Family, friends, bbq, food, fun, and special diets

One afternoon recently, we had some really good friends come and visit: Jennifer and Alan Harshman (of Harshman Services), and their three children; my daughter Nancy and her two children; Greg (who was just released from hospital after having heart surgery), Athena, and their two children. And of course the seven of us who live here! After spending the afternoon drinking a lot of coffee, talking, and doing a little work on a refrigerator, we decided to cook out.

There were about 20 people here so it would require quite a bit of food. The menu started with hamburgers and hot dogs, of course. Then it grew to include pork steaks, beef steaks, chicken breasts, and pork cutlets. Now while my husband cooked all this outside on the grill, I started in the kitchen! What to cook that everyone can eat, that fits into the special needs of the guests, and fill everyone up, and do it quickly?!

Foil packet cooking

Instead of making the potato packages in foil packets on the grill like we usually do, I made them and put them in the oven. Jeni cut the potatoes into wedges and put them on aluminum foil for me, then I added butter and spices.

One package had Italian seasoning, one parsley, one red pepper flakes, one onions and Cajun seasoning, one barbeque seasoning, etc. etc. I think we ended up with like eight different ones. These fit into the gluten free diet, I was told, so I had those people covered. These are so easy to make, and everyone loved them. They can also be done in a campfire—just toss the foil packets in the coals!

Now, my youngest grandson LOVES my mac and cheese, so of course I had to make that, then to round out the gluten free menu, some mixed veggies of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots! I did not add cheese as they are very limited on the dairy consumption, too. And I added pork and beans to the menu.

Accommodating dietary needs

I didn’t realize that day was a fasting day for the Harshman family, and they were not supposed to eat meat. I try to accommodate everyone’s tastes, allergies, and religious fasting days. But with this many people it was hard. Not to mention this was not a “planned” thing, just kind of spur of the moment! So I was kind of unprepared. I am sorry about that, Jeni and Alan!

Not ever having had to deal with the gluten allergy problem, I didn’t realize how complicated it could get. I just pray every time I feed them that I do not make their children sick! Did you know that some instant mashed potatoes have gluten in them? Or that imitation bacon bits do? But I am learning and she is very patient with me. But there are so many different ingredients that contain gluten that it will take me a while to learn them all. So when they are here I concentrate on meat, vegetables, eggs, etc.

All in all, everyone ate their fill, had a good time visiting (I hope), and the food… well, we had enough left overs to feed eleven people two meals the next day! And nobody got sick from eating gluten or dairy!

Bathroom questions, by Lillian Joy

Our downstairs bathroom was easier to use, brighter and drier, thanks to the changes and improvements we had made. We could see to wash in the shower now. There’s an outlet to plug in a razor or a hair dryer. We should have been content, but we weren’t.

Convert a tub to a shower

To take a shower in the morning, we had to leave our bedroom, walk down the stairs, past the front windows and door everyone could see in, walk to the back of the house and into the bathroom. Then we’d have to reverse the process to get back to our bedroom. We decided it was time to have a shower upstairs.

At that point we had just a claw-foot tub on a slab that looks like marble, but we’re not sure what it really is. The walls around it are just normal walls and can’t get wet. So we looked for a solution. We found the shower surrounds. We ordered the pipes and faucet and shower head and couldn’t wait to get started.

At this point our kids were three and almost two years old. When the boxes arrived, there were many questions.

Questions kids ask during home improvement projects

“What’s that?”

“Parts to make a shower upstairs.”


“We don’t want to come downstairs just to take a shower in the morning.”

“Oh.” Pause.

“How does it work? What’s this thing?”

I don’t think my daughter ever stopped asking questions at that age. This was just something new for her to ask questions about.


It really didn’t take too long to put up the shower surrounds. It took more time to answer questions like:

“What tool is next?”

“What do you do with that?”

“Why are you drilling a hole in the ceiling?”

“Did you mean to drop that?”

“Daddy, why is your face red?”

