It didn’t matter what day of the week it was - that cozy little kitchen always smelled heavenly.
My grandma – or ‘Gram’ as I lovingly remember her, was always cooking when I came to visit her tiny house on Pacific Street. Some days she would be standing over the stove flipping fragrant cinnamon-spiced crepes (nicknamed “penny rolls”), and other times I’d find her cranking an apple peeler to make homemade applesauce – the waxy peels falling to the floor with a light ‘thunk’.
Gram had a wonderful way of captivating you with whatever project she was working on when you arrived. Greeting you with a hug so tight you could barely breathe, she would waste no time involving you in her latest endeavor.
“Go out to the garden and cut me some chives for the soup” she would say in her no-nonsense voice, handing me pair of scissors, and shooing me outdoors as soon as I set my suitcase down.
Gram taught me so many things over the years – but I’m most grateful for our time spent cooking together.
Besides sharing ways to make my own kitchen smell irresistible, she helped me discover the simple joy of creating something with your own two hands. And today, when I pull out recipe cards with her wobbly cursive handwriting, I’m grateful for the sweet memories that come flooding back with each line.
Thank you, Gram. I miss you.
What are your fondest memories of a special grandparent? What made them grand?
Editor's note: In the pursuit of dreams, take time to thank those who have helped you along the way. Each day during November, American Family Insurance will share ideas for showing appreciation for the people, things and events in our lives. We hope you use these 30 Days of Thanks as an opportunity to share your gratitude -- or even just take a few moments each day to reflect on everything good in your life. Visit us on Facebook during November for inspiration and ideas as we celebrate 30 Days of Thanks.
I went through the gauntlet of third grade 18 years ago, but have yet to escape the happenings of a third grade classroom.
See, I’ve been lucky enough to be blessed with a mother, Deb, who has spent her entire adult life molding the lives of third graders (not to mention my grandma and several aunts and uncles who also spent their working lives in classrooms).
Day in and day out, through good days and bad, my mom heads into her classroom with a purpose. She views each day as an opportunity to leave a mark on a young mind. That’s something she won’t allow herself to take for granted because she knows how powerful her job is and can be.
That’s how she’s operated for well over 30 years.
But those who didn’t see her outside of the classroom setting didn’t know her normal day of teaching wasn’t over when she left the building each day. Not even close.
When she got home, even after the worst days, she spent time teaching me and my younger sister. There were nights around the kitchen table when my sister and I would work on homework while my mom graded papers or updated lesson plans. If we had questions, guess who was always there with an answer?
One of the coolest times of my life was when my reading teacher was my mom. I spent 45 minutes in her classroom each day. What I remember most poignantly was how she treated me exactly as she treated the other 20-25 kids in the class.
I was at school to learn. When I was home I could be the teacher’s pet.
I’ve always been grateful for those 45 minutes in her classroom. Seeing my mom do what she loves and do it well molded the way I approached school for the rest of my academic career.
She taught me discipline, respect and compassion. She taught me never to give up on something. She taught me I had what it takes to do whatever I wanted to in life, and that I should never settle for anything less – all things I carry forward to this day.
When I found out I was rejected from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a senior in high school, I felt entirely dejected. Getting that note from the only school I ever wanted to attend could have taken a nasty toll on my confidence.
But without missing a beat, my mom was there to pick me up. She was there to teach me nothing comes easy in life, but everything is possible if you work hard and stay smart. After one year at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, I wound up at UW-Madison, where I graduated with a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009.
Guess who I said thanks to immediately after the ceremony was over?
What’s also neat is I’m soon to be married to a first-grade teacher, who I’ve already seen impact the lives of many – both educationally and socially – in her two-and-a-half years in a classroom. Though we don’t have any children, I know for a fact there will be plenty of nights around the kitchen table where we all work on homework and educate one another, should that time come.
For that, I’m thankful the most influential teachers in my life were – and continue to be – at my disposal 24/7.
What teachers had the most affect on your life?
When I decided to write a blog post about being thankful for dads, I asked my mom to help find a photo of me with my dad when I was young. A few days after the request, she told me she was having a hard time finding one.
What? How can that be? I have so many great memories of me with my dad. How could it be hard to find one photo of the two of us from the days when my dad was the only man that mattered?
She told me there were photos of me with my other siblings along with my dad, or photos of me with both my parents, but surprisingly no decent photos of just me and my dad. Although I was initially disappointed to learn that, it made me realize what I knew all along.
Maybe there are fewer pictures because my dad was busy doing everything he could just BEING a great dad. He was juggling the responsibilities of me alongside my five siblings and numerous pets, not to mention my mom and a full-time day job. Throw in there some additional schooling while we were kids, and I wonder how he ever had energy to keep up.
But he did keep up, and then some.
No matter how long or busy his day was, or how early in the day or late in the night I asked, he was there. Sometimes being there meant helping me understand my often-procrastinated math homework (accompanied by a stern sentence or two about such procrastination, of course). Sometimes it was playing a little basketball or tennis. Sometimes it was giving me a ride to a friend’s house when I was too cool to hang out at home. And sometimes it was just hanging out, listening to his old records. (This also explains why “Wooly Bully” always reminds me of him.)
When he wasn’t doing all of that, I can only assume he was the one behind the camera, capturing all of the precious moments with the family he loves.
My dad is the most patient, loving, intelligent and level-headed person you will ever know. He’s equally comfortable having a beer with you in the backyard or sipping a glass of wine at a black-tie event. He’s the kind of guy you can’t imagine would have ever had an enemy his entire life. He’s the person you know, even during your snotty teen years, is a man you will love, respect and admire for the rest of your life.
