Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Banana Pudding Dessert

It took me several tries to get this dessert just how I wanted it.  It was totally worth the effort.

I've also halved the recipe and served the dessert in individual cups for a smaller group.

Banana Pudding Dessert
serves 12 or more

Prepare the day before serving.  This recipe makes a heaping 9 x 13 pan of dessert.  If you'd prefer to use a lid, leave out a layer and make a tiny version in another bowl. The orange yolks of our chickens' eggs give the pudding added color.  I tried leaving the cookies whole but didn't like it as much as crushing them. Somewhere between whole and crumbs is nice, too.

2 1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup flour
3/4 tsp. salt
9 cups milk (we use whole milk)
9 eggs, beaten well
3 tbsp. vanilla
12 bananas, sliced
1 (11oz.) box Nilla wafer cookies, crushed

In a large saucepan, mix the sugar, flour and salt well with a whisk.  Slowly whisk in the milk and cook over medium high heat, whisking constantly until it becomes bubbly and starts to thicken slightly.  This takes a little while- be patient:-).  Once it begins to bubble, turn the heat down to medium low and continue stirring and cooking for two minutes.

Have the well beaten eggs at the ready in a separate bowl.  Rushing this next step will give you lumpy pudding- it will still taste good but it won't have a smooth texture.  VERY slowly and while whisking the eggs, add a cup of the hot milk mixture to the eggs, beating them well as you do so.  VERY slowly, add another cup in the same way.  Next, add the egg mixture to the larger pot VERY slowly while whisking the milk mixture vigorously.  Cook the pudding for another two minutes over medium heat while stirring. Remove the pudding from the heat and stir in the vanilla.  At this point, you can assemble the dessert or allow the pudding to cool for awhile and then assemble it.  Either way works fine.

To assemble the dessert, layer about 1/4 of the pudding mixture into an ungreased 9 x 13 inch pan. Top with four sliced bananas and 1/4 of the cookie crumbs.  Repeat these layers, ending with a layer of pudding topped with the last of the cookie crumbs.  Allow to cool on counter then cover and refrigerate to set (overnight is best).

Enjoy! Pin It

Monday, April 13, 2015

Honey Bee Packages

After the disappointing realization that all five of our colonies were dead, we were pretty discouraged about bees.  But after the initial shock of our (but mostly their) loss, we couldn't help but begin planning for more.  Honey bees are so fascinating and beekeeping such an incredibly rewarding hobby.  It's worth the risk to try again.

We were able to order two packages of bees from a semi-local bee supply company.  They order packages from further south and distribute them in our neck of the woods.  The one downside to this is that these packages contain queens are southern queens and aren't acclimated to our climate. Because of this, we are hoping to re-queen some of our divides this year with local queen-lines who have successfully over-wintered here.

Last week, Jamey and Miriam went and picked up our bees- two packages with about 20,000 female honey bees in each package along with a queen (in a queen cage) and a can of feed (sugar syrup) for nourishment.  The bees in the packages don't know the queens housed with them.  These are young queens reared by beekeepers for this purpose.  The rest of the bees were transferred into the package from another hive.  The queen is caged to protect her- those bees don't know her and might try to "ball" or kill her once initially exposed to her...hence the cage of protection.

sugar syrup pre-made and ready at a ratio of 1:1, sugar and water 

We decided to install one of the packages into a new Langstroth hive that Jamey built and the other into one of our top bar hives.  One advantage to packages is that there are no frames to deal with so they can be easily transferred into your choice of hive.  One downside is that they don't have frames of brood with them which may make them feel more invested and at home in a new hive if they have their frames installed with them.  Here's to hoping ours still like their new homes and don't take off looking for their old one.

To unpack a package, the first step is to remove the small cover on top (see right package below versus the left).  This reveals two things- the top of the can of sugar syrup and the strap that attaches to the queen cage (what Jamey is holding in his left hand).

Lifting out the feeding can is next.  Then, he pulls up the queen cage using the strap.  It's helpful to quickly place the cover over the hole so all the bees stay put (for now).

Below is the queen in her cage.  She didn't have access to the food but worker bees are used to feeding queens so they would have taken care of her en route.  The next step is to remove the small cork disk at the top of the queen cage.  Removing the cork reveals a candy plug.  Once the bees are all snug in their new hive, the bees will chew through the candy, releasing the queen.  By the time she's free, they will have acclimated to her scent and (hopefully) adopt her as queen.  The cage is then placed within the comb so as not to disturb hive traffic.  We used existing combs leftover from our hives from last year.  Bees can also build their own if there are none available.

