Tuesday, December 30, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column--December 17, 2014


I’ve learned two absolute truths since becoming a parent. First, children grow up too quickly, and second, my memory fails too frequently. When you put both of those together, it’s obvious that I need a video camera to record the first steps, the sweet baby jabberings, and the countless random and clever childish goings-on.

Last year at Christmas we received exactly what we needed-- a small digital recorder, a far cry from the bulky shoulder-mounted machines of my youth. My husband tried it out for the first time when he took the children sled-riding.

Although I stayed home with the napping babies, I was able to see a sampling of sledding spills and victories. I saw out-of-control sleds heading for trees, sledless children sliding on their own bottoms down the ice-glazed hill, and what seemed to be the longest sled ride ever in the history of childhood. 

From the comfort of the couch, my ears heard the giggles and later the inevitable complaints of tired children. The sled was too fast or too scary, or they just couldn’t make it back up the big hill.

Without a doubt, the most important thing the camera recorded was The Promise. My daughter was crying that she wanted her own sled, and her dear sympathetic father promised that he would buy her one for Christmas next year. Each time the children insisted we watch the video throughout the year, we were reminded of The Promise, and I was certain that, come Christmas, we would forget.

Amazingly, a few weeks ago when we made our big list and checked it twice, we remembered The Promise. My husband ordered a sled, and soon it was delivered and stored safely in a box in our garage.

Then one busy morning last week, in the midst of nagging children to brush teeth and changing a diaper, I noticed my two daughters were quiet. Too quiet.  I called out for them and heard them come inside from the garage, which was no big deal until I overheard the five-year-old whisper to her little sister, “Don’t tell Mommy or Daddy.”

They were up to no good, and within minutes the 2-year-old spilled the beans-- Daddy had bought her sister a yellow sled. She knew this because they had peaked through a tear in the cardboard box in the garage.

Now, I know that really super parents have hard and fast rules enforced by clear and consistent consequences. Unfortunately, we’re not super-parents, but from the beginning of our family, because of my own nosiness, we have had The Rule about peaking at presents. The Rule is often repeated so that it is clear for all: if you sneak a peak, the present goes back. 

In ten plus years, we’d not once been called out on The Rule. Sure, there may have been an instance or two that a child happened upon a gift accidentally or we perhaps left something unhidden, but not once had we uncovered an out-and-out sneak, peak, and cover-up operation. 

We were stuck between The Promise and The Rule. What should we do? On one hand, returning the sled seemed excessively mean. On the other hand, keeping the sled would teach our children that rules mean nothing and that their parents were total pushovers. 

We sat the culprit on Daddy’s lap for a big talk. We asked her if she knew The Rule. She did, and she hung her head, duly ashamed. And since we still weren’t certain what we would do, we did the most un-super-parent thing possible--we asked the child what we should do.

Our daughter replied meekly but stoically, “You should return the sled.”

Yes! She got it! She understood the importance of being consistent with discipline. How grown-up of her! Our job was going to be much easier than expected.

But she continued, “You should return the sled because yellow is my least favorite color. Well, really yellow and white, so you should buy a sled for me that is any other color than those two.”

Please allow me to add a third absolute truth I’ve learned--parenting is never easy.

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It used to be that making tapioca pudding wasn’t ever easy for me. I had racked up a few failures, not getting the consistency right with ugly lumps and a bit of scorching involved. Then my mother changed all that by sending me this recipe for the crock-pot. Although some children may shy away from the look of tapioca, it is a fairly healthy dessert, especially if you use only half the sugar like we do.

Crock-pot Tapioca Pudding

2 quarts milk
1 cup sugar (or less, if you prefer)
1 cup pearl tapioca
4 eggs, whipped
1 tsp. vanilla

Pour milk, sugar, and 1 cup pearl tapioca in crock-pot, stir a little, put the lid on, turn to high, and cook 3 hours. Then take a ladle of this (about 1/2 cup or so) from the crock pot and pour it into a bowl.  Add the whipped eggs and 1 tsp. vanilla and combine.

