Winter Sunset

Winter Sunset

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Back from Eagle Country!

After 2,285 miles and 473 photos, we are back at the County Line. We spent the last week and a half driving to and from Morehead, KY, where Brent is the media and marketing coordinator for Morehead State University athletics.

While we are used to all things K-State Wildcat, we just spent some time in the heart of Eagle Country. While we were there, we got to see three basketball games - two men's contests and one featuring the women. And while I was glad to cheer for Morehead State, I was really more interested in watching the video board and using my camera's telephoto lens to peer into the press box.
From the "Eagles' Nest" at the top of Johnson Arena, Brent works the video board at each game.
He flashes up the graphics he designed for Slam Dunks, "bank shots" (promoting a local bank, of course) and other action on the court. 

We also got to see the large-scale graphics he designed this year for the upper perimeter of the arena entrances.
These are just a couple of them, but the panels feature Morehead State's All-American ballplayers - both men and women.
We enjoyed seeing his office and meeting and eating lunch with some of his co-workers. I always like being able to visualize where my kids are and put names and faces together with some of the people they talk about.

Sorry to be vague about the trip before I left. I didn't really want to advertise that we were going to be gone. I had feverishly worked ahead on my KFRM radio reports, but I couldn't get a week and a half of blogs done ahead of time, too.

I promise I won't show you all 473 photos. But we did enjoy several stops along the way, as well as touring the area that Brent now calls home. So, yes, there will be some show and tell coming up here on Kim's County Line.

We came back yesterday to a little snow blanketing the wheat fields.

Unfortunately, we left the rain behind us in Missouri. It rained all day Tuesday as we traveled through the Show Me State. Then, about the time we got to the Kansas border, it quit raining. It was discouraging. We stayed all night in Topeka for a little Kinley time before heading back home on slick roads Wednesday morning.

I got back in time to play the piano for middle school choir. Just for the record, there's no quicker return to reality than middle school choir.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hear the Music Before the Song Is Over

When you hurry through your day, 
it is like an unopened gift, thrown away.

 Life is not a race. Take it slower. 
Obviously, there are races in life, but the race isn't the most important thing.
Hear the music before the song is over.
 
My first post on Kim's County Line was January 24, 2010. In some ways, I can't believe it's been three years. In other ways, it seems like it's been forever. For awhile, I posted six days a week and then backed off to five weekly posts. The grand total? I've published 789 blog posts (breaking it down: 265 in 2010; 261 in 2011; 250 in 2012 and Lucky 13 so far in 2013).
Each quarter, I've published the blog posts and photos into hardcover books. I didn't want to lose all that work and the family history if the internet some day decided to eat Kim's County Line for lunch. The 12 books make a pile more than 8 inches high.

Since January 2010, I've never taken more than a day or two "blog-cation." Even when we were on the road to visit Mount Rushmore or to see the sights at Yellowstone or to visit Brent when he was in South Carolina or to play with Kinley in Topeka, I worked feverishly to get ahead on blog entries so that I would continue to post daily. 

And when I think about it, I've decided that the blog has controlled me more than I've controlled the blog. While my husband loves that I am sharing our story as one Kansas farm family, he's asked me on more than one occasion to take a break when we're traveling or have another obligation. 

I'm hardheaded. That will come as a great shock to those of you who truly know me. OK, quit laughing: I know that my friends and family aren't at all surprised by that self-analysis. 

The funny part is that I am certainly no Pioneer Woman in terms of blog followers or readers. Nobody's day is going to fall apart if I don't post a blog entry. I am under no illusion that anyone (besides my Mom - thanks, Mom!) is waiting to see what I have to say on any given day. But I also know that consistency builds readership. Anyone who writes publicly who says they don't want their stuff to be read is just not being honest. 

However, this time, I'm listening to Randy. I'm taking some time off to fulfill another obligation. I'm taking a blog-vacation. I'm going to take to heart that little quote I found not long ago on someone's Facebook page. I'm going to "Hear the music before the song is over."

