The First Leaves the Nest

Last month, Chad and I delivered our first born to college. What a memorable day! The night before, many aunts and uncles provided an official Irish clan send off. Several aunts even threatened to attend Siblings’ Weekend. The few hours spent at the college streamed by in a blur, visiting with students and staff, the memorable mob of students who helped unload, Opening Convocation, the tears and hugs between students and parents, giving a blessing to our child, the quiet drive home…

Patricks send off

Despite attempts at mental preparedness, the first leaving home proved a bittersweet transition. While Patrick will be home for vacations and summer, he truly no longer lives with us. What an odd adjustment. As parents, we spend so much time teaching life skills: Independence, a strong work ethic, the value of education, etc. When our young men and women take those first steps towards independence, a part of every parent holds on and hesitates before finally letting them go.

Fortunately, a busy routine greatly aided this transition. Between high school football, an increased teaching load, the fall harvest, and other responsibilities, my mind focused on other things. The many activities also limited communication with Patrick, so he could begin his new journey without a nagging parent.

I composed a short poem about this experience, remembering high school English class when Mrs. Bell taught iambic rhythms:

The First Leaves the Nest

Our summer path was filled with joy,
Yet time draws near for our dear boy.
Goodbye full house, he’s out the door,
And now our numbers slip to four.

Thanks for reading! Happy Fall from Cairn Hill Farms!

Fall at Cairn Hill Farms


Empty Chairs at the Table

MK and dog pic


This weekend has given a glimpse of things to come. One child ventures on his first college visit and another travels on a school trip. While our youngest remains home, I can’t help but think of the limited time remaining before these kids head out and spread their wings…kind of bittersweet for me.

I look forward to watching my children’s adventures into adulthood, but I will miss them so. My happiest moments have been those little times, especially around the dinner table. We would discuss history, religion, or politics yet quickly escalate to uncontrolled laughter so intense that milk or mashed potatoes would occasionally fly. Our dinner table served multiple purposes: homework, canning, wine making, family meetings, fondue night, Sunday breakfast, Thanksgiving dinner, the list goes on…

My grandparents used the same table as far back as Grandad’s years as a Prohibition agent, even cleaning his government issue 12 gauge on that same table. Growing up at Broadlawn, that table had a place of pride in our breakfast nook where we ate most family meals. I remember Granaw peeling vegetables and Dad and Granaw playing their whirlwind rounds of cribbage. I remember games of Connect Four, hiding unwanted food (usually turnips) under the heat register, and late night pizza with my sister and our friends or planning the occasional mischief.

Chad and I consider ourselves fortunate to carry on this piece of family history. When the table joined our home, I remember Chad’s prayer of thanks for continued adventures with this special piece of furniture. This weekend in particular as I miss my boys, I can’t help but feel both joy and sadness as I walk past the table that has witnessed so many generations, and held so many memories and so much love.

Kids in the Kitchen

kids cooking photo


I was pondering my roller coaster immersion into cooking the other day. Mom and Dad were on the road three-four months per year for work, so the majority of the dishes I learned were experimenting on my own in the kitchen (Chad was usually very patient and understanding). Thankfully, my sister-in-law, Lissa, demonstrated a few basics in high school. Are there a handful of recipes kids should know before leaving the house? Young men and young women, all should know some cooking basics when striking out on their own.

  • Spaghetti and Meatballs-This common staple is inexpensive and can be dressed up or down as needed.
  • A Whole Roast Chicken-The perfect warm-up for hosting future Thanksgiving meals, plus meat is expensive, cutting up a whole chicken at home is much more economical for future budgets
  • Pot Roast via Slow Pot-Knowing a basic slow pot meal will help when life gets busy. Just a few years ago, we finally stopped using Chad’s garage sale slow pot from college.
  • Burgers on the Grill-There are so many ways to prepare burgers: beef, venison, turkey, veggie, plus all the yummy additions! If kids learn burger basics and grilling skills, they will have many future culinary options. (Personally, I have a grilling phobia since I singed a large portion of my eye brows off 12 years ago. Perhaps it’s time to overcome my fear of “ye olde grill.”)
  • Baked Fish-Some might wonder why I included this dish. In America, we don’t eat much fish that isn’t fried or in stick form. Learning a baked recipe provides a healthy option for the dinner table.

