Friday, May 26, 2017

Bear!

We live in the middle of beautiful nowhere, and as such, wildlife abounds. While we sat at supper yesterday, a guest dined in our backyard.

Dining at the fire pit

Well, hello Mr. Bear! This is only the third time we've seen a bear in our backyard since we've lived here, so all manner of excitement ensued. We grabbed every camera we could and started snapping pictures.

Eventually, the very large bear finished his meal and ambled away.




Then, when we opened the door to get a picture without the glass in the way, he turned to face us.


"Dessert!" he seemed to say (in my mind)

And then, because we decided we don't want this fellow to keep visiting (no matter how cool and zoo-like the experience was), we shouted and made all manner of noise to scare him away. He turned and left quickly.

Do you wonder what he was eating at our fire pit? Was it dropped bits of hotdog or maybe a fallen s'more? Nope. 


Ants.

The bear was eating ants. In fact, he upturned all but two of the rocks in our fire pit looking for them. 



Those rocks were big and HEAVY!

For comparison purposes, the above picture is "after," and the two pictures below are "before."



Newly made

With a lovely fire

Except for the fact that repairs must be done, this was a very cool experience. It was also quite educational, so it'll be going down in the books as nature study. I think we'll even get a journal entry out of this one.




Sunday, May 21, 2017

Five on Friday- Belated

Things are more than busy this week. Each day has held something out of the ordinary for us, so this post has been delayed. It's been chaotic, so it's nice to sit here at the computer and remember all the nice things about the week.

1. Mother's Day. Because we had some sickness lingering in our house, we weren't going to see my mother (who suffers from COPD). Instead, my husband asked me if I could pick anything I wanted for supper, what would it be. I picked hot dogs and potato chips. Glamorous, eh?

Also the children (minus the baby who was napping) and I carried on the Mother's Day tradition of making cookies (except for my oldest daughter who went to town with Daddy and who would be making cookies with me later in the week). We made "Million Dollar" peanut butter cookies. The whole process was like the week--chaotic; what can you expect with five children helping in the kitchen all at once? But we had fun, and the cookies were yummy.

Me--wearing my Mother's Day gift apron and holding cookies ready for oven


2. Chicken. The Friday before Mother's Day, my husband drove to Fisher's for their chicken sale. It's a bit of a drive, but the sale is so good that even when you factor in mileage, we save a lot of money. We ended up with 3 huge boxes of chicken to put in the freezer. We also grilled chicken that evening and enjoyed a beautiful salad from our raised beds.


Some of the salad before--picture courtesy of one of the kids


The salad after, ready for the table.


3. Kids' Camera.  Back in February we went to a flea market and had a scavenger hunt. It was fun, and we found a digital camera for $5 for the children to use. They've been having fun with it. I just need to figure out how to get the date out of the bottom corner.

This is what happens when a kid takes pictures at a birthday party:

A picture of the birthday girl, sort of.


4. Birthday Un-cake.  Last December one daughter got a gingerbread house cake for her birthday. This weekend, my oldest daughter turned 8 (see picture below). She wanted a gingerbread house. I made it out of sugar cookie dough instead because gingerbread seemed not spring-y enough. With SweetTart roof tiles and other assorted candies, pretzels, pink sugar wafers, and colored graham cracker crumbs, a sugar cookie house was constructed.


Back view

Front view


5. Birthday cookies and cupcakes. Because my daughter loves bunnies, I made bunny cookies! To be honest, I thought the front yard looked bare. That house needed an inhabitant or two. When the cake was served, a bunny was standing on the front porch. 

Okay. To be totally and completely 100% honest, the real reason I made the bunny cookies was that I've wanted to experiment with decorating cookies with royal icing. I think all the cookies in magazines and on Pinterest look so pretty, and I wanted to try it. So I did. The results?


They do look like bunnies, I think.

The results were not as professional as I wanted them to be, but I learned trial-and-error style. I'm looking forward to trying again sometime to see if I can do better. And the birthday girl was thrilled by her bunnies.

Because I couldn't leave well enough alone with the sugar already provided, I decided to stick the bunnies on some cupcakes. I've served up birthday pie before, but for my own neurotic reasons I felt "just" cookies were inadequate for a birthday party.

Bunny cookies on "moss-covered" cupcakes

And while the cupcakes looked nice enough (even without the bunnies), the kids preferred eating the cookies. When I was cleaning up, as is usually true with regular birthday cake, I threw away several cupcakes that had been licked clean of frosting.

Until next Friday. Or Sunday. Or whenever.



Saturday, May 13, 2017

Amazing Moms and Bread

Some people accomplish amazing feats-- swallowing swords, hitting home-runs out of the ballpark, or performing brain surgery. As for me, I have two astonishing accomplishments under my belt.

My first feat was accidental. I once somersaulted down a flight of stairs while holding a tray of pizza. When I landed at the bottom of the steps, I was unhurt and unbelievably holding a tray that still had pizza on it.  It sounds impossible, but it happened; I even have a witness.

