Day 31 Family Devotions

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. Deuteronomy 6:6-7

I remember my mother taking this to heart. When I was little, she read from the big family Bible and the Upper Room devotional before we went to bed. The words in the devotional were not written for a child to understand. At the end of the reading, Mom would lead us in the Lord’s prayer. I liked the words, but didn’t understand a lot of them. My little sister Lola didn’t either. This became really obvious one night when she got upset at the end of the prayer.”

“What’s wrong?” Mom asked.

“You said something about Halloween.”

“What do you mean?” Mom asked. I didn’t say anything about Halloween.”

I think my sister thought she had missed out on candy or something. Who knows? Mom finally figured it out. The Lord’s prayer starts like this: “Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

Lola heard the word hallowed and thought Mom said Halloween. Mom explained the meaning of the word and how hallo-wed sounded a bit like Halloween.

That story stayed with me as I grew up and became a mom. I knew spending a couple of hours in church every week was not enough to teach my children about the Lord, so my husband and I planned regular family devotions. We knew it was important to use age-appropriate language, so over the years we collected kids’ devotional books and Bibles to use.

A collection of devotionals and children's Bibles

A collection of devotionals and children’s Bibles

I remembered a picture Bible we had when I was a child. The stories were laid out in comic-book style. I found something similar and bought it for my family. My son especially liked reading the stories in the book. We used it for so many years the cover started to tear and I had to tape it.

The Picture Bible

The Picture Bible

Well-worn cover

Well-worn cover

Besides reading stories for family devotions, we liked to play Bible charades. Once the kids knew enough Bible stories, they could play the game. They went off in another room for a few minutes to choose a story and practice. Then they came back to act out the story. As soon as we guessed the story, it was Mom and Dad’s turn.

We also played Bible Trivia, a game we got at a yard sale. We used the easy questions with the kids or made up our own. Playing with kids whose ages spanned seven years was sometimes a challenge. When our youngest, Sarah was old enough to play, we made the questions very simple., such as: “What was King David’s name?”

“Moses?” she tried.

We would all laugh as we explained the answer was in the question.

“Win, Lose, or Draw” was a popular TV game show when our kids were young, so we adapted the idea for family devotions. We propped up a dry-erase board on a table and put the names of Bible characters or stories on three by five cards. The person who’s “it” chooses a random card and has to draw the scene or character. We were not allowed to talk while drawing. The team has to guess by looking at the picture. (This is similar to the game Pictionary.) This was so much fun. My drawings didn’t look much better than the five-year-old’s, but nobody cared.

The One Year Book of Bible Trivia For Kids

The One Year Book of Bible Trivia For Kids

Now that I’m a grandmother, I still keep kids’ Bibles and devotionals in my house. I am happy to say there are plenty of materials available now to help parents and grandparents with family devotions.

One of my writer friends, Kathy Cassel, has written several devotionals for Tyndale. Her newest one is The One Year Book of Bible Trivia for Kids. Kathy has written 365 devotionals with a trivia question and answer for each day. They are quick to read and a fun way to teach children about the Bible. You can find this and other books on Kathy’s blog, at:  http://just4christiangirls.blogspot.com/.

Whatever you choose to do for family devotions, the important thing is to spend time together with the Bible. Make it age appropriate, and throw in a few games once in a while. Not only will you make lasting memories, but you will be obeying the command of the Lord to teach God’s word to your children.

Day 28 Hello, I’m Billy Bob

My brother, Les visited us one spring when my son was in high school. Les showed up wearing a pair of nasty-looking fake Billy Bob teeth. He brought along an extra pair for Stephen who took them to school the next day. He had a substitute teacher in one of his classes, giving him an opportunity to try out the teeth.

Without the teacher knowing, Stephen put the teeth in his mouth and kept them there for the entire class period. A little discomfort is worth it to play a good joke.

A few minutes before class ended, Stephen walked up to the teacher and asked, “Could I go to the restroom? I’ve got something stuck between my teeth. ”

I don’t know if the teacher figured it out or not, but she never let on.

Smile, Billy Bob

Smile, Billy Bob

Stephen used the teeth at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. By then he had finished his first year as a cadet at the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), and his grandparents wanted him to wear his uniform to the party. They didn’t expect Billy Bob to show up.

