With Herculean effort, I was dragging the bag, filled with the remnants of my vegetable garden, up the never-ending flight of stairs and muttering to myself about what a hair-brained idea of mine it had been to put the garden back there. What kept me going; however, was knowing that my dear, sweet children were in the front yard, dutifully performing their family project for that weekend – raking the leaves. I was anticipating the relief I would feel once I saw the pristine lawn and beds, all of which was to be made possible by their kindhearted effort.
(Yes, that is a spider man band-aid on my finger. Click here to learn how to peel and dice butternut squash without impaling yourself.)
As I mounted the last stair and peeked around the garage, I was met with silence. I stood there perplexed. Confused. Not a sole (or a rake) in sight. “Huh. Where did they all go?” I looked at the lawn. Better…but still a layer of leaves. The beds were still chock full of leaves and the water run-off gully was still clogged. With my load of yard debris still at my side, I could feel myself getting worked up. I heaved the bag over to the side of the garage and slammed it down. In long, heavy strides, I crossed to the front door, opened it up and yelled, “Where are you guys?” The eldest and the youngest, immediately surfaced, (already sporting slippers and warm sweaters) claiming, “We thought we were done.” The 10-year old came out of his commando hiding spot about 10 minutes later, grinning but clearly, guilty. I, meanwhile, had grabbed a rake and started to forcefully rake up at least 10 more piles. Stewing. Talking to myself. Saying things like, “Why do I have to be the only one to do these things?” “What am I raising here…a bunch of royalty?” “Oh, I bet their enjoying their time in front of the TV, playing legos, reading a good book while I’m out here RAKING! In the freezing COLD!”
(In case you were wondering about my main squeeze, he was upstairs doing the laundry. We have a bit of a role reversal here in our family.)
I have found that, sometimes, I do my best parenting when I’m tired, have run out of patience and have worked myself up into a frenzy. So, in that moment of frenetic leaf raking, “The Benevolence Jar” was born.
Later that evening at our family dinner, I presented the concept behind “The Benevolence Jar”. (My dear, sister can’t get past the fact that I named it The Benevolence Jar and yes, maybe that was a bit over the top but still…it sounds important, distinguished.)
“Do you know what benevolence means? Anyone?” Silence. “I define benevolence as not just being kind but having the wisdom to know why you are being kind. Like last night, Daddy picked up dinner for us, served it and did all the dishes to be kind, yes, but also, because he knew I was tired. When you say, “Good Morning,” to your brothers and sisters you do it to be kind, yes, but also to show that you care about them.” I went on with more examples, a speech about how a family needs to operate like a team with everyone pitching in and so on and so forth. Unsure of what was to come, the kids remained silent. Then, I laid two jars on the table. One filled halfway with pennies. One empty but labeled “Benevolence.”
“You three will need to work together to fill “The Benevolence Jar.” You do so by performing one or more of these acts of kindness that I’ve put here on the list.” I unrolled the single spaced list, at least three sheets long, that I had typed up upon coming inside from the leaf frenzy. “I will tape this to the refrigerator for your reference.”
“Each night at dinner we will go around the table and you can toot your own horn about the kind things you have done that day in regards to our family. You’re on the honor system here since I can’t be watching you at every moment. Should you behave selfishly or cruelly to members of this family, well, then, a penny will come out of the benevolence jar and you will need to earn it again. Once the jar is filled, I will treat you to a trip to Skinnidip, a round of bowling, an afternoon movie or an evening of board games. Your choice. We start tomorrow.” From the sparkle I detected in their eyes, I could tell that the game was on.
For the first week, pennies were going in the jar for clearing dishes, emptying backpacks and lunch boxes without complaining, remembering to say, “Good morning” or “How was your day?” to family members. The boys were the first ones to have pennies come out of the jar, one for teasing, one for biting. I packed up those jars and hauled them with us to Central Oregon where we spent a glorious, snowy Thanksgiving week with Nana and Papa. Have benevolence, will travel.
As the days went by, I began to notice a difference in their behavior. Instead of busting past his little brother to get to the sink first for hand-washing, the 10-year old consciously slowed down and let his brother go first. I found them asking more and more often, “Is there anything else I can do?” “Mom, can I clear your dishes?” Of course, there were times when the whole process was a bit questionable, such as when the 12-year old, in teen-speak, says to the teary, 4-year old, “Hey, I’m sorry I said “Chilladelphia” to you, but you are waaaaay past spicy.” To which he replies, “I just don’t want to hear that.” To which, I comment, “Thank you for using your words to tell your sister that instead of screaming.” And, the competitive, 10-year old, focused on filling the jar, perks up, saying, “Penny in the jar?”