The other fun part about that project was my son imitating his father. His play tools don’t really work the same, but he sure looked cute copying his father. I look forward to his being able to really help with future projects. Especially since my daughter asked me a new question about the bathroom just the other day while we were in there.

“Mama, why is the ceiling cracking?”

I guess the humidity from the shower is too much for the ceiling. There’s another project to add to our list.

The question I’m asking is, “Do home improvements ever end?”

Lillian Joy’s scary bathroom remodel, continued

While I was watching the children and my friends removed the thin particle board in the bathroom…I heard a big crash and loud yells. I went running out to the kitchen toward them. My friend came, laughing, out of the bathroom. The plaster was only held up by that thin decorative piece of particle board. When it was moved, the whole ceiling had come down. The particle board protected my friends’ heads.

Kids scared by remodeling noises

Back in the living room, three kids were crying because the loud crash scared them, and the youngest was crying because I put him down so quickly.

The new problem was the three-year-old. Now he was too afraid to go into the bathroom anymore. We had to let him go outside by the tree.

Home improvement shows make it look easy

With the particle board down, the plaster quickly came down and then we had to remove all the garbage. They don’t show plaster all over the floor and up to your ankles on the home improvement shows on TV. They must clean off-screen, and more often than we did. That small bathroom sure had a lot of plaster. That was the end of the first day.

My friends had to leave and our bathroom looked awful. At least the three-year-old got to leave with his mother and wasn’t afraid of his own bathroom.

Replace sink and toilet

The next big work day had us taking out the vanity and toilet. My oldest at the time was almost three. She cried because she didn’t want them to change. I didn’t realize a child could love a toilet so much. We were able to put the beadboard up behind the area where the sink and toilet needed to go.

We put in a new pedestal sink and toilet. With that smaller sink, the bathroom looked so much bigger. There was no more sliding past the vanity to get into the bathroom. No matter how much nicer it already was, my daughter was not convinced. She was still upset with us for taking out the old toilet. She did eventually get over it and go into the bathroom. Change does not make her happy.

Children afraid of the dark and masks

My brother came and helped us get the new drywall up. First he helped to cut a place for the ceiling light and vent. When they ran the vent to the outside, they found a crawlspace. There’s little to no insulation in our house, and that crawlspace was no exception.

An opening was made so we could insulate it and it was left open for a few days. That dark hole was a bit scary for my daughter. She thought something would come out of that hole and get her. It’s a good thing she wasn’t really potty trained. That bathroom might have scared her away from ever leaving the diapers behind.

That hole was the source of another scary thing for my friend’s three-year-old, too. She came to help put insulation in the crawl space. Working with the insulation, we had to wear gloves and masks. This little boy was already afraid of our bathroom because of the loud crashes. When he walked out to find his mom and she came out of the dark hole wearing gloves and a mask, he started crying.

She tried to show him the mask, but he wouldn’t let her near him until she put that mask down. I don’t know why it scared him so, but he kept saying “No mask. No mask.” In fact, the next couple of times he visited, he would start repeating, “No mask. No mask,” as soon as their van pulled into our driveway, until he was assured there would be no masks.

Our bathroom is almost finished now. It lacks trim and needs curtains. The biggest thing you notice when you walk in is the floor. The glue is still there on the old vinyl. We haven’t found a good option to cover that uneven glue. We could try pulling up that old vinyl, but we’re a bit afraid of what we might find under it. Who knew that such a small little bathroom could cause such fear!

Guest post by Lillian Joy on bathroom remodel

A few years ago my husband and I bought a mid-1800’s Victorian house. It’s beautiful, but needs a lot of love and care. I imagined myself redoing the rooms, redecorating and still doing everything else that needed to be done just like Mary Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

She fixed up that old, run down hotel and took care of her family so easily and quickly. Here I am looking around at half-finished projects and many projects not even started, knowing I might never get there.

Apparently I can’t do everything they do on TV and in the movies, especially with young kids. They have a way of making each day interesting and each project an adventure.

