Books. And Pie. And Books.

I thought I’d tell you about some things I am enjoying lately.  First of all is Katie Parker Production, a phenomenally fun 4-book series that I finished and that Emily and Julianna are both currently reading and laughing out loud over.  The protagonist is a girl who just entered foster care due to her mom’s struggles with drugs and bad relationships.  Katie is trying to find her place in this new foster home.  Katie is sassy, irreverent, and very honestly struggling with so many issues that teens and young adults face, and you just can’t help but root for her the whole way. The first three books cover her life in high school, and the fourth revisits Katie as a young adult.

There is a very light and understated faith message throughout the series.  The struggles she faces ring true.  And the humor– oh my!– and there are SO MANY parts in the series that are truly LOL funny, including the way Katie reacts in one way on the outside, while warring with herself on the inside. (Haven’t we all been there..?) This series gets the full five stars from me and from both of my daughters. And the three of us almost never ALL adore the very same book. Winner, winner, winner.

Next I want to share a fabulous recipe I found for Blueberry Sour Cream Pie.  I had gotten a bunch of frozen blueberries on sale, and was wondering about the possibility of turning some of them into pie, but I was kind of afraid that I might end up with a watery puddle instead of something that looked like pie.  Well, this recipe is the answer.  Super easy to make and absolutely yummy.  I have made it three times in the last month and each time it has been a hit.  For simplicity’s sake, I used premade pie crust.

The recipe recommends that you thaw your blueberries before making the pie, but here’s the workaround that I came up with.  I just pour my frozen berries into a casserole dish and pop them into the oven alongside the pie crust, and by the time the pie crust is baked, the ice is off the berries and they are ready to mix into the recipe.

Finally, I wanted to mention a really fun kids’ book that I was asked to review.  It is called Neema’s Reason to Smile. The pictures are bright and lively, the view into another culture is intriguing, and I just loved the focus on hard work, perseverance, and the importance of mentoring in the life of a young person.

Have you read anything good lately?  I’d love to hear about it!

(PS– I was given a copy of Neema’s Reason to Smile in exchange for an honest review, but I found and loved the Katie Parker books all on my own.)


It’s almost spring!

The winter here was not too bad in the snow department, but I’m still ever so glad to have made it through until March.  I really don’t like winter, and I’m very much looking forward to springtime and flowers and warmth. Here’s a gratuitous flower shot — pure eye candy, isn’t it?

I’ve been the worst blogger ever lately, partly because of work, but also, I think, because I have been doing quite a bit more reading in the last few months.  (Latest fave book: 600 Hours of Edward.  Some adult content, but an amazing view into the mind of an adult with Asperger’s.)

The latest from work: the OB building flooded, which put our department completely out of commission for a few weeks. We’ve been keeping a skeleton crew of OB nurses in our ER each shift, just in case a baby decides to be born before a mom can be transported to the nearest open OB department.  The rest of our OB staff has been floated by turns to work at the Boise hospital, which has been quite a stress-inducing adventure.  So far, the shifts I’ve done have gone OK, but it is no small thing to be handed a patient load on a busy floor to which you have not been oriented.  On the bright side:  the Boise hospital is where John works, so a time or two we’ve been able to say hi and chat a minute between shifts.  (I’m still working nights and he works days.)

The latest from home:  Emily and Julianna have been practicing a piano duet and have gotten rather good at it.  I love that they’re enjoying playing together.  In fact, Julianna says she’d rather play duets than play alone.  They’re taking lessons from my mom, which I absolutely love.

Even tho there’s room in the house for the girls to have rooms of their own, I still have them sharing a bedroom.  They are such good buddies that I’m not quite willing to separate them yet, and they actually really do enjoy being together….  I may rethink that at some point– Em is almost 16, after all.  But then again, Julianna still sometimes gets anxious if she’s alone at night.  So who knows….?  Parenting is such a guessing game, isn’t it?

In other news, they now have guinea pigs, and the guinea pigs have a room of their own.  This keeps the girls from having to sleep in the same room as piggy stinkiness, but it does seem to me a bit over the top in terms of pampering your pets.  Ah well.

A reader recently asked me a question about grocery shopping splurges. I do still aim to feed my family affordably as much as I can.  Stirfry is a regular option around here.  We do homemade pizza and homemade enchiladas and fajitas, etc.  And I’ve been delighted at how many tomatoes our tiny yard can produce– enough that I’ve actually still done a bit of canning each fall.

