A 96th Birthday Celebration: One Recipe at a Time

96 bday cakeToday is my grandmother’s 96th birthday and she’s been on my mind all week. I don’t live close enough to her to make plans for a coffee date or a special lunch, but I wanted to do something to celebrate her.

So, I cooked.

For those of you who know how challenged I can sometimes be in the kitchen, I made the conscious decision to make one of her recipes each day this week.

Choosing to Grow Project Prep

My antique recipe exploration served as a way to honor my grandmother, someone whose cooking I have always admired, and it also set the table for the launch of my next Choosing to Grow project. (puns completely intended)

For several years I have sensed that the CTG topic of exploration that would come after my sports book would be about food: how to grow it, why I eat it, how I feel about it, how best I can share it with others, and how I can manage to make a living while traveling the world and consuming it. (sortof my retirement plan)

My grandma was pretty integral in my first Choosing to Grow project, championing my book about marriage and encouraging me through the entire journey. I feel it is completely appropriate to pair her 96th birthday celebration with meaningful food that has the capacity to grow my enthusiasm for my next chapter.

So Happy Birthday Grandma!  Thank you for gifting me with the recipe book so many years ago and for including the reasons those recipes were important to you.  Here are the dishes I made this week and the reasons I was compelled to pick them. I’ll include the recipe for our favorite.

 

Chicken Casserole 3

I made this particular chicken casserole because of my Grandma’s note about it: “My dear John (my uncle who passed away when he was 29) liked this dish when he was a little guy. I’ve always though about him when making it or seeing this recipe.”

Shrimp and Blue Cheese Salad

This one sounded so fresh and good. I would bet it would be even more delicious in the summer, but I needed a little summertime feeling this week in January.

Beef Soup

My grandmother’s note convinced me this would be the perfect dish for a blustery-below-zero day. She wrote “Enjoy the smell of soup cooking on a cold, snowy, wintry day. We were in Dillon at Mintken’s condo and had been out in the cold. When we came home to this great aroma February 1964. I wrote this recipe as Margaret related it to me on a bridge scorepad as we spent many hours playing bridge.”

Potato Salad 

My grandma’s note on the recipe: “This recipe probably has the most fond memories of any as Jerry and I worked on it together for him to take to a men’s club picnic at St. James. I had never made potato salad and he tried to remember how his step-mother made it. It turned out to be a GREAT hit at the picnic. From then on I have had many compliments on it and probably haven’t made it exactly the same twice.”

I chose it because it is my family’s absolutely favorite Grandma B recipe and I couldn’t have a week of honoring her without making it.

Potato Salad Recipe

  • 8 potatoes boiled and then peeled of skin while hot
  • 6 hard boiled eggs
  • Cut up the potatoes while warm.
  • 1 lb of bacon cut into small pieces (1 T of grease poured over potatoes)
  • 1/2 white onion diced small
  • Add sliced eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups Mayo
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • (my grandma included 1 T celery seed, but I’ve never included it in my version)

And finally, I attempted my very first traditional family Chocolate Cake. It’s hard for me to believe that I have never attempted to make this cake before. It is THE cake I had for every childhood birthday and for the birthdays of my siblings. I never made it once I got married or when my kids started to celebrate their birthdays. My family tends to like ice cream cakes much more than pastry cakes, so I never pushed it. (plus, for some reason that cake generally does not turn out quite right when anyone except my mom or my grandma makes it)

I did learn some things in this first CTG with Food experience:

  • Not all recipe ingredients withstand the test of time. (or they become repackaged and hard to find)
  • I am better at cooking than I am at baking.
  • There are SO many spices I have yet to try.
  • Fresh ingredients are totally the way to go.
  • My grandma really likes celery.
  • And, recipes are like bridges connecting time, memories and people, whether they are in the same room or not.

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2019                                     www.meaganfrank.com                                        @meaganfrank_ctg

Our Christmas Letter: A Celebration of Stories

joy 2
Thank you for being a part of our joy.

