Tumbling Down the Black Hole

“Happy Home-versary”

It’s been three months since we bought a house and one of the experiences in moving to a new house and a new neighborhood is getting the lay of the land of the neighbors. It’s a bit of a challenge in the winter when most people stay inside and pop in and out of their houses via cars in garages. But every once in awhile we would get a 50-degree day and I would have a slightly longer walk with the dog that gave an opportunity to meet some neighbors. They have all been delightful (except the ones in the houses behind our steep sloping back yard. Apparently, they are not interested in boys on sleds careening past their trees….). I have been deligently trying to take notes in my “house” notebook of who lives where so I can remember names and some details (because….you know, I’m older now 😊).

It has also taken some time to discover where other kids live. We came from a townhome community filled with kids who were outside no matter what the weather in a little “gang of boys”!  When we moved, we knew our friends at the entrance to the neighborhood and we knew of a few more kids by name, but it has been a slow adventure of learning who lives nearby. Just two weeks ago we met a 7th grader who has excitedly been over five times now to play Nerf guns with Mr. Ornery.

For a few days, the 7th grader has been on our lawn waiting for the boys to come home from school. I told him that the younger set had not gotten off the bus yet, but would be doing so on the same bus as his sister. As we sat down to dinner, there he was ringing the doorbell. I said to Mr. Ornery as he jumped up from the table, “Tell him we’re eating and you will play in a little bit.”

The Little Guy ran back from the front door yelling, “Mr. Ornery gave that boy our garage door combination!!”  I know what he was thinking. The boy could open the garage and grab some Nerf guns to play while he waited for us to finish dinner. What I was thinking though was – you just gave someone we barely know the key to our house!!!

That would be one issue to deal with, but the guilty look on Mr. Ornery’s face as he returned to the table and started desperately covering himself was the bigger issue.

“I totally did not give him the combination.”

“Wait, let me go check and see if the garage door is open.”

“I didn’t say that to him.”

“So, tell me….which one of you boys is lying to me?” knowing full well what was going down. But really, I was just stalling for time….until….you got it, there goes the garage door. The neighbor had made it around to the back of the house. Busted!

Thus ensued the long and passionate one-sided conversation that often spews from a parent’s mouth about the young’un’s clear lapse in judgment, the violation of trust, the breach of safety, the shock that the kid could possibly lie to his own dear mother.

The Little Guy and my nephew sat quietly through the tirade. Mr. Ornery knew he was trapped. I got up from the table and sent the neighbor boy home with deep apologies for “having a hard time with my boy.” And then I continued the oft-repeated soliloquy of not sharing family passcodes or secrets and the consequences of not obeying one’s mother and of toppling down the black hole of lies.

I haven’t figured out the magic of getting the boys to tell the truth. It’s clear that along with moving into a house that has a great deal of space to spread out, we also managed to purchase a house that came with it’s own House Elf. If I’m ever crazy enough to ask “Who did….?”, I already know it was the House Elf.  He’s the one that put a hole in the wall. He’s the one that leaves the door from the basement to the garage open ALL the time (in the winter!!).  He’s most likely the one that scratch the newly polished hard wood floors. He usually throws his candy wrappers over the back of the couch (where the blind lays that he broke). And he’s almost always the one that leaves Nerf darts littered all over the neighbor’s yard.  He’s a bit of a problem. 

I’m going to have to catch that Elf.

But first I need to go change the code to the garage….

And remind Mr. Ornery that black holes have pretty serious consequences!

 

Time to be Less busy and Restart the “Welcome Wagon”

K gave me a tight hug as her eyes teared up. “I didn’t know people did this anymore,” she spoke as I handed her a slightly still-warm pan of chicken broccoli casserole. The recipe was hastily written on the top along with my name and phone number and the names and ages of the boys. “I forgot to include the dog,” I said with a smile.

I had noticed the moving truck when I got home from work earlier that day. Scanning my cupboards and fridge, the only meal I could think of putting together was this comfort-food casserole, though it had sadly been so long since I had last made it, that the recipe had faded from my brain. But I had just been in her situation three weeks ago. My mind was stretched beyond belief trying to make sure I had moved over the Christmas presents and knew where they were. Making sure I had the tree up and slightly decorated again. Making sure everyone had at least a couple outfits to wear. Making sure the boys had “nice” clothes to wear at Christmas Eve service when the two youngest were doing the reading from the book of Luke. Helping my sister tear up carpet, sweep and mop sanded floors, clean up a house while still packing up the last one before the truck came. A week in, all I wanted was a home-cooked meal. I was tired of delivered pizza and Chinese take-out. I had shared cookies from our Cookie Day baking with the neighbors on either side and across from me whom I had met. But I just wanted “real” food.