Bathroom is awful

Our first major project in this house was our small downstairs bathroom.

It’s a narrow room, maybe 6 feet long by 3 feet wide. The door opens into the room and the first thing you see is the big old radiator. There was a vanity that you had to slide past to get to the toilet and a dark stall shower. The one light over the sink had the only outlet built right into it. The room was so dark and you could barely see to wash. We would have lived with it but the ceiling started looking like it would fall on our heads. Something had to be done.

So I planned a day to start taking the bathroom apart, invited a couple of friends to come help and started planning what I wanted the bathroom to look like. We just had to take the rug and the walls out, remove the vanity and the toilet and then put the new stuff in. It shouldn’t be too hard. Maybe a week or two. Right?

The start date arrived and my friend came. We settled the four kids ages 3, almost 3, just turned 2 and 1 in the living room to play and went into the bathroom to get started.

Carpet glue

First to come up was the rug. Why anyone puts carpet in the bathroom I’ll never understand. It should have been the easiest part, but it was glued down. Who glues down carpet? The same people who put carpet in the bathroom I guess. Some areas came up quickly. Others took two of us yanking and pulling with all our might.

The heat from the radiator must have made the glue stronger because the areas right around it were not coming up. So we cut the rug apart there. A razor blade finally removed the last bits of carpet. The difficulty of that first part should have been a sign.

Identify wall covering

The next step was the walls. They were pinky-peach and mint green sections with silver trim around them. We began pulling them to see what it was. They turned out to be some sort of particle board like thing glued to the walls. Someone who had lived in this house really liked glue.

Now in between all this we took turns checking on the kids. They were doing well, but had started becoming antsy. We decided that to be safe, someone needed to stay right with the kids for now. So there was one fewer person to work. I took first kid watch. My friends began to pull that same particle board off the ceiling. Next thing I hear is a big crash and loud yells. Oh, joy. Want to know what happened when they pulled down the particle board?

Guest post by Adrienne Z. Milligan on design binder

A design binder keeps ideas, quotes, brochures, and more all in one convenient location. If you are preparing to redo your home décor, paint, or upgrade, then keeping track of color schemes, products, stores you’ve visited, tips and tricks you want to try, and more can be a daunting task. This guest post is by Adrienne Z. Milligan.

Design binder for ideas

Maybe you have plans to remodel or upgrade, but are waiting for that refund, newer model, or your next week off to start. You don’t have to wait to begin compiling items for your design binder. You can start collecting ideas for it for years before your remodel. Keep all of your information in one mobile place by starting a design binder to take with you when visiting store after store. Home decorating ideas folder

Starting a design binder need not be expensive or overwhelming. The minimum you will need is a three-ring binder, some sheet protectors (to avoid trying to punch holes in the delivery quote or appliance brochure), and a notebook or paper that will fit in the binder, plus a binder-friendly pencil pouch.

Some people may prefer purchasing an Office in a Bag from This is a binder cover that holds a binder (not included) and has pockets on both inside flaps for pencils, pens, markers, and a calculator, with a little zippered pouch that will small items. This is a popular option because the cover zips up and has a carrying handle. It is designed for on-the-go mobility and holds it all without fear of things falling out of it. Do what works for you.

Collecting ideas for home

When you find a picture of a bedding set or sectional couch that you like in a magazine, simply cut out the page and put it into a sheet protector. (Please remove pages from your own magazines, not ones in office waiting rooms.) Every time you get brochures from the furniture store, appliance store, and the many paint chip samples that seem to multiply, just place those into the sheet protectors in your design binder. Pinterest is a great site for collecting ideas. You may want to print them periodically and put them into your design binder, so you have all of your ideas together in one place and can take them with you whenever you go shopping.

Create a tab for each topic—such as paint, furniture, and appliances; or one for each room of the remodel—kitchen, dining room, and guest bathroom.  Maybe the binder will serve as your brainstorming results, so perhaps a tab for each store would suit your needs and you don’t have to wonder which store you found the items at since it’s in the appropriate store tab. Use dividers so that the tabs are visible even when using sheet protectors.

