March 2014: The Children Are Tender

Caregiving, teaching little kids to read, and riding in the pickup with Farmer John; I tweet, pin, and blog, from my home in rural Kansas. If you've landed here looking for information about my books, visit my author's page by clicking this link: A. Born. Thanks for visiting!

Friday, August 11, 2017

August and the Tomatoes Are Ripe!

I have loved August thus far, and that's an unusual status quo for me.  I have a standing grudge against humidity (frizzy hair, dontcha know), and as I've grown older I've turned into one of those people who say, "I just can't take hot weather anymore."  But this August has been gloriously cool, with regular rains.  Morning lows have been in the 60's.  This is amazing.  I've never known an August like it.
On a walk with my grandsons on a late afternoon in early August--and it wasn't too warm!  

It's been cool enough to sit outdoors in my new happy place. The chair is from a set of porch furniture my parents bought in the 1950's.  It was originally painted green, but in later years my dad stripped the green paint to find lovely maple underneath.  Outfitted in three cushions from The Dollar Store, I joked that the chair looked like the wardrobe from Beauty and the Beast: a bit overstuffed. But it feels heavenly. My chairside table is my Grandpa's anvil from his blacksmith's shop.  Wonder how he would feel about me using it to hold my iced tea cup??

Our tomato plants are producing and I've tried my hand at homemade ketchup.   I'll share the recipe for the batch I made this afternoon; it was so savory and delicious that  I had to restrain myself from eating it like soup! Here is the recipe as I wrote it for my grown-up children: 

Homemade Ketchup

...not quite like Grandma Opal’s but pretty good nonetheless...I used The Pioneer Woman’s ingredient list but with fresh rather than canned tomatoes and proportionately more sugar.  And to tell the truth, I’m pretty sure Grandma used more sugar yet.  And probably more vinegar too.  And she probably had never heard of Worcestershire sauce.... 

·      14 cups tomato juice from about 10 lbs. ripe tomatoes. 
o   Blanch ‘em, peel, core and quarter them, and put the juice through a wire sieve to get rid of the seeds.  It’ll take a little bit--stir it around, moosh it down  with the back of a spoon...fill the sieve and go have a cup of coffee.  Or...use one of those tomato squishers. I do not get along with the one Dad uses.  He evidently doesn’t mind the fine spray of juice that splatters clothing, floor, and countertops. Maybe it is because I wear glasses and flip-flops, but I mind.  And the squisher has a lot of moving parts that have to be dissembled and cleaned.
·      2 medium onions, chopped fine
·      4-5 cloves garlic, minced
·      ¼ cup olive oil
·      1 can tomato paste
·      1 cup brown sugar, packed
·      1 cup white sugar
·      ¼ cup molasses (if you spray the measuring cup with cooking spray, the molasses will slide right out)
·      ½ c. apple cider vinegar
·      1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
·      1 Tbsp. salt
·      1 teaspoon chili powder
·      1 teaspoon ground ginger
·      1 teaspoon allspice
·      l/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1.      Boil the tomato juice for about 20 minutes or so until it has reduced by I have no idea how much. Just cook it down some.  Stir it once in awhile.    
2.     Meantime, saute the chopped onion in the oil over low/medium heat until the onion is translucent.
3.     Add the minced garlic to the onion during the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking time
4.     Add the onion mixture and all remaining ingredients to the simmering tomato juice and stir well. 
5.     Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring often.  It will begin to thicken up a bit. 
6.     Use an immersion blender to smooth it out. (Don’t use your countertop blender.  Trust me on this.)

I freeze this in quart bags, 2 cups to a bag.  It is deeee—licious. Add more brown sugar and use it for a meatloaf topping and you’ll become famous.  Put some in the meatloaf too.  

Yields about 5 pints

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

July So Far

It's interesting to me how wildflowers vary from year to year. This year some of our road ditches are lined with what appear to be thick plantings of Queen Anne's Lace, and these Brown-Eyed Susans are everywhere. This photo and the one below were taken just west of our house.  

Doesn't it look as though a professional landscaper carefully planned these plantings?
We have an ancient red leaf plumb tree in our yard that has perhaps cross-pollinated with the wild plums that grow in thickets along the roadsides. The fruit from our tree has become nearly inedible over the years because it is so sour--but it makes pretty, pleasantly tart jelly.