But I have to confess that since I began working away from home three years ago, I’ve gotten worse in the grocery budget department.  Most notably, we eat out more now that I work outside the home. I’ve also been tending toward grocery splurges that are healthier options– things like salmon and blueberries and strawberries and easy salad mixes.  The overall budget difference hasn’t felt like much, because since I started working we also had four grown kids move out.  If anything, our grocery bill has gone down a dab…but not by much thanks to spendier food choices and more eating out.

In more kitchen news, I had fun organizing my pantry last week.  It is embarrassingly huge– in Idaho and Utah this type of pantry is often dubbed a ‘Mormon pantry’ since it is big enough for long term food storage for a very large family.  Yet somehow even with all that space, it still managed to become a total clutter bomb.  Here’s what it looked like before.

After a whole afternoon of rearranging and wiping down and decluttering all the various items, I got it looking a lot better.  This is definitely one of my favorite projects because it is free and very gratifying.

It also led to the unearthing of all sorts of odds and ends of food items, some which definitely and quickly got tossed, but others of which found their way into meals over the next couple days. Now I love walking in there because it just looks so much better.  Here’s what it looked like when the great decluttering was complete.

I would still like to do the following label with all the jars where I am storing dry goods. Doesn’t it look like fun?? But for now I am enjoying the fresh and tidy look! What’s new with you?  Thanks for continuing to stop in now and then even tho I have been so irregular in my blogging lately.

And– PS– if you’re planning a family trip to the Oregon coast sometime this year, swing by our beach house website and see what’s open.

Just squeaking in with a July update

playing frisbee at the beach

Grandkids helping me peel carrots

Wow, I didn’t realize it had been so very long since I’ve been here. We’ve been busy with all things summer-related including time at the beach, setting up a little pool here in Idaho, attending graduations, weddings and other family gatherings, going to camp, having the grandkids over, gardening, and painting the living room.

Garden ingredients prepped to go on a light summer pizza

Here are a few pictures of some of the happenings.




We decided to paint our Idaho living room Sea Salt since we liked it so much at the beach house. Love it here too!


Napping with auntie


Trying out the new pool




At a family wedding with some of our kids



And hey, I even have a couple of recommendations for you!  One of the things that I’m trying to do more this year is read fiction.  It’s not something I’ve done much in recent years and I decided I have been missing it.  Here are a few of the books I’ve read lately.

~ The Winter Sea  I’m only halfway through, but really enjoying it so far.  It is a story within a story, and is set in Scotland in two different time periods.

~I Am David  I read this in three days flat as I found the story very interesting, about a boy who escaped the concentration camps during World War II.

~A Quiet Life in the Country  This one is a detective story and has clever insights into characters and a delightfully surprising humor.  I borrowed it for free on my Kindle.

Then finally I have a bit of cleaning advice to share, compliments of the ladies in charge of cleaning our beach house between guests.  They lined our oven with this Non Stick Oven Liner   I never even knew these things existed, but I wish I’d known about them MUCH sooner!  Just set one on the floor of an electric oven or on the bottom rack of a gas oven, and it will catch all the spills and be incredibly easy to wipe clean as needed. Have you heard of them?  Do you use them?

Enjoy your last month of summer!!


A Week of Easy Food for Entertaining

As you have probably noticed, I am obsessed with all things beach house lately.  Sorry–  I’m probably boring some of you!! But in preparing for our next beach trip where we will be entertaining our biggest crowd yet. I thought it might be interesting (and of more general interest) to share a typical menu plan for times when I’m feeding a bunch of people with various eating styles for several days in a row.

I’ve found that the best meals are the flexible ones– ones that people can fine tune for themselves as they serve up. And often these types of menus tend to be the easiest for me to pull together as well. So here, for anyone entertaining this summer, or the next holiday, or maybe on a camping trip, is a week of easy meals for easy entertaining.



We make most breakfasts DIY.  I make sure we have fixings for cereal, eggs and toast, yogurt, and instant oatmeal, and leave the type and timing of breakfast up to everyone else.  Usually every few days I will supply something sweet, like muffins or cinnamon rolls, to supplement the DIY morning offerings, and usually at least once on a trip John or I will serve pancakes and bacon.  But mostly breakfast is on your own.