Home decorating ideas folder makes it easier

After a while, you will be able to sit down and plan your remodel without having to search high and low for that one brochure, sliding rocking chair, or repair quote that you just need to find. Each brochure will be at your fingertips whenever you need it.

You can include pieces of fabric or wallpaper that you like. You can even add actual carpet samples and tile samples if you want. Just keep in mind that this will make your design binder a little heavier.

Do I Need an Interior Designer?

Not necessarily. You can do it all yourself, get some help from a design planner at a home improvement store, or hire an interior designer. If you sit down with a design planner at a store, or with your own designer, you will be able to show them what you have researched, what colors you are wanting to use, and what products you will need to accomplish your goals.

This helps them be able to help you, because you have done the decision making (or at least a good portion of it) before sitting down at their desk. It can also save you a great deal of time and money. Even if that remodel or upgrade is not in the near future, start collecting information now, so that when the time does come, the research you’ve done along the way is just inside your design binder.

Chocolate pudding cake/ hot fudge cake

My husband’s mother has been making this chocolate pudding (aka hot fudge) cake recipe for him for over 35 years! I am not sure where it originated, but this is the recipe she uses.

Family comfort food recipe

My mother-in-law would make this and send my husband a piece of it. Yep, one tiny piece! But we all had a solution: one bowl…..several spoons! A lot of the time my little sisters would by staying with us, and they loved this, too! So we would have one tiny piece of cake with seven, YES SEVEN spoons. HE HAD TO SHARE! Rule number one at our house, and it included him! So here is one of the easiest and best recipes we have ever shared.

Chocolate pudding cake

1 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 cup sugar

6 Tbsp. cocoa, divided

2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup milk

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 3/4 cup hot water

How to make Chocolate pudding cake:

1. In a medium bowl combine flour, sugar, 2 Tbsp. cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

2. Stir in milk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until smooth. Spread into an ungreased 9×9 square baking pan.

3.  Combine brown sugar and remaining 4 Tbsp of cocoa: sprinkle over batter. Pour hot water over the top, BUT DO NOT STIR!

4.  Bake at 350 for 35 – 40 minutes. Serve warm. Top with ice cream or whipped cream if desired.


Building a chicken ark

Raising your own chickens used to be common practice, and is regaining its popularity. Many towns are now allowing backyard chickens, although most of them still ban roosters.

Build chicken house

Building your own chicken house will save you a lot of money. Here’s how we did ours. We used 2x4s and OSB (sometimes called chipboard). The base is 4ft by 8ft. The back is 4ft high, and the front is 3ft high. The roof slopes down and is hinged at the back. It opens up completely, for ventilation and access. We built the frame with 2×4 boards, then cut the OSB to fit, and screwed the panels onto the frame. The hinged lid went on last.

We built another just like it, and placed them back-to-back, so they look like a house, or, as the kids say, Noah’s ark. We painted the chicken arks to protect them from the weather. The kids may paint animals on the outside of the chicken houses, to make them look like Noah’s ark.

The chicken houses still need doors cut into them, but not for the first two weeks of having chickens. Chickens should be confined to the ark or coop for the first two weeks, so they will learn that it is home. After that point, they can be let out and they will return to the chicken house at night to sleep.

Raising baby chicks

Aside: My husband says, “Isn’t that being redundant? Aren’t chicks babies?” I told him yes, they are, but people search for the phrase “baby chicks.” Maybe it’s to distinguish between the animal kind and the human kind, I don’t know.

After the chicken arks were built, we bought a hen and about 25 chicks from an individual. I’m not sure why, but so far several of the chicks have died. A certain amount of loss is to be expected when raising chicks, I know, but it’s still disheartening. I’m not able to sit out there with them all day long (and baby chicks do need near-constant care). I had wanted to start with older pullets (say, 12-week or even 18-week pullets), but an opportunity arose—a referral from a dear friend—and we took it.

