"Have you thought about writing your family history, but found yourself stuck from the start? Writing a family narrative can be a daunting task, but Karen Jones Gowen found a way to bring her mother's story to life." (Homespun Magazine)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SNOW and Service

A few days before Thanksgiving we got SNOW. Lots and lots of it. Then more, and more and more. Now there's probably 2 feet, and another 3 or 4 feet drifted. And it is COLD!! I'm spending way too much time on the computer simply because I like the warmth on my lap.

Yesterday morning my husband went out to shovel. We live on a corner lot which means a lot of sidewalk, not to mention driveway. You get the picture. So here's the poor guy out there with his bad knees, all hunched over doing his manly duty for our home and property, when two little neighbor boys from across the street came over with their snow shovels. They are two brothers, one 12, the other 7.

They pitched right in and worked with my husband until the job was done. When they finished, he thanked them, gave them some cookies and they ran home. This morning their mom called to thank me for the cookies, and to thank me for giving her sons the opportunity to learn service. (I know, this is the kind of neighborhood we live in. It's a little bit of heaven on earth & we love it.)

Her older son had said, "Mom, I'm so glad we went over to help Mr. Gowen. He never could have shoveled all that snow by himself. He needed our help, and I have such a good feeling about what we did." She said he had a smile on his face all day, lingering from the joy of serving someone who really needed it.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Homemade Maple Bars and Happy Thanksgiving

Last night was a birthday celebration-- a pizza building party. And for dessert the birthday boy's favorite food of all time-- maple bars. But not just any maple bars, these were made from scratch, dough rising, cut in shapes, then fried, iced while hot, made in my own kitchen by my daughter and me maple bars. She wanted to double the recipe so I was frying for an hour and a half, and we ended up with about 4 cookie sheets of maple bars. And this after eating pizza? omigosh, no wonder my husband and me are so danged fat.

Well, it turned out that he and I didn't get the opportunity to overeat, because all the six foot boys in our family (as well as the future son in law birthday boy) pretty well demolished all of it. Two huge pizzas with pepperoni, sausage and 4 lbs. of cheese, and nearly 4 trays of maple bars. Alright, we aren't quite such pigs, to be truthful, a lot of it was divided up and taken to various homes. And there were fifteen people for dinner.

That was our pre Thanksgiving hog fest.Eating turkey tomorrow will feel like a diet. But seeing all that food disappear got me to thinking. What is it about this upcoming holiday season that makes us feel like overindulging and consuming more than our share? It seems to begin at Halloween and then by Jan 2, we are all stuffed, broke, in debt and planning our New Year's resolutions to remedy the situation. It's not just food and overeating, it's all the spending and the shopping and the conspicuous consumption. We've all done it, and most of us don't like it, but we get sucked in just the same. I could blame the media, but they don't force us into the stores to open our wallets.

This year, I would love to have a simpler holiday, with less indulgence, more heart and less cash, with service instead of selfishness. Do you think that's even possible in this cultural environment?  And in case you're interested, here's the recipe for the maple bars:

  1 1/2 c. milk
  1/2 c. shortening
  4 tbsp. sugar
  2 tsp. salt
  2 yeast cakes
  4 tbsp. warm water
  4 3/4 c. flour
  3 eggs, beaten well
  Frosting (recipe follows)

Bring milk to boiling point and pour over shortening, sugar
and salt in a large bowl. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast
in warm water and add to lukewarm mixture in bowl along
with flour and eggs; mix well.
Grease bowl and add dough, turning to grease top. Cover and
let rise in a warm place until doubled. Turn out onto a
well floured board and roll 1/2" thick. Cut into 2"x4"
pieces. Let rise again in warm place until double.
Deep fry in oil heated to 375 degrees in deep skillet or
fryer until golden on all sides. Remove to paper towels to
drain. Make Frosting and frost bars while still warm.

  2 c. confectioners' sugar
  3 tbsp. butter, softened
  1/4 c. milk
  1/4 c. maple syrup
  1/2 tsp. maple flavoring

Blend butter into sugar, add milk a tablespoon at a time until right consistency. Should be smooth and spreadable. Add more powdered sugar if mixture is too runny, and more milk and/or syrup if it's too stiff.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tucking in the Garden

When I moved out West from Illinois 30 years ago, I remember being surprised to hear people with lawns bashing trees. "I don't like trees on my property. They kill the grass, plus there's all those leaves to rake in the fall."

