Friday, July 31, 2015

The Hancock News Column-- July 29, 2015

Before a baby is born, other than forming a baby bump on Mom, it’s nearly invisible. When somebody lays a hand on that belly bump, we say we can feel the baby kick, but honestly, we don’t know if what we feel is a kick, a punch or maybe even a hiccup. Likewise, when we glimpse images on an ultrasound screen, if we’re truthful, we usually can’t actually distinguish a nose from an elbow unless it’s pointed out to us.

Once that baby’s born, however, it goes from being invisible to being the center of the world. Baby cries, and Mom or Dad or both jump to attention. We call this cute wriggling bundle a baby, but really he is the boss.

The boss of my life for almost two years will soon be replaced. No, I’m not trading him in for a newer model, but a new baby will be taking his place as The Baby of the family. Sure, he’ll always be my baby, just as all of my children are still my babies, but in less than two months, he will no longer own the title of The Baby.

I was The Baby for the first ten years of my life, and when my nephew arrived to dethrone me, it was a tough adjustment. Maybe that’s why I feel guilt each time a new baby is about to be born, a certain empathy for the new big brother or sister.

As these last few weeks fill with preparations for the new baby, I find myself cherishing those last moments with the old model of The Baby. So, my Baby, here’s to you.


The Baby among wild blueberries

I love how you kiss Mommy and Daddy, wave bye-bye, toddle over to your toy car, and ride away across the living room.

I love how you talk on the "phone"–your chubby bare foot held up to your ear.

Although I must take it away, I admit I think it’s so cute when you run as fast as you can to grab the remote control whenever Daddy leaves it within your reach.

I love it when you have entire conversations with me, imitating grown-up gestures and inflections– all without saying a single intelligible word.

I look forward to each new word, but I love it when you say, "I, I!" instead of "Me, me!" If I need help unloading the dryer or the dishwasher, I can always count on you to say, "I, I!" Thank you for your willingness to help.

You exasperate me when you tell me you need a diaper change by bringing me a new diaper but then run away so I have to chase you to change it. And when you escape outdoors whenever somebody forgets to lock the door. And when you drink bath water until you burp. Or toilet water.

Your cute curls melt my heart.

But by far, what I cherish most about you right now is when your little baby hands pull me from the recliner to my feet and drag me into the bedroom when you’re ready for bed. Then you place those sweet hands on my cheeks, give me a kiss, and hug my neck so tight, as if you never want to let go.

And I wrap my arms around you and hold on tighter because you are so tangible and sweet and because for now, for just a few weeks more, you are still The Baby, and it’s so hard to let The Baby go.


Currently, The Baby loves his vegetables. He polishes off mountains of green beans, cucumbers, or cherry tomatoes whenever possible. We’re fortunate in that since right now we have mountains of fresh vegetables available– especially green beans.

While the baby likes to eat the green beans raw while we’re snapping them in the evening (or drop them on the floor for the dog to eat), he devours them by the plateful when I cook them like this. Once again, feel free to make this recipe your own. Add a few crushed red peppers if you like things spicy. Throw in a chopped up zucchini or yellow squash if you have one withering away on the counter. I’ve even added a few slices of fresh lemon to brighten things up– just discard the lemon before serving. Dill weed is a favorite of mine, especially the fresh stuff that keeps re-seeding itself in our garden.

Fresh and Tasty Green Beans

1 pound (give or take) fresh green beans, snapped
1 onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsp. fat (butter, olive oil, or tastier bacon grease)
1 cup chicken broth (you can substitute water in a pinch)
1 tsp. salt (or less)
pepper, to taste

In a large skillet or Dutch oven, saute the onion in the fat for about 2 minutes. Throw in the garlic and cook for a minute. Add the green beans and cook for about a minute, until they turn bright green. Next add the chicken broth, salt, and pepper, give it a stir, turn the heat to low, and cover it with a lid, cooking for about 20-25 minutes until beans are tender. Uncover beans partially for the last few minutes of cooking time to let some of the liquid evaporate.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Two Library Books, Recommended

Last year on one of my book blogs I post a review of The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham.  Since my son and I read it last year, we've been waiting for the follow up. Here it is:

Book, recommended.
We were not disappointed. Rye's adventures continue and kept my interest. Not only that, but I was struck by the author's portrayal of family. In many books for younger people, the adults and parents, in particular, are a bunch of dummies the smarter kids barely tolerate. Not so with this book. Mr. Durham's characters respect their elders even if they don't always obey them entirely. I appreciate the characters' family values.