My second great achievement is more common but infinitely more amazing; I gave birth. Seven times I’ve been an integral part of the miracle of life, and the whole process reminds me of flip-flopping down those stairs. In the end, I had no idea how I made it through, but there I was holding a gift more precious than un-spilled pizza.

But my mother-in-law has given birth to 13 babies, potty-trained 13 toddlers, nursed 13 children through who knows how many sicknesses, and not once has she killed a mouthy teenager. I am in awe of her. 






You definitely won’t find me in the ranks of women groaning about stereotypical mothers-in-law. However, I admit that I used to question her ways.

For example, why in the world did she so often answer my questions with, “Let me think about that”? Why wouldn’t she just give the advice I needed already? But I’ve learned for myself (thanks to my own children asking thousands of questions a day) that a quick answer often causes more problems in the end. She was right; it is so much better to think things through first.

She’s wise, my mother-in-law, and her brand of wisdom is rare. Not only does she think before she speaks, but she also holds her tongue when necessary. I’m proud to have as a second mother such an amazing lady.


*****************************

For Christmas, my mother-in-law typed up all of her favorite family recipes and put them in a cookbook for all of her children, so I had almost too many recipes to choose from for this week’s Mother’s Day column. But as I was flipping through the pages, a note at the bottom of one page caught my eye. It said, “This Bread Is Amazing!!” It seemed like the perfect fit for a column about an amazing woman.

Vermont Oatmeal Maple-Honey Bread

2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar (or maple sugar)
1/2 tsp. maple syrup
1 Tbsp. honey
4 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. yeast
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups flour

In a large mixing bowl, combine the boiling water, oats, maple sugar, maple syrup, honey, butter, salt, and cinnamon. Let cool to lukewarm.

Add the yeast and flours, stirring to form a rough dough. Knead about 10 minutes by hand or 5-7 minutes by machine, until the dough is smooth and satiny. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let dough rise for 1 hour. Dough should be doubled.

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a loaf. Place the loaves in 2 greased bread pans. Cover pans with lightly greased plastic wrap. Allow loaves to rise until they’ve crowned about 1 inch over rim of pan-- about 1 hour.


Preheat oven to 350℉. Bake loaves for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven when they are golden brown and interior registers 190℉ on an instant read thermometer. Drop out of pans and cool on wire rack. 


**This column ran in The Hancock News on May 10, 2017.
***This post has been shared at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth:The Art of Home-Making Mondays.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Five on Friday

1. Bird in Church.  On Saturday evening, my eldest and I went down to the church to get a few things done. A few things had to wait because there was a bird sitting on the Christ candle. A BIRD! And being the independent woman I am, I immediately called my husband on the phone for help. Then I told my son to do what my husband told me to do.

So what did we do? We (and I mean my son) opened the door and shooed the bird out. And out that black bird flew.

It sounds really simple as I type it up, but it was actually very exciting. Less exciting was cleaning up a little bird poop in the sanctuary.

2. Frugal Me.  Also last Saturday, I made horchata for potluck. I'd never made it before, but basically you soak raw rice and cinnamon sticks in some water, strain off the liquid, and add milk and sugar to make a yummy drink. That left all that ground up rice to go to waste. The frugal me couldn't leave it at that, so I ended up cooking that up into a sort of cream of rice cereal. It was okay. It didn't set our tastebuds afire for it, but it was edible and no waste.

3.  It Tastes So Gouda.  One thing that has lately set our tasted buds to the drool setting is smoked gouda cheese. I think we bought it at Sam's Club, and it is so entirely yummy, especially when it is a little melted. If you've never tried it, I highly recommend it.

4.  Plague.  Also happening on Saturday (a busy day for us last week)-- one child got sick. Then over the course of the rest of the week, the rest of us fell, including me. Wednesday I spent the day in bed thinking, "I don't even have enough energy to lay in bed." All are on the mend, except my husband, who isn't yet sick. Isn't it fitting that we studied the Black Death in history this week?

5. Etsy.  This is not another shameless plug for my Etsy shop, but it is a plug for Etsy. I love shopping there because you can find just about anything you want. This week I made two Etsy purchases and am looking forward to getting them in the mail soon. Unfortunately, I can't share them with you because they are secrets. Maybe later :)

And because this post needs some kind of picture, I will now do the shameless plug for my Etsy shop by showing a picture of a new hat I listed this week. It's a cotton one instead of acrylic, so it feels a little different. I love the color.

Ta-da!



Monday, May 8, 2017

Did You Think You'd Ever Say. . . ?, No. 7

"Son, if you don't put your grammar book away right now, you'll be grounded!"

*Because I like to be honest, you should know I had to say this because my son was avoiding a chore. I am not breeding a new kind of kid who wants to do nothing but schoolwork during free time.  

Friday, May 5, 2017

Five on Friday

I've often admired blog posts with several random (short) points, but I've not made it a point to write such posts regularly. Because life has been busy and I don't have a ton of time to write about every topic that's on my mind, today I'll try to start writing such a post semi-regularly. While "Five on Friday" is an unoriginal title, it works for me.

