Saturday, October 22, 2016

_The Hancock News_ Column--October 19, 2016

At last the leaves on the trees are figuring out what I’ve felt in my bones for a few weeks; it is finally fall. 

I love the change in seasons. It doesn’t matter which one it is, I get excited as one season gives way to the next. Maybe it’s the newness of the new or maybe I’m plain tired of the old one. Regardless, I never regret moving on to colder or hotter or wetter tomorrows.

But we also order our days in seasons that have nothing to do with the weather. Our family is in the midst of our fall birthday season. With four kids’ birthdays in as many weeks, I struggle to continue liking cake. It is also school season, which means times tables, poems, and lessons about the fall of Rome fill every spare minute. Thankfully, I have more time to devote to our studies now that the garden season is winding down.

Cooling temperatures seem to mean allergy and cold season for us. This last week we came down with some sort of coughing, sore throat, and stuffy nose sickness. Nobody was too sick-- just sick enough for me to allow a few extra cartoons and fewer chores and grammar lessons.

Unfortunately, our little sick season meant that planned visits with my parents couldn’t happen; since my mother has COPD, our sniffles can easily land her in the hospital. 

We’ve all had to adjust to this new season of Grammy’s severe COPD. Tears of disappointment sometimes accompany these adjustments. It’s a big downer for us when we can’t be with my parents for fear of sickness or when Grammy can’t do what she wants to do because it’s too strenuous. 

But think of those big snows in winter, the ones that cause accidents, halt emergency services, and bring us all to our knees. Isn’t all that devastating snow so beautiful! The whole world, it seems, is cozied up in a fluffy white blanket that muffles all the noisy busyness of our lives.

My mother’s condition is awful, but God still works good through it. My mother may have to limit her activities, but that gives her more time to sit in her chair, a lukewarm mug of coffee in one hand and the telephone in the other, simply listening to her grandchildren.

She listens to them read, complain about their mean mommy, and rattle off their Christmas lists as well as their dreams for the future. Because of COPD, my mother, though far away, is available for her beloved grandchildren-- and they know it. And to be honest, that is more beautiful than the purest of snows, the reddest of autumn leaves, the coolest splash in your favorite swimming hole, or the most playful lamb frolicking around the greenest spring pasture. 

I love all things autumn-- the bushels of apples, the colorful displays of pumpkins and winter squashes, and the smell of all those wonderful fall spices. My husband created this recipe, and I think it is the quintessential fall meal. I like it for the orange colors, the salty sausage, the sweet apples, and those lovely spices baked in a warm oven on a chilly autumn day. My husband likes that it only dirties one pan. The kids just like that it’s yummy.

The measurements on this are approximate. My husband has never measured, but he adds one layer at a time with these proportions, depending on the size of the baking dish. This is so easy to tailor to the taste of you and the crew that you’re feeding, so add your own favorite twists and fall flavors if you wish.

Fall Harvest Supper Bake

In a 9 x 13 casserole dish, layer the following ingredients in the order given:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1-inch cubes
4 apples, cored and quartered
1 onion, cut in 1-inch chunks

Sprinkle this with salt, pepper, garlic powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and ground cloves, to your taste.

Next, crumble one pound raw bulk sweet Italian sausage over the top, topped by 1/2 stick butter, cut into small cubes. 

Bake, uncovered, in a 350℉ oven until sweet potatoes are almost tender. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with about 1 cup of Craisins (dried cranberries). Gently stir before returning the pan to the oven to bake until sweet potatoes are soft. Serve with toasted pecans sprinkled on top, if desired.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Fall Birthday Season

It's that time of year again; time to post pictures of birthday cakes.

Happy 1st birthday!

A breakfast birthday requires muffins, of course. They were applesauce spice muffins with some cream cheese drizzle. The baby was about as impressed with them as she is with any food-- not very. The rest of us liked them though, and I was happy to start our birthday season off with a non-cake cake.

Later that day. . .