Pour back into crock pot, cover, and cook on high for 30 minutes. Don’t overcook this or it will start to reduce. Put into a bowl and refrigerate.




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

Monday, December 22, 2014

Decorating? Check.

Well, folks, yesterday we finally decorated. We don't get really fancy around here, but the kids have been begging, and yesterday we let them loose to get it done.

Here's Mr. One-Armed Snowman:

Go find me another twig, already!

Although we use only about one-third of our huge assortment of ornaments, the tree was decorated. Here was a picture from one of the lower branches. Can you tell the children decorated?

One of my personal favorites: a cheap wooden Holy family hung backwards.


While we decorated, we enjoyed some home-made eggnog. It was tasty.

Good to the last drop


Last, but certainly not least, just before bed we pulled out the Nativity pieces my in-laws gave me. We all seem to have differing opinions about what the placement should be.


What it's all about

With that in mind, I think I'm about done with blogs and email and the internet in general until Christmas is over. There are other priorities that take precedence.

May you and yours have a blessed Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Auntsy in Advent

I'm absolutely auntsy (a term my son coined) over the impending arrival of another baby. My sister-in-law is expecting her second baby, and the due date is this week. Because they live too far away, I rarely see her firstborn, my niece, but that doesn't seem to dampen my excitement. Somehow, expecting a new niece or nephew seems to complement nicely the expectation of the Advent season.

Advent is important to our family. We have so many family traditions based around the season before "The Season".

Of course, there's the Advent wreath we like to light each evening with special devotions and the memorization of a stanza or two of an Advent hymn. And there's Wednesday evening church with a capella singing of hymns. Early in Advent we begin getting out the Christmas things: first the box of children's books, then decorations. Each child gets to pick a favorite cookie to bake, and the tree goes up last.

Our wreath with crooked candles sitting in it's box

This year we're a little more than just behind. We've used the Advent wreath only three times. I'm ashamed to say that, whether it's due to a child who hasn't had a nap or a mom who's just frazzled, the kids and I haven't made it to a single Advent service. All the books and decorations are still in the basement, and although the cookies have been chosen, nary a bowl or spoon has been dirtied in making them.

Part of me is disappointed, but the other part of me is okay with my failings. Afterall, if I were perfect, I suppose I wouldn't need Christ--you know, the Baby-King we're all more than a little excited about welcoming this time of year.

This post was shared at Sister, Daughter, Mother, Wife for their Advent Link-up Party and at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth for The Art of Home-making Monday.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column--December 3, 2014


Saying the final good-bye is tough. This week my family is saying that good-bye to one of our church’s members who passed away. Although our children didn’t interact with him much, I think my oldest daughter will remember him fondly forever. 

When she was still just a wee thing, he gave her a $2 bill. We put that crisp bill in a safe place to keep until she was older, and we’ve shown it to her several times. By today’s standards, two dollars really isn’t a huge gift, but it was a gift worth more than its face value.

You see, in my daughter’s mind, it means that somebody did something special just for her. I’m not sure if this gentleman remembered the gift he gave, but because of him, she feels special. 

A few weeks ago my husband helped me carry out one of my hare-brained ideas. I’d won tickets to the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, and I thought it was most important for all of us to go. Yes, even the potty-training toddler and the baby were dragged along to the Sunday matinee. 

I knew ahead of time that it would be challenging for them to behave quietly. Despite the contraband Cheerios and other small treats I brought to bribe them, it soon became clear that I’d be lucky if the littlest ones lasted until intermission.

At intermission, my husband and I decided the little ones needed to go for a quiet drive instead of further cultivating their music appreciation skills. I stayed with the school-aged children while my husband lulled the youngest ones to sleep with an afternoon spin around Hagerstown.

Although the older children were antsy by the end of the performance, they really did enjoy the music. I was happy to have taken them, but still a little upset about the distraction I’d caused by bringing the little ones.

As we waited outside for my husband, total strangers walked up and asked where the babies went. They gushed over and complimented them for their good behavior. While every whimper and fidget sounded like a freight train to me, evidently these folks didn’t even notice. 

