14 year-olds! My cousin Lynn and her late husband, Rickey, along with their two children, joined us at a different time one year for a couple of days. And most recently, we hosted my husband’s extended family. Now that they’ve experienced it, too, our extended family also have an affinity for this wonderful area off the coast of North Carolina!

But, I suppose I am getting a little ahead of myself. To understand why it was such a special reunion with Ken’s family, I need to share a little history….

My husband is one of five kids. None of the five live close to each other. Kenny’s sister, Judy, lives in North Carolina and is close to where his parents live. His other siblings are also scattered far from us and this part of the country; Janet lives in St. Louis, Keith lives in Cincinnati and Kevin lives in Germany. Add grown grandkids to the mix and we dot the map in a much larger areas still.

Because of this ‘scattering’ it had been 14 years since all the siblings had been together. You read that right – 14 years! During that decade and a half, there were various get-togethers, but someone was always missing due to military deployment, pregnancy, illness or work commitments. It just seemed impossible to get everyone together as a family.

So early this summer, when our son, Matthew, learned that Kevin and his family were coming to the States for a visit, he decided we should all try to get the entire family together. Since Matthew was only 6 the last time we had all been together, he had not have the privilege of seeing – as an adult - his dad together with all his brothers and sisters. As an only child, I think he really longed for that connection to family - he wanted to get to know his aunts, uncles and cousins better and that he did!

The first part of the week we enjoyed our time at the beach house with our little family of three. Then on Thursday, the rest of the tribe joined us at the Outer Banks for a weekend Matthew called “Browerpalooza!” There were 20 of us present and it was amazing! A few were unable to attend (again, due to deployment and other things), but at least all the brothers and sisters were together along with their parents. That was the goal!

So, we visited and had an enjoyable 3 days together. We talked and ate and reminisced. Then we swam in the pool and at the beach and cooked and ate some more. It was a wonderful time to get together and a wonderful place to do it. The visit also provided us the opportunity to get to know Kevin’s family, whom we (Ken, Matthew and I) had not met. What a joy it was to meet Patty and their little boy, Ian!

As you know, hospitality is my thing. Imagine my joy to learn that Patty shares my love of entertaining and hospitality! She and Kevin cooked a delicious German meal for us and we ate as a family – a great, big family! As ‘only kids’, Matthew and I loved it! And so did everyone else. It was a real treat and a real blessing to all of us.

So, are we going to do it again? Kevin and Patty, who are moving to Florida later this year, have offered to host the next reunion. We are looking to reconvene in two years in the fall of 2012. I wonder if Disney World and Mickey Mouse are ready for Browerpalooza!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Shine Bright Baby



Shine Bright Baby

A group of young people in our church have formed a group called Shine Bright Baby. They performed at Alive, the Christian music festival in 2009. An Alternative Rock/Christian band, Shine Bright Baby is a lively, talented musical group. I’ve heard them practicing in the teen center in the past. They are gaining popularity and are performing in various locations.

Shine Bright Baby recently released an awesome video featuring their song “Hourglasses” that I would love you to see! Grant and Cody Smucker, two of my son’s friends produced and directed this video, which I think is AWESOME! I have included the link and I hope you’ll check them out!

“Hourglasses” video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vln8oS3q0hQ

You can also find examples of more of their music at: http://www.shinebrightbaby.com

And on facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/shinebrightbaby

Thanks for taking a peek! We are trying to give these guys some much-deserved publicity.

~Vanessa

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Let The Decorating Begin!




Fall is my favorite time of year. I love everything about it. (Well, almost everything. Just for the record, I do not like the spiders and critters that want to invade the sacred space of our home during this time, but all in all, it’s my favorite time of year.)

I love the gorgeous colors of fall, the changing leaves, the smell in the air, the thrill of the new school year, the excitement of the upcoming football games, the welcome sounds - that just barely reach our house - of our high school band practicing in the field at the high school in the afternoons. I ask you: What’s not to love?!

If you could see our family room at this moment, you would know just how much I love fall. These photos should help give you an idea… There are 7 huge storage containers full of fall decorations, not to mention wreaths, arrangements and fall trees that won’t fit into the boxes. There are pumpkins and scarecrows and arrangements, oh my! Pinecones and leaves and garlands and oh, so many things. And I love it all!

My husband, Ken, has been inquiring ‘what I want to do’ the last couple of weekends. Translation: is it time to dig out the fall stuff?? Bless his heart, he always carries and lugs my decorating stuff up and down, up and down the stairs for any given season. The fall and Christmas seasons are worst on him, though!

But at least for now, he’s finished carrying and now it’s time for me to get to work. Let the decorating begin!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Seizing the Moment


Matthew and Ken at a Mets / Indians game this summer.

We have lots of what I call "forever memories" in our family. These are the moments in time that are so precious and so important that we can 'revisit' later and remember vividly. I have so many of these and I bet you do, too!

I have a picture frame that says, "Some moments we never forget because our lives have been changed by them forever." Yep, that pretty well sums it up! In this frame (see below) I have a photo of my husband and son that was taken on Mother's Day several years ago. Whenever I look at this photo, I remember that fun Mother's Day and sharing sweet moments with my boys on our patio. It was a wonderful afternoon and the memory of it and the laughs we shared that day is a "forever memory" for me and one that I revisit every time I see the photo. I love it!


The photo at the top of this posting was taken Father's Day week this year. Matthew surprised his Dad with tickets to the Mets vs. Indians game for Father's Day (a little early). I should note that we live near Cleveland and are also Indians fans, but my husband was born a New Yorker and has been a Mets fan since he was a little boy. His and Matthew's dedication to the Mets runs deep, much deeper than their dedication to the Indians. (Sorry dear friends who are HUGE Indians fans, but you already knew this!)

When Matthew surprised his Dad with tickets to 4th row seats for the game, they were both giddy with excitement. It was such a thoughtful gift and one Matthew was so exctied to present to his dad! The photo above was taken on that memorable night. Matthew invited me to go along, but it was a special night just for the two of them. So even though I wasn't even there, the evening is a memory FOR ME! I know how excited Matthew was to do something so special for his dad and how happy Ken was to share that time with Matthew. It became a "forever memory" for all of us.

Life is so short and can be full of disappointments. We need to have lots of special memories like these to carry us through the days when those moments seem so far away. We often reminisce about our fond memories in our family and it sometimes surprises me that some of our favorite ones are not big events or special occasions, but rather those every day experiences that we often take for granted.

We have been creating wonderful memories this summer with our son home from college. Our conversations around the dinner table, eating on the patio and Dairy Queen runs getting what we laughingly call "treats" are those which rank high on my list. I hope there are many more special memories to be made before the summer ends!

What "forever memories" will you create for your family and friends this summer?

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Meet Rhonda (and try some of her awesome recipes!)



This beautiful lady is my friend, Rhonda Wolpert.

Have you ever had a friend who was such a wonderful cook or baker that you asked for the recipe for nearly every dish of theirs you tried? One such friend for me is my friend, Rhonda Wolpert.

I had the privilege of meeting Rhonda when we both lived in Noble County, Ohio and our kids were in preschool together. Rhonda and I both worked at Caldwell Nursery School where our children attended. It was a co-op where parents were required to participate (which was AWESOME!), and Rhonda and I held elected (volunteer) positions. ( By the way, the teacher there was LaShona DeVolld, a lady who was nothing short of amazing and the greatest gift pre-school students and their parents could ever receive! But, I digress…..)

