Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Powers

I once saw a maternity T-shirt that proclaimed: “I make people. What’s YOUR superpower?” Indeed, nothing makes you feel like a superhero with special powers quite like growing another human being inside your body. Except possibly when that other human being exits your body and still thinks you have superpowers. THAT’s pretty cool.

One of my favorite “mom” superpowers is the fact that I can mend any injury with a kiss. It might be a physical injury; it might be an emotional one. But whatever the source of the pain, one kiss from me and the wound is proclaimed “All better!!” by the sufferer.

Whenever I see those silly online quizzes asking “Which superpower should you have?”, I never have to think about whether I would choose invisibility, or telepathy, or the ability to fly, or x-ray vision. Hands down, I would want to have the power of healing. Of healing bodies and of healing hearts. Who wouldn’t want the powers to make pain go away? And I know that my powers won’t last for much longer, as my children discover reality and the lasting pains that come with growing into adulthood, but while I do have them, I’ll enjoy them.


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Friday, February 27, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Wait

When you're a kid, sometimes it feels like you're always being told to wait. Wait for mom. Wait your turn. Wait until you're older. Wait until you're bigger. Wait until dinner. Wait until your father gets home! And the hardest part of waiting is that kids have no sense of time, so they often feel like they'll be waiting forever.

Adults do our share of waiting, too. We wait for appointments, we wait for buses, we wait for promotions, we wait in lines, we wait on the phone, we wait in traffic. And sometimes we feel like we'll be waiting forever, too. The hands of the clock seem frozen in time.

Thanks to the show "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood," my kids are getting better about waiting. In one episode of the show, Daniel goes to dinner with his family and the food is somewhat slow to arrive (in Daniel's opinion, anyway), so Daniel has to wait. His parents teach him a song that says, "While you wait, you can play, think, or imagine anything." So now, whenever my kids have to wait for something, we try to come up with some kind of game or imagination play to keep us occupied. We play "I Spy," we look for geometric shapes, we make up stories about the people we see, we pretend we're explorers or pirates or princesses or knights, we make up silly songs. What used to be wasted time is now profitable and fun and educational. Instead of being frustrated by an unexpected wait, now I look forward to the chance to spend some quality play time with my kids. I look forward to the wait.


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Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Place

“Place” is a pretty generic word, as words go. It means, simply, a location. A spot. A well-defined set of geographic coordinates. SomePLACE. AnyPLACE.

But if you add a possessive in front of it – your place, my place, his place, our place – it suddenly takes on a much different meaning, a meaning laden with values and implications and layers. To “put someone in his place” means to knock him down a peg. To deflate his ego. To humble him. To remind him that he’s not nearly as important as he thinks he is. Keeping someone “in his place” implies that person’s inferiority. “His place,” in this context, is a place of humility, subservience, frustration, and lowliness.

But adding a possessive to the word “place” can also imply exactly the opposite: To “find your place in the world” means to come into your own, to discover where you fit into the greater scheme of things, to reach your potential. It implies success, accomplishment, belonging, completion.

There’s yet another positive implication to some possessive uses of the word “place”: when “my place” refers to your home. “Come on over to my place.” “Welcome to my place.” “Check out my place!” The implications here are a sense of personal pride, a degree of territorialism, a sense of possessiveness in its most positive form. “My place” implies hospitality, welcome, comfort, and graciousness.

The hallmarks of my own personal “place” involve hospitality and comfort. My place is full of comfortable chairs, candlelight, flowers, classical music, good food and drink, and the laughter (and often the mess) of children. My place is often full of friends. It is always full of the love of family. My place is a haven from sorrow and a venue of joy. My place is full of memories. My place is full of potential. My place is full of cheerfulness. My place is full.


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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Remember

Humans have always used aids to help us remember things. We pretty much invented writing just so we could write stuff down so that we wouldn’t forget it. Cave paintings are, if you stop and think about it, merely the precursors to modern-day Post It notes and Dry Erase boards. I’d bet that every single person reading this has a junk drawer somewhere in their house (probably the kitchen) whose contents consist almost entirely of pens, pencils, and stacks of Post It Notes and notepads. I always have pens in my purse so if a thought occurs to me, I can write it down before it floats away into the ether. We make notes to ourselves on napkins, the backs of envelopes, desk blotters, and random scraps of paper, all just to help us remember. 

