Monday, March 31, 2014

Forty Degrees and Sunburnt

That sums up my day yesterday.  I was bundled up (against the wind, mostly), with just my face uncovered, and I still got a sunburn.

I went to see DS2 in the regional concrete canoe competition, this year held on a little inlet of Lake Erie down near where Michigan and Ohio meet.  The day started out so cold and windy--temperatures were still below freezing at 9 a.m.-- there was a little problem with ice forming on the canoes.  But the sun was out.  That should have been a clue to me of what was going to happen.  After all, I had been to two previous canoe Regionals, in 2012 and 2013, and came home from both of those with sunburns.  Somehow, though, I was too concerned with keeping my hat on my head, my gloves on my hands, my coat zipped to my chin, and blankets wrapped around my legs while seated, that I didn't even think about sun block.  Not that it would have done me any good to think about it, because I hadn't even brought it with me.  Nope, my sunblock was still at home, in the same bathroom drawer it has been in since September.

Oh well.  If there was any doubt about Spring being here--last week's high temps didn't really hit 40 but maybe twice--that doubt is gone.  Sun burn = Spring.

I may have left the competition with a red face, but that was totally sun burn and not at all out of embarrassment.  DS2's team did very well, taking first place in 3 out of 4 categories, and being named overall winner of the competition.  So they will be traveling to Nationals once again, being held near Pittsburgh, PA this June.

I took lots of pictures over the course of the two days I observed the competition, but of course most of them clearly show the faces of people, so for the sake of privacy, I won't be able to share those with readers of this blog.

There are a few I can share, the more distant or less recognizable ones.  And the couple pictures I took of swans that were also there during yesterday's races.  The ironic thing about the swan pictures is that I took them because I so rarely see swans--there really aren't any near this little place here being as far inland as it is.  Except last night.  After spending all day way over on the corner of the state that touches Lake Erie, I got about five miles from home and saw roughly three dozen swans in a flooded out field.  Stopped for the night during their migration, I guess.  Unfortunately my camera was packed away out of reach when I saw all of those swans, which would have made much more interesting pictures just because of sheer numbers.

Anyway, the swan pictures:

lone swan

pair of swans

the pair in flight

Plus a zoomed in picture of a boat I spied way out on Lake Erie: 

Canoe race picures:

First, the first heat of mens' sprint right after the start whistle, DS2's team's boat out in the lead

The first heat of the co-ed sprint, DS2 is the paddler second from front.  Team is paddling so fast they made a wake.  

Final (and championship) heat of the co-ed sprint, DS2 in the bow this time, his team rounding the first buoy of four they had to race to and turn around.

DS2 also paddles in the mens' endurance race, in which they have to do a slalom course around seven buoys in 100 meters, then sprint 200 meters down to an eighth buoy, turn around that, and sprint 300 meters back to the finish buoy.  The boats are sent in a staggered start, only one boat on the slalom portion at a time, and the team to complete the course in the fastest time wins.  This picture is him and his teammate, poised at the start, waiting for the signal to begin.

They did win.  In fact, his boat/team won every single race.  I can't wait to see them again at the National competition.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Challenge #12: Have Breakfast For Dinner

DD1 inspired this week's challenge when she requested that sometime soon we have pancakes for dinner.  She claims to be tired of 'normal' dinner fare, and since she has to leave for work about 6:30 a.m. on weekdays, she just eats quick breakfasts most of the week.

What she is looking for is the all out pancakes, sausages, juice, kind of meal.  What you choose to make for your breakfast for dinner could be something totally different.  Maybe you prefer waffles and Canadian bacon.  Or biscuits and gravy.  Maybe warm oatmeal with fruit is your style.  Scrambled eggs loaded with everything under the sun (an easy way to make 'omelets' without having to master flipping them).  Or fresh from the oven cinnamon rolls.

Whatever your craving is, make that your Breakfast For Dinner menu.  Do something different for one night.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

New Friends

This winter, I participated in something new.  New for me, anyways.  It was a Knit-A-Long, and has been going on for several years before I even tried knitting.

Last year, when I first started knitting lessons, I shyly added myself to an internet forum of knitters.  They are a subgroup of an online forum I have been a member of for many years, and so I all ready knew some of them to be very helpful and friendly people.  At the time I was learning knit from purl, they were organizing that winter's KAL (as Knit-A-Longs are known as).  I watched as they, as a group, chose a sock pattern to knit--the entire group doing same pattern--and were given the name and shoe size of a participant to knit socks for.

It looked like great fun.  The camaraderie was enticing, and seeing so many people of differing levels of knitting experience all sharing the highs and lows of creating a pair of socks was encouraging.  It actually gave me the guts to say to my knitting instructor, three months after I had knit my very first stitch, "I want to knit socks now".

Socks were actually the reason I decided to take knitting lessons in the first place, but I thought they were difficult and mysterious, and something you had to be a really experienced knitter to create.  However, the ladies of the KAL claimed to not all be super experienced with knitting, let alone sock making, and they seemed to be doing all right.

My knitting instructor gave me a very basic sock pattern to follow, showed me how to get going on tiny (size 2) double pointed needles, and the rest is history.  I made six pair of socks before the end of 2013!  I love knitting socks.

So, this year, when it came time for the sock KAL sign-up, I put my name on the list.  I submitted pattern suggestions, and voted for which design should be this year's chosen sock pattern for the KAL.  I received two swap partners: one whom I would knit a pair of socks for, and the other who would knit a pair of socks for me.  The format of the KAL is person A knits for person B, person B knits for person C, etc until the final person on the list knits A's socks.

We exchanged particulars, like if we have favorite colors, or allergies to certain fibers, and what size shoe we wear.  Then the knitting began.  For two months, the group knitted.  And shared 'oops' moments where things had to be torn out and redone.  We helped each other through tough spots, both in the sock pattern, and in life.  We made new friends.

At the end, with socks finished, we mailed them off to our receiving partner, along with little gifts in addition to the hand knit socks.  We excitedly posted pictures of our feet in their new socks, and whatever other goodies were packaged up with the socks.  And let me tell you, these are a generous bunch of knitters!

It was a very rewarding thing to be a part of.  Not only did I get to look forward to receiving a custom made pair of socks at the end, I got to plan out what sort of surprise goodies I wanted to send off with the socks I was making.    To think of a gift when none was expected was a new experience for me, as usually I get hints and downright requests for what people in my life want me to give them (another post, another time, on family members who are a bit demanding, at least in my eyes. . . )

Here is a picture of the socks I made, in purple, as that is the favorite color of the lady I made them for.  Not pictured is the pound of homemade toffee I sent along with them, or the calendula seeds I also included (from my calendula plants, the petals of which can be used as dye).

And here is a picture of the socks I received, all the way from Nova Scotia (!!), made from cotswold sheep wool, from sheep living nearby.  That, in itself is so cool that I can't even express how special it makes these socks to me.  Not to mention how lovely they feel on my feet, so soft and cushion-y.  The maker of these socks also sent me some soap she had made, as well as a skein of hand-dyed yarn.

The sock pattern came from Ravelry and is called Waterfall, if you would like to try knitting yourself a pair.  Or, maybe find a group of knitters and organize your own KAL.  You never know, you might end up with some new friends. At the very least, you'll have some really nice socks, every stitch of which was knit just for you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Too Old?

