Category Archives: Around home

I Have Sixteen Going on Seventeen…It’s Time to Think Babies!

If you love The Sound of Music as much as I do, then there are probably times when some of the musical’s lyrics pop into your head, and that’s what’s been playing in my brain for the past nine months, ever since my daughter-in-law Grace told me that she was pregnant. “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” is the song, but with slightly altered lyrics, because Alan and I have sixteen beautiful grandchildren and are now looking forward to a seventeenth very soon! Mike and Grace are expecting their fifth baby at the end of July. Grace’s mom graduated to glory when Grace was a young teenager, so I’ve had the special privilege of being first on call when they have a new baby. This means I will have been to Philadelphia, Germany, Hawaii, South Korea, and now Italy in the last 11 years! I am overjoyed, but as you might guess, this also means I won’t have time to write much for awhile. If I don’t post, or if I just post a photo and a few lines, know that I’m in my glory enjoying some of life’s best moments and may not have much to say until after Labor Day. I mean, not only Grace’s day of labor, but America’s Labor Day, which is September 3. Meanwhile, God bless you! May you continue with joy on your pilgrimage through this world. I will be trying to follow Jesus. I hope that is your aspiration as well!

But the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children;  To such as keep his covenant, and to those that remember his commandments to do them”(Psalm 103:17-18).

(P.S.—My son, “Major Michael Armstrong” is not the one with bells ringing over his head. This photo was taken by the wife of the guy with the smooch! My son is really the man on the extreme right side of the photo, and it was taken at a recent graduation from yet another training program which will qualify him for possible promotion.)

Boston Cream Pie in a Pan and Boston Cream Pie Sundaes

One of Alan’s long-time favorite desserts for his birthday has been Boston Cream Pie, and over the years I’ve made a lot of them. However, I love the custard filling and tend to overfill the layers, so often the cake looks great until the first cut, and then the whole top layer starts to slide off and ends up looking like Sleeping Beauty’s birthday cake before it was baked. To compensate, I’ve developed a recipe that fits snugly in a 9X13″ baking pan and can’t really come apart at the seams!  Here’s how:  Bake a white cake (any you like, from scratch or mix, according to the directions), only pour the batter equally into two 9X13″ baking pans. If you have one pan that’s slightly smaller, so much the better…the smaller one can become your top layer.

Most cakes take 30-35 minutes to bake at 350,°  but test your cakes after 12 minutes. One of mine was done before the other, so I ended up baking one for 12 and the other for 15 minutes. They’re done when the middle springs back after a slight touch.

While the cake is baking, make the filling.Vanilla Custard filling:

Combine in a  two-quart sauce pan:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch.

Mix together thoroughly  until there are no lumps left, then add
3 eggs (both white and yokes) until the batter is smooth and completely mixed.
Next, add:
4 cups whole milk, stirring thoroughly with a whisk after each cup
1/8 teaspoon salt

Cook over low heat, stirring often and then constantly until it starts to bubble and thickens. Use the whisk to keep it smooth, but if you scrape the bottom and sides with a spatula every minute or so, it will keep the bottom and sides from browning. When it’s thickened, turn off the heat and add:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Whisk together thoroughly again and set aside to cool.  Once the cake is done, take it out and cool it (still in the pans) for about 10 minutes, or  until you can loosen the sides of the smaller of the two layers. Pour the warm custard over the bottom layer of cake. Carefully loosen all the edges of the second layer with a metal spatula, and when you can tell that even the bottom is loose, either flip the entire cake over on top of the bottom layer (which has been covered with custard) to make a second layer of cake, or flip the pan over on your hand and then flip your hand over the pan so that the second layer lands upright over the first layer.  If you can do this, you have a slightly rounded top to your cake, which is attractive, but if you miss, the cake might break into pieces. If the cake breaks up…not to worry! You can arrange the pieces on top, and after it’s all covered with frosting, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference, although you might want to add another 1/4+ cup milk to your frosting so that you can almost pour it on top rather than frosting it the traditional way. I haven’t tried this, but you might also be able to take the top layer out 1/2 at a time to make the switch easier.

How ever you do it, after you have the top layer securely in place over the bottom layer and the custard filling, let the whole thing cool while you make the frosting.

Whipped Chocolate-Chip Frosting

Microwave for 2 minutes:
2 cups chocolate chips in a bowl (can be milk, semi-sweet, or dark)

Meanwhile: in a mixing bowl, add:
1 stick (or 1/2 cup) soft butter
4 cups powdered sugar
Sprinkling of salt (about 1/16 teaspoon)
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Whip everything together in your mixer until it becomes a soft, fluffy frosting. Then, gently add the melted chocolate chips. If you want, you can stir the chocolate chips after they’ve been melted until they are smooth, or if you like the chocolate-chip-bit look, just add them in as they are. Some will be melted and some will still be a little chunky.