An event destined to be labeled a complete failure in my brain was filed away instead as a great family memory by the kind words of strangers. The symphony was great, but those words of encouragement made my day. I don’t know if I thanked them or not, but I wish I could. 

In a time of busy stores and long lines, I guess I’ll have ample opportunity to pass their kindness on to others with my own encouraging smile or helping hand. After all, sometimes the small things do matter most.

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I received even more warm fuzzies about the same time in an email--the first email sent to me by a reader. Sylvia from Hagerstown was kind enough to share a good and healthy soup recipe. I’m thankful for it, too, since this time of year we’re tempted with so many holiday treats. Plus, a little added warmth in the midst of the cold weather is most welcome.

LENTIL SOUP            8-10 Servings

3 cups dry lentils                       2 med. carrots, shredded
3 qts.  water                              2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp. instant beef base         2 tsp. salt
1 qt. stewed tomatoes               1/2 tsp. pepper
4 Tbsp. parsley                          2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large onions, chopped            2 cups diced ham

Combine all ingredients in a soup pot and bring to a boil.
Lower heat and simmer until lentils are soft - about 2 hours.

Note: Sometimes Sylvia replaces the beef base with ham base, and if she has beef or ham broth, she uses that in place of the base and water.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

A Trip Down Donut Alley

It's not often we're out with the children in the big town (Hagerstown, Maryland) after 7 p. m., but last night we went to a concert that started at 7:30. That could mean only one thing. Krumpe's Do-nuts!

Simple box


For the past few years, we've made it a tradition to be in Hagerstown late when we were buying, wrapping, and dropping off the last few gifts our church donates for children in need. Then we would swing by a grocery store and buy some milk so that we could be prepared for a real treat.

Bag of beauty


I'm sure you might wonder why a little donut shop tucked away in an alley is worthy of a blog post and the lines that form outside of that little hole-in-the-wall spot. Well, if you live in the Hagerstown vicinity, you know that Krumpe's certainly is most worthy. I remember my first Krumpe's donut. I'm guessing that it was at least 2 days old by the time it hit my lips, and it was better than any other donut that had found it's way there before-- even fresh and hot Krispy Kremes.

Yum.

That's why my husband bought 3 dozen plus donut holes last night! You might notice in the picture that the plain old glazed donuts are nearly gone first. Surely my favorite frosted and filled one should have been smeared this way and that all over my children and myself, right? Nope. When my husband handed me the boxes, I noticed the glazed ones were warm. Warm! You have never had such a delight. Trust me.

Of course, I stole a donut whole after my warm glazed one, and it was cold, but equally delightful. That's why there's a blog post and that's why you must make it a priority to be in Donut Alley after 7 p. m. (Sunday-Friday) if you happen to be passing through the area. And this is not a paid advertisement; I have far too few blog readers for that. 

Now I must go enjoy my unhealthy breakfast.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Lunch Talk

Maybe it's the approaching holidays. Maybe it's the fact that we are going to a concert. Maybe it's because the kids ate cake with frosting yesterday and they had the excitement of Daddy's deer hunting adventure.

Whatever it is, they were something else at the lunch table today. Giggles and laughter, spills and general rowdiness prevailed.

One conversation, in particular, made me wonder if I should re-focus our studies just a wee bit.

In an attempt to clear up some confusion about the word "Celsius" and help them to realize there are different ways to measure the same thing, I asked the question, "We can measure the length of things in either inches or. . .?"

"Asteroids!" pipes up my 7-year-old.

Why, yes, that was exactly the answer I was looking for.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column--November 19, 2014


Several years ago, when we were expecting our third child, I felt completely overwhelmed. With two boys under the age of four, I was more than busy. It seemed I never had a spare minute.

I turned to my mother-in-law for advice because she’d had thirteen children, and I knew she’d been in my shoes many times. “What can I do to manage? I already don’t have enough time to get everything done. Each day 100% of my time is taken up! How can I take care of a new baby, too?”

She shared with me some wisdom another had given her years before. “If you’re already busy 100% of the time, a new baby can’t make you any busier.”