Our homes are also filled with things, with objects, that help us remember stuff. We hang photographs on the wall and keep them in albums to help us remember important moments like graduations and weddings. We collect mementos and souvenirs from our travels: a carved trinket from here, a silver spoon from there, a ceramic something from somewhere else. We save ticket stubs, wedding invitations, theatre playbills, and greeting cards.

But for most parents, the most meaningful objects in our homes that help us to remember are the random bits of artwork that our children have made over the years. A painted mug, a paper Santa, a worksheet from school. They help us remember that frozen moment in time when our children were that certain age. Children change so quickly, right before our eyes, so we desperately cling to each reminder of where they are right now. My favorite bits of art are the ones that capture the size of their tiny hands and feet, because I know that as soon as I blink they won’t be that small any more.

When I look at my kids, sometimes it’s hard for me to imagine that they’ll ever be adults. But then I look back at my cherished bits of art and I remember how much they’ve already grown, and I know that before I know it they will be grown and independent. Rodgers and Hammerstein expressed it beautifully in the lyrics to the song “I Know It Can Happen Again” from their little-known musical, Allegro:

Starting out so foolishly small, it’s hard to believe you will grow at all.
It’s hard to believe that things like you can ever turn out to be men.
But I’ve seen it happen before, so I know it can happen again.
Food and sleep and plenty of soap, molasses and sulfur and love and hope,
The winters go by, the summers fly, and all of a sudden you’re men!
I have seen it happen before, so I know it can happen again. 
Someday my children will be grown, and their tiny hands and feet will be only a memory. But I will still have their artwork to help me remember.


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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Path

This is the path that leads from my house to the street.

It is a path I was tempted to take yesterday. A path away from my house, I mean. Yesterday was, shall we say, a rough one. I spent the day doing multiple loads of laundry, cleaning up various assorted bodily fluids extruded by various assorted small people, mopping up other spills and crumbs and messes, watching the scale remind me that the last 5 pounds I lost are gradually sneaking back to haunt me, making beds, scrubbing the carpet, and attempting and failing miserably at a baking project. I was crabby with my kids. I was crabby with my husband. I was crabby with myself. I desperately needed an escape. I could practically hear that path calling my name.

In fact, as my husband pulled into the driveway after work, I was already halfway down that path to my car, coat on and keys in hand, fleeing to the safe haven of the theater where I was sure that no-one would tug on my pantleg or screech my name from the next room or pee on the floor. (Or at least, if they did, I could happily ignore it.)

It was heaven. For almost 4 hours, I sat in the dark theater, transported to a different time and place, where none of the problems on the stage were my responsibility (well, since I was there as the costumer, if someone ripped their pants I was technically responsible, but that was unlikely enough that it didn’t disturb my serenity). By the time the evening was over, I was refreshed and rejuvenated and ready to come home and face my beloved demons once again.

Fortunately, the path from my house is also the path to my house. That is the nature of a path, after all: it goes both ways. It provides not only an escape but also a return passage. No matter where you leave, if you turn around, the path will lead you back. When you’re ready, the path home is right there, waiting.


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Monday, February 23, 2015

2015 Oscars Red Carpet Review

This year seemed a bit subdued as Oscar fashions go: there was nothing truly outrageous, either for good or for ill. There were no particular trends that everyone seemed to be following, no single color that everyone was wearing, no makeup or hairstyling technique that appeared over and over. So how to organize my red carpet fashion thoughts for this particular occasion? I’m going to focus on the single details that make or break a particular gown or look.

Jennifer Aniston wore a long beaded column that would have been spectacular except for one tiny misstep that’s not even noticeable in this photograph: the long panels of the skirt were see-through – which would have been fine had the top of the panel not veered up past the point of her hip. A little peekaboo is a fine thing, but we really didn't need to see quite that much of Jen’s (admittedly well-toned) thigh. 

