Friday, May 22, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- May 20, 2015

An excitement, a special sort of energy is in the air on Christmas Eve. If you’ve ever been to a Christmas Eve candlelight service, you know what I mean. It’s a joy that threatens to spill over, a happiness that doesn’t want to be contained.

When I walked into our church the first Christmas Eve we lived here, the energy seemed even in excess of that normal Christmas cheer. Was it just my own excitement of celebrating the holiday for the first time in our new home with our first baby?

No, it only took one look around to see what that extra buzz was all about. Standing tall and proud in his dress uniform was a handsome Marine, smiling and greeting all who approached him.

It didn’t take long before somebody let me know that Steven was home on leave. I’d never met Steven before, but I had heard many church members speak of him with admiration. I could see why. It was obvious that he was sincere in his greetings of young and old alike. He warmly spoke with me, a stranger, when we were introduced.

I could tell Steven was proud to wear the uniform, and the people in our church were proud of his service to our country.

What was the first time I met Steven, all too soon became the last time I met him. In October of the following year, Steven Szwydek was killed in action.

A couple of years ago, I walked into church on a Sunday morning and experienced a feeling of deja vu. Standing tall and proud in his dress uniform was a handsome Marine, smiling and greeting all who approached him.

This time I knew that Marine. That first Christmas Eve here when Steven came home, Joel was not much older than my son is now. I’d seen him grow up. He’d held my babies when called upon to do so, and he’d corralled a few of my rambunctious kids on occasion. My preschool daughter even affectionately called him “my Marine.” 

I was proud of him, but I admit that I grew a bit teary-eyed for reasons other than pride only. I couldn’t help but make a comparison to that other fine Marine in my mind, and I didn’t even want to consider the real possibility of losing this loved one.

On Memorial Day we honor those who have died fighting for our country. I’ve been blessed to live my life reaping the benefits won for me by those individuals, like Steven, who’ve served and make the ultimate sacrifice. 

Even as we honor the fallen and respect the cost of freedom, we can recognize that those left behind continue to sacrifice much, too. We should support our troops who keep putting themselves in harm’s way, sacrificing their safety to preserve ours. And let us also remember those who still look across the table at empty chairs and place flags and flowers on graves with both pride and sadness in their hearts.


Memorial Day is often seen as the unofficial kick-off to summer. For many of us, that means a season of outdoor cooking at it’s finest.

This week’s recipe is one enjoyed by Joel, the Marine our family dearly loves (along with his Navy brother, of course!). I’ve been told he especially enjoys meat smoked with this rub, but the rub is tasty on just about any type of meat that you grill. I even use it in hamburgers and on roasts in the oven. Joel’s family calls it “Pastor’s Rub” because they were given the recipe by my husband, but you can call it whatever you want, just so long as you keep a jar of it standing at the ready in your spice cupboard for your summer barbecuing. 

Pastor’s Rub

1/4 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup brown sugar (dark or light)
1/4 cup paprika
3 Tbsp. ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. dried onion flakes or powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (less or more, to your preference)
1/2 tsp. celery seeds

Combine all ingredients together and store tightly closed in a jar. Double or triple the recipe to make enough to last for a while. 

The night before grilling, rub some of the mix into the meat, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready for the meat to cook. Or rub it on last minute; the results are still amazing.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book Confusion

I'm finally partially back into the swing of things. That means I've taken it into my head to give my unsolicited advice about a "kids'" book I recently read.

But I'm not really sure if it's a "kids'" book. It is shelved in the juvenile fiction section of our library. Now, I noticed that our library also has a young adult section across the room, and I've always assumed that this section is for books more appropriate for teenagers, somewhere in the 14-18-year-old range. But this book is about a 14-year-old and is about some pretty heavy stuff.

Wonder Show by Hannah Barnaby is about Portia, a young girl who is abandoned by her parents and later her aunt. She is handed over to the dubious and dark fellow who runs McGreavey's Home for Wayward Girls. Suffice it to say that it is a bad place run by a bad dude.

It's also a dark place where her friend commits suicide. And Mister has secrets.

Portia ends up running away and joining up with the freak show at the circus. Since she's a "normal," she ends up being abnormal. With a host of colorful characters joining in the narrative, Barnaby definitely kept my interest. However, along with colorful characters comes colorful language in a few places, language I definitely don't think is appropriate for the younger set. There's also a colorful allusion to the sex act between two former freak show performers.

As an adult, I enjoyed the read, but I wouldn't say this is a great work of literature. Barnaby's writing has some high points, mostly contained to the beauty of her language. She also painted some vivid characters.

