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!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Gingerbread People from the Red and White Checked Cookbook

I learned to cook from the Better Homes cookbook pictured above, left.  The copyright page is missing, but I received it as a wedding gift and so it is a 1974 edition or thereabouts.  By 1989 I considered the old cookbook too worn to keep using, and bought an updated edition. But it turns out that I am so fond of my old, first and best cookbook, that I have never used the newer copy much at all.

Farmer John decided to make gingerbread men this year, and without consulting with me, he pulled out our "new" Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (which you'll note is nearly 30 years old), and found "Gingerbread Cutouts" on page 114.  We adapted the recipe for our allergic grandchildren and came up with the egg-free version below.  Oh and just for the record--John does not decorate cookies, and since I know how to use an icing bag outfitted with a Wilton tip, I did frosting duty.  It was a quick job, but they do look festive.

Our oldest grandson, Daniel, said, "I like these cookies!"  A new Christmas tradition is born!

Egg Free Gingerbread Cutouts

1/2 cup shortening
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup applesauce (instead of egg)
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Grammy's buttercream frosting (below)
Red hots

Beat shortening with an electric mixer for about a minute.  Add applesauce and beat another minute at medium/high.  In a separate bowl, whisk dry ingredients together. Add about half the dry ingredients, the molasses, and vinegar.  Mix until thoroughly combined, add the remainder of dry ingredients, mix until combined.  Refrigerate dough 3 hours or overnight.  Divide dough in half, roll about 1/8 inch thick, cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters.  Place 1 inch apart on greased (or parchment covered) cookie sheets at 375º, for about 6 minutes.  Cool thoroughly, decorate or frost as desired.  

Grammy's Buttercream Frosting

Note:  Grammy does not measure.  All proportions are approximate.  

1 pound or so powdered sugar (use C&H; some store brands are gritty)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla
Juice from half a lemon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup softened butter or Earth Balance margarine
Enough warm water to desired consistency, about 3 tablespoons
Beat well with electric mixer, use immediately so that it will set up as it cools.

A little family history: the copper coffee pot pictured above was found half-buried in an old barn when my grandmother and mother (Grandma Opal and Grandma Anna Ruth) were strolling around the lot of a farm estate sale.  They dug it up and took it to the owner, who said, "It's yours."  Grandma Ruth cleaned it and had a tarnish-proof finish put on it, which may well have spoiled any value as an antique, but has kept it shiny and coppery all these years.  I love it.   

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Birthday Milestone

Upper left: My precious grandchildren and me.  Clockwise from upper right: a beautiful gift was a bracelet with our grandchildren's birthstones; selfie of Farmer John and me; Rebekah Ruth and her parents; the road ahead, taken on the morning of my 65th birthday; my sweet grandsons and their parents; and my cake with mercifully fewer candles than would have been strictly accurate.   
My daughter, Melinda, coined the term"slippery slope" to describe how everyone's holiday expectations can collide, and hurt feelings may happen despite the best of intentions.  She has said that avoiding holiday angst when lots of people gather is "a slippery slope." 

My 65th birthday was a milestone I feared.  On that date, my teaching license expired and will not be renewed. As I approached the day I dreaded it emotionally.  I felt the message that would hit my heart would be something like this: "Happy birthday, you are no longer a teacher, and now you are on Medicare;" two potentially upsetting milestones!  But my family worked hard to make the celebration sweet, and then a dear friend called to bring me this message:  "When I prayed for you it came to me that you are still the Lord's child.  That is a relationship with no expiration date."  


 Lord keep our hearts open to the joys of our celebrations, protect us and be in our responses to the inevitable hurts that occur when lots of precious people, each with their own expectations, gather together. Please Lord, don't let us cause hurt to others out of our own heartaches, and may Your Name be praised and honored among us as we celebrate Your birth.  

Praying to remember this Christmas season that it's all about Jesus.  

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Aunt Barbara's Peppernuts

Left: Our Christmas tree is loaded with sentimental ornaments, many made by our children and grandchildren; Upper Right: Aunt Barbara's Peppernut recipe; Middle Right: our mantle decor...I felt conflicted about Santa being there but made a creche the centerpiece for the grandchildren to arrange in front of the fireplace; Bottom right:  A stained glass Christmas tree made by our daughter, Mindy, when she was about 8.  The frosted window in the background show the results of our November 25 blizzard; we had about 3 to 4 inches of drifted snow here and the Interstate highway a mile south of our house closed for a few hours due to low visibility.  

