Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Annie Oakley

The attraction to guests at our Thanksgiving gatherings is not only family, food and fellowship. It's also firearms.

Somehow, years and years ago, target shooting and clay pigeon shooting became an after-dinner Thanksgiving tradition.

My dad was a firearms safety instructor for most of his life. I learned at a young age how to safely handle guns and to shoot clay pigeons. I didn't have a girly-girl fear of guns, just a healthy respect for them. I often hunted grouse and deer with the menfolk of the family. Dad instructed countless young people, including my older kids, in the skills of shooting and he took groups out in the mountains for shooting practice. I think this is where our holiday shooting games started. Dad's been gone since 1999 but the after dinner shooting tradition has continued.

His voice emphasizing safety still rings in our ears.

After some time getting warmed up with practice the shooters play a game we call Annie Oakley. This is where the shooters take turns taking a shot at a flying clay pigeon. If someone misses but the next person in line hits the clay, the first shooter is out. Anyone who misses the shot on their turn is out of the game until there is one winner left who hit the most targets. The girls made a good showing this year. The little boys are getting very proficient with the shotguns and hit at least as many as they missed. They were mighty proud of themselves.

And once again Mama won a game of Annie Oakley. Yes, she did.

Sunday, November 27, 2011


I finally have some Thanksgiving photos to share!

We had a lovely, wonderful time with more people, more food and more help in the kitchen than ever before.

I feel so blessed this year, for many reasons, but the added bonus of family, friends, fabulous food and fellowship gave me even more for which to be thankful on this feast day.

We assembled in the biggest empty space we had to offer, our unfinished, new addition on the house. It ended up being a cozy place with a golden glow that added a special ambiance to our gathering.

This year it was Bring Your Girlfriend to Thanksgiving Day.  There were a total of four girlfriends by the end of the day.

I try to avoid having a kid's table but with twenty-four place settings it could not be helped this time. In the end the youngsters enjoyed their special seating.

The only way our holiday could have been better would be if all our family could have attended. I was dearly missing having my grandchildren here. With the blessing of modern Jetson-style technology we were able to visit with them on our computer.

Skype- the next best thing to being there.

Our blessings are innumerable, our joys outweigh our sorrows. 
We are thankful.

So on the day set aside to thank the One from whom all our blessings flow, my husband gave this prayer of thanks:

Lord, on this day set aside to remember at least a few of our many blessings, we give thanks before we eat. In these days of war and violence, we are thankful for being able to gather and worship in peace. In these days of repression and totalitarianism that pervades much of our world, we thank You for the freedoms we enjoy in our country. With the hunger and poverty that stalks much of the world, we should always be thankful for the abundance of food that we enjoy today and throughout the year. Lord, we thank You for the jobs and work we all have, when so many people in our land are out of work. We thank You for the warm homes we enjoy, when so many are homeless and living in cars or on the street. We pray on behalf of those families that cannot be together today and thank You that we are so blessed to be together and enjoy this food. We are thankful for those who spent so much time and effort to prepare this wonderful meal. Lord, we thank You for the greatest of all blessings, that You sent Your Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for the sins of the whole world, that all who have faith may enjoy eternal life with You in heaven. Amen.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pie Prep

As we do every year....the kids make the pie for our Thanksgiving feast.

After all, what kind of a pie teacher would I be if I didn't pass on the pie secrets to my own offspring?

They diligently work to make their best presentation but I have to keep reassuring them that the taste is more important than the look.  We'll take refined or rustic when it comes to pie.

But really, there are only two kinds of good pie...

Warm pie and cold pie.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Week

It's Thanksgiving week here in America and like all my other countrymen and women I am preparing for the feast day. Our family gathering will be held here, as usual, with a number of special guests attending. So far the head count is at 23 dinner guests.

Can you imagine 23 people sitting at a dinner table?

I can't either.

Well, I can imagine twenty-three people at a long banquet table in a cavernous room with candles blazing and servants bending at the guest's elbows. But I can't imagine twenty-three people sitting at a dining table in my little country cottage.

My dinner table sits eight people. Ten when the kids are all home and we squeeze really tightly together in a cozy family way. So the plan for Thanksgiving dinner is to put three or four tables together in our newly constructed house addition and put some chairs and benches around it. The new addition to our home has a roof and four walls but no insulation or electrical power. There is currently three inches of snow on the ground and more in the forecast. Needless to say, people need to eat fast before their food gets cold.

