The Hoffman’s Fantabulous Christmas Vacation – Part Three

The Hoffman’s Fantabulous Christmas Vacation – Part Three

So, aside from the Chicken Fiasco, our vacation had been pretty much everything we had hoped for.  Beautiful weather.  All the nieces and nephew were able to be there, Mandy from San Diego, Josh from Long Beach, and Mel.  Uncle Eddy had even stopped by while he was in town giving a presentation to one of the local schools, and shared with us his fascinating story about being a Forward Observer in WWII in the European theatre.  Gosh, ask me how much I wish I’d have gotten THAT on video.  What a treasure!

Christmas day was one of the best days ever.  I’d picked fresh oranges and avacados every day and made guacamole until it was coming out my ears.  Matt and his mom and sis had already gotten to go up to Porterville once and do some gambling, with plans to go again.  Sis and I had gotten to go do a little shoe shopping with little Adelia.  Mom and I thought maybe we’d do some yard-saling early Friday morning if there were any to be had.  Life was good.

On the 5th day of our visit, we were just sitting down to a noontime meal at Hodels when Dani noticed that the chandeliers were swaying. Sure enough they were swinging back and forth like a pendulum in a grandfather clock – we were having an earthquake.  Thankfully it was only a gentle swaying 6.0 earthquake that only lasted about 30 seconds and no big deal, really.  When we got home from lunch there was a message on the telephone answering machine that Uncle Eddy’s house was thrashed. He lived over by Paso Robles, which was near the epicenter on this one. But he was thankfully okay.  — Add an earthquake to the vacation!

A day later icy cold, record-breaking rainfall, with accompanying strong winds, pooled up on the roadways a foot deep in some places. In fact, we nearly lost control of our car on the freeway driving between Matt’s folk’s house and his sister’s. We were following a few car lengths behind a semi-tractor truck and trailer on the 99 when it suddenly slammed on his breaks and swerved to avoid a huge lake in the road. We were barreling down on his bumper when the splash of water kicked up in our face and effectively blinded us. Unable to see where we were going, we hit the same lake-size puddle and hydroplaned, making our own reckless swerve with traffic all around. Hair raising.  Nail biting experience.

When the dust water settled, we all peeled our fingernails out of the dashboard and thanked God that our guardian angels were working overtime that day. We were delayed not once, not twice, but three times on that little stretch of freeway because of major accidents caused by the terrible weather, and it was only a couple of miles between Airport Drive and California Avenue, where we had to get off.  — Add a near car accident to the vacation!

On another evening we were elbowed out of the house by what sounded like a COPS episode outside. There was a helicopter hovering right over our heads with a spotlight aimed at the vacant lot behind us.  The chopper was circling around and around and there were voices on a loud speaker.  On the ground were officers on foot, and walking shoulder-to-shoulder, shining flashlights and combing the open lot, obviously looking for something or someone.  We huddled in Matt’s folk’s backyard to watch the show. The event carried on for about half an hour as the cops canvassed back yards and the vacant lot. We were so spellbound by the commotion in front of us that no one noticed grandpa coming up from behind.

We’d left him sitting in his chair in the house when the whole commotion started.  Somehow he got himself up out of his recliner onto his feet on his own, steadied himself on his cane, and reached and took down the shotgun from its perch in the rafters. Then he shuffled his way out there with us to see what the ruckus was all about. A feeble old retired highway patrolman, limping on bad knees, riddled with arthritis, deaf in one ear, shaking with Parkinson’s, a cane in one hand and a shotgun in the other appearing on THAT scene.  Holy smokes!

As soon as he caught up to the group of us, AND we noticed he was packing, all nearly fainted.  Grandma and husband both yelled at him simultaneously in scream-whispers to “get back in the house with that dang thing. GAWD, DO YOU WANNA GET US ALL KILLED?” To which Grandpa half-grunted and sort of half-chuckled at their dramatic reactions, trying with meager speed and duck-feet to get himself turned around and shuffling back to the house, seemed very accustomed to being yelled at.

We got grandpa and ourselves safely back over the threshold and crowded back into the living room, half expecting to hear officers holler out at any second, “Hands up!” I guess we must have all been too distracted by our thoughts to notice as grandpa tried to put that shotgun back up in the rafters again, me standing right beside him and everyone else sitting, when “BOOM!!!” the son-of-a-gun went off in a deafening cloud of gun smoke and particles. We all hit the deck simultaneously, our faces flushed and our ears ringing as shrapnel detonated from the stucco wall just under the ceiling and to the left of the doorway, leaving a clean hole going all the way through. Tarnation!

Matt’s dad seemed unfazed, still determining to get that gun on the nails where it went, grunting and swearing.  Matt to the rescue jumped up to take over.  Pop was of course embarrassed, and Matt was seriously perturbed. Meanwhile the rest of us, taking inventory of our situation, slowly started stirring back to life. One-by-one picking ourselves up off the carpet and checking ourselves for damage, nervous to make a sound for any minute there’d be cops at the door.

As the moments passed and we realized at last that none of us was hurt (thank God) – except, oops, the house, and the cops didn’t seem to be coming to take us away, the opposite of fright began to bubble up out of us, in the form of smiles at first, then chuckles, and finally all-out, teeth-bearing, jack-jawed laughter.

Did you ssssss ssssss sssssseee…? Did you ssssss sssss ssssseee…?” was all anyone could get out before the squealing attack hit them again. Wiping the tears and pointing fingers at each other, and holding our bellies, our mouths locked wide open like possums eating sweet potatoes, only the sounds of paralyzed squeals able to eke out. When we finally were able to catch our breath and mutter four intelligent words together, we decided that this was just about as exciting a vacation as any we could ever remember.  One for the record books for sure.

Uh-hem! …Then Matt made sure the shotgun was in fact and for sure unloaded and secured on its perch.  Merciful heavens!  — Add a police incident and Shotguns on Sunday to the vacation!

In the last few days of the Bakersfield part of our trip that same rainstorm that almost cost us our lives on the freeway also caused the electricity to go off for about an hour while we were over at Sis’ house. The electricity came back on, but not without leaving its calling card behind. We didn’t notice it for about 24 hours, but when we went to turn in that evening found that Aunt Jessie’s house was — as grandpa would put it – “colder’n a well digger’s butt in the Yukon!” The power outage had done something to the furnace because it wasn’t kicking on any more. Matt’s mom called the power company and they came out and inspected, but they said we needed a repairman. We couldn’t get one of those for a day or two. So the last night of our stay we had no heat.

No problem, we thought, we’re from Wyoming.  We’re used to this cold stuff.  Yeah, well… we took our shivering yellow bellies over to the niece’s house to play pool and have pedicures, and stayed at her warm house until we thought it was rude to stay any longer. Finally submitting to the inevitable, Matt, the girls and I piled in the truck and ventured home.

This shouldn’t seem like a big deal to a people used to subzero temps, but there must be something to humidity that puts an exclamation mark on cold. We could see our breath in the air as we entered the darkened house. It could have only been about 30 degrees inside, and it really felt like 10 degrees. We had to seriously talk ourselves into getting ready for bed.

Biting the bullet and just doing it, we shucked our duds like assassins destroying evidence and thrashed into our jammies as if our clothes and those sleeping garments were one long piece of apparel, then dashed shivering into bed before hypothermia set in — where we found a nice surprise. God bless Matt’s mom. She had gone over while we were away and put electric blankets on all our beds and turned them all the way up to 10 on the dial.

Ahhhh, warm! In just a few minutes, actually a little too warm. I wonder if I can explain the strange sensation. The electric blankets were sooooo hot, so hot that our bodies were scorching — about to burst into flame, while our heads were gathering frost. I scrunched my body way down in the covers until only the extreme top of my head was exposed. Within moments I was so hot under those blankets that I almost felt ill. I was certain we’d all wake in the morning with tans and ten pounds thinner.

All I could think about most of the night was how to turn the thermostat down on that blanket without freezing to death getting to it. I didn’t dare lift the covers to look for the controller, because by the time I found it I’d be so frostbitten I’d need it back on “spontaneous combustion” just to get warm again. All night long was like one continuous hot flash. It felt like having the flu. The only good thing to arise out of the melt down was that the rain kept the chickens quiet. Praise the Lord!

The next morning Matthew turned on the oven in the kitchen and opened the door so the rest of us could be coaxed one-by-one out of our warm beds and down the hall to the hot shower. (Yes, I know this is dangerous.  Please, no cards or letters).  — Add a power outtage, storm, and heater problems to the vacation!