December 2014

It has been two years since I wrote our holiday letter. A lot can happen in a life in two years and even more can happen in the lives of five people. So, I think it’s best if I try to take a snapshot of where we are these days with a brief recap of how we got here.

I am trying to concentrate on this letter, but I am distracted by the sloppy flakes sloshing down outside my new office window. There hasn’t been snow since Thanksgiving and I am grateful we are headed toward a white Christmas.

window house

The  office view is among my most favorite parts of the house we bought in Menomonie, WI last spring.

The Story of a House in Town

We moved back to Menomonie (for a third time) in  August of 2013. Pudge accepted the job as the head boys hockey coach for the MHS Mustangs and we planned to settle into a quiet life on the lake. For some reason, the kids insisted on coming with us, and our vision of a quiet, retired life on the water was anything but.

We locked the storage unit with a house’s worth of things and snuggled into the cabin for what we thought was going to be a few months. Becoming lake residents was our plan. Becoming town residents was God’s plan.

We ran into building restriction after building restriction as we worked with architects and the county to obtain permits to upgrade the cabin to make it a house. Who knew how hard it would be to build anything new so close to the water? (we are 35 feet from the shore)

By November we realized the cabin was going to need to remain a cabin and we were probably going to be better off in town. We resigned ourselves to the reality that living a bit closer to all the places we were driving our children was probably not a bad idea. So, the house hunt began.

We fell in love with the house we bought the first time we walked through it right around Thanksgiving. Our original offer fell through and we figured we would have to hunker down for the winter. We had no idea what kind of winter it was really going to be.  “Epic” “Polar Vortex” “The worst winter in nearly 300 years” This was the winter we spent tightly quartered in our one-bathroom-no-dishwasher-no-garage-mice-in-walls-old-furnaced-cabin.

The driveway became glazed with ice just before I ruptured my Achilles Tendon in February. Ice picks on crutches and left-footed driving became the new norm and all the while we bantered back and forth with the home owners about our deep desire to buy their house in town.

We FINALLY made a deal on the house and we were all set to close and move in  April 2nd.

Two days before closing the house suffered a sewage back-up that flooded the entire basement as well as 16 other houses in our neighborhood. Closing delayed, move-in stalled and renovation necessary before we finally unloaded the storage unit we had been renting since the previous June and moved in April 6th.

We LOVE the house and I can honestly say I am completely grateful for the year we had in the cabin. It strengthened all of us through humility. We learned to find gratitude in and through hardship and it certainly changed all of us.

The Stories of the Kids

Nate started high school this year and has adjusted well to the tougher work load and varying activities. He played soccer in the fall, is playing bantam hockey this winter, and continues to sing in the chorus. He plans to work out at the festival for the third year in a row this upcoming summer and he also hopes to visit Seattle this spring. (he pictures himself living there some day…he LOVES cloudy and rainy weather)

nate singingIMG_8783IMG_7996

Haley is in seventh grade this year and continues to stay very busy too. She LOVED waterskiing this past summer and has taught herself to get up on one ski. She played volleyball and soccer this fall, is the goalie for the boys’ peewee hockey team, sings in choir, and she just got herself certified through the Red Cross to babysit. She too plans to work for us out at the festival this summer.

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Kiana turned 9 this fall and is in third grade. She had to move schools again, because we moved to town, but she has transitioned really well. Ki likes to tube and kneeboard at the lake, she plays soccer when the grass is showing, is playing hockey this winter on the squirt team (with real games, real offside and real penalties) and is consistently wowing us with her artistic and creative energy.

IMG_7326ki hockeyki elf outfit

Dickens turned 4 and is such a great part of our crew. I do wish he would stop stalking the presents under the tree.

dickens and tree

Our misfit tree (white and multi-colored) so appropriately symbolizes the hectic season of life we are enjoying.

dickens

 

 

Our Marriage Story Continues

Pudge and I are doing great. We snuck away to Bayfield and Madeline Island this past fall.

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Pudge continues to work for the RenFest and coach hockey. He completed his Masters in Education last spring and is glad to be done with school work.