We'll be serving two turkeys, venison roast and ham. No shortage of animal flesh on our feast table!

Every year the Thanksgiving guest list grows. It may be the food but it also may be the shooting session that takes place on the mountain afterwards. People really like filling their bellies with turkey and taters and then shooting shot guns at flying clay pigeons. Usually I'm at home putting my feet up during the annual Annie Oakley shoot-outs, but I may go participate this year (if it isn't raining) just because- well, the more the merrier!

It's been a while since I have shared a recipe on my blog. I've been baking a lot of pumpkins in the last few weeks since it was the one crop that produced abundantly in the garden. I've made pumpkin pie, pumpkins soups and pumpkin bread. I'm still making cookies every day for the Expertec customers so this Thanksgiving week they are getting pumpkin cookies.

I looked at a few recipes for pumpkin cookies on the interwebs then tweaked one to fit my purposes. Most pumpkin cookies have a frosted top. I need to be able to stack the cookies in a jar and not have them stick together. I eliminated the frosting, added raisins and chopped walnuts and came up with a cookie that is like a muffin top. A not too sweet morning treat along side that cup of coffee while waiting for your car repairs to be finished.

The cookie "dough" is more like a batter for pumpkin bread.

Despite its soft quality, it stayed in place when spooned onto a cookie sheet.

They baked up into a nice cookie shape and were soft and chewy.
These spicy fall treats are a hit at the repair shop.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Mix together in the bowl:

1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add and stir in:

1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Drop by spoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-13 minutes until the cookie is set and the edges are browned.

What are you all doing for Thanksgiving this week? Are you cooking? Are you a guest at someone's dinner table? Will there be 23 shivering people squeezed together trying to spread frozen butter on the rolls?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Another Special Gift

The hand blown glass keepsakes from my mother and sons were not the only crafted with love gift I received for my milestone birthday. My daughter, Alyssa, also presented me with something special when she came back home from her sister's.

Alyssa spent about a year cross-stitching this garden scene especially for me-

And I love it! The detail is astonishing- the sunbeams coming through the gate, the lilacs and wisteria stitched with such painterly effects. Lovely!

If anyone knows how to frame a work like this, I need some tips. I want to do it right so that it will be preserved well and I can enjoy it hung on a wall.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Shrimp Chips

The other night, at a special dinner with friends who just happen to be the best home cooks in the Northwest, I learned how to successfully make Phad Thai. I'll tell you all about it. But not right now because I have to run to the airport to pick up my daughter.

But in the mean time I wanted to show you this fun Vietnamese snack we had as a little appetizer.

Shrimp Chips?

These little dried discs were made with shrimp, tapioca flour and seasonings. They were not really edible right out of the package.

They were prepared by dropping them into hot oil in the wok for about fifteen seconds and this is what happened.

They were kind of like a Cheeto in texture, light and puffy with a melt in your mouth quality. They had a nicely seasoned flavor that had only a hint of seafood. Most people thought they were quite additive.

Just one of the interesting and very different menu items we ate at a dinner of Thai and  Vietnamese cuisine.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The World Needs More Good Pie

....and it's going to be getting some...

....because four lovely ladies learned that pie crust is not so intimidating to make after all.

They discovered that they can make a beautiful hand made pie with a flavorful, flaky crust that will please the most discerning pie palette.

At the beginning of the day these girls expressed that they felt fear and trepidation at the thought of working with pie dough but by the end of the day they were confidently rolling and shaping pastry perfection.

If we keep spreading the fresh pie making word and preaching the flaky pastry truth of butter and leaf lard, we can overcome the onslaught of bland and gooey factory-made pies. Let's bring back a demand for the real hand-made thing. The world needs more good pie!

Now go forth and fill the world with tender tasty pie!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pie Workshop

I am currently getting ready to go down to Salem, Oregon on Sunday to conduct a pie workshop. I'm making plans to cover lots of ground in the day-long class including apple pies, pumpkin pies, savory quiches, fruit tarts- some with fresh picked pears and others with pastry cream and strawberries- as well as galettes, hand pies and chicken pot pies. I've got lots of grocery shopping and food prep work to do. I think the participants and I are going to have lots of fun rolling dough and creating fillings.