Huh? Grass is nice and all but nothing that special. Once settled into our home, my husband and I set about to plant trees everywhere we could, first at one home then the next one, where we live now. It had about 6 or 8 trees on the property; we planted another 10 or 12.

As for having to rake the leaves, well, yes that's part of it. In fact, we spent two hours today doing just that. It was nice. Raking the leaves is the last loving act one performs for their yard. Then we gathered them up and lay them over the garden like a warm blanket, to cover it all winter. After months of rain and snow, the leaves will break down into the soil, enriching it for spring planting.

I noticed that the trees, now barren of their leaves, had many dried pears, apples or edible berries still hanging on the branches like Christmas ornaments. These will feed the birds that winter over. How can anyone not love a tree? Now the trees, the garden, the yard and the birds are all ready for winter. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Figuring out the Blogs (Again, sigh)

So I'm involved with a lot of stuff right now. Two start-ups-- the cookie business and the website for authors-- plus I'm doing more with WiDo Publishing. I have a couple of editing projects, my own novel to revise by the end of the year, and now they have asked me to help them get more of a presence on social media. One of the editors does Twitter but isn't a fan. WiDo doesn't have a blog. There's a Facebook account which thankfully I will not work on (can't stand fb, but that's just me).

I'm thinking maybe after the holidays I will morph my writing/editing blog into one for WiDo Publishing, thus doing their blog while still keeping my own voice. And this quiet blog will become my new "author blog," since it's all about me anyway LOL. I like having an author blog, but right now I have two of them, really is that necessary? That way I can blog for WiDo, and blog here, and still keep it down to two.

What do you think? Does that make sense?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Cookie House

Here's an excerpt from a book I wrote for a class assignment (unpublished). Oh, first a word of explanation. The assignment was to collect stories on a particular theme from a group of people who had something in common. I chose the theme of Food, and the group of people was my family, largely my children. This excerpt is from one of my daughters, and it proves to me that children writing from life is the most charming, honest kind of writing ever:

I was walking home from kindergarten in the fall, and it was windy and kind of cold outside. When I finally got home I went in through the back door that went straight into the kitchen. Every surface of the kitchen was covered in cookies, hundreds of cookies, of all different kinds--not just chocolate chip, but mint chocolate chip, chocolate chocolate chip, butterscotch cookies, cinnamon cookies. I wanted to try one of each kind. The house smelled so good, it was like it was made of cookies. And it was warm and so nice. My mom let me eat all the cookies I wanted and I wanted to try one of each, but I got too full. I liked the mint chocolate chip because mint has always been my favorite flavor. Some of the older kids would come in all excited and say, "Did you try this one yet? Did you try this one? This one's my favorite." I wanted to stay in that kitchen forever.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Saving Precious Memories

I started this blog as a means of encouraging people to save and record their personal and family histories, although I mostly just ramble on about my soup, my walks, my basement, my dogs....

My 93-year-old mom, the subject of Farm Girl, suffered a stroke two weeks ago, and I thank God every day that she and I were able to put this book together back when she was in full health. This was at age 90, mind you.

A lady who heard me speak at a library, said regretfully, "I thought I'd have more time." I am so grateful that I don't have those regrets, but if Mother hadn't lived such a long, active life, I might be saying the same thing: "I thought I'd have more time."

What's the best way to record our own, our parents or grandparents' stories? Just make it a priority and do it. There is no right or wrong method, no secret formula. However, it's one of those things that too easily gets procrastinated regardless of the best intentions. Don't put it off until it's too late-- record those precious memories that will be treasured by many.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Autumn Walk

Today we walked almost two hours, from our house straight west, up the big hill where we could turn back and look out over the valley. Then on to the lake, with a couple stops in to tour the model homes. One was the most light-filled, spacious small house I have ever seen-- on 3 levels, and positively inviting. Decorated by Ikea. We even sat on the front porch for a bit to imagine what it would be like to live there and decided our front porch is better.

Then on to the lake, which was as still and smooth as glass, with the wavy reflection of the houses making the water surface look like an impressionist painting. Still a few ducks on the water, although most have gone South by now. We would have enjoyed sauntering further along the lake, but we were getting tired, and it was still forty minutes back home. A beautiful, mild November day, perfect for a long walk.