I learned so much from the way Rhonda conducted herself – both as a person with beauty and grace – and as a professional at the nursery school and in the boardroom. The ultimate professional, Rhonda was (and is) a wonderful example for her friends, family and beautiful children, Chelsea and Robert (Chelsea was, by the way, my son’s first girlfriend!).

Rhonda and I worked together and became fast friends. I learned so much from her in the two years our family was involved in the nursery school there (1994 & 1995). Shortly after we left the area Rhonda moved also. I am sad to say that life intervened and we kept in touch very little, until our children graduated high school. Amazingly, Rhonda and Chelsea attended Matthew’s graduation party last year. We could not have been more pleased! It was so wonderful to see our old friends from what seems another lifetime ago!

So today, I share a couple of the wonderful recipes Rhonda shared with me so many years ago. They have become family favorites and some of my ‘go-to’ recipes in My Favorites Collection. I share both often – especially the Monster Cookie recipe.
On Rhonda’s Facebook page recently, I read the comment “When life gives you lemons, throw them back and demand chocolate.” You can see why Rhonda is my kind of person!

Rhonda served our family Stromboli as an appetizer when we were invited to their home for dinner. I have tweaked the recipe thru the years, but I first received this yummy recipe from Rhonda. By the way, this was a huge hit as a supper swap meal served with pizza sauce and a salad. Yummy!

Easy Stromboli

1 loaf of frozen bread dough (I prefer Rhodes)
1 pound ground sausage (we're not sausage fans, so we use pepperoni)
1 small can of mushrooms, drained (optional)
1/2 cup chopped onion
8 ozs. shredded mozzarella cheese

Spray non-stick cookie sheet with Pam or non-stick spray. Place frozen bread loaf on cookie shet and cover with plastic wrap that has been coated with non-stick spray. Allow bread to thaw and rise (6-8 hours). Remove plastic wrap and using greased fingers, spread dough over cookie sheet.

Spread with sausage that has been completely cooked and drained. (Again, we prefer pepperoni. Thinly sliced deli ham is wonderful, too!) Sprinkle remaining ingredients over dough, leaving about an inch on all sides. Roll up jelly-roll style, long-ways. Place seam side down on greased cookie sheet. Pinch ends together and tuck under roll. Bake in 350 degree preheated oven for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown. Slice and serve warm with pizza or spaghetti sauce.

Monster Cookies

12 eggs
2 lbs. brown sugar
4 cups sugar
1 Tbls. vanilla
1 Tbls. corn syrup
8 tsp. baking soda
1 lbs. margarine
3 lbs. peanut butter
18 cups oatmeal (40-42 oz. size)
1 lb. chocolate chips
1 lb. M & M's plain
1 lb. butterscotch chips

Mix ingredients in order given in HUGE container (I use a stock pot). Mixture will be very difficult to mix as you get toward the end! Drop by teaspoon or tablespoon on cookie sheet, depending on the size desired. Bake at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Allow cookies to remain on cookie sheet if center is not completely set.

Makes 10-14 dozen, depending on the size made.

NOTE: These are a crowd favorite for all the little - and big - monsters in your life! I give out this recipe often. As you can see, it makes A LOT of cookies. If you haven't already, this is the perfect time to try out my freezer suggestion: simply put a cup or two of batter into a Ziploc freezer bag (I double-bag), label and freeze to enjoy later! Work now, enjoy later!!

I know you'll enjoy Rhonda's recipes as much as my family and friends have. Let me know the rave reviews you get and I'll pass them on to Rhonda!

You've been such a blessing to me through the years, Rhonda. I appreciate your friendship! Love you!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Getting Ready for College, Round 2 (aka A Very Comprehensive Checklist for College

Not long ago I alluded to the lessons we learned after our only child went to college last fall. More specifically, I wrote about what we learned near the end of the school year when it was time to bring all the stuff home this past spring after that first year was over.

Thinking back, I remember sending out a Facebook request last year about this time for a comprehensive college checklist, hoping that someone I knew would send me the list they had used for kids heading away to college. So, when I was told "No such animal exists," I took it upon myself to draft one. Below is that list. I have changed the formatting to keep it a little more readable here on the blog. And in all honesty, we "picked up a few things" on the trip in to Oxford that never made it to the list. Still, here is a pretty doggone good list if I do say so myself. Of course, it is also a list that along with some canned soup and jugs of water would be of great service should you need to survive a nuclear holocaust holed up inside a bunker someplace for a couple of years.

So, with that in mind, you can understand the embarrassement I talked about in "It's All My Fault," on this blog on April 23, 2010. (To view it, just type It's All My Fault in the Search This Blog search box.)

And, here's THE LIST!!

Comprehensive List of Items for College

Bedding
2 sets X-tra Long sheets, Mattress pad, Comfort pad, Blanket, Throw, Comforter, Pillows/covers, Backrest, Throw pillow, Curtains/rod

Personal Care Items
Shower caddy, Shower shoes, Toothpaste/toothbrush/cover/floss
Soap, Deodorant, Shampoo/conditioner, Q-tips, Razor/groomer
Nail clippers/groomer kit, Brush/comb, Hairdryer, Meds/1st aid kit
Listing of emergency phone numbers, Contact lenses/case/cleaner and solutions
Glasses/case Towels, hand towels, washcloths, Tissues

Around Campus
Backpack, “Wooster” bag (it’s a ‘string’ bag), Umbrella, Bicycle, Lock for bike,
Golf clubs, Golf shoes

Appliances
Electronics/Entertainment, TV, DVD player, Microwave, Game system(s) / carry bags, Console, Camera, Ipod/accessories, Clock/radio, Phone/charger
Charging station

Laundry Items
Detergent/softener/dyer sheets, Tide pen, Stain stick, Hangers, Iron/steamer
Laundry bag, Pop-up basket, Laundry pen

Room Needs
Tool kit (screwdriver, adjustable wrench, duct tape, tape measure)
Sewing kit, Surge protector, Extension cords, 3-2 adaptors, S- hooks, Batteries,
Boot tray (yes, the infamous “Boot Butler Tray!!!”), Dry erase board,
Bulletin board, Fan, Flashlight/batteries, Lamp, Posters/decorations
Underbed Storage boxes, Desktop storage containers, Chairs,
Carpeting or Area rug (can often be purchased on campus), Bed lifts, Paper shredder
Sticky tack / 3-M hangers, Over the door hanger, Closet deodorizer
Photo frames, Other mementos, etc., Stacking/collapsible crates, Desk/letter organizer, Shelving or tables (for office items or personal care items), Fridge shelving unit

Kitchen Stuff
Brita water filter pitcher and filters, Bowls/silverware/cups/water bottle, Can opener, Chip clips, Cups/glasses,Baking soda (Buy 2 - 1 for fridge and 1 for freezer)

Study Needs/School Supplies
Planner – purchase on campus, Computer, Cables for computer, printer, etc.
Computer lock, Calculator, Lap desk, Sleeve for printer, Memory stick/flash drive
Copier, Paper/copier paper, Sticky notes, Calendar, Notebooks, Scissors/ruler,
Pens/pencils/sharpener/highlighters, Stapler/staples/tape dispenser/tape,
Rubber bands/paper clips, Letter opener, Files/labels/index cards, Drawer organizer, Book light

