Potpourri; factory seconds, Sears catalogs, and nostalgia

I don’t do many chips around here, but when I do, my favorites are these Factory Seconds. $1.79 a bag at our local discount grocery and bursting with character and flavor. 

As I munched on some today, I thought of how these potatoes, for whatever reasons, were not chosen for the first and finest batches, and yet I love them more than perfectly shaped and colored chips. 

They reminded me of life. Some of us get knocks and bruises. We come in all sizes and colors. The final outcome is not what fits into a perfect mold. But oh the character, the flavor, the uniqueness we posses at the end of the day. Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t let anyone tell you you’ve gone too far, messed up too badly, failed to miserably, to be made into something lovely and desirable. You are worth it, you are loved, and your experiences are what makes you who you are. 

I was talking with mother-in-law about these Sears “wish books” recently. Nostalgia almost swept me off my feet when she found these 1992-1993 Fall/Winter annual and 1993 Spring/Summer annual treasures in her basement. We didn’t order much from these because most everything was “too worldly,” but I would page through each one when they came and daydream about what I would get if it wasn’t worldly and we could afford it. (We mostly used them for our hineys to make us sit taller on the benches at the supper table.) Paging through them again brought back special memories of a child dreaming about something far beyond her reach, but I loved dreaming. 

We had a beautiful gloomy rainy day. At the very end the sun broke through for a glorious display. I was reminded of a hymn from my childhood, “Lo, Behold The Western Sky,” by Ruth R Martin and Carol Stroop, copyright 1985. 

I made four batches of fresh buttermilk biscuits and two gallons of my famous sausage gravy to feed the BBQ chicken crew at church in the morning. This is our first one of the season. We sampled the fare for dinner and it was satisfactory. 🙂

Now downstairs for some much-needed family time. Have a great weekend, everyone. 

Grieving and healing together, as individuals

Often there are people around us who are also impacted by the source of our grief. Certainly our family and friends grieved in their own way for the death of our daughter. Looking back, I can see more clearly how each of them expressed their grief and love in their unique ways. I am so grateful for everyone who has walked this road with us.

I flung myself to the floor, weeping, alone for the first time since Sadie died

The doorbell rang, our neighbor an awkward witness to my uninhibited grief

She brought a beautiful hanging basket and said, “I’m so sorry”

Family cleaned, weeded flower beds, and snapped buckets of green beans and shucked copious amounts of corn on the cob to feed those gathered

Their presence comforted me

Daddy went grocery shopping

I still have the green bottle of Gain laundry detergent, empty now, but a reminder of their coming together and of my sweet Sadie Rose

Not all of them came together for the happiest day of my life, but they did for the saddest

That laundry detergent bottle reminds me so

Two sisters with small infants shied away at first, but upon my request brought their babies for me to hold

They cried survivor’s guilt tears as I held their little ones and wept for my Sadie

They didn’t want to know the pain of empty arms, but they also didn’t understand why they were so blessed

I marveled at the perfection of their tiny infants and knew Sadie was perfect in her own little way

My niece, then 12 years old, brought a red balloon and asked us to write notes to Sadie

We released it in our backyard, our younger nieces and nephews intrigued by the tears but delighted by the floating red heart carried away into the sunset

We sat around her grave on a beautiful Saturday afternoon

Nieces and nephews laid stuffed toys on her tiny white casket

We sang Jesus loves me

My father-in-law coughed and rubbed his eyes, grief had snuck up on his stoic composed form

My husband looked off into the distance, always far away, I wondered if he would ever come back

But he did, he would come back for a while to find me

Crumpled in a heap on the shower floor or staring out the window into the night

We fluctuated back and forth, being strong while the other was weak and vice versa

Another sister came after her farm chores

We dunked chocolate-dipped biscotti into our coffee until our stomachs hurt, mostly silent, with occasional bursts of detail accompanied by grunts and nods

Together we grieved, as individuals

Together we remember and heal

Beauty from ashes

Nearly every day I travel the same road and turn at this intersection where a house once stood. The vacant house burned to the ground a few months ago. 

The rubble so changed the landscape that the first time I went that way after it burned, I missed my turn.

