Our Ray of Sunshine

Last week started out as a disappointment. My kids were supposed to spend the week with Realm’s parents while I went south and spent some time with my aunt and grandma. Due to sickness, we had to stay home. The kids and I stared at each other glumly until sunshine beamed down upon us in the form of a phone call from Realm’s mom, asking, “What if I come visit you for the week instead?”

I texted Realm the good news, and he responded, “She’s the best mother-in-law, isn’t she?”

Oh, she is!

A classic fairy with a wand
A classic fairy with a wand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes I think I live in a fairytale world when I consider the fact that my mom-in-law is my best friend. It’s true!

When Realm and I were in college, he made plans to go to a football game with his dad. His mom wanted to visit with him, too, but didn’t care to go to the game. Realm asked me if I would hang out with her, and that’s when I met Mom O (that’s what I call her). I would not have had such an excellent opportunity to know what a jewel my future mom-in-law would be if she’d been an avid football fan. It was fate that brought us together! Or the fact that neither of us gets a thrill out of a pigskin tossing. We spent the whole afternoon talking. I thought she was the nicest person. Where I was opinionated and rash, she was conscientious and thoughtful…and she was funny. On the way back to school, I told Realm, “I’d marry you just for your mom.” Looking back, my statement was pretty telling because I was dating someone else at the time. Realm and I had broken up.

Mom O and I share our joy of reading. I grew up in a house with bookshelves filled with books. She has bookshelves all around her house, too. So I feel right at home. Anything she reads and thinks I’ll enjoy she sends my way. She’s opened new worlds up to me, especially in fantasy.

CassandraAusten-FannyKnight
CassandraAusten-FannyKnight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And she supports my craft. This isn’t an easy one because, as a writer, I’m always half-finished. Mom O will still read the first chapters with no ending and tell me what she thinks. She’s beta-ed many, many, many stories for me. She’s been my Cassandra, and I love her for the hours she’s spent on me and my scribbles.

She’s taught me a lot about cooking. I’ve watched over her shoulder many a time, asking all types of questions, trying to figure out what her secrets are for the best, fall-apart baked ham, the best cheese cookies, and the moistest pound cake. She says her secret is experience. She knows what she’s doing, and she’s good at it.

In the first years of our marriage, I was not shy about confrontation with Realm or with his family. There are many moms-in-law who feel it’s their duty to set an opinionated daughter-in-law straight from the beginning. There have been a ton of times that I’ve been set straight by my mom-in-law, but not by any harsh word of hers. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her middle name means “peace.” Every word of advice she’s ever given me has been with wisdom and with love. Her reproaches have come in the form of her own patience and gentleness with me. It’s humbling, and I look up to her more each time I realize how often she’s been proven right without saying a thing.

I get so much from her example. Her principles are formed by God’s word. And when she sees how her grandchildren are being raised, how Realm and I are trying to bring them up with God’s precepts, she lets me know she’s proud of both of us. It’s a God-given blessing we enjoy every day of our lives as a generational family.

This is why the kids and I spent last week sniffling, sneezing, but smiling. We had Mom O to cheer us up.

Advice for the Newbiewed Cook

My sister the newlywed lives a few minutes away from me now. She’s new to the area and calls me when she’s shopping for groceries.

“Is this a good deal?”

“Do you like this brand?”

“Can I substitute in this recipe?”

I love it. I love being the one she calls when it comes to cooking. When it comes to cooking. Just wanted to emphasize that because I emphasized it to her.

“Marital advice is not my forte,” I told her before she got married. “Call Mom.”

She nodded and pretended I’d told her something she didn’t already know. She’s kind that way.

Her estimation of my cooking/grocery advice must be pretty high because, so far, I continue to receive her calls. This pleases me very much. It has also helped me realize that I have some pretty fantastic advice to give! So, now I’m going to give it to you. No need to thank me for my generosity. Really.