My mare is 25 this year.  For a horse, that's pretty old.  I've debated for the last couple of years, especially since my riding has been sporadic at best, and non-existent at worst, if I should just consider her retired.  She has lost her conditioning with the lack of consistent work for several years running.  And, she's starting to develop a little of the old-horse sag that they all get sooner or later, if they live into their twenties.

Yet, she is in good physical shape for her age.  She's a nice, solidly built horse (a nice way to say, not all that refined, and not all that pretty when she's just standing still).  Never had a lame day in her life.

Add to that the fact that she seems to miss the one-on-one work we used to do.  Being fed is great with her, and being groomed she likes too.  Yet, after she's fed, and after she's groomed, and after I've turned her outside for her daily fresh air and sunshine, she looks at me with an expression that seems to say "Is that it?  Don't you want to do anything with me?"

A lot of people retire their horses once the horse hits the late teens, or the magic number of twenty.  So, most people I've mentioned her age to, tell me not to worry about finding time to ride her anymore.

But then there's that face that greets me every week day.  Those eyes that watch me come, and go, and not do much with her.  We used to be quite a team, she and I, before a series of life interruptions threw my riding schedule all to heck.  We used to dance together, as dressage horse and rider do when they click and are in sync.  I miss it.  I've been getting the feeling that she misses it too.  That she isn't ready to be retired.

So, I decided she won't be.  Not yet.  I'm going to start working her regularly again.  I'll let her determine how strenuous of work I ask from her.  If she holds up, we'll do all the stuff we used to.  If she seems to be unusually stiff or sore, I'll back it down.  Maybe we'll do fancy dressage stuff.  Maybe she'll get a second career as a low-key trail riding mount, and I'll learn how to ride to watch the scenery go by instead of always riding with a goal of improving our skills.  That will be up to her, and her body.

Meanwhile, I'll be looking forward to this sight on a regular basis:

The Mare, untacked and in her post-workout cooler, looking at me with the look that says "Wasn't that a good ride we just had?"

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Getting Ready For Clothesline Season

I bet you've never heard that expression before: clothesline season.  In truth, I haven't either.  I might have just made it up.  What I'm referring to, of course, is the months of the year where the weather is warm enough to hang clothes out to dry on a clothesline.  Some people do it year round, letting their wet, clean laundry freeze dry.  Me, I tend to hang mine when the weather is at least fifty.  Roughly late March to late October or early November.

Anyway, despite our currently below-freezing high temperatures, I know that soon the weather will turn and I will be once again saving money on propane (I have a gas dryer) by hanging my laundry outside to dry.  I mean, the geese are flying north in numbers now, warmer weather can't be too far away.

one of several groups of geese spotted over this little place here in recent days

Which means it is time to check my clotheslines, tighten up the sagging ones, replace any that are too worn to hold weight this year, and get ready for warm sunny clothes-drying days.

In my preparations, I realized that the bag I have used for innumerable years to hold my clothes pins had developed a 'leak' late in the season last year.  The fabric has become so worn that holes formed in crucial areas, and clothes pins were falling out.  Time for a new bag!

Being frugal, I of course decided that I needed to make a bag rather than buy a bag to keep my clothes pins in.  I looked at several online tutorials, trying to get an idea of what style of bag I wanted to make.  I knew I wanted it to have two pockets to hold the pins, like my old well-used bag, rather than one big pocket (which tends to droop, especially when it is holding as many pins as I have).  I also wanted to use materials I all ready had on hand rather than buy any new supplies for the creation.

What I finally went with was a heavy-duty hanger than came home with a clothing purchase from Walmart earlier this month (on clearance, of course), a large piece of fabric I had bought for something like a quarter or fifty cents at a yard sale a few years ago, and a general construction idea taken from a couple tutorials on making clothes pin bags from pillowcases or towels.

My finished product looks like this:

hanger for hanging bag in reach on clothesline, I can
slide it down line as I pin up the clothes

close up of one pocket, with pins;
also shows decorative stitching I used to embellish it

Considering that the hanger came free with the shirt that was on it, the fabric cost me maybe fifty cents, the thread is a penny or two, and the chicken buttons were bought in an assortment of buttons (quart sized bag full of various buttons for $2.50 at Goodwill), the whole project has a cost of less than a dollar.  I expect to get at least ten years of use out of my new clothes pin bag.  Not a bad investment.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Tap Tap

I've been waiting for the weather to turn into syrup making weather: where the days are consistently above 40 degrees and the nights are below freezing.  So far, we haven't had that happen more than two or three days in a row, then we are right back to highs below freezing and night-time lows downright frigid.  The sap doesn't run when it's that cold.  And the holes bored into the maple trees only stay good for about six weeks before they heal over to the point where sap no longer comes out.  So you don't want to tap too early, before the weather stabilizes for a good sap flow.

Being that the spring equinox has arrived, and that in past years, I was always tapping by the second week of March, and that we had three days of roughly 40-ish weather in the forecast, I went ahead and tapped maple trees in the woods.

The field is in the process of thawing, and not navigable by tractor currently, so I had to carry everything out by hand, and get myself there on foot, but I did it.

not enough snow for snowmobiling, 
and too soft underneath for the tractor

 Milk jugs are once again suspended from tree trunks at this little place here.

plenty of snow in the woods still, 
I was walking on about 8-10" of snowpack to get to the maples

Now we just need some nice sunny, warm days, and the sap will run well.  The jugs will fill up.  And I will haul sap in 5-gallon buckets through the field (most likely on foot) back to the house, where the turkey fryer-cum-sap boiler will be set up in the garage.  Each 5-gallon bucket of sap weighs about forty pounds, making sap hauling a good workout.

I fear it is going to be a short sap run this year.  The sap is only good for making syrup until the buds break open on the maple trees, usually by mid-April.  Maybe this year's colder weather will delay bud-break.  Or maybe it won't.  The trees are responding to the increased amount of daylight, and not just the temperatures.  Otherwise the buds would still be as tiny as they were in February, when we also had daytime highs in the twenties and thirties, and nights cold.  Like now.  Tomorrow's high temp is supposed to be 27 degrees.  Monday's 31.  But on Tuesday, well, things warm up again and sap should run.  And by next weekend, we might hit 60.  Hitting 60 will definitely open those buds.

It will be interesting to see how much sap I end up with.  I have plenty of syrup down in the cellar to get us through another year.  I would like to try my hand at making maple sugar, though, and had planned on experimenting with this year's sap run for that.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Challenge #11: For The Birds

A whole lot of migratory birds have begun showing up at this little place here this week: robins, kildeer, hordes of starlings, sandhill cranes, even a few early turkey buzzards.

In lieu of that fact, and knowing that even more birds will be arriving in the next few weeks, this week's challenge is dedicated to the avian population.

Here's the challenge:  Help the birds.

If you are inclined to feed them, make sure your feeders are clean and in working order.  Then fill them up.

Personally, I don't feed the birds.  I used to, but it seemed to attract more aggressive feeders that didn't need help, than birds that were short on natural food supply.  So I stopped.  Interestingly enough, after a year or so of not feeding the birds, I noticed an increase in the number and variety of birds around this little place here, all finding natural food sources.