Misc.
Checkbook, ATM card/MU ID/etc.
Any MU paperwork
Stamps/notes, Sewing kit/safety pins/eyeglass repair kit, Safe, Ziploc bags,
Gym bag, Swimming trunks/towel, Storage containers, Paper towels,
Trash bags, Light bulbs, Dish wipes

Clothes
Underwear, Socks (athletic and dress)
Shoes (shower shoes, sneakers, boots, dress shoes, casual shoes)
T-shirts, Under shirts, PJ bottoms, Robe/slippers, Belts (casual and dress),
Jeans, Shorts, Casual shirts, Dress shirt, Dress slacks, Dress Jacket, Ties,
Sweats, Sweaters, Hoodies, Jacket, Coat, Gloves/scarf/hat

You'll notice I did not include any food items. Like I mentioned earlier, we stopped on the way in and bought a lot of those items. Some students are willing to do a little cooking and with the residence hall kitchen facilities can do a lot of it, if they want. Our kid? Not happening.

So, with all of this said and the list forever recorded for posterity, as they say, you'll be happy to know that we have decided to totally back off The List for the sophomore year. As a returning student, our son now knows what he needs and what he doesn't; we won't be sending a hundred of those,
you-might-need-this-at-some-point-and-you'll-be-glad-you-have-it-items. I imagine a lot fewer items will be heading from our house to Miami University this fall. But hey, at least he's got the list for reference, right?

If you have a college student going away for the first time this fall, I hope YOU find this list helpful!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Just Hanging Out



It's finally Friday. Woo-hoo! I am so glad it's finally the weekend. Anybody with me?

I know it's been forever since I've posted and you've let me know. Sorry! So, I thought I'd let you know what I'm up to and promise some postings soon.

I am finishing up a craft project on the patio today, hanging out with Jeffrey Bob (look at him in all his glory! He's so excited now that all his leaves are in!! There's a close up of Jeffrey Bob for any newbies...). It's a BEAUTIFUL day in Ohio and I just want to soak in the sun and the light breeze this morning!

So, I hope to see you soon, friends! Have a wonderful, SON-kissed day!!

~Vanessa

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Lesson from Sara Sturgeon & A Recipe for Poppy Seed Chicken

Recently the subject of family dinner time has presented itself to me over and over. First, of course, our son is home from college for the summer and dinner is once again a ‘family affair’ as we knew it for so many years. Yay!!

A Facebook friend who is in graduate school and actively shares parenting responsibilities with his wife is on break from classes for a little while. This young family will, at least for a little while, be able to enjoy the elusive dinner hour collectively as a family – a difficult task in their family where work and class schedules are, no doubt, challenging on the best of days.

As important as we know it is to sit down and have a meal together, sometimes making it happen seems about as likely as revisiting the Walton’s, where it seemed to be the unquestioned way of life. We want to sit down and have a meal that someone - no offense guys, but in most cases, that someone is typically the mom of the family - has prepared for the family to enjoy. We want to be relaxed and have a lovely, well-balanced and nutritious meal with a perfectly set table and children who are behaving and using their best manners. In reality, the work schedules of parents and teens often conflict with making this Walton-esque scenario a reality. When we add in outside responsibilities and kids’ sports schedules and errands and chores and caring for elderly parents, and .... well, it’s just hard to get it all done.

I had an opportunity to sit down for a marketing meeting with one of “my boys” for a while recently. He had a great year in college and will be spending the summer in Cincinnati doing an internship. During that time, he told me he is looking forward to some Brower family dinners. Oh, it did my heart good to hear him say that! He specifically mentioned the salmon I often make a couple of times during our conversation. Ironically, he didn’t even used to like fish! He had salmon here a couple of times within the last few years after which I would sometimes hear from him, “Is it fish night?” when dinner time rolled around. I always got a kick out of that. He loves Ken’s burgers, too, and most recently requested those (Ken is, afterall, the grill master.) We love to know that our kids want to be here with us for meals! We treasure those hours with them.

But – back to the family dinners. It wasn’t until we moved to Orrville, that I actually heard someone verbalize the importance of the family dinner – that is, eating together DAILY. I worked with a wonderful lady at the Orrville Area Chamber of Commerce in Orrville a number of years ago when we first moved to Orrville. Her name is Sara Sturgeon and she is an awesome lady! Fun and fun to be around, Sara is one of the funniest gals I’ve ever known. Just thinking of her makes me smile, yet I can’t remember any specific thing she said. Ever know someone like that?

Well, Sara had these two terrific girls - Stephanie and Katie - who just excelled at everything and I imagine they still do!. At that time our son was in first or second grade. I remember asking Sara what the secret was to raising such incredible kids. Without hesitation she told me that she believed the family dinner was critically important. She said that she and her husband, Bill, had always tried to make time each day to eat together with their girls and reconnect as a family.

I never forgot what Sara shared with me, and Ken and I tried to implement that lesson through the years as Matthew grew up. Even if we were eating at odd times during golf or baseball season, we always tried to eat together. I could see what Sara meant: regularly reconnecting was crucial. I truly believe it made a difference in our family as our son grew up, too.

I know that Sara, who worked full-time, was very busy with her daughters’ schedules. They were very active and were involved in many extra-curricular activities. To make sure they were able to have dinner together, Sara would often begin preparation for their dinner meal when she went home for lunch. For example, she might prepare a casserole and refrigerate it so that it so that it could be baked later. That preparation impressed me so much! Dinner was clearly a priority to her and to their family. What a woman! And what an inspiration she was to me when we worked together. Some people touch our lives in ways that are difficult to express. Sara is one of those people for me.

Sara's daughters are all grown up now and Sara is a grandma. What a very cool grandma she must be! She will create laughs for those kids that they can carry in their hearts forever! She has the light-hearted sense of humor that touches everyone and leaves you feeling happy.

Sara shared a recipe with me that has become a family favorite. Like so many recipes, I have tweaked it so much that I don’t even know what the original recipe was. I do, remember, though, that it came from Sara! This is one of Matthew’s favorite recipes. For you regular readers, I serve it with the rice recipe I shared previously (“Dear Abby’s Infallible Rice”).

POPPY SEED CHICKEN
5-6 chicken breasts, deboned and with skin removed**
1 cup sour cream (preferably Smith's!)
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup melted butter or margarine
3 sleeves Ritz cracker crumbs
1-2 Tbls. poppy seeds
1/2 cup chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste

-Use cooking spray to grease 9 " x 13" casserole dish. Cook chicken until well done (I like to cook mine in the crock pot for several hours.).
-While chicken is cooking, melt margarine in large saute pan on stove top over medium heat. Add Ritz cracker crumbs and heat through. Set aside.
-Cut thoroughly cooked chicken into bite-sized pieces. Place in large bowl.
-Add soup, sour cream, poppy seeds and chicken broth. Mix well. Spread into greased casserole dish.
-Spread buttered cracker crumbs over top of all.
-Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes or until bubbly.

Notes: Refrigerate leftovers. Reheats well.

**I like to use chicken pieces with bone and skin intact until cooked, as they make a tastier broth. Both can easily be removed later.

