The astonishing things I heard

Today I heard I have a brand-new niece. I feel radiant with joy, especially that I got to see her and snuggle that sweet bundle in my arms.

Today I heard that the silly little gift I sent on request to my friend Luci yesterday was helpful. She remembered a song my parents sang years ago, but not well, and asked if I would send her a brief-solo-by-way-of-facebook-messenger. Wow, that stretched me. I stepped out during church to record it, and because of the time difference, she and her husband learned it in time to sing it for their church to match her husband’s sermon on identity. Can you believe that? Modern technology is amazing.

Today I heard that my dear friend and mentor’s father passed away, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I feel happy for his successful end of life, and sad for her family.

Today I heard that I get to host a delicious giveaway on this blog, coming soon. I feel excited.

Today I heard words of comfort from people who know about difficult things. I feel encouraged.

Today I heard that the twins we love and fostered are finally free for adoption into the home of our friends. I feel wistful, but also delighted out of my mind.

Today I heard that if I don’t speak until I have something to say that will astonish the whole room (cf. Pride and Prejudice), I’ll never find it easy to say anything at all. I am not sure what I feel about that.

Today I can’t help hoping I don’t hear any more news. You never know what it will be…


What was your news of the day?

School lunch system

Confession: If there is one thing that tries my soul, it is thinking of enough ideas for my children’s packed lunches during the school year.

Ideally, I would move toward turning that responsibility over to them. But it has been hard for me to figure out how to do so while a) monitoring what they pack, b) getting out the door in time, and c) avoiding insanity as we all trip over each other making our own ham sandwiches at 8 am.

To tell you the truth, we are lucky. At our school, we have the option to buy hot lunch from the cafeteria two days out of five each week, for most of the year. This is an amazing gift and leaves only three days to pack, if they like the lunch enough to sign up for it. But still, I will not let that fact put a cramp in my whining.

This year, thanks to the forethoughtful questions and ideas of my friends Shaunda and Jolynn, I thought more about our plan than usual. A week before school I had no strategy at all, but by adopting others’ intelligent ideas and adding in our own, we found a method we really like.

Here’s what we do.

Each Saturday, the school kiddos and I spend an hour or so preparing lunch ingredients for the coming week. Someone might bake cookies or bars, and package them in serving sizes. Maybe someone else makes single-serving fruit and Jell-O cups. Another child cuts up fresh fruits and veggies and bags them. (Yes, they keep just fine. Even apples, if dipped in a mild salt water, can last the week nearly white.)

When I make our traditional pizza supper Saturday evening, we wrap some extra dough around tasty fillings and bake them, to make individual stromboli, crescent rolls, or hot pockets. These we wrap and put in the freezer.

I also buy easy-to-pack things: string cheese, yogurt cups, clementines, granola bars, trail mix, chips, dried fruit, cookies. I did not say all of it is healthy.

We put everything in the fridge, freezer, or pantry, easily accessible.

Then I update a lunch list to hang on the wall for the week (click to view). Their choices change every week based on what we made and what I have on hand, but my list has standard categories – here are the choices for a fresh fruit or veggie, here are the salty snacks, here are the desserts. No, you cannot pick three desserts.

Each school morning, I prepare only a main food for them (a sandwich, a bowl of re-heat-able food, or often, one of those baked sandwiches we made). The kids look at my list and pick three or four side options to go with it, and fill their own lunchboxes. (They mark things off the list so they don’t repeat. If I want them to repeat, I put it on the list multiple times.)

WE LOVE THIS METHOD.

In a couple of years, I hope to do it informally, without the printed list. For now, I still have to monitor the packing. It is not seamless. One of my children likes piggy-backing extra goodies if I don’t watch out. One is poky in packing, and needs to be hustled along. But it’s so nice to have all our options laid out, and to get the children involved in the process. They are more excited about their lunches than they used to be, and mornings are smoother.


How do you simplify lunch packing? What foods do your children love to take to school? I’m ready for some fresh ideas on homemade or simple sides.

The words you gave me

We apologize for the delay. The proprietor of this blog wishes to state that she was temporarily flattened by pizza sauce, sweet corn, and birthday parties.


Aw, you guys are so fun!

It’s chancy putting a game out there and not knowing if anyone will want to play. I loved watching you dig into your bookshelves. Your booklist was charming – reference books, all-time favorites, and even one of my dad’s titles – ranging from serious to slapstick. There were some classics, some inspirational, and some dry as toast, with a splash of whiskey (not recommended at home). Your kindness to me and each other was delightful. Thank you.