He walked around the party wearing the ugly fake teeth. One guest felt sorry for him and commented to another guest. “You’d think the Air Force would do something about his teeth!”

Stephen continued to get mileage out of those teeth. He wore them to a dentist appointment once while he was home from college.

As an upperclassman training other cadets at USAFA, he sometimes used the teeth for a little comic relief. Cadets are expected to respect the upperclassmen while they are being trained. One guy in particular had a hard time keeping a straight face while Stephen stared him down. “It’s okay to laugh, cadet,” Stephen told him.

You never know when Billy Bob will show up, bringing laughs wherever he goes.

Day 25 The Corn Monster

My brother, Les, seems to have inherited my Grandpa Harmon’s sense of humor. (I wrote about Grandpa yesterday.) Les and I were second and third of four kids, and we played together a lot growing up. Sometimes older brother, Joe would play along too, especially if it involved playing a trick on the girls.

When my dad ran a dairy farm, my brothers would play with the cows. They would sit on their favorite cow (they always had a favorite one) and crank the tail to make it go.

I was very little then, and the cows seemed like huge monsters to me. However, one summer day my brothers talked me into playing bucking bronco on one of the calves. They tied a rope to it and led it to our backyard. It took a bit of convincing for me to mount the calf and hold on. In microseconds I landed on the ground with a bruised ego and a sore butt.

My brothers with their calves

My brothers with their calves

Another favorite trick the boys would play is to tell us there was a horse in the barn. Being raised on a farm, we always wanted a horse to ride. They lured me to the barn more than once as they both kept a straight face and said, “No lie! There’s a horse out there.” We did indeed get a couple of horses a few years later, and we were still young enough to enjoy playing cowboys and Indians on real horses.

I seem to remember a few times touching the electric fence when I was told it was off, but the most outrageous story is when Les and I were sitting in the mulberry tree behind the house. “The berries with the white stuff on them are the best, ” Les lied. I took the bait and ate a few before he laughed and explained the white stuff was bird poop.

Corn Monster time?

Corn Monster time?

As an adult, Les perfected his tricks and unleashed them on the next generation. Les is known for growing the best sweetcorn in the area. In the summer time, as soon as the corn was high enough, he would have a bonfire and play a game he called, Corn Monster. He dressed in black and went out in the cornfield to lay in wait for the kids. He would chase them around in the dark, grabbing whoever was too slow to get away. My kids loved this. If we went to Michigan for summer vacation before the corn was tall enough to play Corn Monster, they were disappointed.

One time when some friends were visiting from Virginia, Les took the boy out hunting. He explained how you could tell how long ago the deer had been there. To the boy’s surprise, Les picked up some deer droppings and ate them. “Yup, these are fresh. The deer were just here.”

Les explained to the kid later. The deer “droppings” were raisins that he’d left there earlier.

We spent many Christmases with our family in Michigan, but if we couldn’t go, Les managed to send a few unique presents to the kids. One year he sent a package of “donut seeds” (Cheerios) complete with instructions on how to grow powdered donuts, cinnamon, or plain. Another time he sent a package of styrofoam peanuts and called it snowman poop.

Les and my sister-in-law, Marcia visited us in Florida when our son, Stephen was a senior. Les showed up at my door wearing a hat with stringy hair coming out the bottom. When I invited him in, he flashed a wide grin sporting a set of Billy Bob teeth.

Since Les was our son’s mentor in hunting and playing tricks, he brought Stephen his own pair of the ugly, fake teeth. What Stephen did with them is another story. Read tomorrow’s blog to find out what happened.

Day 24 Grandpa, the Train Man

Great Grandparents, Sherm and Hattie Harmon

Great Grandparents, Sherm and Hattie Harmon

My Great Grandpa Harmon lived a stone’s throw from the train tracks in Emmett, Michigan. The family had big gatherings on Father’s Day, and I remember Grandpa sitting on the front porch while all the kids played. Every hour or so we would run up to him and ask, “When is the next train coming, Grandpa?” He worked at the depot for many years before retiring, and he knew the schedule by heart.

He would look at his watch and tell us to the minute when the next train would arrive. If the time was short, we would dash over to the side of the tracks and wait for the first glimpse of the train.

It doesn’t sound very safe to let kids so close to train tracks, but the adults were watching and I’m sure we were scolded if we ventured too close. It was so exciting to feel the whoosh of air as each car passed. We would count them until we lost track.

