Letter From Granma

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Fan Favs…Orange Chicken

I have now been living in close proximity to the grandgirls for nearly 6 months.  We have developed a schedule so that we maintain our separate family units as well as enjoying our combined time together.  After a few weeks of trial and error, we developed an eating arrangement during the week, which can be easily adapted.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I cook the evening meal and we all eat together in the main house around the big family dining table.  Monday and Wednesday have become my “cooking” days and I have attempted to try a new recipe at each and every meal.  It is more creative for me and it has lead to some interesting and flavorful creations.  Some of the creations have been hits, some have been misses.  It takes a lot of research and pre-planning to have all of the ingredients and the time to make the meal.

I realized on Tuesday, when I do not cook for the family, that it does not take a “chef” to take the third and fifth grader to gastronomic heaven.  A last minute text from their mom asked that I preheat the oven and prepare Orange Chicken for the girls.  It could bake while she was on her drive home.

Trader Joe's ming_chicken_jpg_728x520_q85

For those of you unfamiliar with Trader Joes’s frozen orange chicken, you are missing out.  Trader Joe’s or Trader Ming’s Mandarin Orange Chicken features battered chicken pieces with a mandarin orange chicken sauce.  There is a reason the Mandarin Orange Chicken is Trader Joe’s number one selling product, and that is because it’s like a Chinese restaurant has set up shop in your kitchen. Just pour the coated nuggets onto a baking sheet, cook in the oven and then toss with the enclosed orange sauce. Serve with rice, and it’s cheaper (and tastier) than ordering out.  I must admit that I nearly always have a bag of this delightful dinner in my freezer for emergencies, but I had no idea until we moved to Norfolk, that this might be the all time favorite dinner of the grandgirls.

Because I am a culinary adventurer and would prefer to “do it yourself”, I did research an orange chicken recipe a few weeks ago.  Since I was experimenting and did not want to make enough for 6, I elected to make this on a Thursday for just the 2 of us.  I am a total fan of Ree Drummond, the Pioneer Woman, and have made a number of her recipes quite successfully.  If you haven’t tried her cooking section, I suggest you do.  With Orange Chicken on my mind,  I decided to try


rees orange chicken

Now, I am not saying that this wasn’t a great rendition of this dish.  It was very good.  However, the time that it took to prepare and the condition of the kitchen upon completion, with it’s grease spattered stove and batter slopped countertop, were definitely not worth the effort.

I have come to realize, that the girls are right.  Trader Joe’s Orange Chicken is Delish.  The third and fifth grader do have discerning tongues.

Here’s to Trader Ming!

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Am I Smarter than a Third Grader?

Fine.  I have already admitted that I am not as smart as the 5th grader, but now I am reduced to a third grade level.  Last night we were finally reading the assignment for Monday (the reading book was conveniently forgotten on Monday and left at school yet again yesterday).  Luckily it could be pulled up online…by the third grader. (Most likely, I would have had difficulty).

The reading assignment is taken from the book A Tree Is Growing by Arthur Dorros and illustrated by S. D. Schindler.  The illustrations are captivating.


I find it refreshing that the 3rd grade reading assignments are not just entertaining, but the homework is educational as well.  Some weeks the story is fun, some weeks the story teaches a message, and other weeks the story is full of interesting information about a specific subject.  This week’s assignment….Trees.  I know about trees.  I have planted them, climbed in them, pruned them, and picnicked under them.  I know about rings, sap, leaves, and seeds.

But…a Bristlecone Pine?  What is that?

Bristlecone Pine

Well, it appears that the Bristlecone Pine is the oldest tree on earth, the oldest being over 5000 years in age.  In fact the Bristlecone Pine is the oldest known individual of any species..the oldest living matter on earth.  The oldest known tree is in the White Mountains of California and is estimated to be 5064 years old.

Who knew?  I certainly didn’t.  So once again I am being educated by the girls.  It just goes to show that we are never, never to old to learn, and that we always, always have something to teach.


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I made gingersnaps last week and they were a big hit, not only with the Grandgirls, but with their parents.  (Even the one on the paleo diet!)  I had made the dough in advance, hoping that the girls would be available to shape the cookies into balls, roll them in the sugar and bake them.  As usual the girls were “too busy”.  Hopefully someday in the not too distant future, the girls will visit us more often and make us more a part of their “busy” lives.