It was basic and simple and so true. No matter what else came my way, I couldn’t be any busier. One-hundred percent is all the time there is. 

The advice didn’t take care of the dishes in the sink, fold the laundry, or change the diapers. It did show me the way I could change my attitude, and that made all the difference for me. Sure, learning to work more efficiently and having a little more experience under my belt helped reduce my stress levels, but realizing I simply could not do it all was the key to maintaining my sanity.

Looking at this is enough to make anybody crazy!

Nowadays, I still have to remind myself that when I’m tired at night, the work is done. It doesn’t matter if school papers need graded, if the next day’s menu isn’t planned, and the floors need swept. If 100% of the time for that day is done, then I must let the rest go.

With the holiday season just about here, work will be multiplied. Extra baking and decorating, extra church services, company and traveling all will be vying for space on my to-do list. At the end of each day, you can be certain a hefty portion of the list will remain unfinished. Only the absolutely necessary will be done, and I suppose that’s not necessarily bad, even if I’m not 100% happy about it.

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

Having a birthday that sometimes falls on Thanksgiving taught me early on that even birthday trappings aren’t always necessary. This year will be a year that I probably won’t have a birthday cake because of travel, and my waistline is okay with letting go of that. But if I had one, I would pick red velvet cake. This recipe sent by Rose, a reader in Hagerstown, combines my favorite cake with my obsession of adding veggies into our diet wherever and whenever possible. It starts with a boxed mix, and Rose says that you can’t even taste the beets and that they give the cake extra moisture and color. I haven’t tried the recipe yet, but I am going to try it--just as soon as I have a few spare minutes.

RED VELVET CAKE WITH BEETS

I Box of red velvet cake mix – Duncan Hines
1 - 15 oz. can of red beets
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
3  large eggs

In blender, puree beets with juice until smooth.
Prepare cake mix according to package  directions.
Omit the water and beat in the beet mixture in its
place, along with the eggs and oil.  Bake according to
package directions.

Rose didn’t include a frosting recipe, but if you’re going for easy, spread on your favorite store-bought one or this quick cream cheese frosting.

Quick and Easy Cream Cheese Frosting

1 8-oz. package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter together until completely blended. Mix in the vanilla. Add in the powdered sugar, a little at a time, until frosting is nice and fluffy.


This post was shared at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth for The Art of Home-making Mondays.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Do You Want to Build A Snowman?

Then this morning, we heard from our bed the giddiness of the children. It was snowing!

Snowflakes the size of quarters!

While there was snow at Grandma's last week when we visited, it was too cold and windy to go out, and it wasn't really packing snow anyway. This is the first big snow at our house this season, and the children intend to play in it.

We finally saw Frozen a few weeks ago when we checked it out at the library. The children have been enthralled ever since. We've heard the songs, or what they remember of them, over and over and over, so I guess it wasn't too surprising when our seven-year-old charged into our bedroom this morning singing, "Do you want to build a snowman?"


Friday, November 14, 2014

Fall Fun. Now Winter's Begun.

We kept busy this fall with many projects and visits. Here are a few of them.

Grandpa found eggs in our abandoned bluebird house
Grandma, Grandpa and the uncles (only two of them this time) were able to visit for a nice long weekend. 


Our awesome fire pit

We spent several days on this baby. First was the digging. Then the dragging of the concrete slab that used to support the old outside part of the air conditioner. Next was finding and dragging the big old rocks from all over the property. Finally we spent a day gathering firewood in our friends' woods. 

While it was too windy to inaugurate it on our cider-making day as planned, it did get some use while we gathered 'round to roast some hot dogs one evening.


Apple cider-making day. . . complete with dunking for apples

One sunny Sunday afternoon was spent in the company of family and church family and apples. I enjoyed Grandma's apple bars and apple cake while holding a sleeping baby and watching everybody else (read--my husband) make the cider. And it was yummy. I'm so glad we invested in the cider press because these memories are priceless.


Homemade birthday decorations

While these aren't the fancier buntings I see all around lately, my children sure had fun making and stringing up these pennants for Daddy's birthday.