Cate Blanchett’s starkly simple black column was gloriously set off by a heavy, chunky turquoise necklace, proving that a single statement accessory can be all you need. Especially if you look like Cate Blanchett.

Jessica Chastain’s single notable detail was, unfortunately, a poor choice of neckline. An hourglass figure is a glorious thing, but it needs to be balanced or it quickly looks out of proportion. The broad neckline and wide shoulders of this gown broadened her figure and made her look top-heavy. Just pulling in the drape to the inside of the straps would have made all the difference in the world.

I adored Marion Cotillard’s dress – until she turned around. I’m not sure what the giant clump of fabric down her back was supposed to be, but it looked both ugly and extremely uncomfortable. At least she looked stunning as long as she was sitting on the monstrosity behind her. Naomi Watts had a similar misstep with another gown that was lovely from the front, but from the back it looked like she had gotten nervous about being too revealing and had thrown on a sequined bandeau underneath her dress at the last minute.

Seaming is a subtle but effective way to create visual interest and draw the eye, as demonstrated by both Viola Davis’s and Zoe Saldana’s gowns. The lines of the seams were slimming and interesting, drawing the eye in at the waist and creating a gentle, soft flare in the skirt. Two very different looks but made effective with similar details.

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson both wore gowns that were flawless, as were the figures underneath them. But the hairstyles ruined the look for me. Dern’s hair flopping in front of her face was so distracting that I could hardly pull my eyes away from it, and Johansson’s Brigitte-Nielsen-in-1985 flat top was too masculine and harsh for her feminine gown and jewel-encrusted neckpiece. Never let a bad hairstyle steal the spotlight from your gown – or yourself!

Dakota Johnson and Gwyneth Paltrow both wore gowns that were simple and lovely, with a single eye-catching shoulder detail. However, the detail which worked in concept was not well executed in either case. Johnson’s silver loop and knot was too bulky and uncomfortable-looking, and looked too much like a military shoulder cord, which didn’t fit with the delicate style of the dress; and Paltrow’s giant flower was out of proportion, distracting, and vaguely…the female version of phallic.

I could pick any one of several details of Anna Kendrick’s gown that made it work, but if I had to pick just one, I’d go with the color. It’s not commonly worn (like black or red or champagne), and it sets off her peaches and cream coloring beautifully. The color alone made her stand out in the sea of beautiful gowns. Emma Stone also went with an unusual color, but although it was eye-catching, it was not as flattering with her coloring, so was not as successful.

A single pop of bright or contrasting color (costumers refer to this as a “poison color”) can move a look from boring to spectacular. Reese Witherspoon’s contrasting black bands break up the expanse of white and define and slim her waist. Nicole Kidman’s simple column was a bland color with a straight silhouette, a plain neckline, and only a single high slit to add visual interest, until you add a bright crimson belt, then POW! You have a Look with a capital L.

Keira Knightley’s maternity gown shows how an otherwise dull look can be saved by spectacular fabric. This beautifully embroidered fabric added texture, color, sheen, and subtle geometric lines to a gown style that could have been boring, but instead was interesting and sweet and highlighted her expectant glow. Similarly, the touch of embroidery on Kerry Washington’s peplum brought interest and focus to an otherwise bland look.

Any guesses at to what fashion misstep I’m going to call Lady Gaga out on? Cleaning the oven in red gloves, anyone? Elbow-length red satin gloves would have saved the outfit; these weird flared things practically had a “Rubbermaid” label sticking out of them.

Jennifer Lopez’s “single feature” was not so much the feature itself, but the constancy of that feature: deep, cleavage-baring V-necks. I liked this gown; I even liked the deep V. But when every single gown that you wear has exactly the same feature, it’s time to try something new and different.

Lupita N’yongo’s gown’s most memorable feature was that it was made out of thousands of pearls! This gave her gown a fascinating texture, and created beautiful eye-catching lines all over. Rosamund Pike’s striking scarlet gown used contrasting textures to flatter: lace in the body of the gown with smooth satin inserts at the waist, making her already tiny waist seem even tinier. Subtle but effective.