So, I won't be helping the birds by feeding them.  Instead, I am going to help by providing some nesting material.

Nesting material is mostly the stuff you were going to toss in the trash anyway: animal hair that has been shed (such as horse or dog), lint from the filter on your dryer, stray pieces of yarn or thread from needlework projects, maybe the odd bit of twine or string that showed up in your home somehow.

Those little bits and clumps can be put into a mesh bag, such as an onion bag or orange bag, and tied outside somewhere for the birds.  They will find it after a day or two, and pluck their choice bits from what you have supplied, to use to construct or line their nests.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Rainy Day. . .

There is a lot going on at this little place here right now, but not much to talk about, really, which is why I haven't posted lately.  I'm busy, with stuff that's not yet very noteworthy (but some should be in the near future--I'll let you know when the time comes).

Seeds are started and under lights in the study.  Tomatoes, peppers, artichokes (my gardening experiment this year), broccoli, basil.  I still need to get some cabbage seeds going, but not as many as last year.  LOL.

Our firewood pile is nearly used up.  It has been a long, cold winter as far as wood usage goes.  We have a whole lot more cut, but right now it's stranded out in the woods.  The snow melted, mostly, so retrieval by snowmobile and dog sled are out of the question.  The field is a bit too mucky to drive the tractor out there.  Which means that lately DH has been eyeing the large pile of unsplit wood near the firewood stack (if you can even call it a stack anymore, at knee-high) and looking for chunks that are small enough to fit through the door of the wood boiler.  I'm thinking he's going to need to haul the splitter out of the barn and split a cord or so to keep us from having to switch over to propane heat before the end of April gets here and we can reasonably turn off the heat system all together.  There is propane in the tank, which is a small 300-gallon one, but it is supposed to last until June when propane prices are really low before I call for a refill.  It won't last to the end of April if we have to start heating with it.  I'm not about to pay top dollar for my fuel; I'll drag the splitter out myself first!  I've got that tank planned for a once-a-year fill-up, in summer, when demand for fuel is low.

Things are thawing out.  Mud abounds, interspersed with new snow that only lasts a day or two before melting away.  Last week we got about 8" in a twelve hour period, and all our vehicles ended up covered in gray salty grime within 24 hours just from the little bit of driving we do.

Today it is gloomy, gray, rainy.  But I'm actually glad for a rainy day, because that rain is saving me money: FREE CAR WASH!!  The Suburban is all black and shiny again now.  :0)  Well, it will be as soon as the rain washes off the mud splashes it incurred when I drove up the driveway today after working at the horse farm.

There will be a temporary lull in blogging while I work on tapping trees (finally, a spell of weather where the sap should run!), doing some planning for a business start up this summer, try to wrap up my 'employment' down at the horse farm (including train my replacement if the owner gets around to finding someone before my chosen last day of work), and doing all the myriad other tasks of daily life at this little place here.  I'll still post the Friday challenges, but for a little while I can't promise daily posts.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Making Lunch Meat

Buying lunch meat can be expensive.  Not to mention all the 'extra' ingredients it has other than meat and spices.  The sodium solutions, the nitrates and nitrites, the long multi-syllable words that you can't pronounce. . .

At this little place here, we rarely buy meats from the deli (or deli section of the store) to make sandwiches out of.  Instead, I have learned a few alternative ways to get my lunch meats.

One way, and the first way I did it, was to buy a large hunk of precooked and seasoned meat at a store such as Gordon Food Services.  A 5-pound smoked turkey breast, or a 6-pound boneless smoked Virginia ham, which I then took home and sliced as thinly as I could with my electric knife.  Put into quart-sized freezer bags holding approximately a pound each, I could put one bag in the fridge, and the rest in the freezer to take out as needed.  This cut the cost per pound of lunch meat roughly in half compared to buying it all ready sliced.

I did this for several years, one of which DH bought me a small electric meat slicer to make my cutting easier and more uniform.

Then we tried raising turkeys for the first time, and I suddenly had skinless boneless turkey breasts for the cooking.  I discovered that I could roast them pretty much the same way I do a whole turkey (melted butter, salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and rubbed sage) in my oven, and then slice them with the meat slicer.  This made turkey lunch meat even cheaper!

Soon I started to experiment with homegrown hams, chicken breasts, and beef roasts in addition to the turkey breasts.  I couldn't smoke them, but I could marinate, brine, or season them, roast them in the oven, then slice and package just like the precooked ones I'd been buying at Gordon's.

One of these days DH will get around to building the smoker he's been talking about (and intermittently designing) for about five years now.  Then I will try my hand at making smoked lunch meats.

An easy way to get started in saving money on lunch meat if you don't have a meat slicer (mine was pretty cheap, about $30 I believe) or an electric knife, is to buy spiral sliced hams on sale and then just use a regular steak knife to cut the slices from where they are attached to the bone.  Then you can save the bone for other things, like making split pea soup or bean soup.

Lunch meat.  Another one of those things that you can learn to make, and make for cheaper than buying it all ready made for you.

the slicer

hold the roast in front of the blade. . . 

. . . and lunch meat comes out the back!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Challenge #10: Make Pie

Say what?  Make pie?  If you've never done it before, you are probably reading this, shaking your head, and saying "Nope, I don't think so."

But wait a minute!  Pie does not have to be hard.  You can buy a premade crumb crust (graham cracker, cookie, etc), a package of cook n' serve chocolate pudding mix, and a can of whipped cream, and very easily have pie.  Or, you can buy a premade pizza crust, a jar of sauce, a package of pepperoni, and a bag of shredded cheese and have pie (because remember, pizza is a type of pie).

However, if you are a more experienced cook, you don't get off so easily. No, if you have made a pie before, from scratch, I want you to do so again.

What kind of pie?  That is up to you.  Pizza.  Quiche (which is known as 'egg pie' at this little place here).  Apple.  Banana cream (DH's request, so now you know what pie I'll be making for this challenge).  Chocolate.  Grasshopper.  Mississippi mud.  Cherry.  Pecan.  Whatever your heart desires.

Why pie for this week's challenge?  Well, cuz we have a lot of math and science geeks in our family, and today is March 14th.  3.14 = pi.

Get it?  ;0)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Teaching Kids to Do Laundry

As my kids became teenagers, I decided they needed to learn to do laundry.  To minimize the chance that whining and fighting over this chore would occur, I assigned each kid a day of the week in which to do their own laundry.  (No way were my clothes getting ruined by amateurs, lol).  It also was a great opportunity for the kids to learn cause and effect:  if they didn't wash their clothes, they soon ran out of clean clothes to wear!  Seemed foolproof to me.

Enter the daughter who didn't care if she wore dirty clothes.  Hmm, this one definitely did not get my Type A personality.  It bothered me more than it bothered her that there were no more clean underwear in her dresser.  I almost broke down and washed them for her.  Almost.  But I didn't.  Instead I put on my Mean Mom guise and ordered her to gather her dirty unmentionables, as well as her dirty mentionables, and put them into the washer immediately. No reading of books, no watching of TV, no time on the computer, no talking to friends on the phone, no nothing until that washer was chugging away with her clothing in it. Not even any dinner.  A firm, guiding hand, and she was on her way to clean clothes.

