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From Stop Stops to Music – a Mother’s Journey in Music Education

My daughter’s last Christmas concert before college just ended. As I waited for the concert to begin, I thought of her first Christmas concert, 15 years ago.

We started her in Suzuki at age 3; her great-grandfather, grandmother, and uncle had all played violin. When she watched violinists on TV, she would pretend to play one, using a TV remote as her instrument and a block as her bow. Then she got in Suzuki violin. The first thing they did was offer her a cardboard violin. She had thought she would start with a real violin, looked at the cardboard, and said, “I won’t play THAT.” (She inherits her stubbornness from her dad.) She refused to practice and fought us the entire semester. Finally, she showed she could properly hold a violin and bow and put them down and was able to use a real one.

Except there was a hitch – she wanted to play violin HER way, which was not the Suzuki way. At her preschool, she had won a “wild colt” award because of her free spirit and desire to do things HER way. The Suzuki way started with taca taca stop-stop. She had to learn to play rhythms their way. In her first Christmas concert, her teacher played taca taca, and she played stop stop. Over time, she reluctantly realized she had to follow rules to progress and learned her rhythms. Her last rhythm was “wish I had a baby kitten.” We promised her that when she finished her Suzuki Twinkles recital, we would let her get a baby kitten. So she did.

For fifteen years, I’ve been the music mom with both her and her brother. Their musical journey has been a varied path, with ventures in piano, guitar, electric guitar, handbells, percussion, children’s choir, a show choir, and an a capella choir. After 5 years of violin, both kids were burned out and quit that instrument. But their music continued.

Each Christmas, we’ve seen them perform in concerts, with some years feeling like nothing but a never-ending concert with gigs caroling, playing solos, singing with the Philharmonic, and singing at the Nutcracker.  At the end of this journey, before she leaves home, I can say I don’t regret a single concert or musical experiment.

When my daughter started high school, she returned to violin – this time, because she wanted it. And she did it her way – playing in an ensemble but also teaching herself to play “Sweet Child of Mine,” by Guns ‘n Roses. When her bow broke during Thanksgiving weekend, she was devastated because until the store opened and she could buy a new bow, she couldn’t practice.

Every child has music at heart. If you’re a parent, do what you can to help your children discover their song and learn to sing or play it.  Try varied instruments and methods.  If money’s an issue, find budget ways to introduce your kids to music – look for free concerts, library programs, or if you can find nothing else, younger teachers who charge less but still love music. Do whatever you can to add the best music your budget can afford to your kids’ lives.

A child who learns to perform music develops stage presence and discipline. If you don’t practice, you don’t sound good, and kids are smart enough to realize that. Hard work and practice, taking apart a tough piece of music and mastering it a section at a time, and then playing it with other people where you have to watch a director and listen to one another, develops work stills to learn to handle projects for a lifetime. When kids who learn music learn to express themselves with phrasing, dynamics, and breathing, they learn skills that will help them become better public speakers. The best public speakers know a pause can be as important as a phrase, that sometimes pitch goes up and sometimes it goes down, and varying volume is a good thing.

Enough of the logic. The most rewarding part to me tonight was watching a young lady not only poised but willing to help younger violinists – and my savoring those memories of her first Christmas concert 15 years ago.

I wouldn’t trade a moment of those years or concerts. But if I could do them over again, I might notice fewer mistakes and appreciate more of the beauty music can bring to the life of a child.

St. Nicholas Feast Adventures

Now that my kids are teens, I have to remind them to put their shoes out for St. Nicholas’s feast day. Shoes are set out by the door with care, and somehow, some way, presents are there in the morning. Of course, if it involves my family and me, you know there are and were some bumps along the road….