By the 60s, passenger trains were not running much, but freight trains were still a regular sight in Grandpa’s neighborhood.

As much fun as it was to count train cars and play in Grandpa’s yard, it was even better when he came to visit my grandmother (his daughter). He was well into his eighties and still driving the sixty miles to our town by himself.

Great Grandparents having fun

Great Grandparents having fun

One time when Grandpa Harmon was visiting, he was playing with us. I ran circles through the living room, into the hallway, to the kitchen and back into the living room. On one of my trips around, my mother grabbed me and scolded, “Don’t play so rough with Grandpa. He’s old!”

“It’s not my fault, Momma. Every time I run past Grandpa, he pulls my pants up real tight.”

Even in his eighties he enjoyed giving a good wedgie.

Grandpa Harmon with me and my sister

Grandpa Harmon with me and my sister

Another thing Grandpa did was to hold my mother and tell us to tickle her feet. He knew that was her most ticklish spot. He’d hold her arms tight so she couldn’t get away while we tickled her into submission.

I can see Grandpa’s sense of humor in this picture with their dog sitting in a chair. It’s a copy of a copy, so it’s not great quality, but it’s one of my favorite pictures of Grandpa.

Grandpa and Grandma pose with their dog.

Grandpa and Grandma pose with their dog.

Only a few years ago when I started researching my family tree, I learned some other things about Grandpa Harmon. He was often called upon to break up fights. The train depot was across the street from a hotel and a bar. Whenever a fight broke out, somebody would yell, “Go get Sherm!” All he had to do was show up, and the guys would say, “We were just stopping, Sherm.” According to my mother, Grandpa rarely had to get physical. His size and reputation were enough to put the kibosh on their shenanigans.

Socks Knit with Hand Dyed Yarn

Socks Knit with Hand Dyed Yarn (Photo credit: sumptinelse)

My mother told me another bit of trivia when I was learning how to knit socks. “Grandpa Harmon knew how to knit,” she told me.

“Really?”

“Yes, during World War I when women were knitting socks for the servicemen, they often called upon him to turn the heel.”

I haven’t mastered the skill of knitting socks yet, but knowing my Grandpa could do it so well inspires me to keep learning.

I wish I knew more stories about Great Grandpa Harmon. At least his sense of humor was passed down in my family. My brother, Les has always been a jokester, but that’s another story I’ll save for another day on my 31 Days of Family Joy.

This post is part of my 31 Days of Family Joy, linking up with http://www.thenester.com.

Day 22 Time For Pan-A-Cakes

When my son was barely able to talk, he called pancakes, pan-a-cakes. I made pancake time more special by making Mickey Mouse pancakes for the kids, pouring two small circles of batter for the ears connected to one larger one for the head. Pretty simple to do, and the kids loved it.

Mickey Mouse Pancake

Mickey Mouse Pancake

Years rolled by, and our son went off to college at the Air Force Academy. Honoring his dream to fly jets, I revised the shape of the pancakes when he came home for visits. I drizzled the batter into the shape of an F-16 fighter. The first time I made one, I told him what it was just in case he had any doubt.

I thought I was quite talented until he started flying B-52s. Do you know how long those wings are? The jet filled up the whole frying pan, and when I flipped it, the wings broke off. We had a good laugh out of that, and he ate it anyway. (I tried making one again, but scaled down the wings. See below.)

Airplane Pancake

Airplane Pancake

When my first grandchild was big enough to ask for pan-a-cakes, I went back to the Mickey Mouse shape. One day I tried making a monster truck pancake. He was favorably impressed. He picked it up and bit off a chunk. “Look, Grandma. Now it’s a motorcycle!”

A couple of years later when bats became his favorite animal, he asked me to make a bat pancake. I tried it, but it took some imagination to recognize the bat shape. A couple of weeks ago I tried my hand at pancake art, but I’m a little rusty. The pancake below was supposed to be a bat, but it looks more like a car to me.

A bat or a car? You decide.

A bat or a car? You decide.

You should definitely try this at home. The kids will love eating the pictures you create.

This post is part of my 31 Days of Family Joy series linking with http://www.thenester.com

Day 21 Hillbilly Breakfast

Back in 1974 when my husband and I announced our plan to get married in three days and go to Florida, my mother-in-law told him, “You know your Mamaw and Papaw won’t be able to come.”