I often wonder whether other families make such an occasion of birthdays as we do.
Around here birthdays call for a special dinner, decorations, gifts, and of course a cake! This year we have several celebrations planned as four family members will celebrate milestone birthdays--our son will turn 30, our son-in-law will be 40, and the handsome gentlemen below have just turned 50 and 65 respectively.   

Singing "Happy Birthday" to these two was easy since they share the same name, "John!"  Don't you like Farmer John's very appropriate tee-shirt caption?  I gave him a mug that states "It's a crime to look this good at 65!"  And it is.  Makes my normal aging alongside him somewhat of a challenge at times.  

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Summer Cold and Homemade Broth

Grandkids, farming, and cooking:  Top row l to r: Daniel, age 9; Rebekah, 19 months, Isaac, 20 months.  Middle row:  homemade broth ready for the freezer, big brother helping baby brother, and Logan, age 4-almost-5 eating his first ever donut (it is dairy free thanks to his creative mom); bottom row:  on my first walk after the awful cold; Farmer John at the end of a hard day of planting soybeans; and one of the five cherry pies I made during June from the cherries on my in-laws' trees.  
On June 5th I came down with a bone-chilling, body-aching, full-fledged summer cold that put me into quarantine and required antibiotics for a secondary sinus infection. I was housebound for most of the month, but then I did a little old fashioned counting of my blessings and realized--June wasn't really so bad after all.  Farmer John didn't catch the virus and so he was able to plant soybeans, combine wheat, and begin hay-making without discomfort; farmers don't get sick leave and so he would have kept right on going through the misery that put me to bed.  And, when I look back at my calendar I realize that I was really only completely out of commission for 3 days (although the family avoided me for a full week just to be safe!).

Because of my grandsons' dairy allergies, I use my homemade chicken broth to make  a dairy free white sauce that is a good base for soups and casseroles.  T'his month, I drank lots of this healing broth as a beverage and who knows? Without it that cold might have lasted even longer!  Here's how I do it, approximately:

5 to 6 pound whole chicken
About 6 quarts of water
About 2 tablespoons salt
A stem (or two) of of fresh sage-- 6-8 inches long with lots of leaves.
One or two stems of rosemary
4 stalks of celery, chopped
2 medium Vidalia onions, quartered
Large head of garlic, sliced in half crosswise
Pepper to taste, about 1 Tablespoon

Quarter the onions and place two or three quarters into the chicken cavity. Place the chicken and all remaining ingredients in a large stockpot.  Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover, cook about an hour and fifteen minutes. Remove chicken and as soon as it is cool enough, remove meat from the bones. If desired, return bones to broth and simmer another 45 minutes or so; some people believe the bones have healing properties.  Let broth cool about an hour, strain through a colander. I freeze the broth in one quart containers like Ina Garten uses, available here:  Cassandra's Kitchen 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Blue Skies and Roses

Here are a few more month-of-May impressions from a kind of early morning walk this morning (about 8:30 a.m.--ok, not early):

I record "Farmer Johnisms"--my man does have a way with words.  I'm sorry to report that as we walked along this morning John told me our brush cutter needs to be replaced because it is "...busted, crusted, and rusted."

And, then he looked up and said, "Just look at that sky.  Not a cloud in it.  It goes on forever n' ever."

So I took a photo of that endless blue expanse with a few cottonwood branches to the left for reference:

One more note...there is an old-fashioned rose that blooms in the fencerow by our driveway every year in late May or early June.  As I recall, sometimes the blooms are a paler shade of pink than this year.  We didn't plant this bush; it was here when we moved in 43 years ago.  Just as all of us hope to be, it is hearty and long-lived!  I feel a little doubtful as to whether it is a true wild rose--see how it grows in its own bouquet-shaped clusters?  It has wound into a partially dead tree and is just so lovely.

I've added this photo this evening (May 30). It was taken with the setting sun backlighting the blossoms.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Merry Month of May

Life. It rolls along so quickly, with sad and happy and beautiful happenings all mixed up together. This month we've had another root canal (mine this time), some precious times with our beloved kids and grands, and attended the funeral of a friend, a gentleman who has been a jovial, sports-loving, family-supporting fixture in our little community.  We will miss him so much.