Farmer John has fond memories of his Aunt Barbara, who each year makes a batch of Peppernuts:  spicy, crunchy, bite-sized cookies.  John has adopted his Aunt Barbara's tradition and earlier this week he used her recipe to make a batch of his own.  They are a little bit addictive (no one can eat just one).

Here is Aunt Barbara's recipe:


1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
1 and 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon anise oil
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans or English walnuts, optional (John does not use)
5 cups flour--or more

In a large bowl, mix flour, spices, and baking soda together with a whisk.  In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the sugars and margarine together until well blended, add egg and anise oil, beat until fluffy. Add the flour/spice mixture a half cup at a time, alternating with small amounts of the water.  Refrigerate dough overnight.  Roll into long ropes (you may need to add more flour to handle dough), then use a sharp knife to cut 1/8th inch thick, thumbprint-sized pieces.  Bake 8-10 minutes at 350º until light brown.  Cookies should be crunchy when cooled.  

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Moose and the Pumpkin

Moose showed no remorse and actually seemed grateful to me for providing such a nifty chew toy.  I asked him politely not to do this again, and to his credit he's left the other two porch pumpkins alone.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

All's Well That Ends Well...

Every farm worker knows that moving equipment from field to field is one of the less exciting jobs on the farm.  Combining corn, wheat, and soybeans = fun!  I even kind of like sitting at the edge of the field watching John swath or bale hay.  But I find moving the combine and the grain cart and the semi from a neighboring farm to the far south field (about 8 miles) to be pretty boring.  And so I entertain myself best I can.

Tonight I drove John to the neighbor's hayfield to bring home his tractor and baler, a 12 mile round trip.  The sun was setting and everything was so beautiful that I kept stopping to take phone photos.  I found an interesting angle in the side mirror and began working to get a photo of the approaching tractor and baler.  I was clicking away when I heard the tractor downshift and realized about a dozen tons of farm equipment was almost upon me!  I gunned the motor of my little Chevy Trax and got out of the way.

Farmer John is used to my ways and was undoubtedly watching me closely.  Whether we are on a walk or moving equipment field to field he knows my penchant for taking photos.  But next time I'm leading the way and simultaneously taking photos, I will strive to remember that objects in the mirror are closer than they appear!

Sunday, September 23, 2018

September Weekend

The two grandsons pictured upper left accompanied me on my evening walk Sunday.  They had been out with their dad gathering milkweed leaves to feed their monarch caterpillars.  Middle top:  Our son and his daughter spent some time here this weekend as our daughter-in-law was at a conference in Texas.  Jonathan, our son, helped his dad with the combining and I got some wonderful quality time with our granddaughter, beautiful Miss Rebekah.  Top right: Mr. Logan, age 6, has a gap in his smile as he has lost a tooth in front!  The little guy lower left is a champ on the rope swing his daddy put up in their backyard, and he's not yet 3 years old (but almost)!  

We had some heartache this weekend as my Alzheimer's mom shows signs of increasing confusion, but there is joy along with the sorrow as she continues to praise the Lord for her blessings.

We were busy all weekend with grandkids all around and corn harvest in full swing.  I fed the group that gathered at our house Saturday at noon with a large budget pack of chicken legs.  I did half with the honey soy sauce recipe you can find here, and concocted a crispy oven baked version with the remainder,  and this ended out to be the clear winner.  I don't know amounts--sorry--but I beat two eggs, mixed Italian seasoned fine bread crumbs and crushed cornflakes, dipped each leg into the egg mixture, then the crumbs, and then repeated. This was a messy process but the double dipping yielded a nice crispy crust.  I placed the prepared legs into a 9 x 13 glass pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray, sprinkled them with salt and pepper, spritzed the legs with olive oil to aid crisping, and baked uncovered a little over an hour at 350º.  Yum!  Next best thing to my grandma's fried chicken. 

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Pushing the Season

Last night was lovely, a hint of fall in the air.  The maple tree in our yard is no longer June green; it has faded a bit as the nights grow shorter.  I took some phone photos at the foot of our driveway just at sunset, and look!  The light has turned September gold (maybe it's all those Kansas sunflowers that have blossomed out). 