While Rye (the main character) does experience some confusion over which characters are good and evil, unlike many books for kids I've read recently, there is no question that good is good and bad is bad. I've become annoyed by kids' books that blur the distinction between the two, books that leave even me wondering.

This book's ending is satisfactory even while leading up to a sequel. Mr. Durham, we're looking forward, once again, to the next installment.

Now, for my children's favorite picture book so far this summer. . . ummm... well, it appears their favorite picture book has no pictures. What do you call a book like that?

The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak was a favorite read over and over and over and received by many giggles. Even after we've returned it to the library, the children are reciting parts of it and laughing.* Basically, the book "forces" the grown-up reading it to say some pretty silly things that make kids laugh. Hey, it's silly, but it is cute and funny.

Definitely I recommend it. Check it out from your library.

*It reminds me of another favorite from the library because most of my kids memorized a large chunk of it-- Gruffalo Crumble.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column-- July 15, 2015

When my mother was in third grade, she and her younger sister thought they might like a little bit of extra attention. Remembering that sick and injured children are fussed over and sometimes even get soda pop, they hatched their not-so-brilliant plan.

My mother and her sister decided to rub the leaves of poison ivy all over themselves.

Be able to identify this. . . just don't get too personal.

Now, if you’re reading this, you are intelligent enough to know this scheme of theirs has no good ending. For whatever reason, the poison ivy didn’t effect my aunt, but my mother learned a lesson she’d never forget.

Sure enough, my mother broke out in a rash all over. It was so bad her eyes swelled almost completely shut. She remembers going to the doctor and having to take some small white pills. She remembers how itchy it was and how horrible she looked. And she remembers having to go to school where a shy girl like herself would most certainly be the center of the kind of attention she didn’t want.

What my mother does not remember is getting a treat from her parents, certainly no soda pop.

More than sixty years later, I found myself scolding my sons for walking through poison ivy.

“Aw, Mom, why are you so scared of a little plant like poison ivy?” one of them complained. After this past week, I don’t think any of my older children will soon forget their mother’s healthy respect for this common weed.

It all started when I pointed out to my husband a small poison ivy plant growing in our garden right next to an impressive sunflower. He made quick use of a shovel to eliminate the dangerous plant.

But I couldn’t stop there. At the time, I had a fleeting thought that the weeds growing next to the poison might have on them some of the itch-causing oils from their dearly departed neighbor, but I dismissed it. Hadn’t I ignored my own sound advice and waded through poison ivy in my muck boots earlier in the summer while hunting guinea eggs? If I had no problems with that, surely I’d be okay this time.

So I bent over and weeded to my heart’s content. When I straightened up, and I remember this all in slow-motion, I pushed up my glasses and wiped my forehead.

Quick as that, the deed was done.

Two days later the dreaded rash appeared on my face, and by that Sunday, it was bad enough that I had some explaining to do at church. By Tuesday, my eyes were swelling shut.

My older children looked at me with a mix of revulsion and pity, and the younger two just pointed and giggled. After I dabbed on calamine, my face was a grotesque splotchy pink mask that the toddler ran from. The calamine didn’t help much, and the Benadryl only took the edge off the itch.

By Wednesday when my husband took me to the doctor, I didn’t even want to look in the mirror let alone be looked at by strangers in the waiting room, but I was desperate for some relief.

There was to be no relief. I was told that no doctor would prescribe steroids for me because of my pregnancy and that I could expect the whole ordeal to last for three weeks.

So, my friends, that’s where I am now, in a miserable state of trying not to scratch. I wake up at night like clockwork with severe itching when it’s time for another dose of the only medicine I have the green light to take. I’ve tried about every topical treatment and home remedy out there to no avail. While my face is no longer swelling, the rash has migrated everywhere else, and no amount of attention or special treats (not even soda pop) will make me feel any better until the itching goes away for good.

One treat I’ve been craving lately is brownies. I am a lover of chocolate, but I have no cocoa powder in the pantry right now. Instead I think I’m going to beg my husband to bake up a batch of his brownies that use a chocolate substitute-- carob.

Not many people keep carob powder on hand, but if you’re sensitive to chocolate or just want to try something new, it makes a satisfying alternative to hot cocoa as well as these yummy brownies.

