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.


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.