Back at home, the eve before returning to school/work, I put down bowls of Butternut Squash Minestrone (aka: Old Mother Hubbard Went to the Cupboard and These Were the Ingredients She Found) and some warm, cheddar biscuits. Six pennies were left to be put in “The Benevolence Jar.” At this point, however, they were pros and they ticked them right off with things like, “Not only helping us load and pack the car for coming home without complaining but asking us what else you could do to help even when that meant taking out the garbage.” “For waiting and allowing your sister to climb into the back of the car first instead of busting your way in and making her climb over you.” And the last penny, went in for the littlest one, “For not acting goofy when sitting on Santa’s lap. Nicely talking to him about your list and explaining the pictures you drew. Remembering to tell him “Thank You” when you were done.”
As with anything, I’m sure the novelty will wear off, but I can enjoy it for now, can’t I? And, perhaps, if I can get one last, “job well-done” family rake project under my belt, it will all be worth it.
When we were done eating, the 10-year old dumped the pennies out of “The Benevolence Jar” and back to their starting position. He then, flipped a penny back into the jar, and skipped off toward the kitchen sink, hollering, “Cleared my dishes without complaining.” And so, we begin again.
Oh, Ye, Benevolent Butternut Squash Minestrone
As I’m sure you can relate, I returned home after a week of being gone, to rather bare cupboards. Not in the mood to head out to the grocery store, I decided to evaluate what I had on hand. The rather, phallic, butternut squash that had been sitting on the counter for weeks immediately cried out to me as if it was equipped with an alarm. And, so, I built this soup dish around him. Not having any bread on hand either, I pulled out this old biscuit recipe from the recipe box and threw in a handful of minced chives from the chives in my yard who have clearly not read the memo stating that winter is almost here and it’s time to stop growing. Enjoy.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 leek, white and light green parts, chopped
1 med onion, chopped
1 1/2 c carrots, about 3, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 1/2 c butternut squash, diced (dice up and freeze your remaining squash for future recipes)
4 sprigs of thyme
2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 qt chicken broth
2 med white boiling potatoes, cubed
1 15-oz can of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup orzo pasta
freshly, grated parmesan cheese
Heat your olive oil in a large soup pot. Add your leek, onion, carrots and celery and saute about 10 minutes, until your onions are transluscent. Add your butternut squash, thyme, sage, bay leaf, salt and pepper and potatoes to the pot. Pour in your chicken stock, cover and bring to a boil. With your lid askew, simmer for about 30-40 minutes or until your veggies are soft. Add the beans and the pasta. At a high simmer, cook for another 10 minutes, or until pasta is cooked through. If you plan to let your soup simmer on the stove for longer than 40 minutes, do not add your beans and pasta until closer to when you plan to serve your soup.
Ladle into shallow bowls and serve with the parmesan cheese and salt and pepper. Add a basket of warm biscuits and some sliced, apples or pears and dinner is served.
Yield: A big “pot-full.” Enough for a family of 5 with leftovers to pop into thermoses the next day for lunch away from home.
Cheddar Cheese Biscuits
1 1/2 c white flour
1 1/2 c whole, wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp salt
2 1/2 c heavy cream
1 cup grated, sharp cheddar cheese
2 tbsp minced chives (optional)
3 tbsp butter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a large bowl. Add cream, cheese and chives and stir gently with a wooden spoon, mixing just until dough holds together.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead once or twice, just enough to incorporate cream and cheese into flour mixture. Handle dough as little as possible, or biscuits will not rise.
Roll out dough about 1″ thick on a lightly floured work surface. Cut with a 1 3/4″ biscuit cutter or a champagne flute. Place biscuits about 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets, then set aside for 10 minutes. Allowing dough to rest at this stage will produce taller, lighter biscuits. (Biscuits, once cut, may be frozen.)
Melt butter in a small skillet over low heat, then cool slightly. (Or pop in the microwave for about 20 seconds.) Brush biscuit tops with butter. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve warm from the oven.
Biscuits are best eaten immediately, but can be reheated for 5-10 minutes in a 300 degree oven. Frozen biscuits may be baked without thawing. Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes, then increase heat to 350 degrees and bake for 5 more minutes.
Yield: about 40 biscuits. I have “halved” this recipe with great success.
All original text and photos copyright: Carrie Minns 2009