  • I didn’t grow up Catholic and had never heard of the tradition of presents in the shoes. Several years ago, when my kids were 5 and 7, on St. Nicholas Day, we went to see some friends who were Catholic. They showed my kids the wonderful treats they received that morning. Then my kids cried. “Were we that bad?” “Why didn’t St. Nick leave us anything too?” “We’re Catholic – why did he skip us?” So, like all desperate mothers, I explained what happened. St. Nick was sooo busy that night he hadn’t had time to deliver everything. So our turn was that night. Miraculously, the next morning, presents were in their shoes at the door. For the rest of that Advent season, I saw kids’ shoes out in different places. After a couple of weeks, I realized their plan: perhaps St. Nicholas would make a return trip. They analyzed which locations and which shoes were most likely to receive presents.
  • The reappearing shoe trick was tried a few more years, to no avail.
  • A few years ago, St. Nicholas’s toolshop had had a very good year, and wrapped presents of legos were under those shoes. When my kids went to swim practice, my son ran in and told everyone what he had gotten. We were the lone Catholics in a sea of Protestants, none of whom practiced the St. Nicholas Feast Day. One mother, when she heard him, asked, “Isn’t St. Nicholas’s feast some sort of Catholic thing?”
  • I assured her, “It’s okay – we are Catholic.”
The best present St. Nicholas ever gave me was in May instead of December, when my son was born. He holds a special place in my heart – so much so that our son is named after him. I don’t have a debate about whether or not Santa Claus is real; we know he was. Stories about him tell of his generosity and his willingness to help children, most particularly those who were in desperate situations. I understand that one.
St. Nicholas only has a few years left to fill my kids’ shoes before they leave for college. Though we were late starters, I can assure you he WILL deliver!
Deck the halls with boughs of holly – but make sure to leave room for some shoes!

How to Cut Costs & Add Flavor With Thanksgiving Dinners

Every year I shrug when I see what  a Thanksgiving meal should cost. There are ways to add flavor, spend less money, and make healthier cooking choices. Here are a few:

  • 2 days before the dinner: cook something with plain rice and save 2 cups of the rice to include in your dressing recipe. The rice will add a different layer and depth to your dressing. If you want to make cornbread dressing, bake cornbread to use for the crumbs – do NOT use the corn muffin mixes as they include sugar which will not taste good in your dressing.
  • Day before the dinner: Make your own chicken broth to use while cooking the day of the dinner. Buy a fryer on sale. Remove skin and fat from the fryer and cook that on low in a 4-5 quart stockpot with water, 2 carrots, 1 onion, 2 stalks of celery, pepper, and 1 bay leaf. Simmer until the chicken falls off the bone. Let the fryer cool and bone it. Freeze the chicken meat to use in recipes later. Strain the broth and refrigerate. I usually go through 1 gallon of chicken broth prepping Thanksgiving dinner. Discard the bay leaf. Grind the carrots, celery, and onion in a blender and refrigerate to add extra flavor to the dressing. If you plan to make mashed potatoes, peel the potatoes and let them soak in water overnight to save you time on dinner day. Make your desserts and salads the day before the dinner.
  • Dinner day: Skim any fat from the top of the broth and use it to flavor the dressing and also to baste the turkey during baking. Make your turkey and side dishes.
  • Sweet Potatoes: My family prefers a sweet potato casserole. The best way I’ve found to make it is to clean the potatoes, cut them into pieces, and boil them. When the potatoes are tender, then I drain them, remove the skins, and mix ingredients for sweet potato casserole.
  • Mashed Potatoes: I use 1 can of evaporated milk for 5 lbs. of potatoes. I put the evaporated milk into a saucepan with 1/2 stick of butter and heat gently. When the potatoes have cooked, I drain them, put them in my mixer, turn it on, and slowly pour the milk/butter mixture into the bowl. Warm milk with melted butter makes a better mashed potato product. If the potatoes need more liquid, add milk. If they need more substance, I slip in instant mashed potatoes, 1 tablespoon at a time. Calculate your mashed potatoes at 2-3 people per pound of potatoes.
  • Gravy:  Simmer the turkey neck and giblets while the turkey is baking. Use that broth in the gravy, along with drippings from the turkey roaster. Deglaze the roaster pan and use that flavoring as well for a richer gravy.
  • Dressing: I use a mix of a bag of herbed bread crumbs, 1/2 loaf of wheat bread torn apart, rice, and a sleeve of crushed crackers.  If I did it my way, I would also add the cornbread crumbs from above. However, no one else in my family likes dressing that way, so I don’t use them. Be sure to add the ground vegetables into the dressing for moisture and flavor. In addition, saute 2 cups of onions and celery in 3T oil in a frying pan to add to the dressing. Cook the onions and celery until the onions are all clear and have begun to caramelize. You’ll get the best flavor after they caramelize.
  • After the dinner: Refrigerate the turkey carcass immediately after serving. The day after Thanksgiving, make liquid gold: turkey broth. In a giant stockpot, simmer the carcass with 3 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, 3 onions, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 bay leaf, and pepper. Cook until you have a golden broth. It will make your house smell fantastic. To cool it, I turn the pan off and let it set about 30 minutes. When this cools, pour into 2-4 cup plastic containers and freeze. You want to separate it into smaller containers so it will cool faster. I usually include the vegetables and turkey scraps in at least 1 container and label it turkey soup starter. This will provide you with fantastic flavoring for countless dishes after the holiday. Turkey broth is richer and has a flavor much better than traditional chicken broth. My turkey this year yielded 8 quarts of turkey broth and 1 gallon of turkey soup starter. Calculating the cost of buying chicken broth, and it would cost more than I spent buying the turkey on sale.
I sometimes keep 1-2 cans of commercial chicken broth in my pantry.  However, making your own is healthier. Note I add no salt to my broth. Combining that with skimming the fat makes it a lower-fat, healthier, and cheaper way to add flavor to your menu.
With these tricks, your turkey broth comes at a minimal cost; you’ve frozen the chicken from the fryer to use later. You’ve ground the broth vegetables to include in your dressing.  So you’re stretching your dollar and packing more vegetables into your stuffing at the same time.