I'll be back with lots more stories from my little piece of the world straddling the Stafford/Reno County line. So, don't forget about me. OK? 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Birds of a Feather

Photo taken December 26, 2012
At a glance, the sky seemed streaked with wisps of smoke drifting skyward into a clear blue sky. From a mile away, the illusion continued, a gray-Crayon-smudged line climbing upward from the horizon.  But as I turned the corner toward home, the “smoke” awakened as thousands of birds took flight. The whoosh of flapping wings seemed to be in stereo, as the birds scattered in every direction.
It's like an intricate ballet. As I came closer, the sky was their stage, and there was more whirling and twirling than an afternoon matinee of The Nutcracker.
The birds arrive as winter temperatures get cold. They come because feed is scarce. They blanket crop fields and find food and shelter in feedlots. Starlings swoop in, morning and evening, filling the sky. Today, there are more than 200 million starlings across the United States, with about 5 million flocking to Kansas during the winter each year.

These birds damage crops, eat livestock feed, and have potential human health and safety concerns, such as salmonella. A study by the USDA in 2000 estimated that starlings cause roughly $800 million a year in damage. In 1999, three Kansas feedlot operators reported a $600,000 loss from bird damage alone. Feed and grain prices have skyrocketed in the past decade, which means even more significant losses for Kansas producers and especially feedlots. Several area feedlots have volunteered to be part of a new study by the USDA, looking for ways to control the pesky interlopers.

I'm not a bird watcher, but on this day, I was mesmerized by the free show. It reminded me of a scene from Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds," which I saw (and was terrified by) as a child. And while these birds aren't attacking me, the starlings are a nuisance this time of year in farm country, no matter how poetic they seem, set dramatically against an azure sky. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Local Economy On A Roll

A movie marquee from Stafford's Ritz Theatre in 2010.
Going the Distance: Small towns and rural communities in Kansas and across the U.S. are trying to figure out how to do just that. One county in Iowa has a simple idea that's making a big difference.

The Chamber of Commerce in Greater Franklin County (Iowa) is making an impact on their local economy one toilet paper roll at a time.

It doesn't sound very glamorous, does it? And it's getting mighty personal. But think about it: What product does every person use every day? Young or old, male or female, farm or town: Everybody uses toilet paper. In fact, the average person uses 105 rolls of toilet paper a year. It costs an average of $1.25 per roll.

So, in December 2011, the Greater Franklin County Chamber of Commerce promoted an idea: Buy toilet paper at a hometown store, not a big box store. And, believe it or not, the idea is starting to clean up (so to speak).

There are 15,000 people in Greater Franklin's service area. They did the math (which is good, since it's not my best skill):
From their Buy One Product Local website:
That one item (toilet paper) would keep almost $2 million dollars in sales in the county.  It would also generate $140,000 in sales taxes.

Last year, it was estimated that the amount actually spent on toilet paper in greater Franklin County was $335,800 – that’s lost revenue of $1,631,244!
The idea worked. After a year, Franklin County stores that sell toilet paper have seen an increase in sales.

Our county doesn't have that many people, so the math will be different. But what would happen if residents of rural Kansas "swiped" the idea and bought their toilet paper from hometown stores? What if we then added a tube of toothpaste or some laundry detergent to the shopping cart? How would our local economy be impacted if we spent money in our hometown for everything from apples to deodorant to soap to zucchini, instead of driving 30-plus miles to a big box store for supplies?
Notice that Angel Soft toilet paper is even on sale this week at Paul's!
My husband has always been an advocate of shopping locally. I must admit that I do shop in the chain stores on occasion, but I do try to do the bulk of my grocery shopping at our small town grocery store, Paul's.

Last October, the Stafford Mercantile opened. It's a variety store owned by local investors. It fills a niche in our small town that was left when our Duckwall's store was closed in 2010.
Yes, I really did have toilet paper on the pickup hood. I got some weird looks.
When something new opens, there's always an initial curiosity and foot traffic. Hopefully, that led to some purchases, too. But when the newness wears off, we forget that we need to be the solution to having things like wrapping paper, bridal shower gifts, office supplies, toys and more available just down the street instead of 30-plus miles away.  (Our Stafford Mercantile also has a refurbished, vintage soda fountain, so come enjoy a scoop of ice cream, a milkshake or a fountain drink.)

