June 29, 2016

It Just Hit Me: I'm the Mom of a High School Senior

The other day, I realized—in a smack-you-upside-the-head kind of way—that my oldest child’s senior year doesn’t begin when she starts her last year of secondary education.

It began when she walked out of school on the last day of her junior year.
So that happened. And now the reality and enormity of this whole thing keeps hitting me when I least expect it, at moments like these…

1. I figured out on the last day of school that it was my daughters’ last last day together. How did I miss making A Big Deal about this? Next year, my oldest will have her last day early and on her own. I’ll still play “What Time Is It” from High School Musical 2 when they get home from school, but next year, I’ll have to play it twice. On different days.

2. All those “senior parent” notices flashing on the screen outside the high school? The ones I’ve been ignoring for 12 years? Now I have to pay attention to EVERY SINGLE ONE. 

3. I got weepy reading the instructions on some OTC cold medicine I was giving my teenager because I saw the “adult” dosage listed and realized I’ll soon have an “adult” to give it to.

4. I did not merely attend high school graduation parties this season. I scoped out buffet options and assessed traffic flow patterns and said things like, “Nice party…say, where’d you get all these tables and chairs?”

5. Digital cameras came out after this child was born. Where, exactly, are all those negatives of her as a baby? And does anyone even develop negatives anymore? Can we skip the poster board photo display and just have more dessert?

6. Everything we’ve been waiting to do around here until our firstborn’s high school graduation party suddenly needs to be done. Right. This. Minute.

7. The moment at the band concert and dance recital and graduation Sunday in church when all the seniors were recognized? Cannot even think about next year. (Note to self: start carrying tissues everywhere.)

8. A few blinks ago, I was triumphantly hauling my 7-pound, 5-day-old baby into the pediatrician’s office for her first well-baby check. Next month, I’ll go with that baby to her last well-child check. (See “tissues,” above.)

9. Cap-and-gown-themed party supplies on clearance? Let me get a cart.

On top of all these hit-me moments, I’m holding on to everything we do that might be a last: last week at the lake; last church camp; last teeth-cleaning with pediatric dental coverage.

But I’m also getting ready for so many firsts. The year ahead—the year that has started NOW—is much more a beginning than it is an ending. I’m grateful for it and excited about it.

I'm still stocking up on Kleenex, though.

Have you had your own "a long time from now is right this minute" moment? 
I'd love to have you share it in a comment or over on Facebook
Also, here's a tissue.

**This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.**

June 23, 2016

S'mores Granola Bark

I was in the middle of trying to come up with a witty or motivational or inspiring story to introduce this post when it hit me: you don't care about a story because you JUST WANT THE RECIPE ALREADY. 

Entirely understandable. So here it is. 

In our house, we consider this a healthy snack, because we take a very broad approach to "healthy" and a very frequent approach to "snack." 

This recipe began life as Trail Mix Granola Bark; here, I've given it the s'mores treatment with the addition of marshmallows and graham crackers. I managed to stop eating my last batch long enough to put together this post, but just barely. 

S'mores Granola Bark {printable recipe}

1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup M&Ms (I used the plain milk chocolate version in red, white, and blue)
1 cup marshmallow bits (such as vanilla Jet-Puffed Mallow Bits)*
3 cups rolled ("old-fashioned") oats
1 cup graham cracker pieces and crumbs (equivalent or close enough to it to one "sleeve" of crackers...I like a mix of fine crumbs and larger cracker pieces, and you can really just smoosh them with your hands while they're still in the package and they'll be fine)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg white
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons water, divided

*I know! Specialty ingredients are such a pain. But I promise these are easy to find, aren't too expensive, and are necessary to this recipe. I also promise it's worth the hassle of rounding them up. Regular mini marshmallows won't work here because of the long baking time...they'll just melt and basically disappear. Better get the bits.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 10x15-inch baking sheet with parchment paper (or foil that you spray like crazy with nonstick cooking spray) so it hangs over the edges. Mix the chocolate chips, M&Ms, and marshmallow bits in a small bowl or 2-cup glass measure and put them in the freezer. Mix the oats and graham cracker pieces/crumbs in a large bowl

In a small measuring cup, whisk 3 tablespoons water, the vanilla, the oil, and the egg white.

In a microwave-safe 2-cup measure, mix the salt, maple syrup (which will slide right out of the measuring cup if you use the same one you did to measure the oil...aren't we clever?), brown sugar, and 1 tablespoon water. Microwave for 30 seconds and stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds, or until the sugar has dissolved. Don't walk away and get sucked into checking Facebook because sugar syrup boiling over in your microwave is not something you want to see. 

