longer story

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The Impact of Food….Or Family?

At my home, our eating habits as a family have changed a bit over the years.  I am the oldest of seven children, and as a result our household is one of constant, noisy hustle and bustle.  My dad is a hard worker, and has worked his way up in the company that he is a part of, therefore we are reasonably well off.  We don’t really have to scrimp and save to get what we need.  However, my parents both come from families that had to live frugally while they were growing up, and so they both have the habit of frugal living etched into their DNA.  The kinds of food that we eat and the close ties that I have with my family help to enrich my experience with food.  It is very safe to say that it is not the food itself that keeps me coming back to certain places and certain dishes, but the strong memories and pleasant experiences that I have had over the same plates and in the same restaurants with my family and friends.

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I was born in upstate New York, the state my parents love, and also a state that is known for it’s cultural foods.  My Dad is a great lover of pasta and pizza, and pizza is a favorite food of my family’s.  One favorite pastime of ours when we go to New York to visit our extended family, is to meet at our favorite pizza restaurant and to catch up on the latest events around a fresh, hot pizza pie.  Thin crust is, of course, the way to go in New York, and it is usually topped with flavorful sauce and heavy mozzarella cheese, with the occasional topping of pepperoni, mushrooms ,bacon, or sausage.  I have countless great memories of the restaurant, which my parents and grandparents have been providing with service since that day that it opened it’s doors.  I have countless pleasant memories with pizza in general.  I have spent some time up at Castleton University, since it is where one of my numerous brothers goes to college.  One of the first things we did together was explore the various places to eat in the area.  To our great delight, we found a wonderful little pizza shop only about 10 minutes away from the college.  As soon as we opened the door, thick, warm, and familiar scents of tomatoes, cheese, and meat flooded our nostrils. Smiles instantly leapt onto our faces as we cheerily said hello to the staff.  It was an environment that made us feel at home, and it was just one more pleasant experience with this wonderful food.

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This brother and I are very close, he is only a year younger than I, and we’ve had our fair share of experiences when it comes to food.  When we were very little, we used to spend a lot of time in our Grandmother’s blueberry patch.  We call it “hers” because it is conveniently right across the road from her house, however it is entirely wild.  My Grandfather painstakingly grooms it.  He is always keeping the grass around the huge blueberry bushes mowed short, and is constantly making new pathways upon which to walk through and around the bushes, and lengthening, widening, and improving existing ones.  The blueberry patch is quite large, and my Grandparents share it with other animals of the forest.  Bears, deer, rabbits, turkeys, foxes, and countless songbirds are all appreciative of my Grandfather’s work at making the blueberries accessible, and they can be found in among the bushes on a daily basis.  My siblings and I have many fond memories of walking through this blueberry patch with our Grandma, oftentimes joined by the occasional Aunt or Uncle.  We would comb through the bushes, looking for the biggest and ripest berries, which we would pluck and place in a bucket to bring home.  Grandma keeps large quantities of berries in her freezer for the off-season, and she uses these to bake into pies, muffins, or pancakes, which she always treats us with whenever we visit.  Her pancake recipe is one that she has perfected, and is one that my Mom uses to this day.

This same Grandmother keeps a large garden, in which she grows corn, peppers, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins, radishes, and any other vegetable that she decides to grow on a given year.  My mom has a small garden every year as well, but Grandma’s garden has always been the garden to us.  She is always finding creative ways to cook vegetables from the garden into her home-cookies meals, and she also takes great pride in her pickles, which she makes in batches every year from her cucumbers.  These cucumbers were always a source of pleasure for me as a kid.  I looked forward to being able to pick and eat them whenever went to Grandma’s house.  They are the perfect snack, crisp and crunchy and as fresh as they could possibly be.  Half of the fun was hunting through big, thick, and rough cucumber leaves to find them, and then snapping them off the vine and washing them thoroughly with the garden hose before eating them.  She gets all of her seeds from a local market which is open at certain times of the year and contains all manners of plants and seeds, along with locally produced syrups and honey.  This market is another favorite place to visit for us, and whenever we go to visit my grandparents in the fall we usually make a pit stop there at least once or twice.

