Tuesday, April 28, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- April 22, 2015

Not a red bud, but still a sign of spring!

On the first really nice day several weeks ago, the children were itching to be outside playing instead of being cooped up inside doing math problems, grammar, and phonics. I had a bad case of spring fever myself, so I took pity on them and sent them outside for some nature study. Their science assignment for the afternoon was to find signs of spring and report back to me.

They earned a passing grade that day, for sure. From the obvious shrinking piles of snow to the more difficult-to-notice swelling buds on trees and shrubs, the kids reported that spring was all over the place.

Their most exciting find, however, they refused to put into words. They dragged me outside to show me the first golden crocus blossom they’d found hiding under a blanket of leaves. After the cold, cold winter, it was a treasure to me, too.

Ever since that day, we’ve been on the lookout for more signs of spring. Our house practically buzzed with excitement when an entire flock of robins dotted the yard and field in front of our house.

Unfortunately, there is one sign of spring that is becoming annoying to me. My eyes used to search it out eagerly, but nowadays I sort of dread it. A few years ago we pointed out the beautiful redbuds to the children as we were driving. I challenged them to see if they could find some, too.

The words that followed can be ranked right up there with “Are we there yet?” as the sure-fire way to drive Mom and Dad crazy in a vehicle. Our children ended up being quite observant and began shouting out, “Redbud! Redbud! Redbud!” almost constantly since most of the drive was lined by the trees. It wasn’t a short drive, and even the little ones picked up the mantra.

Every spring since, they’ve needed no reminder, and until the purply blossoms are gone, as well as any other tree blossom that might be mistaken for one, my husband and I are driven to near-insanity by the redbud chorus anytime we go somewhere with the children.

I have always hoped that my children would grow up to be aware of their surroundings and to be observant of the goings-on around them. Now I find myself sometimes hoping that they might be a tad more ignorant or at least more selective in what they deem important enough to report back to me.


In honor of spring and Earth Day (but certainly not in honor of the beautiful redbud), I thought I’d share one of my “crunchy” recipes. This recipe for granola comes from my mother-in-law, and it is a fun one to make with children because, as long as you have the time to pay attention to it in the oven, it’s a tough one to mess up.

This granola is great with milk or as a topping for yogurt or ice cream. I also enjoy it by the handful as a snack occasionally. What I love the most about it is that it is so versatile; if I don’t have one ingredient on hand, I can simply substitute another that I do have. I’ve made it so many times, and I like using a mixture of whole wheat flour, milk powder, sesame seeds, and about a total of two cups of whatever nuts I have on hand for the non-oat part of it. Sometimes I don’t have enough of any of those things to make 6 cups, so I just add more oats to make up the difference. You can also easily tailor it to your family’s own personal tastes or dietary needs. It’s definitely a recipe you can play around with. Have fun!

One-Pan Granola

6 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
Total 6 cups any of these--  (soy flour, whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, sunflower or sesame seeds, dry milk powder, unsalted almonds, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, or pecans)
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 cup oil or 2 sticks butter
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup honey, molasses or maple syrup
1/2 cup water
2 cups dried fruit

Heat on low in a large roaster pan: oil or butter, honey, molasses, or maple syrup, water and vanilla. When mixture is warm and thinned, add dry ingredients for a total of 12 cups. Add salt and cinnamon. Stir well with wooden spoon. “Too many cooks are an asset, let everyone have a turn!”

Put mixture on cookie sheets. Bake at 250〫F for approximately 2 hours, stirring every 20 minutes. Watch carefully so it doesn’t get too dark and burn. Granola will become crispier as it cools. When cool, stir in 2 cups of mixed dried fruit (raisins, apricots, apples, dates, prunes). Store in an airtight container. Makes about 14 cups.

*This post has been shared at Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth for The Art of Home-Making Mondays.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

April Snow Showers Bring. . . ?

This morning when my husband was heading out the door with the dog, he alerted us to this:

Pretty phlox with snow falling

It was snowing! Yes, we had a few minutes of a snow shower on April 25. Here, in non-mountain Maryland.

None of the snow stuck to anything, and it didn't last long. It was pretty, though.

Monday, April 20, 2015

On the Lookout

Last week our guinea hens started laying eggs. It's been better than an Easter egg hunt. So far we've only found eggs in the coop and right outside of it. Of course, guineas are notorious for making nests in great hiding places, and while we've looked around quite a bit, we've not found a hidden stash.

We don't really know how many hens we have, but we started out finding 2 eggs a day. Now we're up to four or five.

In case you're curious, this is what they look like.