Drizzle the oil mixture over the oat mixture and toss to combine. Drizzle the syrup mixture over the oats mixture, and toss to mix well. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Sprinkle about 2/3 of your frozen chocolate-chip/M&M/marshmallow mixture over the oats and toss gently to distribute. Dump the whole mixture into your pan and spread and press evenly. If one part is a little thicker than another, make sure it's the edges. Sprinkle your remaining chocolate/candy mixture evenly over the surface and press gently. 

Bake for 30-45 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. You want your bark to be golden brown in the center or it won't be crunchy. Cool on a wire rack before breaking into irregular pieces and storing airtight. It'll keep about a week. I mean, theoretically. In our house, it gets scarfed down in a couple days, and it only lasts that long if I ration it. (Recipe adapted from Best Lunch Box Ever by Katie Morford.)

This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.

June 21, 2016

10 Things Moms of Teens Will Love You For Not Saying

In a few weeks, my youngest child will turn 13. 

Which means I will officially be the mom of teenagers and only teenagers.

On the one hand, this will be handy: no more “mom of one tween and one teen” hassle. 

On the other hand, this development still feels mildly stunning. Or majorly stunning, depending on the morning and the hormonal (im)balance of the cast of characters in this drama we call “Life In Our House.”

While I’m processing all this, I keep running across posts like “10 Things Never to Say to the Mom of a Newborn” and “What Not to Say to a New Parent.” But a Google search of “what not to say to the parent of a teenager” only brought up results on what not to say to a teen parent.

I’m grateful for the “what not say” pieces in support of new parents. I've culled “how’s it going?” from my stash of go-to phrases, having been counseled that New Mom has no idea how it’s going, only that it would be going a lot better if she was getting any sleep. 

But on behalf of my fellow parents of teenagers, I think there are a few classic lines about this end of the parenting spectrum that could stand to be retired or replaced.

If you're the parent of a teenager or know the parent of a teenager or think you might ever find yourself in conversation with the parent of a teenager, head over to Grown and Flown for a list of questions and phrases that could probably use a little rest. 

(And for the record, if you asked me how being the mom of a teen is going, I'd probably tell you that I think it's going pretty well but that I'm sure it would be going even better if I were getting more sleep.)

**This post may be have been shared at some of these blog bashes.**

June 14, 2016

Dear Dad: Thanks For Getting So Much Right

I did not meet my dad when I was first born, because he was not there. 

Not in the room, which was fairly normal back then. Because, the 70s. But also not in the country, which was somewhat normal back then. Because, the war.

My mom, grandparents, and I were in a hospital room in Kalamazoo, Michigan, while my dad was in Vietnam.

Our father-daughter reunion happened when I was eight months old, and he's been making up for lost time with me ever since.

I could write an entire post about my dad as a dad. Over and over, he has given me an earthly glimpse of Abba--God as "daddy." To say I am grateful is inadequate and insufficient but also true, so I will say it. I'm so grateful my dad is my dad. 

Months ago, at a family baby shower, my dad passed along to my cousin--the would-be first-time father--a list of advice he had written for my brother at a similar stage of life. It was addressed from father to son, but my dad let me have a look at it, and right away I said, "Oh, this is going up on my blog."

So, that happened. And here it is.

Thanks, dad. I love you so much.

My Dad's Wisdom on Parenting: Some Things He Did and Some Things He Says He Wishes He Had Done

1. Children are not little adults; let your child be a kid.

2. Don't have too many rules, especially when they're little. They're not going to remember them all anyway.

3. Pick your battles. It won't work to make an issue out of everything your child does that you don't like.

4. Don't let mealtime become a battle zone. No child has ever starved to death yet because they didn't eat everything on their plate.

5. Don't micromanage your child's behavior. It isn't necessary (or productive in the long run) to try to control everything he or she says or does.

6. Kids cry. When they're little, it means they need something. When they're older, it probably means they're frustrated about something.

7. Kids get tired. When they do, it's usually futile to try to reason with them to get them to do what you want.

8. Don't say things to your child that you would never dream of saying to someone else's child. 

9. Whatever stage your child is in, remember: this, too, shall pass, and they will move on to another stage. (This may be better or worse than the previous one!)

10. The greatest gift you can give your child besides your love is your time. Whenever possible, interrupt what you are doing to take time for them. Many things you need to do can be put off until later but many things your child does only happen once, and you don't want to miss them. 

11. Read to your child.

12. When your child starts talking, listen. What they say is important to them, and kids have great things to say.

13. Spend some time tucking your child into bed each night.

14. Find a church to help you raise your child. You need others to support you, and your child needs this to establish a good foundation of values and truth. If he or she doesn't get this early in life in church, they might get it somewhere else that you may not like.

15. Take time every day to enjoy your child and relish this role God has blessed you with.

What parenting wisdom have you gleaned from your own dad or a dad-like person in your life? I'd be honored to read about it, either in a comment here or over on Facebook.

This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.