If we aren't willing to open our wallets in hometown stores, we are "voting" against having those services available locally. Maybe we'll have to pay a little more for the convenience. But what's the real payoff?

Reasons to Shop Local (from Buy One Product Local's website)
  • When you purchase locally, those businesses you buy from purchase from other local businesses.  Those same local businesses often support local charities.
  • Small businesses are the largest employers nationally.
  • Local businesses are looking to hire someone with specific product expertise – meaning better customer service.  Plus, they live and work in the community and really know their customers.
  • Generally, local business owners are more invested in the community.  Their children attend the schools, their family goes to a local church.
Who knew toilet paper could be such a big deal? I'd like to find out. Will you join me?

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Warm to Your Toes

I don't know why I wait until I'm having company to make this tea. In the wintertime, this tea - or one of its many cousins - is the beverage of choice when I host a meeting and want to offer something besides coffee. It's also the perfect non-prescription antidote for fighting a cold or battling with winter. With the tea and the Vitamin C, this is like a cup of TLC.

I looked through lots of cookbooks and put together this recipe from a conglomeration of several.  I cut the amount of sugar to cut the calories. I used brown sugar instead of granulated for the flavor. If it's not sweet enough to suit you, add in some additional sugar or you could add a packet of artificial sweetener to your mug. It's certainly not a diet drink, but it does warm you up and make you feel all cozy - whether it's a cold day or you're just suffering from a cold. Enjoy!

Cranberry Tea
1 qt. cranberry juice cocktail
1 1/2 cups orange juice
2 cups pineapple juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
2 tsp. whole cloves
2 tsp. whole allspice
3 cups orange pekoe tea or cinnamon apple tea or orange zinger tea

In a saucepan, combine juices and brown sugar. Combine spices into cheesecloth or put in a coffee filter and tie at the top. Put spices in with the juices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the spices. Add hot tea to the cranberry juice mixture; mix. Serve hot or cold. Garnish with fresh orange or lemon slices, if desired. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

***
Today, I'm linked to Wichita blogger Ashley at her Kitchen Meets Girl What's In Your Kitchen Wednesday. I'm so excited that she featured my Cheesy Ham and Potato Soup from last week! Be sure and check out all the yummy recipes today at Kitchen Meets Girl and go back and visit her often!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

No Need for Galoshes!

I didn't need my boots to take a photo in the wheat field yesterday. We are thankful for the 0.75" of rain we received on Friday. But it was just a drop in the proverbial bucket during a drought that is entering its third year.

We were in Kansas City at a Kanza Co-op board meeting and retreat, so we missed getting to see the rain actually fall. By the time we got back to South Central Kansas Sunday evening, the ground had soaked up the rain like a sponge.

We're not alone. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 104 of Kansas' 105 counties as federal disaster areas. Doniphan County in far Northeast Kansas is the only Kansas county that did not receive a federal disaster declaration.



In the USDA designation, 88 Kansas counties qualify as primary disaster areas and 16 Kansas counties were designated as contiguous disaster areas. The designations make USDA low-interest emergency loans available for qualified farmers and ranchers.
“We are entering the third consecutive year of a severe drought. While we cannot make it rain, it is imperative for everyone to continue working together to deliver relief and assistance to drought-stricken farmers and ranchers.” 
Kansas Governor Sam Brownback
While it doesn't get the headlines of Hurricane Sandy, the drought is a natural disaster, too.


According to the January 8, 2013, U.S. Drought Monitor, moderate to exceptional drought covers 60.3 percent of the contiguous United States.

Here's a Top 10 list no one wants to make: The Hutchinson News reported last week that both 2011 and 2012 were among the driest in Reno County in recorded history. In 2011, annual rainfall in Reno County was 19.51." The total in 2012 was only slightly better at 20.05." (This puts them 6 and 7 on the Top 10 list for driest years. The "winner" was 1954, when Reno County received only 13.96.")
The deficit is 8 to 12 inches, depending on where you are in the region. We have a lot of deficit to make up.
Mark Svoboda
climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, Lincoln, NE
We'd love to have a new theme song around here: We suggest Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. However, the extended forecast doesn't look like that's eminent this week. Please keep praying for rain.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Grandpa's Girl

Driving a Case tractor is in Kinley's blood (with apologies to Great Grandpa Moore and Great Uncle Kent who are John Deere men, through and through).