The last day of our visit was as it always is, bittersweet. My husband’s folks are just the coolest people, so much fun, funny, bounding with energy, and utterly entertaining … always a hoot and a half to be around. There is always an appealing amount of drama going on with someone, which makes it hard to detach from.

We had a sense of accomplishment for having gotten a few chores done for them around the place. Matt and his mom had made several expeditions to the Indian Casino (her favorite thing to do, and their favorite thing to do together). We’d squeezed in a holiday with a huge family dinner and get-together. The soaks in the hot tub at Danetta’s house were wonderful, and it was great hanging out with her and Darrel. The weather, well, it would be six more months before we’d have anything even half as nice back home, but for all that, there’s still just always something that feels like a ball and chain to keep us there.  In our heart of hearts we didn’t want to go.

On the other hand, every day had been like night of the living dead. We were in a miasma from lack of sleep. The thought of one night without “Chanticleer and his Hoodlum Serenaders” was really kind of alluring.  So, we endured the sad goodbyes and pulled ourselves away from the hugs and kisses, and began jamming ourselves into the Ford Mustang (a.k.a. sardine can) rental car, bursting at the seams with our excess luggage, that promised to take us on to the next phase of our fantabulous vacation.

We twisted our bodies like corkscrews into the small spaces inside that way-too-small-cool-car with about twice more luggage than what we came with. Poor Dani was jammed into the back seat like gauze in one’s gums after a tooth extraction. She had luggage under one arm and another bag sitting in her lap. We squeezed bag #3 into the small crevasse under her legs.

Gracee, being smaller, had more room around her for all the kids’ traveling crap (Game Boy, Walkman, stuffed animals and pillows). Matt, over in the passenger seat, had a bag under his legs, and we had a smaller bag teetering on the console between us. Good grief, where did all this stuff come from? But, it is always like this when we visit his parents.

We wheeled away looking a lot like the Beverly Hillbillies, waving out the windows of a car that had way more panache than the collection of its occupants, literally bursting at the seams with a phenomenal amount of junk. The only thing we were missing was granny and her rocker strapped to the top!

Just a few miles down the road the complaints started as we each began to lose feeling in our extremities. At the halfway point from Bakersfield to L.A., around the top of the grapevine, all of our butts went numb. Matt was complaining of a kink in his back. Dani was sure her feet and legs had been amputated, having no feeling in them anymore. Finally we reached the driveway of the Comfort Inn where the car had to almost give birth to us to get us out. But hallelujah we got there safely without any crazy stories to tell.

We staggered around the parking lot with that pins and needles feeling in our legs, all bent over like old people, unable to straighten our knees. I hobbled to the front desk and checked us in and Matt began piling our burgeoning luggage onto a luggage cart. With our backs finally coaxed straight again and the blood finally circulating to our fingers and toes, I quickly went and parked the car and then joined my family in the elevator. I was surprised we could fit with all our stuff.  Someone pushed the button and up we went.  Dad slid the key in the door and we all dog piled into the room and laid on the crisp linens for a minute or two before we pulled back the drapes to see the view or unloaded the luggage.

It was Matthew who broke the silence: “Ahhh!!! Do you hear that?” “Hear what?” Dani inquired. “EXACTLY!!!”   I think she was oblivious, but I knew what he meant – no bloody chickens!  And then he retorted maniacally, “Ha.. ha.. ha.. ha.. ha!!!!” (And the award for best performance in a comedy/drama is……  Eh, you woulda had to’a been there I think!)

Our nephew, who lived nearby our hotel met and taxied us around on a wonderful tour of Long Beach that evening.  We drove past the building featured in the movie Ghost Busters – the one with the gargoyles, and he showed us the lighthouse on the waterfront, and we went by the Queen Mary, then he took us to a great little Mexican restaurant for a nice sit down meal.   We made our plans for breakfast in the morning and talked about what we wanted to do.

Back in our hotel room feeling fat and sassy, we clad for bed and then drifted off into sweet, restful slumber that lasted all night. Yummy!  I honestly remember nothing else until the morning sunshine peeped through the drapery. Slept like a rock. Slept like the dead the next night too.  It was glorious!

Christmas Vacation Collage2

We only got to spend a few days with our nephew in Long Beach, but we packed those days as full as we could. We saw Universal Studios, walked on the beach, took a stroll down Hollywood Blvd., and then drove ourselves to Ontario for our flight back home.

The flight was great. We only met with some turbulence over the Rockies, but it’s always like that, especially this time of year. Our flight from DIA did get pretty rough though, enough that the flight crew decided not to serve beverages. No biggie! I didn’t want to wear them anyway.

Our plane touched down at NCIA, and Wyoming was just as we had left it – WINDY! My goodness, it was howling. I marvel at how those pilots are able to land planes in that stuff, but they do it every day!  Hat’s off to them, even if it was the wind that blew our hats off!  Ha!

Home from the airport we unloaded the taxi, thanking the Lord it was the last time we’d have to lug those stupid bags anywhere. Sheesh, you’d think we were the President and First family for all the junk we were packing. And then the not-fun part – putting it all away.

As we were pilfering the fridge for edibles someone noticed, lying there on the kitchen counter, so dutifully awaiting our return, THE SCRIPT!  Oh yeah, the script!!! Hmmmm… I don’t know, I guess I half expected it to be gone — at least dangling off a little or laying on the floor in a crumpled heap. We had so madly willed it by telekinesis to come to us in California. It could have at least shown some evidence that it tried to get to us. LOL!  Anyway, now, Dani finally had that dad-blasted thing in her hot little fingers and could finally start cramming her lines the night before her first practice.

And so, with that, and some sorting for the first load of laundry, plus a reserved sense of duty to dive into the mountain of mail/bills that welcomed us back, reality settled in. Honey, we’re home!

Vacation mode: OFF!


“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9


MrsH’s “Girl Scouts” Hobo Supper in Foil

MrsH’s “Girl Scouts” Hobo Supper in Foil


I grew up in a small town where there wasn’t a lot for kids to do but just be kids and play in the great outdoors.  That was plenty enough though, believe me.  My sisters and I made dirt houses lined with pebbles, floors swept down to the hard dirt, rocks and logs for furniture, and we served each other our fancy mud pie concoctions.  We played secret maze games between the sheets hanging on the line until we got hollered at to get away with our unclean hands.   We climbed Tank Hill just for something to do, and then tried to RUN down it without stumbling.  Sometimes we took a picnic lunch up there and ate it overlooking the town where we could watch all the goings on.  One time I climbed the tank – which was a mistake.  I guess I’m a little afraid of heights I found out.  My grandpa had to come and rescue me, and right after he called a welder to cut off the ladder so it couldn’t ever be climbed up by a kid again.  Oh dear!

We had bikes and rode them all over a whole vast network of oilfield roads, to secret places – under bridges, the old electric plant, and to the pond to catch frogs and salamanders and horny toads by the dozens, but hopefully not see any snakes – ’cause ewwww, girls don’t like snakes!  We all played ball or watched the games, and we all sat on the fences at the ranch rodeos and watched the cowboys do their stuff.  Sometimes they even let us run the hot-shot on the steers in the shoots, and open the shoot gates for the ropers.

Our little oilfield community had the first lighted baseball field, and the first lighted football field in the whole state.  We had a bowling alley, and a swimming pool, and in the winter we had a frozen pond to ice skate on. They say we even had a golf course, but it wasn’t like any golf course you’ve ever seen – just dirt and rocks and prairie, with flags stuck in holes here and there.  The clubhouse was just a corregated tin outbuilding, but it was something to do for those that are into that stuff!

If there was nothing else to do it was always fun to watch dad tinker with something in his shop, or tag along with him to his work.  I got to tag along once to the Blue Creek Ranch out by Kaycee, and they let me ride an old nag of horse all day long while dad fixed whatever it was they needed him to fix.  And my grandpa could be found in his massive garden most all summer.  It was fun to pick and eat peas while he watered and weeded.  I sometimes took my matchbook cars and made trails along the rows of corn.  I accidentally sat in an ant pile once though, and that wasn’t so much fun!  My grandma was always in the kitchen sowing or cooking.  And when me and my sisters stayed at her house, it was fun to play secretary with pens and notebooks in the garage.  Sometimes we’d nap with grandpa in the afternoons on the bed they kept out there, where the cool breezes blew through.

