Thursday, December 31, 2009

Only one mother...

"A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take."
-- Cardinal Mermillod

I haven't written for a month because I've lost the one whose place no one else can take.

My courageous, strong, intelligent, funny, sweet, loving mom put up a heroic battle against pancreatic cancer. She fought so hard to stay with us as long as she could.

Even though she was in a lot of pain, Mom didn't let it show -- especially to the grandkids. She spent as much time with them as she was able.

She ended her life surrounded by her husband and children and voicing her love for us as long as she was able to whisper the words.

There's no way I can do justice to my mom with just a few words on a page. I was priveleged to speak at her wake, so I'm going to post what I wrote out to say. I strayed from this when I actually stood up to speak, but this will have to suffice.

There’s so much I could say about my mom. So many of the things in my life that bring me joy are things that I learned from her– big things like the importance of faith and family and forgiveness -- and smaller things like a love for reading and how to cook and how to make folks feel welcome when they drop by.

Something I learned from Mom was to take pleasure in small things – like the first crocuses of spring that Dad would bring her or a game of Scrabble or a cup of coffee with a friend or cheering on the local kids. Some might look at Mom’s life and think she didn’t live a very adventurous life, but she wouldn’t have agreed. She found adventures in the everyday happenings of life. Being a wife, a mom, and a grandma were where she found her adventures. Teaching was certainly an adventure – some days more than others. But she had the life she wanted.

Not long after Mom was diagnosed with cancer and was told she was looking at maybe a few months left, she told me that she was okay with it. She certainly hoped to be here for a long time, but she was content with her life and didn’t feel that if she were to die right then that she’d missed out on anything. She told me there wasn’t one thing she wanted to do that she hadn’t been able to do. She’d married the man she wanted -- her sweetheart -- and had the best family she could have hoped for and better friends than she’d ever imagined. All of you here are a testament to that.

Mom strongly believed in the sanctity of all life, and she lived that belief. We’ve had some sad losses in our family, and Mom loved those little grandbabies that she never got to hold just as much as she loves all of her grandkids she did hold. It’s comforting to me that now she’s getting to know those grandchildren, too.

When her mother’s health and mind began to fail from Alzheimer’s, it wasn’t easy. But just as she loved the unborn, Mom loved and respected the dignity of the elderly and infirm. She loved those who were in difficulties that other people might rather forget. Mom was always finding something that she could take to the women’s shelter in Aberdeen and kept those ladies and children in her prayers always.

As Mom’s disease progressed, she had to live with more and more pain. I think there were times it was almost more than she could bear, but she just bore it anyway. She would put a smile on her face and say, “I think I still have a few good days in me,” and put on her walking shoes and carry on. Towards the end, she told me that she still had her good moments. Even when she was ready for the pain to be over, she continued to bear it for the sake of those of us who weren’t ready for her to go. And she chose to bear that pain for whatever good our Lord could wring from it.

We can learn so much from her – from how she lived her life. And from how much she loved life. Life is such a precious gift, and it’s a gift not only when things are well. It’s a gift in all it’s twists and turns from the moment God forms us in the womb until we breathe our last. Mom didn’t preach that to people. She lived that.

At Thanksgiving when the family was gathered together to pray, Mom told us that she hoped to write letters to all of us to tell us what was in her heart and to let each of us know something she felt was special about us. She especially wanted to do this for her grandkids. One of the last things she expressed as Dad and we kids were gathered around her was that she needed to write her letters. She didn’t need to write those letters, because she lived those letters. She lived the love that she felt, and she made everyone feel that they were special to her – because all of you were special to her.

We’re her letters. All of us who knew her and loved her can be her letters to the world. We can take those things that she gave us and use them in the way we live out our lives. In doing that, we can be Mom’s letters for others to read. And she would love that.

Mom will live on in all of us who loved her. Family was so important to her, and this is my favorite picture of my parents with my kids.

Monday, November 23, 2009

November Visit to Assisted Living Home

Each month, the kids and I pack up some favorite projects and head to a nearby town to visit the residents of an assisted living home. The kids enjoy showing off their latest work, and everyone enjoys a nice visit (and a yummy snack provided by Donna, the cook).

The quality of these photos is not very good. I can’t find the battery charger for my digital camera (yikes!), so I had to use my cell phone camera, which is not of the highest caliber.

The oldest three boys discussed ancient Rome and weapons of war. They made a great working model of a trebuchet that’s able to fire projectiles up to ten feet! Son #2 made a simple catapult from Duplos, a plastic spoon, and (of course) duct tape. Son #3 made a pretty fabulous Tinker Toy battering ram. He’s already spent hours building block towers and walls to knock down with the battering ram.

Here are the oldest two discussing their projects:


Our daughter has been doing lots of crayon rubbings. She made leaf rubbings that we turned into a book. She glued the rubbings onto construction paper, and I helped her punch holes so she could make yarn binding.


I purchased rubbing plates and crayon rocks from Let's Explore We have several sets of the plates, and this activity has been very popular with all the kids. I find it to be a very relaxing activity, too! This is how I set out a crayon rubbings activity. The duct tape holds the plate in place and is easy for the kids to reuse several times before it needs to be replaced.


After presenting to the large group, the kids go to each guest to discuss particulars of their projects.



In addition to the battering ram, Son #3 brought along some felt magnets he made since our last visit.