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When it comes to cooking, I would like to say that I’m decent, although my cooking skills have never really been put to the test.  I can read a recipe and produce an edible result, but my Mom is the one who does most of the family cooking.  Usually, her meals are pasta-based since these are the meals that my Dad tends to enjoy, in fact, if he ends up cooking for some reason or another, we will most likely end up eating spaghetti (or pizza).  My Mom makes all manners of pasta, from the favorite spaghetti, to lasagna, ziti, or stuffed shells.  When she doesn’t make pasta, she’ll make savory roast beef or sweet and salty pulled pork, or she’ll make various dishes with fish.  She is quite a creative cook and has a whole bookshelf dedicated to cookbooks.  She is always looking for new recipes that the family will like.  My Mom used to be a lot more strict when it came to junk food than she is now.  When I was little we almost never had candy or soda.  Now, although it is still by no means prevalent in the home, it is not sanctioned as heavily as it was back then.  My cooking tends to include lots of pasta as well.  I’ll usually make penne, bow tie pasta, or spaghetti, and serve it with marinara or vodka sauce along with meatballs if I have them.  I also make a splendid teriyaki salmon dish, which is made with maple syrup and teriyaki sauce marinated and baked into it to give it a wonderfully sweet flavor.  I also make salad a lot when I’m with my friends; iceberg lettuce combined with carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, cheese, and croutons topped with caesar, ranch, or french dressings.  This is by  no means the healthiest salad in the world, but we consider it a healthier option than fast food at least.

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My brother and I used to be somewhat explorative with our early cooking.  Mom used to let us play around with ingredients and make our own homemade soups.  We would gather our desired ingredients, usually a mix of vegetables like peas, corn, beans, and potatoes, and we would usually use hamburger and beef broth and explore how these ingredients worked with each other to produce unique flavors.  Mom would always be close by and would assist us if she felt like we needed more experienced help.  Once, when Mom was out of the house, my brother and I decided that we would try our hands at baking a cake.  Unfortunately, we had little to no knowledge of baking, and I have since forgotten the exact ingredients that we used.  All I know is that we used far too much cocoa powder, and the result was a disaster of a “cake.”  Mom returned as we were contemplating where we went wrong, and she was extremely amused.  Years of living with many kids have taught her not to be surprised when we do things that she’s not expecting.

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These experiences that I had while growing up have shaped me to be the person that I am. Walking through the garden and the blueberry patch with my Grandparents, creating wonderful failures with my brother, trying different pizzas and pizza shops with my Dad, eating my Mom’s home cooked meals; these are all positive encounters with food that I have had that have moulded my culinary techniques and tendencies.  Our experiences with and around food are some of the strongest ones that we have, and these memories with those that we love are what keeps us connected to the foods that we eat.

***

Jacob wrote this yesterday for college composition.

I was making homemade meatballs while he worked.

easy afternoon snack

I remember my mom making these for us when I was a child.

I broke the muffins apart and let Sarah do the rest.

Then, biggest brother came along and added even MORE cheese.

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English muffin pizzas

all you need is English muffins, pizza sauce, cheese, and an oven

to have happy children with full bellies

a good cook knows it’s not what is on the table that’s important,
it’s what is in the chairs.

jacob’s twentieth birthday

It’s still so weird to think about Jacob being twenty years old.  Ah yes, young moms, the days are long but I am here to tell you that what *they say* about the years flying by is true.  It’s not depressing news, it’s actually very ENCOURAGING!  Whatever days you have going on right now are going to rapidly pass.  What a blessing.  Jacob was QUITE a handful for many years and now look at him, I barely have to parent him anymore.  He’s all grown up and just needs a minor parental adjustment once in a great while (considering he does still live with us and all).

Jacob’s birthday is New Year’s Eve, so for the last few years it’s been a tradition for him to fill the house with his friends and stay up all night to celebrate his birthday AND the New Year.