Some of the chicks are growing quite a bit, and already have “real” feathers (and are trying to fly out the top of the chicken ark). Some of the chicks are still quite small.

How long will hens lay?

The mother hen (not the real mother, at least not to all of them, but she took them all under her wings just fine) seems to be doing well, too, although she hasn’t laid a single egg. My suspicion is that she’s actually too old to lay anymore. Most hens will only lay eggs for three to four years.

After a few years, chickens lay fewer and fewer eggs, and eventually stop. Some people butcher and stew the hens who have stopped laying eggs; some people just let them live out their lives in peace. It depends on whether the chickens are for food/business, or more for pets, and on how sentimental vs businesslike the people are.

Once the chicks (however many of them that survive) get big enough to be on their own, mama hen might go into the stew pot. She might get lucky, though, and just live out her days eating bugs in the yard and clucking instructions to the younger ones. We may or may not be just a tidge sentimental around here. ;)

Marriages that stand the test of time

I have seen several articles in the last few weeks on how to make your marriage last. Well all of them were good reads, but practical advice-hmmm, not so much. I’ve been married for thirty five years, which in my book qualifies as a “lasting marriage.” Basically my husband and I do not follow any of the “rules” to make a marriage last. And neither does anyone I know. Could they or do they work for other people? I don’t see why not, but for us it just isn’t going to happen.

Spouse’s faults

Okay, after all this time being married, most of the time we don’t want to even look at each other, let alone “gaze into each other’s eyes” as they suggest. We know each other’s faults (we should, we repeat them enough) and it just is not going to happen without breaking out into laughter.

Marriage advice

What we do is ACCEPT the fact that we have faults, get over it, and proceed on with our life! We don’t hold a grudge, get even, or carry it around. We drop it. Neither one of us is the winner or the loser; we both have valid points and we acknowledge that (sometimes) and then carry out our tasks of raising children and being a family (yes, our children are adults now, but we have been raising grandchildren).

Once in a while we might try to change whatever the other person doesn’t like, but let’s face it, after all these years, why bother? For instance, whatever my husband is mad about, he is going to yell about something else. If he gets mad at the dog, he will yell about the laundry. If he gets mad because he can’t find a tool, it will be because my housekeeping skills are lacking. Now, why would I change anything with this one, I ask you. First off, if he put his tools out in his garage where they belong and not leave them lying around the house, the housekeeping duty would be easier, and the tool would not be lost. So I just patiently wait for him to come to that conclusion on his own.

Date night

“Date night” is another one that gets me. First off, we have three children. The oldest was born in November, with twins following in August. Now if you do the math, that is nine months and nine days apart. WE VIRTUALLY HAD TRIPLETS! No one wanted to babysit without a large cash outlay, and like most families just starting out, there wasn’t much money in the budget.

Now that we are older and have six beautiful grandchildren, we have date night, but we take them with us. That is fun for us! We wouldn’t know what to do by ourselves. It is boring.

Vacations for large family

Even vacations are “family” vacations. We get the whole family together, children, spouses, grandchildren, and off we go. Now that is fun. I get to watch the wonder in my grandchildren’s eyes when they see the aquarium, or the dinosaur park, the castle playground, the museum, etc., all things that work well for a large family. That is so much more fun than “gazing into each other’s eyes.”

Doing hobbies together

“Having the same interests or hobbies” is another one that “marriage experts” recommend. That isn’t going to work for us either. No way no how. He is a country boy and likes fishing, hunting, camping, and target shooting. And I am a “city slicker.” I like my air conditioner, crafting, reading, quilting, and did I mention my air conditioner?

So what we do is this: He does his thing and I do mine. And we are okay with that. The time apart is good for us. Don’t get me wrong, I will go outside and shoot with him, and I will go camping once in a great while, and he will do things with me once in awhile, but we give each other the freedom to be who we are.

He can hang out with his friends fishing, hunting all day long—no problem. And I have coffee with mine in the air conditioning.  Every once in awhile the two will merge for awhile and that is good.