Our Thanksgiving Menu

Blogging will be light today as I’ll be cooking. What’s for Thanksgiving dinner?

Salad – made with romaine & curly lettuce, spinach, daikon radishes, kohlrabi, sweet banana peppers, carrots, and tomatoes, with most ingredients from Seton Harvest‘s CSA.

Turkey and gravy – flavored with herbs freshly picked from Seton Harvest.

Country-style dressing, flavored with sage from Seton Harvest.

Garlic-mashed Yukon potatoes, with garlic from Seton Harvest.

Sweet potato casserole, with sweet potatoes from Seton Harvest, topped with walnuts.

Corn, with corn we froze fresh from the field this summer.

Cranberry relish, made with cranberries, oranges, apples, and walnuts

Green beans

Honey wheat rolls, with freshly ground Montana prairie gold and bronze chief wheat


Banana Pudding, made by my son

Apple Pie, made from scratch with Granny Smith apples by my daughter

Pumpkin Crumb Cake


The best part is the leftovers! Have a blessed Thanksgiving!



Thanksgiving Backwards, Forwards, and Now

I’m never alone when I’m cooking or knitting; if no one is there, I chat with God in continuous prayer. Those are the most inspirational moments of my life. This Thanksgiving, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for what God has done, is doing, and will continue to do in my life.
Eternal clock


I think back on 20 years of Thanksgivings with Richard and those early years with new babies and toddlers.

Ten years ago Thanksgiving, we had just moved back into our home after a fire. We had a couch and folding chairs in our living room. Two small, borrowed tables of different heights were in our kitchen with tablecloths. Our new refrigerator was delivered on the Monday of Thanksgiving week.

I had planned to replace most of my kitchen equipment on Black Friday, so cooking dinner was an exercise in creative use of borrowed pots and pans.

Our kids, ages 5 and 7, enjoyed being home instead of our temporary apartment. My son had broken his arm after a failed attempt pretending to be Adam West doing the Batman Bat Climb up our backyard slide with a jump rope. I had just hit a buck a couple of days before  with my car and was waiting on it to be fixed.

But we were home together.


I’ve no idea what future years will bring. Our daughter leaves for college next fall. We don’t know whether she will be close to home or far away. This year, sometimes our large kitchen table is covered with food prep. Other times, it’s home base for a laptop and paperwork as my daughter completes college and scholarship applications.

Next year, at this time, we may be driving to a college to bring her home for Thanksgiving. Or she might venture from a local dorm to return home. As 1 of her former teachers told me last weekend, “She’s ready to spread her wings, go after her dreams, and soar. That means you did your job.”

As soon as she goes, we will begin the same journey of letting go with our son.

So our lives are on the cusp of change. God only knows where they will go or what they will do. This is our last Thanksgiving before the kids begin their own adventures.


Enough pondering. Time to enjoy the here, the now, and to savor these precious, fleeting moments.

It’s time to give thanks for my family, given to me by God, who have utterly transformed my life and given me more joy than I ever imagined possible.

The giving of thanks often happens in the celebration of the simple moments at home, with those I love, in the now.

Thanksgiving Recipe Go To Guide

If you are trying to figure out how to make basics for Thanksgiving dinner, this blog offers links to good recipes and cooking tips. Remember to follow food safety tips with any family dinner celebration!:

How to Organize Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner


Food Safety


Side Dishes:


Roll Recipe
Cutting Calories & Adding Nutrition:


How Seton Harvest Taught Me Cooking Lessons

Yesterday was my last day to pick up produce with Seton Harvest, a CSA sponsored by the Daughters of Charity in Evansville, Indiana.