Enter the son who thought he could follow in his father's footsteps.  When he objected to doing his own laundry, I asked just how he expected to have clean clothes when he went away to college.  His response:  "I figure I'd use Dad's method."  To which I reminded him he wouldn't be attending college close enough to bring his dirty laundry home to his mother on weekends (Yes, DH did do this his first several years of college, and yes, his mother did wash them for him while he was out having fun with his hometown buddies!).  Son replied "No, I'll just find a girlfriend to wash them for me."  Touche, child of mine.  Yes, I did wash DH's laundry for him after we started dating (mainly to keep him in town with me on weekends!!! instead of 200 miles away).  Quick thinking my way out of that one, I reminded the delusional child that this was not the early 1990s, and that he would be attending an engineering school, where most certainly any female student he should date would not be willing to do wash his clothes for him.  Liberated females of a different generation, they would be.  Shortly after that conversation he grudgingly made his way to the laundry room, read the chart I'd thoughtfully prepared on how to wash different types of laundry, and wonder of wonders, loaded the washing machine with soap and his own clothing!

Long winded illustrations just to say that when you start your kids doing their own laundry they will most likely balk.  They will wear every item they own until there is nothing clean left.  Then they will try to wheedle their way into getting you to wash it for them.  Be firm, parents!!  This is a learning opportunity.  This is a lesson in self-sufficiency and a door to adulthood.  Make them wash their own clothes.

Laundry, after all, isn't extremely difficult.  Show them how to sort the dirty items into piles that get  the same water temperature and type of washing (delicates, knits, normal stuff, heavy duty stuff such as jeans and towels).  Write it down and tack it to the wall in the laundry area.  Show them how to measure the soap and bleach and fabric softener (if you use it) into the washing machine.  Write it down.  Show them how to use the dryer, and where to find the dryer sheets.  Show them how to clean the lint trap. Write it down.  Show them how to line dry or dry flat the items that can't be dried in the dryer.  Write this down too.

Then stand back, and let them fly!  And, if you have to next week, put on your drill sergeant hat, make them gather their dirty clothes and take them to the washer again, standing by to insure they do this task for themselves.

They can do it.  They will do it.  And you will someday be blessed to have college-aged offspring who don't bring their dirty clothes home to you on weekends.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Probably Couldn't Do That Again If I Tried

Subtitled:  I Threw My Mother Down The Drain!

While making waffles yesterday, I realized the jar of syrup in the fridge was nearly empty.  And I remembered seeing another jar of syrup in the pantry.  So, rather than go all the way to the cellar for a new jar of syrup, I grabbed the one from the pantry.

Now, let me back up a little bit.  A lot bit, actually.  The jar in the pantry?  It was put there at the end of last syrup season.  About eleven months ago.  And when I put that jar in the pantry, I did so because it was not filled all the way to the top, and I had capped it with a plastic screw cap instead of a canning jar lid and ring.  Then I had put it into the pantry with the intent of using it as soon as the then open jar of syrup in the fridge got used up.

Eleven months ago.  We've gone through several jars of syrup (from the cellar) since then.  Obviously I forgot that I had that not-quite-full jar of syrup (unsealed, since it didn't have a proper canning lid on it) in the pantry to use.

When I took it out of the pantry yesterday, I could see it had a scum floating on top of the syrup.  But never fear!  Syrup does not spoil, because of the high sugar content.  All I needed to do was skim the scum layer, put the syrup into a pot, and heat it to a rolling boil.  Then it would be good as new.

However, when I stuck a spoon into the jar to remove the scum with, I was surprised to see that the entire layer of scum held together and came off in one scoop.  Usually with mold, which is what typically forms on syrup in storage for a long time, when you put a spoon in to scoop with, the mold breaks up around it and you have to carefully get every little blob.  It does not come off in a gooey sheet.

But that is what I had on my spoon, and that is what I tossed into the drain of my kitchen sink.  And as it was going into the drain, I thought "That looks like mother!"

Mother being what forms on homemade vinegar.  Mother being what has eluded me the couple of times I have tried to make vinegar from fruit peels and cores during canning season.  As a result, I have, so far, been unable to make my own vinegar.

Even as I was thinking about mother, I dumped the rest of the contents of the jar--the syrup--into a small sauce pan to heat it up.  Then, as I went to turn on the burner under the pan, I caught a whiff of, not syrup, but vinegar.


Hmmm.  Could syrup, improperly stored as it had been, with air in the jar and a lid that wasn't sealed, and held at fluctuating room temperature (sometimes up to the high 80's during the summer since we do not have air conditioning at this little place here), turn into maple vinegar?  Was there such a thing?

Yes.  Yes, there was such a thing.  A quick internet search confirmed that maple vinegar was not a figment of my imagination.  But could I have inadvertently made some?

Yes, yes I could.  In fact, I had.  What I had in my pot was not syrup.  It was maple vinegar.  And what I had thrown down the drain, was the coveted mother.  The magic ingredient that would have made it so simple for me to make future batches of vinegar.  Drat!

Apparently maple vinegar can be used in the same way as malt vinegar.  What I had in my little sauce pot was not to be boiled, it was to be saved just as it was.  I returned it to a clean jar, put on a new lid, and put it in the cupboard with my other (store bought) vinegars.

Then I had to go down to the cellar to fetch a sealed jar of maple syrup to go with our waffles.

My goodness, I can't believe I made vinegar without even intending to.  I probably couldn't make vinegar again if I tried.  Especially not after throwing my mother down the drain!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

I Found It!

Late last summer, my waffle iron died.  Well, to tell the truth it didn't fully give up the ghost, but when the outside of it got extremely hot, it started humming loudly, and I got a faint whiff of burning electrical, I yanked the plug out of the outlet and decided it was time to get a new waffle iron.

It was old.  How old, exactly, I do not know.  Older than myself, anyway. Being shiny chrome, and given the font of the owners manual, I'm guessing early 1960's at the youngest. It came to me in the early 1990s, when my grandparents sold off their rural acreage and were moved into a condo near my uncle in Ohio.  It was one of those appliances that Grandma had rarely used, and it was still in very good condition despite probably being thirty years old at the time. She didn't have room for it in the condo, so she gave it to me because in all the family, I am the only one who cooks much.

it used to have two handles,
the right one fell off in the last 7-8 years

I have used it well over the years.  So well, my kids never ate an Eggo at home.  In fact, they were astonished to find out, well into their school years, that you could buy frozen premade waffles at the grocery store!

It was with a heavy heart that I retired my beloved waffle iron last year.  We went about a month with no waffles for breakfast.  We missed waffles.  I mourned the death of my old waffle iron.  And since then, I have been searching for its replacement.  I did not want one of those waffle makers that makes one huge Belgian waffle at a time.  No, I don't care for Belgian style waffles.  I like my waffles square, and thin.  Crispy. Just like Grandma used to make.  ;0)

Do you know how hard it is to find a square, thin waffle iron these days?  Pretty dang hard.  Apparently today's chef likes single fat waffles with big dents in them.  Big dents to fill with ten ton of butter and syrup.  But that wasn't what we wanted.  We wanted multiple waffles, with shallow dents, dents that only held enough syrup to give the waffle a faintly sweet maple-y flavor, not totally cover up the lovely flavor of the waffle itself.