I would say a weakness of the novel is a feel of not being certain that the author knew where she was going with the story. Maybe that was on purpose since Portia was wandering, too, but it didn't really work for me.

As a mother, I do not want my children to read this book until they are older teenagers because of the language, the rather lewd allusion to sex, and because of the general dark feel to the book, even if the book does end on a hopeful note. Unlike some books I think should wait until my children are older, I don't really see any reason they should be awaiting their 15th birthday just so they can run and check this one out at the library.

One thing this book has caused me to think about is the distinction between the label "juvenile" and "young adult" on novels. In fact, I hope to investigate how this labeling happens at our library. I would really like to see the "younger kids'" section at the library a little safer for younger kids to navigate. And there are probably a few other half-decent books that older teens might enjoy that are lost in the "little kids'" section.

So my overall recommendation is to avoid this one for the younger set, but, if you're not avoiding all bad language and hints of sex, then your (probably older than 14) child (probably girl) might enjoy this book.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


This week seems to be the week of critters around our house.

It all started on Mother's Day with the snake in the basement.

Then on Wednesday I'd planned for us to learn about spiders via a couple of books. But, of course, my son thought it would be helpful if he caught the spider hanging down in front of the laundry room door. And, you know what? It was helpful. As I read aloud, the children listened while taking turns observing the spider in the jar (which they later released outside). It was pretty cool, even if I'm not terribly fond of spiders.

Yesterday brought a trio of critters to our home. First, the same son who discovered the snake in our basement discovered another one outside our front door. It was even smaller, and I couldn't identify it. It looked as though the cats had possibly dragged it in because it was injured--almost cut in half. We removed it from the front porch area in case it happened to be a poisonous one.

After lunch, the same son found a lizard on the front porch sunning itself.

Little feller, ain't he?

Okay, so the picture shows him on the bricks of the house, but he was on the front porch. He just ran away from curious kids. After some research online, we guessed this one's an Eastern fence lizard. While I didn't plan this one, we learned a good bit about these lizards yesterday. I guess education just comes to us!

In case you're wondering, not all of the critters that showed up were of the creepy, crawly variety. Last night as it was getting dark, a third son came running inside hollering about a puppy being outside. I investigated, and, indeed, there was a dog outside. It was cute and had a collar, but I didn't recognize it as any of our neighbors' dogs. Unfortunately, it wouldn't come anywhere near me, so I couldn't check out the tags on the collar. I haven't ventured outside yet this morning, but if it's still here, we've got more investigating to do.

Of course, we had all of the normal critter stuff this week with our dog, the ninja cats, the fish, and the guineas. We've had quite a time trying to find guinea eggs this week. Folks, it really is better than any Easter egg hunt because they've been really hiding them--mostly in poison ivy! 

I wonder how often I've overlooked all of these critters around me. Growing up, my best friend knew everything about animals, it seemed. I assumed it was because her father taught her because he was an avid hunter and fisher and he worked for the forestry service. Really, I'll bet it was just because she was way more observant than I. I guess I'm making up for it now. Maybe old dogs can learn new tricks. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- May 6, 2015

In honor of Mother’s Day, I offer up what every mother really needs. No, it’s not flowers or lunch at a restaurant.

In fact, my gift to mothers is nothing like a normal, warm and fuzzy gift because it is frightening. It deals with creepy, crawly things that only wish to feast on the blood of you and your children.  When they’re finished, they are thoughtful enough to leave behind the gift of a sometimes-debilitating sickness.

My gift is a reminder that May means more than Mother’s Day; it is also Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and around these parts, if you’re not aware of Lyme Disease and it’s symptoms, you might be putting your family in harm’s way.

While I’m not a doctor, I am a mother who’s had to deal with Lyme Disease. The symptoms you may have heard about--the bull’s-eye rash and joint pain--aren’t always present. They may even show themselves differently than you expect.

When my oldest son was four-years-old, he started limping. This limp wasn’t the  kind of limp that kids pretend to have in order to receive attention, even if he only limped off and on throughout the day. We asked him where it hurt, and he insisted it didn’t. We took him to the doctor, and she suspected Lyme Disease. Antibiotics took care of that limp, his only symptom.

Five years later, the next in line destined for Lyme was my second son. Gradually we noticed several symptoms in late May and early June. At first we wrote off his headaches to spring allergies. Then he just didn’t feel like doing schoolwork which he was normally eager to do. He said his brain felt foggy. At the time I wondered if he just wanted to be outside playing in the nice weather. His legs started to ache, sometimes his shin and sometimes his ankle. Probably just growing pains, right?

