Thursday, November 26, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column--November 25, 2015

My first teaching job was at Edgewood Middle School in Edgewood, Maryland. I was given a few pens, a pack of chalk, and not much else. I had no textbooks, and the desks in my classroom were too small for any of my 8th grade students who’d already hit their adolescent growth spurt. It wasn’t the worst school in the world, but let’s just say there wasn’t much to be thankful for.

That didn’t stop one of the more veteran teachers from being thankful anyway. Each year he gave photocopies of his gratitude list, several pages stapled together, to each staff member. It was the kind of list that was a gift in itself, thoughtful and sometimes funny.

I was encouraged and uplifted by his efforts. Occasionally all we need is a few reminders that life isn’t so bleak as the television news tries to make us believe.  On that note, I offer up my own gratitude list, circa 2015.

I’m thankful for a 3-year-old curly girl who loves “ska-betty” but would rather eat pancakes at every meal. For her big brother who loves being able to make pancakes all by himself.

I’m thankful for the son who can tie his own shoes now. For the shoes on his feet. For the girl who works at Stride-Rite because, for Pete’s sake, I still can’t figure out by myself how to pick shoes for my kids that fit. 

I’m thankful that despite some health hurdles this year, my parents are still alive and kicking. Mom’s still spoiling the grandkids, and Daddy still gives everybody a hard time, just for the fun of it. Also for my mother-in-law who is anything but the stereotypical mother-in-law.  Ditto for my father-in-law who’s been taking good care of her through two shoulder surgeries this year.

I’m grateful for the pumpkins and winter squash that grew in our garden because their colors and shapes are so pretty. And there’s my son’s first deer hunting success; thanks to him maybe more pumpkins will survive next year.

I’m thankful for my rambunctious toddler who doesn’t have Lyme Disease after all. I’m even thankful for those crazy guineas that run around eating ticks and hiding their eggs.

I’m more thankful for the young man who is kind enough to trek to our house morning and night to take care of those birds when we are away.

I’m thankful beyond words for the friends who came running at all hours to watch our children when our baby was born. And for a chubby, smiling baby girl who is nearly smothered by kisses every waking hour. And for the new van that carries all nine of us about, even if the toddler gets carsick all over it nowadays.

I’m thankful my daughter is excited to be learning to read. And that my sons could hardly believe there might be people out there who didn’t enjoy reading.

I’m super grateful for an editor who is nice about my ramblings and for generous readers who have shared recipes, fun educational materials for my children, and tips for combatting poison ivy.

I’m thankful for my best friend, my dear husband who feeds me Lorna Doone cookies when I’m in the hospital and spoils me whenever he can. He encourages me in all my endeavors and makes me feel beautiful even when the mirror tells a different story. 

But most of all I’m thankful to our Father, who provides all that I need to support this aging body and the life I am rather happy to be living.


Cranberries are one Thanksgiving Day staple I am thankful for. We usually stock up this time of year on big bags of cranberries and throw them in the freezer for future use in smoothies and muffins and such. I am aware, however, that many people won’t let cranberry sauce pass their lips. Maybe this version, smoothed out by sweet Jello, might change their minds.

Mom’s Cranberry Salad

2  packages (3 oz.) red jello
2 1/2 cups boiling water
1 can jellied cranberry sauce
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
finely chopped apples and walnuts or pecans (optional)

Dissolve jello in boiling water. Break up sauce with a fork and add to jello. Chill until very thick. Fold in apples and nuts. Chill.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Aged

It seems this year we've seen a lot of change. I didn't have a difficult time (emotionally) giving up the old broken washing machine. I didn't sniffle at all when we moved the carseats to the new van. But there was a bit of inner struggle when we packaged up this old thing.

Thanks for the memories. And cookies.

This was a gift to me from my grandmother, my Oma. Oma, who taught me how to use it and how to make bread and who knows what else. This trusty old mixer still works, but our family has outgrown it. I've packed it in its box to await a time when it may be needed again-- by myself or one of the next generation. 

It was replaced by a newer, larger model. It even has the whisk attachment (I broke my last one early on in our marriage).

Hello, new friend with the different shaped dough hook!