I finally found one, in February, that is nearly identical to the one Grandma gave me.  The new one is a different brand, and a little smaller.  It makes four square waffles instead of six rectangular ones. But otherwise, it is the same.  It has removable, reversible plates, and is called a 'grill, griddle and waffle maker'.

My new waffle iron arrived on Thursday.  As you can see, we gave it a test run this morning.  It works great.  Thin, crispy, non-round waffles, just like we're used to!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Challenge #9: Go Somewhere!

The local colleges, both community and state university, are on Spring Break this week.  A lot of the college kids have gone somewhere, either home to see family and old friends, or to warmer sunnier destinations. A break from their classes, a break from the winter doldrums.

Which gave me the idea for this week's challenge.  Go Somewhere!

Now, I don't mean on a week-long vacation that includes hotel stays and lots of money.  Nope, I have more in mind the local and cheap kind of going somewhere.  Check out what is going on within an hour's drive of where you live.  Find something you are interested in going and seeing, or doing, and then make a plan to go there.

For instance, after a brief internet search, here is what I found going on within an hour's drive of this little place here for March 7 (today) through next Friday, March 14th.

  • several plays at community and professional theaters
  • a talk about raising urban chickens
  • a seminar by Temple Grandin
  • the annual Michigan Horse Council Horse Expo
  • a seminar about the safety of vaccines
  • a gardening workshop
  • a Home & Garden Expo
  • several free or low cost concerts featuring classical, jazz and blues music
  • a workshop that teaches you how to juggle (!!)
  • several band concerts
  • swing dancing
  • a performance by a symphony orchestra
  • a free class on home decorating
  • a class on meditation
  • several toastmasters meetings
  • an indoor farmers' market
  • several art exhibits
  • a class that teaches you how to play the ukulele
  • a library used book sale
  • a ceramic workshop that teaches you how to mold clay
  • a free workshop on how to buy a home
  • a Women's Expo
  • a Mom to Mom sale
  • a beer festival
  • retirement planning seminar
  • workshop on how to research your genealogy
  • several computer classes
  • a euchre tournament
  • a fish fry dinner
  • a spaghetti dinner fundraiser
  • a wild game dinner
  • a panel discussion on fracking
  • a blood drive
  • a deer & turkey expo
  • a boat show
  • an rv and camper show

That doesn't even include the places that are open year round, like the hands-on science museum oriented toward children, or the historical museum near the state capitol.

Take a few minutes, do a little searching, and find something interesting nearby to go do.  Then give yourself a little break and go somewhere!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Waiting with Kids

When DS2 was just a baby, his health challenges began appearing.  Things that necessitated regular doctor visits, and added in specialists by the time he was nine months old.  Which meant I spent a lot of time in waiting rooms with DS1 (a preschooler), and DS2 (an infant), and through the years added in a few more infants (DD1, DD2, and even sometimes an infant nephew who was in my care on that particular day) on through toddlers and preschoolers and elementary age.  In fact, for nine years straight we had regular allergist visits, sometimes twice a week, often once a week, and sometimes every two or three weeks depending on which concentration of allergy serum DS2 was currently on and where in that bottle of serum he was.  At age four, DS2 could clearly pronounce very large words  that most preschoolers have never even heard; words like 'dermatologist' and 'allergist', 'nebulizer', 'prednisone', and 'albuterol'.

DS2's health care regimen gave me lots of opportunity to fine tune my parenting-at-the-doctor's-office skills.  In other words, how to alleviate the fears of a nervous child, how to deal with a child not feeling well while waiting, how to entertain a bored child, and how to keep a whole troupe of little ones in line so as to not get kicked out of the waiting room.

What about just hiring a baby sitter to deal with the extra ones and leave them at home while taking only the patient to the doctor?  I'm sure you are thinking this would have been an easy, logical thing to do.  Easy only when we lived near enough to relatives who didn't work during the day that it was possible to leave the children who didn't have an appointment behind.  Paying for a babysitter on a weekly basis just so that it was easier to go to the doctor for an hour or two, well, that was not in our budget. Especially back in the day when our yearly medical co-pays ran in the thousands. We have just about always had a very tight budget.   Kind of like tourniquet tight.  But that uber tight budget has kept us out of the poorhouse (or from defaulting on loans and other bills) more than once through the years.  It even allowed us to pay off DH's student loans three years early, while buying our first house in our mid-twenties, and adding babies #3 and #4 to the family. . . So hooray for tight budgets that made me haul all my progeny wherever I went.

Back to the subject at hand: how do you deal with taking children to the doctor's office?

Mostly you want to keep the kids busy in the waiting room.  For very little kids, who can't read or do math yet, there are several techniques I employed.  Probably the most popular one was playing I Spy.

No, not on a tablet.  Geez, tablets weren't around back when my kids were little.  I think I had two kids graduated from high school before tablets became mainstream.  We don't even own one now, let alone then.  We played I Spy the old fashioned way: with our eyes and mouths.  You can I spy a lot in a doctor's office waiting room.  Ceiling tiles, carpet, chairs and end tables, magazines and books, plants and planters, artwork on walls, other patients, shoes, coats, purses.  The possibilities are pretty endless.  Just try to spy something that isn't going to be gone before it can possibly be guessed, so fixtures are better than other people and their belongings, unless those other people are with you (as in your kids).

Don't be afraid to bring along a small tote bag with coloring books and crayons, or even blank paper and pencils or markers.  Let small children (and even not so small children) color and draw while waiting.  Better yet, get them interested in making tracings by laying the paper over a surface and rubbing crayons across it.  How does the tracing of a chair seat differ from that of a table?  Of a window blind (gently, please!)?  Of the carpeting (or floor tiles if you can find a waiting room that still is uncarpeted!)?  Of jeans?  Of t-shirts or sweaters?

As the kids get older, you can use the paper to play tic tac toe or connect the dots.  You can do math games.

Even if the waiting room doesn't have magazines at the children's reading level, you can still make use of them.  Give each kid a magazine and instruct them to find a certain something in it. Maybe it's a car, or a cat, or a dog, or a woman with blonde hair, or a house or a cake.  Again, endless possibilities, just tailor your search list to go with the focus of the magazine (as in, don't look for tractors in People magazine!)

Books are great.  Many doctor's offices stock a few books for little kids.  Or bring your own selection of picture books and easy readers along.  Older kids can be instructed to bring whatever they are reading at the time.  Here is where I say don't bring computerized entertainment.  Really.  Kids can read, they don't need to constantly be watching digitized images moving across a screen, or blowing up things in a game.  Besides, usually they don't want to watch or play with the sound off, and trust me, nobody else in the waiting room wants to hear it, no matter how many polite smiles they try to paste on their faces.