1.  Mommy brag time. Back in January and February my school-aged kids thought I was a mean mommy. I required them to write entries in several contests. One was for the American Legion Auxiliary's Americanism essay contest. Two of the boys won local prizes, and one went on to win 1st place in the district. We also participated in the ALA's Poppy Poster contest, and while none of the children placed in that one, we enjoyed a pizza party for all participants. Our local chapter of the American Legion does so much for our community-- thank you! It was a good experience for our children.

Then last evening we attended a reception for the winners of a poetry and short story contest at the Washington County Free Library main branch in Hagerstown. It was the second writing contest I forced my kids to enter. Call me Tiger Mom Lite. All four of the children were honored for their entries and were asked to come forward and read their selections in front of an entire roomful of strangers. And they did it! There were nerves involved because this was the first public-speaking experience for three of them, but they did just fine. I wish you could've seen it.

Enough bragging. Please forgive a proud mama.

2.  Growth.  Have any of you ever noticed that your children take a growth spurt in the spring? In the last month, my eldest has grown an inch taller. This puts him exactly even with me. It is about time for his big adolescent growth spurt. Sigh.

Earlier this week he notified us that suddenly his shoes no longer fit, so our big trip to Hagerstown doubled as a shoe-shopping trip for him and his brother (who also no longer fits in any of his shoes). When we measured their feet at one of the many shoe stores we visited, we learned my eldest now needs to look for a size 12!

3.  Supper in Hagerstown-- Since we had to go to Hagerstown early for shoe-shopping, we needed some supper. My husband picked Karu Peru. We love this place and have been there 3 times, which, considering we eat out so infrequently, makes it a big favorite. They are a Peruvian restaurant and have delicious and juicy charcoal rotisserie chicken. Their sides (like potato salad and yucca fries) are nothing to sneeze at either. If you live in the Hagerstown area, you need to check this place out!

4.  Krumpe's Do-nuts--  Since the reception had us in Hagerstown after 7 p. m., you know what that means!







Full disclosure: These pictures are not "fresh" like the do-nut holes we enjoyed last night; they are from a previous post. We'll enjoy do-nuts for breakfast this morning.


5.  Sideling View Crafts--Yesterday was also a big deal for my Etsy shop. No, no. Still no sales. BUT yesterday a stranger marked one of my items as a favorite. Not my mom or my friend or my cousin. A stranger. Wow.


Well, this post was lengthier than expected. Maybe next week we'll make it 4 instead of 5; plus my life is not likely to be this exciting two weeks in a row. Have a good week!


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Making Lemonade (or Rhubarb Custard Bars)

Dressed in my pajamas and an early morning sleepy stupor, I wasn’t the most aware Mommy. I suppose I knew the two preschoolers weren’t happy with each other, but their argument hadn’t yet penetrated my mental fog. It’s possible I might have mumbled out of habit a half-hearted, “No fighting, kids,” but I didn’t pay attention until 3-year-old Peter asked a big question.

“Mommy, is I the boss?”

I focused my brain and guessed that his older sister had just told him otherwise. I tried to break the news to him in a gentle voice.

“No, Peter, you are not the boss.”

He was completely unconvinced.

“Yes, I is! I is the boss!” he insisted.

Poor kid. Life’s lessons are not easy to learn. I’m still trying to figure it all out. I want things to turn out a certain way, but then I can’t make it happen no matter how long I plan or how many lists I make. What then?

Well, today my daughter attacked a cardboard box and a couple of toilet paper tubes with scissors, tape, and her vision of creating a car, complete with a steering mechanism, for her little brother to drive around the house. She worked on it all day long.

By evening, after several different designs failed, she realized the truth: those toilet paper tube wheels simply could not provide the support the car needed. 

What did she do? Well, she cried out her broken heart. Then she came up with another design-- a cardboard box car powered by the driver’s feet instead of wheels. She accepted reality and made lemonade out of her lemon car.

So when life throws a wrench in your plans, remember who’s the boss. Here’s a hint: it’s not you. Some things are simply beyond your control. But you can choose to salvage the broken pieces of your dream and shape them into something even better and more beautiful than the original.

*******************
Everybody knows that when life hands you lemons, you should make lemonade, but what do you do when a friend hands you bags full of rhubarb? I suggest trying this recipe for Rhubarb Custard Bars. My daddy made them for Easter, and they were delicious. His special tip was to keep the butter cold or the crust will turn out too hard.

Rhubarb Custard Bars

Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup cold butter

Filling: 
2 cups sugar
7 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 large eggs, beaten
5 cups finely chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb (thawed and drained)

Topping:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped

In a bowl, combine the 2 cups flour and 1/4 cup sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press into a greased 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Bake at 350℉ for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the filling, combine sugar and flour in a bowl. Whisk in cream and eggs. Stir in the rhubarb. Pour over crust. Bake at 350℉ for 40-45 minutes until custard is set. Cool.

For the topping, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth; fold in whipped cream. Spread over the top. Cover and chill. Cut into bars. Store in the refrigerator. Yield: 3 dozen.

*This column ran in The Hancock News on April 26, 2017.

**This post was shared at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth for The Art of Home-Making Monday.