I continue to write as often as I can and I have a goal for 2015 to complete a novel I’ve been working on. I am still doing some team building consulting for the women’s hockey team at Hamline University and I write occasionally for the Books Make a Difference magazine. I worked at the festival for my second summer last year and I plan to do it again this upcoming summer. I enjoy all the work I get to do but absolutely most rewarding is my job as a mom.

We hope for all the best for each of you this holiday season and for the coming year. We love visitors and we do hope you’ll consider stopping by if you are in the Northwoods.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and may you live many stories worth sharing!

 

Walking in Dad’s Shoes by Sitting in a Cast

cast and crutches

Injuries mean a loss of independence. It is a loss of the way life has been and a miserable process of acceptance that life is not in our control. This particular injury is providing even further enlightenment I hadn’t expected.

It’s a joke, really, that we have control in our lives. The truth is we can’t control ANYTHING! We can’t control freak injuries or illness. We can’t control procrastination in others or a lack of attention to detail. We can’t control whether people around us want to do the things we ask of them and we certainly cannot control whether they go about doing those things with a smile. We can do things to influence others, but we really don’t control any of it.

I try though. I see tendencies in myself to fill when I’m hurting. Fill by achieving something, fill with food or booze. I am my father’s daughter that way I guess. I find a temporary relief in “feeling” full. I have approached my many injuries as an opportunity to fill with something else.

This injury I am not maintaining the full…I am purposefully emptying instead. Except for one day a week I am restricting sugar, carbs, caffeine, and alcohol. I was scheduled to do a 28-day cleanse starting the day after my injury, so I know God intended for me to endure this injury empty. The process has been eye-opening and HARD.

I don’t like having lost independence. The ice makes it REALLY hard to get around outside of our house. I have taught myself to drive left footed, but I am incredibly hesitant to go any place where I will have to park the car and crutch on the slick surface more than 100 feet.  It is a scary deathtrap and it will stay that way until the temperatures start to rise.

So I’m dependent upon help. Needing help, asking for help and accepting help is getting easier for me, but it is still a struggle. The bigger problem this time around is the struggle with my kids. They have had a hard time transitioning from kids depending on mom to mom depending on kids. And I’m not doing well with helping them. It’s not moving quite fast enough and I’m admittedly frustrated. My dependency needs were immediate and their willingness to pick their heads up from various electronic devices hasn’t happened in quite the way I had imagined it would. They are acting like, well, kids!

This is it. This is what my dad battled, isn’t it? He got to a monotonous part of his life and was struck down by a torn Achilles tendon. He denied the injury for so long he ended up in a much worse place than he would have been: a full-leg cast and weeks of immobility. He could control nothing when he thought he was controlling everything.

He lived in a house with four children (some of whom were similar ages to my kids) who were slipping out of his control too. They were at an age of their own independence and it was excruciating to watch from the couch. All he wanted to do was get up and drive somewhere…anywhere. He couldn’t. He was stuck. He was stuck in a life that wasn’t meant for football gods from small-town Nebraska. He saw he was in a life out of his control: the one that included the 9-5 (or 9-9) job as an attorney with a wife and kids. Those kids… god, 3 of the 4 of them were girls too. What use were they anyway? None of them could even play football or replicate even a small version of his football story. They played soccer: that sissy sport with sissy rules that were worth arguing about with those men who called themselves refs. And his son, well, football wasn’t going to be for him either. He was too cerebral, too much of a dreamer, too naturally gentle to be the reflection of anger and aggression that was filling him.

I wonder whether he ever gazed at himself in the mirror during those dark days. Did he make eye contact with himself and see the demons rising from within? I would bet it was too hard for him to look.

I don’t know that a torn Achilles tendon threw him over the edge, but when he tore the other one playing touch football, it was the start of an unraveling no one could have predicted. Two torn Achilles tendons in 18 months would be a lot for anyone to handle, but if you are struggling to understand the worth of your life, it would be devastating.

I am having a chance to see, firsthand, how truly tough this immobility can be at this stage in life. It may only be 10 weeks, but currently sitting in the middle of it, I can attest to the bouts of frustration, anger, sadness, self-pity and questioning.