So what are the details that can make or break a gown? A single statement accessory or details; interesting fabrics, textures, and seaming; effective use of a poison color; flattering your figure; and keeping details like hair and accessories in the same style as your gown. And if all else fails, get someone with a nice smile and good fashion sense to stay at your side and you’re sure to be a winner. 

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Lent Photo a Day: Covenant

Covenant: noun

1.  An agreement, usually formal, between two or more persons to do or not do something specified.
2.  Law. An incidental clause in such an agreement.
3.  Ecclesiastical. A solemn agreement between the members of a church to act together in harmony with the precepts of the gospel.
4.  Bible. a) The conditional promises made to humanity by God, as revealed in Scripture; b) the agreement between God and the ancient Israelites, in which God promised to protect them if they kept His law and were faithful to Him.
5. Law. a) A formal agreement of legal validity, especially one under seal; b) an early English form of action in suits involving sealed contracts.

The word “covenant” is a pretty serious word. It involves agreements made under the law and under the eyes of God – indeed, it can involve agreements and promises made by God and between God and His people. A covenant is a promise that is formal, public, and enforceable. A covenant is a promise that must be kept.

Another unique feature of a covenant is that it often involves some kind of sign, or seal, or symbol that finalizes the agreement. In ancient times, a covenant was sealed with wax and a signet ring. In the Biblical story of Noah’s ark, God placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of his covenant with Israel never again to destroy the earth in a flood. In modern times, the covenant with which most people are most familiar is wedding vows, and the symbol most often associated with that covenant is a wedding ring.

My wedding ring, much like my wedding covenant, is simple in a way that belies the complexity that it represents. My ring is a plain band, unadorned with precious stones or any detailing other than a simple engraving: “HFP to SJM, April 12, 2008.” My wedding covenant can be summed up in a single sentence: “I will love you until we are separated by death.” That statement encompasses for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, forsaking all others, and all the other phrases that were part of our wedding vows. The ring, and the sentence, is a simple representation of a far greater, more complex, and more profound covenant.

As you can guess from the date, the ring in the photograph above is not my wedding ring. The complete inscription reads, “E.R. to M.R.G., Nov. 26th, 1902.” This ring was given to my great-grandmother, Martha R. Grominger, by her bridegroom, Emil Riesen, on their wedding day. Her ring, like mine, was a simple representation of a complex covenant. To me, it is a representation of a beautiful history of fulfilled covenants in my family. My parents loved each other until they were separated by death. My grandparents on both sides loved each other until they were separated by death. My great-grandparents, all four sets of them, loved each other until they were separated by death. And I have every intention that my husband and I will love each other until we are separated by death.

Perhaps someday my great-granddaughter will look at my wedding ring and think about her own wedding covenant, and feel pride in how many generations of women – and men - have honored the covenant symbolized by these simple rings.


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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Celebrate

Celebrations of any kind, in my house, are nearly guaranteed to include one thing: champagne. More specifically, sabering champagne. I was introduced to the art of champagne sabering by my husband, who was introduced to it by his brother, who was introduced to it during his time working for LVMH, the producers of Moet champagne in France. And where better to learn about the art of sabering than in the place where the art itself was born, from the people who created it?

For those of you unfamiliar with the technique, it involves using the dull side of a heavy blade, such as a sturdy chef’s knife or an actual saber, to strike the neck of a champagne bottle at the point where the two halves of the glass are fused together, which causes the neck of the bottle to snap off with a satisfying pop. It’s exciting to watch, and it’s even more exciting to do (particularly the first time you try it). It’s a brief but impressive ceremony which lends a sense of grandeur and pomp to any celebration.

And isn’t that what celebrating is all about? Adding some grandeur and pomp, repeating a special tradition, linking to both the past and the future, as we recognize that a milestone of some kind has been reached? Human beings celebrate to help us remember, to show the importance of certain accomplishments, to share with others what we have done, to remind ourselves that we are moving forward.