See the variation of pretty colors and patterns?

On the left, a guinea egg. On the right, a store-bought chicken egg.

When it was time to enjoy them for breakfast, my husband found what we'd read on the internet to be quite true-- the shells are really tough! He had to whack the eggs several times with a force that would make a chicken egg into a puddle of shell and slime. The taste, however, wasn't so different from a farm-fresh chicken egg.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- April 1, 2015

Life lessons can be learned wherever you are if you just take time to listen.

Last week I took my son to the library to participate in a Minecraft program. If, like me, you are clueless about Minecraft, basically it’s a video game that involves building things, or at least that’s how I understand it. It’s wildly popular, and my children are a bit obsessed with it even though they’ve only played it once.

For the two hours at the library, I had the opportunity to search for books, grade a pile of math papers, and marvel at Miss Ashley’s patience with a never-ending stream of highly repetitive questions from ten youngsters. The librarian answered questions at the rate of one about every 15 seconds while also redirecting less-than-desirable behavior. She never once snapped at a child. It was inspiring.

While listening to all the chatter, it occurred to me that some of the help she gave could be taken out of context and applied to life in general.

“Guys, let’s not set other people’s things on fire.” Inarguably, this is important for people in all walks of life. If only those people in Ferguson, Missouri, had a librarian teach them this important lesson!

I also heard, “Nobody can have the whole world to themselves, so we need to share the space.” This one my children understand; you can’t be in a large family and not learn that space is at a premium. Unfortunately, all you need to do is attempt driving in rush hour traffic to realize many people haven’t had a Miss Ashley in their lives to tell them about sharing the road.

Wisdom wasn’t entirely owned by the librarian, however, and the children came up with a few good ones, too.

My favorite life-saving exclamation came from a highly excited boy:  “Hide from the poison thrower!” While I’m not quite exactly sure how this applies to the real world, I’m certain this is sound advice.

Lastly, one pint-sized sage warned, “If you dig a hole too deep, you can’t get out.” How true that one is! I know I’ve done that before, and if it weren’t for the kindness and help of others, I’d likely be in a hole still.

Too often we adults bristle at the idea of accepting help from others. It hurts our pride when we can’t manage on our own, but, at one time or another, we’re all in that humbling position.

All of those children in the library that day were good role-models for us adults. They were smart enough to ask for help when they needed it and to be thankful when they received it. I hope I learn to be so gracious.


There are times in the kitchen when there are just no extra hands to help. Making a holiday meal all by yourself can be overwhelming. I’ve learned from smart folks to make as many things ahead of time as possible so the big day is less stressful and more enjoyable.

I bummed this recipe off of a friend who has helped me out of a hole more than once. It’s easy, and I plan on using it for a delicious make-ahead salad to free up my hands on Easter Day. There are variations on this that use thawed-out frozen vegetables instead of canned ones, so if that’s what you have on hand, feel free to substitute.

Marinated Vegetable Salad

1- 16 oz. can petite peas
1- 16 oz. can french green beans
3/4 cup chopped celery
1 small jar pimentos
1- 12 oz. can tiny shoepeg corn
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
1 cup green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup vinegar
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup salad oil (like canola)
3/4 cup sugar

Drain and mix together all vegetables in a bowl. Heat the marinade ingredients (vinegar, salt, pepper, oil, and sugar) to a boil. Let the dressing cool to room temperature and combine it with the vegetables. Cover the salad, and let it marinate in the refrigerator 24 hours (or overnight). This will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Foggy and (Guinea) Fowl

There was a morning last week that was sort of rainy. It tapered off to just foggy and misty.

Foggy and misty

Normally, we can only let out about half of the guinea fowl. Otherwise, the ones who are out of the enclosure wander off. Way off. Off of our property.

I was just certain on this foggy, misty morning that because of the dreariness of the day, I could let them all out, and they would stick around the coop.

I was wrong. Those birds wandered off. Way off. Off of our property.

This is where I found them pecking away at what I hope was nasty bugs, especially ticks. On this foggy, misty morning in this grove of trees, it was just so beautiful I had to take a picture.

Guineas in a grove of trees, pecking away

I shook my container of millet and called out, "Millet, millet!" That's how we attempt to lure them back to their home on our property.

"Hey, guys, we can get millet before bedtime! C'mon!"

So they slowly found their way back home where I promptly shut about half of them in their enclosure (half of 13 is a hard thing when working with live guinea fowl).

I pretended to be upset with them, but I was secretly happy because the morning was so beautiful. I wouldn't have had the chance to enjoy it so much if it weren't for those straying birds.

