Happy Homemaker, Ph.D.

A novice homemaker's attempts to use her engineering Ph.D. to serve her family

The Infamous Glucose Test

I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say they enjoy the 28-week glucose test during pregnancy.  So, I was quite surprised nearly 2 years ago when I took the test for my first baby, that I didn’t mind at all.  The drink didn’t seem that bad.

But then, most women probably didn’t grow up drinking as much Kool-Aid as I did.  My Grandma Fritz made Kool-Aid twice as concentrated as the directions call for, so drinking the Tropical Punch-flavored beverage at the OB’s office seemed like a breeze.  🙂

I fondly remember my Grandma.  So many things made her special to me, and I’m sure there were many special characteristics she had that I didn’t notice.  She spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and I remember her cooking…

Fried chicken with her own special way of cutting up the bird so that the “pulley bone” remained intact, cooked in her heavy, cast iron skillets.

Macaroni and cheese made with cream instead of milk.

Bite-sized, half-baked chocolate chip cookies that were kept in the freezer.

Her fruit cobbler.  (I’ll share the recipe one of these days.  It helped catch my husband’s attention when we started dating!)

Her fall-off-the-bone ribs and rich, cheesy potatoes…

So, today as I took my glucose test for this baby (and, honestly, I did have more trouble with the drink than I remembered last time), I remembered drinking that strong Kool-Aid out on the farm – and hoped I can grow to be the amazing cook that Grandma was (and my mom is). 

~Dana

I’m going to try to start sharing some memories on Fridays as “Flashback Fridays.”  Yes, there is a lot going on in my present life that warrants reflection, discussion, and sharing, but I also believe I have a unique testimony through the events that have happened over the last several years.  I’m excited to share with you how God worked in those times as well as what He’s doing now!   There are some great stories!  Stay tuned!

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Not Letting the “To Dos” Steal the Day

I like to have a “to do” list.  It keeps me focused, and I feel accomplished as I can check something off.  In the morning, I try to write up the tasks I need to do for the day as I finish my breakfast and Bible reading (which are also put on the list so I can cross them off).  🙂 

Yesterday’s list wasn’t finished.  Not by a long shot, really.  But during nap time, I read my Aunt Peggy’s comment on Monday’s post and was encouraged to get out of the house.  Since it was a beautiful day outside, as my 18-month-old toddler woke from her nap, I decided we should enjoy it.   She’s an outside girl, more so than I am, and I knew she’d like some time outdoors.  We strolled to the park within walking distance of our home and spent time swinging together, going down the slide, and digging in the sand.   She laughed and ran.  She explored.  For an hour we played, walked, observed, and talked.  She pointed out the moon and the Christmas lights a few houses had lit on our walk home. 

Sometimes the things that matter the most aren’t on the “list.”

Sometimes I can be too focused.  I am all too often too intent on my cooking to take time to hold my daughter’s baby doll for her or too involved in my other tasks to help her put the pajamas back on her sock monkey.  With my new job at home, I can easily get caught up in trying to be “productive,” to having something to show for my efforts at the end of the day – all the while forgetting why I’m really here – to raise and teach our daughter. 

My doctoral advisor told me in reference to teaching, that there comes a point when you realize the interruptions (such as students coming by to ask questions) are really what you’re here for and shouldn’t be seen as a nuisance or deterrent from getting work done. 

The interruptions are the work.  Very important work.  Actually, very fun work, considering that I enjoy our snuggle and reading time just as much as my toddler.  (Maybe more?)  🙂  Work that I need to keep at the front of my mind – and maybe even put on my list so I don’t lose my focus on what really needs to get done today…

Loving on my daughter.

~Dana

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Cheesy Mushroom Appetizers

Are you looking for a crowd-pleasing snack for an upcoming New Year’s Eve party?  Consider this easy recipe!

Three years ago, with my aunt providing the main meal and my mom covering the pies for Christmas dinner, I decided to bring appetizers to share.  Cheesy Mushroom Appetizers had been a hit at my Lincoln Christmas parties, and I thought I’d share them with my family.