Enjoy! And if you see Sara Sturgeon, tell her she’s my
hero(ine), will you?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

We All Need a Lynda in Our Lives


This beautiful couple are Lynda and Brian Holmes. If you see Lynda today, give her a big hug for me!


We all need a Lynda in our lives.

You might remember I wrote about “Linda” before. Linda is a close, dear friend who lives near me. We all need one of her in our lives (please read the posting on 8.24.09 titled “Be A ‘Party In A Box’”), because everyone needs a friend like Linda.

But today I write about a different person - Lynda. And trust me, we all need a Lynda in our lives, too.

Lynda Holmes, a friend from my church who also happens to be our church secretary. Lynda is one of the most positive people I know. When I fuss about being overwhelmed, I remember Lynda once calling such craziness “busy blessings.” Now, does that give you an idea about this gal?

Recently I wrote about some hurts I’ve been dealing with – and have been for a long time. These days they just seem to keep resurfacing. Some days I deal with it better than others. I’ve never been one to hold a grudge. Generally I’m able to let hurts go, too, but for some reason these particular hurts seem to, well, resurface often.

So today I received a sweet email from my friend, Lynda. Lynda, who has been a personal supporter and fan of my blog from the early days, sent me a link to a daily devotional she receives. When I opened the link to take a peak, guess what greeted me? A posting on this website called “The Blessings of Forgiveness” – how timely is that?!

I read the posting and got so much from it. It was nice to see someone going
through what I was and am dealing with (as selfish as that sounds!). It was also awesome to read the writer's thoughts on how to deal with these hurts. If you are dealing with these kinds of issues, too, I hope you’ll take two minutes to read this. While on the website, you can also sign up for daily devotions to be emailed to you, as I did. I love this website! So, courtesy of Lynda, I share it with you, too:

http://proverbs31devotions.blogspot.com/

I would like my email from Lynda today to serve as a reminder to me - and to you, too. If you feel compelled to send a note or email someone to encourage them - DO IT! You never know what that can mean to someone needing support and a reason to smile.

Thank you, Lynda, for being my friend and for caring about me. I wish you blessings today, my dear friend! Love you!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

My Mother's Strawberry Pie


This photo was taken in 1992, just a few months before my mom died. Kenny, Matthew and I were living in Durham, NC at the time.

With strawberry season upon us, I just have to share this recipe and these thoughts in memory of my mother….

I have never met a dessert I haven’t liked. I got this (un)enviable characteristic from my mom, Irene Lester, who loved to eat desserts as much as she loved to make them! In fact, she was known for making a wide assortment of delicacies. I have such fond memories of growing up in a home where there were always delicious cakes and pies and fruit desserts, oh my! And the platters of fudge were simply the best! When family and friends came to visit they would place “requests” for their favorites. I remember one occasion where someone requested a ‘repeat’ of a dessert my mom had never made. The person confidently maintained that she knew my mom had made the recipe for her once before, years previously. Although she had never made it, my mother graciously found a recipe and made it anyway, to rave reviews. She was like that.

One of my favorite desserts was my mom’s strawberry pie. I think that’s because she had loved Shoney’s Strawberry Pie for so many years and when she discovered this recipe (from where, I have no idea), she was in heaven! She was so happy with this recipe! And it’s no wonder – this recipe is the best strawberry pie I’ve ever tasted. Make your own crust and use fresh strawberries with this filling for the best strawberry pie ever! My mom did not enjoy making pie crusts (in fact, she used pre-made unbaked crusts), so I have included the recipe I always use. I love homemade pie crusts and I love this pie crust recipe! I think the combination of this particular crust with the strawberries and filling is awesome!

I still miss you so much, mommy! I remember so many fun times in the kitchen with you and planning get-togethers with family and friends. You taught me hospitality by living it every day. I often think of you as I am preparing meals and desserts and I will always cherish my memories of you and my love of the kitchen and all things home I learned from you. You are still so much a part of who I am. I love you.

Note: These recipes from my collection were first published in The Daily Record on June 18, 2003 in the "President's Cookbook" when I was involved with Relay for Life. I know some of you have shared with me that you kept that article and still use some of those recipes. I'm so glad!! So, the recipe for the "The Perfect Pie Crust" and "My Mom's Strawberry Pie" are the same recipes that were published at that time along with several others.

My Mom's Strawberry Pie

1-1/2 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 Tbls. cornstarch
1 small box strawberry gelatin
fresh strawberries

-Combine water, sugar and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat and allow to boil for two minutes. Remove from heat and add gelatin slowly, while stirring. Let mixture cool to lukewarm.
-While mixture is cooling, cap, wash and slice strawberries; allow to drain thoroughly. Spread evenly into baked pie crust (see recipe below for my Perfect Pie Crust).
-Pour cooled gelatin mixture over berries. Cool completely before serving. Keep pie refrigerated.
-Note: Recipe doubles very nicely.

My Recipe for The Perfect Pie Crust
1 cup all-purpose flour (sift after measuring)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup shortening (I use regular solid Crisco , but NOT butter-flavored)
2-3 Tbls. cold water

-Sift flour and salt together.
-Cut shortening into flour with pastry blender or 2 dinner knives until the size of small peas. Be sure all shortening pieces are coated with flour.
-Using a fork, toss while adding water, 1 tablespoon at a time (I like to use water with ice cubes in it so that it's REALLY cold water.).
-Mix with fork until all particles stick together and ball forms. Wrap ball of dough in waxed paper and allow in chill in fridge.
-Lightly roll out pastry on floured surface. Lift into pie plate and pat out air. If crust is to be baked without filling, use fork to carefully prick bottom (you want to get out the air, but making holes too large will enable liquid to seep through, which will ultimately make the crust soggy). Fold under edges and crimp. Bake at about 425-450 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until LIGHTLY browned. Watch CLOSELY.
This recipe doubles beautifully!!

Note: DO NOT prick bottom if you are going to use this crust in a filled pie.

If you try these recipes, please write a comment or email me to tell me how they turn out!

Friday, June 4, 2010

"Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you."



I’ve been dealing with some hurts in my life this week. No, it’s not from my husband or son. It’s not from friends I see all the time. In fact, it’s not from anyone who is active in my life right now. Rather, these hurts go way back. You know those things that bother you and you think you have moved past, but then they resurface when you’re most vulnerable? Yeah, those things.

While reading my Bible today, 1 Peter 3: 8-17 reminds me to keep my focus on God and not on the hurts that revisit my mind. Verse 9 says, “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” Ouch! That really hits home!

I have to tell you, I’d much rather repay insult with insult, but I know this is not Christ-like. So, I’ve been praying for peace today, that God would cover all those hurts with His grace and His love so that I may reflect that love in my actions. In all honesty, I’m still not feeling the love for those who’ve hurt me, so I need to continue to trust that God is doing a great work in me as I continue to pray for wisdom and guidance.

I learned yesterday of another friend who is dealing with hurtful issues from the past that she is now having to “revisit” for other reasons. I pray that she, too, will be able to rely on the One who makes all hurts tolerable. These verses today are for both of us and for you, too, if you’re dealing with hurts that are difficult to bear. I find so much comfort in knowing that I don’t have to bear these burdens alone, that I can always rely on our heavenly Father.

