Getting old

Every Sunday I make a point to stop and greet these two older ladies who are brought to church together because neither can drive and both want to be in church. They walk with canes and they are full of wrinkles. They are getting older every week. Sometimes I feel like I can see them age. Then some weeks they smile big and look younger. You can almost see them as they used to be.

Visiting the elderly

I love to chat with them. I enjoy hearing stories about their families. They enjoy my kids. I think they enjoy the fact that I take a little time for them. We go to two different services. My family goes to the early services and these ladies to the later service. So we don’t have a lot of time to chat, but when they don’t come I miss them.
This month I noticed they both seem sadder and older. It makes me a little sad. I tried to take more time to chat with them this month.

Issues with aging

Eadie tells me her eyesight is going. She doesn’t want to have to live in a home. She loves living in her own house. It’s the house she went to as a newlywed and where her kids grew up. She has seven children. Her daughters take turns visiting her and bringing her food because they don’t trust her to bake anymore. She only has to heat up the food to have something to eat. But she spends a lot of her time reading. What will she do when she can no longer read? How will she fill her time? With her eyesight gone, will she be able to get around her house?

Helping old people

These are the things she asks me. I don’t have an answer. Why is her eyesight going? She’s over 90 so there are any number of reasons it might go. She asks me to pray for her.
For Claire it’s a totally different story. This summer her husband was moved to a nursing home. They have been married for 50+ years. They haven’t been apart very often at all in that time. It’s been months now. She’s used to being home alone more now, but it’s the holidays. She’s never had Thanksgiving or Christmas without him. Since she has to rely on others to bring her to see him, she can’t get there every day. Her kids did come to visit and take her to see him on Thanksgiving, but she wasn’t sure about Christmas. How happy is Christmas without your loved ones?

Audio books

I listen to these women and I wonder about my future. If I had a car instead of a van I would take Claire to see her husband. But she can’t climb into the van. I might be able to help her out on the occasional weekend. For Eadie maybe I can find her a way to listen to audio books. Audio books aren’t quite the same to her because she doesn’t really do much with electronics. There must be something simple to at least help her to pass the time. When my kids are reading better, I might send them over to read to her or talk with her occasionally. They remind me that we are to help care for everyone. These women need friends and help and I want to be that for them. Some day I might be where they are and need to rely on others.

Autism’s hidden blessings

I’ve read a few new books this month, but the one I choose to write about is called Autism’s Hidden Blessings, by Kelly Langston. I have many friends with kids who have autism. I also took special education classes in college and I like to learn more about different issues kids have. It intrigues me what makes people tick.
I thought this book was going to be different than it was. Not sure what I thought it would be, but it just wasn’t.
The author has a son who has autism. She talks some about how they helped him and a lot about how they deal with things. It’s very connected to the Bible and the idea that God can help with it all. Some was really good and I liked some of the comparisons.
Book promises faith healing?
At one point, though, Langston said that God would help all kids with autism no matter where you were or what therapy you could get for your child. The way it was written, it sounds like He will cause the child to improve if you just trusted Him. And, while I agree that God is always there for you, I’m not sure that he will make every autistic child improve greatly.
I feel that God will help you get through whatever it is that is going to happen in your life but He won’t necessarily change anything. Some of that comes from personal experience. None of my children have autism so I can’t speak about that. But I have dealt with medical needs and special needs in my children.

Neonatal Intensive Care Unit

I spent 155 days praying my daughter would finally be healthy enough to leave the NICU in the beginning of her life. I prayed for so many things in the beginning, but with time all I cared was that she lived and I could bring her home and that she would one day laugh. That’s it. I got more than that in the end. My daughter is learning to talk at age five. She plays with her siblings and may even one day learn to ride a bike. A bike, when they told me she might never walk.
But I don’t like to hear about how “God will improve things.” I have a friend with two boys who have genetic disorders. They are two of only about 50 people who have ever had this genetic disorder. In fact, she had genetic counseling before they decided to have her younger son and she was told it was one in a million. He’s got it, too. The fear and discouragement that she must have felt when she learned that…
The oldest has actually made it to a teenager, but he’s really sick this year. No matter how hard she prays, it isn’t going to change. God helps her through it, but she’s hurting this year because there is a great chance he won’t live much longer. She knows there is practically no chance of the boys ever being adults.
Maybe the health issues are different than autism, but I don’t think they are. I feel that while things might improve, they might not. And your child is going to be who he or she is no matter what. God will help you deal with whatever comes. He’ll take care of you through it, but things might not improve.