Did you know that one of you arranges her books by the colors of the rainbow – which pleases me to no end?

And these words…!

My friend Sheila emailed me to say that she checked four bookshelves hoping for something good. Four! and found “of” twice. “It’s a random word, dear, not a Message From Jehovah,” I told her. Her next email made me laugh. “At least it rhymes with love, she says, straightening.”

My friend Cris found page sixteen completely blank, between the introduction and part one of a medical tome. Very significant, that. If only I knew in what way.

We ended up with two main characters, Pat and Charles, besides dad and God. Your “boring” words held everything together (theoretically), and you had some winner nouns even though they didn’t know how to play nice with the other kids. The washstand and the R.R. were particularly unwieldy.

The following paragraph uses each of the words given me to date, and only those words, although some of them are used more than once.

Those schemes for the back door breakfast analogy you want will have dad as God. I want more green smoke for you. Pat schemes to have Charles for early breakfast. The washstand is in the windy October world. Charles is packing. Pat helps. I said I loved today. Charles had that last o’clock of life. The R.R. voices will have soul’s word in it. In Pat’s defense, I observe that Charles will have loved God.

I mean honestly, guys, it’s not a thing of great beauty. You can do better than this.

Are you sure you checked the right bookshelf?

Okay.

Well, that was silly and fun. What would you compose from our word list?

The fourth word on the page

Confession: This past Sunday morning I was trying to impress my Sunday school kids with how smart God is.

He knows how many hairs are on your head, I said, even counting the ones that fell out while you were brushing them this morning.

He knows how many leaves are on that tree.

He knows what’s going to happen next.

He knows what you’re thinking inside your mind, whether or not you’re listening to me. (I can’t tell.)

There is no question you could ask him that he wouldn’t know the answer to.

You could say, Think of the Meadville Public Library, upstairs, tenth book on the top shelf, page sixteen, what’s the fourth word on the page? And he would know just like that.

I could tell they were listening then; their mouths opened.

I didn’t really expect that to say that. I guess it’s true. Is it true?

Okay, but ever since then I can’t stop thinking about those books. At home, I went to my nearest bookshelf, pulled the tenth book from the top shelf, opened to page sixteen, looked for the fourth word. It was –

But I am getting ahead of myself.

I thought it would be fun if you told me what yours is. Maybe it’s a secret code. Maybe together we would spell out something of great beauty. It would be fun to try.

At the very least, if we said what book it came from, we could compile a delightfully random to-read list.

An open letter to Bill Gates

I wrote about Heinz Gaugel, German artist by way of Holmes County, and his daughter and great-granddaughter showed up to leave a comment. I wrote about Anthony Kleem, painter of our favorite puzzles, and he stopped by the blog to say hello. At that point, I decided I would write only about people I admire. You have not seen me writing about politics, for example, since then [cough]. So here is my letter to Mr. Gates. I have every hope he will see it by end of day tomorrow.

Yes, that was a joke.


Dear Mr. Gates, Sir:

My son is in love with your business policies, especially the ones that produce billions of dollars. He is sort of waffling between two ambitions for his future career: qualifying for disability so he can sit around watching TV and eating Pop-Tarts, or buying a lime-green Ferrari and a large motorhome so he can spend his life driving around the country with his wife and fifteen homeschooled kids.

He is nine years old, but I feel he has great promise for a future in business strategies, and I was wondering if you would take him under your wing and steer him. Forgive the mixed metaphors. I am not sure if he is an egg or a ship or a cow in that analogy. (We come from the country, and there’s just so much literary fodder right out the window.)

He wrote you a letter today, which I have enclosed below. In it you will see his obvious talent coming out. He is a great writer. He invents creative solutions to financial predicaments. He is focused and to the point. He bonds quickly with people and could make a great salesman for sure.

Dear Mr. Bill Gates,

Could we be friends? I would be very flattered to be a friend of such a kind, brilliant, rich, handsome, gentleman like you.

Sincerely,

Your friend?

Regan Zook

He is also patient beyond his years. I believe he only intends to hit you up for more, um, material benefits in his third letter or following, so he’s taking a while to plow the field. Under the circumstances, I think that shows a certain greatness of spirit.

Alright. I will close with that, and if you could see your way clear to lend him a hand we’d be happy to join the throngs currying favor with the richest man in the world. Excuse me, I meant the next richest man in the world. Bye for now, he needs me to prepare him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Gratefully,

Shari Zook