Saturday, June 28, 2014

Full Metal Jacks

My son asked for jacks for his birthday. And not those namby-pamby super-sized rubber jacks that will neither lodge themselves in a younger sibling's airway nor send mother into apoplectic fits when she steps on them after telling you to make sure that you pick up every last one of them. No, he wanted the good, old-fashioned metal ones that will likely cause some serious pain to at least one person in the house.

I don't blame him for asking because those giant rubber ones they sell most places nowadays really don't work very well. I tried them at my mother's house where he was first exposed to the game of jacks.

As you can see in the picture, he now has new jacks. I had to take a picture a couple of weeks ago when the children and my mother were on the kitchen floor playing. I loved jacks as a kid, probably because my mom played them with me on our kitchen floor. She still likes playing them; I'll bet she's one of very few in the 65+ age group who still is able to enjoys getting down on the floor and playing jacks. It really brought back the memories when I saw them playing together.

If you don't mind a bouncy ball knocking around your kitchen (or other room with hard floors), do your children a favor and buy some jacks for them. If you don't know how to play, learn. You've got the internet. I'm sure there's some video on YouTube or something. My son's came with instructions and variations. Have fun!

Monday, June 23, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column-- June 11, 2014

The New Generation of Zucchini Bread

The garden is mostly planted. The lettuce, spinach, and radishes have already found their way into our salad bowl. Tomatoes, onions, green peppers, jalapenos, and cilantro are all in the ground dreaming of the day we’ll turn them into salsa. Green beans, peas, pumpkin, cantaloupe, watermelon, carrot, popcorn, and parsnip seeds are tucked in for a little nap until their stems shoot out of their bed of dirt to greet the sun.
All of these I love, but the sprout I’ll be most tickled to see pop up will come from the hills where my son planted zucchini seeds. Yes, I know that in a month or so I’ll likely be buried up to my elbows in zucchini and that I’ll practically have to pay people to take it off my hands, but there is just something about that zucchini!
What is it? It’s not simply the taste, although I do find it yummy in several dishes. It’s not only that I’ve had more luck growing zucchini than my other garden vegetables. It’s not just that it joins “fettucini” and “tortellini” as the coolest words to say with a fake Italian accent.
No, the thing I like most about zucchini is that it grows like magic. It starts like any other seedling, pushing it’s way out of the hard dirt and unfurling a couple of leaves. Then it seems you go to bed, wake up the next morning, and when you walk out to the garden the next morning, “Poof!”  Suddenly each hill of dirt is covered by a huge bush bearing pretty yellow blossoms.
You stare in delighted disbelief and appreciation. When you blink to see if it’s all real, the blossoms are withered at the ends of small, elongated green squash. You blink again, and the zucchini is the size of a baseball bat. Simply amazing.
My eldest, the very son who planted our zucchini this year, is turning 10 this week. Ten years old. How did that happen? One day he was the biggest baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, crying lustily and pulling at whatever tubes doctors had attached to him. Then I blinked, and I had an ever-curious toddler pulling open every drawer and cupboard he could reach. Then, shame on me, I blinked again, and now I have a thoughtful boy, still curious, but more likely to be opening a book instead of a cabinet to find the answers.
Ten years ago I marveled at how he perfectly fit in Daddy’s arm, and now I bravely stand still as he measures himself against Momma to see if he’s taller than me yet. I try to soak in the beauty and magic of each age and stage, but I must admit that too many cute sayings and sweet gestures have escaped the grasp of my memory. The old, oft-used saying is so true; they really do grow up too fast.


Now’s the time to plan for what you’ll do with the bag of zucchini a co-worker leaves on your desk or a neighbor deposits on your porch. I’ll leave you with a recipe my almost 10-year-old made up all by himself. He doctored up a basic zucchini bread recipe with some almonds and cranberries, and I’m not just mommy-bragging when I say that this recipe deserves an award.

Cranberry Almond Zucchini Bread

3 eggs
1 cup oil or melted butter
2 cups sugar
2 cups zucchini, shredded
3 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 Tbsp. almond extract
1/2 cup almonds, chopped or slivered
1/2 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, chopped

Mix eggs, butter, and sugar. Add zucchini and mix well. Add flour, soda, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, almond extract, almonds, and cranberries. Pour into 2 greased loaf pans. Bake at 350℉ for about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes and remove from pans to cool completely. 

(The picture was not published in the newspaper.)

