Bring on the (new) bread machine

Well. We’ve managed to destroy yet another bread machine. Here’s the thing. Some people eat cold cereal for breakfast. Some eat eggs. Some eat nothing. I eat cinnamon raisin bread — NOT the store-bought spongy, flaccid stuff — only homemade.

Somewhere in the mid-80s, we purchased our first bread machine. Made by  DAK, it resembled R2D2 and made round loaves. Our two then-preschool-age daughters watched, mesmerized, as the dough mixed, began to rise, and baked. One day, it became off-kilter mid-cycle and walked right off the counter and crashed to the floor. Thus began a long line of bread machines. I forget how many we’ve had because like our toasters and irons — they have short lives.

DakSo…a few months ago, the most recent machine died. Mid-cycle. This was not pleasant. My attempts at completing the baking process were useless. We ended up with a half-baked lump of dough. Still, I loved that particular machine and set about buying another one. I couldn’t find the same model nearby so settled for another. My first clue that it might be a dud was when I noticed the pan didn’t click into place when I set it in the machine. I was sure it was a dud when nothing happened after filling it with flour, cinnamon, oil, honey, salt, water and yeast.

After a few choice words, which my husband appeared to ignore, I kneaded it by hand, let it rise, and baked it in the oven. And…returned the machine to the store.

I know. I should have ordered a new one right away but decided instead that I’d drag out my 30-year-old Cuisinart, mix up the dough, and bake it. That has worked fine when/if time allows, but I’d become accustomed to baking it on the one-hour cycle while I run — thus, having fresh bread whenever we’re out.

photo(17)image(10)So, okay. I give. The trusty Cuisinart didn’t let me down today — odd, when you consider the number of other appliances we’ve seen come and go. Given my tendency toward pessimism, I know it’s not going to last. And yes, I know I can mix it up by hand and bake it. But not while I’m running.

So…that’s it. I give. Bring on the next bread machine. May you live as long as (shhhh…) the Cuisinart and the 30-plus-year-old clothes dryer.

Changing direction and setting off on a new adventure

I’m pretty sure that Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu had me in mind when he said, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Here’s the thing. I didn’t know where I was heading. I only know that I no longer felt good about wherever I might end up, and it was clear that change was needed. But getting to that point wasn’t easy. It took a lot of reading, reflecting, talking, searching, whining.

And then there was yoga. I entered into that with typical skepticism, not sure whether it would help with calming my racing thoughts. But somewhere along the way, over a period of about nine months, it suddenly occurred to me while focusing on breathing through a pigeon pose, my mind had quieted. The wildly racing ping-pong motion of my mind had stilled.

And that was when I realized I’d settled on making a change. After more than 18 years of working in higher education, it was time to give myself a chance to explore something else, to assure myself of the time and energy I had been lacking so that I could put more of myself into our home-based businesses.

It had been a wonderful 18 plus years, and part of me wondered how I could leave that behind. After all, working with adult students carries with it a certain sense of satisfaction – seeing 40- and 50-year-old working adults realize that they can return to school and earn a degree, and knowing the sense of accomplishment they feel when they walk across the stage at graduation, makes for a very fulfilling career.

So the thought of doing something very different but working in a familiar setting, sparked my interest. Using some of my skills in different ways, and tackling some new challenges was appealing – albeit a bit daunting.

Change is good. Change is hard. Change is scary. Changing direction has become a positive movement and after a short week, that yellow brick building with the beautiful stained glass windows already feels
like home.

And as one of my students said, “… it is time to open the next chapter of your life!”


Downton Abbey’s crumpets have nothing on these English muffins

Here’s the thing. It’s January. It’s Ohio. It’s cold. And snowy. And windy.  All anyone can talk about is the weather. The truth is, we’re all pretty tired of talking about it. And hearing about it. In fact, the phrase “Stay warm” appeared on the meh list of the Jan. 26 New York Times magazine.