We celebrate events that simply happen to us, such as birthdays and the beginning of a new year. We celebrate events that happened in the past, such as anniversaries and holidays. We celebrate achievements and accomplishments, such as promotions and new jobs and graduations. We celebrate events that we caused to happen, such as buying a house or having a baby or getting married. We celebrate ourselves, we celebrate our families, we celebrate our friends, we celebrate those who came before us. Human beings have a deep need to celebrate and to commemorate.

And in my house, that means champagne. 


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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Joy

Joy is something that children seem to experience much more often – and much more easily – than adults. It takes a truly unusual experience to bring true joy to my heart; my children draw pure joy from dozens of everyday experiences, every day.

In the past 24 hours, here are some – only some! – of the things that brought not just happiness, but true joy to my daughter’s heart, and joyful squeals to her lips – or, occasionally, the silent joy of wide-eyed wonder.
  • A cardinal came to the bird feeder.
  • I made her oatmeal for breakfast.
  • She fake-sneezed.
  • I took her picture.
  • Her brother shared his balloon with her.
  • Daddy let her climb into bed with him.
  • She found a beloved toy she had thought was lost.
  • The waitress brought her stickers.
  • She peed on the potty.
  • I put the princess blanket on her bed.
  • I got new glasses.
  • She discovered the “erase” part of a dry-erase board.

  • She found one last jellybean from Valentine’s Day.
  • We made hot chocolate.
  • Her brother let her play a Batman game on his Kindle Fire.
  • She danced in front of a mirror.
  • She put her Snow White dress on.
  • I let her eat her snack in the “reindeer barn” (a little cardboard house left over from Christmas).
  • She slid in her socks on the kitchen floor.
  • We played hide and seek and I “couldn’t” find her.

When did I stop finding joy in such simple things? When did I become so burdened with the cares of everyday life that I forgot to rejoice in a small sweet treat, a gift from a friend, a glimpse of nature, a new discovery? When did joy become hidden from me?

This Lenten season, I will try to shed my adult cares and find joy in the simple things of life, to see through a child’s eyes the fresh joy of living itself. I will actively seek it.


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Friday, February 20, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Alone

Alone. I vaguely remember that concept. Long ago, before I had children, I used to be alone sometimes. In fact, being an introvert, I used to be alone fairly often. I liked being alone. I like being alone. I just rarely get to be alone these days.

Alone is a concept that has negative connotations for many people. Synonyms for the word “alone” are often associated with unpleasantness: lonely, sole, loner, abandoned, isolated, desolate, solitary, forsaken, friendless, hermit, detached, deserted, forlorn. Who would voluntarily experience all those things? No-one wants to be lonely or friendless or abandoned. But there are times when even the most gregarious of us needs a moment to be alone, to be solo, to be single, to be separate, to be apart. Sometimes we each need to get away from everything around us, to close off the buzz of everyday life, to separate ourselves from outside influences and seek a moment of peace and clarity away from the presence of other people. We all need to be alone every now and then.

So when I need to be alone, I find a small sanctuary wherever I can. It may be at my kitchen table in the early morning before the rest of the family gets up. It may be a few stolen moments in the car as I head off to pick the kids up from school. Occasionally, in desperation, it’s behind a locked bathroom door. But my favorite alone place is my bathtub. 

I fill my tub with steaming water and scented bubbles. I turn off the lights and light a few candles. I put on some soft music. I might pour myself a glass of wine or a fancy cocktail. I’ll grab a favorite book. And then I’ll sink myself into a world of sensory pleasures, of calming scents and soothing sounds, of peace and tranquility, of distance from the sounds and stresses of life. Solitary. Isolated. Unaccompanied. Away.


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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lent Photo a Day: Look

This morning, I woke up before anyone else in the house was stirring. Normally I would have gone right back to sleep, or at least relaxed in bed for a while, but then I thought about this morning’s Photo a Day subject and decided I would take advantage of the quiet to take a few photos of the world outside my windows, which had been covered in a light blanket of snow overnight. I slipped on jeans and a sweater and tiptoed downstairs. Of course my first order of business was to make myself a cup of coffee.