*I changed this post to link up to a Homestead Barn Hop (a first for me) at New Life on a Homestead. There are tons of clever people sharing helpful home types of tips. I'm also sharing at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth for the Art of Home-Making Mondays link-up; take a look!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

And Then There Were Fifteen

I'm sorry to announce that we lost one of the guinea keets last week. Okay, it wasn't actually lost, but my son found it dead, apparently drowned in its drinking water.

We also have one injured and/or deformed keet. We're making the extremely uneducated (other than what we found online) guess that it is spraddle-legged. We used a band-aid to keep the legs together a bit, and it seems to have helped the little one stay on his feet and not be overly trampled by the others. We're not terribly optimistic about his chances since one foot looks like its turned funny and he's, by far, the smallest of the flock.

All the little fluffy things are now less fluffy. Their wings are sprouting feathers already! You'd think I would've learned by the whole robin saga that birds grow up quickly.

Check out those new feathers!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Happy 151st Birthday!

During my school years, West Virginia's birthday (June 20, 1863) was drummed into my brain. Each year at church camp, we celebrated West Virginia Day by singing the state song. While only the first verse and chorus are committed to my memory, how the rest of the song resonates with me now that I'm grown and gone!

"The West Virginia Hills"

Oh, the West Virginia hills! How majestic and how grand,
With their summits bathed in glory, Like our Prince Immanuel's Land!
Is it any wonder then, That my heart with rapture thrills,
As I stand once more with loved ones On those West Virginia hills!

Oh, the hills, beautiful hills, How I love those West Virginia hills!
If o'er sea o'er land I roam, Still I'll think of happy home,*
And my friends among the West Virginia hills.

Oh, the West Virginia hills! Where my childhood hours were passed,
Where I often wandered lonely, And the future tried to cast;
Many are our visions bright, Which the future ne'er fulfills;
But how sunny were my daydreams On those West Virginia hills!

Oh, the West Virginia hills! How unchang'd they seem to stand,
With their summits pointed skyward To the Great Almighty's Land!
Many changes I can see, Which my heart with sadness fills;
But no changes can be noticed In those West Virginia hills.

Oh, the West Virginia hills! I must bid you now adieu.
In my home beyond the mountains I shall ever dream of you;
In the evening time of life, If my Father only wills,
I shall still behold the vision Of those West Virginia hills.

And I'll bet you thought this was West Virginia's state song!  Well, it wasn't until this year. Evidently, 3 official state songs just weren't enough. 

*I remember this line as, "If by sea or land I roam. . . ." However, every online resource I could find uses the above lyrics. If anybody out there can shed light on the contradiction, please let me know; I'd love to know exactly how crazy I'm going.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Peep, Peep

I’ve never been an animal person. I’m sure many who knew me before I was a mother might be surprised to know we have a dog, three cats, and several fish. 

Today our family entered an entirely different realm. We no longer have animals just as pets. A cardboard box with breathing holes showed up at our local post office with our name on it. Inside were 16 guinea keets.

They’re cute little boogers. I’ve been warned repeatedly that they’ll be really loud when they grow up some.* To be honest, I don’t care one bit. These little fluffy balls with legs and beaks are not pets; they’re specialized weapons in our war on ticks and Lyme Disease. So long as they cut down the tick population, they can wake me up at 5 a. m. every morning and be obnoxious all day long.

*Am I the only one that thinks this sounds a lot like children?

Monday, June 9, 2014

A Girl's Birthday

I've been quite lax about posting lately, but it's not because my blog inspiration well has run dry. Quite the opposite. Between two birthdays, a couple of family visits, Memorial Day fun, the dryer breaking twice, getting ready for guinea keets to be delivered this week, a high school reunion, a broken air conditioner, homeschool reviews and a few dozen other things, I think I have enough to blog about until Christmas. I'm not sure how many of these events will actually morph into posts, but there's one I don't want to miss.

My daughter's 5th birthday was a few weeks ago. We celebrated with both sets of grandparents and family friends. It wasn't much different than most of our other birthday celebrations. We keep them low-key-- a meal, a cake, presents, and shooing the kids outside to play if it's nice enough. I enjoyed the day immensely.

My favorite part came in the afternoon before the party. My daughter and I took a walk together around the yard to pick out pretty posies to put in a vase on the table. You see, my daughter loves, loves, loves flowers. As long as some weed flower is blooming outside, I am presented daily (at least) with surprise bouquets. So we walked around the yard and found beautiful and sweet birthday blossoms to arrange.

