Heart-to-Heart with Diane

Hello and Welcome! Isn't raising a family the greatest!? I know I've got the best job in the world, just being Mom! I love sharing things I've discovered that make being "Mom" better, easier or more fulfilling, and that is what this blog is all about. Welcome!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kids, the Second Time Around

Isaac, my first grandson, has taken upon himself the task of unloading the clean silverware.
Now, to progress to putting it in the drawer . . .

My whole gang came home for Christmas! What a happy experience was it to have all my children under my roof again . . . and all pulled up to my table again. Sixteen plates set for meals is tons of fun! Wish it could always be this way:
Daniel and Melissa and their 3 little ones
Nathan and Melanie and their 2 babies
Mark, Julianna and Emily: my 3 very eligible young adults
Ammon and Louisa: still in home school
and their dad and I = 16!

I'm Grammy. I tried on lots of names for size when I was making my debut into grandmotherhood five years ago. I tried Grandma, Granny, Nana, Oma (Dutch for grandmother), and several other versions. I wanted my name to be unique, and not easily confused with my grandbabies' other grandmas. I wanted it to sound warm and cuddly and like you could just climb right up on my lap and get rocked in the rocking chair. So I finally settled on the name Grammy, thinking I had invented a one-of-a-kind name. (I've since met many other Grammies!) I love hearing the little ones call me Grammy!

Being a Grammy
is pretty interesting business. It is a delicious taste of little ones—the second time around. And this time, raising kids looks very different! It seems that 33 years of mothering has changed my perspective and priorities drastically. The first time around, my child was 2 years old for a decade it seemed, whereas now, my grandchildren seem to be 2 years old for only 5 minutes.

And picking battles. That has changed enormously. The number of things I feel like fighting over and holding my ground over with kids has melted into 1) basic survival and 2) being a Christian. All else is not quite important enough. Now I want to hug tight and know that this moment is fleeting and we should cling together, rather than struggle against each other. And I see them as small and tender and in need of gentleness and comfort from the most important person in their life.

I got the very luscious privilege of rocking my grandbaby Rachel Lily (1 yr.) to sleep at night several times while she was here for the holidays. I remembered once again how little ones sometimes get overwhelmed by their own needs and can be helped to cope by just being cuddled, held tight and rocked hard for 10 minutes—and all the stress washes right out and they relax and their eyelids flutter and they go limp in peaceful slumber . . . a most gratifying experience in helping my beloved little person.

And I was reminded of how big the job of parenting is! Wow, it takes dedication and energy. Just watching my married kids take such attentive care of their children made me realize how raising a family right requires all our strength and effort. God gives us children when we are young for a very good reason! I stretched out my "youngness" and childbearing as long as nature would allow. By the time I birthed my long-awaited 7th child, Louisa (at 43 years old), I reluctantly admitted God's wisdom in gracefully turning off our childbearing, although I never would stop wanting another child.

Parenting is a long journey with a very steep learning curve. It takes a while to learn to admit that you don't have the answers, never did have them, and never will have them all! Every child is a new challenge and the old tricks don't work on this one. Nothing makes you see your own inadequacies, squelches your pride and makes you fall to your knees for help as quickly as your own little child.

Something happens over the years. Something alters within you, as a woman. I remember holding my first baby (Daniel), just a few weeks old, while I watched my church friends play volleyball at a young marrieds activity. I sure wanted to play!! I ached to play. I got my husband to hold the baby so I could play for a little while. And thus started that indescribable pull that makes mommies fuss and worry about their babies and prefer holding them and being with them. As a young mom, I had so very much that I wanted to do: crafts and decorating our apartment, and cooking new recipes and sewing baby clothes and reading books and learning new things and taking a calligraphy class and being with my husband . . . and taking care of my baby didn't allow me much time to do these things. I can remember feeling restless and frustrated at times. But God works on your mother-heart until you end up several decades later preferring holding the baby to doing any of those things. And realizing that nothing is as important as a baby.

I still think mothering is the best job. Mothering and grandmothering.

Aren't we blessed?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I am trying to be a technological, up-with-the-times mommy, so come see my online photo Christmas card.

I hope your days are merry and bright!


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Secret Service Star

Christmas is a time when we try to do lots of service for those in need. What memories we have from all those good times. But, sometimes we can forget the truth that "charity begins at home".