I took the familiar route for a second time today, but this afternoon was stunned to find merry little daffodils poking through patches of snow and ashes and concrete. 

If you are looking around in your life today and all you see is ashes, rubble, ruin, despair, coldness, hardness, emptiness, I pray for you glimmers of hope. 

When we are in times of great distress, it can feel like our landscape changes. Our sense of direction becomes unclear, landmarks crumble. What was familiar becomes strange. 

But God’s promises are true and he is faithful. 

To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory. Isaiah 63:1

Like the seed that is buried in the ground, dormant, lifeless, and cold, eventually the seed germinates, a sprout emerges, and a bud bursts forth. 

At just the right time, when it seems there is nothing left to live for and despair seems to have the final word, hope springs forth from the ashes of our lives. 

These “dark nights of the soul” are potential times for great transformation. 

I am reminded of this “Hymn of Promise” by Natalie A Sleeth. 

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;

In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!

In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;

There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.

From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;

In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,

In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,

Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

May you sense these blessed promises in your own life today! 

Best ever doughnut recipe with secret ingredient 

We had an unfortunate failure of a snow here overnight. What was forecasted as 4-8 inches in our area barely squeaked out 2 in our yard. As is tradition here for snow days, and sunny days, and cloudy days, and just about any combination of days you can imagine, I turned it into a baking day. On my Facebook post I wrote, “When weather disappoints or delights, just bake.”

My mom uses the best homemade doughnut recipe ever. We have made them frequently for Sadie Rose fundraisers, often making as many as 1,000 at a time. When you mix, roll, fry, glaze all by hand, that takes a tremendous amount of team work! 

For the first time ever, I made one batch all by myself. 134 doughnuts, to be exact! I mixed, rolled, fried, glazed, every blessed one. But the real delight was delivering them to unsuspecting neighbors, surprising the maintenance guys who had been out in their snow plows all night, stopping the mail truck in the street, and running some out to the UPS delivery man who looked a little worried when I yelled, “Wait up! I’ve got something for you,” and our 100-pound Anatolian/Chocolate lab mix was at the door barking like he was going to eat the poor guy. He was happy it was doughnuts I handed him, instead of unleashing a barking dog. 

Here’s the big scary boy. 😁

Our 8-year-old son learned the same lesson I did when I was about his age. Too many of mom’s homemade doughnuts on an empty stomach doesn’t sit well. 🤢😷

Several people asked me for the recipe so I will include it here. Several things first though, usually I encourage people to try new things in their baking endeavors, but honestly, I’ve been baking since I was a little girl and this was one of the hardest things I’ve done on my own. Try to get at least one other adult to help with the process. Also, if you are not familiar with yeast dough, this is not a recipe to start with. 

Something else to consider; there is absolutely no redeeming value to the nutrition quality of the pastries. Not one. If you are a clean-eating purist these are not for you. For having them only once or twice a year, I don’t worry too much about it, but these certainly wouldn’t be on the healthy incentives poster. 

This recipe is not original to my mom, but she is well-known in our small community for turning out the best doughnuts around. She made these for Country Village Bakeshop for a number of years. The mashed potatoes are the secret key ingredient and the spices and flavorings all marry with them to make the most moist, spongy, dreamy, delights you could ever imagine. Many have asked our family if we would start a doughnut shop, but we’ve never felt that to be our calling. 

All that being said. Here’s the recipe in one of my Mennonite family cookbooks. I’d love to know if you try these and how they turn out for you! 

In this book, they are titled “Doughnuts  II” and submitted by Janet Showalter. I will list the ingredients in steps so be sure to read and prepare well before starting the recipe. I will add pictures of the steps at the bottom of this post. This recipe will make anywhere from 120-135 doughnuts so cutting it in half or even fourths is a good idea if you don’t have plans to share. 🙂 Also, I personally don’t think they keep well. These are absolutely at their very best the day they are made. 


5 Tablespoons dry yeast (not instant)

1&1/2 cup warm water

1 Tablespoon sugar

Step 1: Mix these three ingredients together  in a very large mixing bowl. The yeast will rise quickly while you prepare the following steps and you can use the same bowl you will combine the rest of the ingredients in. 