This sleek machine came as an early birthday present for me. For quite a while we'd been planning on getting it with our accumulated credit card points, but sneaky husband ordered it on the sly. I was surprised when the delivery man carried the box up our walkway.

I deliberated for a few days about what should be the first thing made with it, mostly because I didn't have a spare minute to bake anything. But then on Sunday I finally settled on what I've been wanting for four years to try to make; I had the pumpkin, I had the cream cheese--

Pumpkin Roll!

It turned out quite well despite all my fears.

Next up, a cake. I'd been saving this recipe for quite some time, too. I finally decided my "Lordy, Lordy" birthday would be just the right occasion. This, my friends, was worth the wait-- a pecan pie cake.

Yes, each layer is pecan-encrusted and brushed with a maple-molasses syrup. 

Somebody call the fire department, quick!

All 40 ablaze.

So the new mixer is doing a great job, and it'll be further tested tomorrow with dough for rolls and pecan bars for Thanksgiving Day. The old mixer is safely packed away. I'm just thankful nobody's decided to trade me in for a newer model.

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Heat Is On!

Temperatures have dropped, and this morning, we finally turned on the heat. I am satisfied, especially because we made it three days past the goal I made last year. . . and more than a week past last year's Heat Day. 

What's even better is that we didn't suffer trying to "hold out." While there were two mornings with a slight chill to the air, it was all good once the sun rose and we started moving around. We baked a few things and made bone broth all day once, but I think we would have been fine without it. 

But this morning when we got out of bed, we just knew it was time. The guinea water was frozen, we were all cold, and I don't think even baking all day while stewing something on top of the stove and drying 7 loads of clothes in the dryer would have heated things up enough. It was just time.

Bring on the Earl Grey!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Out of the mouths of babes. . .

Cute 3-year-old saying (upon seeing pasta on her plate):  "Ska-betty!  I love ska-betty!"

I am pretty sure I'll cry when she stops saying this.

Not-so-cute 3-year-old saying (upon trying to walk past me):  "Mom, your butt is really big!"

I am pretty sure I won't cry if she never says this again.

Bonus cool link:  Paper Cut-out Luther Rose-- I haven't tried it yet, but it's on the mental "someday" list.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Funnel Cakes

A few weeks ago, my husband saw a small bag of mix for funnel cakes and brought it home for a treat. On Saturday morning, while the children were enthralled by cartoons, we got to work with the messy deep-frying.  We surprised our children by having this ready on their plates when we called them to breakfast.

You can make them at home!
Yes, I know you should have a healthier start to the day, but really funnel cakes aren't very different from doughnuts. Besides, never mind the cheese and bacon, you do see that green spinach in those scrambled eggs, right?

This was meant to be a treat, one I'm not sure we've ever even indulged in at the fair for the kids. If we have, I'm certain they've never enjoyed a whole funnel cake all too themselves.

It was a treat the children were delighted to see, and they loved tearing into the powdery sweets.  And they were filling, too, I might add. I am not sure that any of them finished off an entire one. We had LOTS left over.

What was intended as a treat also served as a lesson. Funnel cakes really pick up lots of grease in the frying process, and our tummies were not appreciative. These fun fair foods aren't all that healthy (surprise, surprise!). Those of us old enough to express it felt icky and sluggish all day. Two of my children are swearing off funnel cakes for life.

Now, I still like funnel cakes, but I don't think I'll ever attempt to eat an entire one by myself again. I think the fun of funnel cakes exists just as much in the atmosphere of a fair or festival and in the sharing of it. Being able to walk it off afterwards probably helps, too.

Was it worth making them? Definitely. My husband and I had fun making them, and seeing the surprise on the kids' faces was satisfying. BUT a little bit goes a long, long way, and I'm not sure we'll ever make them again.

On a healthier note, tonight we had kale with kielbasa. While we've certainly cooked kale before, for some reason the kids gobbled it up tonight. Even my committed carnivore gobbled up the veggie, and he rarely eats veggies of any kind happily. Tonight he went back for seconds of not only the meat; in fact, he fished out a bit of meat and then loaded up on the kale. My husband and I were left with our jaws hanging down in amazement.