My cousin hasn’t forgotten them, and when I asked my aunt what I should bring this year, she mentioned my cousin had been talking about them again.  I really wasn’t planning to write about them here (hence, no picture), but another cousin asked for the recipe on Sunday, too, and since he was one of my first blog followers, I said I would share it.  🙂

Cheesy Mushroom Appetizers

Prep Time: ~15 minutes

Bake Time: ~25 minutes

Ingredients:

3 tubes (8 ounces each) refrigerated crescent rolls (I used the Pillsbury Recipe Creations kind with no perforations this time.  This change saved time and gave better results.)

2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, softened

3 cans (4 ounces each) mushroom stems and pieces, drained and chopped

1-1/4 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning (I don’t have this in my cupboard, or didn’t until today, so I usually put in Italian seasoning.)

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Method:

Unroll crescent dough into three long rectangles; seal seams and perforations.  In a mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, mushrooms, garlic powder and Cajun seasoning.  Divide mixture into thirds (one-third for each crescent rectangle).  Spread over dough to within 1 inch of edges.  Roll up each rectangle, jelly-roll style, starting with a long side; seal edges.  Place seam side down on a greased baking sheet.  Beat egg and water; brush over dough.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Bake at 375° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  (I made a note to myself to bake them at least 25 minutes.)  Cut into slices about 1 inch wide.

Yield: 24-36 appetizers (depends on how thick you slice them).

(Modified from The Best of Country Cooking 2000, p. 14)

Enjoy!

~Dana

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Unemployed? Me?

There was a strange sound to the words as my aunt’s sister said them. As we visited in the kitchen Christmas Day, I explained that I had taught at the local university until Saturday and that I would be staying home with our children for an undetermined amount of time.

“So you’re unemployed?” she said.

Unemployed?  I guess I hadn’t thought of my situation that way.  I chose to leave my job.  I’m not looking for another full-time job outside of the home.  I believe I am very much employed since I’m busy at home and have an endless list of projects to work on. 

I’m just not going to be bringing home a paycheck right now. 

That fact doesn’t make me a different person or less valuable.  It doesn’t mean I’m not using my degree.  It doesn’t mean I’m giving up on my dreams.  Being a stay-at-home mom actually is one of my dreams.  And it’s time to follow it!

I know people will have different kinds of reactions to my decision.  So far, I’ve received support from unexpected places (even in the dentist’s office!), some admissions of envy from friends, and some more critical responses (though not as harsh as I may have expected).  I pray God will give me the courage to explain our reasoning to those who question and the strength to hold fast to this new commitment, despite negative reactions. 

And, then there is my own questioning heart to deal with at times as well.  I’ve prided myself on my financial independence since I started college as an undergrad.  I’ve found some of my identity in my work and studies.  Those things aren’t necessarily easy for me to let go of…   

This decision is a rather huge leap of faith for us.  We don’t have it figured out.  I’m having trouble getting the financial numbers to balance in my mind (and, if you know any other engineers, you may imagine how that bugs me), but my God has never let me down.  He is always faithful, and the times in my life when I’ve been called to step out in faith in radical ways have been the times He’s helped me grow the most in my relationship with Jesus.

May this season of service bring glory to Him and refine my heart in new ways.

~Dana

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Moving Out

Last night, my dear husband helped me move many boxes of books out of my school office.  As we walked into my building, he started singing Billy Joel’s “I’m moving out!”  🙂

I thought it would be more difficult to decide which books to keep and which ones to donate.  It wasn’t so bad.  I still cling to the books I have spent hours studying over the last 16 years, but the others, the ones I’ve acquired over the last four years at no cost, have been easier to let go.  Someone else can use them more than I can right now.  And, if I donate them to the library, I can still have access to them without having to store them myself!  🙂  (I wonder if I should take all my textbooks there then?)

Today, I plan to try to tackle my paper files with a strong resolve and sense of reality.   I think I’m going to need a very large trash/recycle bin…  I hope our newest custodian isn’t too upset with me!

We made a good start last night with taking out the books, my certificates and diplomas, my purple lights, and several other miscellaneous things.  The walls are nearly bare.  The shelves are nearly bare.  I feel good seeing the progress, but also somewhat reluctant to give up my spot on campus, my 24/7 access.  I will turn in my keys on Friday.  (Sigh)

But, as I turn in those keys, I’m also giving up the responsibility of students having access to me 24/7 (well, at least by e-mail) and will be free to give my attention to a very special little toddler, my loving husband, and our unborn child.