Donating clothing

In preparation for Christmas, I went through all the kids’ toys and clothes so we would have space to put new clothes and toys. I found some, but since we just moved I had already gotten rid of a lot of stuff. Plus the older kids don’t have as many excess clothes these days because as they get older we have fewer and fewer pieces of clothing given to us. We still have plenty for them to wear, but their drawers close easily and aren’t as stuffed. So I finished earlier than normal this month.

Getting rid of clothes

I moved on to my stuff and my husband’s stuff. I don’t have many extra clothes, but there were some I haven’t worn in a long time and I didn’t think I was going to. So I pulled those out. There was also a t-shirt that I was given when I was in college. It’s always been big so I’ve worn it to sleep in for years. But it had a couple holes near the lettering on the shirt. I’ve known I should get rid of it, but it was comfortable, and from a dear friend. Finally this month I decided it was time to get rid of it. So I threw it out. It was a little sad, but it’s just a shirt.
I looked through my husband’s stuff. I knew better than to get rid of anything, really. But there was this sweatshirt that was from his freshman year at college, the one year he went to Cincinnati. It used to be black and red. The black is now a dark grey. It’s too short in the body, though the arms are still long enough. And it is starting to wear at the collar. He wears it all the time and it just didn’t look good anymore. I decided to do something about it.

Surprise for husband

His uncle and aunt live in Cincinnati. So I called and talked to his aunt. I asked if they could get him a new Cincinnati sweatshirt. She agreed eagerly. She enjoys surprises.
When the package came from his family to me my husband wanted to know what was in it, but I hid the box and wouldn’t tell him. Until Christmas. After he opened the box I told him that now he could get rid of his old one. He’s not really okay with that yet. But, he promised not to wear the old one anymore, except maybe while painting, and that’s okay with me.

Making donations

After going through all the stuff, we had to take it somewhere. I decided to try to find a resale shop a friend always talks about. She gave me very specific directions. I had to keep putting it off because we had way too much snow for me to drive far happily. But, it finally warmed up and the snow all melted. So the roads were safe to drive again. The resale shop wasn’t too hard to find and I really didn’t feel nervous about it. I guess that monthly goal was a good choice for me. It did give me a little more confidence in my driving. I am more willing to try to drive somewhere new now than I was last February. That feels good.

Easy craft for gifts

Maybe doing a crochet project every month might have been too big of a goal for me. I started a new project, but it’s a big one. I am going to make a granny square blanket. It will be a California King size blanket so it’s going to probably take all month. I do like to crochet, but during the summer I never really wanted to do a lot. Then, over the winter my favorite part about crocheting is doing larger projects that cover my lap and keep me warm.

So doing all those little projects through the year was not my favorite challenge and it’s the one that I often put off the longest. Then I had to hurry to finish it. So, I didn’t finish a project this month. I did many other craft projects for Christmas, though. So I thought I would write about one of those.
Christmas crafts for gifts
Since my mom and I were doing dress-up clothes for Christmas I added many smaller projects to complete the outfits—crowns for the princess dresses and the prince cape, funny hats for the clown pants and fairy dust baubles for the fairy outfits.
The fairy dust necklaces were pretty fun. I got the idea from an online craft site. The little plastic containers I was able to find were green, but still see-through enough to use. The glitter still shined through.
The kids helped design them for their cousins. We found small flowers and acorn tops to decorate the containers. The acorn tops were for the boys. The flowers were for the girls. We picked out blue ribbon and green ribbon for the boys. Pink and purple and yellow ribbons for the girls.
The glitter was a bit hard to get into the small containers. We found that making a funnel out of a piece of paper worked pretty well. I mixed a lighter color glitter with a darker color glitter just for the contrast.
Hot glue to seal lids
I used a hot glue gun to glue the caps on the containers because I knew my kids would just keep pulling and pulling until the top came off, and the glitter would be everywhere. We found some nature-themed stickers to add to the outside and then used glitter Sharpie markers to write “fairy dust” on the outside. They turned out neat and the little boys didn’t think they were girly at all. It made a great addition to the fairy costumes and made all the kids happy.