I hadn’t made these cookies in years and the recipe is a really good one.  It came to me before I was married.  Actually it was part of a very clever bridal shower given for me by a friend of my mother-in-law to be.  The recipe was from the kitchen of Jeanie McClellan, a home economics teacher in Xenia, Ohio.  Each person attending the shower was to bring a recipe card with their favorite recipe.  This card has been in my recipe box for 47 years.  It is neatly typed on a cute little card.  The wooden, hinged recipe box which housed the cards was also a gift at that shower.  The box has long since worn out from frequent use, but the cards and their special recipes remain.

gingersnap card

gingersnap card 2

I didn’t even need to write out the recipe…an image of the treasured card will suffice.  I used butter and I was very generous with the spices and molasses.  Delish!  The cookies brought back memories, but more importantly, they are now making more.

Post Script…

This was a great idea for my bridal shower and would be just as appropriate today.  By asking each guest to bring their most prized recipe to share with the bride, you automatically make the day more personal.  By planning ahead you can assure that the recipes are done uniformly and presented in a meaningful way.  A good way of assuring this might be to send a recipe card with the invitation.

 It would be interesting to know years later, how many of these recipes are still housed as a cherished keepsake of that special day.  After all, 47 years later, I still have these little 3 x 5 cards.

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Basketball….3rd Grade Style

Okay, I must admit that when I was in elementary school (way back when), we did not have a basketball team until the 4th grade and did not play competitively until the 5th…and that was the boys…never the girls.  Girls could cheer or if they didn’t make the cheerleading squad, they would spectate and giggle together while watching their favorite player.

Well, not anymore.  There is basketball for girls and boys beginning in the 3rd grade.  Of course I assumed, mistakenly, that the 3rd graders would learn the basics and become familiar with the game, never dreaming that they would compete with other teams and other schools.  Boy was I wrong!  (It amazes me how “wrong” the 3rd and 5th grader continue to prove me.)

At the beginning of the season the Saint Gregory the Great Saints 3rd grade girls team was just learning to dribble and now they are playing the game.  After several weeks of competition, the girls played the Searays from St John the Apostle at 8 AM yesterday morning.  (Yes, you read it correctly, 8 AM on Saturday.)  It was the first game that I had the opportunity to see.  It was definitely an experience I will not soon forget.  The most exciting part of the game…the girls scored their very first basket!  Yes, the girls were excited, but OH MY, you should have watched the parents in the bleachers!  They were more animated than a Disney cartoon.  For the remainder of the game, I found that I watched the parents almost as much as I watched the girls.   I listened to the parents as well.  This team definitely had a 6th player…the fans!

3rd grade bb jan 31 3rd grade bb jan 31 3 3rd grade bb jan 31 7 3rd grade bb jan 31 4 3rd grade bb jan 31 8

The final score…2 all.  It was a tie.  The opposing team scored in the final seconds.

Later in the day, the 3rd grader complained,  Why didn’t we have “Overtime”?  I assume that the rules for 3rd graders allow regulation play time only.   She did not like that rule.

One other observation.  The referee.  He was up and down the floor all game long and heard the cheers and jeers from the stands.  You could tell he was thoroughly enjoying himself.  My biggest regret of the morning…I did not ask how long he has been a basketball fan.  You see, he looked to be in his 70’s and was definitely keeping up with the girls and the game.  I am guessing he is someone’s very special Grandpa.

Post Script…

Did you know that AAU Basketball teams begin with the 2nd grade?  There are AAU Basketball National Championships and the opening division begins with the 3rd grade?  The championship game was held in Orlando last year and the date for 2015 is July 23rd.  The game is even covered by ESPN.


Wow, how sports have changed!

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When I grew up I said a prayer before bed, often listened to by my mom or dad, or my grandma.  After I said my prayers, they would “tuck me in” and kiss me goodnight.  This was a nightly ritual. 

 We also said a prayer at the evening meal or “supper” as we called it.   We always folded our hands and bowed our heads.  It became routine and sometimes my mind would wander and I would think about other things.  I found myself praying out of habit rather than conviction.  With that being said, prayer was always done with reverance and humility.  After all I was talking to God, thanking him and asking him.  As I grew older, prayer became more personal and private, but saying grace at the evening meal  was a tradition that did not waver.  Over the years we joined hands together instead of folding hands separately.  I don’t know exactly how that began, but I know that I liked it.  It was a connection each and everyday made with each other and with God that occured no matter how we felt.  We might be mad, sad, angry or hurt, but we still joined hands and said a simple prayer of thanks.  For a number of years instead of saying the accepted short grace, we would say a more personal prayer at mealtime, offering thanks for specific things that had occured during the day, or asking for God’s help and direction.  Some people are comfortable with that…others are not.  Regardless, taking a moment  during the day to connect with each other and with God is important.