Ladle out the frosting and spread it carefully and evenly over the entire pan. It’s best served fresh and still slightly warm, but if you make it early (like the day before), it can also be stored in the refrigerator, although it must be room temperature when it’s eaten for full flavor.  After the first serving, I store it in the refrigerator but bring it out 2-3 hours before serving it again. Hope you enjoy!P.S.—With the last six servings, I put them in sundae dishes with hot fudge sauce, a scoop of ice cream, and some whipped cream on top.        This is possibly a little decadent, but it was quite delicious that way!!

Sing praises to God, sing praises: sing praises unto our King, sing praises.” (Psalm 47:6)

A Few of My Favorite Birds (44): New Neighbors? Sandhill Cranes

Although I’ve seen these very large and impressive birds
roaming Kensington Park near Detroit and along Michigan highways —as well as sauntering through quiet parks in Florida— I’d never seen a pair of  sandhill cranes at Tanglewood Cottage until yesterday!

Having just parted with my son Jonathan’s family, who’d been visiting with us off and on for a couple of weeks, I was feeling a bit lonely, so having some new visitors come up my driveway was most welcome. (We have a whole flock of turkeys who are already a part of the neighborhood, but I wanted this photo to illustrate how much taller the cranes are.)  If you’ve not met any sandhill cranes yet, you’re in for a treat, because they’re very large, peaceable, and beautiful! For Michigan, I believe they are the biggest birds around, standing up to four feet tall,  weighing 9 (females) to 10 pounds (males) and enjoying a 5.5-7.5 foot wing span!  I think the pair who visited today may have claimed some water front property,  because they joined us while Alan and I were out for our nightly swim around the lake. (Photographer alert: Never go anywhere without a camera!  😦 ) From a distance, we thought they were a pair of swans, but up close, they are really brownish grey. They have very long, grey necks, red foreheads, white cheeks, long, black beaks and brownish bodies. Once you’ve seen one, they’re easy to remember and petty hard to forget! They don’t have webbed feet, but they have extremely long legs and toes, and we were surprised how fast they could swim…always away from us!  When they got close to our end of the lake, three families of geese came out with their little ones as a flotilla to “defend” their territory (our waterfront), but although the cranes were larger, they politely headed back to the far end of the lake, so they must not be very aggressive. Our swans used to intimidate the geese, but I think if the sandhill cranes stay, the other waterfowl will have nothing to fear.  I watched them happily as they meandered all over our property and sauntered down our lane. In fact, I was so pleased that I invited them to stay…and I hope they do! It wasn’t until I woke up this morning that I realized that I’m more charitable toward the cranes than I am my neighbors. Because we live in a fenced and gated property (built by order of the police because our German shepherd once bit a stranger), I don’t think I’d be “delighted” to have a strange couple walking all over our property as if deciding whether or not they wanted to take up residence with us. Could I possibly trust birds more than people…or am I just more selfish than I realize? I’m afraid, some of both. I need to work on loving my neighbors more!  “And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

How Are You Feeling About Growing Older?

Here is something that’s been going around on Facebook. I have no clue who originally wrote it, but it seems to resonate so well with the Baby Boomer set that I thought it might encourage my blogging buddies too! You don’t have to be really “old” like me to participate. Apparently anybody over 25 might feel “old,” so anybody’s welcome to add a photo or thought, and it doesn’t have to be limited to women. I’m thinking even men might feel a little insecure as you age, since growing older isn’t just a problem women have to grapple with!   If you can’t leave a photo in the comment box, send it to me via FB (Kathryn W. Armstrong) or email (kathrynwarmstrong@gmail.com) and I’ll make a post for us all! I also very much welcome any thoughts or encouragements you might have heard or learned on your own journey through life so far.

Here’s how it goes:

To all my female friends of “age”… Most of us are going through the next stage of our lives. We are at that age where we see the wrinkles… gray hair… extra pounds. Menopause has already shown up or just waiting around the corner. We see the pretty 25 year olds and sigh. But we were 25 too, just like they will one day be our age. What they bring to the table with their youth and zest for life, we bring with our wisdom, experience and good hearts. For all we’ve been through earning each gray hair… raising kids, bills and ills and whatever else life brought you/us over the 30s, 40’s, 50’s, & 60’s we are survivors… we are warriors… we are women. Like a classic car or fine wine. While our exterior may not be what it once was, it is traded for our spirit, our courage and our strength to enter this chapter of our lives with grace and pride for all we’ve been through and accomplished. Never feel bad about aging. It is a privilege denied to many. 🙏🏻
Ladies [and I’ll add: “Men”], I’ve just posted my photo above, and I challenge you to add your photo, age, and any bits of wisdom you’d like to contribute in the comment box below!                          My age is 67.