Volunteer activities for families

So we didn’t get a date, just my husband and I. But December is a big month for family things. We try to do something to serve others every weekend in December. We want to bring Christmas back to what it is really about—giving to others. God gave His own Son to us to save us. We can give to others to remember that great gift.

Volunteer activities for families

With all our service activities and my husband’s surprise party, along with two swim meets, there just wasn’t any time for a date this month. But we talked about it ahead of time and we decided that sometimes families need to go on dates together. They need to get out and have fun together and be away from all electronics. So that was what we did this month.

We signed up as a family to ring bells for the Franklinville Church Association. Every church in our town is part of this group—the Methodists, the Baptists, the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians, the Catholics and the people from the Christian Missionary Alliance. The pastors or priests or ministers all work together to try to help our community.

Local fundraising


The money raised in December by bell ringing goes to our town. The pastors get together and decide where exactly the money goes. Some goes to the food pantry. Some goes to the clothes closet. Some goes to bring people Christmas dinners. It’s a unique venture as far as I can tell because it is every church no matter the denomination working together. That does not happen in many places. We wanted to support that and our community.

That night came clear, but cold. We bundled the kids up in snowpants and coats and boots and hats and gloves and scarfs. They looked huge, but warm. They were pretty excited.
We had sleigh bells to ring and a bucket on a table for the money and stood just outside the local small grocery store. We just had to ring the bells and greet people. We did have a CD player there too, so we put in some upbeat Christmas music and got ready for fun.

The kids were saying Merry Christmas to every person as they came out the store, almost before they were totally outside. They made most people smile. They took turns ringing the bells, sometimes arguing whose turn it was. It didn’t seem to get old to them.
There were a couple people who were walking past towards their cars when the kids yelled “Merry Christmas” who came back and put money in the bucket. They would smile at the kids and say “Merry Christmas” back to them. The kids were good at thanking people.

In between times we got to talk as a family, sing songs together and dance around. I’m sure we looked silly, but we had a great time. We even had our picture taken for the local paper. It was a great experience for us all and I’m glad for the time we had together as a family. We served together and had fun and look forward to another family night in the future.

New Christmas cookies recipes

We make the same four Christmas cookies every year. We really enjoy those cookies, but we decided this year to try some new ones. So I searched through all the recipes I have saved and  also copied down a few interesting ones I saw on facebook.

Trying new recipes

It’s a risk to try new recipes for Christmas because we use our Christmas cookies as presents for our neighbors, and for therapists and teachers. I decided to risk it. The worst thing that would happen was that we would have to do extra baking and make our old standby recipes for presents. Because the kids and I do enjoy baking, I figured it wouldn’t be that bad.

We picked two fudge recipes to try and three cookies and one called “crockpot candy.” One fudge one was really good. One was good enough to finish eating but I’m not sure we’ll make it next year. Two of the cookies were ok. I know we won’t make one of them again at all. One cookie was pretty good. I’ll share that recipe.

Meltaways cookie recipe

1 C. butter
¾ C. cornstarch
¾ C. powdered sugar
1 C. flour
In a medium bowl, cream butter until fluffy. Add cornstarch & sugar and blend well. Beat in flour until thoroughly mixed. Drop by small teaspoons onto baking sheet & flatten out with the bottom of a class. (Dip glass in powdered sugar to prevent sticking). Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Cool on wire rack & frost with Cream Cheese Frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 (3oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 C. powdered sugar
½ t. vanilla

Mix all ingredients together. Color with food coloring if desired.

But the one that was the best was the crockpot candy. We all loved it and finished the large amount in just 2 days. I adjusted the recipe a bit from what I found online because I like to play with recipes and make them my own. So here’s our recipe.

Crockpot Candy recipe

1 20 oz container salted peanuts
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 bag peanut butter chocolate chips
2 cups white chocolate bark

Layer all ingredients in order into the crockpot. Heat on low for 3 hours. Stir. Continue heating for another 30 minutes. Stir again. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and let harden.