There was always a lady in town that taught piano lessons, and occasionally someone would travel through with gymnastics or dance classes, and our families all went camping and to the lake as often as we could.  My folks had a motorcycle and a scooter and we went for rides as a family, sometimes be gone all day!  And everyone in town met at the sand rocks to shoot off fireworks on the 4th of July – all of the families, and we shared our snacks and our fireworks with each other.  Sounds magical, doesn’t it?  It was!

We had a Girl Scouts troop and a Boy Scouts troop, and even a Boy Scouts camp on the Pine Ridge.  What in the world else does a kid need?  It was a wonderful life!

Girl Scouts was one of my fondest childhood memories.  I remember getting to go to summer camp (Camp Sacajawea) on Casper Mountain one year.  I got to ride on a bus up the mountain with a whole bunch of really nice bigger girls, singing old hippy songs all the way, and coolest of all, it was an over-nighter.  We made ditty bags out of bandanas and tied them to a stick (I’ve still got one of the nicer ditty bags we were given – shown in the photo below).  We filled them with snacks and water, and one of the days we used the ditty bag sticks as walking sticks and hiked to a really cool waterfall that flowed over a rock that we could walk behind (just like in the movie The Last of the Mohicans).  That’s the way I remember it anyway! 🙂  I remember doing crafts and selling cookies.  I remember one year being really ambitious to sell those cookies!  I ed Girl Scouts!

Girl Scouts memorabilia

This is a throw back meal from when I was a Girl Scout at Camp Sacajawea.  Very easy to make and I think it is delicious!  Of course we made S’mores for dessert – I’m pretty sure that was another Girl Scouts invention too!  😉

Hobo Foil Packs

This recipe feeds 4 to 6 people.

  1.  Peel and chop several cloves of garlic.  I did a whole bulb’s worth.
  2.  Wash a small bag of yellow potatoes, and a small bag of carrots, peel the carrots and then slice both into bite-size pieces  (figure on about 2 small potatoes and 1 whole large carrot per person)
  3.  Peel a yellow onion, cut in half, and slice it into quarter inch slices
  4.  Place all veggies in a bowl.  Salt and pepper to taste, and then drizzle generously with olive oil, toss to coat evenly, set aside
  5.  Mix 2 lbs of hamburger with 2 packages of dry onion soup mix, and a small minced jalapeno, a little salt and pepper, and mix well, then form into patties
  6.  Place a heaping ladle full of veggies into the center of a generous sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil
  7.  Lay a hamburger patty on top of veggies
  8.  Top with a spoonful of mushroom soup
  9.  Bring both ends of foil up and fold together to seal well on top, and then do the same on both sides.  Repeat making foil packets until all veggies and burger patties are used up.
  10.  Preheat BBQ grill, or campfire (or 350 *F oven), and when coals are hot and gray lay the packets on a grate about 6 to 8 inches above them
  11.  Let packets cook for 15 to 20 minutes and then carefully and gently flip and rearrange the packets so they can cook evenly on the other side for another 15 to 20  minutes.
  12.  Open one packet and test the veggies for doneness
  13. When done, remove the packets and serve one packet per person.

Step 5 - Grill 1 hour


Dinner Served1

“Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth; Walk in the way of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes; But know that for all these God will bring you into judgement.  Therefore remove sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh, for childhood and youth are vanity.” 

Ecclesiastes 11:9-10

The Hoffman’s Fantabulous Christmas Vacation – Part Two

The Hoffman’s Fantabulous Christmas Vacation – Part Two

Ever notice how it takes all day, really, to fly anywhere?   Out of Casper we had three choices.  1. Fly to Denver (with United), 2. fly to Salt Lake City (on Delta), or 3. fly to Vegas on Allegent, before we could continue on to anywhere else.  Our family usually started our flying adventures two hours early to get checked in at the ticket counter, eat something at the airport cafe, and kill some time watching a little TV in the main lobby until time to get in the line through security.  After that, it was a boring, nothing-to-really-do-but-wait at the gate for boarding.  The flight to Denver was, eh, just over an hour including boarding, seating, flying, beverage service, landing, and deplaning.  Once in Denver it was a long brisk jog through two or three conveyor hallways, a ride on the airport subway, and another long walk/run to our next departing gate if we were flying with an airline other than the one we came in on – more often than not it was inevitably on the other side of the terminal.  Pant, pant!

Once we finally found our gate, it was generally another hour or two of a wait until that airline was ready to board us for our next flight.  2½ to 3 hours later we were landing and deplaning.  By the time we made it to the luggage area, and the car rental counter, and out to the car, and finally through city traffic to the hotel, our whole day was pretty much shot.

The short days of winter go by fast when traveling.  Even so, it is much faster to get there by plane than by car!


Touchdown: Ontario, California!

We flew into Ontario, California because it was quite a bit cheaper than to fly into John Wayne or LAX, and hundreds less than connecting again into Bakersfield.  Our family vacations were mainly about family – my husband’s family, and his mom was always the largest subsidizer of the expeditions. I know that she and Pop wanted to see their son and me, but I suspect it was even more about the grandchildren, which is totally cool.  The kids wanted to see their grandparents just as bad as their grandparents wanted to see them, plus California was a pretty darned cool destination for a couple of Wyoming kids, especially in the middle of the cold, yucky Wyoming winter!

Hoffman's Fantabulous Christmas Vacation

Soooo, we landed in California and were in our rental car pulling into a parking space of our Ontario hotel when the quirky little tune on Dani’s cell phone went off.  Now, hold the phone.  Is this a marvel to anyone else but me? I mean, honestly, how does a call manage to find us when we travel? Someone picks up a land line in our home town of rural America, dials seven little numbers (beep, beep, beep, blip, beep, beep, blip – without any directing prefix).  Meanwhile the signal searches the world over in two seconds, leaping from that landline to the atmosphere, hopping from one tower to the next tower, and magically finds our tiny little handheld gadget buried in the bottom of our purses or pockets in whatever ginormous city or outback ranch we’ve chosen to visit. How in the world does it know where to go looking? It’s not like we left it instructions when we left home.  And it’s not like our phones are a giant beacon of a device either.  They don’t even have a protruding antenna on them anymore.  They are a tiny, itty, bitty, mess of soldered wires about the size of a credit card with a mini TV screen on one side.  Seriously, with all the other millions and millions of cell phones in use all over the world communicating on an invisible, elaborate web of speed and randomness, our personal number dialed on any phone somehow finds our phone’s unique ping and hones in on it in seconds.

It is a stinking marvel to me. It’s a lot like the connection I see us having with our Creator.  Us, with our unique DNA and our unique fingerprints, and Him knowing us and knowing where ever in the world or the netherworld we go (Psalm 139:8)! Both intelligent designs for sure.

Anyway, sorry… off on a tangent again.  I do that a lot!

So, the cell phone call was Dani’s drama teacher. During the course of their drawn-out conversation I watched in the rear view mirror as a myriad of emotions played out on Dani’s face. One moment she looked stunned, and then she looked happy, and then a little bit sick, edging off into worry, rebounding into excitement, and finally a little bit scared, vacillating to and fro between a gamut of emotions within just a few brief moments, and all without any words coming from her.

None of us in the car could hear what he was saying, but we were all captivated by her multi-colored and animated expressions. As the call came to a close, she was very polite and respectful, and thanked him a dozen times…and then she hung up the phone and just sat for a bit in dazed silence. Of course, we’re all staring at her and waiting with baited breath.

“Um…” she finally dithered, as her father, her sister, and I clung to her every word, “IIIII’ve been picked for the part of <gulp> Aunt Eller!”  With those words a final look of nervous astonishment scrawled its way like an etch-a-sketch across her face. “Oh my gosh,” she muttered, as her face disbanded in sunset hues, then her eyes widened and took a passageway downward. Several moments passed without her taking so much as a breath it seemed.

We looked at each other in confusion. Was this good news or bad news, because it was rather hard to tell? She wasn’t really sure herself, but probably bad news, she concluded, because it is a BIG part, and because somebody she knows wanted that part and was probably going to be mad at her now.

“Oh and,” she continued, “Mr. Stedille says I need to know my lines by the first practice the first day back to school after Christmas break …………… aaaaaaand I left my script on the kitchen counter back at the house.”

Insert Cameron’s four and a half minute scream, “Nooooooooo………” from Ferris Buller’s Day Off, which echoed through the flashing scenes of the movie from the beginning of the day to the destruction of the car.