1 Peter 5:7 reminds me to “Cast all your cares on him, for he cares for you.”

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Donating Blood - Another Important Way to Show Care for Others




Yesterday was our monthly blood drive for Leadership Orrville. We each (from the class) donate only an hour of time to greet, register and help screen donors, but I always come away in awe of those who give blood and donate it so unselfishly for others - for people they do not know and will probably never meet. One lady who stopped by said she is a regular donor, but stopped yesterday simply because she saw the sign posted in front of the church. In my opinion, such an act of love for others is hospitality at its best!

The following is listed on the Red Cross Website:

Every minute of every day, someone needs blood. That blood can only come from a volunteer donor, a person like you who makes the choice to donate. There is no substitute for your donation.

When you make a blood donation, you join a very select group. Currently only 3 out of every 100 people in America donate blood.


•Every two seconds someone in the U.S. needs blood.
•More than 38,000 blood donations are needed every day.
•More than 1 million new people are diagnosed with cancer each year. Many of them will need blood, sometimes daily, during their chemotherapy treatment.
•A single car accident victim can require as many as 100 pints of blood.

__________

Please check out this website for FAQs about giving blood:

http://www.givelife2.org/donor/faq.asp
__________

If you're a donor already - THANK YOU!! If you don't know if you're a candidate, check out the Red Cross website or stop by a local blood drive today. It's quick and easy to learn if you qualify as a donor! It could make all the difference to those you love...

__________

I had meant to take my camera to get some photos of those working at the blood drive, but I forgot to take it yesterday (by the way, this is done in conjunction with Aultman Hospital and our own Dunlap Community Hospital). So, when Ken came home after donating on his way home and began wearing his (over) bandage as a headband, I thought I would just snap a photo of him. I thought you'd get a kick out of seeing him having so much fun with his colorful bandage! While his kidding around is not at all uncommon, catching it by photograph is unusual!

The photo below is Matthew and me cracking up while Ken the Samarai warrior took our picture.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Julie and Julia Fete!


I was invited to a fun party at my friend Cheryl’s house recently. It was a “chick flick” movie preview of Julie and Julia, and it was unlike any preview or party I had previously attended. My husband and I have hosted similar events but I have never hosted a “chick flick” night like this and it was such fun! With permission from Cheryl, I am sharing the invitation with you. As you can see, the anticipation started even with the invite and the event delivered!

To fully understand the event, it would be helpful if you understood my friend, Cheryl. An incredibly bright, no-nonsense kind of person, Cheryl has a passion for lots of things - as I know her, most notably four:

1. her relationship with Christ;
2. her relationship with her family – consisting of her husband, John, and their four children;
3. her work as an attorney; and
4. her role as a “hockey mom” to those students she and John have billeted for three years. And yes, she is very busy!

As you might expect from my description of Cheryl, the collection of her friends that evening is best described as eclectic! It was a fun group of young and not-as-young professional women, and among them were some who were employed, some who were retired and some who were stay-at-homers by choice.

Each gal brought something yummy to share. There were stuffed mushrooms and a delicious cream cheese-filled baked pastry that was awesome, as well as other very interesting offerings. And of course, I cannot forget the ice cream and dope. “Dope" it seems, is apparently an old Orrville term for the toppings we enjoyed with our ice cream. Who knew?! There were lots of other delicious delicacies, as well.

Cheryl co-hosted the event with her mother, Jackie - a real, authentic French lady. I do love to hear her speak, because although she speaks English very well, she also has that beautiful woman-of-the-world French accent that always has intrigued me so!

With memories of college French classes still plaguing me these umpteen years later, I felt I had to come clean (have I ever told you I was thrilled when I learned I could take French pass/fail instead of for a real grade?). As the movie began, “I really struggled with French in college,” I announced to the group (but mostly to Jackie). Jackie, without missing a beat, said “That’s ok. I struggled with English at first, too!” I had met Jackie briefly before, but I knew at that moment I was going to love her!

I should explain that the “limited seating” listed on the invitation was an indirect reference to the media room at Cheryl and John’s house. They have a projector to view movies like we do in the Matt-cave, but they also have real, original theatre seating. How cool is that?! When Orr Twin Cinema closed a few years ago, the fixtures went up for auction. Cheryl and John purchased and installed a couple of rows of the original theatre seats. What fun! John did an amazing job re-doing the seats and Jackie, reupholstered the seats beautifully (learning that she upholsters, too, I now call her “Jackie-of-all-trades”)!

I had seen the movie Julie and Julia previously, but I saw it through new eyes that evening! We laughed and ate and watched the movie together. It was such a fun evening and a terrific way to watch a chick flick! Thank you, Cheryl and Jackie, for such a wonderful, fun, enlightening evening. Your hospitality made the rest of us feel right at home. Love you both!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The BEST Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ok guys, you voted and I heard you! Thank you to those who voted. A request for recipes received first place, with hospitality hints and home organization ideas tied for second.

Many of you have tried the recipes I’ve posted and you know I only post easy, tried-and-true recipes. Because I get so many requests for my chocolate chip cookies (most recently from a party I attended at my friend, Cheryl’s house), here is that recipe. Gloria emailed also and asked about the kind of chocolate chips I use. I typically use semi-sweet and that’s what was in the ones I took to the party. So Gloria - a person who in my mind is synonymous with hospitality - this recipe is especially for you! I hope you enjoy it!

Vanessa’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

3 -1/3 cups self-rising flour
1- ½ cups margarine or butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
1 pkg. (6 oz. serving size) vanilla instant pudding mix, dry
1-1/2 tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
3-4 cups chocolate chips
1-1/2 cups nuts, if desired (walnuts, pecans, even macadamia nuts are wonderful!)

Combine butter, the sugars, pudding mix and vanilla in large bowl; beat until creamy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Gradually add flour; stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Batter will be stiff.

Bake in desired size on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees and begin checking at 8 minutes. Allow to set and cool slightly before removing from cookie sheet. Makes 4-6 dozen. Store tightly covered.

Here are some “secrets” I’ve learned when it comes to making highly-requested chocolate chip cookies:

1. Refrigerate batter before using. This keeps the cookie from “spreading” too much during baking.
2. Use parchment paper on your baking sheets. I LOVE parchment paper!
3. Make cookies the same size so that they cook evenly. I use a Pampered Chef cookie scoop.
4. Save a few chocolate chips to add on top of the cookies after you drop on the cookie sheet.
5. Try different combinations. Use different flavored pudding mixes, chips and nuts. The combinations are endless!
6. Save some batter for later. I try to keep batter in the freezer at all times. Just take a couple of cups and seal it in a freezer Ziploc bag. Make sure to remove all the air and label it. Try to use it within a couple of months. It’s so nice to have the batter made up because it thaws very quickly and within minutes you can have freshly baked cookies for your kids, grandkids -- or yourself!

Enjoy friends!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Feed the Fish!

By the way, you can "feed" the fish! Just click and in different places and they will be given food, which they will eat!! :-)

Why The Fish?

I bet you're wondering: why the fish? Well, I'm glad you asked (so to speak, or um, write). Actually, because I just learned they are available.

My husband has called me Fish, Baby Fish, F, Fishter, Little Fish, F-ster, (well, I think you get it) for as long as we've been together. It's been his nickname of choice for me. And yes, there is a story behind it, but it is truly too long to share. Suffice it to say that the fish are fitting...