Instant mashed potatoes

2 cups crisco

6 eggs

Step 2: Prepare instant mashed potatoes by using 3 cups water. Heat in microwave or on stove until hot. Add 2 cups instant potato flakes. Stir until well blended. Add the crisco and stir until melted and well blended. Add the eggs and stir well. 
2 cups sugar

3 cups water (yes, this is additional from the yeast water above)

4&1/2 teaspoons salt

3 teaspoons nutmeg

1 Tablespoon lemon flavoring

1&1/2 Tablespoon vanilla flavoring

Step 3: Combine the yeast mixture from step one and the mashed potato mixture from step 2. Be sure your mixing bowl is very large! Add the sugar, additional water, nutmeg, and flavorings and stir well. 

21 cups flour

Step 4: Add half of the flour and beat with a hand mixer as long as possible or mix well with hands. Continue to add flour and knead well until dough is smooth and elastic. 

Step 5: Cover and let rise for 1&1/2 hours. 

Step 6: At this point, pour a gallon of canola oil into a very deep electric skillet and turn on high to heat oil for frying. 

Step 7: Punch down dough and tear off a manageably-sized piece to roll out. Roll dough about 3/8 inch thick. 

Step 8: I’m making this it’s own step because it is so vital! Once you’ve rolled the dough, pick up the edges and let it relax back into place. Otherwise your doughnuts will be stretched out and oddly shaped. 

Step 9: Cut out the doughnuts and let rise for 1/2 hour. 

Pay close attention to how you arrange the cut doughnuts on your surface to rise again. You will want to start frying the first ones you cut and move through to the last so they al have adequate time to rise. 

Step 10: Make glaze by placing 2 pounds of confectioners sugar in a bowl. It is best to have a bowl that a wooden spoon can rest across the top. Add just enough water to the sugar to melt and make into a semi-thick glaze. Add your choice of flavoring, lemon, vanilla, or maple. Then add 2-3 Tablespoons corn syrup. Stir well and set aside until time to glaze. (I had to make this twice today for one batch of doughnuts so be sure to have 4 pounds of confectioners sugar on hand!) 

Step 11: Test one doughnut in the grease first, to make sure it is the right temperature. If not hot enough, the doughnut will soak up too much grease. If too hot, the outsides will brown before the inside is done. Each skillet is different, but I had mine between high and sear the whole time to maintain the right temp. 

Also! When you place the doughnut in the grease, drop it in the skillet with the puffy side down. The side that was against the table while rising should be up to start the frying process. This will allow the other side to puff up too. 

Step 12: Fry until golden brown on both sides, flipping with a narrow fork. 

Step 13:  Place fried doughnuts in a metal colander. 

Step 14: Immediately take doughnuts one at a time from the colander and drop into glaze. Cover well all over and place on the handle of the wooden spoon across the glazing bowl. Repeat with as many doughnuts as fits on the handle and leave until the glaze stops dripping. Place onto a cookie sheet. 

Repeat the frying and glazing until finished. 


Ingredients gathered and ready. 

Dough rising well above the top of the bowl.

I gave the kids each a piece of dough to play with. 

All rolled out. 

Don’t fill the skillet too full so the doughnuts have room to puff out in the skillet. 

Wow. This feels huge. Sharing this is as personal as some of the most intimate and tender details of my heart; a piece of my childhood. 

Of self care days, cherry cake and the “dangers”of teaching your children to bake

Looking forward to this day has gotten me through two weeks of non-stop busy. My days have been full speed from early morning until late evening with appointments and phone conversations; some expected and some unexpected and unplanned, but necessary. This self-care day where I am home with nothing on the agenda except time with family, catch-up cleaning, and cathartic baking and writing gave me an anticipated point of rest.

I felt somewhat guilty for turning down multiple community events happening today with people and causes important to us. I wanted to go, to support, to help, but by the time this morning arrived it was clear I was totally depleted and taking a day to recharge had to be top priority. 