That’s it. So easy and so delicious. I caught all the kids and my husband taking pieces all day long. Have to admit I was, too. Next time I think we’ll double the batch, but put it away off the counter as soon as it’s hardened.

Teaching kids to cook

My kids are growing up so fast. The other day my daughter asked me if she could learn to cook meals. She’s helped cook many meals. She can make toast and oatmeal for breakfasts and often makes her own. She makes sandwiches and salads and heats up soup for lunches. She often makes lunch for all of us because she likes to.


Kids help with meals

So moving up to suppers is her next obvious step. But it makes me nervous to let her do it all on her own. She’s nine years old and I was probably cooking at that age. I paid more attention to details than she tends to, though. She’s always been in her own little world. I have to let her try though.

So, with my help she made spaghetti for the first time. I tried to do very little. I even went into the next room a few times just to let her do it on her own as much as possible. She forgot nothing. She paid attention to all the details. And that evening, she proudly served spaghetti and salad for supper. The glow to her face was a wonderful thing to watch. She was so proud, and that made me proud.

I congratulated her on paying attention and completing the full meal. Now she wants to make supper once a week. So we sat down and came up with meals she could do easily. After the New Year I promised her she could make supper about once a week. Some of our weeks are crazy busy and we barely have time to sit down together, but we’re going to work on it.

Kitchen safety for kids

After working with my daughter, my son came up and asked me if I could teach him to make pizza. He wants to be the cook on pizza nights. He’s younger, but I decided that I would let him try. I could even help him pre-make and then freeze pizzas. Then he would be able to just bake them on the nights we want pizza. But first, we would try from scratch and see how he did.

I discovered that he isn’t really patient enough for the crust. He did help me mix it, but when it came time to spread the dough, he got frustrated. After I finished spreading the dough, he put on all the toppings. He also listened carefully to my safety instructions for using the oven and followed my directions very carefully.

He made a great pizza we all enjoyed. I probably will try to at least make the crust ahead of time for him, but I will gladly let him do the rest of the pizza. Next month, he says, he wants to learn to make eggs and sausage for supper one night.

It’s hard to believe they are growing up so much to be able to bake and cook. But the upside is, I now have less work to do at least one night a week.

Artistic present

I had no idea what to get for my nephew for Christmas. His parents weren’t much help in getting ideas, either. Partly it’s just that we don’t see him all that much. I mean, we do see him every other month for a few hours, but that doesn’t tell us much about his interests and his likes because he is too shy to really talk to us. He greets us and says goodbye when prompted by his parents, but that’s about all he’ll say to us.

Present for preschooler

So what do you get for a three-year-old boy you don’t really know, who has every toy his parents approve for him? Finally, a week before Christmas his mom tells me she can’t find a car mat for his cars to run on. Then she asks if I think I might be able to make one. “Dollar General has rugs on sale this week.” I agree, thinking this will be a fun project.

So I head to the store and see what I can find. For just $10 I find a light grey rug that is 3′ X 5′. It’s the perfect size for a child to play on. The color was light enough that other colors would show up on it.

Car mat for kids

I headed home and asked the kids to help me design a town for the cars. We decided what should be on the map—a school, a bus garage at the school, a bank, a library, a fire station, a police station, a grocery store, a pizza place, a town hall, a hospital, a garage and a used car lot, along with some houses became the town. Then, past the railroad tracks there is a lake for swimming and just a field. Apparently he needs a place to pick flowers and find butterflies.

Then we laid out the town and roads and the railroad tracks. We made sure the place for the railroad tracks was wide enough that the actual Thomas train tracks could be laid right on the rug. The kids decided there was to be a round-about for the cars. We outlined the roads all in black and because the rug was grey we could leave the roads without coloring them. We put the yellow lines in the middle of the roads and filled in the center of the round-about with green for grass.

Fabric markers needed

Then we moved onto the buildings. We designed the buildings on paper to fit in their spots. Then I drew them in. The kids colored the buildings. The words for the buildings were hard to do. It was my one disappointment for this project. The kids came up with names for things like the pizza shop was to be called “Pizza Pizza.” But writing on rug in small letters is just really hard, because the different fibers of the rug are just not all ways in the same place. If you run something over the rug in one direction and then write on the rug, it looks ok. But then you run something over it the other direction the fibers of the rug move and it’s hard to read it.