“Also when I am old and greyheaded, O God, forsake me not; until I have shewed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).

Spaghetti and Meatballs: Classic Favorite with an Attitude

On our first anniversary, I told Alan I’d make anything he wanted for dinner, assuming it would be something we couldn’t usually afford, like lobster or steak. Do you know what he wanted? Spaghetti and meatballs! It was then I realized he might be Scottish by heritage, but he has an Italian stomach! So, for the next forty-five years, if I really want to spoil him, I roll out that ever-lovin’ classic, spaghetti and meatballs! It’s so simple that you probably don’t think it’s even worth discussing, but I have found a few ways to add taste points that make it more memorable, and I’ll include those at the end. Meanwhile, here’s the basic:

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs
(serves 6± depending on how much you eat!!)

Meatballs:
Add together in a large mixing bowl:
1 pound hamburger (or ground chuck, ground round, or whatever you like)
1 cup bread crumbs (make your own by toasting old bread and crushing the slices in a paper bag with a rolling pin, or buy some already made)
1 egg
1 teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning (or your favorite)
1 tablespoon crushed garlic (fresh is best, but you can use commercially prepared or even crushed, dried garlic)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder (or 1 finely chopped onion if you’re an onion lover)
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper   Mix thoroughly (may as well get your hands dirty; it takes less time) and form into golf-ball-sized balls (or smaller, depending on your taste). Fry in a large skillet until well browned and cooked through, turning carefully just once or twice so they don’t burn. . . or fall apart on you.

Meanwhile, prepare your Pasta Sauce:

In a very large saucepan, saute with 2 tablespoons of butter:
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large pepper, chopped (any color you choose; green works fine and provides good color contrast, but other colors are sweeter)
8 oz. chopped mushrooms (any edible variety you like!)
1/2 teaspoon seasoning salt (I like Lawry’s, but use whatever you like)
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon crushed garlic (There’s an old saying that families should eat their pasta together, and I’m quite sure it’s because good pasta is loaded with garlic, which tastes great going down but is sure to displease your friends if it’s on your breath but not theirs!)

Once the veggies are tender, add:
1 large can of stewed, diced Italian tomatoes
1 jar pasta sauce (your favorite; I use Prego flavored with meat, but there are a lot of good brands and varieties out there)   Simmer until all the ingredients are hot and well mixed, then add the meatballs  gently into the pot with the veggies and let it all simmer away for at least another half an hour (can be longer). If you’ve used hamburger, and there’s a lot of grease floating on top, spoon off as much as you can and throw it away. Grease=flavor, but it also=calories, so a little goes a long way.

Pasta:

While your meatballs are simmering in the sauce, cook the pasta. You can suit yourself as to the type you want to use, and just follow the directions on the side of the box. . .or make your own if you’re really a pasta aficionado! Theoretically, I’ve heard that Italians like their pasta “al dente,” which means “to the tooth” and refers to pasta that is neither too crunchy nor too soft, so that it appeals to your teeth when they bite into it! I don’t mind my pasta pretty well done, but the advantage of starting out al dente is that if you accidentally have any left over (which happens!), then if you rewarm it, the pasta doesn’t become too mushy to be good. But, it’s totally personal preference! My husband definitely wants his al dente!

Add any (but not all) of these to create memorable taste points:

*An extra pound of grilled and chopped Italian sausage
*A small jar of capers
*4-8 oz. of diced, sun-dried tomatoes
*1 cup chopped olives (black, green, or whatever you have on hand!)
* A small jar of smoked egg plants, diced
* “Primavera” refers to “in the style of spring” and usually means pasta served with a mixture of fresh vegetables, such as peas, broccoli, or zucchini. However, you can also add any of of a number of veggies to the basic sauce to increase the nutritive value and add color and texture. Just make sure you don’t overcook the veggies so that they become discolored and mushy. Add them in the last 5-10 minutes before you serve them.   Serve your pasta hot, and if you have any, have some grated cheese and crushed pepper available for people to add as they please.  The traditional meal includes a side salad, garlic bread, and grape juice. Okay, so maybe in Italy it’s wine, but at my house it’s grape juice! 🙂  Hope you enjoy!

Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 9:9, ESV).

 

Sharing our Poetic Hearts for National Poetry Month

So, I’ll start with a haiku that mourns the loss of my beloved dog, who has passed from this life. The thought came me as I was shooing the geese off our dock  …yet again! 😦  I don’t mind the geese claiming our yard as their nesting ground, but they have absolutely no sense of decorum concerning appropriate dock etiquette and care!

