Blueberry Zucchini Bread

We have zucchinis!  This year we experimented with a raised bed and planted as much as we could. Why didn't we do this sooner?  I love the cherry tomatoes, the basil, the zucchini.  We are patiently waiting on everything else-I don't even remember all that we planted.

I love this bread-a special treat, so delicious.

This recipe makes six mini-loaves.  Perfect for sharing.

3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups white sugar
2 cups shredded zucchini
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 pint fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease mini-loaf pans.

In a bowl, beat together eggs, oil, vanilla, and sugar.  Fold in the zucchini.  Beat in the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.  Fold in blueberries and transfer to mini-loaf pans.

You can choose to add this crumb topping (it is my favorite part):
Mix together 4 TBS butter, 3/4 cup flour, 3/4 cup brown sugar.  Sprinkle on top of each loaf.

Here's what a loaf looks like with the crumb topping.

Bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.   Cool in pans.


Thoughts and Tips on Teen Employment

I received an email a couple weeks ago that asked about my teens and our experience with jobs-what we require here, how they get jobs, school year vs. summer employment, etc. so I thought I'd do a post.

We require and desire deeply (for my sanity as well as theirs) for our teenagers to have employment as soon as they are able to work.

Jeff and I both grew up working from an early age, back when minimum wage was $2.65 an hour and we think we gained many skills and learned the value of a dollar this way. So this is what we wish for our children.  I know some parents have different rules and I would never say that my way is the right way. I know parents who don't want their kids to work in high school at all and to enjoy their summers while they can.  I don't think there is one right answer, a guarantee for success. There are probably kids who never work and go on to be hard workers when they graduate from college. There are probably kids who work since they are twelve, and aren't able to succeed well in the work place or keep a job. We just do what we think is best (more on why below) and please, please remember everything I have learned is through trial and error-we are learning as we go here, sometime easily, sometimes in hindsight, sometimes with joy, sometimes with frustration.

How To Find Teen Jobs:
It is not enough to say, (or yell), "Go get a job!"  How do they know how to do this if they've never done it before?  We have to teach them, guide them, sometimes really encourage them (see below about motivation.).  Teens (and adults?) are usually self-conscious and intimidated to walk into a place and ask for an application.  I have learned that they need encouragement, and step by step instructions.  Who to ask, what to say, what to wear, how to fill out the application, how to follow up, how to interview.

I have also helped them search for jobs-I keep my ears and eyes open.  Usually when summer jobs are opening up, the older kids have been in intense exam time, or sports involvement.  I have no qualms about helping search (because obviously they are the ones that have to "get" that job).

Here's how we have found jobs:
I have found that networking is the best.
For parents:
I ask other parents with older kids, "Where have your kids worked?" We can also find out how many hours were given, whether the other employees were decent enough to work with teenagers, whether the boss was flexible around sports and school, how much money was earned, how to go about applying, etc.

For teens: All of the above sometimes with the added bonus of having the influence of recommendation from a friend who is an employee.

For older teens-By May our oldest had a choice of five jobs, and three were found through websites-like Craigslist, Monster, snagajob, etc.  (We googled our city's name, summer jobs, internships, and then scrolled through.)  Also, more for girls interested in babysitting, sittercity and care.com usually have tons of jobs listed.  Yes, I was very cautious-if any listing isn't super descriptive, listing the company's name, local address, detailed job description and pay (especially on Craigslist) we would pass it over.  And I wouldn't let a teenage girl drive anywhere by herself to interview if using a website, even a babysitting job.

And then the old-fashioned way-Going into a business, that might have a sign in the window or not, and asking if they are hiring.  Or looking at a small local newspaper's help wanted ads.

1. We have learned to print out a sample application from the internet, fill it out together the first time, and then have it with them when go to ask for an application-that way the application can be filled out immediately at the counter or in the car and save an extra step of having to go back.  Added plus: I've learned to have them ask for the name of the person who does the hiring, so when they call back they can ask for the right person.  I have them prepared for an interview right away just in case that great scenario is offered.

2. Follow up-so important, they HAVE to call or stop back in. My kids have been told they got the job because they are the only ones who called back.  They hate to do this, it makes them nervous, but I force them to. :)

Notes about employment
-When they start with their first job they need tips about how to be a good employee.  They need to see themselves through the eyes of the boss, and imagine they were shelling out their money to hire someone.