But while it was brewing, I heard voices outside and peeked through the curtains to see a couple of my neighbors struggling to move their car, which was partially blocked by one of our cars. I threw on my coat and boots and called out to them that I’d come get it out of their way. I didn’t bother to scrape the windshield, since I only had to back it straight up and there was nothing behind me for a good 20 feet. After a quick chat through our rolled-down windows, agreeing how sick of winter we are and commiserating about the horrible commuting situation, we wished each other a good day, and she pulled out of the driveway while I began to pull the car back into its spot. But when I looked forward, all I could see was this. 

I was looking, but I wasn’t seeing. If I squinted, I could barely make out a tree off to the left, but directly in front of me, where I was heading, all I could see was a wall of white. I simply had to pull ahead gently, trusting to my memory of what was there and my instincts of how far I could safely go. I carefully eased forward those last few inches until I felt the resistance of the banked snow in front of my tires, and I knew I was safe.

Isn’t that a great metaphor for life? Even when you look, sometimes you just can’t see. You keep looking, peering past or through or around whatever it is that’s clouding your vision. You trust your own instincts to keep you safe, sometimes you ask others for external perspective to help guide you. You rely on memory and logic to help you get where you want to be, but in the end, sometimes you just need to keep looking as best you can and then move ahead anyway.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 Lent Photo a Day Challenge: Announce

Every now and then I like to challenge myself to blog every day for a month based on some online photo challenge. Since today is Ash Wednesday, I thought I’d take on a slightly different photo challenge for the 40 days of Lent. The concepts to be captured in this challenge are a bit more abstract, truly more “challenging,” than photo challenges I’ve done in the past. Here is the list, by date (from

18 – Announce
19 – Look
20 – Alone
21 – Joy
22 – Celebrate
23 – Covenant
24 – Path
25 – Remember
26 – Place
27 – Wait
28 – Powers

1 – Celebrate
2 – Bless
3 – Near
4 – Poor
5 – Follow
6 – Beloved
7 – Speak
8 – Celebrate
9 – Sabbath
10 – Knowledge
11 – Wise
12 – Stop
13 – Practice
14 – Search
15 – Celebrate
16 – Wilderness
17 – Endure
18 – Believe
19 – Light
20 – Place
21 – Still
22 – Celebrate
23 – Forgive
24 – Mercy
25 – Truth
26 – Seek
27 – Meditate
28 – See
29 – Celebrate
30 – Live
31 – Call

1 – Peace
2 – Breath
3 – Prosper
4 – Refuge
5 – Go

With today’s subject being “announce,” the first image that jumped into my head was of a row of heralds trumpeting, the shining brass bells of their horns raised high, blaring a joyful fanfare.

This particular bell belongs to a French horn, not a herald’s trumpet. It’s a bit battered, bearing dents and scratches earned through many years of use. The edge of the bell has lost its finish and has bits that have become ugly and crusty. And yet it can still call out a glorious announcement of something wonderful and exciting that is to come. Much like people, its outward looks do not reflect its potential for beauty and service. I am proud to use it to announce my intentions of taking up this challenge, because it is imperfect, just as I am. I can only hope that the humble efforts put forth by my battered self can serve to share some beauty, just as this battered horn shares a beauty other than its appearance. 

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Cooking with Kids

My kids love to help in the kitchen. Hardly a day goes by that my daughter doesn’t pull her little stepstool over to the counter next to me and ask, “What do we do now, Mama Chef?” At ages 3-1/2 and 5, my kids aren’t quite ready to do much real cooking on their own, but they love to help as much as they can. Here are a few of my favorite kid-friendly dishes that even the little ones can help with!

Scrambled Eggs
The first thing my son learned to do in the kitchen was to crack an egg. So, naturally, scrambled eggs is a dish that he loves to help prepare. I bring the egg carton over to the counter and tell him how many eggs we need, then he carefully counts them out and cracks them into the bowl. I help him add milk, salt, and pepper, then he whisks them up with a fork (I use a big bowl to help avoid spills). He butters the toast while I cook the eggs, and when they’re done he gets to make faces on his pile of eggs using Cheerios, sliced black olives, pepperoni, pieces of fruit, pretzel sticks, cheese, red hot candies, whipped cream, ketchup, and whatever else we have on hand.