Marriage articles don’t work for us

I guess although these articles are good, they just don’t fit our lifestyle or personalities. We are too stubborn to give up, and too lazy to hold a grudge, and we enjoy being who we are. And in spite of all the faults, differences, blame, whatever: WE LOVE EACH OTHER! We have each other’s back. We can say what we want about each other, but no one else gets to talk badly about our spouse. We take care of each other and our family. We are a team, with different areas of play with the same goal:  Win the game.

The great Turtle caper! The grandkids, finding Turtles for pets.

We were going to town yesterday with three of our grandchildren in tow, when out of the blue loud, piercing screams were bursting the car windows. It seems they had found a turtle on the road and wanted to go back and get it. Now, we are thirty-five miles from town, and we have running around to do. What are we going to do with a turtle while we pay bills and shop, I ask my husband (who at this time is siding with the children). Needless to say, I was outvoted!

Do box turtles make good pets?

So I back up for half a mile down the road looking for said turtle. We find the turtle and the oldest grandson, who is ten, gets out and retrieves the poor turtle, immediately setting off a series of screaming over who this turtle belongs to. I DO NOT keep track of who had the last turtle, or where it is. As long as it is not left in my house for weeks… YES, THAT HAS HAPPENED!

As we are continuing down the road, another set of screams emits from the back seat! After inquiring what the heck is going on back there now, I am informed the newly-acquired turtle is “peeing” on him. This carried on for about 10 minutes. Either this turtle had the biggest bladder on the planet, or, as my husband suggested, his shell was full of water from the rain. After all this time elapses, he decides his little sister can have the turtle! Such a good big brother, right? Then ANOTHER piercing scream, this time from little sister. “The turtle is peeing on me.” Where was she a few minutes ago?!

Turtle Number 2 we acquired as a family pet

Driving down the road, with all this commotion going on, you guessed it, another set of screams! Yep, another turtle, this one on the side of the road. We turn around and go back for it. My husband is asking which side it is on, and the kids tell him on his side of the road. After driving slowly and looking in the grass along the side of the road for half a mile, we turn around and try again.

Of course my husband is screaming now that the turtle is on HIS side of the road. He reaches over, grabs the steering wheel, and jerks the wheel so we go to the other side of the road. Okay, I have had enough! My husband is screaming, the kids are screaming, TOTAL CHAOS! Being the only rational one in the vehicle, I calmly tell my husband that the turtle was on his side of the road, but when we turned around, it is now on my side. And to please keep his hands off of the steering wheel while I am driving. Then I tell the grandchildren that the turtle is gone and proceed on my way to town.

No animals allowed

While in town, my husband has to sit in the vehicle with the kids and the “peeing” turtle, as it was his idea to stop and pick up the stupid turtle. After the errands are done and we head home: repeat last performance! Another turtle!

Same scenario, same fight over who gets it, et cetera. After arriving home, the rest of the grandchildren are at the house. Of course now I have six kids fighting over who owns the turtles. This is the very last straw! I am so over the turtles that I didn’t even want in the first place! So these poor turtles receive clemency and are released under the porch.

Kids fighting over…turtles?

Later that night a friend comes over to visit, and brings her children. Of course someone spots one of the turtles who just wasn’t fast enough to get away yet. Probably the one with the huge bladder! Now we have a fight over who THIS turtle belongs to.

THE FRIEND’S CHILDREN had brought a turtle over several weeks before and after “losing” it in the house for two weeks, finally released it out in the yard after my son found it by nearly stepping on it early one morning. I had to explain that the “box turtles” pretty much all look alike (it looked just like the one they had), and I had to explain this turtle-filled day to them.

I learned a few things this day! My husband spoils the grandchildren, if they want it, they get it. Second, when I say wash your hands with hot water and soap, the job has to be supervised. Third, the MRI I had today was not nearly as loud as these children were on the trip to town. The good news: the turtles have gone on to live a long and happy life, out of the road, and in the country.