Woman Cooking in a Kitchen.
Woman Cooking in a Kitchen. (Photo credit: The U.S. National Archives)

Advice for the Newbiewed Cook

Make a Weekly Menu.
The weekly menu is the hub of all kitchen activity for me. I’ve tried monthly, and I tired of it quickly—tired of the meals, tired of the planning. I can handle one week. I think most people can. If you can handle more, great! Most newlyweds have enough to handle, so why not start with one week?

Keep your Special Meals Special.
The majority of your evening meals should be something you can make in a reasonable amount of time. Pounding out meat and rubbing fresh herbs into it is special. Keep it special or you might get overwhelmed.

In my first year of marriage, I made so many new recipes. That got old fast, and not just for me. Realm looked up from his plate one evening after we’d finished some crazy dish and asked, “Can’t we just have fried chicken?”

Oh, and don’t turn your nose up at those staple meals you make so well. Your life is one big change right now; give yourself permission to make the staples. You have years to impress him with your culinary skilz.

Crank up the Crockpot!
I make at least one meal a week with my Crockpot. Once you’re planning menus, throwing ingredients into the Crockpot is a breeze. I’m not one for “brown it first and add it to the Crockpot.” If it can’t go in all at once, I might make that one of my special meals for the week. I don’t have a timer on my Crockpot, so it’s only turned on low when I’m cooking overnight.  My Crockpot generally goes on high in the mornings so it’s ready by 5:00 p.m. We eat later, but it can be on warm. (You can always make it cook slower, but you’re generally stuck once you figure out you need it to cook faster.)

Cut the Process in Half with a Food Processor
I can’t cut. I’ve discussed that more than once on my blog. Chopping on a chopping board isn’t my thing, either. I tried one of those manual choppers when they were thought to be so wonderful–you know, for cutting up onions and stuff. Meh.

I have two pieces of equipment I use in my kitchen every day: my Ninja* and my Salad Shooter*. The food section parts of both of these appliances are all dishwasher safe. I’ve gone through half a dozen food processors. That means I’ve rendered at least half a dozen food processors useless. I’m tough on them. The Ninja is the only one that’s lasted. I bought my Salad Shooter at a garage sale for $12. Or was it $7? Anyway, slicing is a joy.

Be Prepared to Paper-Plate-It.
Yes, I’ve turned ‘paper plate’ into a verb. I’ve repeated this one the most to my sister. It’s really my best advice. It’s true that paper products cost money, but scrambling to catch up with the dishes costs time and causes stress. Provide yourself with a fallback plan. I also keep plastic cups, forks, and bowls on hand, which makes life so much easier when the kitchen takes on the decor of a mass science project involving volcanic eruptions and tornado devastation. Yep, that happens sometimes. Just to clarify, this is a fallback plan. Regular dishes really should be the norm.

So, there you have my 5 amazing tips after 17 years of wedded cooking. What are some things you do to make your meal-making run smoothly?

*These links depict the models I use. I receive no money or other remuneration of any sort from Amazon or the manufacturers of these products.

One Wednesday Night

Realm received a note the other day from a coworker who spent one Wednesday night with us months ago. This coworker—I’ll call him Alexander because I rarely get to call anyone Alexander, and I really like that name… What was I saying? Oh, yeah: So, Alexander doesn’t live here. He lives three states away. Realm, being the type of guy who doesn’t like to see another guy eating fried chicken from the grocery store deli or buying the very fresh and boring sandwich (call it a Panini or what you will, it’s still a sandwich), invited Alexander over to eat at our house.

I didn’t know very much about him when Realm invited him over but that he was from out-of-town and that he was on a diet similar to Realm’s: fresh veggies, low carbs, no sugar. He walked into the kitchen to greet me, and he was very polite. I was very nervous about what I was serving. It was my third week of making low carb dishes. I hoped the honey in my honey-mustard sauce drizzled over the baked ham wouldn’t be too bad of a diet no-no. Then I hoped my ham wasn’t a no-no! There are some religious groups, like Seventh-Day Adventists, who don’t do pork. Basically, I worried my way through the entire meal, even after he complimented me on the food.