-We really stress having them keep track of their own schedule, writing down work times, etc.  This is a huge part of "growing up" and being responsible.  (That does not mean I don't double check with them, until I'm confident they "get it".)

-There is a frustrating time before kids are able to find jobs-I have experienced it and have friends who are also experiencing it-every state has different laws about hiring ages etc, but the young teens are starting to want/need spending money.  For us here, it's sixteen-and just a few places around town hire sixteen year olds-that's when that networking comes in.  Meanwhile, they (and we parents) have to sit tight, or be lucky enough to find a mother's helper or babysitting job or lawn job for neighbors or be hired by family and friends, etc.  Sometimes volunteer work is an option.

-For college kids-I've learned to start early!  I feel like it's race when all these colleges are getting out at different times-last summer our oldest really had a harder time getting a job because he waited too long, and ended up working part-time instead of full-time.  This time I made sure he was on the ball in April/early May.  It made a huge difference.

-I have learned too, that it is important for the teens to ask how many hours are typically given per week. We've found that a few times this is over-promised and under-delivered.  Both of my older kids are combining two part-time jobs to make 40+ hours a week.  Very few places hire seasonal or teen full-time employees anymore.  Another tip is to have them spread the word, or hang a note, that they will pick up anyone's shift.  They have both added many hours this summer by subbing in for someone.

-School year vs. summer:  For us, school always trumps work of course, and if teens are involved in a high intensity sport, or have AP classes etc, likely they will not have the time to work. If not, then yes they have a weekend day or evening available.  So far we've required a job in college-it's a great way to meet people, and be active on campus.

Thoughts about motivation;

Do we require motivation?  No, that comes from within, but we do require a job. I know it's frustrating, I get it, but I am not against extremely strong encouragement either.  As in "you will be working full-time this summer, plus some, so let's get going on this now because you have this and this and this to pay for and boy will it be miserable without a cent of money."  I have found that once my teens have gotten over the hump of being apathetic, nervous about applications and learning new work (this is daunting!), that first pay check keeps the motivation in high gear.

And sometimes we need to ask ourselves-what do they have to be motivated for?  If they are living in a comfy home, with computers, a smartphone, cable TV, a full gas tank and and a free vehicle, and have all their needs and wants gifted to them, why would they be motivated to work?   For some kids it has to "hurt" and parents have to decide, sometimes by necessity, sometimes because they want to teach responsibility, what degree of motivation it might take.  That might mean they have to pay for their cell phone portion, or their clothes or movie tickets, or buy their own car and insurance, and books for college and every ounce of spending money. Sometimes it takes sitting down and talking about how important college is, and how much it costs, and how it must be done with their help too. Again, all parents have different financial spending/savings requirements for their kids.

Here are some of my personal thoughts (and they are based only on my experiences with my children, and I'm still learning):

The teenage and college years are about teaching these kids to be completely independent, functional, contributing adults.  A gradual handing off of responsibilities needs to take place.  Again, it depends on how much they are able to work.  Eventually they need to learn that unfortunately the bulk of a paycheck usually goes towards things that aren't fun at all-that's the "real world" isn't it?  When they graduate and are able to work full-time it won't be a shocker because they have handled paying for some of these "not fun" items.  I also discuss how it's a matter of respect, if we are supporting them in any way, not to spend their own earnings frivolously.

Approaching working as a chore, a pain, and terrible thing is the wrong attitude.  My kids have met great friends at their jobs, and have had fun-no, maybe not every hour or every day, but work can be fun, especially with peers, or at least a little more than drudgery.  And what are they going to do anyways all day or on weekends?  Better to have purposeful work, and be earning money than wasting time scrolling through Instagram or watching You Tube videos.

They have learned so so much-more than in any classroom. I'll tell you this-my daughter will never ever be a rude customer, and will not raise bratty kids.  Why?  Because she sees both every day when serving ice cream.  One son will never shun off his work on some other employee because he knows what that feels like.  My other son will appreciate everything he has had as a child, because he is working with kids from the housing projects the bulk of every day.  And he will always tip the pizza delivery guy. They all have learned what a good boss and bad boss looks like and if they are in that role one day I am sure they have learned how to properly manage.  I can go on and on lesson after lesson after lesson about being a kind, responsible, contributing, helpful, polite member of society.