Injury is temporary but aging is permanent.

He must have come to that conclusion too. Did he start to wonder whether all the hard work was worth it when he was facing an ugly truth: he was just as mortal as the next guy? His accolades didn’t matter as much as everyone had told them they would, and he was starting to realize it. There was one thing he could control though. No one could tell him to stop drinking if they never saw him do it. His next greatest achievement was hiding that from everyone.

families where grace is in place

My cleanse has been perfectly timed. Also well-timed is a book club book I am reading called Families Where Grace is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen. VanVonderen is one of the intervention counselors featured on the compelling A & E series Intervention. One particular section of the book describes an inner circle of self and an outer circle of self. The inner circle can only be filled by God’s grace and love and the acceptance that who we are is enough. The outer circle is the one we create (and fill) to make us feel as though we are complete.

Maybe no one told my dad that he mattered without things or achievements. Maybe they tried, but he didn’t listen. He had been filling his emptiness and neediness with accomplishments and accolades his entire life. He thought covering up shame again and again would be enough.

He probably never considered that God might be waiting with the news that who he is…is enough.

Emptying needs to be happening for me right now. There is plenty to learn and work through for myself and with my children. “Filling” would only keep me from the great work I’ve been tasked to complete.

                     

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2014                                     www.meaganfrank.com

Whose Plans are These Anyway?

path on the lakeI laugh at my last two entries. Not the light-hearted giggling “hee, hee, hee” of a little girl, but rather the evil “bwa, ha, ha, ha” of a deranged woman.

Dear Self from Last Year’s Blogposts,

I’ve got news for you sweetheart…stop trying to lay your own life plans!

Yeah, right. You’ll just move into the cabin on a lake and build your dream home. Ha! No problem. Sure, you’ll have a hard time closing doors and packing up boxes, but you are really pretty clueless. You won’t see those things you’ve boxed for practically a year. And, honey, you have NO IDEA what your life journey will look like the next ten months. Just relax, would ya’?  There is plenty to see and hear and learn and NONE OF IT IS IN YOUR CONTROL!!

Let go. Sit still. Oh yeah, and if you refuse…there will be outside forces to take care of that for you.

Sincerely,

The Crazy-eyed Future Version of Yourself (jaded and sarcastic)

Back then…two whole posts ago…I thought things were simple. We would move to a new town, start a new hockey adventure and build a home…hilarious! Before I became hardened to reality, I figured one of the hardest things we would do would be to agree on the color of the kitchen backsplash.

God had other plans for us.

Progression of My Plans            God’s Plans
Work for my husband during the summer and   see him lots Work for my husband, stress with him about a new business…see him 5 minutes a day
Move to the lake and start building a new   house Move to the lake and realize the lake has many building restrictions
Cheer for Big Sprout as he starts playing   soccer again

 

Enjoy Middle Sprout as she blossoms into a young lady

 

Watch Little Sprout leave behind any anxieties she had in a bigger school

Co-coach with hubby for the middle school soccer team just so all the   kids could play

 

Be challenged by the nastiness of pre-teen hormones and attitude

 

Realize that innate anxieties move with you

 

Enjoy the temporary nostalgia of no   dishwasher and one bathroom for 5 of us Extend time in close living quarters through one of the worst winters in   30 years
Enjoy the warmth and coziness of our   cabin on the lake Force close huddling because the furnace goes out
Establish independence in the new town Force dependence when my car dies on the side of the highway in -15   weather
Ok fine…find a house in town and keep the   cabin a cabin You’ll find one, but it won’t be ready for you for a while
Well then should we plan to just make the   cabin as big as we can? You could, but it won’t be all you need
Well I’ll just make the most of it then:   snowshoe, cross-country ski, lakeside yoga Wait a second…you need to rest now. Sit still. You need to heal your   ruptured Achille’s tendon anyway

If I’ve determined anything in the last year it is that God wants creativity and imagination. He knows that it takes energy to create and imagine in chaos and with all we’ve faced this year we have been tapped dry. We could never have had enough energy to do what we’ve been asked to do. So yes, we relied on Him more. And He has come through.