Honey Carob Brownies

1 1/3 cups honey
1 cup oil
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
1 cup carob powder
1 cup nuts, chopped
2 cups whole wheat flour

Blend all ingredients in order given. Turn dough into buttered 9 x 12 inch pan. Bake 25-30 minutes at 350℉. Do not over bake. When brownies come from oven, cover immediately with foil to drive the moisture in. Allow brownies to cool before eating.

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Out With the Old, In With the New

Way back  at the end of June, our washing machine started making funny noises. I called up our friendly appliance repair guy (my uncle who lives across the country) who diagnosed it with a transmission going out. That's an expensive repair to make on a machine that's 14 years old and seen way more use than your average washing machine.

Good-bye, trusty old Whirlpool!

We ended up deciding to buy a Speed Queen for a replacement. Unfortunately, Speed Queen orders are significantly backed up because their demand outweighs the factory output. Our local dealer was out of stock, so we had to wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Around three weeks and several (expensive!) laundromat visits later, our new machine arrived. Yesterday we welcomed into our home this beauty.

Welcome home, Speed Queen. Live long and prosper.

So far, after three loads of clothes, we're satisfied. Ask me in 10 years for an update.

Friday, July 10, 2015

_The Hancock New_ Column--July 1, 2014

Embrace the Ordinary

I love books. If I had a day free from work and responsibility, I would stay in bed and soak up a good book or two.

My husband’s a reader, too, although our taste in books is nearly opposite. We have three avid reader sons, and a daughter who can sound out many words but who would likely give up a small body part to be able to read independently. Additionally, the preschooler falls asleep covered in books, and the toddler sometimes sits still long enough to listen to books. Otherwise, he just teethes on them.

With more books than will fit on our dozen plus bookshelves, it’s an understatement to say that we’re book lovers.

The library, not surprisingly, is my favorite place in town. My children love the story times and other programs. And summertime brings the Summer Reading Club. Our entire family has participated for several years, and it’s fun to win some prizes for doing something we enjoy anyway.

This summer the theme of the reading club is focused on superheroes, and that’s a favorite of my children. From cartoons to movies to video games, kids and adults love superheroes. When life seems overwhelming, it’s comforting to imagine a strong cape-wearing superhuman swooping down and saving you from any trouble.

What’s more, I think many of us would like to be that superhero. Even if we wouldn’t like to wear a tight outfit, feeling special and needed and admired holds appeal.

The adult reading club’s slogan for the summer is “Escape the Ordinary.” For me, that’s what reading is-- an escape from the everyday hum-drum. Reading is a ticket to anywhere and anytime.

But for real life and real happiness, I’m not sure escaping the ordinary should be the goal. When I focus too much on the fantastic dreams in my head or the imaginings of another, be it through books, television, or movies, I miss out on the simple beauty and joys of plain, old everyday life.

Sure, maybe I don’t have a dark and mysterious masked superhero speeding to my rescue, but I do have an ordinary husband who can (and does) provide for our family, fix all sorts of broken things, wash dishes, and change stinky diapers. Maybe our family can’t take a tour of Disney World on our way to our own private tropical island, but we can have fun visiting friends and family and dipping our feet and splashing in Berkeley Springs. And likely we won’t make it to a big fireworks display, but, weather-permitting, we’ll be smelling the smoke of the grill while watching the kids chase lightning bugs to the background music of the endless song of all the critters of summer.

Instead of escaping the ordinary, I challenge you to embrace the beauty of the ordinary.  Don’t bemoan what’s missing because the real-life extraordinary is usually hiding in plain sight. Sometimes happiness is disguised as boring. Attaining contentment in your surroundings and in your own special gifts and talents-- that is a real superpower we all can possess.


My eldest, kneading his first batch of Oma's bread

One of the most ordinary foods is bread. It’s plain and simple, but warm out of the oven and spread with butter, I can’t think of a single food more extraordinary.

This recipe for bread is basic. It’s from my Oma, my father’s mother, and she taught it to me when I was 10 years old.     If you’ve never made homemade bread before, trust me, it’s not as hard as you think; even a kid can do it.

Really, I’ve learned over the years that there are so many variations of bread that barring burning it or leaving out salt, it’s hard to really ruin it. Even in those circumstances, burnt crust can be cut off and tasteless bread can be made into crumbs or bread pudding.

So if you want to do something that seems heroic this summer, bake some bread or teach a child to make it. It’s basic and it’s rewarding.