So. Even if you've tried cooking kale with bacon and your family hated it, try it with kielbasa. I just sliced up the kielbasa and some onion, fried it up a little in the bottom of a pot, and then loaded on the kale, adding more once it cooked down enough to make more room in the pot.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Update, with picture

So today is November 14, and no heat. While I'm silently celebrating (because the baby is napping), I'm still pushing for the 20th.

And here's a picture of my dear husband's request for a birthday cake last week:

Pumpkin cheese cake with maple pecan topping

It was yummy. The recipe is Paula Deen's. But I made up the idea for the topping all by myself. It takes some skill, but I'll bet you can do it. Put some maple syrup in a saucepan. Put in some cinnamon and toasted pecans. Heat it up a little bit. That's all there is to it.

Coming soon (or as soon as I get to it)-- The story of one family, consumed by the desire to consume funnel cake at a non-fair/festival setting (their home) and not for a snack but for breakfast. It's a heart-breaking tale, or maybe a heart-clogging tale. Whatever. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Picture-free update

Well, we've been busy. We've been sick. We've celebrated a birthday with yummy pumpkin cheesecake. This week we even finished lots of school early and spent the whole afternoon today learning to crochet chains and sew doll's pillows and make bead necklaces.

But we haven't turned the heat on yet. If you're keeping track (and I know you likely aren't), we've almost beat last year's record.  Tomorrow would tie it. Sunday would be great, but I'm still pushing for the 20th.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

_The Hancock News_ Column--November 4, 2015

I’ll be 40 this month, and already my memory is failing. Sometimes when my young children reminisce, their stories from the recent past only faintly ring a bell.

The last few weeks I’ve been trying to recall events and details from 30 years ago, a time that made a big impression on me.

It was 30 years ago this week that my hometown of Petersburg, West Virginia, experienced the Flood of ’85. The waters of the North Fork of the South Branch of the Potomac River (along with numerous creeks and streams) swelled with inches on inches of rain and changed lives--both those who lost almost everything and those who lost nothing.

I was one of the latter, a fourth grader, excited and a little scared. Thanks to the local radio station, WELD, we knew ahead of time that the waters were rising. I was big enough to realize that my own home was safe. Although we lived less than a half-mile from the river, we were on high ground.

I was more worried about the safety of my truck-driver Daddy and what would happen if he weren’t able to make it home like my Uncle Randall who was stranded at our house. The electricity flickered and failed, and I was relieved when my father finally pulled into the mud-puddled driveway around dark. 

Then there were six of us sitting in the darkness of our living room and listening to the rain pouring down and to the battery-powered radio that kept announcing when and where the river was cresting and how far above flood level.

I slept that night, but in my troubled sleep I dreamt about the waters rising around my bed. When I woke, I heard a new sound with the rain-- the sound of rushing water.

That next day, people ventured out, trading their battery-powered radios for the ones in their cars and trucks. They were greeted by a changed world. The river had completely swept away roads and bridges and buildings, covering everything with inches and feet of mud and debris. It eventually retreated to the new banks it’d carved out for itself.

I don’t remember exactly how long it took for life to return to normal. I don’t think we were out of electricity as long as we were without drinkable running water. It was quite a while until roads and bridges were rebuilt. Both grocery stores in town were hit hard, so we traveled 45 minutes away for food. A temporary post office was established. My school had been flooded, and I’m certain we missed more than a month of classes.

 Many businesses were closed permanently, and high water marks were visible on buildings for years.

At the time I thought I’d never forget any of it. Now much of that time period is blurry to me. Through conversations with friends and family, I’ve discovered some of the memories that remain are distorted or entirely wrong. It’s safe to say if my brain were a computer, I’d have more than just a few corrupt files.

But, you know what? I’m fine with that because in the course of my chitchats about the past, I noticed my loved ones came up with just as many blank screens and error messages, regardless of age.

I’ve been trying to do better with planning our meals because it saves so much time, money, and stress. One of my struggles in meal-planning, however, is remembering all the favorites, not just repeating the same 4 dishes over and over.