Lunches are a mix.  Sometimes I will do soup, salad and bread.  Other times I will set sandwich fixings alongside whatever leftovers are around from other days of meals.  This will again give folks flexibility to choose what sounds good to them, and also is economical by offering extras from other days for folks to finish up.


Dinners are where I tend to spend the most time, though many meals still have a DIY element so that people can customize their dinner for what they most enjoy.  Here’s a typical week of dinners for a crowd.

#1– Taco bar.  Cook up some hamburger with an onion, a generous mash of garlic and some taco seasoning.  (I usually do this before the trip to decrease vacation kitchen time.  Then I freeze it to add a cold item for the cooler on the drive over.)  When serving, add tortillas and taco chips and all sorts of other fillings  (homemade guacamole if I have avocados on hand) and let folks make their tacos as they like them.

#2- Clam chowder and fresh biscuits.  I like to have at least one meal at the beach feel like proper beach fare, and clam chowder is a great affordable thing to make for a crowd.  I don’t have my exact recipe written out  (and sometimes I even buy canned) but you can use this recipe and substitute canned or fresh clams instead of chicken. You can even do it in the crock pot ahead of time if you know you’ll be busy all afternoon.   And then biscuits–who doesn’t love biscuits?

#3– Chili and cornbread.  I plan this strategically AFTER taco night, so I can toss the leftover taco meat into the chili pot along with a bunch of cans of beans and tomatoes.  Here’s one recipe that I like, but I sometimes make it with fewer ingredients and it still turns out fine.  This is wonderful with cornbread (or perhaps leftover biscuits) served with honey or jam.  Yum.

#4- Baked potato bar.  This meal comes strategically after chili night, because lots of folks like chili with their baked potatoes.  Add in ham and cheese, butter, sour cream, and a nice salad, and you havve a whole meal for just a few minutes of prep.  And again, it’s a meal people can customize as they see fit.  Sure to be a crowd pleaser.

#5– Pizza night. I make homemade crust right after lunch and let it rise all afternoon.  At dinner time people gather in the kitchen with an assortment of pie pans or throw-away tins.  They spread crust onto pans and top pizzas as they wish.  Our favorites are pepperoni, sausage, cheese, peppers, mushrooms, and cream cheese (this last one spread in little dabs across the top.).  Again, because folks are choosing toppings for themselves, they get what they want, and most people really enjoy doing pizzas for themselves, especially once they see how easy it can be!


#6- Chicken enchiladas.  Here’s my favorite recipe.  I usually make a couple casseroles before a trip and pack it over frozen in the cooler.  I’ve listed this one out of order, but it is likely to be served one of the very first nights, since it will be half thawed by the time we arrive.  I usually serve these with salad, sour cream, chips and salsa on the side.

#7- Molly’s 10 Minute ChickenThis is a great easy chicken recipe that tends to please a crowd.  You can make it with just legs, or a mix of legs and thighs to suit different appetites.  I will serve it with bread and salad, or maybe even homemade mac and cheese if I’m feeling ambitious.

What about you?  What are some of your favorite meals to serve when you’re entertaining?  I would love to hear your best ideas!



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Easter Vacation

We had a lovely escape to the ocean this past week.  Usually we go expecting lots of rain, because that’s how the Oregon beaches are, especially in the springtime.  But this week we had tons of sun mixed in with just a little rain.  It was gorgeous.  We even had a lovely Easter morning rainbow– a perfect reminder of God’s promises of provision and protection and salvation.  The tomb is empty! (more on that here)


Our youngest two outside the house.

Little Meg enjoying her great-grandma, John’s mom.

John’s happy place is definitely the ocean.
The house where we stayed had wonderful, huge public gathering areas, as well as 7 bedrooms and a theater room that slept 4 more kids.  We had 18-22 people in the house each and every night and were well and truly spoiled.
The little ones had fun hunting for Easter eggs on Easter, and on the next day, and the next, and the next.  We may even have left a few eggs there for the next renters to find.

My sweet grandbabies came shouting up to the stairs to greet me each time I came out of my room and down the stairs each morning. Talk about feeling like a VIP!

Lidya and Ben clowning around

John enjoying sweet Meg

Ranger admiring the fish at the aquarium.

Wilona showing off her treasure trove of eggs.