Garden birthday cake

The new 9-year-old had this cake designed (actually on paper) since we planted our garden. It is a rough diagram (missing a few things) of our own garden. Clockwise from the upper left hand corner: ground cherries; pumpkin patch complete with straw, vines, and deer poop; beans on a cattle panel trellis; popcorn; more pumpkin patch; and tomatoes. Even the deer poop was tasty. My son not only designed this cake, but he helped make it to his specifications, too; he was happy with the result.

Next up, an unadorned pumpkin pound cake.

Plain but perfect. . . 

. . . as an ice cream sundae topping!

Again, the new 11-year-old was extremely specific about his birthday "cake" desires. He wanted lots of toppings, and he was not disappointed-- even if we forgot to get the toppings out of the cupboard.

And finally, the newly-turned 3-year-old loves him some Paw Patrol, so that's what he got.

Chase is on the cake!

My husband helped me out with this one by buying the toy. Those toy cakes are so simple! The kiddo especially appreciated the extra dollar I spent on the themed plates. He was so cute with the whole birthday routine since he was well-rehearsed from his siblings' parties. 

And, I'm not sad to say, birthday cake season is over 'til spring, but apple dessert season is in full swing. . .

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Time for Poe

Halloween isn't our thing, but Edgar Allan Poe has made his scary appearance in our house recently.

Three book about/by Poe

We recently checked out three Poe-related books from the library. On the left is a kid-friendly biography (as much as Poe's dismal life can be kid-friendly). On the far right is a collection of his tales; again, only as kid-friendly as Poe's classic tales can be. These tales aren't adapted, but the book is easy to hold and has an audio CD (which we didn't make use of).

But in the middle is an awesome introduction for the littlest ones to Poe. It's called Edgar Gets Ready for Bed, and Jennifer Adams has a new fan in me. My 3-year-old has memorized the book about Edgar, a little raven who really doesn't want to get ready for bed. Truth be told, Edgar's repetitive "Nevermore!" reminds me of my 3-year-old's "No!"

The illustrations are so cute and bring in ideas from Poe's poetry and stories without all the scary and weird. 

Above the chamber door

Okay. These might be construed as weird, but. . . cool!

I searched the author (Jennifer Adams) and found out there are more Edgar books-- plus other "classics" for wee ones. I definitely want to get my hands on these because all the kids loved that book.

Friday, September 23, 2016


I'm thinking I probably used that whole hashtag thing wrong in this post's title. Call me ignorant. I'm more familiar with hash browns. Anyway, I recently took part in a Reformation Mug swap here.

Today I received my very own lovely mug and other cool stuff.

Thank you, Jessica!

The lovely lady I bought for will not receive hers today since I took it to the post office today. I struggled to find the perfect mug, but then I gave up and settled :(   I hope she likes it half as much as I like the mug I received.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Pumpkins, Pies, and Pancake Piggies

This week we harvested what was worth harvesting. Pumpkins are my favorite. They are so pretty. At least, what wasn't demolished by the deer.

Our fall harvest display, now safely in the garage

One pumpkin/squash didn't make it in the picture because it had split open a bit from the nearly 3 inches of rain we'd had. I cooked it up right away for a pie. The children picked the ground cherries, and we finally had enough for some pie. 

Pumpkin on the left and ground cherries two ways.

Since ground cherries are new to us, I had to search online for a recipe for pie. That was the middle one. My son made it almost by himself. He still needed a little help for his first pie. The crumbly topping one was my variation.

Happy pie

So, do we like ground cherries? I'm leaning toward "not so much," but they do taste better in a pie. Others in the family are firmly in the "no" camp, while others think they're okay. 

In other news, a few weeks ago we had an unexpected power outage just before time to start supper. I was totally unprepared and had nothing to serve up without electricity. It seemed a good time to go grocery shopping, so we headed off to Hagerstown for dinner out and Sam's Club.