They learn how to be good employees, so many skills, a good resume, that's pretty obvious.

They learn the value of a dollar or how far one doesn't go in this day and age.  Isn't it amazing how much better one takes care of a car when it's their own hard earned cash, or how much more appealing TJMaxx looks vs. the mall when trying to stretch $50 dollars that took eight hours to make, or how much it really ads up to eat out vs. make a quick sandwich at home?  They learn how necessary savings are for emergencies, and to always be cautious about spending.  They learn how to keep track of their spending and manage their own savings/checking account.  This is sometimes a frustrating lesson to learn for them and for us, but a necessary one.  Again, real life.  But as parent, I'll tell you, when you see it start to click it's an encouraging feeling.

I also remind them constantly (I am sure they are sometimes rolling their eyes behind my back) about how lucky they are to live when and where they are living.  Are they the sole bread winner, bringing food home for their little siblings?  Are they working in a steamy factory for twelve hours a day with no breaks, instead of attending school?  Do they have a roof over their heads and food in the pantry? Do we support their education?  I have several great "talks" (let's not call them lectures) about Ellis Island immigrants, the Depression, Third World existence, and how hard their grandparents and great grandparents worked.  In other words, they have it easy compared to most in history, and compared to many others on this planet. Appreciation and gratitude is taught (I hope.:)


Encouragement For The Week

(Elizabeth-full of wisdom and encouragement-blogs at In the Heart of the Home.)


A Little Summer Escape

Has anyone been watching Poldark? I thank Stephanie for bringing to my attention this wonderful little PBS gem based on a series of books by Winston Graham.  I love everything about this show-the romantic plot line, the characters, the costumes, the excellent acting, the cinematography, and the beautiful setting.

(I had to include this photo just to prove to you that the setting is beautiful-you see all the wildflowers, the beautiful meadow, the mountains in the background, right? :)

I watched the first four episodes last Saturday evening (yes I admit to spending Saturday evenings watching PBS and also admit to choosing that over any social event always) and I have enjoyed it as much as Downton. There are a couple more episodes on Sunday evenings into August until season one is finished  I have read there will be a second season (and I wish a third and fourth).  


Self-Entertainment and Settling In

We've had a long run of fun events and I am reminded once again, of what "settling in" means to me and the kids and what I need to do to make that happen.  I've heard too many requests lately to watch TV or invite a friend over or go to a friend's house.  They have grown accustomed to being entertained, instead of finding their own entertainment.

Today I started to clean out the craft/homework area, (long overdue, plus school supplies are out and I freshened our markers and crayons) and moved into the family room to simplify things a bit.  Boy I used to be good at this-I could pitch things, put them in the Goodwill bin, move them upstairs into the "holding area" (otherwise known as linen closet repurposed into toy cabinet) with ease.  Now I find myself getting stuck by sentimentalism in a major paralyzing way.  For instance, Patrick doesn't play with his "guys" anymore.  That hurts my heart, because I won't have any other little boys to hand those guys down to and he's growing up so quickly.  I won't/can't/don't part with them, he doesn't want to either. We moved them up in his drawer under his bed.

When it comes to having kids who can entertain themselves, sometimes all it takes is a stern "quiet day" rule (nothing going on today, don't ask) and for me to sit down and re-engage them in activities. If I sit and draw with them, start them out on little things like this whatever it is, I reawaken the interest.  This takes:

1. having things organized and accessible to them.
2. simplifying their things so they aren't overwhelmed.
3. a little instruction or just sitting with them and playing along.

Janey had too many toys out, and when I moved a lot of things up to a high shelf in her closet (they will feel new when I switch them out in a few months), and I set up a little area with just three dolls and a basket of clothes, one purse and a backpack she played for hours with them.  I am on to her kitchen area to weed out there.

All of these things, (except the deep sentimental feelings which make me want to bawl), help me feel more settled also.  I know what we have in our home, I can easily help straighten the family areas (or do it myself, which is most likely the case), it looks visually appealing to me and I can reconnect with the kids.  I have learned this about myself and my kids over the years-we need this pull-back time, and need to take the time to settle in and reestablish some semblance of order.