After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast, we packed up the rental car with our luggage and headed north to Bakersfield, about a three hour drive. There the fam warmly greeted us as we rolled into the driveway and piled out of the car in front of their house. There were hugs all around and the obligatory, “Look how much you’ve grown!”  I in turn marveled at the green grass and flowers, and how much taller the palm tree was from the last time we were there.  Mom and Pop hadn’t changed too much.  And the neighborhood still looked about the same.  Everyone was happy to see one another.  Grandma asked us if we were hungry and said she’d made a pot roast, and she showed us where to take our suitcases.

When things settled down a little, and everyone was off doing things outside, I took a moment to look for a script for Dani. I called the Bakersfield Community Theatre but that turned up bust. Then the Bakersfield public library, but they didn’t have a script either. I tried old book stores and antique stores and even the high school, but either there was no answer or there was no script.  At a loss for where else to look, I considered having my mom go over to our house, back home, and get Dani’s copy and mail it to us, but poor mom would have to fight the last minute crowds at the post office, and with the crush of holiday mail it might not even get to us in time, and FedEx would be expensive. What if it got lost in the mail?  Then Dani wouldn’t even have it after we got back home. I decided the whole thing was a lost cause and I gave it up.  No use crying over spilled milk our whole vacation.



The Chicken Fiasco

Okay, so, backing up a little, we we’re staying at Aunt Jessie’s house, which was right next door to my husband’s parent’s house. Since Aunt Jessie was living in a nursing home and her house was empty, it made perfect sense to Matt’s mom for us to be there rather than  underfoot at her house with all our stuff strewn about, sleeping on the couch in the living room.

We were thrilled to get a house all to ourselves to stay in. So, we ditched our belongings in the bedrooms at Aunt Jessie’s and then headed outside to congregate with Matt’s folks in the back yard and spin a yarn or two sitting around on lawn chairs on the lush lush lush green grass. We were in tall cotton for sure to be soaking in that California sunshine and family love that we missed so much.

Suddenly the air was filled with this strange, loud buuuuuugling noise. I must have had a puzzled look on my face, because Matt’s mom pointed next door and said, “It’s a goose.” I went to the fence to take a peek over and see, and sure enough there was a goose. Wow, a big dang goose. And loud!  As the goose came to investigate whether or not I might have an offering of food, and straggling behind him were his curious cronies – four inquisitive roosters. One was orange, another one or two were black and white spotted, and another was nearly all white with black tail feathers. I was thinking how they would match the décor in my “chicken kitchen.” I was also kind of romancing the thought of a wakeup call from these fine feathered creatures. It had been an age since I heard a rooster crow, since I was a kid in fact.

Christmas Vacation album1

Well, the afternoon waxed and waned into evening. We’d eaten grandma’s pot roast, picked some fresh oranges for a snack, and talked about everything under the sun.  Matt’s sister and daughter had stopped by and we’d all had lots of laughs.  It was blackest night when we meandered through the back gate and down the moonlit sidewalks from grandma’s house to Aunt Jesse’s, musing all the way over our evening of chitchat. We changed into our jammies, washed our faces, brushed our teeth, and snuggled into the soft blankets in each of our bedrooms, hubby and me in one, the girls together in another. We thanked God for safe travels and were soon drifted off into dreamland.

Honk-shoo…honk-shoo, and then ……………… cock-a-doodle-doooooo! Cock-a-doodle-doooooo!

Matthew and I bounced in the bed and one eyeball popped open upon our dreary faces. A smile splintered across my cheeks as I slipped my arms out from under the covers and stretched and rolled over with a yawn, expecting to see the dewy sunrise peeking through the curtains. But there was no dewy sunrise. It was still black darkness outside. Oh man, what time was it? GOOD HEAVENS… 2AM? What the heck? And while we were stirring and tossing, trying to make sense of the disturbance, it all fell quiet again. Hmmm? Weird. We nestled back down in the blankets pulling the bookmarks from our interrupted dreams, and began coaxing ourselves back to sleep.  Honk-shoo, honk-shoo.

Just as we had almost reached nirvana again, Cock-a-doodle-doooooo! Cock-a-doodle-doooooo! Our eyes sprang open like window blinds on a spring.

Now, I feel like I must explain something at this point.  See, the walls at Aunt Jesse’s house were, no kidding, about as thin as paper. A concept that was completely foreign to this native Wyoming gal. Where I come from houses are like bunkers, with layers of insulation to keep out the cold and wind. Quite the opposite in California apparently.  There was no insulation whatsoever in Aunt Jessie’s walls.  I’m going to guess it was just some framing boards, siding, and paneling, and thin glass windows. You could hear a mouse fart on the other side of those walls. To put it into perspective, it was like sleeping in a tent. This was stupid. What’s more, the novelty of having clucking cocks just a few feet away was losing its charm FAST.

Do you remember the scene in Turner and Hooch when the dog lets off with its incessant barking in the middle of the night and Tom Hanks levitates in the bed with each perfectly spaced woof?  That was us. It started at 2:00AM and continued every twenty minutes ’til daybreak. When the sun finally arose in the morning those dang birds crowed again.  My husband and I peeped at each other from opposite sides of the bed, through bloodshot eyes, feeling sorta hung-over from jet lag and sleep deprivation, but tried to find a smidge of humor in the affair, and held out hope that last night’s shenanigans were a fluke, and that the whole vacation wasn’t going to be plagued by this obnoxiousness. One thing’s for sure, in one night we were sooooo over the chickens!

The girls on the other hand, could apparently sleep through a mortar barrage. They hadn’t heard a thing all night. All they heard was the crowing at daybreak. They thought it was sooooo enchanting to be serenaded by Chanticleer. It was soooo farmyard…like Rock-a-doodle – LIVE!!! Their precious enthusiasm, while adorable, was however just a little bit lost on us. We smiled graciously anyway, stealing glares out from under our heavy eyelids and nursing our strong cups of coffee.

Later, after we had showered and dressed, hubby and I meandered over to his folk’s house, Matt’s mom had a whole list of things for us to do. There were broken windows on the barn that needed replacing. A few tiles had peeled off the roof, if we didn’t mind tending to those. There was a cable cord laying across the roof of the house that she would like configured differently, and she’d like us all to go to breakfast at the Sugar Mill as soon as everyone was dressed. Sis and Darrel were going to meet us there.

Christmas Vacation collage1

It was a beautiful sun-shiny day in southern California. There was green grass, GREEN GRASS (still marveling at this) growing in the yard! And in the backyard were fruit trees yielding fruit – oranges and avocados. I wonder if you can appreciate what a raging dissimilarity this was in my mind from back home, where all my life our non-fruit bearing trees have existed in the winter’s desolation by being stripped and barren, erect like dead sticks in a snowdrift this time of year. The same desolation where the wind also howls at 50 miles per hour non-stop, the mercury hovers near zero, and our grass, if it has survived the late summer draught – is a brown matted mass under several inches of permafrost. California was NICE! I couldn’t help but marvel why anyone (my husband in particular) would ever leave this paradise? And he thinks I’m crazy for calling Bakersfield a paradise.

It had been a full day of chipping away at a long “to do” list, and then the second night came. We decided to put a fan in the bedroom to hopefully drone out all ambient noises, and as added insurance the hubby put earplugs in his ears – the soft squishy orange kind that you roll between your fingers and insert in the canal of your ears and let them expand back until you can’t hear anything – the kind we use at the gun range.

Well, those stupid roosters of course acted up again and, darn-it the fan and earplugs weren’t adequate to muffle their sounds. We got to chalk up two nights to sleep deprivation. My husband’s and my mental stability was boarding on psychosis. It was like the first days after having a newborn colicky baby. We’d have given anything for a whole night’s sleep. Some kind of Chinese torture, this was turning out to be.

At the insistence of my husband’s unbearable crankiness, his mother went over to talk to the neighbor to see about the chickens. Turns out he was just babysitting them for a buddy who was to be back in town any day (so he said). He assured her that he wanted rid of them as bad as anybody. They were keeping him up all night too.  These weren’t your run-of-the-mill roosters; they were wannabe watch-hens – some sort of deranged nocturnal watch-hens.  Oooftah!

We spent Christmas day as Sis’s house.  We got there early and waited for everyone else to get up and get some coffee.  The whole family was there, Josh, Mandy, and Mel, grandma, grandpa, Sis, Darrel, and us.  The tree was finally unburdened of all its gift-wrapped trappings and on-que the free-for-all of paper peeling commenced.  It was a frenzy of ripped-open surprises.  The noise and excitement took me aback, but the laughter, joy, and happiness in the room was intoxicating.  Everyone seemed thrilled with their presents, and the little ones went right to playing.  The men fiddled with their big boy toys and watched TV as the women gathered in the kitchen. After a while someone started grabbing up paper and cramming it in bags, along with all the un-necessary refuse from the packaging.