“Oh, Where, Oh Where Has My Little Dog Gone?”   Geese are on our dock.   I will have to shoo them off.   Where did my dog go?

From earlier this April:

“Cast Away”   Dreams, like branches, fall.
Casualties of stormy springs.
Half buried in snow.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).

The Lord gave this next poem to my friend…as she sat in silence during the early morning…lamenting the death of her beloved son:

“As I come downstairs early in the morning
You, O Lord, are waiting for me
You meet me in the darkness of the early morning
You meet me in the darkness of my life..my grief
As the light of day appears
Your WORD pours LIGHT into my heart
The LIGHT I need to face this day…..”
(—she prefers not sharing her name)
You, Lord are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.
(2 Samuel 22:29)
“PEARL”
(by a dear friend since college days, Phyliss Hammerstrom)
Every poem begins
with some uncomfortable,
aching,
irritating grain,
around which I layer
word
after sibilant word,
encasing it with shimmering
veils of opalescence,
until its sharp edges are smooth,
until I can live with it.
–Then the knife
that digs the treasure out of my flesh!

Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects: therefore despise not thou the chastening of the Almighty: For he makes sore, and binds up: he wounds, and his hands make whole” (Job 5:17-18).

Carri Cassarino“Anxiety”
(by Carri Nelson Cassarino, September 20, 2017)

When anxiety was great within me,
Your consolation brought joy to my soul.
You say worry is against your kingdom,
So we must seek and must know.

Truly your best effort is to shield us from worry.
Your best hope is to keep solid for you and be in awe.
For the joy before us is your great joy,
And the way forward to trust your law.

For the glory of Him who loves us is His great and wonderful love,
We must ever trust him and give him our love,
For the way forward is to obey what He says.
And never seek our own way and be His beloved.

For the joy is found in obedience.
And the glory of Him for us is love.
For the hope He gives is eternal.
Then He will take what is His, above.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Even If You Can’t Dance, You Can Zumba!

By the time I was five, I was trying to imitate my swingin’ teenaged brothers as they danced to hot new songs like “The Terror of Highway 101.” By six, I was learning to “Rock Around the Clock,” and by seven, I was practicing Elvis the Pelvis’s swinging hips from songs like “I ain’t nothing but a hound dog.” By twelve, I was practicing the Peppermint Twist with my girlfriends at slumber parties. And then, I surrendered my life to Jesus, and the dancing stopped. It wasn’t just that I started attending a very conservative church where they considered dancing the “vertical expression of horizontal thoughts,” I was beginning to think there might be something even more exciting in the world of guys than being nicknamed “Buckwheat” and allowed to play first base on their ball team!

Long story short, I decided that dancing was way too provocative and romantic to be a part of my life if I wanted to make it to adulthood keeping my name in tact. (Kathryn means “pure.”) Marriage didn’t exactly stop all attractions to the opposite sex either, and so it seemed wise to continue a hands-off, no-dance policy indefinitely.  However, 45 years into marriage and finding myself pretty stable emotionally, Alan and I both noticed that we were becoming the least bit unstable physically. One bit of advice we’ve heard repeatedly about aging well is to participate in new physical activities that stress grace and balance, such as dancing. So, we decided that it’s time to start dancing again…together…in our basement…with our video Zumba instructor, Beto Perez, the Colombian dancer and choreographer who developed a fitness program called Zumba in the 1990’s. Zumba combines dance steps with various martial arts moves and is the perfect combination of fun and aerobic exercise. It really took off in 2006, and today there are more than 14 million people who participate in some 160,000 classes in 185 countries…and counting! At 14, Beto was working 3 jobs to support his single mother and their family in Columbia. Today?! Talk about the American Dream come true!! The wife of one of our psychiatrists sponsors a Zumba class on Tuesday afternoons where Alan works, but we are a little too old (or self-conscious) to join that group. However, for $7.99 we got Zumba 101: Can’t Dance? from Amazon, and we’ve been working out ever since! At first, we could hardly make it through the first two songs without needing a rest, but now we can dance through the entire hour session and are ready for something more. The funny thing is, it’s just as appealing to our grandchildren, and when they come to visit, the kids beg to work out with us! It’s just SO. MUCH. FUN!

So, if you’re looking for a way of exercising that doesn’t bore you to tears and makes you feel happy, consider giving Zumba a try…maybe even in the privacy of your own basement! Alan is still struggling to swing his hips, but…I’m back to my roots! 🙂

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die. . .a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; this is our time to dance~).