This workshop will be similar to the one I taught at the Pioneer Woman's Lodge in Oklahoma last summer. That one was attended by about twenty-five people and I had lots of great helpers before, during and after the class. This workshop will be more intimate with four ladies who are eager to expand their kitchen skills and baking knowledge. We'll end our day with a meal together that will include samples of what was created.

As I've been preparing the tools we'll need and writing my lists of ingredients, I've been thinking of the people I've met in other classes and the excitement I've witnessed when someone makes their first successful pie. It is so gratifying to me to help someone improve their baking skills. It took me years of struggle and frustration before I became successful at making pie. Making pie seems like a small thing and yet whenever someone acquires a new skill or new knowledge it improves their life and builds up their confidence to try other new things. I am honored to pass on my knowledge and help others achieve their goals of becoming more proficient with their baking skills. And though pie is a humble offering, it is something anyone can use to bring joy or comfort to friends, family and strangers too.

I've witnessed the power of pie. The world needs more good pie.

A (Good) Day in Our Homeschool Life

I don't talk much about our homeschooling. We've been doing it a long, long time and I don't feel the need to talk about it any more. I just need to get it done. Five kids down, two to go. Before I die.

These last two kids are a challenge because they are so very different. I hesitate to talk about their differences in this public place because I feel like it would be disloyal to them but let's just say that these two brothers are opposites in nearly every way. This makes schooling them together a challenge.  I just used that word again. I don't think there is another word that conveys the challenge of schooling two brothers together who are so different. It's more than simply having different strengths and weaknesses. They also have completely different learning styles. That means that because they have nearly all their classes together, I have to present what we're studying in multiple ways so that both can grasp and retain it. That wears me out. Also, being brothers makes any competition between them more emotional and potentially damaging to relationships. I have to mediate and try to keep things balanced. Boys have a need to measure themselves against other boys and when one is measuring himself against his brother it can have long term effects.

Many of our days in the last year or two have been bumpy. Difficult. Long and arduous. Emotionally draining. I'm just trying to be real here. Homeschooling is not all fun and games let me tell you. There are days when I want to stand out on the road in my pajamas and flag down a passing school bus. But my commitment to what I know and have experienced as being the best chance I can give to my kids keeps me going every day. I've learned a lot in over twenty years of home educating and the most important thing I've learned is that it is up to me to model self-discipline by not being lazy myself. We have an important job to do every day and we must do it.

The pay-off for the perseverance despite some really bad days has been that I have seen so much growth in maturity in my two little boys. Not a week goes by lately that I don't hear a complimentary word about these two from a friend or neighbor. Those kind words build us up. I have noticed that the boys are more self-disciplined about getting their work done. Their attitudes have matured and they don't kick at the responsibility of the task at hand. I have seen them buckle down for the satisfaction of getting it done. That is maturity.

Today was a good example of their new attitude. I was dazzled at noon when I couldn't think of another scholastic subject to lay before them. They had covered everything. As they completed each assignment they built a momentum that accelerated until they had completed everything before lunch. I'm betting that that satisfaction will motivate them tomorrow to do the same thing.

Are you interested in how a (good) homeschool day goes around here? Here's what we did:

9:00 a.m. (not early starters around this farm)- Breakfast and chores. This includes feeding and watering the goats, watering the chickens and letting them out, taking out compost and chicken feed and on Wednesdays, gathering garbage and taking the full can out to the road for collection. They also bring in firewood for the day.

10ish- The boys like to start with math. Peter is multiplying three digit numbers and Samuel is learning division. This morning they followed that by practicing cursive writing by copying the seventh commandment and its meaning (from Luther's Small Catechism). This is also their memory work and they practice it by writing it. Before bed they do additional work on their memorization with their dad. While they were writing this morning they decided to write their spelling words two times each.

Next is reading. They have become much more proficient and now can read chapter books to themselves. They are reading one chapter a day of an A Beka book called The Secret in the Maple Tree.  The boys are also taking a literature class from a tutor in town. In that class they are reading ancient Greek mythology. I recently bought a woven cornucopia at a thrift store and Samuel delighted in telling me that the symbolic cornucopia descended from the goat's horn that fed milk to the Greek god Zeus. The boy is paying attention!

The boys are also taking a writing course with the same tutor and today they had to reread and edit their composition about their favorite object. They both wrote about a cherished stuffed animal. I love that they are retaining their childish innocence a bit longer. In just the few weeks that I have assisted them in typing their stories this term I have seen great improvement in their writing and most importantly for little boys, in their attitude about writing. It's worth every penny of the check I have to write for the class.