By the way, as I look at these pictures, I realize I didn't capture the beauty of the morning, the mist and fog and the moisture all gathered in the new, spring grass.  The air was so fresh and earthy, and it tickled my skin. I'm sorry; I wish you could have seen it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Eventually Easter

Easter didn't seem like Easter this year because we were all sick for at least a week. I didn't go to a single church service during Holy Week. Not even on Easter! It was a bummer.

We were even too sick to dye Easter eggs. There were no baskets of candy. Everybody was just too sick, so we decided to delay our home celebration of Easter--the baskets and eggs and dinner. 

Yesterday we were well enough to color the eggs.

This girl has patience!

My special egg resting on ratty old diaper rags.

It was a fun time, and today we will enjoy eating these eggs for breakfast. We'll find baskets with eggs and candy, and we'll eat our lamb feast. I'll not get back that missed Easter morning service, but at least we celebrate Easter at church for several weeks. Alleluia!

Monday, April 6, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- March 18, 2015

It used to be that my husband was able to make it to every single one of my prenatal appointments. Even after we had two children, we could handle them for the short appointment, and they liked being able to “help” the midwives measure Mommy’s belly and listen to the “choo-choo” of the baby’s heartbeat with the help of the doppler machine.

After our third baby was born, things changed. My husband and I were outnumbered. No longer could my husband come with me unless we had a babysitter to watch the children.

Instead, a new tradition gradually began. Each older child had a turn to go with me to an appointment. Somewhere along the way, this one-on-one time together turned into a “Mommy date.” 

Last Wednesday was to be the special day with my oldest daughter. She would be the first to hear our new baby’s heartbeat. After the appointment, we would spend a couple of hours together in the city. I had planned to take her to a cafe/bakery for lunch, and then we would walk a couple of blocks through the downtown area to a shop I had seen before that featured cute hair bows for little girls. It was going to be a fun girls’ day out.

Well, Wednesday didn’t go as planned. 

For starters, that sweet little baby swimming around inside of me simply wouldn’t stop moving around, so we didn’t hear a clear heartbeat. 

Then when we parked downtown, I stepped in dog poo on the sidewalk. The bakery had no pretty cupcakes as we’d hoped, and after walking the several blocks to find the little girls’ bow shop, we discovered it had closed and another shop was in its place. My daughter was more than a little disappointed.

Everything I had promised my daughter fell through. I’m not often able to spend such alone time with my children, and now I had failed at the whole Mommy date thing. I felt lousy.

But after the initial disappointments, my daughter bounced back. Although she didn’t like the soup and only ate the minimum of her BLT to have dessert, she had no problem filling her belly with a yummy brownie and chocolate shake. What a treat!

She also enjoyed browsing through the bead store instead of the bow store, and on our walk, I even found a large dirty pile of snow that was perfect for cleaning the mess off of my shoe.

In the end, my daughter was happy just spending time with me. It wasn’t the day I’d planned, but it was memorable and special just the same.


My children love spending time in the kitchen with me, and one of their favorite recipes to make is really not much of a recipe at all. Just as there’s more than one way to spend a perfect day with your child, there are tons of ways to make peanut butter balls. In fact, sometimes there’s even so little peanut butter in them that we call them “Not Peanut Butter Balls.”

While there’s not one perfect recipe for peanut butter balls, it does certainly help to have a food processor, especially if you decide to use some dried fruit or another ingredient that needs chopped to smithereens. However, for the basic recipe, you could stir it all together by hand.

Please note that this is one of those recipes you could use to sneak some healthy things like seeds, nuts, or dried fruits into your child’s diet. They might not eat something on it’s own, but pulverized in a processor and mixed up with peanut butter, they’ll have no clue!

Peanut Butter Balls

1 cup peanut butter (whatever kind you prefer--we use the natural kind)
1 cup honey (less if you don’t like things so sweet)
2 cups powdered milk

Mix all ingredients together in a food processor and roll into walnut-sized balls. If you can wait, chill them in the refrigerator. Otherwise, gobble them down right away with a glass of milk!

Variations:  We have used almond butter instead of peanut butter and dried fruits for most of the sweet stuff. Sometimes we don’t have powdered milk, and use oats or graham cracker crumbs instead. The key is to find a balance of flavors and texture. If you find that your mixture is too dry and crumbly, add something moist like more peanut butter, honey, or butter. If it is too oily or moist, add something dry like powdered milk, cornflakes, or whatever you have on hand. If it needs sweetness, add honey or even leftover frosting.

*This post has been shared at Strangers & Pilgrims on Earth for The Art of Home-Making Mondays.