PICTURE ALBUM:

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Rich had his laptop connected to the TV so he could watch some of the wrestling matches from that morning.  Zak (the one making the face) had hurt his lower back during his match so they were trying to figure out what happened.  You can see the laundry I was still working on folding….after all these years of having people over to our house I’ve gotten gotten over the feeling that “it must be clean”.  I have gracious friends.

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Ethan and his girl.

They are soooooo cute.

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Kylee was trying to braid Grace’s hair and Sarah was watching intently because she wanted to learn to braid.  You can see the braids in her hair, I had done them a few hours earlier and as I was braiding, Sarah was saying she wanted to learn…..so it was providential that Kylee decided to practice on Grace, and Sarah could get a lesson.  🙂

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Playing “SORRY”

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And UNO

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Caleb and Jacob; Caleb is Grace’s boyfriend, Grace has a brother named Caleb and Caleb has a brother named Jacob.

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three of my boys (two are missing)– Ethan (18), Jacob (20), and David (14)

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And one with their Dad, too.

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Time for the cake!  Dixie cups making things easier.  And please notice my stack of small fiesta plates.  🙂

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I can’t get over it.

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Look at all these wonderful people.

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I LOVE THIS PICTURE SO MUCH.  Grace is so cute!

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Sherlock’s favorite place to sleep these days.

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best friends

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Downstairs in the basement….we got a new couch for Jacob.  Seats 10.  I love how Seth (the little guy) stayed right with the bigger kids all night.

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my Caleb

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And Sarah (despite the face) LOVED being able to spend time with the girls.

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Parker the Dog was in heaven (and spent the night trying to steal food and chew things up in order to get people to notice him).  He was resting his chin on his stuffed animal in this picture.

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I went to bed at 11 and when I got up there were kids sleeping all over the place.  Ethan eventually made pancakes and then everyone left and it was just our family again.

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And time to take the college boy back to Vermont.

*****

ode to a milestone

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twenty pacifiers

twenty matchbox cars

twenty laps around the house

twenty times watching Busy Town

twenty naps resisted

twenty days of Kindergarten

twenty little green army guys

twenty light sabers

twenty lego sets built

twenty fish in the pond

twenty walks with the dog

twenty books read

twenty trips to the orthodontist

twenty pizzas eaten

twenty pictures drawn (with sharpies)

twenty albums bought for your ipod

twenty acts of kindness

twenty sweet kisses

twenty days of your first job

twenty songs sung

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and only one you.

Happy 20th birthday, Jacob!

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

old bananas, etc

I am eating this right now.  It is so good…….

So last night I overfilled my goulash casserole and it dripped all over the bottom of the oven as it baked and filled the kitchen with smoke.  As a result, I can’t make my lemon banana bread this morning until the oven self cleaner is done.  It’s 34 degrees outside, the sun is shining brilliantly, my house is once again smelling of smoke as the oven cleans.  I have windows and doors open to keep the smoke alarm from going off.

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This morning the first thing she said to me was, “Can I put a puzzle together?”  And then she asked me, “Are the Northern Lights REAL?”  After questioning, I learned that she saw a picture of them in Kindergarten.  The puzzle is of Alaskan animals and the Northern Lights can be seen in Alaska so I was floored by the entire conversation which occurred much too early in the morning (6:30am).

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We bought this small piece of furniture this weekend from the guy down the road.  He refinishes pieces and we really like him and his shop.  It’s very rustic and down to earth.  This small chest of drawers, very narrow but made of hard wood, has two shallow drawers and one deep drawer.  From now on the mail and papers get stuffed into it rather than piled on the counter.  The pile was driving me nuts.

I’m freezing..hold on…I gotta turn the fan off and shut the door….

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We also bought this chest.  The top opens and shuts without a latch which makes it easy to use and also no children or cats can get trapped inside of it.  I’m using it to hold all the wrestling things and any back packs and bags that I can fit into it, in this way the spot near the door doesn’t have QUITE the pile of stuff it normally does in the evening.  If I put a blanket on top of the chest Gentleman Gray will curl up and sleep on it too; it’s also a cat bed.