At this point today we sat down together in our comfy living room to read and analyze our Bible story about Samson followed by some time reading our history book about the original thirteen American colonies. This is when I had the boys read aloud to me so that I can see how well they are reading and comprehending.

11:30ish. How could we have covered so much territory in an hour and a half? There must be more to do. The boys took out their vocabulary list (which is also their spelling list) and did an assignment that analyzed sentences to discern the meanings and grammatical uses of the words. They got this done in a surprisingly short time and no errors. What is going on here?

In the past I have been slack about teaching geography and resolved this year to concentrate more on this subject. We are working on the states and capitals which is always a good place to start. Today I quizzed the boys on the western states. One child easily got everything correct and one...did not. But he eventually figured it out. More practice is necessary but we are making progress.

By noon we had covered math, memory work, cursive writing, reading, spelling, history, Bible, geography and vocabulary. Really? I have the rest of the day to myself?

The boys had a free afternoon. What did they do with it? They went to a neighbors to help her plant garlic which the neighbor turned into an enterprise for the boys. All the leftover garlic from the harvested crop (after the neighbor takes what she needs) can be sold next year to the local farm stand. The boys will be responsible for helping with the rest of the cultivation and for negotiating with the buying farmer. They won't see a payoff until next year. Are there a few lessons to learn here that they can't learn in school?

One more afternoon scholastic activity is working on a typing program on the computer. I have promised the boys that they can get their own email account when they learn to type. Motivation!

Tonight my young sons finished their educational day by practicing their piano lesson for thirty minutes. Being gone from them a month has really helped me to see the progress they are making in this area too. I am most delighted to see that they have crossed over that intangible line where piano is not just work but an enjoyable pastime. Today they were sight-reading through a new book just for the fun of it. It warms my heart like nothing else can.

It is days like this that give me hope for the future. I need days when everything goes smoothly and peacefully so that I can face up to the next.............Seven. Years. Teenage years. With boys.....

Pray for me.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The best gifts are always handmade.

Have I ever mentioned that I love glass? I am attracted to glass as much as I am to pottery. Well, maybe even more than pottery now that my love affair with clay has cooled a bit. I have a modest glass collection going too: stained glass window adornments; glass balls, vases, and bowls; antique glass bead jewelry. I love blown glass, fused glass and lampworked glass. I love to visit glass blowing studios and I've been to the American mecca for glass lovers- the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. I took about eight thousand pictures of the bridge of glass there. I also had the privilege of visiting the glass blowing shops of Venice, Italy and there witnessed a master glass blower demonstrate his craft. From that trip I brought home a small collection of glass fruit and candies because a chandelier wouldn't fit in my suitcase.

Once I got to make a fused glass plate at a class I attended with my friends in Switzerland. I've pondered taking stained glass classes here at home and came really, really close- late one night while internet window shopping- to buying a lamp working kit so I could start making my own glass beads. But every time I start thinking about doing any of those things I have to ask myself Do you really need another hobby? Then I give myself a reality-checking swat upside the head.

So that is why, despite the prodding of my oldest son, I haven't gone to visit the newest glass blowing studio that is only ten miles from here. My son, Kris, knows the artists and has done some photography for them.  I know deep down that if I go there I am doomed. Doomed. I will be sucked into a glowing glory hole that will cause me to stop returning the calls of brides and to exchange my apron for asbestos gloves. I'll have to give up flour and butter for molten balls of silica. This place is in my back yard for crying out loud. It would just be too easy.

But last month, while I was far away waiting for a baby's arrival in Michigan, my mother took my youngest boys to the studio on a special mission.
After my return home, I was utterly delighted by a very belated 50th birthday celebration. My mother and boys felt cheated out of a day-of celebration and a piece of my birthday cake. They were impatiently waiting to present me with their special gifts, made at the glass studio just for me.

They each got to blow the air into the melted glass to form these precious artworks. Samuel made this beautiful green pear.

My mother assisted with the formation of this delightful apple.

And Peter's breath is in this hanging ornament. He is anxious to see it on our Christmas tree but in the meantime I want to let it sparkle in the sunlight of a window.