Kinley has joined a long line of Case tractor drivers. Her Mommy was the chief bale mover on our farm. (I wish I could find a photo quickly, but you'll just have to take my word for it.)

Grandpa Fritzemeier got her a "free" Case tractor with his equipment purchases at Straub's. It wasn't part of the original deal. But, when we were sitting at Straub's, waiting to sign the purchase papers on some "big kid" equipment, Grandpa saw the bright, shiny, red tractor.

Here's how the conversation with Norman (the salesman) went:

Randy:  "I should have been a better negotiator."

Norman: "Oh, why is that?"

Randy:  "Well, I just saw a tractor that I really need for my granddaughter. I should have worked that into my deal."

Norman: "It's for your granddaughter?"

Randy:  "Yes."

Norman: "That could probably be arranged."

It's kind of like getting "free" hats and "free" rain gauges - only better.
 
So, Kinley is starting her Case career early. I was amused by her attention to the "instruction manual" that came with it.

Grandpa loves his instruction manuals, too. He introduced her to the concept of learning all you can know about your equipment back in October.
Getting help from Cousin Hannah.
It's always good when you have someone to help you work on equipment, too. (My family would say you need the instruction manual because it's Case. Now, now. Let's play nice.)

***
These were more leftovers from Kinley birthday celebration. I had my first "fail" as a grandparent yesterday. We stopped by Topeka on the way home from Randy's Kanza Co-op board retreat in Kansas City. I didn't take one photo of Kinley.

But I did more important things like cuddling. She is sick, so it was much more important to snuggle. And, I will admit, I washed my hands before I left. Randy and I are still nursing the colds that she and her Mommy shared during Christmas.

And it's worth every sniffle.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Collaboration

 
Collaboration and agriculture go hand-in-hand. From the time settlers first arrived via covered wagon and staked claims on the prairie, neighbors have been helping neighbors. Often, we see it at harvest time. A family faces a crisis and neighbors bring combines, grain carts, trucks and the people to drive them. It's like a machinery version of an old-fashioned quilting bee.

Sometimes it's heavy lifting - literally and figuratively. With Randy unable to lift anything more than 10 pounds for the next three months, a neighbor is helping Jake with some of the chores as Randy recuperates.

One of my long-time farm friends, Mary Anne Stoskopf, asked me if she could include some of my blog entries and photos in the new Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom Exploring Plants: Kansas Crops Educator's Guide.
I recently received my copy, and, after looking at the 231-page edition, I am even more honored to have been asked to contribute. It is the model of collaboration, with dozens of people providing photos and information.

Each unit introduction includes a writer from the past, and one from the present. Here's a little of what John James Ingalls, U.S. Senator, 1873-1891, had to say in the Kansas Overview:
This is a day when it is a pleasure to be alive. The sky is intensely blue and cloudless, save for a few white wooly cumuli that be piled idly along the northern horizon above the green hills that divide the waters of White Clay and Independence creeks. A scarcely perceptible breath blows from the west. The grass glitters in the sun. Dimly visible beyond the great curves of the shining river, veiled in amethyst, are the bluffs of St. Joseph and the trailing plumes of smoke from its towers. The hyacinths, red, white and blue, dazzle the eye like flame on the eastern lawn, and crimson tulips in another bed emulate their fragile glory.
John James Ingalls
And here's a snippet from my blog, Sea Change, May 28, 2010:
Poets wax poetically (as poets are wont to do) about the beauty of the ocean - the waves breaking on the beach, the roar as the water washes over rocky cliffs, the bluest of blue hues, the ebb and flow as water surges and retreats. ...

The wheat is our Kansas ocean. It ripples across the prairie with peaks and valleys generated by the southerly Kansas wind. As I walk along the County Line, I hear the whisper of the wheat stalks as they brush against their neighbors. Instead of hearing the screech of gulls at the shore, I hear a symphony of Kansas song birds trill out a morning greeting.
Kim Moore Fritzemeier, May 2010
It was exciting to see that blog entry, as well as another I wrote about silage harvest, included in the book, along with a few of my photos.