That's why one of my favorite traditions of Christmas is our "Secret Service Star". In the past, we've used a wooden star painted gold. When that got broken by my energetic young sons, a cardboard star covered in aluminum foil took its place. Doesn't matter so much what the star looks like in our family anymore, it is the idea it represents. In fact, this year I just quickly drew a star on a post-it note! And it works just fine.

The important thing about the Service Star is that it initiates a very fun and good-feeling game of "you're it!". You can only hang on to the star for an hour if you get tagged. And how you get tagged is that the possessor of the star does a good deed for you, in secret, and leaves the star in its place.

I started off the game this year by doing my son Ammon's chore: unloading the dishwasher. Then I left the empty dishwasher open with the post-it note star on the rack. Ammon noticed it, was surprised and delighted to have his chore done, and went quietly and secretly made Louisa's bed, leaving the star on her pillow. Louisa was now "it" and got dressed to go out in the snow and help Emily to do a task she didn't want to do. The star did its magic and again transferred to a new owner. And around and around it goes, making us all feel happier and more thoughtful of each other!

Eventually someone did a secret service for my grown son Mark when he came home to visit. Since he had to pass it on quickly and didn't have much time, he brought a big cool glass of water to my husband at his desk . . . along with the Service Star! And he remarked quietly to me, "I need to be nicer."

Around and around this star goes, making everyone a littler kinder, providing plenty of smiles and making Christmas come alive at our house.

"Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it's Christmas." -Dale Evans Rogers

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Diane's Whole Wheat Bread

I received some requests for my bread recipes (after my blog about doing without stuff at the grocery store), so here it is for those who want to give it a try. My family has been raised on this delicious, healthy bread!

Diane's Whole Wheat Bread
(makes 6 loaves)

8 cups hot water
1/2 cup fat (1 cube butter, olive oil, etc.)
1/2 cup honey
2 T. salt
2 T. instant yeast
23 (yep, twenty-three) cups freshly ground whole wheat flour (more or less)

Run tap water until it feels just hot to the touch (105 degrees). Pour water into the bowl of your bread mixer. Add fat and honey. Turn on the mixer and add 5 cups of flour while it is mixing. Add yeast. Continue to add flour until a dough has formed. Add salt.

As the machine mixes the dough, add more flour. The moisture content of your wheat, the weather, the temperature of your water, and many other variables will determine the exact amount of flour you will need, but it will be 23 cups of whole "white" wheat, give or take a cup or so. (If you use turkey "red" whole wheat, the amount may be as little as 18 cups.) As you add the flour, watch for a certain consistency of dough to develop that will make the best bread. You can test it by pressing your thumb into the dough after it has been kneaded. You can check while kneading, and if the dough feels sticky, but will not adhere to your thumb, you have the right consistency. Knead the dough for 9 minutes by machine (or 15 minutes by hand). Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for awhile (25 minutes works fine, but less or more is fine too). I have forgotten it for hours (more than once) and come into the kitchen to discover the bread dough had risen up out of the bowl and fallen out onto the floor. Anyway, that bread tasted great too!

You’ll soon be a pro on knowing exactly how much flour to add, but here are pointers. If you add too much flour, the bread will be too dry and heavy, and the sides will have a horizontal crack in them. If you do not add enough flour, the dough will be sticky and will rise but when baked it will cave in a bit and droop over the sides of the pan, unable to hold its shape. The perfect dough will rise and hold its shape firmly.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist and divide dough into 6 equal parts. Shape into a loaf by pulling the top smooth and tucking the dough underneath until you have formed a loaf shape. As you form each loaf, you may press the top of the loaves in a plate of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, flaxseed, oatmeal, or breakfast cereal crumbs for added texture. Put loaf into well-oiled loaf pans and place in an unheated oven to rise for 25 minutes. You can test that the bread is risen sufficiently by poking your finger in the edge of the risen bread near the pan. If the poke stays indented for 3 minutes, it is ready to bake. I just trust the timer, as 25 minutes always works for rising time. Leaving the pans in the oven, just turn the oven on to 350° and let it heat up and bake for 35 minutes. The loaves will be nicely browned and hollow-sounding when tapped. Remove from pans to cool. Makes 6 yummy big loaves!

Here's some tips to make your bread-making more successful:

When baking whole wheat bread, use narrow loaf bread pans, rather than the wide loaf pans, because whole wheat bread is heavier and cannot sustain such a wide arch in the rising stage.