Staying warm is only one of my concerns. Staying sane is up there at the top of the list. Some people watch endless television. Some fire up their snow blowers (this is akin to those who mow incessantly in the summer.) I lean toward running but when the temps are below zero, even I have to forgo the roads for the treadmill.

So…what to do? Bake. Always. There is nothing — nothing — that warms the house — and heart — and satisfies hunger quite like homemade bread. And if the person with whom you live has the cold to end all colds, what better reason than to bake his absolute favorite — English muffins. Yep, they’re labor-intensive. Don’t believe the recipes that say they’re “easy.” They’re not. But hey, when the weather outside is frightful, what better time to tackle a challenge?
muffin 1

muffin 2

muffin 3

As usual, I had to adjust the recipe. I used more than half whole wheat flour because we were nearly out of white. I threw in some wheat germ and flax for extra flavor. Hours later — literally — we had rustic English muffins that, when split and toasted, have those perfect nooks and crannies   that cradle melted butter or nut butters and honey.
muffin 4

English Muffins
(I mixed the ingredients in a food processor, but you may use a dough hook on your mixer or by hand with a wooden spoon. These are cooked on a griddle/skillet on top of the stove or an electric skillet.)
1 tbsp. or 1 package active dry yeast

1/4 c. warm water (105-115 degrees F.)
1 c. warm milk (105-115 degrees F. — I used reconstituted powdered milk)
1 tbsp. sugar (I used agave, but you can also use honey)
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 egg, at room temperature, beaten
2 3/4 to 3 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (I used about half whole wheat flour)
Note: I also added a few tablespoons of wheat germ and flax seed)

1. In a large bowl, soften the yeast in the water.
2. Add the milk, sugar (or alternative), salt, oil, egg, and 1 c. of the flour to the yeast mixture. Mix in a food processor with the dough blade, or with a mixer/dough hook, or by hand for 2 minutes.
3. Gradually add more flour, 1/4 c. at a time, until the dough forms a mass and begins to pull away from the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface.
4. Knead, adding more flour, a little at a time, for 8-10 minutes, or until dough is smooth and elastic, and blisters begin to develop on the surface.
5. Put the dough into an oiled bowl, turning to coat the entire ball of dough. Cover with a towel and let rise for about 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled surface. Using a rolling pin, roll to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Let the dough rest for two minutes so the muffins don’t shrink when cut.
7. With a 3-inch round cutter, cut the dough into rounds and place about one inch apart on baking sheets sprinkled lightly with cornmeal. Gather the dough scraps and knead into a smooth ball. Cover and let rise for 5 minutes to allow gluten to relax before re-rolling. Roll and cut as before.
8. Cover the muffins loosely with a towel and let rise for 45 minutes.
9. Heat a heavy griddle or skillet (or electric skillet) over medium heat until hot. (Saves time to have two skillets going at once.) Brush the cooking surface lightly with oil and reduce the heat to low.
10. Gently place the muffins on the griddle, cornmeal side down. Bake the muffins for 2 minutes on each side, then continue to bake for 10 minutes more, turning them every two minutes for a total of 14 minutes cooking time
11. Watch carefully so they do not burn!
12. Cool the muffins on a rack. If not eating immediately, store in a plastic bag and split with a fork before toasting.

Baking to beat the cold and stress

In many ways, yesterday was a typical January day in northwest Ohio. Sort of. There was nearly one foot of snow on the ground, and extremely high winds had created large drifts up the sides of houses and parked cars. Icy roads made driving dangerous.

Okay, so if you live in Minnesota or North Dakota, you might be yawning by now. But hey, this is Ohio. We get snow. Some years we get a lot. Some years we get none. This is one of those “a lot” years. Windchills of 40 below didn’t make it any more palatable.

So there we were. Stuck in the house. Even Bluffton University shut down for two days. So…what to do?

One of my favorite rooms in the house is the kitchen. It’s bright. It’s yellow. And it gives me a nice view of the back yard, and the little A-frame that my dad built 20 years ago. He insisted it would probably fall apart after two years.

Looking at the A-frame sparked a memory of Dad baking bread on cold winter days. So? I baked bread.