As a gardener, I was skeptical when we joined that our family would benefit much from a weekly harvest share. We had our own 250 square foot vegetable garden that included over 20 tomato plants and a wide range of produce.

It turned out that for our own garden, weather extremes resulted in the worst garden we’ve ever had. A flooded spring, followed by a searing summer and more rain meant we didn’t harvest a single tomato until late October.

Had it not been for Seton , we wouldn’t have had much produce this year. I didn’t anticipate the variety. Each week became a discovery when I got to meet new vegetables and then research ways to cook vegetables I never knew existed. Seton pushed my cooking to find ways to use the new produce. Some of the new foods we tried:

    • Turnips taste good when they are slow-cooked with a pot roast and vegetables.
    • Rutabegas are good mixed with mashed potatoes.
    • Kale tastes wonderful when cooked in olive oil. We liked it best as krispy kale, drizzled in oil and vinegar and baked in the oven.
    • Tatsoi is a real treat. When its stalks are sliced like celery into a salad, they add a subtle, peppery zing.
    • Okra does taste good in soups – both the green and red varieties.
    • My great-aunt’s bean salad is marvelous when made with freshly steamed green and wax beans.
    • Yukina savoy is marvelous with a Lebanese beef and rice dish I discovered.
    • Collard greens really are good to eat and easy to make.
    • Fresh beets taste totally different from those out of a can.
    • Bok choy, swiss chard, and other greens are good.
    • Napa cabbage is positively beautiful and delicious.
    • Daikon radishes add a total zing to salads.
    • Parsnips are wonderful in vegetable soup.

Another perk was when I got to pick fresh blackberries or strawberries. And when I needed fresh herbs, I just brought scissors to clip them. We did pick up more traditional foods too like lettuce, tomatoes, corn, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and green beans.

Despite the difficult year of gardening, Seton produced over 37,000 pounds of fresh produce this season. Though that’s down from last season’s 40,000 pounds, it provided enough for all the families in the CSA and to donate to area food pantries.

Over the harvest season, my weekly treks to Seton became mental health breaks. The moment I got out of my car each week, I felt a peace and serenity. Regardless of how hectic my week was, this was a chance to stop, be still, and savor the silence in their fields.

The silence would be broken up by the children of other shareholders, and that made it that much better. As I gathered my final share yesterday, a mother with 3 young children went to pick some final arugala. Her children ran with excitement at the prospect. These preschoolers delight in picking eggplant, their favorite vegetable. Earlier this fall, kids got to help dig sweet potatoes. When we had a CSA potluck, the kids got to go on hayrides around the property Each week, kids get to see something growing in the field.

Children – and adults – can learn healthier ways of eating and cooking. This year, Seton Harvest was my nudge that provided fresh, local produce to my family – and taught me some new cooking tricks as well.




Playing Politics

As we await election results, I think back to the years my kids have helped with political campaigns…

Once upon a time, some kids I know (and may have possibly given birth to) got together with their friends and decided that World War III would be fought between boys and girls. The two sides grouped together and planned total annihilation of the other side.

After some skirmishes, they concluded that a peace negotiation was wiser than killing everyone in the group. So they worked on the negotiation.

You know that negotiations can’t simply be written down but had to be written down on official paper. Some of the kids had access to a politican’s campaign letterhead, and they decided that would be official. So they “liberated” the letterhead and wrote the conditions for the truce to end World War III, Girls Versus Guys.

A key condition was that both sides had to agree not to campaign against each other in general elections but to support the same candidates.

The girls created the peace treaty and signed it first. Then they sent the youngest girl, age 4, as the diplomatic emissary to deliver the treaty to the boys. The boys signed the contract too.

Then the boys looked at the back of the contract. A funny thing happened to the diplomatic emissary on her way to deliver the treaty. She had wiped boogers on the back of the contract.

The boys erupted with anger. Their war plans began again. Why? Boogers make contracts null and void.

So World War III commenced. Somehow, Planet Earth and the children involved survived it.

Some kids play doctor. Others play politics.

And somehow, as I watch how some politicians fight their campaigns, I can’t tell much difference between them and the kids with the contract with the booger on the back.

Triple Sow Cow Beef Backflips and Other Kitchen Adventures

Ding Dong Cake before the crash

As the slice of beef popped of my serving fork, it flipped, twisted, and backflipped before it landed on the floor with a big splat.