Again and again, we’ve had what we needed.  We are suited for this town and this town is suited for us. They accept our crazy. They may not understand it, but they do accept it. We know now what it is to live in difficult circumstances and we have an appreciation for the many blessings in our lives. We are surrounded by good people who are willing to help us…again, and again, and again.

I am no longer in the planning or predicting mentality. I am resigned to live in the moment.

In this moment, I am sitting on the couch with my driving leg propped on a pillow as the staples work to mend the surgically repaired tendon. The heatless sun is shining on the snow-covered lake and I have time to blog. Time I have not had for months and months. (you poor people!)

I make no predictions about my next post, or my next house. What I know is I have a place to sleep tonight and probably tomorrow. I have food to prepare in the fridge and children to parent this evening. What would be the point of planning out any further than that?

 

                     

Copyright Choosing to Grow 2014                                     www.meaganfrank.com

Practice does NOT make Perfect: It Makes Practicers

Please Pass the Snake

This was taken a few years ago when my husband and son were “practicing” catching garder snakes in our yard.

Yesterday while at coffee with a couple friends, the subject of malpractice came up. One of my friends wisely pointed out that doctors are not perfect…they only “practice” medicine. It got me thinking:

Doctors practice medicine.

Lawyers practice law.

My husband and I are practicing parenting.

Yesterday afternoon, when I was working through some difficult emotions with our almost-thirteen-year-old, I borrowed this idea of practice.

He is in the midst of confusion about life and his place in the world. (did I mention he’s in seventh grade? or that his dad is getting ready to leave for out-of-state work for 6 weeks? or that we are preparing to move to a new town?) His confusion is explicable, even if his behavior is not excusable.

After hacking away at what seemed to me to be surface excuses for his recent behavior, he worked to identify the feelings he couldn’t quite express. I gently pushed him a bit further. Much of his behavior has revolved around what seemed like anger toward me and my husband. (shocking for a teenager, I know!) So, I prodded him to talk through his feelings toward us. As hard as it was for me to hear his perspective, I did my best to listen without reaction.

I sat for a few minutes, taking in his viewpoint about what we are not doing quite right as parents. Honoring his feelings, I told him I was grateful he shared with me.

Then I asked him, “How long have you been here?”

“Thirteen years,” he said.

“How long have I been here?” I asked.

“Almost thirty-eight years,” he smirked, frustrated because he thought he knew where I was going.

I said, “You know what? You are practicing being in seventh grade. You’ve never done any of this before. Your dad and I have done seventh grade, and high school, and college, so we have a perspective that you do not yet have.”

He subtly rolled his eyes, because I did go where he thought. Then, I changed gears.

“The thing is, we are practicing too.”

He looked up from his hands to make eye contact with me for the first time.

“We have NEVER been parents of a thirteen-year-old before and we only get one shot to get it right.”

“No,” he sunk back into his annoyed posture. “You get to do it two more times with the girls.”

“Ok, let me rephrase. We are practicing being parents of a thirteen-year-old boy named Nate, and sometimes we try harder than we should because we so desperately want to get it right.”

He softened and made eye contact again.

“Everyone is practicing something,” I said. “We get better with more practice, but we’re never perfect. You are practicing life as an almost-teenager and your dad and I are practicing mid-life and parenting. All that matters is that all of us keep trying to get better at what we’re practicing.”

How about you? What are you practicing? Are you choosing to grow through the experience, or are you going through the motions?

www.meaganfrank.com                                                                     

Copyright 2013 Meagan Frank Choosing to Grow

Connected through Books…Related by Blood

dreamstimefree_191998

“Hello. This is Meagan Frank from Books Make a Difference. I was hoping to connect with you this morning for the interview, and now I’m wondering whether I have the wrong time. I’ll try back in an hour in case I had not accounted correctly for the time zones. Thanks. I do look forward to talking with you soon.”

“She’s not there?” My husband asked from his adjacent desk that sits less than five feet away from me. He seemed hesitant to break the ordered silence. I had shushed him and built up the importance of the phone call, and as I relaxed from my interview posture, I turned toward him.