I’ve been teaching our 5- year-old daughter to cook. The “danger” of that is she wants to make so many treats. The good part is she is learning life skills and it is a great bonding time for us. She has actually created a few recipes totally on her own like Monday when she made “Monkey salad” with sliced banana, kiwi, and grapes, and marinated in fresh-squeezed orange juice. That was the first time I let her use a cutting knife to cut the banana without me holding the handle with her. She chose all the ingredients and was super proud of her accomplishments. I was proud of her too, and the fruit salad was delicious! Tuesday she baked a dessert with flour, buttermilk, honey, dried cranberries and chocolate chips. It tasted very much like a scone. Again, she and I were both proud of her creativity. 

I can’t tell you the last time I watched TV on a Saturday morning, but this morning the girl climbed in my lap and we watched “The Great British Baking Show.” We caught the part where they were baking “Mary’s cherry cake.” Our daughter loves cherries and immediately decided this was our baking project for the day. 

I had to run to the store for maraschino cherries and self-rising flour, but I had everything else. We made a deal that we had to clean several rooms before we baked the cake. 

We took breaks to appreciate classic music like The Oak Ridge Boys, Elvira. 

During our lunch break, the children made their own pizzas with pitas, sauce, and cheese.   

We had an afternoon rest time, too. At one point I had “ambient nature sounds” that sounded like rain on the speaker. The boy came in asking if it was “frying” sounds. I’m sure he was hoping for bacon. 

We eventually got around to baking the cake. I’m a basic country American cook. I use measuring cups, Tablespoons, teaspoons, occasional liquid ounces, and a dry spaghetti noodle to test for doneness. 

The Britain recipe was in grams and dry ounces and I failed math. My Betty Crocker and local Esther Shank cookbooks failed to offer solutions to my dilemma. 

After repeated conversion attempts online, I decided if the recipe called for 6 ounces of sugar, I would measure out 6 ounces. (The online sites always gave me conversions for liquid ounces.) If anyone has a better method for conversion, please please post it in the comments here. 

The cake, however, came together very nicely. 

It was a little crumbly, but so delightful that our son kept thanking Great Britain as he promptly (and quite improperly) inhaled two pieces of cake with a glass of milk. 

Try as I might, I cannot get the link to copy into this post, so I’ve copied and pasted the recipe here. I always want to give proper credit when I can, so you can also find the recipe by typing “British baking show Mary’s cherry cake” into your web browser. That’s long, but it’s how I found it. 

Cherry Cake 


200g (7oz) red glace cherries

225g (8oz) self-raising flour

175g (6oz) softened unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing

175g (6oz) caster sugar

Zest of 1 lemon, finely grated

50g (1¾oz) ground almonds

3 large eggs

For the decoration:

175g (6oz) icing sugar

1 lemon, juice only

15g (½oz) flaked almonds, toasted

5 red glace cherries (quartered)


Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4. Grease a 23cm/9in bundt tin or savarin mould with butter.

Cut the cherries into quarters. Set aside five of the quartered cherries for the decoration later. Put the rest of the quartered cherries in a sieve and rinse under running water. Drain well then dry thoroughly on kitchen paper and toss in two tablespoons of the flour.

Measure all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl and beat well for two minutes to mix thoroughly. Lightly fold in the cherries. Turn into the prepared tin.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes until well risen, golden-brown and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out and cool on a wire rack.

For the icing, mix the icing sugar together with the lemon juice to a thick paste. Drizzle over the cooled cake using the back of a spoon, sprinkle over the toasted almonds and reserved cherries.

Here is a link to the recipe on Pinterest. 

Hopefully the link works if you want to see the original recipe. 

I need to move along now. I have six baskets of laundry to fold and put away. I’m so thankful for this day at home and will continue enjoying these seemingly small ordinary moments as holy time, paying attention to God’s presence in and through it all. 

Have a great weekend, everyone. 

Glimpses of the indomitable women that shaped my life

From day one, my life has been blessed with multiple indomitable women. In honor of Honoring Women Day, here’s a brief post about the virtuosic women that have shaped my life. With mom’s stoic Old Order Mennonite family and daddy’s colorful Russian/Hungarian family, I’ve had quite a conglomeration of influences, all of them prodigious!