One doctor's office we went to on a regular basis (allergy shots) had a big chalkboard hung on the wall at elementary school age height.  My kids loved to play on that chalkboard.  Sometimes I would whisper a word in their ear and then they would draw that item for their siblings to guess, Pictionary-style.  Sometimes they would divide the chalkboard into sections, one for each child (and redividing if another youngster arrived in the waiting room) so each kid could do their own thing on their own piece of the board.  Sometimes we did math races, with me writing a math problem for each kid, then handing them the chalk and saying "Go!" Sometimes, when they were old enough to have a good grasp on spelling, we played hangman (which can also be done on paper).

To ease the anxiety of a kid seeing a new doctor for the first time, I would often distract them in the waiting room with a sort of guessing game.  We wouldn't know the answer until we went back to the exam room and met the doctor, but while waiting we would make a guess at what that doctor would look like when he or she walked through the door.  I would ask questions like "Is the doctor a boy or a girl?"  "Is the doctor tall or short?"  "Does the doctor  have hair (for a boy)?"  "What color hair do you think the doctor has?"  "What color eyes does the doctor have?"  And the child would get so caught up in the guessing game that they became excited to see the doctor, rather than apprehensive.  They wanted that doctor to come close enough to them to see if they were right.  Was the doctor a tall, thin man with grey hair, glasses and blue eyes?  Or was the doctor a woman with brown hair?

Waiting.  It's all in how you play it.  Interact with your kids.  Engage their minds.  Focus their attention on something other than how slowly the minutes of the wait are going by.  Ease their apprehension.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Big Picture

This week has been a toughie, and it's not even over with yet!  DH has been out of town on a work trip, the Suburban started making a strange and horrible noise and throwing codes so had to go to the repair shop, both of the cars the daughters drive are acting up, we all have places to be at overlapping times in different towns and coordinating vehicles between drivers is a feat. . . Not to mention the worry of 'what if' one of the cars decides to become incapacitated at some inopportune moment nowhere near home.  What if it does so with a teenaged driver?

Stress, stress, stress!!

But you know what?  It's really all little stuff.  Minor inconveniences.  Truly, it is.

For in the Big Picture, today is Ash Wednesday.  A reminder that my life is not so awful.  After all, my sins are forgiven.  Jesus suffered for them, He took them away, and continues to take them away even as I continue to fall into more sin with my weak human nature.

In the Big Picture, having to deal with single parenting and running the homestead while DH is away is just a minor inconvenience.  Having vehicles crap out on you, well, that's nothing, really, when you compare spending eternity in Hell.  My challenges, they are nothing compared to what Jesus went through for me, and for you, on the cross at Calvary.

Because of what He did for us, all the problems we face here on earth are just the Little Picture.  We get to leave them all behind someday, when we join Him in Heaven.

Focus on the Big Picture, and the Little Picture isn't so miserable after all.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Grocery Shopping With Kids, and Living to Tell About It.

This is possible.  Based on what I've seen at many grocery shopping trips in the last several years, you wouldn't think anyone can shop peacefully with kids in tow, but it is possible.  Someone ought to teach some of these parents how.  Enter the idea for this post.  Because it would be very rude, and probably counterproductive, to launch into instruction right in the middle of the grocery store while a frazzled mother or father is trying to sink into the floor embarrassed by the behavior of their whining, arguing, tantrum throwing offspring.

I confess that once mine hit school age, if I could grocery shop at 8:30 in the morning, after they were all safely at school, I did.  It was so much faster.  And so much less "Mom, will you buy me. . . ?"

Alas, that was only possible nine months of the year and only once child number four hit kindergarten.  Before that, and every summer until they were old enough to stay home alone, grocery shopping meant having a child or two or three or four in tow.  (While I might occasionally take an 'extra' child who wasn't birthed by me to the sports game of one of mine, or even a doctor or dentist appointment of one of mine, I drew the line at hauling other people's kids through the grocery store.)

Here are some tips and techniques for getting out alive, with your groceries and your children.

1.  Feed them first.  Never take a kid into the store hungry.  They are easily enough swayed by the power of suggestion--seeing all the goodies in the aisles. Taking them in hungry is just asking for trouble.

2.  Don't go at nap time, or immediately after school, if you can help it.  A tired child is like a time bomb.  It's going to go off, and you know what happens after that isn't going to be pretty.

3.  Other than samples offered by grocery store staff, do not let your child eat while shopping.  Some people seem to have no problem opening a bag of chips or cookies and letting their kid stuff face (or stuffing their own face) while strolling through the store.  In my book, you don't eat it until after you have paid for it.  It's just not done.  Besides, if you followed the first tip, you aren't hungry and neither are your kids, so there is no reason to open and eat something before it has gone through the check out line.

4.  Do not buy your kid something every time they walk into a store.  It just teaches them that they are entitled to a new object simply because they walked through the front door.  Also teaches them to start whining for whatever thing they want this time as soon as you pull into the parking lot.  How peaceful do you think that shopping trip is going to be?

5.  Insist on indoor manners.  Low voices.  No running.  Hands to themselves.  In fact, hands in laps for those young enough to ride in the cart, and hands either on the side of the cart, or folded in front of them for those old enough to walk through the store. For those children prone to wandering, insist they have one hand in contact with the cart at all times.

6.  Enlist their help.  Ask them to help you pick out produce and then show them how; shopping can be an educational experience!  Besides, you want your kids to be able to both feed themselves well and get the most for their money when they are grown up, right?  Likewise, you can have older kids run price comparisons between the same item of two different brands.  Or a name brand item on sale versus the store brand at regular prices.  Gives them something to focus on instead of being bored while shopping, and it strengthens their math skills.  You sneaky parent, you!

7.  If you have kids old enough to be out of your sight in the store for five or ten minutes, break them into groups, and give each group a handful of items to go find and retrieve for you.  It's a grocery store scavenger hunt!  Plus, talk about multiplying your time--now you can get two or three times as many items selected checked off your list in the same amount of time it would take you to do it all yourself.

8.  Speaking of list, shop with a list!  This makes it so much easier to turn down requests for impulse items by the kids.  You can say, gently but firmly "Today we are only buying what is on the list, and that isn't on it.  Sorry."  This is also a sneaky learning experience for them: they learn the importance of planning ahead, shopping with a list, and prioritizing need versus impulsive want.  Trust me, if you do this enough, they pick up on it and it becomes ingrained.  You are shaping their future shopping habits.

9.  Last but not least, in fact, it should be number one rule for taking kids shopping: don't be afraid to discipline them in public!  If they are acting up, let them know their behavior is unacceptable, and make sure there is an immediate consequence for it. Two hours later when you get back home is much too late.  You missed the discipline impact zone.  The sooner after the offense the disciplinary action takes place, the more effective a lesson it is.  Ask my sons about what happens when middle school boys mouth off to their mama in the grocery store.  They will tell you that a boy who gets too big for his britches, thinking he's too manly to have to listen his mother, thinking he can talk back, ends up having to hold her hand and 'keep her safe' during the rest of the shopping excursion, since he's such a big tough guy.  This is one of those 'you will only have to do it once' kind of disciplines.  Likewise, if your troupe of children (or even just one child) is just being utterly unbearable and naughty in the store, don't be afraid to leave the store, without your cart of food, without going through the checkout line. 