Because they were made with love and thoughtfulness, these pieces are going to hold special places in my glass collection and in my heart!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Grape Juice

Our Concord grape vines were loaded with grapes again this year and again, like last year, we didn't pick a single cluster from them. The summer was too cool for the grapes to ripen at all. It's such a disappointment after the time spent pruning vines and caring for them. The grape vines were one of the first things we planted when we moved here eighteen years ago but I'm thinking we need to pull them out and replace them with a variety that will ripen in a shorter time. Those Concords just need longer or at least hotter summers.

Some friends who live lower in the valley and therefore had a bit more warmth than we did (a mere ten miles from here) were more successful with their grapes. They gifted us with their excess. The boys and I picked several boxes and basketfuls.

Even these weren't as deeply colored and sweet as they would be after a hot summer but they were good enough for juice.

Another friend loaned me her steamer/juicer (she didn't have any grapes to juice this year either.) Have you seen this nifty thing? I need to get one for myself because it produces wonderful juice without the mess of hanging cheesecloth bags of cooked fruit. I can see using it for cherry and plum juice too.

The juicer has three parts. The hole-filled strainer top gets loaded with washed fruit....

...In the bottom water boils to produce steam...

The middle part directs the steam onto the fruit to gently cook it until it releases the juices which drip down and collect in the pot.

The scalding hot juice pours out a tube with a clamp to control the flow. I fill commercial juice jars and reuse them every year. As the hot juice cools in the bottles it creates a vacuum that seals the lids tightly. No canning necessary.
Yes, I know that the extension office may raid my kitchen for using this method. I occasionally get a bottle that doesn't seal so I put that into the fridge for immediate use. Mostly I hear the satisfying ping, ping of the sealing caps.

I eliminated store bought juice in this house years ago (my poor deprived children) when the dentist bills got out of hand. Our homemade and nutritious organic juice is a treat every Sunday morning with our pancake breakfast.  We're grateful for generous friends.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

My Long October Nap

Maybe you are wondering if my plane ever made it to Oregon. I've been a bit absent from cyberspace. Or Bloggerspace anyway.

Returning home after a month away has been a bit like waking up from a long sleep. A reeeeally long Rumpelstiltskin-style sleep. There's been so much to catch up on and it's been a challenge to get back into the groove here. A lot changed while I was gone.

Summer disappeared. Jack Frost zapped my garden and all my flowers. I was sad to see the bushels of red tomatoes hanging frozen on the trellises. There was no one available to pick them and make them into something delicious.

My expanding house got a roof and a beautiful entry door.

My little boys got taller and became more accomplished at the piano.

My family got jipped out of my birthday. They didn't get any birthday cake. I missed Seth's birthday but I think I made it up to him. He got a pie and a day at the symphony with me.

But, I can verify, absence does make the heart grow fonder.

I left my camera cord at Katie's. Being a very visual person and a photo fanatic, I find it difficult to write a blog post without photos. I'm still taking photos, I just can't get them off my camera and onto my blog.

So looking through the file from Michigan I found a couple photos to share. The day before I left I paid one last visit to the Amish neighbors. After our chat in the simple Amish kitchen I took Ruth back with me to see the new baby. She brought along her adorable toddler, Edna.

Being a strongly visual person and a photo fanatic I was painfully yearning to photograph beautiful barefoot Edna with her long blue dress, white bonnet, and crystal blue eyes. I have faced similar photographic desires whenever I was around the Amish children who are so doll-like in their dress and so innocent and joyful. I wanted to take pictures of them so badly! When we went out the door to visit Baby Andrew, Edna's mother put a tiny black cape and black visiting bonnet on Edna and I just died a thousand deaths.

At Katie's house I screwed up my courage and asked Ruth if I could take a photo of Edna from the back just to see her dress and black bonnet. Even that pose, without her face, was not acceptable and permission was denied. The Amish don't allow any photos because they think it breaks the commandment against making and having graven images.

But then Ruth playfully put the bonnet on my grandson Evan and suggested I photograph him. Which I gladly did because even he was adorable in a black bonnet!

Oops! Edna almost stepped into the picture!

Ruth even suggested putting the blue dress on Evan but I think that would have been going a little too far.

I wonder what my Amish friends think of me, always carrying a camera around and making graven images.

I feel sorry for them. I have dozens and dozens of photo albums full of special memories of special times and I couldn't live happily without them. I'm such a sinner.

My photos make me happy. Right now the photos of my beautiful grandsons remind me that I was not napping during October. I was making memories.