I'm not telling you about it to toot my own horn. Instead, I want educators (and others) to know it's available. Every so often, a teacher friend tells me that she learned something from a blog post about farming. She didn't grow up here, and she doesn't have an agricultural background. It always makes me feel good to know that my little corner of the internet provided some accurate knowledge about modern agriculture and the whys and wherefores that help us make decisions on our farm.

But my contribution pales in comparison to this comprehensive review that explores Kansas crops.
Kansas agriculture is incredibly diverse and complex, just like the crops grown on Kansas farms and ranches. From asparagus and corn to turfgrass sod and wheat, our goal is to assist educators and advance the understanding of the plants we grow in Kansas and how those plants provide food, fiber, fuel and other products for people in Kansas and around the world.
Mary Anne Stoskopf, Chair
Plants Guide Working Group
 Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom
Kansas educators can order the spiral-bound book at a minimal cost, basically what it costs to ship. (They are available to others at a higher cost.) There are free online lessons plans available to then use this book - and other Kansas Ag in the Classroom materials - most effectively in the classroom. It's not about using these lessons in a vocational agriculture class. Educators can use these lessons to teach math, social studies, geography, nutrition, health,  ... the list is as diverse as Kansas crops.

Kansas Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom has been connecting classrooms to the ag community for 30 years.  As a producer, I'd like to thank them for their commitment to this mission.

Check out the Kansas Agriculture in the Classroom website, whether you're an educator or not.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Cheesy Ham and Potato Soup

Good cheer wasn't the only thing passed around as families gathered around the Christmas tree for the holidays. As surely as the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year's Eve, people were dropping, too, succumbing to coughs, sneezes and headaches that their friends and relatives shared along with carefully-wrapped presents and the latest recipe from Pinterest.

Randy and I couldn't avoid the "plague" either. Knowing that a trip to the doctor would just confirm that we had joined the Virus of the Month club, I turned to self medicating. I prescribed comfort food.
To me, comfort food ... makes me feel like a warm blanket is wrapped around me. 
Queen B on Chowhound.com
At my house, comfort food is a bowl of soup. As I searched for a recipe to sooth cold symptoms - and use up leftover ham at the same time - I combined two recipes to create this soup - one from allrecipes.com and the other from Taste of Home.

Enjoy - whether you're in the throes of a virus or just wanting a warm and tasty offering for lunch or supper.

Cheesy Ham and Potato Soup
3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup frozen broccoli florets, thawed and chopped
3 cups water
1 tbsp. chicken soup mix
3/4 cup diced, cooked ham
1/4 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups finely shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

Combine potatoes, carrots, celery, onion, broccoli, water and chicken soup mix in stockpot. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add ham and pepper.

Melt butter in a separate saucepan over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour with a fork and cook, stirring constantly, until thick and well combined. Slowly stir in milk, stirring so that lumps don't form. Continue stirring until thickened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add cheese, stirring until it's melted and to prevent it from burning.

Pour the milk mixture into the stockpot and cook soup until heated through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately. If desired, top with chopped green onion tops, shredded cheese and croutons for some color and crunch.

Note:  I get the chicken soup mix at Glenn's Bulk Foods. You can substitute regular chicken bouillon granules.

Today, I'm linked to Wichita blogger Ashley's What's In Your Kitchen Wednesday. Visit her blog, Kitchen Meets Girl, and check out recipes from other bloggers. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Daddle Saddle

Leave it to Brent to come up with a gift that had us all laughing. Eric and Jill are the proud owners of a Daddle Saddle.

Brent found it on Amazon, but I have no idea what he searched to come up with such an obscure product. He can't remember. But we will definitely remember Kinley going for her first ride on the Daddle Saddle. At this point, she needs a little help to climb aboard - and stay aboard, for that matter.