Just as John finished planting corn, we received some much-needed rain that allowed the newly burned pastures to quickly turn to lush, graze-worthy green.  All of the cattle have been moved to their summer pastures, and as soon as the ground dries Farmer John will be hard at his one-man farming show, planting soybeans.

May 2 -- We were worried about dry conditions, but spring was nevertheless having its green way with the cottonwood trees across from our house. 
Our grandboys, all ready for a Royal's game May 4th.  

May 10--the setting sun cast gold light beneath these dark clouds to the east.  Rain!

Beautiful Rebekah, 18 months, loves her reflection in her new cowgirl hat (purchased by Grammy, of course).  
You know I love the symbolism of photos of roads--life is a journey!  This phone photo of the setting sun revealed a rainbow effect not visible to the naked eye.  I like that symbolism as well--the Lord surrounds and protects us in ways we do not see.  

Here Isaac looks like he's saying "That's all folks!"  And so we'll let him bring May's blog post to an end.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017


I can't really entitle this post "April on the Farm," because I haven't been out with John this month as he has been busy fixing fence, burning pastures, and moving cattle. I have spring allergies and odd swelling in my face from Rosacea, and these things are aggravated when I ride around in the dusty ol' farm pickup.  Hard not to grieve missing out of this time of year, but there have been lots of blessings this month nonetheless.

A wind farm surrounds the little nursing home where my mom now lives. I've overcome my fear of these huge machines and often stop to snap a photo. The backstory of how I wrote my first short story for Kindle this month (the storyline includes a giant wind turbine) can be found HERE.  

The lilac bush bloomed--briefly.  A hard rain stripped it of blossoms on about its third day of full bloom.  
This photo reminds me that springtime is beautiful even from the inside looking out.  

Loved Easter this year with four--count 'em, FOUR grandkids hunting eggs in our front yard.  

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

March on the Farmstead

We had one of the warmest Februarys on record but March has brought a return of winter-like weather.  Our two oldest grandsons, above, have both had colds but that didn't stop them from being outside and getting to know this friendly Hereford heifer. The photo credit goes to the boys' dad; I would have been saying "Oh don't get so close!!"

I've included a photo of the roast chicken we had for supper the other night because it was so easy and good.  It is America Test Kitchen's Weeknight Roast Chicken - no brining or complicated prep.  I did go ahead and make the pan sauce and was glad I did. I used lemon juice and fresh rosemary rather than the vinegar and fresh thyme the recipe calls for, and we loved it.  Another plus is that the recipe link includes a video--I didn't even have to read the recipe (but be certain to test the internal temperature -- I must've had a bigger bird, had to roast it longer to get to the requisite temperature)!

We live near a wind farm, and after some trepidation over the size of these machines--the towers alone are over 300 feet high, and each wing is about 185 feet long--I've come to enjoy photographing them. Our Kansas skies have provided a beautiful backdrop for trees and turbines of late.

By the way, Farmer John is feeling much better than at the time of my last blogpost--but is a little poorer for having had to pay for a root canal.

Hope your March is blessed!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

February on the Farm

My blogger friends from Maine are "hunkered down" waiting out a blizzard that has deposited several feet of snow, but here in Kansas we have had almost spring-like weather.  This morning's temperatures were a bit more in tune with the date on the calendar; it was 32ºF as I started out on my walk this morning about 9 a.m.

It was a blessing to be outside, walking.  I have just come through an arthritis/fibromyalgia attack that was the worst I've experienced. I kept remembering my grandmother talking about "the rheumatiz" and I wonder whether she suffered something like this. It was so uncomfortable that just turning over in bed was an ordeal; the weight of the blankets was painful to lift and rearrange.

But--I'm better!  And I walked up the hill across from our house this morning!

Farmer John was feeding cattle, and stopped to open the wire gate for me.  He is not a happy camper today; he has a cold AND a toothache. He is the hale and hearty member of our partnership, the cinch pin that holds our family together. Our adult kids call me with prayer requests, but John fields all other needs for his elderly parents and for all of us (driving to appointments/moving furniture/mechanic work/help with projects/etc.).  Even beyond my empathy and prayers for him there is just an uneasy feeling when he isn't well because we all depend on him so. Here he is, opening the gate and holding his aching jaw; please say a little prayer for Farmer John (dental appointment this afternoon!).