I started worrying more when he lost his normally-hearty appetite. Then one day he had a rash on his cheeks; it looked like somebody had slapped him on the face and left part of a handprint. The following day he woke up with a different rash all over his body--large rings that reminded me of ringworm without the raised-up scaliness. Although there was no center to the rings, this was the classic bull’s-eye rash.

Only a few weeks later, my oldest began his second bout with Lyme. We were at a family wedding, and he didn’t feel like eating the cake. His head was hurting, and he just wanted to lie down. A few hours later, he vomited once. The next day he felt horrible. His stomach was mostly better, but he was so tired and he had a fever. Once in a while, he dragged himself off of the couch and felt well enough to play whiffle ball, but mostly he just wanted to rest.

At this point, my husband and I wondered when the rest of the children would come down with this flu-like sickness. We were returning home the next day, and we hurried so we could better deal with the sickness that all the children would surely have.

The thing is, nobody else came down with it. My son improved, but sometimes he was tired or had a little headache or just didn’t feel like eating. About a week later, his cheeks looked like they’d been slapped, and the next day he had that rash of rings all over his body.

Luckily in all three instances, we seemed to catch the disease easily enough that one long (4-6 weeks) course of antibiotics took care of the problem.

You know, never once did we see a deer tick that carries the disease attached to our children, but it wasn’t because we didn’t look. The larger ticks are thick near us, so we were checking for them. We’d never even seen a tiny one until the drive to that family wedding. Just as we left, my son discovered the speck of a tick crawling on his leg. He captured it in a napkin and gave it to me. It was so small that it would have fit on a pinhead with room left over. I had to look closely to see that it wasn’t just a speck of dirt.

We still do checks for ticks, and we’ve even taken on the care of a noisy flock of guinea fowl to reduce the tick population around our home. Prevention is important.

But please learn more about Lyme Disease and it’s symptoms. Ask your doctor. Look online. I’ve known many who’ve suffered irreparable damage because of advanced Lyme undiagnosed for too long--chronic aches and pains, facial paralysis, and even vision loss.

Sometimes your loved one won’t present any of the “classic” symptoms. Sometimes he or she might have symptoms that seem like another illness or symptoms that occur only briefly or come and go.

If you know about Lyme Disease, you can help your doctor figure it out because the sickness can be difficult for even the best doctor to diagnose. Even tests sometimes show false negatives.

Please, for Mother’s Day, give yourself the gift of awareness of Lyme Disease, its many, many symptoms, and how to reduce your chances of getting it. When your family makes you breakfast in bed to honor Mom, you can share what you’ve learned with them-- between bites of waffles and bacon, of course.

Hearts, butterflies, motorcycles, gingerbread men, etc.

In addition to checking for ticks on Mother’s Day, our family tradition is making cookies with Mommy. This year we’ll be making sugar cookies and frosting them because we missed that at Christmas. Instead of the Santas and stockings, I’ll break out the non-holiday cookie cutters I never have a chance to use.

This recipe for sugar cookies is from my own mother (I changed it a little), and they are delicious! While they pair nicely with whatever frosting you like, I enjoy them best plain with a glass of milk.

Mom’s Soft Sugar Cookies

3 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup soft butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup sour cream (Mom uses milk with a good bit of cider vinegar to equal 1/2 cup)

Sift flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Combine butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla and cream with a hand mixer for 2 minutes. Add sour cream and 1/2 of flour mixture and mix with hand mixer for 1 minute. Just stir in remaining flour by hand.

Refrigerate this and it rolls better. Roll 1/4 inch thick. Cut out in desired shapes and bake about 5-8 minutes on a greased cookie sheet. Watch them closely; they get done quickly!

Beautifully decorated

**Note: This is the original I sent to the editor, but due to space issues and the fact that this column is way longer than normal, a bit here and there was cut. The editor did a great job of keeping all the important stuff (to me) in the column.

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

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day Perfect

Television commercials and greeting card companies have us thinking that Mother's Day is a special day, a day when Mom is treated like a queen, a day for relaxation, a day when everything goes right, a day even when children put Mom first and put aside bickering and other difficult behaviors.

If you're a mother, please tell me I'm right in thinking that's a bunch of hogwash.

Instead of being awakened by breakfast in bed (which, by the way, I don't expect on a Sunday), I was greeted by my son whispering to me that he felt sick and his throat was sore. The baby sort of tossed and turned more than normal at night, and I wondered if he was feeling poorly, too. I decided to stay home from church with them.

Sick children and no church = not Mother's Day perfect.