********************
But today we woke to snowflakes blowing about and lots of shivers. Winter may, technically, still be more than a month away, but in our house it has officially started. For weeks now, it's been a bit chillier in the morning, but, with the help of excellent insulation, I've managed to fight it back by baking up our winter squash to puree and freeze, cooking up big batches of bone broth, and bringing out the flannel sheets. But now, no more. Winter has finally won our little game, and this morning we turned on our heat. November 14th. Next year I'm pushing for at least November 20th. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column-- November 5, 2014


Don’t believe everything you read, especially if it’s on the internet. I do a half-decent job of following this maxim until I see a recipe on a blog that promises to be the most scrumptious way to eat brussels sprouts, a method of cooking that makes them taste like candy your children can’t resist.

Earlier this year, I trusted the internet for information on a much larger endeavor than a new recipe. You see, our dog and two sons have been unfortunate enough to have Lyme Disease. Although we check for ticks, we knew some action was necessary this past spring after picking ticks off of ourselves, the children, our dog, and even the refrigerator.

Poison for the ticks, we figured, would be too expensive, and, well, too poisonous. I didn’t like the idea of toxins coating my kids’ stomping ground. 

Our next idea was to raise chickens. What could be bad about free-ranging chickens darting here and there chasing ticks and other annoying bugs? They’re fun to watch plus they lay fresh eggs that taste so much better than store-bought.

Our trusted world wide web squelched that notion. Evidently, chickens are brutal on vegetable gardens, scratching here and pecking there and generally making a mess of all your hard work. Since we put up quart upon quart of our own garden vegetables for winter use, those feathered agents of destruction were out of the question.

Some of the same sites that clued us in to the downfalls of chickens also suggested that guinea fowl were excellent when it came to insect and tick control. We could still eat their eggs if we could find them, and they supposedly attack snakes and small rodents, too.

Most importantly, we read that guineas keep gardens pest-free. One source even wrote that he’d seen his guineas strip bugs off of his tender garden plants without so much as a peck mark. That certainly sounded better than chickens.

At the same time, we read about drawbacks of guineas. Mostly they’re loud, really loud. When we started mentioning to friends we were thinking about guineas, those who’d experienced them underscored the noise factor. However, by this time, our minds were basically made up. We knew we’d be using guinea fowl to be our pest protection. I figured we already had six young children running around; how much louder can guineas actually be?

Besides, guineas eat ticks and wouldn’t wreck the garden. Throw in a fresh egg or two, and the satisfaction of having farm birds running about--yes, I was a goner for guineas.

Pretty much our entire late spring and summer were spent gardening and preparing for and taking care of our guineas. We transitioned our fourteen surviving keets (baby guineas) from our garage to their newly finished coop and outside enclosure. We kept them in their enclosure to get the idea through their amazingly not-so-bright brains that this was home.

Guineas in their coop soon after we moved them outside

In the meantime, I was experiencing a victory in the garden. I’d tried before to plant a fall garden to extend our growing season, but it had been a failure. Whenever I planted kale in late summer, it failed to grow. This year, come mid-September, I had small but healthy lettuce and kale growing strong.

Then came the big day to let our birds out to range free. It went well enough. We only let out  a few at a time so they would return to their buddies in the coop. We’d give them a treat of millet to reward them when they came back in the evening.


Guineas "free-ranging" next to the enclosure where their buddies are


Then something bad happened. 

The guineas found my nice kale bed and dusted themselves in it, making decent-sized valleys in the bare dirt. We tried to make it inaccessible to them by criss-crossing the raised bed with sticks and fence posts and by setting empty water jugs around the perimeter to keep them from getting in it. It seemed to work. 


Our attempts to keep them out of the dirt

Soon that kale was ready to harvest, but my children came running in one day to tell me excitedly that the guineas were messing up the kale again. I’m not certain, but there may have been a note of joy in their voices. Upon inspection I found the birds hadn’t just dusted in the bed again. They had trampled it, the kale beaten down and nibbled on. Nibbled on! These birds with the alleged supernatural power to eat bugs off plants with their eyes closed had ruined my precious kale. It went downhill from there so that now all that’s left of my gardening victory are small, stubby spines of the leaves.