August Photos

Upper left:  Our oldest grandson, Daniel, has been looking out this window since he was old enough to drag a stool to the window seat and clamber up to perch there, proud of his accomplishment. He is a tall ten-year-old now and no longer needs the stool, but still likes to sit here. On the day this photo was taken he said, "I like looking out this window.  There is always something different to see."  I feel the same way!  

Farmer John and I have resumed walking for exercise. Our dog, Moose, is the only family member who is entirely happy about this daily discipline. I like taking pictures, though.  My favorite here is one you can't see just real well--see Moose charging toward John in the photo at upper right, and how John has held out his arms?  This is a nightly ritual. I almost always go striding out ahead while I'm waiting for John to put on his boots, and when he appears around the corner of the house Moose runs back and forth between us until John catches up to me.  

Saturday, September 8, 2018

An August Gathering

 Our church has welcomed our new pastor and his lovely wife by inviting them to a number of small group suppers, hosted in homes.  And so toward the end of August John and I hosted the final scheduled get-acquainted meal. Nine of us gathered around our table and we really did have a lovely evening.

I made much of the meal ahead of time. I've found that turkey breast can be baked and frozen in a plentiful amount of seasoned broth, and if heated gently at low temperatures on serving day (about 275 degrees) it comes out moister and more flavorful even than on the day it was placed in the freezer.  This has worked well for me with roast beef as well.  I made the mashed potatoes and gravy well ahead of time on the day of the meal and kept them hot in crockpots on the serving table. As our family has grown we nearly always serve food buffet style, and that's how I chose to serve this meal as well.

Some neighbor kids had sold me a 40# box of beautiful Colorado peaches, and from the portions I didn't package for the freezer, I made the dessert below for our gathering.  Our pastor avoids added sugar and my mother-in-law has type 1 diabetes, and so I sweetened the slab pie with Truvia baking blend.  It was yummy with no aftertaste in the finished pie.  And--I wrapped it well in saran and then foil and froze it before baking, another convenient make-ahead. 

The menu was pretty simple; turkey breast, sliced roast, mashed potatoes and gravy, roasted green beans, my mother-in-law's famous potato salad, peach/almond summer salad, a colorful fruit platter, garlic bread, peach slab pie and frozen yogurt.  To my vast relief the food turned out well, and we enjoyed our evening greatly.  

Peach Slab Pie

 Grandma Irma's Never Fail Pie Crust:

5 cups flour
2 and 2/3 cup chortening
1 cup flour
1 cup water
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt

Cut shortening and 5 cups of flour together. Make a paste of the last three ingredients and stir into the first mixture.  Roll half the dough out and place in bottom and sides of a half sheet pan (jelly roll pan).  Roll the other half out and set aside between sheets of wax paper.  Cover pastry to keep it from drying out while you prepare the filling.  You may have extra pastry, not a bad thing. Freeze it or make cinnamon piecrust for the kids (add butter, cinnamon and sugar to rolled out dough, bake about 10 minutes at 375 degrees).  


Stir together: 
1 cup Truvia blend
12 medium/large fresh peaches, blanched, peeled, and sliced
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond flavoring
1/2 cup flour
3 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place filling into prepared bottom layer of pastry, cover with pastry and crimp edges, do not cut vent holes if you are putting it into the freezer.  When people don't mind a little sugar, I pat about a tablespoon of water on top and then sprinkle with a couple of tablespoons of sugar. Can be covered well with saran and then foil and frozen.  I wouldn't leave it frozen over 2 months.  On day you plan to serve it, it can go straight into the oven from the freezer.  Cut vents in the top pastry, bake at 350 degrees about an hour, or until the crust is golden and the filling is bubbly.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

June and July in Kansas

June was unseasonably hot, and July has been uncomfortably dry.  That it is also uncomfortably hot goes without saying; this is Kansas, after all.  Our son will work at The Farm Show in Pittsburg, Kansas this Friday and Saturday, and he told me the high is predicted to be 98 degrees with a heat index of 109.  I had a flashback of how I used to feel when he began football practice under similar conditions in early August during his his junior high and high school years.

But despite the almost painful brightness of the sun and the unrelenting heat, there is nevertheless so much beauty.  I especially love the early mornings, just before sunrise. The scents of summer are perfumed with a humid sweetness; milkweed blossoms in the road ditch, freshly mown hay across the road, and the green grass scent of our yard which hasn't yet dried to depressing brown.

I hope it rains soon, and I'll sure be glad for the cooler temperatures of Autumn.  But right now I am actually enjoying summer.