The kids are still working through this list. Hopefully they will attempt each dish before beginning their own path. Can you think of any additional meals kids should know?

She’s a poet and didn’t know it…

I see many bloggers share their poems. While I don’t consider myself a poet, I am proud of my acrostic poem, “SURVIVAL.” This highlights the challenges of keeping up with young children and the importance of quiet time in the morning…and for those who will chastise me about my choice of morning beverage, I can proudly say in the last few weeks, I have finally kicked the Diet Coke habit!


Setting the alarm for an hour before the kids wake up,
Understanding that the dog will start barking if I don’t let her out,
Ready myself,
View slumbering babes in peaceful dreams,
Inspire myself to make smiley faces on kid’s toast,
Value my last five minutes alone with my Diet Coke,
Awakened children are making noises,
Livelihood is the bliss of motherhood!

The Little Essay that Could: A Post Parent-Teacher Conference Action Plan

Parent/Teacher Conference Week is fast approaching here in Hastings as in so many other schools across America. If you are one of the parents who usually comes home from that meeting with some frustration and uncertainty, perhaps I can help. Does your child struggle with writing? Are you up to the challenge of helping?

Now many parents at this point explain, “I haven’t taken an English class in over 10 years. I’m not sure how to help.” If you are one of those parents who struggled with English class or need a refresher course, with a bit of time management, a few suggestions from me, and an encouraging word to your child, you can be a positive influence in your child’s writing experience.

First, encourage your child to complete the assigned pre-writing activities and first draft as soon as possible. This will give her the opportunity to utilize “shelf time.” Shelf time means that if there is enough time, students should take a day off between revising and editing drafts. This allows the paper to be fresh in the student’s mind, making it easier to notice areas needing improvement. However, in order to take advantage of this, the assignment must be started as quickly as possible.

In most cases, it is acceptable for the parents to help type their children’s work (check with the teacher). Completing the assignment on a computer can be helpful because of programs like spell check. Students will also be willing to complete more drafts because the corrections are much faster on a computer. (On a side note, I encourage your students type their own work. I started my children in 4th grade. I would type 75% of their assignment at first, and they would complete the last 25%. With each new paper, I gave them a larger chunk to type. By 6th grade, they were comfortable typing their entire assignment.)

Once the assignment is typed, make sure it is double spaced, creating more areas on the assignment for marking corrections, and then print two copies. Ask your child to read her work to you. Hearing the words can help in recognizing errors. If you have your own copy, follow along and mark any areas that need attention.

Here are some ideas for revising the draft (These steps are best addressed through multiple drafts. Look for a few items on this list, have your student apply those changes on the computer, and print a new copy and look for a few more):

Ask your child to underline the Thesis Statement. This is the most important sentence in the entire assignment. (NOTE: MUCH more can be said about the thesis statement, but as a starting point, the thesis statement is the most important sentence in the entire assignment because it defines the essay’s focus. Every sentence in the essay must relate in some way to the thesis statement. Your child should be able to identify this statement in her own work.)

Underline any sentences that do not make sense. Ask your child to clarify.

Make sure every body paragraph has a transition (a word in the first sentence of each body paragraph that signals the beginning of a new point in the essay). Common transitions are also, another, first, finally, in addition, etc.

Circle any vague words, “good, bad, nice, great.” Students should be able to write a more descriptive choice.

Check if the assignment should be written in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person.
First person-I, me, my
Second person-You, your
Third person-People, students, they, etc.
Note: Students are rarely assigned a second person project, yet it is a common error for “you’s” to end up in the finished work. If you notice any, point them out to your student.

Circle any sentences that begin with “it” or “there.” Usually students can create stronger sentences. For example, “There are two cats in the back yard,” can be changed to, “Two cats walked in the back yard.”

Check for repetition. Is your student using the same words over and over? Circle them, so she can change a few.

Paragraphs must have a minimum of three sentences (4-5 sentences are even better).

Will following all these steps guarantee your student an A? Probably not. However, utilizing the above steps should improve your student’s writing skills, which in turn, should improve her grades. More important, your student will develop vital writing habits by learning to manage her time and write more drafts. Most important, your student will benefit from your interest in her education.

Good luck!

Feel free to share this with any parents/students/educators who would benefit from this information.