You have to give it to the manufacturer: The name is a winner. Kinley's "Daddle" strapped on the fabric saddle using the straps reminiscent of a backpack. It comes "complete with adjustable stirrups, soft saddle horn and a latigo strap designed with Dad's comfort in mind."

Like all good little girls, Kinley was willing to share her new toy with her cousin Hannah. Likewise, Eric was glad to share the opportunity to "daddle up" with his brother Brian, Hannah's Dad.
Photo by Jillian
So, during Kinley's birthday party, the two girls perched in the Daddle Saddle. Who needs a rodeo clown for western-style laughter?
Photo by Jillian
Hannah evidently thought she was on a bucking bronco.Yeehaw!
Photo by Jillian
As the packaging says, "Daddle up! It will bring hours of enjoyment to your home." We'll see if the "Daddle" thinks so as Kinley gets bigger.

It's good to use up leftovers from Christmas. Who says the leftovers have to be food? Here were a few other "funnies" from our holidays:
Brent bought Kinley a Wildcat hat. It was a little small, so that provided a little comic relief, too.
Grandpa continued his quest to make Kinley a cat lover. I wish I had a video of her reaction. When he would bring a cat into the house, she made this strange, high, keening sound. The calico cat tolerated the noise. Big Cat - who is a one-man cat anyway - was not a fan of Kinley's high-pitched song. He was shown the door.
I thought this one was funny. Kinley didn't really get a Crock Pot for Christmas. But it sure seemed like she was contemplating what she could make in it.

One of my other favorite moments was three kids in a tub at my parents' house. Braden, Neelly and Kinley all took a bath before getting in PJs for their journeys to their next Christmas celebrations. But I'll leave those photos for their baby books - not for public consumption. I wouldn't want some random person to find photos in their all-together and torture them some day when they are in junior high.

Laughter: It was one of the best gifts of Christmas.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Finding the Light

A banner at Stafford United Methodist Church depicts the magi.
Light was the common thread during our Epiphany worship service yesterday morning. From the opening prayer to the children's sermon to the hymns, the message of light shone through as clearly as the light of the star that led the magi to the Christ Child so long ago.
So many people are looking for a light at the end of the tunnel. Their concerns and fears wear a dozen faces: loneliness, depression, economics, bullying, terrorism, disease, marital discord -- the list goes on. Epiphany's reminder of the unchanging love of God for us is as refreshing as a glimpse of light at the end of a dark tunnel.
From General Board of Discipleship, United Methodist Church, www.gbod.org, which I used in my adult Sunday School class yesterday 
I'm the worship chairman at our church. We left the Christmas decorations in place through our Epiphany service yesterday, but I will have to figure out a time to pack them away this week until next year.

By now, you've probably taken down your Christmas tree at home. I know there are organized people who promptly pull out their Christmas decor the day after Thanksgiving and then pack it away on the day after Christmas.

I'm not one of those people. Because of a persistent cold, I didn't get our Christmas decorations at home taken down until Friday, which was later than normal.

But, after several weeks of twinkling lights decorating the living room, I'm never quite ready to give up the multicolored dreamland.
I'm never quite ready to pack away the angel tree topper ...

... or turn off the light on the Noel that decorates my piano during the holidays.
Even as a child, I remember the letdown after Christmas. It didn't have anything to do with whether I'd gotten everything on my wish list. It was just that slight feeling of melancholy, a sadness at saying goodbye to that "hap-happiest season of all," as the song goes.


But, even as I hauled the boxes of decorations to the basement, I needed to remember not to let go of the spirit of Christmas. Even if I must take down the twinkle of lights in my living room, I can let the Light of the World continue to shine in my heart, mind and soul as I enter a new year.

Arise, shine, for your light has come.
And the glory of the LORD rises upon you.
Isaiah 60:1 
So how do we keep that Light when the world seems like a very dark place some days? A couple of my Facebook friends have recently posted a link showing a Gratitude Jar.

From a friend's Facebook page
This January, as we look back and keep Christmas in our hearts, maybe these gratitude notes would help us to look all around us to recognize the good that happens and the blessings that God provides each and every day. Or it doesn't have to be a jar. I could keep a notebook-paper list of One Thousand Gifts made popular by Ann Voskamp's bestselling book of the same name. Even a computer list would accomplish a litany of "gifts" if I would just take the time and make the commitment to do it each day.