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I went to the grocery store before I picked up David from newspaper club yesterday so I could get a few things for goulash dinner.  And guess what?  I discovered a new-to-my-grocery-store flavor of FAGE yogurt!  It’s sooooooooo good!

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ALSO this is very exciting…..Panera bread in the grocery store!!!!!!  I discovered it yesterday by the hot soup station.  I LOVE their tomato basil and I bought the white for the kids and as you can see, it’s almost gone already.

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This is what I’m going to bake as soon as the oven is done cleaning itself.  I said in a few posts back that I wanted to depend more on my cookbooks than the internet and when I realized this morning that I had old bananas, I went and sat on the floor by my cookbook shelf to search for a recipe……and it looks great.  I found eggs in the coop this morning that I will use, too.

B A N A N A  L E M O N  B R E A D

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups mashed banana
6 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tablespoon baking soda
3 Tablespoons grated lemon peel

Grease 2 loaf pans or one bundt pan.  In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar.  Blend in the eggs, bananas, and juice.  Stir in the dry ingredients.  Add the grated lemon peel.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 1 hour.

Of course, I don’t know how it will turn out.  If it’s a flop I’ll come back online later and cross out the recipe.

Lastly, we (mostly Jacob and myself) have been currently working on a room in the basement and I wanted to show you our style of decorating.  It’s not so much decorating than filling up……and we love it.

Our inspiration?  “The Burrow” from the Harry Potter movies….here is a picture:

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Now, our room will not be the same because of the very unromantic drop ceiling but that’s beside the point.  What we love is “clutter”, pillows, blankets, comfy lived in couches and chairs, rugs, books everywhere, all kinds of stuff hanging on the walls, just a very eclectic humble and cozy room…..

So far, this is what we’ve accomplished out of practically nothing (cast offs, things from the thrift store, stuff from our own storage that I had put away).

And by the way, this is only part of our basement. There is also a section which is a bedroom for three of the boys, an exercise room with a treadmill, and a storage room.  This part is Jacob’s bedroom/PS4 video game room.  When teenagers come over this is where they end up.  Because it is the basement we threw caution to the wind and cheerfully hung things up everywhere (the walls were bare a month ago).  And we aren’t done!  Jacob is having just as much fun as I am with this space.  It’s been a fun project for us.

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Obviously not a very good photo of the curtains, but they are very cool vintage Star Wars curtains that I bought at Iroquois Antiques “back home” several years ago.  David wants me to leave them to him in my will.

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The wooden shelf to the far right of the photo next to the TV is Jacob’s rock collection.

The desk was already down there but they moved the two bookcases down, along with the blue chair and the rug.  Michael and Jacob bought the coffee table from walmart but they are looking for another one, possibly a round wooden one.

(this is also Michael’s room when he stays the weekends with Jacob)

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I bought the clock at Target.  Army guys are solid medal from a tag sale.  Cross stitched army guy also from tag sale.  Art work from Emily to Jacob.

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Old quilts covering our shabby old very very comfortable couch.

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The black frame is from the Family dollar.  The gold frame is from Goodwill…I love that it had seven spaces for my seven children.

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“It’s not much, but it’s home” ~Harry Potter

*****

“Comfort is born out of use, therefore the comfortable houses seem to be the ones that have been lived in.”

“Clutter=finding solace and a little beauty in the things we cherish in our everyday lives at home and at work”

“I want my house to be comfortable, not perfect”

all quotes from a wonderful book titled A PERFECTLY KEPT HOUSE IS THE SIGN OF A MISSPENT LIFE.  Not a life/decorating style for everyone, but I personally like it so much and it speaks my language for what an ideal home looks and feels like.

 

 

the story of a birthday, with recipes

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On the morning of December 31, Jacob woke up and smiled.  It was his nineteenth birthday and he was looking forward to being home all day long as the center of attention, with lots of family and friends saying Happy Birthday over and over, and generally making merriment in his honor.  As the first of seven children, he always felt his very best in a crowd.

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His sweet girlfriend was the first to arrive.  The day was sunny and pretty.