Our daughter always brings one of her many babies to show off. Inspired by My Montessori Journey my daughter made the fabulous sculpture she’s holding.


Little Man goes everywhere, gets into everything, and makes everyone smile. Except for Mom. Mom gets quite exhausted trying to keep up with him and keep him out of trouble! Unfortunately, the best time for our visit ends up overlapping his nap time, which makes things a little challenging for him.


After we’re done showing off, we adjourn to the dining room for treats and more visiting. I’m really proud of the kids as they spread out among the residents and have great conversations until it’s time for us to leave.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Easy Homemade Dairy Products

We've got a family milk cow, so I'm always looking for ways to use the extra milk and to get the most enjoyment from it. When we lived in Omaha and I was doing all I could to feed us a varied diet as inexpensively as possible, I needed to get the most mileage from powdered milk.

Here are some really easy homemade dairy products:

Cultured Buttermilk:
This is so easy! You can buy buttermilk culture from cheese supply sources, but you can also culture your own from any store-bought buttermilk that contains live cultures. (I started mine with clearanced 49c buttermilk, so it doesn't get much cheaper than that!) Buttermilk is very useful to have around. Using it in baked goods gives you a softer, lighter product. It's great in salad dressings. The active cultures, like yogurt, are good for you. But, best of all, you can use the buttermilk to make other wonderful dairy products. I use it as a mesophilic starter in almost all the low-heat cheeses I make, and it's the key to homemade creme fraiche (Oooooooh, is this good!!) and sour cream.

Let a quart of milk come to room temp. Stir in 1/4 cup cultured buttermilk and let sit at room temp until thickened. I usually leave it out overnight in a warm spot -- near the wood stove (on the stove is too hot), on top of the fridge, near a heater vent, etc... Save a little from each batch to start the next one. You can make this with fresh milk, pasteurized milk, and even reconstituted dry milk.

As a mesophilic culture, I bring the milk to 85-95F (depending on the cheese) and add 1 1/2 - 2 oz of buttermilk per gallon of milk. I've read that it's not the best starter for long-stored cheeses like cheddar, but the last cheddar we ate was made with buttermilk starter, and we all thought it was the absolute best cheddar I've ever made, so...I guess it's all a matter of personal taste.

Creme Fraiche:
This is just so yummy, there aren't words. Bring heavy cream to approx. 85F. Stir in 1 tsp buttermilk and let stand until thickened at room temp. This will take anywhere from overnight to 2 days. This gets really thick when chilled. It's a good substitute for sour cream and can also be whipped with vanilla and a bit of sweetening. Creme Fraiche tolerates higher temps than sour cream, so it's less likely to curdle in sauces and other cooking. I'm addicted to this stuff and could eat it with a spoon like ice cream!

Sour Cream:
Bring 2 cups light cream to room temp. Put 1 cup cream in a quart jar and add 5 tsp cultured buttermilk. Shake briskly to mix and then stir in the 2nd cup of cream. Let this stand at 75-80F for 24 hours. Chill for another 24 hours before using.

Long before we had our milk cow, I made yogurt using reconstituted dry milk. I carefully followed the recipe in The Complete Tightwad Gazette with good results. If I remember correctly, you bring the milk to 185F (scalding it without bringing it to a boil). Let the milk cool to 110-115F while letting the yogurt culture come to room temp. Mix the culture and the milk and incubate at approx. 110F for 4-8 hours until the yogurt has "jelled" into a custard.

You can purchase freeze-dried culture or use store-bought yogurt with live cultures. Just as with buttermilk, save some from each batch to start the next batch. For each quart of milk, I use 1/4 cup yogurt. I usually bottle a small jar of yogurt and keep it seperate from the rest of the batch, and this is what I use to start the next batch.

I've become much more relaxed with my yogurt making. I no longer scald the milk. I bring the milk to 115F, mix some yogurt from the last batch with about 2 cups of warm milk and then stir the milk/yogurt mixture into the rest of the milk. I mention this because I used to think I had to be so exact in making yogurt or it wouldn't thicken. I've learned that's not the case. I also used to add extra powdered milk to make sure I'd end up with a thick yogurt. Using fresh, whole Jersey milk, I no longer do this. We get the thickest, custardy yogurt, and it has a delicious creamy top. It's closest to Yo-Baby (I think that's the name??) yogurt, but even thicker and more mild. (Yes, you should all run out and buy a Jersey cow!)

If I'm making yogurt for my family, I use whole milk and pour the yogurt into glass jars and incubate them in a small Coleman cooler -- surrounding the jars in warm water that's right around 110F. If I'm making yogurt for the chickens and pets, I just warm up a gallon or two of skimmed milk in a thick pot, mix some warm milk with yogurt, stir that back into the pot, cover the pot, and leave it on the stovetop overnight to incubate.

One of my favorite breakfasts/snacks is HM yogurt/HM granola parfaits.

Yogurt Cheese:
It doesn't get much easier than this! Just line a colander with cheese cloth and put a bowl underneath to catch the whey. Put yogurt into the colander and let it drain in the fridge overnight or until the yogurt cheese is the desired consistancy.

This makes a good cream cheese substitute. You can salt it or sweeten it or mix it up into a dip. You can eat it on bagels or crackers or make a yogurt pie (like cheesecake).

I also make lots of different cheeses. None of them are that difficult, although it takes a little practice to get comfortable with the process (and I still can't cut even curds to save my life -- I do my best and the cheese turns out despite my uneven curds).