As an adult, my dad’s impact on my life has not diminished. Instead, it’s evolved into exactly what I’d imagine he wanted for me during those formative years. He is a constant influence, a little "Dad voice" in my head. Sometimes it manifests itself as my own voice when I tell my own kids to turn off the lights or direct them to something other than the “good printer paper.”
But more often, it’s the voice that guides my decisions, big and small, day in and day out. When I think I’m too busy to throw a football around with the kids, I think of that time my dad spent with me. When I think about a significant career decision, I try to imagine how my father would approach it. When I decided to marry my husband, you bet I made sure he was good enough to pass the Dad test.
And when I think I don’t have time to drive one and a half hours to hang out with my dad, I remember all of the time he spent making me who I am today.
I honestly don’t know the kind of person I’d be if I had a different father. As his daughter, I naturally possess some of his traits. But I also have the privilege of having grown up with him, which means learning from the best teacher on the planet.
And I couldn’t be more grateful for that.
It’s a typical night, and our oldest has football practice. Sooner or later my husband will get the SOS text, at the most inopportune time, mind you. Our next in line has cross country until 5:30, and our youngest daughter is anxiously waiting her turn to go to volleyball practice at 6:30.
The other three are busy working on their homework ... kind of. Jack’s barks springs my heart out of my chest as the doorbell rings. It’s the cross country girl. She’s home, but wants to know if she can go to the home volleyball game to watch her friends.
Yet another hurdle to jump, and still have dinner together.
Luckily, I planned a meal with ingredients easily prepared and set aside for later. Tacos, whether they’re turkey, chicken or beef, are a regular in our house. Miraculously, all six children like them and they’re generally a healthy choice.
The clock strikes 6:00, and I call the three boys up to help their sister set the table for eight. If they can get the table set, my husband can pick up the football player, and we might get to sit down. We’ll take 15 minutes to devour our tacos and share the day’s stories. Hopefully we have enough milk to go around…
Having a large family has its challenges when it comes to eating dinner together, but when made a priority, it’s one of the best parts of my day. Stories, jokes and laughs are sure to be shared. Never mind the spilled milk or a fight over the last roll.
If I didn’t have this time of day with my family, I might not even hear a word about school from any of the boys, the socialites that they are. With three teenagers in the same high school now, you can imagine the light-hearted and fun comradare at our dinner table.
But truth be told, these meals don’t just happen. With a large family and crazy schedules, we have to have a plan, and make sure we have all of the ingredients to pull it off. My husband and I both work all day, so running to the grocery store isn’t an option, especially when dinner needs to be on the table before the next drop-off.
About a year ago, I had each child jot down five of their favorite meals we commonly have. Between all six kids I expected at least 15 different meals, but of course it wasn’t that easy. It turns out they all have similar tastes, so we narrowed it down to eight favorite meals.
I use those as go-to meals, but try to add in new recipes I find on Pinterest throughout the week as well. On Sundays, we head to the grocery store and stand in line with every other person, it seems, and unload our overflowing cart with that weeks’ nightly meals. After juggling everyone’s busy schedules, we agree on each night’s menu.
And the process repeats itself. How do you meal plan? Leave a comment below!
Editor's note: American Family Insurance is partnering with Familyfoodie.com in support of bringing families back together at the dinner table. Join the movement with us, and capture your next family dinner by submitting your meal recipe for a chance to win one of six $100 William Sonoma gift cards, or the $500 grand prize.
We all have favorite songs, books, movies, sports teams – you name it.But have you ever thought about your favorite meals of all time?
If I had to boil them down (pun intended), there are a few eating experiences that stand out.
One of them involved the first Thanksgiving my wife and I celebrated together, after we moved from Milwaukee, Wis. to Washington, D.C. to achieve our career dreams. In the beginning, we were cash-strapped. Dinner often consisted of rice mixed with peanut butter, and among the few furnishings in our simple apartment was a “couch” we fashioned out of an army blanket and bundled newspapers.
Clearly, traveling back to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving was not in the budget.
Instead, we gathered for a holiday feast in D.C. with friends, acquaintances and co-workers. Like the original pilgrims, we all were far from “home,” and each of us contributed what little we had to the Thanksgiving table. The food was delicious, but the sharing of stories, laughter and togetherness was far more satisfying, proving that home truly is where the heart is.
Another favorite food experience involved a week of dinners prepared by our son and daughter when they were in middle school. Some meals were ambitious, while others – scrambled eggs, for example – were somewhat unconventional. But our kids took responsibility, created a plan of action and executed it. Since then, they’ve made some great dishes and treats. My son’s panko-crusted tilapia and my daughter’s smoothies are to die for.
And finally, there was the amazing backyard crab feast in Maryland that changed me forever. I’d never eaten soft-shell crabs before, and it was love at first bite. After two bushels, I forced myself to stop. I also experienced other “firsts,” like learning how to dance the “Electric Slide” to Marcia Griffiths’ irresistible “Electric Boogie” in the 95-degree heat. Whenever I hear that song, my mind is flooded with memories of friends, food and fun on that sweltering summer day.
The more I think about my favorite food experiences, the more I’m convinced that food itself isn’t the only thing that sustains us.
It’s the act of sharing and enjoying food with others that truly feeds our souls, and makes us feel connected, loved and alive.
Editor’s note: Celebrate your favorite meals by submitting your favorite recipe for our e-cookbook. American Family is partnering with FamilyFoodie.com to bring these meals -- and memories -- together. Enter here by Oct. 19, 2013, for a chance to be featured in the cookbook. You will also be entered to win one of six $100 Williams-Sonoma gift cards, including one valued at $500! When the e-cookbook comes out later this fall, you’ll be among the first to receive a copy.