Next came the "exciting" part.  Jamey had let me wear the jacket (I was so excited to be out with the bees again) but as he began working with them, a couple got agitated enough and stung him, despite the sugar syrup spray (which is supposed to keep them busy licking syrup off their wings and keeping them from flying).  I quickly gave him the jacket, stepped back and used zoom.

Below, he's turning the package upside down so the bees fall down into the hive where the queen is waiting.  This can take a little while and requires tapping and shaking the box hard to dislodge the bees.

After most of the bees are inside, the last few frames are put back in.  This year, we're trying a top feeder for our Langstroth hive.  In the second photo below, you can see the shallow unpainted box set on top of the bottom box.  This is the feeder.  Sugar syrup can be poured directly into the tray, giving the bees access to it from below.  A cover fits on top and the roof of the hive goes on over that.

He then repeated the same steps and installed the other package in one of our top bar hives.  In these hives, we use jar feeders.  Because there isn't a lot blooming yet and the bees need lots of energy to build up their small starter colonies, AND since we're hoping to divide them sometime this summer, we want to give them a good head start.

When most of the bees are out of the packages, they are set in front of the hive entrance.  Bees in the hive will come out and fan the queen's scent out of the hive so that lost bees can follow her scent and find their new home.  Didn't I tell you that honey bees are fascinating?

Later that afternoon, the package was all but empty and the bees had already started foraging.  They very quickly found the water source I set out for them, too, just out of reach of the chickens who would have jumped into it and knocked it over (knowledge from experience).

In a few days, we'll look into the hives and make sure the queen has been released and all is well.  It's so nice to see activity at our hives again.  It just didn't quite feel quite the same without them. Pin It

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Preparing for Pigs

Well, we enjoy the pork so much that we decided to raise another pig.  This time, we plan on raising it at our house along with a pig for our neighbors (who raised ours at their house last year) and one or two more while we're at it (to sell).  To raise pigs, you need a pen.  And if you want to pasture your pigs, you need a pasture or, in our case, a very large pen.

We've been working on this project for weeks now- rerouting fencing, installing sturdier gates, protecting the neighbor's fence with stacked firewood, cleaning out the barn (the pigs' access to shelter), transplanting displaced red raspberries, and so on.

The kids helped me clean out the horse stall side of our larger barn.  We use the feeding troughs as recycling bins between trips to the recycling center. Two stalls will get a nice bedding of straw and leaves for the piggies to root around in (and random pieces of plywood will be put away).  They'll also have access to this-all the way back to the farthest tree line...

...a very large corner of our yard.  In fact, they will even have the run of our unfenced garden where we usually plant corn, potatoes and green beans.  Their yard will also cover a couple rows of our red raspberries.  This called for a little rearranging.

New red raspberry canes were transplanted at one end of our sunflower patch.  The unfenced garden has been moved up beside our house (the opposite side of the sunflower patch). Between the pig yard and the new garden, we are drastically reducing the amount of yard that needs mowing.  That right there is enough to cheer about.

We're hoping to get our pigs in the next few weeks.  In the meantime, there is a bit of fencing to finish, old posts to take down, more wood to stack, and a few more things to be cleared from their yard.  If our fencing proves insufficient, we'll buy some electric as needed.

I have really enjoyed getting outside already this spring.  Our strawberries are weeded, raspberries pruned and mulched, and flower beds cleared of debris.  Now, if only those asparagus would peek their little heads up it will really feel like spring.

For those of you who have raised pigs, do you have any advice for us?  We'd sure appreciate it!

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Monday, April 6, 2015


Well, it's been a month since we've last seen our foster child.  He came to us at nine months of age and returned home seven months later after he'd learned to talk, walk, and feed himself with a spoon. For his first month back home, we provided childcare about three days a week.  At that point their childcare needs resolved and they no longer needed us to watch him.  We promised we'd stay in touch and that we'd see each other often.

It's been a month since we've seen him.  This isn't at all abnormal.  Many foster families lose touch when the child returns home.  It's not what I necessarily expected in our case, though.

His initial return home was hard (pre-childcare) but saying goodbye that night a month later without anything scheduled on the calendar was harder.  Even with the promise of staying in touch, I knew it could be the last time we would see him.