June 4, 2016

Four Kitchen Tool Must-Haves, Plus One I Just Really Like

For all practical purposes, I live in the kitchen.

I do make frequent visits to the computer desk just around the corner, but my kitchen is home base.

Because I spend so much time there, I covet kitchen tools the way some women prize fine jewelry. I drool over displays in the kitchen supply store. I'm not into perfume, but I am slightly obsessed with good vanilla extract.

Years ago, Hallmark ran a commercial that showed a husband coming home from work on Valentine's Day, gift in tow. A table for two was set by the fire, and a card with his name on it was learning against a wine glass. After his wife called from the other room that she'd be out in a minute, he opened the card--which read, "Love me sweet, love me tender, give me roses, not a blender." Cut to close-up of the obviously blender-shaped package under his arm. Then, "Honey? I'll be right back."

The thing is that when I saw that commercial, I thought, "Love me sweet, love me tender, I don't want roses, give me the blender." In fact, I need a new blender right this very minute. I hope I don't have to wait until Valentine's Day to get one. 

In the meantime, I've been thinking about my other favorite kitchen tools, thanks to a prompt from my friend Lisa the Syncopated Mama and her 5 After 5 party that's all about favorite kitchen gadgets this week. While I certainly could figure out how to live without these five kitchen mainstays, I'd really rather not have to.

1. Kitchen scale. The kind that sits on my kitchen counter and weighs things like dark chocolate. As opposed to the kind that sits on my bathroom floor and weighs things like me. My kitchen scale is a digital model with a flat weighing platform, and I use it almost every day. I weigh the aforementioned dark chocolate and flour for pizza dough and and cream cheese and pretty much any other ingredient I can portion out by weight. Baking, which I far prefer over cooking, is a pretty exact science, and half an ounce of flour more or less can make a big difference in the finished product. No matter how precisely you "dip-and-sweep" or spoon flour "lightly" into a measuring cup, no two cups measured in either of these ways will ever be exactly the same. Whereas an ounce is an ounce, period. I know this makes me sound like the world's biggest baking snob, but really, it's just laziness. Weighing is easier and gets me to lickable beaters sooner. Which, frankly, is why I bake in the first place.
2. Offset spatula. Unlike, say, a knife, where the handle and the blade are all on the same "plane," the handle of an offset spatula is (appropriately enough) set off from the blade. This means your hand stays out of the way when you're icing a cake, for instance. But I also use my offset spatula to pry muffins out of baking tins and to smooth out cake batter in pans and...wow, I do spend a lot of time baking around here, don't I? Oh well; I don't hear anyone in this house complaining. Mostly, they're just asking if we have any cookies.

3. Parchment paper. My favorite use for this heat-tolerant, wondrously nonstick baking paper is actually homemade pizza. I heat my pizza stone in the oven to a scorching 500 degrees while I build our pizzas on the nice, not-500-degrees kitchen counter on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. When the stone is hot, I slide the whole assembly, parchment and all, off the baking sheet and onto the smoking stone, and five minutes later, everyone in my family is getting along. And don't even talk to me about baking cookies (Classic Chocolate Chip or otherwise) without parchment paper. 

4. Eight-cup glass batter bowl. Things I use this for: oh, EVERYTHING. A few examples:
This workhorse goes in the microwave, dishwasher, refrigerator, and freezer. It has a snap-on lid. It doesn't absorb food stains or odors. It has a handle for easy lifting. You can see what's going on when you're using it in the microwave. No, I am not a paid spokesperson for the Batter Bowl Association of America. But if there was such a group, and if they offered to pay me to be their spokesperson, I'd do it.

5. Kitchen blow torch. So, yes, this item is hardly essential to anyone's existence. But it's the toy of my culinary world. I suppose professional chefs use "real" blow torches, which they can, if necessary, also use to solder some crucial piece of cookware. But my little kitchen version--the Easy Bake Oven of blow torches--works just fine for my use: caramelizing meringue without having to put whatever is wearing that meringue in the oven. I make, for example, a three-layer lemon meringue cake with marshmallow meringue frosting. I am not hefting that beauty under the broiler to brown the meringue, honey. Nope: I fire up the blow torch and have at it. This tool is also great to use on baked Alaska ice cream pie: fill an Oreo crust with ice cream, top it with meringue, and blow torch it. No worries you'll melt the ice cream, plus using this tool is just the most fun you can have in the kitchen, hands-down.

So, these are my kitchen must-haves. Or at least my kitchen really-really-want-to-haves. What's on your list? Also, what kind of blender should I buy my husband buy for me? Please do tell, and be sure to put up your post or share your own list at Lisa's party. Because if you do and I discover some essential kitchen tool I didn't know was essential, maybe I'll be forced to take a trip to the kitchen supply store...

This post may have been shared at some of these blog bashes.