Yes, leave the groceries there, and take the child straight home to bed.  Total shock value of seeing that cart of food left behind is a pretty good reinforcer for You Must Behave In The Store.  I did feel bad for the store employee that ended up having to empty my cart and return all those items to their proper shelf spaces, but again, this is something I only had to do once.  The kids got the message loud and clear, and were never that bad in the store again.  Did I have to resort to spanking or physical punishment?  Nope.  Just a bit of embarrassment and the kid figured it out.

I'm sure somewhere out in Internet Land someone will read this and just be totally put off by the way I raised my kids.  I mean, embarrassing them in public, that's the same as bullying, right?  Weren't their little psyches smashed?  No.  Shaped, not smashed.  If you look at my adult offspring, you'll find well adjusted, hardworking individuals who know the world does not revolve around them and that there are unwritten rules to life, rules that need to be followed for the world to function smoothly.

Monday, March 3, 2014

More Boys in My Future!

This summer is going to bring two new boys to the family.  My brother and his girlfriend are expecting their second child in late June, and a few weeks ago they found out that it is a boy.  Then, in late February, DS1 and K2 found out that their newest offspring is also a boy.  He is due about two weeks after his cousin.  My mom is so excited:  a new grandson and a new great-grandson, all in a short time!

I'm excited too.  This new baby of DS1 and K2--our second grandchild--will be the first male of his generation from DH's family line.  The one who guarantees the family name will continue on.  That, and, well, grandchildren are just so cool!  As the saying goes, if I had known grandchildren were so enjoyable, I would have had them first. Although I strongly suspect that grandchildren are only so lovable because after surviving raising their parents, we grandparents see them as the payoff of all our hard work (and not strangling our own children during the hateful middle school years).

Since receiving the news that both bundles of joy will be wearing blue, I've been collecting fabric and pattern ideas for two new baby quilts.  Some of what I wanted I was able to find locally, but some I had to search online for and then order.  My selections finally arrived late last week, so of course this week my thoughts are on quilt designing and getting pieces cut.  I hope to spend a few hours in the sewing room cutting pieces and sewing together an auntie's love for a nephew, and a grandma's love for her first grandson.

I all ready know that I want to do my grandson's quilt similarly to how I did his big sister's quilt in 2012: a bunch of squares arranged in rows.  Still, there is designing to be done because I need to figure out the order of the fabrics for those rows of squares.

These are the fabrics I have chosen for his quilt.

The soccer ball fabric I had actually picked up long before this baby was conceived; you see both my sons played soccer all through middle school and high school, so I bought this fabric (when I saw it on sale) with the intent to include it in a quilt for when either of them had a son of his own.

The truck fabric was one that I had to search for and special order.  Mud trucks (the brown background of the fabric actually has tire tracks printed in it, as you can see in the picture below) for the grandson that will be Southern-born to my redneck son was a no-brainer.

The Jesus fish is Grandma's (me) attempt at getting some religion into a kid who will live 14 hours away that I won't be able to take to church on Sunday if his parents don't.  I also used that fabric in K3's quilt.  I tell you, long distance grandparenting is hard.

Blue because it goes well, and a solid is needed to rest your eyes on in the finished product.  And, well, cuz this quilt will be a boy's quilt.

Tractors, a must.  Green tractors, just like at Grandpa and Grandma's place (ie this little place here).

Camo for our future hunter.  And the solid orange I plan to use as a border on the front and as the backing of the quilt.

For my new nephew, I don't yet have quite as a clear of an idea of what that quilt will look like.  I do know I want a flannel for the backing, as that is warm and cozy for here in Michigan.  For the babies in South Carolina I forego the flannel and just use a cotton backing.  So, all I have to show for the nephew's quilt so far is the flannel print:

If this week (or the next several) my posts tend toward the topic of babies or raising kids, well, now you know why.  Seems like recently I've been getting lots of questions on how I dealt with toddlers, and with going from one child to two.  Giving advice on those sorts of things has once again become part of my life.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Church Training Kids

This is not a topic for everyone.  If you don't believe in organized religion, going to church, etc, you might was well stop reading now, and go read some other blog for the next ten or fifteen minutes.  Likewise if you don't have kids and don't ever plan to have any of the little buggers, this probably won't be a useful read for you.

If, however, you currently have kids, or want to have kids at some time in the future, and believe that taking them to church is something you are going to want to do, then read on.

Let me start by saying that I believe parents need to steer their children to God.  After all, Jesus said "Let the little children come unto me", not "Well, if they find me on their own, that'll be pretty good."

Think about it. The chances of a child finding religion on their own in their teens or twenties or older, are not very likely.  Really.  What teen wants to be told what to do?  And don't we spend our entire childhood eagerly awaiting the day we can finally be our own boss?  So why in the world would we think that suddenly after a decade or two or three of living however society says is okay (such as sleeping in on Sunday morning), our children would decide that they want to be restricted by what God says is okay (like getting out of bed on Sunday and putting on clothes that look presentable rather than being all that comfortable)?

Let me also say that I was not brought up going to church every Sunday.  Up until age eight, I went occasionally with my maternal grandfather.  He would come pick me and sometimes my younger brother up on a Sunday morning and take us to church with him.  Or, if we spent the night at his house on Saturday, Sunday morning automatically meant we were going to church.  He'd take us by himself, not with Grandma (who rarely went), and not with my parents (who at that stage very rarely went).  Brave Grandpa.  Obviously having us grandchildren exposed to religion was important to him.

From age twelve to about sixteen I did go to church just about weekly.  I took the 7th & 8th grade catechism class, and got confirmed into the church.  Mom and Dad made sure that my brother and I were worshiping regularly during our catechism years, but after my brother got confirmed, well, attendance was less important again.  Kind of the "there, we did it, now we can go back to what we'd rather be doing" mentality.

Shortly after I turned twenty, I looked at DH (who was my live-in boyfriend back then) and said "I'm going back to church, and I want you to come too."  Like me, he'd had a pretty hit and miss church attendance record in childhood.  But the foundation was there, and we both recognized a need in our lives to hear the Word of God.  We've gone to Sunday worship pretty much since then.

DS1 was two years old then.  Teaching a two year old to sit still for an entire hour, out of the blue, takes some work.  That was when I started accumulating tricks for training kids to go to church and not be a disruption.  All his siblings went pretty much from birth onward, especially DD1 who made her first church appearance at the tender age of 49 hours old.

Trick #1:  practice at home.  Practice with your child, sitting still and quiet on the couch (or, if you have them on unpadded chairs or a wooden bench--much more like a church pew) for ten to fifteen minutes at a time.  Whispers are okay, but not constant whispering.

Trick #2: bring a snack.  Finger food, non-melting, non-sticky and preferably not crumbly.  Most likely you should remove it from it's store packaging and put it into a container that does not make noise when little hands go in and out of it.  From personal experience, I advise you to stay away from anything sugary.  Bored toddlers and preschoolers amped up on sugar in a confined space (like a church pew) in a setting where they are supposed to be quiet is not a good situation.  We did Cheerios for a while, but they tend to crumble into the carpeting when dropped (and they will get dropped) and stepped on (and they will get stepped on when they get dropped). What I finally settled with was Teddy Grahams, which were bite sized (so hard to choke on), didn't melt, weren't stick or crumbly, and I could measure a desired amount into a plastic container with a lid.  I only let the kids eat Teddy Grahams at church, during the sermon (full mouths are quiet mouths).  To this day, my teen and twenty-something offspring refer to Teddy Grahams as "Church Bears".