And yes, I have nicknames for him, too. They are equally unusual, and just as difficult to describe. But the fish are just for me. As he says, I am The Fish.

We have literally dozens of nicknames for Matthew. He will be so happy to know that I will not share those here.

I bet you have nicknames for those you love, too. Amazing, isn't it, how we tag those we love with silly little names? Yet, just the mention of the word conjures up memories of days and times gone by? My husband's parents each refer to the other as "Bird" and have for as long as I can remember. I have no idea how it started but it's not unusual to hear when we are with them. It cracks me up every time.

So, my friends, I wish you a happy day with those you love - whether they are fish or bird or Bubby or Munchkin or .....

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day - Past and Present(s)






I’ll never forget Mother’s Day the year my mother died. We had just moved from Durham, North Carolina to North Canton, Ohio in February. My mom died less than 2 months later, in April.

Mother’s Day that year began like virtually every day since my mom had died, with me crying and feeling alone and helpless. I knew I needed to go to church, so Ken and I got Matthew, our 2-1/2 year old toddler ready and went to church. Of course we still did not have a home church yet, so we were visiting a new one that Sunday.

We walked through the front doors of the church and the tears began to fall, uncontrollably. I’m not even sure if we sat down; I knew I had to leave. I could not bear the thought of being with anyone celebrating mothers on the first Mother’s Day after I’d lost my own mother.

That was 17 years ago. Amazingly, it seems like it was last month. Yet, virtually everything in my life has changed since then. From an earthly standpoint, only Ken, my husband, and Matthew, our son, have remained constant. In the time since then, I’ve lost my father as well. Like I said, virtually everything has changed.

Although I still miss my mother unbelievably, time has provided much healing. God’s grace has been ever-present and His love, unfailing. My husband has been steadfast in his support and his understanding, and our son, compassionate and always willing to hear me reminisce.

All these years later, I am able to love Mother’s Day again. With our son just returning home from college for summer break, I was blessed that he was able to join us on this very special day. His presence at home is “present” enough, but his attending church with us was much better still!

There were so many wonderful moments today. We created some special memories that I will treasure. We had fun and lots of laughs while taking and viewing photos from today. I received several presents from Matthew and Ken to commemorate the day, and what made me feel most loved was learning that Matthew had made special plans for the day. He made reservations for all of us to go out for a special dinner at Flemings in Fairlawn. I had never gone there but as soon as we walked in, I knew it was a special place for a special dinner. I was not disappointed. We enjoyed a lovely dinner and I received two gifts from the restaurant – a gift card and a box of truffles to take home. What’s not to love about this place? What was most special about all of it was learning that Matthew had made reservations weeks ago for this very day. I felt so loved and so special!

I can’t deny that I love the presents and the special attention from Matthew and Ken. Their thoughtfulness is truly appreciated. But you know what my favorite gift was? It was sitting in church with both my boys. It didn’t cost a penny but it meant the world to me. Knowing we were together and worshipping as a family was a priceless gift and the one I treasure most of all on this Mother’s Day.

Thank you, Matthew and Ken, for making this day so special! We made some wonderful memories today and I cherish all the minutes we have together. I love you.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

"God of This City" - Orrville

Hello Friends,

I saw this video for the first time today. It was listed on our Chamber of Commerce facebook page as our community celebrates the National Day of Prayer. Watch this and it will help you understand why I love Orrville (or at least some of the reasons why I love it!)! There are great photos set to Chris Tomlin's "God of This City."

We lived 12 places in the first 13 years of our marriage; the last 13 we've lived in Orrville - the place Paul Powell called "The Promised Land." I hope you'll take a look for an inside view to Orrville to see why I love love this place more than anywhere I've ever lived.

~Vanessa

p.s. credit to pbuchwalter1

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The 'Summer List'

Our family started a summer project quite a few years ago – I think it was when our son was in late elementary or early junior high school. We continued with it, mostly during the summer for several years, and it became something I looked forward to with anticipation every summer. To some degree we still revisit it and have fun with it, but it's much less structured now.

Knowing how kids often get bored within a day or two of summer break, I remember thinking one year that we needed to try a ‘proactive’ approach to the “I’m bored!” scenario. I decided I would compile a list of tasks that I wanted Matthew, our son, to master that summer. Before unleashing this great plan on him, I remember asking him what fun things he’d like to do over summer break. I asked him if there was anything he had a particular interest in or would like to learn how to do. He shared some thoughts with me and Ken and I shared with him some tasks we wanted him to work on over the summer.

Apparently the idea of mastering 'the summer list' was challenging and different - just enough different to keep Matthew interested because it worked. For that summer and the following several summers he, his dad and I identified age-appropriate skills we thought worthy of attention. We recorded the list and posted it, and then every week or so Matthew would take on a new challenge. By being able to see the list before him and having the option to choose the one he wanted to do on a given day, I think he felt he had freedom and some control of the way the summer progressed. It helped the boredom blues tremendously.

The one item that is most clear in my memory happened the year Matthew got his Learner’s Permit. I told him I was going to choose a place for a ‘day trip’ for us. I would choose a location (a business) and his job was to drive us there (it was during the week and his dad was working, so it was just the two of us). Matthew's job was to find the address of the business, research the best way to get there, and drive me there himself. I told him he could get directions by any means he chose – he could call ahead, use a map or atlas or use the internet, but that it was HIS responsibility to make the plans and preparations. He did his homework and performed the tasks perfectly. We were proud of him and I believe he felt he had truly accomplished something.

This particular task was a great experience for our son because although we have traveled by car a great deal in his lifetime, prior to that he had never been responsible for driving us to a specific destination or choosing the route we would take to get there. It was a simple task, really, but as a young driver it gave him a lot of confidence. He learned he was capable of more than he realized and he saw that he was certainly up to the challenge. His confidence continued to grow and he has since driven through many cities and states and seems to be confident negotiating his way wherever he wants to go.

We did lots of other fun things, too. During one of those summers we also opened a checking account which he was responsible for maintaining. Matthew was only 14, I think – an age which is years before most banks even allow a minor to have a checking account. Yet, where there’s a will, there’s a way, as they say. I was not at all concerned about Matthew overdrawing his account. Ken and I simply wanted him to be comfortable with the nuances of a checking account so that once he went to college he would be prepared. As it turned out, he went to Australia several years before college and by the time he left for his trip, he had already had mastered his own VISA card, which proved to be invaluable to him during his three weeks in the South Pacific.

Now, if Matthew had been a child with a spending problem, we could not have turned him loose with a credit card at that age! But he has always been a conscientious spender and I truly believe that entrusting him with these kinds of responsibilities when he was ready was a valuable learning opportunity – for him and for us. With each task he mastered, we realized he was becoming more mature and more responsible. His handling of a given responsibility led to our giving him additional responsibilities which then led us to trust him even more. It was truly a win-win for all of us. I loved the summer lists!

One day (early on in this project process) the boy learned how to do laundry and he finally understood why I have all those different stacking baskets with clearly marked labels, like whites, dress clothes, etc. Word of advice: if you have your kids take on this task for the summer, 'rerun' the laundry episode on a regular basis. I’ve learned teenagers need to do laundry on a faily regular basis to remember all the intricacies of laundry instructions. I know some families who actually have their kids do their own laundry all the time beginning at about this age. I can see how that could make the transition to college life a lot easier for some kids.