While that was rising, I figured I could log on to my work desktop and get some work done. But since I’m really good at procrastinating, I shoved that thought to the back of my brain, and instead baked cookies.
Not just any old cookies. It’s January. I hate January. In fact, my stress level rises just thinking about January. So…since whoever decided that dark chocolate and antioxidants are good antidotes to stress, I’ve resorted to the perfect cookie, Anti-Stress Cookies.

Chock full of ingredients like whole wheat flour, olive oil, dark chocolate chips, raisins, dried sour cherries, walnuts, oats, yogurt, brown sugar, butter, and whatever else you feel like adding.  I added 1/4 cup of flax seed this time. You can’t ruin them…unless you leave the room and forget they’re in the oven. Doesn’t matter. Surely, someone in your house likes dark cookies. If not, call my husband.


Anti-Stress Cookies
1½ c. white flour (or white whole wheat flour)
¾ c. whole wheat flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of ground cloves
¾ teaspoon salt
½ stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 c. olive or canola oil
1 c. packed dark brown sugar (I actually use 3/4 c.)
1 large egg
2 egg whites
¼ cup molasses
¼ cup nonfat plain yogurt
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
½ cup oats
1 ¼ cups Monukka raisins
1 ¼ cups dried cranberries or dried cherries
1 ¼ c. DARK chocolate chips (i.e. Ghirardelli)
1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts
Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt in a medium bowl.
Beat the butter, oil and brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and egg whites  Add the molasses, yogurt, ginger and lemon zest and beat until smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer speed to low and beat in the flour mixture to make a sticky batter (do not overmix). Fold in the oats, raisins, cranberries or cherries, chocolate chips and walnuts.
Chill dough for at least 30 minutes. Drop heaping tablespoonfuls of batter onto prepared baking sheets. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bake the cookies until dark golden but still soft, 10 to 12 minutes; cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container for up to one week. May also be frozen (I like my cookies hard!)

By the time I was done with all the baking, I’d warmed up the house, and the frigid temps outside didn’t seem nearly so daunting.

Whether from the Atlantic or Sea of Galilee, shells produce sense of tranquility

Long before cell phones, there was my dad’s conch shell. He knew how to blow through the hole at the end to produce a very loud, distinct sound that would call us home from wherever we were playing.

That shell and Dad’s love for all ocean life instilled in me a similar love for shells and the ocean. But living in Ohio, far from the ocean, it’s often difficult to remember the peacefulness that comes from an early morning stroll on a deserted beach, bag in hand, eyes on the sand, in a search for the perfect shell.







It helps to surround myself with those shells in various locations around the house and in a small glass jar of sand in my office. photo(14)




But my most recent shell acquisitions have a special meaning. While others have come from various vacation spots on the eastern shores of the United States, these come via a friend serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams. He found them on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, the largest freshwater lake in Israel, located near the Golan Heights. photo(13)
Though every shell looks different, and though some originated in a place of great renown and others on obscure beaches, each has its own beauty and produces the same sense of calm and tranquility.




Letting go: Saying goodbye to an old friend

Two days before Christmas we said a sad goodbye to an old friend. Truthfully, it was really just me who was sad. No one else seemed even mildly perturbed.

But really. She’d been a part of our family since 1997, carried loads of kids to various locations; created peace on long trips with each daughter claiming her own seat; later ferried clothing, furniture, and other items necessary for college apartments; and trucked leaves, branches, and weeds to the local dump.

She was an apple-red Dodge Caravan with seats as comfortable as a favorite recliner. Despite her age and nearly 200,000 miles, she was still as shiny as the day we’d picked her up.

0226121329_0001But with more replacement parts than original ones, she began making noises that suggested she was in need of yet another repair. Around Thanksgiving, she sprung a leak, and left puddles of antifreeze on the driveway.

Our local mechanics who’d babied her along for the last few years finally delivered the bad news. It was, they informed my husband, time to stop putting money into her.