First and foremost, my mom.

mom 1mom 2mom 5mom

This woman birthed seven children in nine years and three months. Due to circumstances beyond her control, she found herself a single mother and the sole provider for our family.

She literally worked her fingers to the bone, milking cows, tending chickens, butchering animals, working in a bake shop, caring for yet more children, and still running our household.

She lives most of our childhood with a crushed spirit and a broken heart, but her tenacity to provide and care for her brood never wavered. She is a women of quiet yet profound faith. She never allowed us to speak ill of our dad for not being there, even when she had every right to complain herself. She was and is quiet, meek, gentle, soft-spoken, and timid, but hear me when I say she is a force to be reckoned with when her mind is set and when the concerns of her children and family are involved.

Mom, it would take a book to begin telling you all you mean to me, but I pray my heart and life speak as loudly as anything I might say of the legacy you have instilled in me. I love you!

Aunt Lois, mom’s sister, played a tremendous role in my musicality and appreciation of music and singing. Although she was not permitted to have instruments or “worldly” music, I spent hours with her metronome, pitchpipes, tuning forks, and vast supply of hymnals. Aunt Lois taught me how to feel music in your soul. She was also a woman of great faith and conviction which she exemplified by the manner of her living. She died when I was a young teenager. I still miss her.

All mom’s sisters played their own unique role; Aunt Edie let me dress up in “fancy” clothes.


She still sings like a song bird and her talent as a professional seamstress is second to none. (That’s a skill I never mastered, but have great admiration for.) Aunt Ruth, mom’s twin, has always been a quiet loving presence. Aunt Mim always sees the silver lining, is a prolific writer, and gifted photographer. Aunt Mary Etta, for as long as I knew her, endured tremendous physical suffering and yet praised God anyway. I didn’t know Aunt Mabel as well, she lived in Missouri and I seldom got to see her, but she came to help our family when mom was laid up after being hit by a car while riding bicycle.

Two of my great aunts, Mary and Wilda Beery, and their mother, grandmother Mary Beery, instilled in me a love of memorizing and reciting Scripture and poetry.

Switching gears now, Aunt Nellie, one of my dad’s sisters, could make a sailor blush with some of her language, but she was one of the most caring persons I’ve ever known. I seldom saw her without curlers in her hair and a Coke and cigarette in her hands. She often held a fly swatter too, and her grandkids would say, “no beaty a$$, Nan, no beaty a$$.” Aunt Nellie worked in the coal mines.  Her rosary in her casket was made of Mardi Gra beads and a miniature Coke bottle. She left bags of “beads” for us, and my favorite colorful crocheted afghan for me.

I’m pretty sure Aunt Ethel has an Energizer Bunny inside. She has endured many physical complications from a horrible car accident years ago, yet at nearly 78 years old, she still works and cares for others. She lives a good four hours from us and we’ve never arrived at her house without an entire feast prepared. And we ARE expected to eat, even if we arrive late at night. I recall arriving around two am when we were children (car trouble) and she had baked ham, macaroni salad, and all kinds of other goodies prepared for us and was vacuuming her living room.

Aunt Tresa was full of life and laughter. She wore red lipstick and red heels. She kissed my brothers and made them cry. (Not really, she just loved how embarrassed they got with a bright red lip print on their little cheeks.)

Nearly all of my aunts lived out of the area, but they have all left their imprint in my life.

My mother-in-law, Sandy, has spent her life invested in children, teaching them to read. She has traveled the world, and is independent, stoic, composed, intelligent, a master gardener, and a life-long learner and reader.


My sisters and sisters-in-law have also inspired me in many ways.


This brief post is only a glimpse of these tremendous women, and there are many others who have shaped my life in various forms. If I can leave even a portion of the legacy of faith, tenacity, and meekness that these woman have instilled in me, my life will have been worth it.

On this day of honoring women, today I salute my grandmothers, my mom and mother-in-law, my aunts, my great grandmother and great aunts, and my sisters and sisters-in-law. I am who I am because of each of you! I love you!

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