Trick #3: bring quiet activities.  To expect a kid that is too young to go to school to sit and listen to the preacher for an entire hour is expecting too much.  Really, what you are doing at this tender age by taking them to church is exposing them to God's Word, and training them how to be in church so that as they get older they will be able to retain more and more of what is being said there.  So it is perfectly fine to have them playing quietly in the pew for part of the time.  Quiet play means bringing soft, quiet toys.  We had a collection of small stuffed animals that were kept in the "Church Bag" and, like the Church Bears, only accessible to the kids on Sunday in church.  That way they don't get tired of those toys quite so quickly. I also rotated the toys in groups, each group only spending a couple of weeks in the Church Bag before it was the turn of another group to go to church and be played with.  Other things that were kept in the Church Bag were religious themed board books (Jonah and the Whale, the Christmas story, the Easter story, Noah's Ark, etc), small pads of paper, and crayons or pencils (I really advise against markers in church, they seem to 'escape' onto things they shouldn't much easier than crayons of pencils do).

Trick #4: take the child to the bathroom when you get to church, and before sitting down in the pew.  This aids in teaching them to sit still during the service.  Because if you let them get up to use the bathroom a couple Sundays in a row, pretty soon they are using "I gotta go potty" as an excuse to get up and wander around.  Which is totally the opposite of what you are trying to teach them.  I'm not saying don't ever let them get up and use the bathroom once the service has started, sometimes that can't be avoided, but don't let it become a habit.

As a rule of thumb, I figured any kid old enough to go to school all day (so, first grade on; although 3 out of 4 of my kids did attend all-day Kindergarten three days a week) was old enough to be expected to stay in that pew the entire hour of the church service.  Our denomination has a very participation-required kind of service in that, with the exception of the sermon, which usually is 20 minutes long, the congregation does a lot of stand up then sit down during the service (probably only sitting 5 min at a time before standing up again), and also a lot of hymn singing and responsive reading.  So kids have opportunities to get some wiggles out with all that standing up and sitting down stuff, and make a little noise during the hymns.  Really, the hard part is the sitting quietly for the twenty minutes of the sermon.  And by kindergarten age, 20 minutes should not be too much to expect of a child.

Younger than kindergarten age, sometimes I did have to take my kids out of the sanctuary and to the smaller attached room known as the "Cry Room", because it was intended as a place for parents to take crying infants and noisy small children so they would not disrupt the worship of the rest of the congregation.  As soon as the infant or child settled down, back into the sanctuary and our pew we would go.  No staying in the Cry Room playing for the remainder of the service.  No sir; because that would have taught them that they were in church to play, rather than to worship and learn God's Word.  In fact, a few of mine, along about age three or so, got the bright idea that if they were bored and wanted to go to the Cry Room (where some toys and cushy furniture were kept) all they had to do was act up.  Once I caught on to that, we skipped the cry room and went to the church basement (aka the fellowship hall where potlucks and other group events were held) instead.  In the church basement there were no toys, and they had to sit on folding chairs.  There was a speaker in the basement (and also in the Cry Room), which was always on during the service so that anyone down there could hear what the preacher was saying.  Needless to say, my kids didn't like sitting in a folding chair in the usually darkened basement listening to the sermon via a speaker on the wall.  No, sitting in the pew where they could see other people and the preacher was much more interesting.  So that pretty much nipped the "I want to go play in the Cry Room so I'll just misbehave here in the pew" thing right in the bud.

What about older kids, you ask. What if your kids are all ready school age, but aren't used to going to church?  How do you handle them?

Well, if they are all ready in school, they should have the concept of sitting down and being quiet while someone else is talking pretty much mastered.  There should be no need to get up to use the bathroom (remember, do this before sitting in the pew in the first place).  There should be no need for a snack to keep quiet.  Although my kids did graduate from the Church Bears to Life Savers when they hit full-time school age.  The Life Saver was a treat saved for during the sermon, and yes, it did keep them quiet.  (My Grandpa used to give me a Certs during the sermon when I went to church with him, so this sermon treat thing wasn't totally my brainchild.)  Toys should not be necessary, and no books either.  Keep the little notepads and the writing or drawing tools, though.  School age kids can doodle while they listen.  Or they can be given an assignment to help insure they focus on what the preacher is saying during the sermon.  I used to give my kids a word to listen for, a word like Jesus, or Savior, or sin, or love.  They would make tally marks on their notepad for each time they heard that word during the sermon.   For kids who are still learning their letters, give them the bulletin and have them do things like circle every letter 'A', or fill in every letter 'O', or underline every letter 'S' or some such activity.

Now, how about dealing with discipline problems in older kids who decide to be noisy?  As I did with my smarty-pants three year olds who thought they'd figured out how to get play time, skip the Cry Room and go straight to the basement.  As soon as they can sit quiet in the folding chair for as many minutes as they are old, take them back upstairs and sit in the pew again.  If you have to repeat this more than twice in one service, or if you have multiple children who try to mutiny on you, as mine did one Sunday when DH was out of state for work and I had all four of them in church by myself (ie single parenting it that Sunday), you may have to execute a little tough love.

If you ask any one of my kids about the Sunday they all decided to be rotten little shits things when DH was gone, they will tell you I traumatized them.  After about fifteen minutes straight of in and out of the basement with each and every one of them, sometimes two at a time, I looked them in the eye and very quietly said "Go put on your coats, we're leaving."

Now, you might say "But wasn't that what they wanted?  To leave church?"

No, it wasn't.  They wanted to entertain themselves by misbehaving and give Mom a hard time in church.  They didn't want to leave.  That was quite evident by their dropped jaws and whispers of "But Mom, it's church, we're supposed to listen to God."

I quietly replied "But you aren't listening to God, because God tells you to obey your mother.  And nobody else here can listen to God because you are being so disruptive."

I took them all straight home, where they had to go lie in their beds, no books, no toys, no talking, until it was the time we would normally return home from church.  It was only when the clock had reached that exact moment were they allowed to do anything other than lie on the bed, stare at the ceiling, and think about their behavior.

I never had to do that again.  It was effective.  Not to say I didn't have times where I had to take one or another of them down to the basement for a few minutes during the service.  But I never had them attempt a mutiny in church again.  Honestly, I think that was about the time that "The Look" came into being.  Meaning, a child would start to purposely act up, I would give that child the hairy eyeball, and they would immediately straighten up.

There is a reason that God says to train up a child in the way he should go.  Because children don't train themselves.  That is the responsibility of the parent.  If you do your job right, they fit nicely into place in church.  If you don't do your job, because let's face it, training a child is W-O-R-K, they are not going to know how to listen to God, or respect His Word, let alone the words of others.  And if you don't think God's Word in important, but somehow you have kept reading this post thus far, let me say that all the things taught a child by church training (sitting still, being quiet, being respectful of others), are beneficial in all areas of his or her life.  A kid who can sit still in church can also sit still in school.  A kid who never has been taught to sit and listen in church isn't likely to do so in school.  Think about it.