So the message of Epiphany wouldn't just happen on one Sunday in January. It would happen each and every day. 


***
I shared a variation of this message at Lovely Branches Ministries this month. Check out other bloggers who "Look Ahead, Look Back" through their blog entries this month at the new website. 

I'm also linked to Hear It on Sunday, Use It On Monday today. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Let Her Eat Cake!

Kinley's Mommy let her eat cake last Sunday. It was a special occasion, after all. Instead of ordering cake from a bakery, Jill made all the cupcakes and the "smash" cake for Kinley's special day herself. For the uninitiated, this generation of parents hands over a small cake and lets the birthday celebrant smash the cake.

In Kinley's case, it was more a "smoosh" cake. She smooshed the frosting between her fingers and sampled a little bit. But she was much more intent about removing the pretty pink and yellow candy circular discs from the cake.
When all was said and done, I'm not sure Jill thought it was worth the effort. But it did make for a cute cake and added to the celebratory decor.
Jill also made a banner using all of Kinley's monthly photos. Brent told Jill that the 30th of the month was his favorite day to check Facebook, since Jill always posted the monthly photo there. With all the photos in a row, we got to see the miraculous changes that happen in just one year from baby to toddler.
Jill also made a garland using additional cupcake liners, which she hung on their fireplace. You can kind of see it in the background behind Kinley. All this was besides making a baked potato bar lunch, complete with multiple salads, and cleaning house.
While Kinley's reaction to the cake may not have met her Mommy's expectations, the rest of us devoured our portions. Jill made both white cake and marble cake. Neither she or I thought the marble cake was worth sharing. But the White Wedding Cake Cupcakes were good.

As Jill said, she is perfectly capable of making white cake from scratch. She has the purple ribbons from the Stafford County Fair to prove it. But this recipe has enough add-ins to make it taste like a from scratch cake. And when you have a toddler with a temperature who wants Mommy and a bunch of people coming to dinner, you take all the help you can get.

White Wedding Cake Cupcakes
1 (18.25 ounce) box white cake mix
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
2 tbsp. vegetable or canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
1 cup regular sour cream
4 large egg whites

Preheat oven to 325°F. Place cupcake liners in cupcake pans (you'll need approx. 36).

In a large bowl, whisk together cake mix, flour, sugar and salt. Add remaining ingredients and beat with mixer for 2 minutes, or until well blended. Use ice cream scoop to fill prepared cupcake tins, filling about 3/4 full. Bake about 18 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Note:  This recipe originally came from recipegirl.com.  As she indicated,  most food companies have downsized their cake mixes. Some of her readers made the recipe as indicated using the smaller size mix and still had great success. Others bought a second mix and added in the missing ounces to the first box. Jill just used one mix. It turned out fine.

You can also use this recipe to make cake. Pour into greased and floured cake pans. Bake until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Quick Vanilla Buttercream
Recipe from Food Network
3 cups confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp. vanilla or almond extract
1 to 2 tbsp. whipping cream

In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together sugar and butter. Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.

Add vanilla (or almond) and cream and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more cream if needed for spreading consistency.

Notes: The love of almond flavoring must be genetic. My mom loves almond flavoring in frosting. So do I. I passed that love along to my daughter. We're already starting the process to expose Kinley to the superiority of almond flavoring to enhance white cake.

Jill used a chocolate buttercream to frost the marble cake. The frosting was better than the cake.
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Recipe from Savory Sweet Life
1 cup butter, softened (but not melted!)
3 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon almond extract
4 tbsp. milk or heavy cream
Cream butter for a few minutes in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed. Turn off the mixer. Sift 3 cups powdered sugar and cocoa into the mixing bowl. Turn your mixer on the lowest speed (so the dry ingredients do not blow everywhere) until the sugar and cocoa are absorbed by the butter. Increase mixer speed to medium and add vanilla extract, salt, and milk/cream and beat for 3 minutes. If your frosting needs a more stiff consistency, add a little more sugar. If your frosting needs to be thinned out, add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time.