Homemade play mat for children is ready for toy cars.

Homemade play mat for children is ready for toy cars.

The rug was looking pretty good by this point. We had to fill in the rest of the map with green for grass and the blue for the lake and brown for the beach. This took many green fabric markers, but finally it was finished. My kids couldn’t stop playing with it. My nephew loves it. Now I have a request to make a My Little Pony map for my niece. I wonder what color rug I can get for that one?

Free wedding photography

Wedding photography is usually expensive. Not everyone needs to hire a professional photographer, however, to get what they want for their wedding. My husband has done the photography for weddings before, and has a collection of other photos he’s taken. This time, however, he wasn’t the one behind the camera. He was the best man in the wedding, so that left a lot of the photography to… me.

Manually focusing a camera

I took a photography course decades ago in high school, so I’ve long known the basics of framing a shot, but I long ago forgot all the F stops and how to focus a camera manually. I was spoiled by autofocus on digital cameras. My husband’s beloved camera had just stopped autofocusing for some reason (time for a trip to the shop), and there was no time to get it fixed before the wedding. So I was thrown into “Here, honey, take photos for this couple’s wedding” and, “Oh, yeah, figure out how to manually focus a camera again” at the same time. No pressure. It’s just the most important day of this couple’s life…

That was my volunteer act. I set aside my nerves, smiled, made them feel comfortable in front of the camera, and snapped as many pictures as I could in the time allotted. It might seem simple to snap a picture of someone walking down the aisle, but I can tell you, when you don’t have autofocus, and you have about a second to focus the camera then press the shutter button, it’s enough to send anyone’s blood pressure up.

Good wedding photos

I’m glad we did some staged shots, and that my husband was able to take a lot of those photographs. My husband has them on his computer, so he can touch up any that might need it. Focus, however, is something I don’t think can be fixed, so the ones that are out of focus may be a lost cause. I’m glad I went, though, and I’m glad I could help. I was able to get a large number of photos that were in focus. At the very least, I was able to share in their joy, and help them have a good day. I hope they are blessed with many years of happiness.

C. Hope Clark

C Hope Clark is the founder of Funds for Writers, a publication that gathers sources of funding, including grants and fellowships, which are available to writers. I’m not sure where I found her, it’s been such a long time that I’ve been following her work. It may have been through the Absolute Write discussion boards, or I might have read about her in Writer’s Digest magazine or some other place.

I’ve been following her on facebook for a few years now, and we’ve interacted a tiny bit. Not enough that I think she’d recognize my name, though, and I’d be surprised if she’s read any of my work. I chose her for this month’s challenge because she’s in my field and she’s out of my league. She not only is successful with Funds for Writers, she’s also been published multiple times, including in Writer’s Market, the annual go-to source of all the main publications where writers may submit work. While I have written many things for private clients, including books, my list of non-private publication credits is still relatively short, and consists mostly of online magazines and print anthologies. Hope is definitely out of my league.

Working pro bono

A relationship with her could benefit my career, certainly. But my main motivation isn’t to see what I can get. It’s to see what I can give. Yes, my family needs to eat. At the same time, I’m a firm believer in giving. Many people and even religions/philosophies advocate giving without expectation of return. It is good for our souls, in and of itself. It can help to bring a sense of humility and peace when other things cannot.

Because C. Hope Clark is well-known and well-connected, she undoubtedly has many friends who may be able to use a little help. That’s why I’m offering her 24 hours of my donated time, for anything that she or any of her friends may need in the way of the services I offer. That’s three full workdays, you say. With homeschooling and otherwise caring for my children, for me it’s more like six days. Why would I offer up a fourth of my month, for free, to someone who probably doesn’t even know my name? Because it’s a good thing to do. I like Hope and I want to support her if I can, and helping her friends helps her. Also, it’s a round world, and it may even come back to me someday. Who can you help? What talents can you share with someone who might need them?

Time for volunteering

It’s too easy to say we don’t have time. We’re all busy. I get that. Starting small may be the way to go. Skip one day of television programs and use that time to do something nice for someone else. You don’t even have to leave your home to do it, either. I know I’m not. Most likely, I’ll be doing all 24 hours of that pro bono time from the comfort of my home office, probably in my pajamas.