A grace is a short prayer said before or after a meal thanking God for his provision.  The term most commonly refers to Christian traditions, but it can also be found in nearly every other religion and culture. 

A Catholic grace said before eating:  Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

A Grace that I grew up saying:  Come, Lord Jesus, be our Guest, and let these gifts unto us be blessed. Amen.

Is it important to be reverent when we pray?  I think yes.  When we come to God we should show respect and reverence.  We honor his authority and greatness.  It is a time to give God our undivided attention and talk to him.

I suppose that I shouldn’t be bothered when there are crazy ways of saying grace.  At least grace is being said, but it does bother me.  Sometimes I actually cringe when grace becomes a joke.  Maybe I am wrong, but that is how I feel.  I am not God’s pal,  I am his child.    There are times in life to be funny, be loud, be crazy, and there are times to be quiet, thoughful, and respectful. I think that the short time that we take to talk to God before our meal warrants our engagement and respect.


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Am I Smarter than a 5th Grader? Resolutions

The assignment…write a paragraph about resolutions that you have made for the year.
noun: a firm decision to do or not to do something.
Why is it the we correlate resolutions with the first of the year?  Over the years the New Year’s resolution has gained more and more popularity.  In fact one of the many questions asked at the beginning of the year is “What is your New Year’s resolution? ”  What have you promised to do as an act of self improvement?
Where did this traditon begin?
As with so very many customs or traditions we can go back to ancient times to find the origins.
The Babylonians made promises to their gods at the beginning of each year.  The Romans made promises to their god Janus for whom the month of January is named.
Some of the more popular resolutions made by adults include loosing weight, getting organized, improving finances, and improving social skills.  A comprehensive study, however, showed that nearly 88% failed to keep their resolutions.  The reasons given were that the goals were unrealistic, they forgot about their goals, or they simply made too many resolutions to begin with.
resolutions 10
For the 5th grader…it took a great deal of concentration for the paragraph to be written.  I could tell that there were numerous ideas for resolutions which were discarded because the commitment of keeping that particular resolution would  not be worth the effort.  It occurred to me that to resolve to do something requiring a full year is biting off something many of us are not prepared to do.
So why not resolve to do something each day?    The dedication or “staying power” is much easier to handle and the task of commitment not so overwhelming.  In this way, we can strive to make positive changes without risking defeat by dedicating ourselves to an unrealistic time table.  We can concentrate on a positive action for a day.  We can resolve to do less of the negative things and more of the positive things.
resolutions less and more
We can start with very small things and work toward bigger ones.  This is something that everyone can do no matter how old they are.  Some ideas might include simply offering a positive compliment to someone, doing a task without being asked, or taking chances by doing something outside our comfort zone.   Some resolutions might simply be to change a negative behavior like mistreating the dog or a family member, or crying at bedtime.  Little changes handled one at a time on a daily basis can directly impact our lives.   People will take notice.  As we see how one day can make a difference, we will find that we do each of these little things more often and we no longer need to “resolve” to do them at all, because they have become a positive part of our life.
I say…No more New Year’s Resolutions.  Resolve to take one day at a time and make one small change for the better.
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There are bystanders in life and doers.   I would classify your dad, Doug, as a doer.   A doer is a person who acts instead of merely talking or thinking.  He gets things done.

I know sometimes you get frustrated because he is constantly busy, and cannot sit still for very long.  If he doesn’t have a project, he finds one or is active in some other way.   He is constantly busy.  Sometimes you tell me that you wish he wasn’t always so busy, but then I look at you and your daily life.  You are a doer as well.  You are always “busy”.  In fact, that used to frustrate me…when I lived far away.  You were always so “busy” that you had no time for me…not even time to talk on the phone.

This past weekend your dad swam over 3 miles in the cold Tampa Bay in an open water swim to support the Navy Seal Foundation.  The race is an incredible event to raise money for the Navy SEAL Foundation, last year raising $275,000 alone!  The Navy SEAL Foundation’s mission is to provide immediate and ongoing support and assistance to the Naval Special Warfare Community and its families.  http://www.navysealfoundation.org/

frogman swim 2015 1

Participating in the 2015 Tampa Bay Frogman 5 K Swim was not an easy task, nor was it inexpensive.  It was a commitment of time, energy, and resources.  Not only did your dad take the time to raise money toward a goal he set for himself, but he also took time to train.  Part of his “vacation” in Aruba was spent in the open water swimming to prepare for this event.  Once back in Norfolk he did the same.

frogman swim 2015 4

He also managed to enter the event which filled in a record 30 minutes.  That in itself took a plan of action.  There were also the expenses of the entry fee and the travel to Tampa for the event.