That night, when we left the house for Bible study, Alexander rode with us. My kids fought over who would sit by him. I don’t know much about Alexander’s beliefs, but he told Realm afterward that he’d enjoyed the study.

In the weeks that followed, the kids asked repeatedly whether he’d be back to eat with us again. “He should come over on Sunday and eat, too. Then he could go to worship services with us two times!” my daughter said. I think she thought this was an offer that couldn’t be refused. But Alexander had to go back home, and he slipped out of our thoughts for a bit.

Recently, Realm learned Alexander was returning to town. He sent him a message that he should come over again for supper, that the kids had asked about him, and he hoped his work was going well. As it ended up, Alexander’s business trip was canceled. He messaged Realm, and this was one of the things he said about coming to our house that night:

“That will go down in history as one of the highlights in my life.”

Realm showed his message to me and had to explain it because I thought it was a strange joke when I read it. It completely flummoxed me. That night I’d been super nervous about whether my food worked with the diet, while Alexander wasn’t even looking at that. He was seeing our family gathered around a table, talking and laughing. He was watching us put away stuff quickly, grab our Bibles, and pile into the van. He was listening to us carry on various conversations on our way to the church building—little, insignificant thoughts and silly fights, I thought. But they were great big clues because they exposed our closeness, our regular communication, our peace.

THE WAYNE GIPSON FAMILY SAYS A PRAYER BEFORE T...
THE WAYNE GIPSON FAMILY SAYS A PRAYER BEFORE THEIR EVENING MEAL IN THE KITCHEN OF THEIR MODERN HOME NEAR GRUETLI… – NARA – 556611 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t realize sometimes what I have. I didn’t realize it when I was growing up around our family table, where my father sat at the head and we bowed our heads in prayer. The blessing of family comes from God. It is a blessing that is distorted when God is taken out of the center of it. It is a quiet haven that is destroyed when God’s words of kindness, real love, and commitment are ignored.

Alexander is divorced. His kids are almost grown, and he doesn’t get to see them often. There’s a part of him that craves the haven of home. We only have one life. That’s it. Don’t miss the haven. Even if you’ve missed it here, don’t miss the eternal haven with God. Seek Him. Pray to Him. He invites you to His table. Accept His invitation, and He will take you home with Him forever.

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
“And he arose and came to his father. But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’
– Luke 15:17-26a

The Romance of the Past

My mom and dad are going to Ireland for their anniversary. I’m so excited for them! It’s always been my mom’s dream to visit Ireland. Her mom’s father left Ireland to come to America. He never wanted to go back. My grandmother never wanted to visit Ireland. In fact, when she found out my mom was going on this trip, she asked, “Why?”

[Cave Hill. Belfast. County Antrim, Ireland] (LOC)
[Cave Hill. Belfast. County Antrim, Ireland] (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)
My grandmother moved in with my parents over a year ago; so when I went home in June, I sat down beside her and asked her to tell me what it was like when she was growing up. Her childhood was influenced by the Great Depression. She found ways to save money and get by, like learning to sew stockings with the same colored thread so that no one could tell where the tear had been.

My grandmother’s recollections have been softened over the years. I think that’s why my mom and I have romanticized the prospect of Mom’s return to the place her grandfather gave up. “Just to see it,” she says. I hope she won’t be disappointed. I don’t think she will. She’s a down-to-earth type, really.

When I was a teen, I sent this poem to my grandmother because I’ve always enjoyed curling up beside her and requesting:

Tell me a story, Grandma, dear
About your youthful past;
About the wisdom you have learned
From beginning to last.

Tell me a story, Grandma, dear;
That happened years before;
When one man left his heritage
In hopes of something more.

Tell me a story, Grandma, dear;
Please let it all be true;
So I can tell my own young ones
My stories about you.

P.S. It is my grandma’s fervent prayer that my mom and dad won’t get killed for not being Catholic.