I don't really know much about arranging flowers, but we sure did have a lot of fun quality time trying to figure it out together.

Of course, the cake is an important part of a child's birthday party. The request this year was for a doll cake. I know I could have baked it in a bowl and wrapped one of her dolls in plastic and inserted it, but I splurged and bought the special cake pan with the doll pick. You know why? I always wanted a cake like that myself. And it seemed way easier.

Because my daughter's friend who was coming is sensitive to one of the red food dyes and because my daughter's order for a doll cake included a pink dress, I searched the internet for ways to naturally color cake frosting. I settled on strawberries for the pink, blueberries for the purple, and turmeric for the yellow.

 My first attempt at pink was way too light. I concentrated some more strawberry "dye" by boiling down some previously frozen and mashed up strawberries. I strained it a bit and cooled the syrupy juice. This made a darker shade of pink. I didn't have time to darken the blueberry dye, but I'll bet doing the same trick would work for that, too. The berry frosting had another plus--it tasted quite yummy. You might think the turmeric would taste off, but I didn't need to add much to get the yellow. The taste wasn't changed at all that I could notice.

There you have it: a completely amateur doll cake that I had fun making. Nobody complained about the taste, either. Most importantly, it was just what my daughter wanted. A happy birthday it truly was! 

Monday, June 2, 2014

_The Hancock News_ Column--May 21, 2014

Signs of Spring

Redbud blossoms, greening trees, lawns dotted with golden dandelions, and cars covered with the yellow-green haze of pollen. The signs are all around. Yes, you know what season has just arrived--yard sale season!
On yard sale day, I prefer waking up with the sun, sitting down with my mug of Earl Grey tea, and reading the classifieds, red pen in hand. It gives me a chance to wake up, figure out which yard sales I need to hit, and map out my route to optimize gas mileage--all before the little ones rise and need momma.
Of course, four of my six children are early birds, so this ideal scenario never, ever happens for me. Nowadays, by the time I change diapers, feed the baby, make breakfast, help find matching socks, change diapers again, brush teeth and get dressed, I sometimes don’t even make it out the door. 
When I do get my act together, I absolutely love the yard sale subculture. There’s just something about the thrill of the hunt and bargaining for a good deal. Where else can you find such a variety of merchandise for such a low price? A glittery Christmas tree topper, the missing piece to your china set, a plastic piggy bank, a brand-new-in-the-box-as-seen-on-tv gadget, vintage greeting cards, and a set of sturdy screwdrivers can all be found within mere feet of each other and each for less than three bucks. I challenge you to find a store that has such an eclectic mix for such low prices. I’ve easily saved hundred of dollars on clothes for the kids and books for school by buying at yard sales.
But it’s not just about the stuff. So many different people go salin’. There are professionals looking for antiques, thrifty folks searching for useful things, collectors scoring a big find-- all ages, all walks of life. You never know who you’ll bump elbows with at any given spread.
Even better than the people you meet are the stories they tell. Now, I don’t mean gossip, although there’s sometimes plenty of that common stuff floating around. What I mean are the stories they share about themselves. You see, yard sales are large-scale show-and-tell times. Both seller and buyer alike have a chance to reminisce over objects, things that remind them of other times, other places, and other people. All of the accumulated stuff is stuffed with memories, memories that spill out into stories. It doesn’t matter whether they are funny, bizarre, or sad stories; all the stories matter and hold meaning for somebody. 
So, by all means, take advantage of the great deals you will find on just about anything at yard sales. Allow yourself to feel good because you’re saving the environment by giving old things new life or because you’re helping raise money for a good cause at a benefit sale. Just don’t forget to take the time to connect with the people around you when you’re out on a Saturday (or Friday or Thursday) morning cruising the yard sale circuit. That, my friend, is where you will find the real treasure.

This recipe is a treasure of spring ingredients--spinach and fresh strawberries.  It’s healthy and so yummy that even reluctant Popeyes will go back for seconds. Just don’t skimp on the strawberries. 

Strawberry-Spinach Salad

1 package (6 ounces) fresh baby spinach, rinsed and well-drained
1 pint of fresh strawberries, sliced
10 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
1/4 cup chopped or thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup chopped walnuts (toasted, if you like)
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup raspberry vinegar (red or white wine vinegar will do)

In a salad bowl, toss together the spinach, strawberries, bacon, onion, and walnuts. In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sugar and vinegar. Serve with the salad. This makes enough for about 6 people.