We can’t turn kids loose with the keys to the Jag when they are 12 (and no, we don’t have a Jag). At the same time, if we don’t give them responsibility and show them that we trust them, how will they acquire those skills? If we give them responsibilities while they are still in our care (and under our roofs, so to speak), we can be a sounding board and help guide them in the process.

During the early years, we began with tasks such as setting the table, vacuuming and making different kinds of reservations on the phone. As we progressed, we tackled some items that did not thrill Matthew, but which were important, nonetheless. These included ironing a dress shirt, cooking basic foods and completely cleaning the bathroom (yes, toilet and all).

I remember ‘city driving’ was also covered around that time. We live in a small town and there usually aren’t many traffic challenges here! However, we live close to Cleveland and other large areas which provided opportunities to work on this area. (Side note: In the winter, even before he received his driver’s license we took him to large snowy and ice-caked parking lots to learn to drive in snow and ice.)

Matthew had a lot of great ideas that he wanted to pursue, as well. One summer he wanted to stay alone overnight in the house. As protective parents, his request to do this over the years had caused more than a little anxiety. Yet, we knew it had to happen sometime! When we felt he was responsible enough to handle it, we did allow him to spend the weekend at home by himself. I’m not sure who was more surprised – Matthew that we let him, or us, for consenting! I’m sure Ken and I gained as much or more than Matthew from this one.

I think if I were to offer any suggestions about this process, it would be to start at an earlier age. Even young elementary school kids have skills they want to learn or need to start learning. If we don’t teach kids, how will they know how to load the dishwasher properly or (Heaven forbid) how to clean the kitchen after supper by actually handwashing the dishes (this one should have been on our list but wasn’t!)?

Does this idea appeal to you? No matter what age your children or how many kids you have, there are probably skills you'd like to teach them. What items would your kids find on their 'summer lists'?

It’s never too late to learn something new. Even though Matthew has worked since he was 16 (and full-time each summer), there was still time to master new challenges. Now that the freshman year of college is over and only finals remain, he will soon be home. He has a full-time marketing internship this summer and will no doubt be quite busy. Still, I know of at least one item he had in mind previously that we never got around to doing. Hopefully this summer he’ll be able to tackle that challenge.

And along those lines, I feel it is my responsibility to give full disclosure here: I have recently learned of another ‘list’ Matthew is developing. He is now developing a list of items he wants to do or accomplish (a bucket list of sorts – only challenges he wants to face sooner rather than later). I don’t know what will end up on the list, but the last time we saw him we heard items such as skydiving and bungee jumping were being thrown around. Like I said: full disclosure. I just want you to know that sometimes kids become very confident as a result of their successful accomplishments. And while that IS the goal and we DO want them to feel confident, this confidence can create challenges within OURSELVES because perhaps WE’RE not ready for them to take that next challenge. Ah, the joys of parenthood! Letting go. It's been on my list for quite a few summers. I still find that one challenging.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's All My Fault

As parents we blame our kids for so many things….You forgot to take in your homework. You didn’t make your bed. You left wet towels on the bathroom floor. You left the door unlocked….and the list goes on. But sometimes, sometimes, the blame is all ours, and we have to take responsibility for what has happened – no matter how embarrassing the situation.

Even though our precious bundle is all grown up, it happened again last week. A situation arose and it was my fault. Well, mostly my fault. Ken helped, but I take the blame, or at the very least the responsibility.

It all started when Matthew asked us to stop by to see him at college on our way back from our trip. We had gone to Tennessee for a few days last week and came back through Cincinnati - fortunately just a hop, skip and a jump from Oxford and Miami University. So we stopped by to see Matthew and had quite an experience.

It seemed our offspring had an ulterior motive for our visit (which, in all honesty, he mentioned when he asked us to stop by). Not that he doesn’t love us and all, but gee, it would be great, he informed us, if we could take some “things” back home, since he was so close to the end of the year. And that certainly made perfect sense to us. With only 11 actual school days remaining (yes, he had them counted), we all knew time of his illustrious freshman year was short and he was streamlining tasks, preparing for finals and the end of the school year. Since that also meant moving home, anything that we could take back with us meant that much less he’d need to bring home himself in less than three weeks. It did make sense, and of course we were happy to oblige.

So, we expected to see lots of hoodies and winter coats, boots and the like. And we did. Way too many, as one might expect for a first-year college student. However, nothing prepared us for what else we saw. Drawer after drawer, bin after bin, and container after container were pulled out of his dresser, closet, and from under his bed (I had happily supplied him with lots of organizing containers). In them were items that looked familiar but which had clearly never been used. There were items that we had bought for him, thinking he would use, hoping he would find helpful. These items - which had been intended for good - had been stockpiled, unopened and untouched. Had Y2K been real and happened a decade later, in 2010 - Matthew was ready!

Matthew in his kind and gracious way had thanked us for our generosity as we prepared to send him off to college all those months ago. We bought things for him and insisted he take them “because he might find them useful” or “he’d be so glad he had them,” but clearly he had never needed. In our zest to prepare our first and only child to adequately face the collegiate challenges before him, we must have tried to send any and every possible thing the child could use throughout the year with him. Of course, HE didn’t know what he needed. Clearly, we didn’t either. What I learned on Sunday was that I apparently didn’t need to send extra supplies with every care package. I know this now because I saw enough school supplies and personal hygiene products accumulated in those containers for his entire 3rd floor. You think I’m kidding. (Next year I’ll know when I ask him on those telephone calls and emails if he needs anything and he says, “No, I’m good,” he means it!)

Then there were the other items. There was, for example, what I called the ‘boot butler’ which is a big plastic, cookie sheet-looking thing for putting wet, snowy boots on when you come in out of the cold. Well, it DOES snow in Oxford. It’s Ohio, you know. Apparently it doesn’t snow enough to need a boot butler, tho’. So, it was resting comfortably UNDER the containers holding the OTHER items he didn’t use. For example, there was the ‘flu kit I put together for him, complete with thermometer, masks and chicken noodle soup, among other things. You remember the swine ‘flu scare this past winter, right? Well, a mother can’t be too careful when it comes to caring for her child, you know. So that package was on its way to said university (no doubt along with some post-it notes, mechanical pencils, deodorant and toothpaste, based on the overabundance of those items we saw in the bins, too).

And there were more things. LOTS more things. Way too many to mention. Can’t you see I’m embarrassed enough? And I take the blame. I do. I meant well. And in my defense, all of these items are good. They are just not all necessary – certainly not in the confines of a 11’ x 14’ dorm room for two. Next year he'll know what he needs. He can decide what to take. It might only require one vehicle to get him moved in!

I think back to a year ago at this time, when we were getting supplies together for college. I inquired on Facebook if anyone had a good checklist for college. I was told by a friend, “No such animal exists.” I took that as a personal challenge to create one. A really good one. And I have to say, I’ve developed a pretty conclusive list. It might even be enough to set up housekeeping for a family of four.

Just so you know, it’s not always the kid’s fault. They can’t help who their parents are. Poor things.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Under the Umbrella



It was my privilege to introduce two dear friends to each other last summer. On the left is Joyce, one of my college freshmen roommates from Bowling Green (whom I met in 1979). On the right is Linda, a close friend I've met since living in Orrville.