I use a wheat called "White Wheat" or Golden Montana wheat, which is a high protein wheat with a lighter color. This bread dough is light enough to make into cinnamon rolls or pizza crusts. If you use Turkey Red wheat, it will make an excellent hearty loaf of bread, but is too dense for other uses, in my opinion, unless you mix it with some portion of regular white flour from the grocery store, which I never like to do. So, I buy "white wheat" kernels.

For a more tender loaf, replace some of the water with the water left over from cooking potatoes. You can even add a cup of potato flakes to the dough while you are mixing it (which means you'll need a bit less flour).

Yeast is very temperature sensitive and can be killed if added to water that is too hot. Instant yeast should not be mixed in water. Using instant yeast, and adding it once a batter has been formed, has always been successful for me. My preferred brand is SAF Instant Yeast. Yeast and honey are friends. Yeast and salt are enemies (yeast growth is retarded by salt: that's why salt is such a good preservative as in beef jerky, pickles, etc.), so I add the yeast at the beginning of the process, after about 5 cups of flour is added. Then I add the salt at the end, after all the flour has been added, but the kneading is just starting.

You may add up to 2 cups leftover cereal (such as oatmeal, soggy corn flakes with the milk, etc.) to the dough with good results. Add it at the beginning with the water. If it is very wet, reduce the amount of water by 1/2 cup or so.

I know I am overly thrifty, but I save the crumbs from boxes of breakfast cereal, granola, nuts, and whatever else (rather than throw them out) and I throw them in the bread instead. Adds nutrition and variety, but most of all, it makes me feel very provident!

When shaping dough into loaves, or punching it down, just wet your hands by passing them under running water before handling the dough. It will prevent the dough from sticking to your hands.

It really cuts down work to have a bread mixer. My favorite breadmixer is the Magic Mill Bread Mixer made by Electrolux (Swedish), which as been amazingly dependable. I've not had a repair ever on mine, and I've used it almost daily for 15 years now. I went through a bunch of mixers, before making the investment, but it has been well worth it!

I spray my pans generously with olive oil cooking spray so that the loaves pop out easily.

You can rub a cube of butter over the top of the hot baked loaf to make it shiny and tasty, and the crust soft, if you like. Or you can quickly pass the loaf of the bread (still in the pan and hot—straight from the oven) under a running stream of water. The water hitting the hot bread makes steam and will soften the crust. I like the crust, so I don't do either of these.

Rather than get out a cooling rack, I just tap the pan on its end hard enough to pop out the loaf of bread. Then I balance the loaf across the top of the pan, as a make-shift cooling rack.

Don't get too exacting. People have been making bread for thousands of years without a recipe. It is hard to make it wrong. The only tricky parts are 1) the yeast: making sure it is working and that you didn't kill it with too hot of water, or slow it down with cold water. You can see if the bread is rising, so that should be reassuring. 2) adding the right amount of flour so it is substantial but not overly heavy and dry, and 3) baking it at the right point, when the bread is risen enough to make a light loaf, but not over risen so it deflates in baking. You'll get this all right with practice. If it helps to know, I made toe-stubbing doorstops for the entire first year of marriage.

Best success—you'll be making good bread it no time!

P.S. If you want to learn more about my beloved bread mixer, you can get more info here. If you decide to buy one, I'll gift you my best-selling recipe book: Hopkins' Healthy Home Cooking ($14.99). Get that special offer here!


Monday, December 8, 2008

Make-Your-Own Sweetened Condensed Milk

Christmas treats often seem to call for sweetened condensed milk, and it can be a pricey item. Here's how you can make your own in 3 minutes that costs next to nothing!

Sweetened Condensed Milk
1 cup instant (or 1/2 cup non-instant) powdered dry milk
2/3 cup sugar
3 T. butter
1/2 cup boiling water

Mix sugar and dry milk together in your blender. Add the butter and the boiling water. Blend until smooth.

This recipe yields the same amount as the standard 13 fluid oz. can you find in the grocery store.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

To Fit In: An Interesting Conversation with Louisa

I had an interesting conversation with my daughter Louisa (12) on our way home from our Friday Fun Classes (our homeschool activity). She and another homeschooled girl had been talking about if other kids would like them more, and if they'd be better accepted at church and fit in more . . . if they just went to public school. Afterwards Louisa began to talk to me as we drove along: "I know how to fit in, but I can't fit in, Mom, because it would hurt."