“I know,” hubby answered, “but we will stop on the way to Florida and spend a few days.”

Mamaw and Papaw Miracle lived in Tennessee at the time, but had raised their family in the hills of Kentucky. When we arrived, Mamaw (Hazel) Miracle waited on us like we were royalty, and the next morning she laid out a spread our family calls Hillbilly breakfast–bacon, eggs, biscuits and milk gravy.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Biscuits (Photo credit: Bordecia34)

Mamaw’s biscuit-making procedure was new to me, even though I was the daughter of a baker. She put shortening and milk in a bowl of flour and worked it in with her fingers, making one biscuit at a time. I ate five of them that morning! Delicious.

For several years. Mamaw’s was our half-way stop on the way to and from Michigan. She would cook for us as long as she was able, and she’d press a few bills into my husband’s hand for gas money as we were leaving.

Mamaw Hazel Miracle telling stories

Mamaw Hazel Miracle telling stories

On one of our stops, the power was out when it was time to make breakfast. Without missing a beat, Mamaw went into her shed. She got a fire going in an old, black, cast-iron stove and cooked breakfast for us. I was in awe of how easy she made it look. The biscuits were baked to golden-brown perfection, and my eggs cooked over-easy. It was no great stretch for Mamaw to make breakfast on a wood stove. She grew up in the hills too and ran a home without electricity for years.

Woman cooking on a wood cook stove in a house ...

Woman cooking on a wood cook stove in a house at Delta Cooperative (Photo credit: Kheel Center, Cornell University)

Our kids were fascinated to watch Mamaw at work. While we sat and watched her, a big, aluminum washtub caught their eyes. After breakfast Mamaw pulled it and a washboard out and showed the kids how to use them. (Notice little Sarah’s concentration in the lower right corner picture.) At the time (about 1991) Mamaw still used an old wringer washer.

Kids and the washtub

Kids and the washtub

The flavors of the south continue to be a traditional part of our family gatherings. Any time we are in Michigan to visit, we have a big Hillbilly breakfast. My father-in-law, Glen usually starts by cooking the bacon, and he often fries up a skillet of potatoes too. My mother-in-law, Millie made scratch biscuits for many years before she chose to take a shortcut and bake frozen biscuits. It takes a big batch of biscuits and gravy to feed the whole gang.

As a young woman, I learned how to make the milk gravy, although it was never as good as Mamaw’s or Millie’s. As I am writing this, I realize my own daughters haven’t yet mastered the art of making milk gravy. It’s not their fault, though. They are still young enough to be on the receiving end of this family fare. As we get older, they will keep the Hillbilly breakfast tradition alive.

What traditional meals do you have at big, family gatherings? What are the roots of those favorite foods?

Day 19 Family Vacation, Plan B

Did you ever plan a great vacation and have it fall apart? That’s when it’s time for a Plan B.

Our camping trip in 2012 was so much fun, we made plans to do it again over the 4th of July, 2013. This time we started preparing about a month in advance. We replaced our fifteen-year-old tent (I may have washed the water resistance off our old tent last year.) My daughter, Rachel and her family gave their too-small tent to Sarah and her husband, and bought the same six-man tent we did.

I checked and re-checked my box of cooking gear and made menus for our six-day campout. Since we had so much fun tubing last year, I made reservations at the same place.

Hubby was on a business trip to California but expected to be home a few days before we left. In reality, he arrived home but had to work the day before we left.

As our departure date neared, I checked the weather reports daily for North Carolina. It looked a bit iffy for tubing on the 4th. Maybe we would have to do it on the way home instead. Everyone in the family had arranged their vacation days, so no matter what, we were going.

I did some food prep the night before we left, cutting up a watermelon and some veggies I needed for our menu. We packed most of our gear the night before, so we could leave as soon as possible in the morning. Son-in-law, Curtis realized he had left his sunglasses at home, so we drove ten minutes back to their house before leaving town. On the way to the interstate, I happened to ask hubby if he put the watermelon and veggies in the cooler. “No. I didn’t see them,” he replied.

We were already about a half hour off schedule. What was another fifteen or twenty minutes? We drove back to our house and grabbed the food. No wonder Sarah didn’t want to wait on us.

Our grandson, Caleb had spent the night at their house, so he was riding with them. “We’ll meet you guys at the campground in the afternoon,” she told me on the phone.