For a few weeks, though, we were in denial, or maybe it was just me who was  me who was in denial. A large jug of antifreeze became a permanent fixture in the car…in case of emergency.

While I dragged my feet, hanging on to Red and my memories, my husband began the search for an appropriate used car. With some wheedling, he convinced me to test drive first a Honda Civic and then a Toyota Camry. In the end, the Civic won out.

On Dec. 23, we took a final drive in the van, ending at its final destination — the auto recycling center. But before we weighed it and let the attendant take over, we had an important task. I needed a memento. Turns out it’s pretty easy to pop off the radio controls.

photo(12)Oddly, black dials conjure up a CD of 16 years of memories. If I turn them just right, those memories keep playing loud and clear.

Six inches of melting snow + warmer weather + 3 inches of rain = December flood

Well. Let’s just say it’s been a pretty weird week, given that we’re just a few days from Christmas.

The deluge began on Friday, the day before the first day of winter. Except for a few moments, it continued into early Sunday, the day after the first day of winter. One week earlier, we’d been digging of first one snowfall, and then another. So not only did we have the onslaught of 3 inches of rain but we had 6+ inches of melting snow.

And what happens with so much water? Flooding. Odd that we should have a flood on the first day of winter, but this is Ohio, land-of-the-weird-weather.

10500-saturday-night-rain-continues-and-riley-risesBy Saturday evening, we could see the lights of Bluffton University’s library reflecting on the green space directly across the creek from our house. That’s usually the first hint that the creek has spilled over its northern bank. Fortunately, we live on the high side of the creek.

My husband went out late Saturday, intending to photograph and videotape images for our website, The Bluffton Icon ( By the time he returned, the local police department had begun encouraging those in low-lying areas to move to higher ground. Memories of the August 2007 flood were still lingering.

By morning, streets were closed due to high water, and the high school football field was waist-high in water. But even by then, the water had begun to recede. By all accounts, we were pretty lucky, although those with soggy basements might not share that feeling.

1222-9.m.sundayAnd now? Just 24 hours after the water had begun to recede, the temps have dropped from 48 degrees to 30, and a few flurries have reminded us that we’ll likely see snow before we see that much rain again.

But it’s nearly Christmas, and thanks to the winter solstice, the days are getting longer. It’s the beginning of the end….of winter’s darkness, at least.

*For a video of the flooding, click here:

(Photos and video courtesy of the Bluffton Icon.)


At 4 to 1, they outnumber me, but they’re still my favorite guys

A friend recently described how her older son teases his little brother. We both remembered our older brothers teasing us — sometimes to the point of tears — but now, years later, we still love them. In fact, we both think of our brothers as friends now and love spending time with them. The teasing? It’s still there, but we’re big girls now and can dish right back. They taught us pretty well.

As the youngest of five children — and the only girl — it was suggested that I was spoiled. This might be true, but if anyone spoiled me, it was the boys.

five kidsApparently, they didn’t object to being dressed in plaid like their baby sister.

They let me climb trees with them, play basketball and baseball with them (except for the time James knocked me out by whacking me in the forehead with a baseball bat), and took me swimming.

Sure, they forced me to take my quarry test despite our mom’s instructions that they wait until Dad was with us. I passed and they were happy that they no longer had to take turns babysitting me in the pool. I, on the other hand, was thrilled to join them on the big slide and to play hide and seek around the rafts.

One of them rescued me from the manure pile and one of them hosed me off. One of them told me stories when he put me to bed when our parents were gone. The two younger ones let me sleep in their trundle bed and taught me to play the cartoon game (our version of “I’m thinking of….”).

Now that we’re older and they live far away — all are at least a nine-hour drive from me — I love staying in touch with them via email, phone and Skype. They make me laugh with funny e-mails and can easily make me feel better when I’m down.

But the hours we spend in each others’ company are the best. Whether we’re walking or running together, fighting over who gets the last cookie, discussing our mom’s health, or cooking together, these are the moments that remind me of what big brothers really mean to me.

older five kids







What a beautiful hand

This hand is 91 years old. It’s a beautiful hand, don’t you think? Sure it has wrinkles and age spots, but it has earned those. Those represent character.