Once the decision was made to stay home, I had hopes of making the frosting for the sugar cookies I planned to make with the children. You see, our Mother's Day tradition is not to go out to eat, but to stay home and make cookies with Mom because I love making cookies. Well, with lots of laundry and a fussy little one, the frosting wasn't made.

Not being on schedule = not Mother's Day perfect.

I decided to go ahead and pull leftovers out of the fridge for lunch so I'd have something ready when my husband got home. When another son came home from church, I asked him to run downstairs and bring up a quart of green beans to supplement the leftovers. He came back upstairs telling me there was a snake.

Well, I was skeptical. Our basement is pretty nice--not finished, but not a gross, stinky basement. I headed downstairs to check out the situation, and sure enough there was a real snake on a rug. It wasn't moving, so I figured it was dead. I ran upstairs and ordered everybody else to stay out of the basement until Daddy came home. I proceeded to take the phone to the bathroom, close the door, call Daddy at church, and launch into full-blown hysterics over the fact that there was a SNAKE in my basement and our children play there and how did it get there and please, please come home and get rid of it right away.

Go all whacky and hysterical and call my husband at his work on a Sunday = not Mother's Day perfect.

My husband came home went downstairs right away. My son showed him where it had been, but the snake was no longer there.  Search was temporarily abandoned to finish lunch preparations and to change out of church clothes.

Snake on the loose in my basement (no matter how tiny and non-venomous) = not Mother's Day perfect.

Seeing as how I still needed some green beans, I sent two brothers together (wearing shoes) to the basement to get them. Little sister followed along, promising to scream if she saw the snake. She made good on that promise. To shorten a long story, my son managed to get the snake back outside.

After lunch, only one of my children wanted to make the cookie dough with me because they'd been looking forward to watching a movie. I was okay with that because it is so hard to avoid fighting when 5 children want to add ingredients and stir. 

By the time I'd made the frosting to decorate the cookies, it was too late to cook the supper I had planned, and I was worn out.

Last minute meal-planning desperation = not Mother's Day perfect.

After supper, it was time to put the guineas in their enclosure, but when I checked for eggs there was only one instead of the six or seven we normally have. That meant we had to hunt for eggs because we  don't want a hen going broody and refusing to get in the safety of the coop at night. So a few children and I tramped around all over the place, but we only managed to find two more eggs. While this served to wear me out more, it was kind of fun.

But really worn-out Mom and cookies aren't done and it's almost bedtime for some = not Mother's Day perfect. 

I was feeling a little disappointed at this point because the frosting mess would have to carry over into tomorrow. I really had wanted to sit down to messy but delicious frosted sugar cookies and milk for bedtime snack, with my children's messy faces smiling back at me.

Instead, I used all the rest of my energy to be patient while taking turns helping each child roll out dough and cut out hearts and bicycles, cartoon characters and dinosaurs. We baked them, and the children sat down (one at a time and without me) and hurriedly gobbled down one unfrosted cookie with milk after bedtime. Daddy tucked them in while I finished cookies with the older siblings.

All but my littlest is in bed now, and looking back, I realize that "not Mother's Day perfect" couldn't have been more perfect. Sometimes all the Mother's Day hoopla makes us think that our normal crazy Mommy life isn't ideal, but all of the chaos is a huge part of motherhood. Mother's Day shouldn't be about sanitizing all the imperfections that go along with children, but instead should be a celebration of all that robust life and chaos and of the mother who wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

I'm Not Normally into This Sort of Thing, but. . .

Okay, May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month, and while I'm not really into all the awareness weeks and months and days and years and so on, I really do think that arming yourself with the knowledge of Lyme Disease is important. If caught early enough and treated, Lyme Disease doesn't have to turn into a chronic ordeal.

Last year I wrote about our experiences with the disease.  The post has pictures of the tell-tale rash.

This year I wrote a column for our local newspaper about our experiences with Lyme Disease. I'll post it later.

I've read several articles about Lyme Disease, or at least about celebrities who have it. And here. And here.  While I don't usually uplift celebrities because I think they're normally not good role models, I do think having Lyme in the spotlight is a good thing.

I don't want to beat you over the head with it, but please take time to read at least some of these stories. You never know how much it might help you.

One good online resource for Lyme Disease is

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Kentucky Derby Hats

My children love to watch the Kentucky Derby. I've said for so many years as we see all the fancy hats, "Gee, we should decorate hats to watch the race."

Well, this year, my oldest son remembered. He surprised me just before the race started by parading his sisters into the living room wearing these:

Do you notice these fancy creations are adorned by some gorgeous and locally-sourced guinea feathers? 

I didn't see a single hat at the Kentucky Derby that rivaled what my girls wore.