One meal that I usually remember and that nobody minds having frequently is Sloppy Tots (or Sloppy Taters). Basically it consists of tater tots (or roasted chunks of potato if I don’t have tater tots) topped with sloppy joe meat and shredded cheddar cheese. I know that around these parts sloppy joes are called steamers, but for kids, “Sloppy Tots” sounds more fun than “Steamer Tots.”
Sloppy Tots

Tater tots (or oven-roasted potatoes)
Shredded cheddar cheese
Mild banana pepper rings

2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 cup minced onion
1/2 cup chopped green pepper
1 lb. ground beef
6 Tbsp. ketchup
1 tsp. chili powder
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Prepare tater tots according to package directions. If you don’t have tater tots, wash and cut potatoes into bite-sized pieces, coat with olive oil, sprinkle with a little seasoning salt, and bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 400ºF oven, flipping twice with a metal spatula, for about 30-45 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. I make sure to poke them with a fork to test for doneness.

While potatoes are roasting, saute onions and peppers in a skillet with butter until translucent. Add beef and brown. Drain off the fat. Add the ketchup, chili powder and brown sugar, stir, and cook uncovered until heated through.

To serve, top each serving of tater tots (or taters) with a helping of meat. The shredded cheddar goes on top, and garnish with the banana pepper rings, if desired.  (Note: Use this recipe for tasty sloppy joes/steamers.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Something new, something old

This week we said hello to the new. New carpet, that is. It looks nice with the new paint from a week or so ago.

The color is Warmed Cider. It looks nice with the Pumpkin Pie Spice in the hallway.

Of course, the whole room and closet was torn apart.  We made some hard choices before returning things to the closet. Surprisingly, what follows was not a difficult choice for me.

Mushy pillow was made by my Oma for me when I was about 3 or so. I think. It's hard for me to remember. It was my security thing. No blanket. Just a plain pillow.

Mushy pillow didn't start out that way. It was a normal home-made pillow. After lots of huggin' and squeezin' and cryin', it became Mushy. I slept with it until I got married. And maybe after for a bit.

At some point after we moved here, I was able to put Mushy up on the top shelf of my closet, but only because whenever it was moved it left a trail of pillow dust. I just wasn't ready to give it up.

Yesterday I was. I tossed it into the trash without a blink of the eye. No tears.

Lucky for you, I did take pictures.  Over the years, I had to add more pillow cases so that Mushy didn't leak out everywhere. So, here is Mushy, unwrapped.

Layer 1:  A yellow t-shirt pillowcase, circa 1999-ish

Layer 2:  Striped pillowcase from extra-long twin set bought for college, circa 1994. If you look closely, you might notice some of Mushy's dusty yellow innards leaking out.

Layer 3:  Some plain white thing I don't remember, circa ?

Layer 4:  Sesame Street pillowcase from my earliest childhood memories, completely faded and threadbare.

Layer 5:  A wicked-cool crazy green case that went with the sheets on my older sisters' beds when I was little.

The core: Here it is, bare-naked Mushy with some innards dusting the front walkway.

A closer look:  Notice the pretty fabric Oma picked out for me.

The fabric on Mushy said, "There's a rainbow in every raindrop."  Funny, but that is pretty much how I look at life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Things have been a blur, but I wanted to capture a few things for my blog.  I've finally written a few blog posts to catch up, but there were some leftovers I didn't want to forget.

Fairy house

My daughter has spent a good amount of time arranging sticks and rocks and flowers and such on the back porch to make a fairy house. She was inspired by a library book.

Truly dead now

The children had a blast tearing apart the old washing machine and learned that washing machines might just have a little water left in them.

Rough, but good

We've been wanting to start butchering. My aunt and uncle kindly passed along my grandfather's butchering kettle, but we needed a second for what we want to do. My husband found these two this fall at an auction for a good price. The last things we need now are stands for the kettles. 

Muddy Creek Falls @ Swallow Falls State Park

Last Sunday we had an interesting trip to Garrett County. By interesting I mean that we were able to see these pretty falls AND clean up vomit four times since our 2-year-old recently took up the fun hobby of "motion sickness."


I am not a sci-fi fan, but my husband has passed on his love of the genre (in general) and of Dr. Who (specifically) to the children. Here, one son payed homage to the Doctor on our school's white board.