Colors are vivid in summer.  The old fashioned rose at bottom grows in a wild corner of our yard and has vined into a scrubby tree in the hedgerow.

Our grandkids: ages 10, 6, and two 2-year-olds  Lower right:  Big brother reading aloud to little brother; this blesses my heart because I brushed off my stagnating reading teacher skills and, toward the end of this school year, began daily lessons with the guy on the right.  He has just turned 6, and is reading at mid-year first grade level.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

May, 2018

I've spent a contented hour reviewing phone photos taken during May, all the while aware that there usually isn't much to be gained in pondering what has gone by.  It's best to look to the future with hope! 

But this blog is about counting my blessings during a season of my life that has been difficult because I've had to place my mom into nursing home care following 12 years of taking care of her in our home.  Her Alzheimer's disease has been an oft-times grueling ordeal and yet, not.  Not really.  There have been times when it was just awful, as in the months following her diagnosis, and when she fell and broke her collarbone and then, while she was still in pain from this injury, caught a stomach virus and then pneumonia.  But those times didn't last long.  There have been long stretches of ordinary days, and oh how I've come to treasure the blessings of everyday joys and responsibilities.  And so here are photos from our May family gatherings, and a few of the inevitable (for this time of year in Kansas) stormy skies, and a couple of flowers because I can't help it.  Thank You Lord for the blessings of comfort and peace even in the midst of grief or pain.  

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Family Work Day

When the mailman tripped over a cracked section of our 45-year-old sidewalk, our son-in-law rounded up his crew and in about 6 hours pulled up the old pavers, dug out a carefully measured bed for a new path, and put new stones in place.  Farmer John pitched in by hauling nearly a ton of sand to the worksite and using the tractor and loader to move the old pavers to a location where I won't have to look at them anymore.

The new pavers belonged to our son who had stored them in our garage.  "Feel free to use them," he said, "I moved out of the house where I'd planned to use them a couple of years ago!"

We had a lovely family day.  It was wonderful seeing my daughter and her family working together and I had fun making breakfast and lunch for us all with my best helper, Isaac, age 2.

The blessings of family are one of life's greatest joys. Our son-in-law's selfless labor, those precious grandboys manfully shoveling away with only a little bit of grateful for these precious people.
Upper right: old sidewalk, lower left, finished project not looking as pretty in this photo as in real life.  This was a beautiful gift of time and a labor of love from our daughter, son-in-law, and grandboys.

Friday, May 4, 2018

A Cold April!

I'm so glad for this day and age of phone photos. Anybody else recall the days when we would buy a roll of 24 or 36 exposure film, carefully ration the shots we took, then send the roll off for developing?  Now it isn't unusual for me to take 36 photos in a day!  It's so much easier to get good pictures of our little ones when we can take a dozen photos of the same pose.

If not for my many phone photos I'd have thought I didn't accomplish much during April.  I hurt my back toward the beginning of the month and wasn't able to do outdoor work--and beyond that, our April was COLD.  But I did entertain the grandkids pretty often, provided my middle grandson reading lessons (he's only five but he's ready to read), and as usual, I did a lot of cooking.

The collage at left is from Easter Sunday when we bravely (or stupidly) drove through ice and slush to get to our son and daughter-in-law's home an hour away in order to share Easter supper with them.  Once there we had a lovely time with all the traditional dishes and then some; glazed ham, turkey, cheesy potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, orange fluff salad, spring greens salad, a fresh fruit platter, hot rolls, carrot cake and frozen yogurt.

Our son has grown a beard, and I have protested.  I feel he is a handsome young man and that the beard hides his face.  However, this photo of him with his two-year-old daughter was almost enough to make me like the beard.  His love for his little girl is shining through here in a very Pa Ingalls-ish way.

We had a lovely visit with my mom at the nursing home on April 16.  Our oldest grandson was at a Western Heritage event with his dad, and our granddaughter was home with her mom, but I was glad to snap the photo above of mom with both her grandchildren and 3 of her great grands.  Mom's Alzheimer's diagnosis was 14 years ago, and she has lost most of her vision to macular degeneration, but she is still able to carry on a conversation and says often that she enjoys life.  This is a blessing beyond what I knew to hope for.  Very grateful to the Lord.  

Left--wild plum blossoms in a thicket across the road from our house.  