Encouragement For The Week

Oh give me patience when wee hands
Tug at me with their small demands.
And give me gentle and smiling eyes.
Keep my lips from hasty replies.

And let not weariness, confusion or noise
Obscure my vision of life's fleeting joys.
So when, in years to come my house is still
No bitter memories its rooms may fill.
(saw this on melissa's blog)


Ordinary Days

It really needs to stop raining!  I love a good summer thunderstorm, sometimes those days where it is rainy and cloudy are welcomed here, but our backyard has been a swamp all summer long (the mosquito's are wicked awful) and although the rain makes for green grass and beautiful flowers, it hasn't really felt like summer at all.  And the poor farmer's fields all around us-I feel funny complaining about it when their livelihood depends on this rain stopping!

(photo credit to my Matthew)

School supplies are in the stores, and although it made me feel ill (really it did) and I had to replenish a few things, and I just love when crayons and markers are under $1.  I can't resist.

We make these every week.  Matt has taken over the responsibility.

This plant was lush and thriving at one time, but obviously the attack of the Sahara, Woodland, and Desert animals all at once left it quite diminished.

We enjoyed our family reunion earlier this month.  

My grandparents lived here as long as I knew them, and raised nine children (the oldest is my mother.) 

These are many of the great-grandchildren on their front porch (which has thankfully stayed in the family).  I think there are 58 and two on the way now, from the forty-four grandchildren those nine children had.

I have been contemplating so much since the reunion. Mainly sentimental thoughts, along the line of how things change so quickly, how the culture unknowingly can push and pull us along.  Change is inevitable I know, but I wonder if in our busy daily life here in 2015 we can recognize the cost of not resisting some of it.  I think of my grandmother raising nine kids, my mom remembers some really tight times, and what "tight times" meant back then and what it means now and how different those two are, and how we don't really want to admit that.  I am thinking of the value placed on material goods, versus relationships, or family life, and how that effects the choices we make.  I had a conversation with a friend about how busy parenting just a few kids is now-if we let it be, and we have let it be, can we always choose otherwise?   Half of it self-inflicted, some of it there is no getting around, it is what it is, we conform.  

I came to no profound conclusions or even a peace about it all, but I know that my life is rich because of this family, because tremendous value is placed on family life, and the love and care of children.  I am so grateful-for my unchanging Catholic faith that I was born and formed with, and I treasure it and respect it deeply.

I do know that family is the backbone of society, and if we don't treasure it and respect it also, and support and sacrifice for it, there is nothing that can take its place and the first to suffer is the weak, the innocent, and the dependent (all those little faces above).

Once strong family life disappears, I can't see it coming back, because brokenness has a way of repeating itself in generation after generation-there will be no structure for support, and that structure needs sufficient strength-the strength that comes from strong sure values based in faith, based in strong close loving marriages, based in aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents supporting and teaching and guiding and loving. That strength needs to be unwavering among the times and trends that come and go.  There is no replacement for family, history has proved it, our present times are proving it now.

When families are strong, they help not only the weak and struggling and sick and hurting in their own families, because this is life-we are all going to be those things at some time in our lives, and will need the mending and consoling and building back up offered to us-they also have the time and resources to spend it on service to others. That is what I see as a core underlying current in this family I am proud to call my own-service to our spouse, our children, each other but also service to country, service to community, service in day to day life.

I give thanks to my grandparents for that, and my parents in turn and take seriously passing on this legacy to my children.  I try to remember to pray daily for the strength to do so.


On Mother Mentors

Lately I've been thinking of the importance of having mother mentors.  I have a handful of them, and I will forever be grateful that God placed them in my path.  I know them in person and I witness the way they parent and the joy they find in their family. Some are relatives, some are friends I've met through our church or school.  

I was thinking of what they have in common with each other;

-They don't have perfect kids, because no kids are perfect.  But they take the responsibility of raising good kids-they have children (or young adults now) with a work ethic, children with manners, children who respect authority, children who are welcoming to others, children who are kind.  They have strong sets of values.  They teach their kids that they have a responsibility to their parents and to society as a whole to be a contributor. They keep their children young-no growing up too fast as the culture would dictate today.  They have a strong belief system. They place value on children in general, and teach their children a deep respect for life. 