Those first couple weeks were difficult.  I didn't walk around bawling my eyes out but only occasionally shed a tear or two.  I did feel very unsettled, though.  As if something was off kilter.  It was.  I felt all my normal emotions with a little more intensity.  I felt myself "space out" occasionally as my mind wandered or as I had to remind myself that we might not be seeing him anymore.  I packed up a lot of the baby/toddler things we had out for him (that are ours).  I washed his sheets, reorganized the nursery and sometimes found myself just sitting in the nursery chair...just sitting and remembering all the many bottles I fed him there while he laid in my arms, looked into my eyes and fingered my earrings, {almost} always gently and carefully.

It was all I could do not to pick up the phone and call his mother.  But I realized that if I did it would only be for selfish reasons.  *I* wanted to know how he was doing for peace of mind.  *I* wanted to see him again so that I could catch his expression when he first caught a glimpse of me- that expression of attachment, joy and love.  As much as I know his attachment needs to be transferred to his birth family, it stings to know that as their attachment strengthens, mine and his weakens and will eventually disappear.

What we had hoped for him and his family came true.  They worked hard, made every appointment, and did everything asked of them.  He was reunited with his family and they are doing well.  They no longer need us.  We have done our job.

But still.  We miss him.

I totally understand why they may not be contacting us.  As well as we did get along, I get it why they might need to put all this behind them.  For them, we are a giant reminder of all that happened. They are trying for a fresh start.  We are part of the old hurt.  I cannot force myself into that new start to fulfill my own needs.

Two pictures of him that his mother framed and gave to me sit on my counter.  It's the small counter right beside the fridge where I keep my calendar, to-do lists, and file folders of the kid's activity papers.  I'm at that counter often and therefore I catch glimpses of him often.  I'm glad he's with his family because when at all (safely) possible that is where children belong.

But still.  We miss him.

It's getting better.  The freedoms that come without having a toddler in tow are enjoyable.  I can work outside for hours at a time- something nowhere near possible with a curious toddler about.  I don't have to buckle anyone into the van when we go somewhere- I just hop in my seat.  The kids can romp and laugh and play upstairs at night without risking that he'll be woken up.  I don't have to cut up anyone's food into minuscule pieces and it doesn't matter if legos end up downstairs.  There are way less interruptions during school, we can stay out in the evenings past 7 pm and there are no more gates to hurdle.

Our kids are incredibly resilient.  They loved him dearly, played with him constantly, and helped take care of him.  Not one of them has shed a tear.  I'm not sure what to make of this other than to hope that it was our regular reminders about his stay being temporary and prayers offered up for his family and their reunification.  The fact that his leaving went so smoothly for them is encouraging and a wonderful blessing- for us and for them.

But still.  We miss him.

It's possible they will still make contact with us at some point.  I might write a short letter and pass it through the social worker.  We think and talk about our next placement.  The day I wrote this, we were asked about another toddler who needs a foster home but we're just not ready yet.  But as time passes, we can tell that one day we will be ready.  We've been praying for that next child and their family. God's hand was in our first placement and we trust it will be in our second, too.

But still.  We miss him.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Several months ago a friend mentioned a book about aging parents.  Over the last four years plus, I've watch my parents, aunts and uncles care for three of my grandparents as they've transitioned from their homes to nursing care to their heavenly home.  My remaining grandfather is in skilled nursing care as I write.

This is no small feat- not emotionally and not physically.  The countless decisions, conversations, financial considerations, phone calls, pop-in visits to check on things, home health nurses, the balance of honoring wishes and being realistic, nursing home applications and visits, the dismantling of homes full of decades of living, hospital visits, hospice care...the list goes on and on.

In an effort to possibly better understand what my parents have been going through AND to get a peek as to what (one day) lies ahead for myself and my siblings, I bought the recommended book, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast.

I was a little unsure about the cartoon aspect of the book.  I thought it might be distracting and take away from the content but it did the opposite and that surprised me.  Chast is an honest and highly entertaining writer.  I literally laughed out loud many times, read portions aloud to Jamey, talked about the book to friends and family, and found myself weeping over it at other times. Despite a smidgen of well-placed profanity (if there is such a thing), I savored each chapter and found myself pacing my progress.  While I was inclined to pick it up several times a day to devour as many pages as I could, I put on the brakes when only a chapter or two remained- partly because I knew what was coming and partly because I didn't want the book to end.

When I finally did allow myself to finish, I felt like I had just walked a very intimate road with a stranger and yet Chast and her parents didn't feel like strangers anymore.  In their story, I saw elements of my parents' and grandparents' stories and I'm thankful to her for this peek inside a very hallow journey that one day waits for many of us (if we're not living it already).