Matt’s sister made a glorious feast and served it on her fine Blue Willow china in the dining room with everyone crowded around one big table.  It was the custom that the youngest child say grace before the meal, which the lot fell to Gracee.  We ate til we were stuffed around a table bustling with lively conversation, and then sometime later we all waddled out and got in the hot tub.

Christmas Vacation album2

Night number three: Two o’clock in the stinking morning, like clockwork, the cockamamie hens started in again. Our bodies lay limp as death in the beds, but our eyes dredged open. My husband, scowled like Dirty Harry staring down some punk, and conjured a manifestation almost as terrifying as Linda Blare in The Exorcist, and announced in a growling, guttural voice that “THE CHICKENS MUST DIE!”

He threw back the covers feverish with homicidal delusions, bolted from the bed, and stormed out of the dark room. In the other room I could hear him pull on and zip his pants. Then I heard the front door creak open and closed. His ardent footsteps marched in a tempest in the moonlight over to his parent’s house, where I then heard him pound the backdoor down until every dog in the neighborhood was on full alert.

His mother finally apparently answered, wrapped up in her bathrobe. He demanded to have his BB gun from when he was a kid, and a box of BB’s. Hesitant, but not brave enough to resist, she complied. Now armed, the mighty slayer set up a sniper position under the car port by the fence and unleashed his fury on the foolhardy foul. He pumped and shot, and pumped and shot, and pumped and shot those little noisemakers into the farthest corner of the yard, baaaaaauk-bauk-bauking as they went, tail feathers flying. If they even so much as moved one chicken toe out of that corner or stretched their necks to cackle, the torrent of BB’s rained hellfire on their heads all over again until all that could be heard was the thwack of the BBs exiting the barrel.  Unsure of where the assault was coming from or why, and nervous as only pea-brained birds can be, they grumbled to each other in hushed chicken murmurs behind bunkers in their far-corner-of-the-yard reformatory.

The assault lasted twenty minutes in the otherwise still and quiet of night, and then my lovely man came back to bed. His body, chilled from the damp winter air outside and quaking from the elevated levels of testosterone and adrenalin.  At last he found refuge in the soft, warm sheets again. I laid like a stone on my side of the bed pretending not to have heard the whole thing, trying not to accidentally let out a nervous giggle or jostle the bed with my quivering diaphragm. I have an uncanny sense of humor, but I did not have a death wish.

I bit my lip, took a slow deep breath, and gently caressed his arm. He thrashed about for a comfortable position and then closed his eyes. His rage slowly dissipated away. The small amount of rest we’d accumulated provided just enough exhaustion for the both of us to finally relax and slip back into unconsciousness. It was a whole ‘nother hour before those blasted birds started up again. Merciful heavens… it was a nightmare on Elm Street.

Christmas Vacation album3

This was the nightly routine for the remainder of the 10 days that we spent at his parent’s house. We laid down to sleep, the roosters doodle-doo’d, my husband bolted up and shot them, we slumbered for another hour, they crowed again, he got up and shot them, ‘nother 10 winks, yada, yada, yada… and eventually the sun came up thus ending our torture.

My poor hubby, day after day, used his best sales pitches on his mom to let HIM go talk to the squawking-chicken sitter. “I’ll just offer to take the chickens off his hands.” “I’ll turn them loose down by the river.” He pleaded, but to no avail. “I have to live here after you’re gone,” she insisted.

Wooooooo.  Well, while all of this was a fine and pleasant misery, it was only half the story of this memorable vacation.  Police helicopters.  Shotguns on Sunday.  Power outage. Almost a car wreck. Soooo much more to tell.

Tune in to part three for the rest of the story! 🙂


“And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.’”  Mark 14:30

The Hoffman’s Fantabulous Christmas Vacation – Part One

The Hoffman’s Fantabulous Christmas Vacation – Part One

I’m on a quest for joy this week.  I found myself getting kind of down in the dumpies for some codswallop reason and I think it might just be that ol’ devil conjuring up these despicable, loathsome humdrums; so I picked my pitiful self up off the mucky, mendacious floor, shook the dust mites out of my blathering mind, beat the rag-rugs in my deceitful heart, put some music on, and just started dancing until I had that joy, joy, joy, joy down in my soul again.  As joy commenced to chasing away the black clouds I started thinking about the good times I’ve had in this life.  Boy howdy, it is terribly ungrateful of me to have such a pity party. Slap my face, Amen?

I remember when I was a kid there was a commercial on TV for an adult bubble bath formula.  It showed a woman with a million things on her mind – “The traffic!  The boss!  The baby!  The Dog!  That does it,” she exclaimed. “Calgon, take me away!”    And then it showed her caressing her arms and legs in a huge deep bathtub overflowing with tingling bubbles that looked like it was somewhere in the beautiful outdoors of Greece or the Mediterranean. The commercial ended with a man’s voice asking us to “Loose yourself in luxury!”

Calgon take me away

Sounds fantastic, doesn’t it?  Do they still make Calgon?  A bath that’s like a vacation.  Mmmmm … A VACATION!!!!

* * *

What takes you away?  Where is your happy place? What do you do to blow away the black clouds?  How do you find contentment in such things as you have (Hebrews 13:5)?

Recounting memories of good old times is probably one of my best go-to remedies.  I’m so glad I journaled about some of our magnificent family excursions right after we took them, because as time goes by it is easy to forget all the little details that made them special.  Even digging out old photos, it’s crazy how the memories of those images can fade away when I discover I’ve failed to write the dates and locations on the backsides.

Anyway, so today I’m reliving a family holiday trip, one that I thankfully chronicled in my journal.  I hope if this little story serves a purpose for anyone at all, I hope it is to inspire you to treasure the good times, write everything down, and take lots of pictures while it is all fresh in your mind.  We just never know what a treasure it will be later in life, to bring a smile, to have a laugh, and just to remember some of the best times we had.  I wish I’d written down everything we ever did as a family, so when these dumpy days rear their ugly heads I could beat them down with my extensive arsenal of sun-faded and wind-blown, but thankfully documented family adventures, and give myself a little pick-me-up in life.  Thank God in heaven I wrote some of them down.  🙂

I hope my kids will someday find this story and laugh as they remember all the ridiculous little particulars.  It’s so much fun to talk about the good times we’ve had.  Fun to compare memories.  Fun to see what made the biggest impressions on each of us after so much time has passed. I am so grateful to have been a mom.  I’m so grateful for the husband and the family and the life God gave me.  I’m so thankful for all our humble little adventures.  Thank you Father God for loving me and my family and blessing us so abundantly!

Family portrait

How Marvelous Photography, Laura Marvel Stirewalt – photographer

Sooooooo, since this is the approach I took when writing it in my journal, I’m going to start this story with a brief synopsis of our crazy busy schedule leading up to this vacation, just to put things into perspective and kind of set the scene for you.  I know I always kind of take the long way around a story (sheepish grin), but these details might be important for somebody someday. 🙂



Recognizing a phenomenal talent for the performing arts, my husband and I begged our oldest daughter to audition for the Kelly Walsh spring musical, Oklahoma! She didn’t give herself enough credit.  She was truly a phenomenal singer and an incredible actor, and I prayed for her to have the courage to try.  I just knew if she tried she’d gain some confidence. I had so much faith in her.  Try-outs were unfortunately in December – a month of pure overload on all our parts. And poor Dani, not only was she buried in semester-end school work (instead of the normal 8 subjects a day all year long, her school did 4 classes a day for one semester and then 4 new classes for the second semester), but Dani was also a senior member of all three of her choirs and chasing her tail with holiday singing engagements:

  • The lighting ceremony at the park (a community event)
  • The cookies and caroling appointments (a fundraiser)
  • Selling pies (fundraiser)
  • Singing in the Christmas Concert at the school
  • And seated as a first soprano in her school’s three renowned choirs with small solo parts in each, she could not miss any of them as her absence would disqualify her from getting to go on the spring choir trip to New York and singing at Carnegie Hall

Her employer, Waldenbooks, at the mall, had also crammed hours into every nook and cranny of her schedule to accommodate their holiday needs.

Her church youth group also had several things going, including parties and youth worship services.

And, just for giggles, we, her wonderful family tossed a California Christmas vacation into the mix, just to keep life frenzied and interesting.

Not only that, but we were taking off two days before school got out, because it was a bunch cheaper. OMG!

