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.


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.