My parents and John’s mom were able to be there for part of the time, along with a few other members of our extended family, and 9 out of our 10 kids and their families.  It was a great joy and a true highlight of the year.  For a few of the days we had 8 kids in the house ages 4 and under, with half of them being under the age of one.

Little Cousins

Little Cousins

(Yes, it was loud!)  But, oh, the cuteness!  And there were lots of babies to share around.

The first few years that we did a big gathering on the beach like this, I planned the food like crazy.  This year we just made sure there was easy breakfast food for breakfast, and lots of sandwich fixings for lunch, and really only fussed over dinner each evening.  It worked beautifully– I think we hit just the right mix of structure and relaxation.

One day we took the kiddos to the aquarium, and another day John and I went house hunting.  (We are still trying to decide whether to build on the lot we bought or possibly buy something already built.)  But most of the rest of the days were filled simply with walks on the beach, pinochle and Up The River and other games in the house, and just hanging out, eating snacks and being together.

It was very good.

This afternoon I’m off to the store to reprovision the food in the house here, then (ready or not) tomorrow it’s back to work.  I am also thinking about what I want to do next in the back yard.  I have a few pictures that I hope to show you soon!


More on the 36 hour sell

So. The house passed inspection and we’re on target to close by the beginning of March.  Crazy how fast this process is going. I’m holding my breath, aware that delays could still come.  But, wow it is looking good.  What a huge blessing.

After the inspect, we do have a second round of workers plowing through the house fixing things, but it’s minor stuff like broken window handles, and a wrong-sized breaker, and a singing toilet.  Hooray!  We feel really blessed.

Today we went to the house and grabbed a few of our last things out, including Em’s new bed that we’d used for staging– she was so excited to finally bring it home!  Next week our awesome staging company Graceful Designs is picking up the furnishings they added, and then it will be all up to the new owners.

I’m completely convinced that redoing the kitchen and then staging the house were a huge key to getting TWO full price offers within 36 hours of listing.  It just made it all that much more obvious that this house is a good place to live, a place to really be welcomed and comfortable.

We’re thankful also to our real estate agent brother in law Scott Dykstra, who helped us price it right– AND talked us into shelling out a couple thousand bucks to upgrade the sliding glass door and repair the foggy old windows in the house the day before listing.  We dragged our heels for a while– because $2200– yikes!!  But I’m sure that the sun shining in those lovely windows just sealed the deal for the folks whose (full price!) offer we accepted.

Speaking of the new owners, I hear that they are planning to raise goats and chickens, which makes me really happy. The place needed some new energy. We want it to be used and enjoyed and loved, and we’re thrilled to hear that they’re excited to get going with their life there.

As for this new house of ours, I could not be more in love.  It took mere days for it to feel comfortably ours.  It fits our furniture and it fits our people, and it’s just good. Right down to our dining room table– the one I was hot to replace while prepping to move.  Turns out it matches the new kitchen’s cabinets perfectly, and it was just perfectly made for the space.  I think we’ll be keeping it around for awhile yet.  I sigh in contentment each time I walk down the stairs in the morning.  It all just feels right.

There’s a bit of chaos going on in the garage right now, with John still working on getting his shop set up.  But glory hallelujah– it all fit in!!  And even the current mess feels completely doable.  John is planning on building a small additional storage shed in the back yard to handle the garage overflow, which I think will really help to make this last bit of moving in go smoothly.

And my kitchen.  I didn’t really realize how few cabinets I had at the old house.  This new kitchen has probably twice as many, along with having at least double the pantry space.  It is really nice to not have half my small appliances out in the garage– especially with John still working to get his tools stashed away neatly there.

So much to be thankful for.

I’ve been thinking about this past year, with getting adjusted to working again, and I am planning to write in a few days more about the ups and the downs involved in going back to work after 17 years at home.  But I think I’ll leave it at this for now– happy that another family is going to get a homestead adventure like we’ve enjoyed during the past couple decades, and grateful that we have exactly three tiny flowerbeds to weed this spring.

Life is good.

I’ll leave you with a photo of tulips from the old place, and a promise to keep you up to date on the adventures we have planned in this new place.  John has been teasing me because I already have a hummingbird feeder set up and ready to go at this new place, in hopes of luring the hummingbirds back unseasonably early.  But I, like the groundhog, am convinced we are in for an early end to winter this year.

Happy spring!