So, any-who, the tryouts for parts in the spring musical Oklahoma took place right before Christmas break. To prepare, Dani wanted to watch the movie Oklahoma so she could relate it to the script. We searched all over town and finally found the last apparent copy (gee, everybody else musta had the same idea) not from a video store, but from our local library, thank God the library had one! Dani spent most of the night watching the movie.  The next day she read for the part of Ado Annie, and then brushed the palms of her hands together <swish, swish, swish> that little chore was done, and now moving on to the next item of her to-do list.

Oh no no no, not so fast.  Mr. Stedille (her awesome drama teacher) called her back for a re-read—for the parts of Aunt Eller and Laurie. Oh dear!  Here we go again. Sooooo, she studied for those parts in the wee hours of another long night, and rose early early early to go read for them at the school at the crack of dawn, the very morning before our airplane departure, on what looked to be a perfectly brisk and terrifically windy day – which always adds to the enjoyment of life having to negotiate the opening and closing of car doors and vast, sprawling parking lots in such icy tempests.

If Dani’s life was an out-of-body experience, my life was certainly also a runaway train.  Besides the “women’s work” of laundry, bills, and housekeeping, most of my December evenings and weekends were spent frantically trying to finish the writing, organizing and arranging of years of family history research (stories, pedigrees, military, marriage, and death documents, census records, etc.), creating scrapbook pages of old family photos, designing a front and back cover design, and making pretty name meaning pages for each chapter, and then copying and binding these massive manuscripts of my family’s history.

It was my plan to give copies to my parents and my sisters as Christmas presents. Two of my sisters lived out of town, so I had to have it done and to the post office before we left, since we would be gone over the holiday. Somehow, by the grace of God, I managed to accomplish this mammoth undertaking.

I was also working full-time as a teaching assistant and loaded down with special projects at work – one being the Christmas Party Committee, which included planning for, shopping for, prepping for, and attending the Christmas party.  There was also the husband’s Christmas party, a fancy one, that needed a new dress.  AND her father and I didn’t dare miss any of Dani’s choir performances – or forget to pick up grandma so she could attend too.

The brief moments I was home it was to bake for a kid’s school function, sleep, bathe, do laundry (forget about folding it), eat something, kiss the husband, wrap presents, take something to the neighbors, squeeze in some shopping, and pay the heat and light bill (not necessarily in that order).

Boy howdy!  Had you been a guest at our house, you’d have had your head on a swivel and had to turn the thermostat up for the frigid breezes generated as one family member after another whizzed hither and yon and out the front door. Most of the communications with family consisted of notes on the white-board on the fridge.

Husband had his full time, out-of-town job in the oil patch to quite literally snowplow through. Out the door at 4 AM and not back until after 6 PM or later.  Often times called out again in the middle of the night for something that froze up and stopped working.

And poor little sister had semester final projects of her own to get done and turn in, and no one to really help her with any of it. She also had a job after school as a sweeper and needed transportation getting there and back.  It was all just a nightmare.

As I think back on this and put it all in writing, I am not sure how we managed to pull it all off. One thing’s for sure, it was a stinking whirlwind with little dust devils spouting off all over the place, my poor little family helplessly caught in all our own little vortexes and stretched to extreme, but somehow we all survived in one piece and nobody lost their head. You can imagine how that ole devil can sneak in and bum a crash on your couch when all around you is chaos, and toss a monkey wrench in the works while you are distracted. To my enchantment, he was restrained – thank you God for the answer to prayers!  Somehow all our stuff got done, all our bags got packed and poof, *mindblown,* we all kept our sanity.


And then the taxi arrived to take us away. Honk, honk!  Hidy-ho, away we GO!!!!


We loaded our bags in the trunk, ran back and locked the doors, and then scrambled for our seats – Buckle up buttercup!!!  Sitting in the back seat of this, wow, rather filthy automobile (the first time I had actually sat in a month that I could remember), I went through my mental checklist: Hubby, daughter, daughter, self – Yep, all here! Dog to kennel (check), coffee pot unplugged (check), doors locked, mail on hold, bills paid, money from bank – (check), cell phone – (yep, got it), Plane tickets, ID – (check, check).

And just like that we were tooling down the roadway and pulling into the drop off at the airport. The line at the ticket counter wasn’t too bad; we got through security without a hitch, and finally, presto-change-o, we were on the plane finding our seats, cramming our bags in the overhead compartments, and watching out the window as the plane lifted off the runway. Zoom, zoom!

With the hum of the aircraft droning out all the voices, I let go a long exhale, slipped on my earphones, closed my eyes, and escaped away into a Carmen worship CD, finally giving Jesus some much overdue attention for His birthday.


Vacation mode: ON!




“I know what it is like to be in want, and I know what it is like to have plenty. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Philippians 4:12-13

Kid’s Summer Reading, A Parent’s Primer

Kid’s Summer Reading, A Parent’s Primer


Bevery Cleary

Soooooooo…I wanted to help my grandkids keep reading over the summer and wanted to get them some fun books they would want to read, but picking books for them suddenly seemed a little more difficult than anticipated once I decided to go for it. Did y’all know that the reading level of books is usually printed near the barcode? I had no clue. But, in all fairness it isn’t obvious.  It’s like a secret code that only a few priveleged people know about – like an alphabet letter inside a triangle, or something like RL:2.1.  A child’s reading level is super important when picking books, because it will directly affect their enthusiasm for reading by how easy or difficult the book is, so it is super important to get that part right.  I’ll explain the reading level codes in just a minute.

I decided to start at  After I gathered several highly rated, award/medal winning, quality books that were at my granddaughter’s reading level into my shopping cart, I ended up with about 30 or 40 books. The next time she was over for a visit I grabbed her up and we sat down together and went through each and every one of those books, reading the back covers and flipping through the pages, until she had picked her top ten. Some books were thicker and would take longer to read, some were thinner books, some were dog stories, a couple were Roald Dahl, etc.  She was so excited she could hardly wait for the books to come in, and now that they have, the kid has been a reading fiend ever since, and her sister also.

Roald Dahl books are awesome because there are so many, and so many have been turned into movies, which gives us something to do together when the kid finishes a book, plus there are so many other fun activities to go with his books: activity sticker books, a crazy cookbook (two actually) with recipes for all the foods featured in his books – that my granddaughter and I can cook up together, a dictionary that includes the crazy made up words he uses in his books, and even a cute video game app (free) about the Twits that is super fun!!!!!  There’s even a Roald Dahl website with even more to offer.

And did you know James Patterson writes kid’s books now?  Many are highly rated on Amazon.  My granddaughter thought Dog Diaries would be fun to read, and she was right; it is!!!

So, this is what has inspired my blogging today.  I just wanted to pass along the knowledge I’ve discovered, and some terrific ideas that have worked really well for us.

Book Collage Two


Most modern chapter books show a reading level somewhere on the barcode label (or the inside pages at the front of the book). Poof *mind blown* I did not know this, did you? Look for either a number such as RL: 2.1, OR a letter inside of a triangle. The example RL: 2.1 translates to Reading Level: 2nd grade, 1st month. If the barcode shows a letter inside of a triangle, this is the Fountas & Pinnel reading level system. In this system A-C is Kindergarten levels, D-J is First Grade, K-P is Second Grade, Q-T is 3rd Grade, U-W is 4th Grade, X-Y is 5th Grade, and Z is 6th Grade and into middle school. There is also a Lexile measurement, but it is a little more complicated. (Note: if you really want to be an expert on your child’s reading level and ability, visit Reading Rockets).

Book BarCode

So now, when we are out shopping with our kids and they run to us with a book they want to read, we can quickly decide if it is anywhere near their right age level or not.

If you can’t find the reading level on the book anywhere and you happen to have your smart phone with you, you can check it at the Accelerated Reading website ( If the book title comes up, it will give you the reading level.

It is also helpful to check the reading levels of the last few books our kids have read and talk to them about them. Who were the characters? What was the story about? Was it easy to understand? Was there anything in the story you didn’t understand? Were there any words that you didn’t know how to pronounce, or that you didn’t know what they meant? Was the story hard to follow? If the last few books that they read were pretty easy for them (matched their grade level), the child was motivated to read them all the way to the end, and is able to tell you lots of details about them, chances are they were a pretty good reading level fit. Armed with this information, we might want to challenge them to go a little bit harder with their next book.  It will add words to their vocabulary among other things.  BUT NOTE that if a book is too easy children will lose interest out of boredom, and if a book is too hard for them to understand the child will lose interest out of frustration.  Finding books that match their reading level is crucial to fostering a love of reading in them.