“I don’t get it,” I said,”I could have sworn this was when we rescheduled it. Maybe she got hung up with something, or she’s still not feeling well.”

I re-checked our email exchange…an ironic part of the whole story…and felt assured that I had at least remembered the appointment the way she and I had set it. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with myself.

I had looked so forward to my interview with Susan Maushart, and now I was wondering whether it was going to happen at all.

I left my ringer on and headed to the kitchen. I had managed to ignore the morning mess in my preparation for the call and now I found myself walking aimlessly through the room with an unsettled energy. What I did next made me laugh out loud. I went to the laundry room and took out the broom and dustpan. I started sweeping my way through the minutes of waiting.

“How ironic,” I thought, “I’m waiting to get connected to Susan Maushart to talk to her about her book The Winter of Our Disconnect and I start doing Wifework.”

It was in the pages of Wifework where I first came to know about Susan’s work. I don’t remember exactly how I grabbed her book off the library shelf in Monument, Colorado, but it was one of the titles I took home during my rather aimless search to save our marriage. That book became the source of one of the biggest fights my husband and I have ever had. She had the research and the data that explained part of my malaise and frustration in our marriage. I was doing too much of the work around the house, and it was not the work I really wanted to be doing. When I brought up this fact to my husband, I think it included the slamming of a basket of laundry and a launched pair of socks. Laundry has never been the same in our house since.

I was telling people about this eye-opening book, and I think it was at a family gathering I learned she and I are relatives. Somewhere far up the family branches on my grandfather’s side of the tree, (if I’m reading the family tree branches correctly) her great-grandmother and my great-great-grandmother were sisters. I like to think it might be a partial explanation for the way her work resonates so completely with me.

So when the editorial team for Books Make a Difference was meeting to discuss possible stories for the magazine, I mentioned Susan’s latest project that included unplugging herself and her three teens from electronics for six months.

The story was approved, and I set out to connect with her via Facebook, email, website…and eventually smartphone. Hmm.

When I called her back the hour following my first attempt, she and I laughed about the fact she had not picked up the phone because she hadn’t recognized the number on the caller id. As I worked through the interview questions, I remained cognizant of the cosmic connection of both books and blood. I remain grateful for both. You can see the resulting article here: “Susan Maushart: Living Deliberately by Unplugging“.

In another time and place our paths would likely never have crossed. She jets back and forth from New York to Australia, and I flit from midwest town to midwest town landing regularly in Colorado for the summers. I probably would have found all her books on a library shelf eventually. Maybe we would have bumped elbows at a family reunion, but I am fairly certain if we had crossed paths in some other way, we would have somehow ended up connecting deeper through books too.

                         

www.meaganfrank.com

Copyright 2013     Choosing to Grow                         Meagan Frank

Control of Change: A Big Fat Impossibility

Change builds

Stacked in moments, days, weeks, years.

Change breaks

Instantly… from here to there.

No matter the preparation

No matter the acceptance

No matter at all.

Change is

Big Sprout walks out the elementary arches today. A symbolic exit into that big, scary world that is sure to gobble him up. The 12-year-old who starts this next phase, will not be the kid who comes out on the other end.

No one with teenagers has been able to lie to me about how great these next few years are going to be. No one.

I know what’s coming, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

In six short years he’ll be gone. Visiting occasionally, I know, but essentially…gone.

I’ve tried not to think about it this past week, so instead I have simply chosen to be miserable to everyone.

The thing is, I kindof love this kid. I love that he gives me a thumbs up every morning when I wake him for school. I love that he digs inspirational quotes and witty jokes. I love that he cares deeply for people around him… making the compassionate choice more often than not. I love that he can be friends with pretty much anyone. I love that he has a contagious enthusiasm for life. And I love that he still hugs me goodbye… but it’s the last thing I want him to do.

I’m out of words…for now. I’m actually surprised I was able to write anything at all this morning.

Choosing to grow through this…because obviously, what choice do I have?

                              

Copyright 2012                  Meagan Frank                             Choosing to Grow

www.meaganfrank.com