Except this wasn’t at home; I was volunteering at a catering gig for 4-H leaders, serving lunch to a church group. My job is serving the meat because I love to talk with everyone in line while I serve. When the elderly gentleman approached me, I folded the beef in half on the fork, thinking it would fit more easily on his plate.

Instead, as I attempted to put it on his plate, it flipped off the fork into the perfect dive. I got him another piece, and other volunteers quickly cleaned up the floor. The serving line must go on.

That got me thinking of other mishaps in my cooking adventures:

  • The first time I made dinner for Richard when we were dating, the garlic bread caught fire in the oven. After I put out the flames, my brother who was also there told him, “You’ll need a fire extinguisher when she cooks. Foods catch fire all the time.”
  • One Thanksgiving, as I got ready to make the gravy, I grabbed baking powder instead of cornstarch and put that in the gravy. It turned into a gravy volcano. After it exploded and covered the stovetop in a fizzy mess, I made simple yellow gravy that year.
  • Two years ago, my son wanted a ding dong cake for his birthday party. I made a giant ding dong with two

    Ding dong cake after the fall

    chocolate cakes, cream filling, and chocolate icing. Good thing I took a picture of the cake. When we were taking it to the party, his friend carrying the cake dropped it into the grass, splattering it into pieces. It looks like the neighbor dogs liked it.

  • Many years ago, in my life before children, I took the 12 week Wilton cake decorating class. Our final class ended just before Christmas, and we were to make a layered Christmas cake for our final. Classes met on Sunday evenings. On Saturday evening, after Richard and I returned home from a Christmas party, I started to bake my cakes. I would need 4 cakes for the final, 2 of each layer so we could construct it. As I mixed the cakes, my mixer started smoking. I wondered what was happening but kept going. Well past midnight, all the cakes were done. But I had a problem. When I tried to put a toothpick into them to see if they were done, the toothpicks barely got through the cakes. Then I realized; I had forgotten to add water to any of the cake mixes and had simply baked them with oil and eggs. No wonder the mixer smoked. It was so late, and I had used a dozen eggs in my baking disaster. Instead of rebaking the cakes, I resolved to use those round bricks to decorate. So I took them to class and built my tiered cakes. The cake was a two-tiered masterpiece with red and green accents and evergreens on top of both layers. I proudly took it to my family’s Christmas dinner that year with a caveat: it was neither cutable nor edible. But it made a pretty decoration.

So my food does back flips, catches fire, falls in the grass, and is sometimes inedible.

That’s no reason to quit cooking. Keep trying, and one day, the successes will outnumber the disasters.


How to Organize Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner

I reinvented Thanksgiving dinner 2 years ago, and not by choice. Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite dinners to fix for my family.

Two years ago, things changed. I was recovering from major surgery, forbidden from driving, forbidden from lifting more than 5 pounds, and needed to sit more than stand. My husband and our kids, then ages 13 and 15, would need to cook.

As I organized the menu, recipes, and shopping list, I didn’t realize I was discovering a way to destress future Thanksgivings.

Here are the steps:

  1. Plan your menu. Do this as a family meeting, with everyone involved.
  2. Make a folder. Make a folder you can find later, named Thanksgiving Dinner.
  3. Collect recipes.  Collect the recipes for each dish – yes, EACH dish. Print them if needed. Write extra instructions on the recipes if needed. (My Thanksgiving Recipe Go To Guide)
  4. Shop. Compile a grocery list, based on the menu and recipes If you’re baking a turkey, give yourself enough time for it to defrost in the refrigerator.
  5. Delegate the dinner. Family meeting time again – each person makes at least 1 dish the  day before Thanksiving and the day of. Each is responsible for the cooking and cleanup of the assignd dish.
  6. Schedule the cooking. Make desserts and salads the day before.  If baking a turkey, back schedule the meal around the time it will take to bake the turkey and other items such as dressing, sweet potatoes, and rolls.
  7. List your menu. List what needs to be cooked Thanksgiving Day and who’s responsible. A younger child can be assigned table setting.  Maybe one family member could be assigned cleanup duty. Cleanup as you go makes a lighter load.
  8. Make the meal. Keep it fun, and don’t get stressed, even if the turkey falls on the floor and the cat licks it. (Which has NEVER happened at my house!)

Next year, with your folder of recipes, planning is a lot easier..

My family may miss the before time, when I did most of the work.

However, I’m sure they don’t miss the stressed out, exhausted mama at the dinner table.

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