Right--our lilac bush bloomed after all!  I was sure the freezing nights early in the month had killed the buds, which were tiny and looked brown.  But the warmth and sunlight we enjoyed the last week of April brought this hopeful sign of spring to life.  

All in all this has been a busy, blessed month. I'll close with one of the recipes I tried this month (below).  

Chicken/pineapple stir fry with brown rice
Summary: Cut one chicken breast into bite-sized chunks, saute it with onion, garlic and red pepper in 2 Tablespoons canola oil.  Drain juice from a large can of pineapple, thicken juice with 2 Tablespoons cornstarch, add a little orange juice. When meat is cooked through, add the juice mixture and cook until thickened, stir in stevia, salt, and pepper to taste. Stir in about a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil if you have it on hand.  Cook some rice.  Yum!  

·      large can pineapple chunks and juice
·      ¼ cup orange juice
·      1 Tablespoon soy sauce
·      2 Tablespoons cornstarch
·      2 teaspoons powdered Stevia
·      1 large chicken breast
·      1 medium onion, chopped
·      1 chopped bell pepper
·      2 large cloves garlic, minced
·      drain a large can of pineapple chunks, reserving the juice. 
·      add water to reserved juice if necessary to make 1 cup pineapple juice
·      Mix ¼ cup orange juice (I just scooped some concentrate out of the can) and 1 Tablespoon soy sauce with pineapple juice
·      Stir 2 Tablespoons cornstarch into a small amount of the juice until smooth, stir together with the rest of the mixture.  Add 2 teaspoons powdered Stevia. 
·      In 2 Tablespoons of canola oil, saute one medium onion, chopped, one chopped red bell pepper, 2 minced garlic cloves and one large chicken breast cut into 3/4ths inch chunks and lightly salted.  Cook until chicken is done and onion is mostly transluscent. 
·      Stir pineapple and cornstarch mixture into meat mixture.  Add about a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil if you have it on hand.  Add salt—maybe about ½ teaspoon or so, and pepper to taste. 

Cook one cup of brown rice in 2 cups chicken broth in instant pot—4 minutes on high, natural release for 10 minutes. 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Carrot Cake, Buttercream Frosting, and Ordinary Days

Our grandkids, clockwise from upper left: this two-year-old guy demonstrates why his mom should never turn her back; our two-year-old with the golden curls standing next to the rocking chair I used when I was her age; our studious ten-year-old; and our innovative, mischievous, artistic five-year-old.  

Doesn't the photo at left warm your heart?  I love goodbye hugs among the cousins. Right top: I am providing homeschool language arts lessons to our five-year-old grandson, and it is such a joy for me to return to the love I have for teaching kids to read.  Middle right: I made a carrot cake and put it in the freezer for our Easter celebration, recipe link below.  Lower right: My grands and I have discovered the joy of Calico Critters.  

 This month no one had an emergency room trip, in fact, no one suffered crises of any kind.  As a bonus, we all stayed healthy despite the continuation of the influenza epidemic in our area.  Yes, the weather was mostly cloudy and cold, and outdoor activities didn't hold much appeal, but how blessed we were to enjoy a series of ordinary days.

When our daughter was five, John made a dollhouse for her.  It is so sturdy that it has survived being used as a bookshelf for the past 30 years or so, and now has been reinstated as an abode for my new collection of Calico Critters. Have you seen these sweet little characters?  I just love them.  Our two older grand boys enjoy engineering room arrangements, creating lighting (velcro and battery operated tea lights), and are building a patio, while the younger pair just love playing with the furniture and acting out stories with the adorable figures. 

I wanted to make an old fashioned carrot cake for our family Easter celebration tomorrow, and searched for a recipe that called for both crushed pineapple and golden raisins. I found one that looked good at Taste of Home (here's the link) and my preliminary taste test affirms it is yummy.  Farmer John doesn't care for cream cheese icing, and so I made my standby buttercream.

Spring is not my favorite time of year; the time change always throws me for a loop and I have spring allergies that keep me indoors. But I can truthfully say that I enjoyed our ordinary March.

 Buttercream Frosting

2 lbs powdered sugar
1 cup butter or Earth Balance margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt, 3/8 teaspoon if you used unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
Enough warm water to bring to spreading consistency

Combine all ingredients in bowl of electric mixer, add water a Tablespoon at a time until close to right consistency then whip frosting on medium high speed until fluffy, adding more water 1 teaspoon at a time until just right!