As I put the finishing touches on our upstairs office reorganization, I can’t help but look outside longingly. The sun shines beautifully, even though I know it’s much cooler outside now than it was last week at this time. I want to go outside and sit to soak up some sun and forget the long Ohio winter. I look over the back yard, lovingly cut in perfect lines by my husband (who hopes to soon relinquish the handles of the lawnmower to our son returning home from college for the summer!).

My eyes move to the trees where little buds are happy to be sharing space. Jeffrey Bob (the tree, for any new readers) finally has some company! Then I see the patio umbrella. The sad umbrella is the lone, unhappy creature in the backyard, it seems. Instead of being wound up, stretched out and opened to reflect the sun, the umbrella is unused, unopened, unfulfilled.

As sad as it is for a moment, it’s only a moment. Because it is at that time that I can’t help but smile as I remember fun times when the umbrella was used last summer. I remember family nights and grilling out and dinner on the patio and dessert nights and great conversations. I remember talking with our son about the new life that was before him. I remember his excitement and sense of adventure. I remember the hesitation and concern I felt. I remember the pride I felt, too. And I remember the excitement for him as I thought about my own college days.

And then I remembered visiting with my own college friends under that very same umbrella last summer. Some of the college friends I met 30 years ago were here last summer to share laughs and memories and new friends with us as we grilled pizzas and made new memories. Priceless memories.

I look forward to sharing new memories with family and friends this year in our backyard and under that patio umbrella. Hopefully we’ll enjoy the same friends and family and hopefully we’ll add some new ones. There’s always room for more! Are you free to join us?

Friday, March 26, 2010

If Memory Serves Me Right...


(This is a stock photo but it reminds me of Laddie, my first dog.)

What is your very first memory? Have you ever thought about it?

I have several early memories and I don’t know for sure which event was first, but I believe the first one happened when we were living with (or visiting) my maternal grandparents when they lived in LaGrange, Illinois. I think I was about four years old.

I had a twin-sized bed and slept in my parents’ room. One morning my dad came in early and awakened me with a surprise. He had a dog with him and he told me it was for me! It was a fully grown sable and white collie (like Lassie). His name was Laddie. A colleague had given him to my dad. Apparently Laddie wasn’t working out at their house and he wanted rid of him. I don’t remember anything else about Laddie in Illinois, but I do remember having him in Virginia, where we lived later.

Laddie was the first of several collies in our family. After Ken and I were married, we also had collies when we lived out in the country. They are such sweet, loving dogs and they have wonderful temperments.

What is your first memory? Do you have any idea how old you were? Some people think they remember events from their toddler years. I think that's amazing! My memories don’t seem to go back that far. In fact, these days my memory seems to have enough trouble recalling where I put my purse and my car keys!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Acting Like Kids Again


I wanted to share these photo booth shots with you as a testament to a fun and silly afternoon Ken and I had one day recently. I hung this on our fridge as a reminder of just how proud I am of the two of us. Because you see, he and I have come a long way in the last year or so. Let me explain.

It took us a while, but I think we've almost gotten the hang of it. This college thing - ya know - it isn't half bad! When Matthew was still in high school and we were lamenting his nearing departure, we had friends with older kids who'd already left home tell us, "Oh, you'll see, you'll get used to it before you know it. You'll adjust. In fact, you'll love it!"

We will? Ken and I will love Matthew, our only child, being gone? This child, who has been the center of our universe for nearly two decades? People, come on! What are you saying? It couldn't be. We're different, we knew we were. They just didn't know us.

Then, way too soon, the time came for all the good little boys and girls (and the others, too), to leave for college. It was difficult emotionally, just as we knew it would be. (Get used to it indeed! When our kid is a grandfather, maybe!) Days turned into weeks which turned into long months and I missed our little shaver terribly. Still do.

But you know what? Something happened during those days and weeks and months. I didn't see it coming, but it happened nonetheless. The frequency of the calls home decreased (that, I noticed). But during those many days when we waited and didn't get a call or an email from the boy, we got a little bit used to it, then a little bit more. We knew he was ok. (I mean, we could call, text, IM and Skype, for goodness' sake.) And yeah, well, we knew we'd talk to him in a day or two. But the stretches became longer and longer and he was calling the shots. Little varmint! It was like he was weaning us! Like WE were the ones in kindergarten! And you know what? I am proud to say, we became a little bit more independent! His dad and I did ok, if I do say so myself!

That's right. And you know what else? I have to tell you because I am so proud of us. Ken and I have learned that we can do so many things on our own. It's true. We are able to function just as we did b.a.c. (before a child). And not only that, but, we do things when we want. We eat when we want, we go to bed when we want, we get up when we want. Heck, we even nap when we want! We go out when we want, we even eat cereal for supper if we want!

Now, the funny part of all of this is that guess what time it is? Yep, just about time for summer break. Just when everyone learns all the rules, it's time for a whole new game.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Charmed Life


“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.”
Psalms 37: 4

The year was 1983 and I had just graduated from Bowling Green State University. My fiance, Ken, was a senior at Virginia Tech, majoring in Chemical Engineering. I applied there to graduate school and lived in the same apartment complex as he during that year, just a short walk away.

It was an interesting year. I was taking graduate classes and taught college freshman English. Ken was finishing the last of his courses, interviewing at every opportunity. Professional jobs were hard to secure and he was determined to find a good job. We were planning a wedding and going full speed ahead, even though we weren't sure what kind of job he would have after he graduated. (Yet somehow we planned our wedding for the Saturday after the Saturday he graduated. In retrospect, that probably was not the brightest idea!) Because of VT’s outstanding reputation as an engineering school, lots of employers interviewed there, but LOTS of graduates were looking for jobs. Ken spent countless nights waiting in line all night to take any "open" interview spots in addition to any other interviews he was able to secure.

It was a stressful time. I'm sure it was more stressful for Ken than it was for me. We prayed he would be offered a job as our wedding date loomed. We were hopeful. We were optimistic. We were young. We were naïve. But, we were also believers. We prayed and we believed God would take care of us. Most importantly, we prayed that He would show us what His will was for us.

Ken’s chemical engineering friends weren't quite sure what to make of our approach to this huge mountain in front of us. They were a fun-loving group, yet they were also realistic, non-believer types who thought we were probably a little too optimistic. They watched us closely because we were the only ones in this study group he'd met with for years planning a wedding in such uncertain economic circumstances. We continued to pray and believe.

And then it happened. Ken was offered not one, but two awesome job opportunities: one in South Carolina with Milliken, a textile manufacturer (which he ultimately accepted); and a second, with a fairly new (to-me) company called Intel, some computer chip company out west (some computer chip company indeed!).

And then we were tagged as having a “charmed life.” So when Ken and I saw this sign (shown above) a few years ago, we bought it. It says "and they lived happily ever after..." It hangs in our kitchen to remind us of that time in our lives so many years ago and how far we’ve come – not because we are charmed – but because of God’s grace and His love and provision for us.

I bet you’re wondering if we regret going south and not taking the job at Intel? We actually came very close to moving west. Ken felt it was an amazing opportunity - and it was. But when we prayed about it, we felt God leading us south. We’ve never looked back and never regretted it. In fact, we’ve never regretted any of our 13 moves, but we sure are grateful for the last 13 years here in Orrville! It has been such a charmed life. The Lord has truly given me the desires of my heart.