For supper we found ourselves at Bob Evans because we had some coupons from the library's summer reading club. The girls ordered pancakes that looked like little piggies. This is my version, because cute food is cool:

Three little pancake piggies

They were a hit. If you want to make them, you'll need one larger pancake and two smaller ones, banana slices for the nose, and blueberries for the eyes. The ears are one of the smaller pancakes cut in half. Your kids/grandkids will think you're supercool if you set these in front of them, guaranteed. We also added "mud" on top in the form of syrup, but the 2-year-old had to call it syrup because we don't eat mud.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

_The Hancock News_ Column-- September 14, 2016

The crickets competed with the frogs to drown out my husband’s voice as he told bedtime stories to our children when we camped in our backyard last week. The kids strained their ears to hear his stories about Charley and his wonderful house, cowboys, or the new three little pigs. Whatever tale he weaves, the children are captivated. His stories have the power to calm their fears and chase away the bogeyman. 

Whether made-up or true, stories have a certain magic. They change things. My whole day changed on Saturday when my mother-in-law excitedly told me the story of how my brother-in-law and his wife revealed they were expecting their first baby. My heart melted with the sweetness of the moment, and ever since then, I’ve been a little bit giddy when I think about a new niece or nephew.

But this time of year also has me thinking about darker and sadder stories. Six years ago this week, I suffered our first miscarriage. All the joy and expectation surrounding that fifth child turned into a lump of nearly unbearable sorrow that I lugged around with me at all times. 

And then the stories started being told. Church members, family, friends, and even strangers told me the stories of their own sadness. Unlike the typical birth story that details every moment of labor and delivery, these stories were short. Most women simply told me that they, too, had lost a baby before birth. The kindness and sympathy in their eyes told all the story I needed to know. I was not carrying my burden alone.

I was surprised by how many people I knew who had miscarried, friends and family who had never told me about it before. For some, I was the first person who’d ever heard their story. It seemed I was now part of a grim sisterhood connected by these painful stories. 

Oddly enough, it was these sad stories that brought me earthly comfort. While they didn’t promise that the sadness would all go away, they changed my outlook. I could see that life carried on for these strong women and that it would continue for me, too. 

These stories changed me, and now I’ve shared my story with you. If you know of a hurting mother, share this story with her so that she might know she is not alone. If you have suffered through miscarriage, please don’t be scared or ashamed to share your pain with others. Your simple words have the power to calm fears, chase away a little of the darkness, and to heal both the listener and the teller.

This time of year is also back-to-school time. If your children are like mine, after school time is a hungry time. unfortunately, it is also a time when I don’t have much mental energy to think of a good snack to make. 

Do your children have a favorite afternoon snack? Please email me your favorite snack ideas so that I can share them in a future column. Until then, try out my healthier version of a milkshake. I used to drink this for a quick breakfast before I headed out the door for school when I was a teacher, but it’s a good snack in the afternoon, too.

Peanut Butter Banana Milk

2 Tbsp. peanut butter
1 ripe banana
2 cups cold milk

Blend all ingredients together in a blender. Pour into a cup and drink it down, no cookies necessary. Of course, a little chocolate syrup never hurt anybody!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What I Liked About Painting Week

Because I'm such a Pollyanna, I just have to post the good things about miserable painting week at our house.

First up has no connection to painting and everything to do about anniversary-- our 13th.

Pretty silver filigree bracelet from Bali--gift from my hubby

It matches my (tarnished) ring I got when I was in Bali so long ago.

I didn't have time to take pictures, but my husband and the kids planned a huge Indonesian-themed feast that was fun, delicious, and because it was complex for us, served on Bali time (same as island time).

The next thing I loved was cooking outside a few times. I finally got to use my new dutch oven.

Precursor to cowboy beans

I had a blast experimenting with cooking over hot coals, and, in addition to pleasing my inner pyro, it was yummy.

And now that painting's done, I love the new clean walls, but as it's not yet snapped, that picture will have to wait.