"You'd feel pain?" I questioned her, feeling somewhat surprised. I thought it would be a relief to her to know how to feel more at ease with her peers.

"If I say a bad word, it hurts. It hurts me all day. I feel so bad. It just isn't worth it", Louisa confessed.

That set me to thinking. We try to raise our kids to be good, to have high standards, to please the Lord in all that they say and do. We put a huge amount of effort into that training. And yet, faced with "to fit or not to fit", Louisa was telling me that her childhood training—all my years of teaching her how to be upright—made it impossible to say the words that would make her "fit" more easily in a public school setting. If she wanted to "fit in", she would have to deny the person I had taught her to be.

Louisa takes just one class at school every other day, at my insistance. She loves homeschool and we have a great time learning together, but since she is my last child, I wrestle with the notion that she needs to get out of the house and go to school a little bit. Louisa has described to me her "take" on what makes for popularity in junior high school. She thinks she knows how to be "in", but it wouldn't be a very comfy fit for her, she feels. As she sees it, the requirements include dressing trendy and fashionably, being disinterested in learning, being immodest, and acting catty and "butt-sy" (pushy), acting disrespectful of teachers, showing a big interest in boys and sex and doing a lot of outrageous and unlady-like flirting, saying you hate school, texting your friends all through class without letting the teacher see, talking critically of parents, breaking rules whenever possible, treating your siblings like enemies, not being too smart, and being so saturated in the popular music and PG-13 movies of the current teen culture that you can easily recite movie lines. This is how she feels she would have to act to be well accepted and popular in our current world, outside of her circle of homeschooled friends.

It is so eye-opening to listen to our kids. We learn so much, don't we? I can see through her eyes how it must feel. Whether it is accurate or not, it is her reality. We teach our kids to have high standards and be good Christians, and yet the culture in general (including other adults, neighbors, maybe even Sunday school teachers, and sometimes even ourselves) may give our teens a conflicting message: "Be a good Christian, keep high standards, but do fit in with your peers, with the world, and be popular". Sometimes that is asking too much. Sometimes it would hurt too much.

I'm still thinking about what Louisa said.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What You Can Do Without (at the grocery store)

I think the recession is squeezing everyone. If not literally, then emotionally. People are not spending so much money; they are nervous with the economy. Me too. Here is what I cut out of my grocery list:

First week: breakfast cereal
The breakfast cereal got cut, to my kids' dismay. I would rather feed them oatmeal or homemade whole wheat pancakes for breakfast, but there are mornings when a quick bowl of cereal is what my college-going daughter Emily would love to grab. But, because there is no cereal, she is eating cottage cheese with homemade applesauce, or apple slices with peanut butter or homemade bread or other nutritious things instead. When you consider that a big box of cereal (16 oz.) usually costs anywhere from $2.50 to $3.97, that is a pricey purchase. At up to $4 a pound, you could spend your money much more wisely.

Next, bye-bye to store-bought bread
I have a favorite type of whole grain homemade-looking bread that I buy every week at the grocery store. As I was loading up my shopping cart with 5 loaves of it, at $3.50 (to $5 per loaf, depending on if it had seeds in it or not), I stopped and did some math. I could spend $25 just for bread each week! I came home without bread and thought of every way I could skip on sliced bread until I got around to baking some. We had pancakes, muffins, scones, breadsticks, biscuits, and coffee cake—and it was great! It doesn't take that long to mix up pancakes, and they are cheap if you make them from your own freshly ground flour. I started baking bread again, and my recipe makes 5 loaves—a week's worth—for not much effort. (I have a wheat grinder and a bread mixer that I absolutely love.) The bread is so delicious too! And I am using my stored wheat—that feels good too.

Now I am cutting out salad dressing
I read that by the time you use the salad dressing sitting on the shelf in the grocery store, the oil has already gone rancid, but is masked by spices and flavorings. I hope that is not the case, but even so, you will be surprised at how much fresher and more delicious homemade salad dressing tastes. And it actually does take only about 5 mintues to mix up a big batch of it that will last all month in your fridge, where the oil will stay fresh and healthy. Just a quick blend of olive oil, good vinegar and salt and pepper tastes great on salad. That's how they do it in France, so you'll be gourmet!

We have become accustomed to convenience, but it's pretty amazing how much we can trim if we need to.

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