Whether you're in the midst of the journey yourself or are watching those around you enter into it, this book provides camaraderie, plenty of humor, and a glimpse into one woman's story as she walks with her parents and says goodbye at the same time.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

A Favor & Butternut Squash and Spinach Stuffed Shells

First the favor.  In the comments below, please tell me, what is the first dish (main meal, dessert, etc.) that comes to your mind when you think of Mennonite food?  Ready, set, go!  Then please scroll back up and read the rest of the post.  I'll explain myself at a later date:-).


It has been a LONG time since I've posted a recipe.  I honestly haven't been trying many new recipes.  Life has called for the predictable so that's what I've been providing and it's been working well.  But then somewhere in internet land I saw a link to a recipe for Butternut Squash and Spinach Stuffed Shells.  Our family loves our standard stuffed shell recipe (which does incorporate spinach) but I loved the idea of being able to use some of the butternut squash patiently waiting in the pantry.  I even had some roasted and mashed ready in the freezer.

Turns out, they are delicious!  So here we are:-).

I made a few adjustments to the recipe.  A major one was deciding not to melt an entire stick of butter and pour it over the baked shells.  I don't know- that just seemed a little excessive when a nice sprinkling of Parmesan cheese suited the shells just fine.

Butternut Squash and Spinach Stuffed Shells (adapted from here)

2 cups roasted and mashed butternut squash
1 cup frozen spinach (drained and chopped if store bought, crumbled small if frozen fresh)
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. dried sage
1 box large shells
Parmesan cheese

Cook the shells according to the directions on the box.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  While the shells are cooking, combine all the remaining ingredients except the Parmesan cheese in a large bowl.

Fill each shell with a heaping tablespoon of filling and lay seam side down in a 9x13 baking pan coated with cooking spray.  Stuff all shells.  Sprinkle with a generous dusting of Parmesan cheese and cover tightly with foil.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until heated through and serve

These offer a nice twist to a familiar recipe AND make use of butternut squash and spinach from the garden.

P.S.  Don't forget to answer my question at the top of this post.  Thanks! Pin It

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Sad Day in the Bee Yard

This past Sunday, we spent the afternoon harvesting honey. Four gallons and one quart.  But it was not a happy day.  While we are very glad for the honey, one is not supposed to be harvesting honey in March.  We found ourselves in the throes of this sticky task because all of our bees are dead.

This weekend was wonderfully warm, climbing into the upper 60's so it was a prime time to inspect our five hives.  Jamey was already concerned because on previous warmer days he hadn't seen as much activity at the hives as he thought he should.  Sure enough, after each hive roof was lifted off, the verdict was the same- they were all dead.

In each hive, the bee cluster was a mere inch or two away from honey but somehow they were unable to find it.  Robber bees from other local bee yards had found the honey, unguarded, and were already helping themselves.

I sent a quick message to our experienced beekeeper friends asking if they could put us on the list for more bees this spring only to hear back that they experienced devastating losses this spring- 79 of their hives dead.  They, too, can only guess as to what happened.  A combination of weather patterns and an increase of spraying along their road were two of their educated guesses.  You can read all about how herbicides and insecticides seem to be causing all kinds of detriments for honey bees by looking elsewhere online (here is a good place to start).  I, honestly, don't feel like getting into all that now.

I'm just sad.  Sad for our beekeeping friends and others like them who have invested so much time and resources into providing nutritious local honey for our community only to suffer such terrible losses.  We can only imagine what that must feel like.  We're just hobbyists.  For them, it's part of their livelihood.

New packages of bees and nucs might be hard to come by this spring if many others are experiencing similar losses in our area.  If we can, we'll try to start again.  We have equipment and some basic knowledge (although our knowledge doesn't feel very useful in times like these) so much of our investment is still intact.  We also have the gift of beautiful, sweet honey that our bees left for us.

We're also making available the remaining sticky goodness left on the strained honeycomb to neighboring bee colonies.  Maybe some of them will return the favor and come swarm into one of our empty hives this spring.

The term bittersweet has never described a day so perfectly.
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Monday, March 2, 2015

Slow and Deliberate

I realize we're already into the third month of the year but because last year was so very amazing (in a challenging, stretching, answer-to-many-prayers sort of way) I can't help but feel as if we could be on the cusp of another.

As we watch our (former) foster child adjust healthily back home to his birth family, we anticipate being needed less. This will open up space for our family and especially for me.  What will the year bring?  How can I help us get ready?  What projects are worthy of tackling?

This past Friday night as I lie in bed trying to fall asleep, the words "slow and deliberate" came to me as clear as an audible voice inside my own head can be.