1 package yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
2 1/4 cups warm (not hot!) water
2 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. shortening (or bacon grease, butter, olive oil, etc.)
6 1/2 cups flour

Soften yeast in water. Add salt, sugar and shortening. Mix in 2 c. flour thoroughly. Add and mix in well 2 more c. flour. Then add remaining 2 c. flour. Mix as well as possible.

Put 1/2 cup flour on board or counter. Empty dough on it and knead until lump of dough is as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Place in greased bowl, cover, put in a warm place. Let rise until doubled in bulk. Punch down. Let rise again. Punch down again. Let rise 1/2 hour.

Form dough into 2 loaves. Place into greased pans. Grease tops of loaves. Let rise again until doubled. Bake at 400℉ for 30 minutes. Turn out of pan and cool on wire racks.

Note: I’ve only changed the directions of this recipe slightly for clarity. If kneading is too hard for you, a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook will work just fine.

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

We'll start with the good. Yummy things growing are always good.

First zucchini of the year

We ate this yummy morsel with our morning eggs today. It was bigger because these pictures are two days old.

Bountiful blackberries

A few of these tasty treats have ripened already and have found their way into the bellies of garden workers who needed a little snack.


Early raspberries

Our raspberries throw out a few teasers before their season begins in earnest, usually in August. Raspberries are my favorite. I also like the willing helper holding the berries; she loves working with growing things. I predict her thumb will turn green any day now.

Now for the bad.

Do you see those mating Japanese beetles through the lacy grape leaf? Yep. They're responsible for that foliage destruction, I fear.

Stupid bugs

It's not all bad, though, because this year our grapevine is actually putting on and keeping some grapes. Could this be the first year we might harvest a grape or two despite those beetles?

I fear the unknown, and right now I don't know what's causing those grapes to turn yucky-looking. I'm so new to this grape thing.

The grapes look like they're rotting.

 And now for the ugly. And let me warn you, it is ugly.

Poison ivy, vile stuff!

While this plant by itself isn't visually repulsive, my face is. There was some poison ivy growing in the garden, and my husband dug it out with a shovel. I made the mistake of pulling the weeds that were next to it. And then wiping my face. And a few other places.

I won't post a picture of my face, but let's just say that the kids are staring with pity and horror, and the toddler just stares and points. When I have a fresh coat of calamine, he won't let me near him. On Sunday and Monday I was merely disfigured and grotesque. Today I awoke to one eye swollen shut. Later in the day it opened up partially, but I'm not sure I look any better.

So I am miserable, but at least I found out I can take benadryl in the third trimester. It takes the edge off. A little bit.

For a bonus ugly picture, scroll down.

That's my compression-stockinged foot in a sock that's coming off in my hot pink Crocs.

If that's not ugly, I don't know what is! Except for my face. That's really, really ugly. Trust me.

But if you don't trust me, shoot me an email, and I'll reply with the picture.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Change of Plans

Our motto for this summer could be, "There's been a change of plans." In fact, I'm about to the point where I don't want to make plans at all. Lists, yes. Plans, no.

We hadn't seen my parents in quite some time. Because my mother still isn't up to traveling after her bout of pneumonia, my father decided to come up for himself for a quick visit yesterday. He came bearing belated birthday gifts and a treat from Grammy--that chocolatey sweet Chex mix stuff.

His pick-up truck came bearing a load of mulch for our flower beds. My husband and the boys worked hard spreading it all out while the girls and I took a trip to the laundromat. (Washer's broken. . . something that certainly wasn't in the plans.)  Anyway, it certainly looks nice to have fresh mulch down.

My not-perfect, but certainly improved front flower bed.

My pretty sparkly rock and new mulch. (Unfortunately you can't see the sparkles because I'm not a great photographer.) 

The plan was that after lunch my husband and father would get a pick-up load of straw for our garden to keep down the weeds and hold in the moisture. While we've been doing pretty well on the moisture front so far this summer, the weeds are out-of-control, in part because we've been getting so much rain.

Change of plans. Once Dad stopped his pick-up, it just wouldn't start up again. After a few calls, this showed up in our driveway.

Catchy slogan.

Halfway there.

On it's way to the repair shop.

My girls cried for Poppa's truck. My boys were worried Poppa would wreck our car that we loaned him until his truck was fixed. But it's all good. The truck should be fixed sometime next week, and that means we get to see Poppa again soon. And that's one instance of a change of plans being good!