It represents long, hard hours spent working in gardens, pulling lovely orange carrots, feeling through leaves for hidden peas and beans, and yanking out unwanted weeds.

This hand has spent hours teaching piano lessons to hundreds of children and adults, showing proper placement of fingers and demonstrating difficult passages. It has worked with its partner hand to play piano for concerts, to accompany other musicians, and to teach seven grandchildren favorite songs.

It has sewn countless items of clothing, knitted scarves, quilts, sweaters and mittens for five children and those seven grandchildren. It has fashioned suits for a tall, funny, intelligent man who often held the hand in his own.

It has signed hundreds, probably thousands, of Christmas and get well cards. In its 20s, it typed letter after letter for a bigwig at Chicago’s May Company. It has poured coffee and tea for countless family members and friends.

It’s been a busy hand for 91 years. Age has slowed it somewhat, but in the summer, it still plants and cares for a small garden plot. Some days it folds napkins and rolls silverware for the next day’s meal. On Saturdays, it partners up with its mirror companion to play game after game of Rumikub. In its spare time, it writes emails to family, updates a journal on a computer, and plays a favorite computer games. When it tires of that, it turns pages of books for its owner.

The diamond ring has graced the finger for nearly 70 years, although it had to relinquish it briefly when it was reset. The thin wedding band has been there almost as long. The wider band belonged to the tall, funny, intelligent man until he died. The finger wears it proudly in memory of him, to keep him close. Inside the band is an inscription that says WSP TO RFP, JUNE 16,1945.

This is my mother’s left hand. It really is beautiful.

Big families, big turkeys, big memories

Here’s the thing about Thanksgiving. If you grow up with a sizable extended family, you figure it’s just expected to have a huge deal with more food than anyone can eat, lots of kids running underfoot, lots of adults shooing kids outside to play, and too many cooks in the kitchen. You also learn to pretend that you’re busy, because if you’re not, you will quickly be assigned some unwanted job. Like setting the table.

Trust me on this. I grew up in one of those semi-large families, with a set of grandparents, four children and spouses, 20 grandchildren with an age range of at least 20 years. This meant that eventually, the 20 grandchildren expanded to include some significant others.

Thanksgiving rotated between the three homes in our immediate area — my grandparents’ farm, an aunt and uncle’s farm, and our house. But then…as always happens, those 20 kids grow up, get married, and often move out of the vicinity. Sadly, the grandparents die, as do some of the aunts and uncles.

I’d kind of forgotten about this until my husband mentioned something about how many people would be at the Thanksgiving dinner our daughter is attending with her significant other’s family. I felt a momentary pang of sadness for those big childhood gatherings.

That feeling came back briefly today as I drove down the long lane toward my cousin’s farm — the farm on which he grew up and on which still stands the big white two-story house where many of our Thanksgiving dinners took place. photo(9)






As a kid, I remember my stomach getting that nervous, excited feeling as we turned down that lane….a loooong stretch that seemed to take forever to cover. Excitement at seeing cousins I hadn’t seen in awhile, eagerness to explore rooms in the big house. There was plenty of space to play, to hide from the boys, and the coolest laundry chute. The best smells floated out from the kitchen to the rest of the house, where tables were set up in every available space.

Today when I drove down the lane, there were none of the pigs I remembered. Instead, there were cows and sheep happily grazing on grass.











And in the red barn at the end of the lane was a much younger version of my cousin — one of his sons — happy to hand me my turkey. At only 10 pounds, it’s tiny in comparison to the ones I remember feeding our big family.

But that’s okay. This turkey technically isn’t for Thanksgiving dinner and there won’t be 30-plus family members to feed. But when it starts roasting and the house begins to absorb that rich, mouth-watering smell, the memories will come roaring back. And that’s okay, too. Because that’s what memories are for.

And this is one time I won’t have to argue over who gets the drumsticks. And the wishbone? That’s mine.