Sad, sad kale

So much for the internet’s great wisdom. At least there’s still the lettuce. The kids like that better than kale anyway.

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

I’ll be honest. I haven’t found a way to make all of my children like certain veggies (like kale and brussels sprouts) all the time. I try to hide them in sweet smoothies and such, but while they will eat the required amount of cooked vegetable if prodded, they certainly don’t eat them like candy.

Lettuce, on the other hand, is a little easier to go down. And with this wilted lettuce recipe, they eat even more healthy greens in a sitting. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the bacon. This recipe is a difficult one to write down because I make it like my mother-in-law taught me--no measuring involved. Can you believe I consulted the internet to try to approximate some measurements? 

Safety precaution: Don’t, don’t, DON’T add the vinegar to very hot grease. It will splatter, burn you and make a horrible mess. Trust me. Also, don’t make extra; it’s just not good the next day.

Wilted Lettuce

A large head of leaf lettuce (NOT iceberg)
Onion (or green onion), sliced very thin, to taste
2 tsp. sugar, or to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
6 slices of bacon, cut up
1/4 cup cider vinegar

Wash lettuce and tear (as for salad) into a large bowl. Layer it with very thinly sliced onion, sprinkling sugar, salt, and pepper between layers.

Cook bacon in a skillet until crisp. Remove from skillet and set aside. Allow the bacon fat in the skillet to cool down a bit before adding the vinegar and stirring. Bring the vinegar-bacon fat mixture to a boil. Pour this hot dressing immediately over the lettuce and toss with the bacon bits. Serve immediately.


This post was shared at New Life on a Homestead for Barn-Hop Mondays.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Bad, Bad Meat Loaf

This is a public service announcement.

One day, a couple of months ago, I was in a hurry to make supper and I hadn't thawed out any meat. I don't really like thawing out meat in the microwave because it always seems to get partially cooked somewhere and it takes so long and it annoys me.

So. . . what to do. . . what to do?

I decided, in a frantic moment, to disengage my brain and unwrap a package of ground beef and just throw it in the oven as is and see what happens.

It looked like this when it was finally done overdone.



Quite a fancy presentation, eh?

The taste was pretty much the same. Don't get me wrong; it was edible and one kid even insisted he liked it. With ketchup.

But, c'mon. Look at it. It was blah at best.

Don't do this, even when desperate. Scrape at it in a skillet and make some hamburger helper-esque meal instead.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column-- October 22, 2014

As a homeschooling mom, I try to make almost every part of our lives an educational experience. A simple walk on our driveway easily  morphs into a study of the features of various weeds or clouds or geology if I let myself get carried away. 

I’m sure my children don’t always appreciate it, but that didn’t stop me from attempting to engineer our recent trip to Myrtle Beach around learning opportunities. Between poring over maps, analyzing advertisements, and discovering seashells, waves, tides and new plants, I’m surprised my children had a chance to relax and enjoy vacation.

Despite all of my pointing out this and drawing attention to that, the wisest words came from the mouth of my nine-year-old son.

The last day on the beach saw my determined youngsters (and their supportive parents) set out to build a huge sandcastle. With pails and shovels in hand, a suitable spot was selected. Then the digging and dumping of sand commenced. My daughters collected piles of seashells which were to be used as armor for the castle walls or just pretty decorations, depending on who you asked. 

Eventually there were architectural disagreements, and one son broke out on his own to establish his own less decorative and more functional sand structure. Before the castle was even close to being finished, most of the children took greater interest in the gentle waves. The whole thing was forgotten at lunchtime, with piles of shells lying about and the castle not much more than a giant packed down pile of sand surrounded by a moat a toddler could disappear in. 

We didn’t get back to the beach until after supper for a last walk to gather seashells. My oldest daughter was especially anxious to get back to the sandcastle. As we crested the dunes, it was plain to me and my husband that the tide was rolling in, and it was almost high tide.