If you are looking for a way to more officially test your child’s reading level, I found websites that offer free reading level assessments, like:

Beginner Readers

If a book is on your child’s correct reading level and aimed at their interests, is well written and entertaining to them, they will at least be tempted to read it without a lot of nagging on your part!!!!! — There are also ways to sweeten the deal, a few incentives, which I’ll delve into a little further down!!!!

Book Collage Three


Caldecott and Newberry give “medals” to books with high literary value. You can also Google: Notable Children’s Books or Literature and see what comes up.

After you’ve nailed down their correct reading level, make a pile of medal winning books (online shopping cart -or- brick & mortar bookstore), and then go through the pile of books together. Flip through the pages and see how long it is and how small the print is. Read the back covers. Read a few pages.  Narrow down the giant pile to about ten books that most interest them. And then…

Book Collage One


Once you have the giant world of children’s books pared down to a child sized pile of quality literature that matches her interests and reading level, you can finally weed out the ones that might have objectionable content. Obviously there are really only about two ways to go about this. One, is to read the books ourselves before we let our kids read them. The bonus for this is that it comes in handy later when we want to ask them questions about the book to access their comprehension, and come up with follow-up activities.

The second, is to read reviews at websites we trust the opinions of. Perhaps, like me, you are concerned with certain subject matter being appropriate and would like a good Christian review? In that case, you might find the following websites helpful: (Children’s Book Reviews for Christian Parents)

These websites will usually alert parents to subject matter which might be offensive, controversial, or a maturity level that we would prefer to preview and prepare our kids for ahead of time.

* * *


Depending upon our kids’ ages, we might want to consider also picking up a great story book that we can read to them. Everything I’ve read says it is good for kids to hear books read to them by someone who reads really well. It is bonding as well as skill building. I remember as a kid what a great reader my mom was, how soothing her voice was, and how much I looked forward to the nights when she had time to read bedtime stories to my sisters and me. She had a big book of bedtime stories that included Tall Tales, Fairy Tales, Aesop’s Fables, and Classics, like Black Beauty, Swiss Family Robinson, and Peter Rabbit. The fluid way she read, her voice inflection, her own enthusiasm for the stories, made them come right off the pages and into my imagination. I wanted to grow up to read just like her.


These are a few such books:

A Treasury of Children’s Literature (Hardcover) by Armand Eisen

The Book of Virtues, A Treasury of Great Moral Stories

The McElderry Book of Aesop’s Fables (Hardcover) by Michael Morpurgo (Author), Emma Chichester Clark (Illustrator)

American Tall Tales (Hardcover) by Mary Pope Osborne (Author), Michael McCurdy (Illustrator)

* * *


Some kids are naturally attracted to reading.  Others are more math minded, or science minded, than language minded.  Motivating our kids to read by picking great books is one way to hook them, but following their efforts up with fun activities is, well, jam on the peanut butter…is chocolate syrup on the ice cream… is icing on the cake!  I just have to make sure it is “icing” on the cake and not another thing on the list of chores I’m expecting her to do.  Reading should be fun.  What makes reading fun for me.  I’m one who hated reading in school, and I still am not a huge book reader.  Kids who like to read might find it fun to have a favorite little nook to read in.  Maybe a shag area rug with a bean bag chair and a groovy free standing lamp sitting next to it tucked away in a secret corner of the attic?  Or maybe a tree house, or a bench in the garden?

When my kids were little I created opportunities for us to get out and read.  We would pack up some drinks and snacks, and a big blanket, and we’d head to a shady spot in the park, or a private lookout on the mountain.  Sometimes we’d invite grandma to join us, and we’d spend hours lounging out in the sunshine reading books, magazines, or whatever.   Maybe for a kid that’s on the fence about reading, it would change everything to let them pick the books themselves?  Sometimes what kids hate about reading (me) is having books chosen for them, with subject matter that isn’t the least bit interesting to them, not to mention all the painful formalities of the classroom – oral book reports, testing, reading out loud, etc.  UGH!  When the invironment is relaxed they might blossom into a furocious reader???

Maybe all my kid needs is to get to go to the library or book store once a week?  Maybe it is getting to do a fun activity after reading a book, like making a dinner which was featured in the book? Or doing an activity (playing a game of marbles, catching butterflies, making a cane pole and trying to catch fish with it, floating on a raft, flying a kite, making a tree house or fort, etc.) like was featured in the book?  Maybe seeing the movie that was based on the book?

On a thread of a post on Facebook I found this comment and it is just too awesome not to share:

Jon David Groff writes: As a junior/senior high school English Language Arts teacher, I have stopped doing the traditional novel study. After reading The Book Whisperer, by Donalyn Miller, one summer, I went out and gathered together a decent classroom library. Come September, I told students that we would no longer do a formal novel study. They loved it. Then I told them they’d instead have a goal to read 40 book — one a week. They were not happy.

However, they could read what they wanted, didn’t have to write reports or assignments on what they read, would have some class time dedicated to reading, had no marks whatsoever tied to how many books they read or didn’t read, could abandon books they didn’t like, books over 350 pages counted as two books, and they could get books from wherever they wanted.

Most kids loved it. One grade 12 boy that year came to me after two weeks and said he’d finished the first book of his life and wanted the second in the series. I had a parent come to me at After a Christmas and day on vacation her daughter insisted on taking books into restaurants even though she’d never liked reading before. I now play ball on a team with a student who graduated who has thanked me for getting her into reading by using this approach.

I’ve since reduced the book count to 20 books a year — one every two weeks. I read when students read. They keep a book journal online that tracks their genres, book totals, and a any comments they want to make. I do also. I report their book count on each report card (but there’s still no grades) and use their own reflections about reading to help parents understand if they are happy having read 50 books or 5 for the year. For some, those 5 books are more than they’ve read over the previous 5 years. For others, their 50 books is a bit of a disappointment.

Last year, I began a monthly book challenge, completely optional, and most having nothing to do with reading speed. Challenges like, “carry a book EVERYWHERE for the month” or read in the craziest place and get a pic or vid (staff voted on the winner), or read to another person under age 10 or over age 60 — bonus entries for length of time, groups of three or more, and if they were strangers (haha). Every month I’d take those who chose to participate and entered them in a draw for a $15 Chapters-Indigo gift card.

Next year, my grade 8 students will participate in a Gamification class that attempts to do a lot of crosscurricular between LA and Social. They will have mutant powers and travel through history to stop a villain. And they will need to read a book about time travel in order to adopt that method of time travel for their own. They’ll create a visual text of the time travel method. But again, the choice of book will be there’s. (If you have any suggestions or want to donate books on Time Travel to my classroom library, please please please let me know. My summer reading is all time travel books and I’m trying to scrounge up enough books for 55 students, which means roughly 75 books if I’m going to be able to offer choices. That’s a lot of books and money.)

I’m trying to make reading fun and done in a way that adults read rather than the way school typically make kids read. Because even I don’t like reading books I’m told I have to in order to write a test based on someone else’s opinion of the book. We learn our curriculum using short stories, short films, movies, poetry, non-fiction, and other types of texts. We save books for enjoying, sharing, discussing . . . and actually reading!

*I’m sorry for the long response, but I wanted to share what I’m doing and to let others know that not all teachers are happy doing things the traditional way.


»Encourage your kids to spy out new words and perhaps make a word journal.  We could even pay them for every 10 words they find that they didn’t know how to pronounce or what it meant before, and let them choose what to do with the money.  We could make those new words into a game where we are all challenged to use those words, like a secret word a day game, in sentences with other family members.  Remember on Pee Wee’s Playhouse where they would have a secret word and any time someone said that word, bells and whistles would go off.  Yeah, maybe kind of like that!

» If our child chooses a book that has been made into a movie, we can reward the completion of the book by going to the movie, or renting the DVD and making a family movie  night out of watching it. Maybe set it up as a backyard movie with a popcorn bar and root beer floats, and even let them invite their friends, or extended family, if they want.

» Choose an activity from the book to do together as a family (ie. Maybe the people in the book went out for Chinese food and ate something specific – like egg rolls, or there was a horse race, or a dog parade, or the family went camping, or there were racecars, or star-gazing, or gymnastics/dance/skating, or fishing, or picking berries and baking a pie, or watching a ball game, or making Indian crafts, or growing a garden, or visiting a museum, etc.). If the story was about an artist, maybe the family would like to have a canvas painting party? If it was about a nurse or fireman, perhaps the family would like to take a CPR class together? If it had a part in it about sailing on a boat (I’m thinking of Stewart Little) – maybe find a nearby sailing regatta to attend?