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Emily and Jacob spent time together until she had to go to work.

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Meanwhile, in the kitchen, I was very busy making meatballs out of 10 pounds of hamburger.

M E A T B A L L S

I have opinions about meatballs.  The ones found in the frozen food section of the grocery store are miles away from being as tasty as homemade.  The only ones I have found pre-made that I will pay good money for are a brand that costco sells in the refrigerator section.  They are sold in bags of sauce and they are very good.  But I haven’t been able to find them lately and also they are a bit more expensive than homemade.

I didn’t like making meatballs until I thought to myself,  “I DO like making cookies and they are the same exact concept”.  Big bowl, dump in ingredients, mix, and form into balls on cookie sheets.  Bake at 350.  EASY!

Here is a basic recipe, but the sky is the limit with meatballs.  Simple is best.

4 pounds ground beef
2 eggs
4 slices fresh bread, town into bread crumbs
1/2 finely minced onion
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup tomato juice

Mix together, form into balls, bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until done.

At this point you may cool them and freeze for later, or use them in your favorite recipe.

For Jacob’s party I put them in a crock pot, poured sauce over and turned the dial to “warm”.  I prepared buttered noodles and kept them in casserole dishes in the empty oven to store until dinner.

A note about sauce.  I do buy prepared sauce and keep it in the pantry but lately I’ve been cutting the saltiness of it by adding a big (28 oz) can of plain whole tomatoes to the pot.  To me this has a fresher taste and is more “tomatoey” rather than “processed spaghetti sauce”.    A plain, simple, but high quality sauce is nice for simmering meatballs because the meatballs flavor the sauce deliciously.

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The house began to fill with teenagers.  Jacob is blessed to have great friends in his life and also a birthday that falls on a great party day—New Year’s Eve—and for the last few years the day has turned into an all night celebration for them (not me.  I hate staying up late.)

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With Ethan and a couple other boys on the wrestling team, we try to have lots of fresh fruit and veggies in the fridge at all times.  And it’s good for all of us to eat them.

Caleb’s mom won the “best dip” award (no prize, just the title) by sending along a a couple bags of waffle fries for us to bake and then serve with this dip:

1 tub of sour cream
diced chives (a couple handfuls)
a pack of bacon cooked and diced
a cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Mix together and chill for at least an hour and then top with a little more chives and bacon.  Serve with waffle fries.

amazing…so so good

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Our old couch is now down in the basement along with a TV and the game systems.  So this year it became the kid’s favorite hang out place.  I just had to control my curiosity and not go down to see what they were doing constantly.

Just once in a while.  And it’s always interesting.  Who would have expected seeing Ethan with a tower of dog biscuits on his head?

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This is the face of someone whose heart was saying all day long, “How can my darling baby boy be 19 years old?”

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Rich is always trying to get kids to do sit ups and push ups with him.

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TIME TO EAT!  but first a birthday blessing……

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directly followed by a little bit of wrestling

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not sorry Tessa….you’re beautiful even with your tongue sticking out….

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LOVE LOVE LOVE these SMILES!

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Emily came back as soon as she was done with work.  She couldn’t wait to dive into the meatballs because I had only let her have one of them that morning.

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even more wrestling

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They were watching a football game together.  (Caleb is a huge football fan).

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Eventually it was presents and cake time.

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This was Seth about to almost put his dog in the flames.  *sigh* thank goodness Emily was there to intercept.   Blowing out the candles couldn’t happen fast enough, in my opinion.  I think Parker the dog was nervous, too.  He helps me keep things under control.

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Moist Chocolate Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
3/4 cup baking cocoa
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup canola oil
1 cup brewed coffee, room temperature
1 cup milk
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Add the oil, coffee and milk; beat at medium speed for 2 minutes.  Add eggs and vanilla; beat 2 minutes longer.

Pour into a greased 9 by 13, or for a layer cake, two greased and floured 9 inch round baking pans.  Bake at 325 for 25-30 minus or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

BUTTERCREAM FROSTING

1 cup butter, softened
8 cups confectioners sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 to 3/4 cup milk

Spread frosting between layers and over top and sides of completely cooled cake (note: this is plenty of frosting to top two 9 by thirteen cakes kept in the pans, which is what I did for the party).