Brownies (from a mix)
We provide a snack for coffee hour after church once a month or so, and my son loves to tell everyone that he made the brownies that we bring. As well as cracking the eggs (of course), his job is to read the directions and tell me how much of everything we need. I use a marker to draw a line on the glass measuring cup if he needs a little help with the water or oil, and if the recipe calls for butter, we count the tablespoon marks and use a butter knife to cut off the right-sized piece. He does the initial stirring (I taught him “clockwise” and “counterclockwise” while making brownies!) and count how many strokes we use, I help him scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula and give it a few more good mixes, then he finishes it up. He sprays the baking pan with non-stick spray, then I hold up the heavy glass bowl while he scrapes the batter into the pan. We practice “greater than” and “less than” as we set the oven temperature (“Which is hotter, 325 degrees or 350 degrees?”), then he sets the timer. When the brownies are all done and cooled, we cut them together and count how many brownies we made.

Meatloaf and Meatballs
A lot of people are grossed out by the feeling of raw ground meat in their hands, but I find that squishing very satisfying, and so do my kids. My son helps read the recipe and measure out the various ingredients, then we dig in with both hands to mix everything together. We taste the various spices and the breadcrumbs as we put them in, and talk about the flavors each one adds to the final product. We even talk about what we could use instead of certain ingredients: What if we were out of bread crumbs? What else do we have that’s in the grain group that’s kind of dry that we could substitute? (We came up with cereal, potato flakes, and crushed tortilla chips.) What could we use instead of ketchup? What else do we have that’s made from the same thing as ketchup? (Our answer was fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes, and salsa.)

Spreading filling on a sandwich is a slightly trickier skill than I first realized. It takes a bit of practice to get the knife at just the right angle so it pushes the filling onto the bread instead of scraping it off. Although peanut butter is a favorite, its stickiness makes it harder to spread, so try starting your kids spreading the jelly side while you do the peanut butter, or spreading mustard or mayo or butter on a cold cut sandwich, or spreading tuna or chicken salad. They can also practice cutting the sandwich in half or carefully lining up a cookie cutter to cut the sandwich into a shape. When they learn their shapes, you can challenge them to figure out how to try to cut the sandwich into rectangles or triangles. If you want to get really creative, let them choose their own sandwich fillings. My son has requested things as varied as chicken with lettuce and apples and a touch of mayo (surprisingly delicious) to bacon and cheese and grapes (not surprisingly, somewhat less successful). We practice nutrition by choosing a meat, a fruit or vegetable, and a dairy product to balance the grain of the bread.

Edible Playdough
Cooking doesn’t necessarily have to be food, although this playdough is perfectly edible. There are plenty of variations on the recipe, but I like to use one cup of creamy peanut butter, two cups of non-fat dry milk powder, and half a cup of honey. Kids learn different techniques for measuring different types of ingredients: peanut butter has to be smooshed into a measuring cup, milk powder needs to be shaken down until it’s level, and honey is a liquid that drizzles into the cup. You can talk about how there’s twice as much milk powder as there is peanut butter, and half as much honey. We discuss how adding a bit more or less of each ingredient would change the texture of the dough. Sometimes we make a hypothesis about it and then do an experiment to find out if our hypthesis was right! And of course, there’s plenty of fine motor skills and creativity involving the final product. You can also give the kids chocolate chips, jimmies, cereal, M&Ms, and other small edibles to decorate their artwork.

And besides all the skills mentioned above, cooking with kids helps teach them basic hygiene and food safety (my kids now run right to the bathroom to wash their hands whenever I call them into the kitchen to help me cook), healthy menu planning, reading, following directions, and math skills like fractions and units of measure. They’re more likely to try new foods if they helped to make them. You can use food to talk about geography (where do grapes come from?), anatomy (what part of the chicken did this come from?), and nutrition (why do I let you eat lots of fruit but candy is only a sometimes food?). Plus, it’s just plain fun to play around in the kitchen with your kids.

So…what do we do now, Mama Chef?

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