» If the book was a spy book, we could send the child on a spy adventure. Give them a pen and notebook and camera and let them do some detective work to see and report on what the family cat does all day, or who mows the lawns in the neighborhood and on what days, or what time the mailman delivers the mail each day and how much of that mail is advertisements (junk). We could reward them with a puzzle book and some fancy mechanical pencils.


» Does your town have a few Little Free Libraries tucked away here and there in various neighborhoods or public parks near you?  The kids might enjoy making a habit of taking books our family doesn’t want any more and trading them at a Little Free Library for other books.  Sometimes if there is a bench nearby a Little Free Library, its fun to just sit and look through some of the books rather than take them.

» Pin a world map on the wall and locate where the stories takes place. Then rent a travel video of the places and watch it together. Or pin-up a history timeline and locate the time period when the stories each took place. And then find what other things were happening in the world during that time, or how things are done differently now than they were then. We could visit an antique store, or spend a morning going to yard sales and trying to find knick-knacks from that time period.

» I think kids should be allowed, if they get a few chapters into a book and find that it is not their cup of tea, to put that book aside (or in the give away pile) and move on to something else.  It’s never fun to force ouselves to read a book that is boring, or hard to get into, or with style or language that bothers us.  Some books are just not that great.

» Maybe comic books are your kid’s thing!

» Taking a trip?  Maybe our whole family would love listening to an audio book to pass the long miles?  Take along a sketch book and doodle while we listen, or take along a craft that can be done on one’s lap – like needlepoint, or crochet, or knitting, or weaving, or whittling, or yarn and finger games – like Cats-eye.

» We could give the kids an opportunity to write their own stories, and make their own books, with homemade book covers (cloth/scrapbooking paper/wall paper samples and cardboard), let them take and add pictures, or draw illustrations. Help them to make a rough draft, use some of the new vocabulary words they’ve learned, do some editing, and then re-write it in their very best handwriting. The books, if they are very well done, would make great gifts for grandparents at Christmastime, or a great gift for their teachers at Back-to-School night in the fall, or just to keep as a keepsake in their baby books forever.

Okay, well, I guess that’s all I’ve got for us. I do hope there was something remotely useful for you here. Bless you for loving those babies. Gosh, they grow up in the blink of an eye! I hope you are encouraged and empowered to foster a love of reading in your kiddos now!  God bless!!!!!

Book Collage Four

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

Mrs H’s Tissue Paper Flowers

Mrs H’s Tissue Paper Flowers

1420711999072I was given the opportunity recently to make a bunch of tissue paper flowers for a school project.  I had so much fun with it honestly, and thought, these sure would make a beautiful decoration, or they could be used for head garlands (as pictured here) which are pretty popular in Texas, or Homecoming Mums (another Texas thing), or to decorate Derby hats, or for a garden tea party, or luau, or FiEsTa (which happens to be going on in San Antonio at this very moment), which got me to thinking that somebody else out there might appreciate knowing how to make these.  I also sure don’t want to ever forget how I made them, so…  that’s as good a reason as any to blog about something, me thinks.

Materials needed:  1 package of multi-colored tissue paper, a good pair of sissors, a stapler, and string (optional).

A large package of multi-colored tissue paper is fairly inexpensive to buy at the big box stores ($10 for 100 sheets).  And one of those packages will give you more than enough paper to make 100 flowers that are roughly the size of one of those mesh shower pouf thingies.  (If you want to make giant flowers, you could probably squeeze 10 or so out of a package???)

So here is how you make them.  First open the package of tissue paper and separate the colors.  Straighten up the sheets so that they lay exactly on top of each other.  Peel off two sheets of one color of the tissue paper.

Tissue Paper Flower instruction1

Now, I’ve included visual instructions below that will hopefully be easy to follow, but I will also explain…

Flower Making collage1

  1.  Gather your materials.  It will help to have a large table where you can spread out the tissue paper into individual color piles.  (My poor sissors, you’ll notice, have issues, actually just one issue.  I don’t know what happened, but they are Fiskers, and the handles have decomposed over the years since I first bought them.  They are sticky now, and almost clay-like.  The stuff was coming off on my hands and making my hands sticky, so I wrapped the handles in strips of paper towel.  Has this happened to anyone else? Or is it just the humidity in the south that has made mine do this?)
  2. Peel off 5 sheets of tissue paper and stack them together neatly.  Then starting at the bottom fold up about an inch width and press it flat.
  3. Flip the stack over and fold the other direction, and press flat.
  4. Continue folding in an accordion pattern until you reach the other end.
  5. Press the stack flat.
  6. Fold the stack in half to mark the center place.
  7. Press it flat to make a good crease.
  8. Open and place under the stapler, and place a staple on exactly that center crease line. Option: you can also tie a string around this center part so you will have something to tie the flower, to attach it to whatever you are decorating.
  9. (Photo just shows the staple being present)
  10. Now cut one end with whatever pattern you wish for the type of flower you wish to make (see diagram below)
  11. Cut the first end and discard the scraps
  12. Then cut the second end to match
  13. Fan out the ends to make it easy to separate the individual sheets

Tissue Paper Flower cuts

  • Orange shows a gardenia type flower
  • Purple shows a hydrangea type flower
  • Pink shows a peony type flower
  • Green shows a magnolia type flower
  • Blue shows a Zinnia type flower
  • Red shows a Carnation type flower
  • Gray shows a Dahlia type flower
  • Yellow shows a Chrysanthemum, or Mum type flower

Flower Making collage2

14. Fan out both ends

15. Carefully peel off the top sheet and pull it away from the others, up towards the center

16 – 18. Continue separating sheets and pulling them up towards the center on both ends, going around in a circle

19. Smooth out the last sheet to flatten out the bottom

20 – 23. Bring the flower around and fluff each peddle to make them all uniform and fill in any gaps.

24 – 26. Set your flower down and admire how pretty it is.  Then pick another color and continue making flowers.

Tissue Paper Flower instruction4 The center pom kind of makes a flower that looks like a cactus flower.  You can do the same sort of thing with green tissue going out the bottom to look like the bud part of the bloom (just cut it with deep zig zags instead of the fringe).  You can also experiment with various cuts, and you can also layer two colors of tissue together to make more interesting options.  Here are some samples of the flowers I made.  They turned out soooooo pretty?

Tissue Paper Flowers collage

“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction
    and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.
They are a garland to grace your head
    and a chain to adorn your neck.

Proverbs 1:8-9 NIV







Mrs H’s Cucumber, Tomato, & Onion Salad

Mrs H’s Cucumber, Tomato, & Onion Salad

Ooooooo I love the salads of summer!!!!!  This is one of my favs.  My neighbor, Don Kinion used to make it every summer from the abundance of his garden, and lucky us, we got a gift of a nice big jar full every few weeks during the late harvest season, when he had tomatoes and cucumbers coming out his ears.  I have never been able to duplicate his perfect recipe, but this comes pretty close.  Hats off to you  neighbor.  Hope you are doing well!!!!


1 burpless cucumber (the long, skinny, plastic wrapped ones, if you are buying from the store, or any variety grown in the garden)

2 packages of the sweetest cherry tomatoes in the produce department, (or a small bowl full of freshly harvested Sweet One Hundreds Cherry Tomatoes, from the garden)

1 Red Onion (they grow these where I live and so I get the luxury of fresh from the fields, in fact, they often fall off the harvesting trucks right in front of my house.  Ditch food!!!! Love it!)

1/2 cup good quality Olive Oil

1 cup Red Wine Vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

Salt and Pepper to taste


Mix up the dressing ingredients first (olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt & pepper), place in a large mason jar, and park in the fridge until ready to mix with veggies.  Give it a shake every once in a while.

Peel some of the skins from the cucumbers.  If you are using the long, skinny store bought ones, the skin if find to leave on.  It is very tender.  But some garden cucs have tough, bitter skins.  I like to leave some of the skin on anyway.  But taste the cucumbers to make sure they aren’t bitter.

Chop the cherry tomatoes in half.

Slice the onion into thin slices, and then give them a rough chop.  Mix all the veggies together in a large glass bowl and pour the dressing over.  Toss to coat and then chill for a few hours in the fridge.  Give them a stir every once in a while (couple hours) until ready to serve.

Tomato Cucumber Onion Salad2


Serve this alongside any BBQ meat… (or eat it all by itself!!!!! 🙂)


Smoked &amp; Grilled Meats for summer supper

“Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”  Romans 14:1-4