-They spend most of their time with their children.  They enjoy doing so. 

-They are almost all a little older than I am, and have kids that are a few years or many years ahead of my kids-they have journeyed further and therefore have a broad view of what really matters.

-They would humbly reject that they should ever be anyone's mentor, or that they ever knew what they were doing.  But they are, and they did-because they started out parenting with a sense of what was right and wrong, and an innate sense of the truth of what a child needs.  So even when they had pressure from the culture, they knew "this is the way we do things in this house".   They seemed to not be interested in ever "keeping up" with what anyone else was doing.  Home is the center, the axis, the foundation of all that is good, and parents were/are there, cultivating that "home base".

When I am feeling overwhelmed, or maybe I had just entered a new stage of parenting these are the moms I go to with questions.  Questions as trivial as household systems management (meals or laundry) or as big as navigating the teen years. It is so nice to have the reassurance and reminders, to continue on the course, or to take the other path, or to get a little boost of confidence when I have needed it and felt unsure of what I was doing.


Encouragement For The Week


The Most Delicious Garlic Bread

A little twist on the normal recipe I use for garlic bread.  I serve this often as it fills up hungry boys.

1 baguette (or any kind of bakery bread) sliced lengthwise

Mix together:
1/2 cup (or 1 stick) softened butter
1/4 cup of mayo  
3 cloves of garlic, chopped (I use chopped garlic from a jar)
about a half dozen fresh basil leaves chopped
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

I honestly don't measure any of these ingredients, I just estimate, and it's never turned out anything but delicious. 

Spread mixture evenly on bread. (There should be nice thick layer.)

Leave open, and bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes or until golden brown..


Support For Moms With A Colicky Baby

Someone recently wrote to me to ask about colic and survival tips.  Here is my letter back, and I'm hoping it will help others:

Andrew (my fourth) was colicky all day, and I mean all day.  And Janey (my sixth) wasn't easy either-they both were like glue all day long-the difference with Janey was that if I nursed her she would stop crying, and Andrew wouldn't want to nurse (or take a pacifier) because he had reflux so it was so hard and heartbreaking and frustrating and SO draining.  There is nothing more heartbreaking than not being able to calm an inconsolable baby as a mom.

I remember with Andrew that probably six weeks had passed and I realized that he was probably not touching me about two hours (fastest showers ever and a few little breaks from Jeff who was busy with the three older kids who needed attention from a parent) the ENTIRE six weeks. He was either in the sling on me, or in my arms, or on my chest at night.  I cried a little every night from the stress but I wanted a baby so badly, and after two miscarriages, I wasn't going to specify 'easy' or 'hard' baby to the Creator-I just said "a baby" and I was so so grateful my wish was granted.  (There is a gift in loss-a deep deep appreciation for what I will never take for granted again.)

Here's my advice:


Hang that on the fridge and say it one hundred times a day or night when needed.

Summon all your courage, all your patience, all your strength, all your energy, and just get through it.

Andrew is the sweetest, smartest, most caring, loving boy ever, and I thought for sure I would be "in for it" for the rest of my life-like colic was some indication of his intensity.  It's not!  It will stop one day, you just have to ride it out and get through it and you won't be left with a troubled child or ax murderer in it's wake.  You will be closer and more in touch with that baby-it's extra bonding time and a beautiful close loving relationship with develop from all that angst.

A few things that sometimes help-

Wearing a sling because if gas is a problem you can keep them more upright and burps can come up easier.

For some reason putting on music helped us not go out of our minds during the pacing periods.  Beatles and Rolling Stones-I figured out these both had a strong heart beat background and cranked them.  You Can't Always Get What You Want and Give Peace A Chance, go figure.  But it worked to get us into a rhythm of at least walking the floor or distracted us all.

Bouncing gently on the exercise ball helped with movement when I just couldn't pace anymore.

If breastfeeding is involved, be very careful of dairy products. Try not eating one single tiny bit of dairy for at least a week or two and see if it gets better, I know with my other four babies not eating any dairy (so hard without pizza and ice cream!) really helped.  It's worth a try.