What was left of our castle was quickly disappearing, and over our dramatic daughter’s screams of sorrow, I urged my husband to take a picture with his phone, and quickly! I reasoned that having a picture of the castle would calm down dear daughter who was now scrambling about to rescue all the shells she had abandoned earlier in the day.


Our last view of the sandcastle



No such luck. Her broken heart would not heal so quickly, and every sandcastle we passed on our last evening stroll seemed a fresh opportunity for her to express her despair loudly.

My son, however, uncharacteristically took it all in stride and observed, “I guess that’s just the life of a sandcastle.”

Indeed. All too often I build up my mental sandcastles, only to have them toppled by the unrelenting waves of reality, and no amount of crying on my part can make any difference. I suppose it’s okay for me to dream big, so long as my feet stay firmly grounded in the real world.
**************************
Our family loved combing the beach on our vacation. I have no idea how many clam shells we picked up, each more wonderful than the last. It was truly delightful to watch as the children formed memories of sand, shells, and surf. My two-year-old is still finding “seashells” in our yard, bringing inside pockets full of acorns.

One memory we did not make this time at the beach was a seafood feast.  While we love seafood, the price of those buffets was just too high to take out our whole family. And that’s okay because from time to time, we splurge here at home with this clam chowder. There’s nothing like enjoying a warm, crusty loaf of bread with this tasty soup.

Clam Chowder

4 (6.5-ounce) cans minced clams
1 (8-ounce) bottle clam juice
2 cups chicken broth
6 slices bacon, minced (or more--if you’re like me)
1 onion, chopped fine
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4-6 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper, to taste

Drain the clams, reserving the juice. Combine the drained juice, bottled clam juice and chicken broth. Add water to make a total of 5 cups of liquid.

 Cook the bacon in a large pot until beginning to crisp. Stir in the onion and cook until onion is soft and bacon is crisp.

Stir in the garlic and cook a few seconds, just until you can smell it. Add the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Gradually stir or whisk in the broth mixture. Add the potatoes, bay leaves and thyme. Simmer until potatoes are tender.

4. Stir in the clams and cream. Return to a simmer, then remove from heat. Remove the bay leaves and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Almost Over

Today I noticed our baby ramming his head into the wall in the hallway.

"Do you see him doing that? Why do you think he might be doing that?" I asked my husband, worried that baby had some medical problem.

Wise husband replied, "I guess he's just seen one too many political ads."

Amen.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Baby Quilt Time

Our youngest tot just turned one. It always comes as such a surprise, and I'm not sure why. Before that birthday, they're babies. Just regular old babies. Then it seems they hit that big birthday and all sorts of growing up happens, and they are a totally different kind of bigger baby.

That's what happened with my baby.

Oh, well. At least the "new" baby is still special and cute.  In some ways, he's even cooler because he's started doing all sorts of baby tricks.

One thing he's into now (if I put it down) is his new baby quilt that my aunt made for him and arrived last week.
I think it looks like the frogs are playing Ring-Around-the-Rosie.

Each time I have a baby, I look forward to the quilt. Every quilt is one-of-a-kind with their birth information recorded on the back. She even made one two for me--but that's a blog post all by itself. She is a great quilter, in my biased opinion. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Three Cakes

We just survived another birthday season here at our home. Three boys, three parties, and three birthday cakes. I do enjoy a good birthday cake, and while I get stressed out sometimes about the making of the cake, I get a kick out of making them.

That being said, not all birthday cakes are created equal. This beauty was a pumpkin bundt cake with some simple fall decorations for my new one-year-old. Not only did he chow down on it (after we showed him that it was supposed to be eaten), but he also wasn't smeared up so much that he needed a bath before opening presents. Please note that the final version showcased a hollowed-out-pumpkin-candy candle holder for our one candle.



 Our next cake wasn't quite as perfect as the one above. The birthday boy played soccer this fall and wanted a soccer-themed cake. He requested the same teddy graham-ballfield concept that he had last year for his football field cake.  This cake had a few rough edges, but overall, it wasn't too bad. The boy was pleased even if a few party guests didn't eat it because they don't like chocolate cake.