And so that it what I wanted to take to the new neighbors. I also really wanted to have some great little gifts like my sister and friends brought me on my first day of moving – bottles of hand soap and hand towels for the bathroom, sponges, and Chlorox wipes. Wouldn’t it be lovely, I thought, if I had some of those around that weren’t used yet (from all my cleaning the past couple weeks) and I could make up a little basket or bag to take along with a meal to the new neighbor? Wouldn’t it have been nice, I thought when I got home, if I had remembered to take a bottle of wine over with the meal, as her words continued to dance through my head: “Thank you so much. It’s been a really trying day.”

I know, I thought. I know. It’s not just the physical exhaustion but the mental toll that hits you in those days of moving. It’s one of the top stressors of life, even if it is a really positive thing in the end.

The next day, one of my neighbors brownies neighbor2whom I hadn’t met yet from across the street stopped over with a plate of warm brownies. Like the neighbor next door, when she returned my cookie plate, she had written her name and number on a piece of paper which I have tucked into my “new house” notebook. It was wonderful to be genuinely welcomed and to be told, “Call me anytime if you need anything.” Certainly so many of the neighbors have called out, “Welcome to the neighborhood” and told me about all the things they love about the neighborhood. And so far, the three neighbors who are clearly retired and whose houses surround mine have all said, “It’s so nice to hear kids playing outside again.” (Meanwhile, I say to myself – oh, just you wait for the weather to break. Let’s see how long that “noise” is “nice”!)

The reason I felt pulled to this neighborhood was that a friend of my middle son lived near the entrance to the “no outlet” essentially-two-street community. My friendship with his parents was growing and I just knew it could be a beautiful opportunity to live nearby. I know it’s hard to move right at Christmas time and in the middle of winter because most of the neighborhood tucks in and stays inside as the snow flies. But I’m looking forward to meeting the neighbors as the days lengthen and warm up (and maybe winning over the guy who lives behind the house and apparently is VERY protective of his pine trees from the evils of boys’ snow sleds….). I’m looking forward to putting some furniture on the front porch and planting myself there as much as possible to say hi to Pippin and Fergie and Gunnar and Millie and any other dog who pulls their owner past the house. (I might also be doing some glaring at those who want to speed just a little up the hill because they will likely encounter scooters, and fat boy bikes, and ramps, and hoverboards, and Nerf guns and kids all over the road!)

And, I’m particularly looking forward to making up a couple little gift baskets of cleaning supplies and wine and throwing together a little meal for the next people who move into the neighborhood – because it’s time to bring back the Welcome Wagon. Just tell me where the moving truck is. I think I got this now.

We need to create more Grateful Moments!

The bus was late. I was stressed. We were going to be late for the first gymnastics class. I parked the car across from the bus stop and waited. After they tumbled off, I hustled the boys over to the car and yelled, “Jump in! Get buckled!” As the bus was trying to make its busu-turn and I was clearly blocking its progress, I moved the car forward to the other side of the street. Super Tall Guy yelled out, “Mr. Ornery’s not in the car” (well, he used the middle kid’s real name, to be truthful). I stopped immediately, opened the car door and looked back about 20 feet behind me. My vision of Mr. Ornery in his bright orange shirt was blocked by an unknown car who had stopped right in front of him and the driver had jumped out to videotape or photograph my moment of stupidity.

And that’s what it was. A moment. Maybe 20 seconds. A moment when a hurried mother made a mistake. But thanks to the stranger, a police officer showed up at my door at 9:00 o’clock that night to interrupt bed-time routine and inform me of my stupidity. Fortunately, it was one of those awkward “warnings” about a “chaotic bus pick up?” and I agreed with him that yes, I was wrong. It was a lapse of judgement. But no one was hurt and I had not gone anywhere. My boys were safe and they were not traumatized. We had talked about the situation. All was fine.

Except my heart. My heart was sad that in this world, my first thought was – great! Some stranger is videotaping me and I’ll either “go viral” on social media or have a police citation.

My question is – why didn’t the stranger instead think to help. Maybe instead of blocking my view of my son, she might have taken my son’s hand and walked him to my car. We all would have said thank you and moved on with the day. It could have been a “grateful” moment.

Just five days before this, on the second day of school, a little 7-year-old got off the school bus with my boys. There was no parent waiting for him. I walked him to his house and we knocked on the door. No answer. Knocked on windows. Nothing. I called the management office of the community and they called the parents and tracked them down. I waited with this little boy for 10 minutes until his parents arrived. They thought he had gotten on the bus to day care rather than the bus home. It was a mistake.  A moment. I did not call and report the parents to the police. I helped.

Oh how I wish we could all be more helpful.