Andrew had a reflux issue.  I tried a medication at the advice of our pediatrician but it did nothing, and I felt awful forcing it down because it was horrid, so that solution was crossed off my list.  I could hear a clicking hiccuping noise in his throat after nursing and then the milk would go back down. (I have learned this is called "silent reflux".)  

I have decided that it was just something he had to outgrow.  I have found that although it's worth it to try to find if there is an allergy or something more serious, sometimes it is, what it is and we just had to ride it out. Sometimes (often) there is no magic answer!

I accepted that all I could do is hold him-even if I couldn't stop the fussing or crying, he would know he was being held and comforted and loved and that had to be enough for both of us.

My three older children at the time became very independent and that was a good thing.  They had to do things by themselves and help each other out-from making lunch, to getting dressed, etc. The other thing that happened which was such a gift-I learned what really mattered.  My priorities realigned themselves so quickly.  I learned to say no with no guilt and without a doubt.  I dropped just about everything I was doing before-I knew that this baby and my family needed me during this intense time and no one else mattered more.  I consolidated all my errands into only the most necessary one-stop shop that I could get by with per week, when Jeff was home.  Even just performing the necessities of life were difficult-like a shower, and getting dressed, and fixing food for the family-I dropped down to the nitty gritty until we got through it.  (And learned that we all functioned on a slower pace-I kept up that habit of saying no more often and less errand running!)

I had no idea having a colicky baby was so so so difficult before I was blessed with one.  But heck it made me stronger.  I equated it with running a marathon every day, and therefore can cross 'running a marathon' off my list of things to accomplish. :) I said after the whole experience, "If I could survive that, I can do anything!", and I still feel that way today.   


Encouragement For The Week


Grilled Mini Sweet Peppers

One day in the grocery store, I couldn't resist buying this big bright bag of mini sweet peppers.  I had no idea what I was going to do with them-I doubted any kids but my oldest (who eats anything and everything) would eat them plain.

I decided to throw them on the grill with some chicken that evening.  

I took off the green caps, threaded them on wood skewers, brushed them with olive oil and sprinkled them with some course kosher salt.  I left them on till they were just slightly soft and had some pretty grill marks on their sides.

They were delicious and gone in seconds.


A Tidbit of Advice

I was at a graduation party recently and met a women with four little ones all in row.  She had a tiny baby strapped to her chest and then boom, boom, boom, the kids went right up in age.  Someone introduced me as "a mom with six" and this young mom asked right away, "Oh good, you can give me advice."  I listened to her for a little and I will admit that I am becoming an old lady because in my head I'm thinking, "Just enjoy these days, they go so fast, look at how cute and small they all are!" and I know that is such general unhelpful advice that moms with little ones don't really want to hear-I know I couldn't really wrap my head around that sentiment until my oldest started high school, and then as those big milestones came quickly year after year, I "got" what all those moms of older kids were talking about.

But advice?

I will say this. Almost every time a younger mom with more than two little ones has asked me for some advice on how to manager her growing family the answer is almost always:

Stop doing so much outside the home.  

That's all.

Rushing and a tight time table does not equal happy moms or happy babies or happy toddlers. Settle in. Settle in at home with your role as mother, embrace it fully and trust that the time you give these years-if you give your children your attention, and structure and find ways to enjoy your days at home, it will all pay off.

There is time for everything!  There is time for kids to do all those fun activities as they get older, and there will be more time to explore our own interests whether it be yoga classes or tennis lessons or a master's degree and there will be time for us to be passionate about a career-there is time for it all, but if you want it to happen all at once (I understand the pressure, I really do!) you will struggle to be able to enjoy any of it.

When we feel rushed, frazzled, stressed and our little ones will feel our energy and react, they will be less enjoyable for us to enjoy.  Does that make sense?  We have eighteen or more years with each of our children in our homes, and it does get easier, and as their needs let up as they grow and become more independent, there is time to fit outside activities into their lives and our lives.

I would give myself this same advice twenty one years ago.  I have learned slowly and surely (and back then there weren't quite the abundance of distractions and classes and activities and opportunities that exist now!) that children need breathing room, quiet time at home, activities that don't involve time tables, and that mothering little ones takes a lot of time and energy and focus to be enjoyable.