Slow and deliberate.

It's a reminder to me that while my time is being freed up, I need to protect it.  Instead of filling up every extra weekend, evening, afternoon, and hour, I need to be slow and deliberate- weighing each opportunity.  Will this activity or project be life-giving to our family?  Will it promote peace, healing and rejuvenation?  Will it give us the rest and time we need to prepare for another possible placement?

Many people have asked me how we do or get done everything we do.  My answer is often one that seems so obvious to us.  We stay open.  We try to make ourselves available to those around us who may need our help and our relationships.  The idea of slow and deliberate confirms in me that we should stay this course.

While we don't know how our family will be used this coming year, I do know that I don't want to be caught off guard.  I don't want to turn down opportunities because we've over-booked or over-scheduled or over-exhausted us.

I challenge you, even as your year is already in full swing, to be slow and deliberate, too.   May we all live in a deliberate way- working toward whatever goals/dreams/visions God has placed on our hearts.  Let's pray for wisdom and God's guidance as we discern how our families should fill our calendars this year.

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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

And We're a Family of Five Once Again

The very day I posted this we received a call saying that in four days our foster toddler (who had been with us for seven months) would be going home to his mother.

It felt like a kick in the stomach.

Everyone involved acknowledged that it was much more sudden than anticipated.  I was expecting weeks of extended visits then overnight visits then weekend visits before packing up his remaining clothes and toys and kissing him goodbye.  The four hours notice we received in advance of his coming seemed much longer than the four-day notice of his leaving.

The day of the initial call was pretty devastating.  I managed to keep it (mostly) together in front of the kids, especially when telling them.  We talked about the simultaneous feelings of joy (for him and his mother) and sadness because we would miss him terribly.  It was a heavy day.  I found myself looking at him in a totally different way.  I vacillated between giving him extra attention and starting to gather his things.  When I'm stressed, I clean.  Evidently, when I'm about to send a foster child home I pack days in advance.

By the second day, as plans came together (when his overnight visit would take place, the actual time of his transfer, and plans to see him again), I began to feel peace.  I knew I wouldn't feel like a true foster parent until I had the experience of watching a child move on.  I was almost there.  This was part of it all.  I could do this.

The day I handed him back to his mother was emotionally charged but, oh, so positive.  We met at the office and talked of his routines and most recent new skills. I was nervous and I'm fairly certain his mother was, too.  Out in the parking lot, we exchanged tears and hugs.  On the way home, I lost it and bawled like a baby.


It's been almost a week since he's gone home and I could not be happier.  God is so good.  Our family is blessed to be able to provide childcare for him several days a week.  His mother and I are developing a voluntary relationship- one that is not forced, one in which we are equals.  Having her in our home is even more wonderful than I had imagined.

I feel like I'm walking on a cloud.  Sure, I miss him and wonder if he wonders where I am and when the kids will bound around the corner to play with him, but we get to see him and love on him every few days, often even a couple days in a row.  I count his mother as my friend and look forward to having them in our lives for as long as they want us.

Well before we knew of his imminent departure, I was anxious about what we would do when he left.  How long would be the right amount of time to wait until we accepted another placement? Would we all feel ready at the same time?  Would I feel like someone was missing again?  Would I be perpetually sad?

Being able to help with his childcare has been the answer to so many of these questions and prayers.  I consider this phase an extension of his placement.  There's no reason to think of my next step.  This is my next step.  Instead of breaking down in tears of loss, I weep tears of joy.  My heart and life are full.  This- the reunification of a family and the ability to remain in relationship with them- is why I wanted to do foster care and I feel bowled over and incredibly lucky to have experienced it on the first try.


My heart breaks for those who have had to send a foster child home to a birth family that doesn't seem to have it together.  My heart breaks for those who have had to send a foster child along when they wish they could call them their own.  My heart breaks knowing that it's possible that one day, no matter what our intentions, we could be some of "those" folks.  For now, I am incredibly thankful. And I am so very grateful to each of you who have prayed for us and reached out to us via email as fellow foster parents.  We have felt your prayers and your love.

While I do find myself with more time these days, this blog will likely stay fairly quiet until spring. We are all still adjusting to our new normal.  We are reestablishing old routines, sleeping longer (my alarm clock went home) and feeling out our new roles.  We talk often of new projects for the warmer seasons and look forward to sharing them with you in a couple months.  Until then, may you feel God's supernatural love and bask in His peace.  God is so good.

Jane Pin It
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