(I doubled this recipe for two 9 by thirteens)

recipe source:  taste of home baking classics cookbook

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Thank you to Emily and Ethan and his girlfriend Tessa for serving out the cake and ice cream.

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Jacob had a wonderful birthday and it was fun to see him enjoy himself.  One of my favorite things about him is his ready laugh.

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That’s frosting on those pants.

By the next morning, after a night of doing who knows what, the teens were all watching Sesame Street of all things.  We ate breakfast prepared by Emily at about 8:30 and then people began to either 1) leave or 2) crash all over the couches to sleep.

Jacob had a lot of changes in the last year and we look forward to seeing him continue growing and learning throughout this next one, too.  His last year of being a teenager.

Time flies.  And we are having fun.

 

 

 

 

 

happenings

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LOVE

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JOY

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PEACE

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forbearance

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kindness

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goodness

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faithfulness

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gentleness

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self control

against such things there is no law.

Good evening, my friends.

Today is a wonderful day.  I am finally feeling more like myself.  Thank the Lord for doctors and modern medicine.  After I got the kids out the door for school, my oldest son Jacob got up and showered.  When he came downstairs he told me that he didn’t have to go to college today so I mentioned that I was going to go shopping in about an hour.  I had some photos to pick up and some things I needed to get.  He right away showed his willingness to go along with me without even being asked…he said, “Oh, than I can show you those legos at the mall that I wanted to get the boys for Christmas.”  It made me smile that he wanted to go with me.

He drove me after I said I would give him gas money.  Gas money is very important to 18 year old young men.  He talked to me the whole time we were together.  And if he wasn’t talking, he was singing along to his music.  He and his girlfriend share a spotify music account now, isn’t that romantic?  They also did community service together yesterday by picking up litter along some of the main roads in our area.

Jacob LOVES music.  He has quite a varied collection, from classical to Christian metal.

We went to several stores, including Starbucks and Five Guys (burgers) for lunch.  Then he drove us to his school so that we could pay for his next semester.  He walked me around and showed me the library.  He loves his classes, his professors, and the campus.  I’m so thankful for the way he is adjusting and becoming independent.  The place he works for originally hired him for the Holidays, but recently asked him to stay on full-time.  He loves his job and the people he has met.

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The chickens get bowls of old leftovers and they love it.  It looks sickening to us humans, though.  I always have to laugh when I hand a bowl over to a child and say “run this down to the chickens” and they do, while gagging.

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Just beyond the hens, in that spot that looks like briars, is a small little pond nestled down a bank.  I love that little pond, and so do the chickens.  They make their way down and drink from it.  Beyond that (the building you see) is our garage.

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Holiday FIESTAWARE display!

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precious children coming home off the bus

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Dear teachers, your students notice everything you do.  The other day I told Sarah she would make a good teacher someday and after sitting there thinking about it she said, “No I don’t think so.  It’s such hard work!  And I don’t know how to make a star!”

Tis the season for gingerbread men.  She brought another one home today.  It’s a paper plate painted brown, with a circle at the top of it for a head and oval arms and legs decorated with glitter.  Only it looks more like a brown turtle then a gingerbread man.

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Saturday morning these guys went to a wrestling practice.

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Grace brought her rabbit inside for a little while and we had such a time watching funny Gentleman Gray visit with him from the top of the cage.

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I put a small box inside of her cage yesterday and she had a great time chewing it up into a bed.

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beauty in an apple core

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beauty outside the door

Going back to the aloe vera plant.  Just a few months ago the planter contained one big “mama” plant that was so big that it was tipping the whole planter over unless I balanced it against the wall.  The appearance was beginning to bother me so I cut it right off and threw it away.  It has been a delight to see so many baby plants grow up in it’s place.  I hope to divide it soon and share with friends.  I’m sure there is a parable in there somewhere.

Tonight I am picking my dear friend Hannah up from the airport and I cannot wait.