I know that you were able to experience this event in 2014 and it made an impression on you as you watched the participants finish.  I also know that your dad appreciated the time you took to write your letter expressing the impact the experience made on you last year…which he used this year in his fund raising efforts.

frogman 2014

We should be very proud of his accomplishment and the example that he sets for all of us.  We should all strive to be “Doers”.


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Happy Birthday Mom!

aspen and delaney moms bday

aspen and crowd moms bday

Last night we had a party…a birthday party.  The birthday girl was not physically with us….but she was with us in spirit.  We sang to Granma Lucia and shared chocolate cake…her favorite.  Sharing her memory made the evening special.

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January 10th….

lucia with aspen

I just finished baking a chocolate cake.  I don’t bake very often anymore…and seldom make cakes, but today is special.  Today is my mother’s birthday…your great grandmother Lucia would have been 92 today.  She has been gone for nearly 6 years, but I still think of her everyday.  She taught me so very many things…but I think that what I admired the most about her was the steadfast, unconditional love she had for my dad.  She provided a true home for him no matter where the years took them and she was completely devoted to him and to her vows….for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.  She never asked for much, and she always seemed to gave more than she had.  I miss her.

I am thankful that she had the opportunity to meet both of you grandgirls.  She loved you so much.

So today we will celebrate her birthday with her favorite dessert…chocolate cake!

chocolate cake


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As you grandgirls assisted in taking down the Christmas decorations and packing them away for another year, I realized that your celebration of the holiday and your traditions are different than mine.

I had an epiphany (striking realization) on Epiphany.

The first thing I realized was that you were unaware that the 12 days of Christmas do not precede Christmas.


12 Days of Christmas….

The Twelve Days of Christmas are observed from December 25 until January 5.  The Twelve Days of Christmas are the festive days beginning Christmas Day. This period is also known as Christmastide and Twelvetide. The Twelfth Night of Christmas is always on the evening of 5 January, but the Twelfth Day can either precede or follow the Twelfth Night according to which Christian tradition is followed. Twelfth Night is followed by the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th of January.

I have always left my Christmas decor in place until after the 6th of January.  I was brought up in the tradition that Twelfth Night, January 5th, celebrates the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, the physical manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God to the Gentiles. (Matthew 2: 1-12) and the celebration of Epiphany follows on January 6.   When I announced on Tuesday that it was the 12th day of Christmas called Epiphany, I was met with blank stares.


Over the years as I have become associated with more and more people of different ethnic backgrounds, I have learned that many Eastern Orthodox religions actually celebrate the birth of Christ on January 6th….it is their Christmas.  As a business owner I routinely needed to give employee time off for holiday celebrations not only on December 25 and January 1, but also January 6.  For others, Epiphany is the celebration of the baptism of Christ…again the physical manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God.  Regardless…Epiphany is an  important day on the Christian calender.

Your time in New Orleans exposed you to customs in yet another way, but I am guessing that you never knew it had anything to do with Epiphany.   While you were there you became aware of the “King Cake” a long standing tradition in Louisiana.  But did you know that the Mardi Gras season begins on Epiphany and it is the first day that the king cake is baked and sold?  The “king cake” takes its name from the biblical three kings.  The cake often has a small plastic baby (said to represent Baby Jesus) inside (or sometimes placed underneath), and the person who gets the piece of cake with the trinket has various privileges and obligations and must provide the next  King Cake.  The baby symbolizes luck and prosperity to whomever finds it in their slice of cake


Now that we are in Virginia and after additional research, I have found that in colonial Virginia twelfth night or Epiphany was celebrated with great merriment.  The “Great Cake” was prepared which consisted of 2 giant layers of fruit cake coated and filled with royal icing.   Custom dictated that the youngest child present, cut, and serve the cake and whoever found the bean or the prize was crowned King of the Bean.  Isn’t it interesting how similar the traditions of Louisiana and Virginia are?

The other thing that is of interest to me is how often we are involved in celebrations and traditions, but we have no idea what they represent or how they began.  So much of what we do and how we celebrate is based on customs and traditions handed down over many years.  The more we delve into the way the traditions began, the more we know about their significance and their influence on our lives.


We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we travel afar.
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Born a king on Bethlehem’s plain,
Gold I bring to crown Him again,
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Frankincense to offer have I.
Incense owns a Deity nigh.
Prayer and praising all men raising,
Worship Him, God on high.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrow, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star.

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star of royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Following yonder star!


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