 Now the next cake I was truly excited to make. My almost 9-year-old son had requested a black forrest cake. I'd seen them before, but as I hate canned cherry pie filling, I'd never partaken. I knew there had to be a better way to go than with cherry pie filling, so I searched the internet for recipes. It's surprising how many completely different recipes claim to be the only way to make authentic black forrest cake. I selected a few to be my guide.

I ended up with this monstrosity.



 Yep. You saw that right. I had cherries sliding everywhere, even with a frosting dam piped around the top. And have you ever seen those television cake decorators pressing sprinkles, crumbs or whatever onto the sides of a cake? Well, let's just say our chocolate shavings graced about every surface in the kitchen by the time I was through with them.

And just in case you didn't get enough of that first picture, here's one just after the candles were removed.

Painful, isn't it? My son was a good sport about it, though. I was proud. He wasn't even very fond of the taste of the cake because it had whipped cream between the layers and under the chocolate shavings. I didn't even know he didn't like whipped cream. I, on the other hand, loved the chocolatey richness of the amazingly yummy cake. If, however, I make it again, it will be in the form of a trifle and look a lot prettier.

Note: I give you permission to bookmark this post for the purpose of making yourself feel better whenever you think you've failed in the kitchen, perhaps with something you'd wanted to share at a party or potluck. All you have to do is look at the black forrest cake and say, "At least it wasn't THAT bad!"


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column-- September 24, 2014

I was almost six when I started kindergarten. My class was the first in my town to go to kindergarten all day long, but for some reason, we only attended every other day. So on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and every other Friday, I stored up a whole lot of fine memories.

I still remember excitedly climbing on school bus #5 with my Snoopy lunchbox and my Miss Piggy binder. I’m not certain, but I think on my first day I wore a cute little school-themed dress with ABCs, pencils, and apples all over it. 

When I was in kindergarten, I remember playing with blocks, pegboards, and coloring with chunky crayons. I remember making windsocks out of bread bags and playing with a parachute in gym class. I remember Mrs. Junkins, my teacher, somehow knowing my friend Keri and I were the ones secretly peeling the plastic coatings off the covers of all the Little Golden Books. 

I even had a wooden cubby-hole with my name on it, my own place to hang my coat and to store my other belongings which included a change of clothes since kindergartners are still prone to having accidents now and then.

My favorite memories center around the Letter of the Week activities. Each week’s activities related to that letter. “Aa” week brought an ambulance to our playground, “Ff” week saw us climbing on a real firetruck, and so on. My favorite week was “Cc” week because one day we got to dress up like cowgirls and cowboys, and I just so happened to have a pair of cowgirl boots. Our teacher even brought bales of hay into the classroom. We pretended they were our horses.

Maybe that’s why I like having a letter of the week for our kindergarten at home. Kindergarten is so very different for my children since we homeschool. They don’t have the bus ride or the lunchboxes or new clothes, but I do try to keep it fun with plenty of play mixed with the learning. 

This year my oldest daughter is my eager kindergartner. She loves writing, worksheets, and learning phonics. Best of all, she really gets a kick out of experiencing books, toys, games, words and field trips that match each week’s letter. For me, it’s like being in kindergarten all over again--minus the lunchbox and cowboy boots.

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Last week was “Dd” week at our house, and I took advantage of some aging bagels to make one of our favorite snacks. Don’t let the name fool you; these are really meant for people. I’m not sure what the original recipe called them, but one of the kids saw a picture of a dog on the page and thought I was making dog treats. The name stuck. You can use any flavor of bagel you like that would be good with cinnamon and sugar; this is a good way to use up day-old quality bagels that might be a bit stale. While not necessary, I find using my electric knife is much easier and quicker for the cutting.


A little messy, but certainly finger-licking good!

Dog Treats

2 bagels 
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Toast the bagel halves. Using a bread (or serrated) knife, slice the bagel halves into small strips (1/4-1/2-inch-wide).
In a large bowl (or zip plastic bag), coat the bagel strips with the melted butter. 

Mix sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the bagel strips. Stir or shake to coat the bagel pieces. Serve immediately.