It was a relief to finally be underway after all the back and forth we did in the morning. Not long after we were on the road, I got a call from Curtis’ grandma who was in Tennessee. “Are you still going camping?” she asked. “It’s been raining up here all week. We can’t do anything.” I assured her we would be fine, but seeds of doubt began to grow about this great vacation we had planned.

We had just crossed the Georgia border when Sarah called my cell. “Caleb is sick! We pulled over and we’re sitting at a gas station parking lot.” He had a case of too much junk food at the ball game the night before followed by the flaming hot Cheetos he was munching on in the car. He was feeling better, but they decided to stay put until we caught up to them.

We made sandwiches and ate in the gas station parking lot before hitting the road again. We reached our campground just across the North Carolina border by 4:00 p.m., but it was pouring rain. Hubby found the owner who graciously let us stay in one of their small cabins. It had a couple built-in bunks and a loft. It would be tight, but all eight of us could sleep there and stay dry. The peaceful river we played in and went tubing on the year before was a rushing mass of water. The camp owner told us it was at 200%. There would be no tubing on this trip.

We were disappointed, but wanted to make the best of the situation. The rain let up long enough for us to build a fire and start roasting hot dogs, but before we could cook them all, it was raining again. We pulled out the camp stove and set it up in the small back porch of the cabin. The s’mores would have to wait for dryer weather, and the camp fireworks weren’t happening either. The kids lit a few sparklers during a short time when the rain let up. Before we turned in, the camp owner’s wife came by to tell us they would keep an eye on the river’s level. “We’ll let you know if we have to move you.”

That was just a bit too close for comfort. During the evening hours, our cell phones kept sounding alarms: “Warning, possible flood waters in your area.” We plugged in our many electronic devices and went to bed, wishing the cabin was a little farther away from the rising water.

Charging station

Charging station

The next morning we drove higher into the Great Smoky Mountains to our next campsite near Boone, North Carolina. I hoped the weather would magically clear for us. Most of what we planned to do was outside. How could we manage to tent camp and hike in the rain? The sun came out long enough for us to set up tents and start dinner. Clouds rolled in again, and we ended up eating in the van. After that, I either wore my rain poncho or had it close at hand at all times.

Our campsite

Our campsite

The little stream running by our camp was much higher and faster than normal with all the rain, but during a lull in the weather it calmed enough for the boys to play in it. Later we ended up pulling river rocks out to make paths in the mud leading to our tents.

Stone path to our tents

Stone path to our tents

The second night at that campsite we had a thunderstorm. I felt really vulnerable trying to sleep in the tent as lightning lit up the sky. Rachel and Curt’s tent was leaking, and by morning ours was too. I was ready to throw in the towel. We needed a plan B and quick.

We decided to visit Linville Caverns since that was an inside attraction. We also stopped at a gem mine covered by an awning. This proved to be a great idea we all liked, especially the grandsons.

Gem mining

Gem mining

By late afternoon, we reluctantly left North Carolina’s high country, ending the camping portion of our vacation. We couldn’t do any hiking on the trip, and our campfire time was soggy or non-existent. It’s not what we planned, but we were determined to have fun somehow.

View of Grandfather Mountain

View of Grandfather Mountain

Sarah works in the hotel industry, so she was able to get us a deal on a hotel stay in Asheville. Plan B involved visiting the Biltmore House the next day. Tickets are a bit pricey, so we gave back the kids’ share of the camping money to help offset this unexpected expense.

The Biltmore tour was another inside attraction, but the clouds cleared and the sun came out for several hours that day. We went through the house and spent some time in the beautiful gardens.

At the Biltmore Estate

At the Biltmore Estate

Garden at the Biltmore Estate

Garden at the Biltmore Estate

The next step of Plan B took us south to Savannah and another hotel stay with the whole family. Sarah and Cristian had to be back a day before us, so they drove home the next morning while the rest of us toured Savannah.

We took the tram tour to save all the walking with the kids. We saw some of the beautiful, old homes.

Tram tour in Savannah

Tram tour in Savannah

By the end of the day, we were hot, tired and ready to retire to the hotel for one more night. We left for home the next morning with much different vacation memories than we expected. Plan B wasn’t our first choice, but we were still together, and that’s the best part of a family vacation,