This week an elderly patient sat in my office. She wasn’t sure she wanted to return in two weeks to get her blood pressure rechecked because transportation was too difficult for her. And she didn’t have any one around to help her. She looked at me with eyes of sadness. “People tend to disappear once you get older or have a cane,” she lamented. “Nobody wants to help anyone anymore. Nobody cares anymore in this world. Everyone is just worried about their own self.”

A generalization yes, but also a reminder to me.

Let’s be more kind.

Let’s be more helpful.

Let’s think about what others might be going through and what we might do to help.

Let’s be a good neighbor and a loving friend.

Let’s create more grateful moments.

Love matters.

Baked Goods and Boys’ Behavior (and a recipe)

Tonight I made cookies again. Even though I didn’t really feel like it. I just made a batch of chocolate-chip cookies yesterday for my friend and her husband’s 40th birthday party cookie table. Several neighbors were delighted to receive the “spare” cookies yesterday and the boys nibbled on quite a few.

cookiesTomorrow a new neighbor will be receiving a plate of cookies. I never met him before, but we all did this evening. Apparently at least two out of four of the “older boys” thought it would be a good idea to “annoy the old man” and ring his doorbell and run away.  I turned to look down the street of the townhome community to see him emerge from his house and exchange words with the boys that I couldn’t hear. As he turned to come my way, yelling “whose kids are these?” I jumped up to claim them. “Well, they need to stop ringing my doorbell when I’m trying to eat. It’s annoying.” “Yes,” I agreed, “that would be.”

My sister left with her kids and I sent mine to their rooms. It is a bit difficult to get the “real story” out of them, especially when Mr. Ornery challenges me with “Well, if you’re asking for a story, Mom, then a story is not real, is it?” Sigh….

Then brilliance hit me. When you do something “mean” to someone, one of your consequences is to be “nice” to that person. (We’ve tried this a bit between brothers, but it got hard to keep finding “nice things” they needed to do.) I informed them that they would be taking a plate of cookies to said neighbor and apologize to him. They will be squirming. They hate to be embarrassed. “Super Tall Guy has to carry the plate,” says Mr. Ornery as he settles into bed. Yet, they will learn and grow. For simply “talking” to them isn’t enough. “Grounding” them isn’t powerful enough (yet, that is, when they don’t have enough to miss out on). We’ll see how it unfolds tomorrow. There could be a lot of cookies leaving our house over the next few months or maybe, hopefully, only when I feel like baking!

I was planning to post tonight about baking anyway. I asked Mr. Ornery if he wanted me to make chocolate chip cookies or Crazy Good Brownies for the neighbor. We love Crazy Good Brownies. A friend in medical school made them for me several times and I just had to have the recipe. They are delicious in batter form (especially if you lick both the chocolate batter and the cream cheese spoons at the same time!). They are incredible right out of the oven in moist, gooey chocolate-chip melting form. And they are awesome once cool (even directly from the freezer where they will stay until needed for the last-minute-what-am-I-going-to-take-into-work moments).

People love it when I bring them Crazy Good Brownies. I made them frequently for my colleagues in residency. I make them for just about every party that I’m assigned “dessert.” I make them for staff at work. I make them for game night with the cousins! I love sharing the brownies and the recipe because it’s so good to make a person smile. This contrasts one of my graduate school classmates who would not share her “secret family” recipe (can’t even remember what it was for), but really – unless you’re making millions on it in the food industry, spread a little joy!

So here’s how to make Crazy Good Brownies: (btw, my chocolate chip cookies come from the back of the Nestle chip bag with only Giant Eagle margarine and removing them from the oven just before they seem done ….though I haven’t figured out the baking quirks of this new home’s oven yet!).

Crazy Good Brownies

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease (with cooking spray) a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Brownies

  1. Melt 2 sticks (1 cup) margarine (microwave 1 minute).
  2. Place margarine in mixer and add:
    1. 2 cups sugar
    2. 2 tsp vanilla
  3. Add 3 eggs and mix
  4. Mix in ¾ cups of baking cocoa
  5. Then add:
    1. 1 ¼ cup flour
    2. ½ tsp baking powder
    3. ¼ tsp salt
  6. Mix in 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  7. Pour most of brownie mix into pan, saving out about 1 cup.

Cream Cheese Topping

  1. Whip 8 oz cream cheese in mixer.
  2. Add ¼ cup sugar.
  3. Add 1 egg and a dash of salt.
  4. Stir in ¾ cup mini chocolate chips.

Spread cream cheese topping over brownie mix. Glop spoonfuls of set-aside brownie mix onto the cream cheese topping.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (until cream cheese topping turns light brown).

Enjoy!!