Our big, goofy dog Moose has always been an escape artist. No fence could hold him, and so he had to leave his home with our daughter's family in town and come to the country to live with us.  But he somehow instinctively knew the way back, and would travel over 4 miles back to their yard.  And so we spent $300--yes, THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS-- on a perimeter collar for this beast.  And it worked.  He became trained, we thought, and we stopped making him wear it.  This was a mistake.  He ran away this past weekend and we spent two anxious days searching for him.  He has to wear the collar once more.  But need I say it--I am SO glad to have him back.  I don't know why I love him but I do!

Finally, here are a couple of shadow photos of Moose and me from our walk this morning...Happy February everyone, no matter the weather in your neck of the woods:  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

And one more January photo...

This photo was taken just west of the little yellow house on January 6.  Love our Kansas sunsets.  

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Super Bowl Chili Recipe

Someone once said that The Children Are Tender was perhaps "....sort of how you wish things would have been."

Well, no.  I would not have wished for Abby to have to quit her job to take care of her mother with scarcely a blink of the eye on behalf of folks who ought to have been sorry to see her go.  I would never have wished for a little boy to be spirited away in the night by a birth mother who did not have legal custody, and for that boy's teacher never to see that child again.  And I certainly would not have wished for Jeffrey to risk a shocking experience as he did in chapter one.

However, having said that, I must also say that January here in our real-life version of my fictional community of Karola has contained elements I wouldn't include in a book that, while is intended to spur empathy and action on behalf of innocent children who suffer, is also intended to leave readers with a sense of hope for the future.  But for the Lord, I'd not have felt much hope at the end of our difficult January.  

I'll quickly list the struggles we've faced: life threatening conditions that caused hospitalizations for both my husband's parents, several financial surprises of the sort that made our hearts sink and our minds go numb (did anyone else's insurance premiums double?), and last and albeit least, our dog ran away.  Not a banner month.  

I'm happy to report that as of February 1, my in-laws have recovered, we've adapted to our financial status quo, and today, the dog came home. And, last Sunday afternoon I won a chili cook-off at our church!  

You read that right.  God does have a sense of humor!  I've just completed a book on Christian weight loss, but during this stressful January I have spent an inordinate amount of time cooking and...well...I did not lose weight this month.  But I by golly won a chili cook-off. 

The recipe, as near as I can remember (I don't measure ingredients when I cook) is printed below the photo of me with my beautiful gold-spray-painted-tin-can trophy.  And by the way, that book isn't really about losing weight so much as it is about putting Christ first in everything, which will release us from the power of whatever ails us.  You can have a look at it here:  One Hundred Days to Freedom.  

Meantime, try a savory pot of chili for the Super Bowl this weekend.  

Chili, brown sugar/maple cupcakes, and chicken and noodles are some of the comfort food dishes I prepared during this dreary January.  '

Kid-pleasing Chili
(named on the spot to justify all that brown sugar when I was asked the name of my recipe). 

4 pounds ground beef
2 medium onions finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
3 teaspoons salt (less if chicken stock is salty)
2 packages (for four pounds of meat) Williams Chili Seasoning Mix
1 28 ounce can crushed Tomatoes
About 3 Tablespoons tomato paste
About 3 cups or so chicken stock—add it gradually until chili seems the right consistency. 
About 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
About 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
About ½ teaspoon or so liquid smoke—go easy, it can make things bitter
¾ to 1 cup brown sugar
1 can cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed
1 can seasoned black beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Tabasco sauce to taste—I like about 4 drops per pound of meat...

Brown the beef with the chopped onion, drain most of the juices/fat.  Stir in the garlic, salt, and Williams Chili Seasoning Mix.  Add all remaining ingredients except beans, stir well. Simmer about 10 minutes to let flavors blend.  Adjust seasonings—too bland?  Add more salt, Tabasco, and/or red wine vinegar.  Can you taste the smoke at all? You can add a little more. Now you’ll probably want to add the last ¼ cup brown sugar if you didn’t earlier.  Add beans, simmer a few minutes longer, stir, can add more stock as you prefer for consistency.