That sounds infinitely more powerful and rewarding to me than having a campus office does.

~Dana

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The First Day of the Rest of My Life

I woke up before 5 a.m. this morning, thinking, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.”  Grades are turned in, and while there are still some things to finish up at the office (mostly moving my things out of it), I’m essentially finished with my academic responsibilities – for the first time in my married life.

Finished finished.  No next semester to think about and plan for.  No dissertation hanging over my head.  Finished.

The idea seems a bit surreal.

I’m not sure if I’m entirely ready to let go.  Finishing a semester is one thing.  Of course, I’m ready for that!  Letting the not-so-positive comments on my TEVALS slide off my now somewhat-thickened skin without having to really analyze them and try to make changes?  Oh yes, I’m ready!  Ready to go through my textbooks and papers, assignments and projects that I’ve created and worked with for four years and try to decide it these things are worth keeping?  That, I’m not so sure.  That process involves a finality that I’m not sure I’m ready for right now.

But, it’s time.

Time to focus on a new adventure, one that requires different skills, resources, and knowledge.  Time to focus on application instead of theory.  Time to be available – for my family and for others.  Time to look to Jesus and get out of the boat.

When I talked to my husband on the phone this afternoon, he said there was already more joy in my voice last night and today.  🙂

I can’t wait to see what God has in store for this next season!

~Dana

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Kitchen Folly – Follow Up and Ginger Snap Recipe

Well, if you didn’t read about my adventures with the ginger snaps Friday, read here first.

I admit, things looked pretty bad without the sugar mixed in with the shortening, but I did purchase the molasses on the way home, mixed together the remaining ingredients, and ended up with a normal-looking kind of dough!  🙂

These cookies ended up being delicious!  I did find, though, that I do NOT like the smell of molasses.  (Maybe it’s a pregnancy thing right now?)   And, that smell was nearly enough to make me plan to give the entire batch of cookies away.  The cookies are crisp on the outside and moist inside, my favorite!  Since they did turn out well, I’m sharing the recipe with it reworded a bit to help you all avoid the mistakes I made Friday.

Grand Champion Ginger Snaps, a recipe robust enough to handle my silly mistake!

Grand Champion Ginger Snaps

(from Favorite Recipes Old & New, Willing Workers 1906-1996, Ellsworth County, Kansas)

2 cups sugar

1 cup shortening

1 cup molasses

2 eggs

1 Tbsp. vinegar

1 Tbsp. vanilla

5 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1-1/2 Tbsp. ginger

1/2 tsp. soda

4 tsp. baking powder

Cream shortening and sugar, then add vinegar, molasses, vanilla; mix.  Mix dry ingredients together and sift 2 or 3 times.  (If using hard winter wheat flour, 5 cups of flour is enough.  If not, adding an additional 1/2 cup may be needed.)  Add flour mixture to other ingredients.  Chill.  Roll into small balls about walnut size.  Place on greased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350° for about 10-12 minutes.  When baked, they will be nice round ginger snaps with the little cracks (or little rivers) just like the ready-made ginger snaps.  Secret:  Take cookies out a little raw, so they will crack.

I realized how silly my complaint about the “work instructions” sounded this morning as I pulled out my oldest cookbook, The Oakland Cook Book, published in 1902 by the Ladies Society of the Free Baptist Church in Oakland Centre, Wisconsin.  A dear friend, who has since passed away, gave this book to me.  It was her grandmother’s.

Now, I had to search a bit in my newer cookbooks to find a recipe for ginger snaps.  Not so in this book.  There are 13 recipes for ginger cookies, ginger snaps, ginger creams, ginger drop cakes, and ginger bread.  I haven’t tried them, but I wanted to share what a recipe from that time looked like.

Ginger Snaps

One cup of New Orleans sugar, one cup of New Orleans molasses, one cup of butter or lard, one tablespoonful of vinegar, one teaspoonful of soda in three tablespoonfuls of boiling water, one egg, one teaspoonful of ground cloves, one tablespoonful of ginger and salt.  Mix soft.   –Mrs. H. Wilder, Koshkonong, Wis.

I don’t have a chance with this one, do I?  🙂

~Dana 

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Kitchen Folly Friday

I’m sure Dorothy meant well when she shared her recipe with the Willing Workers to be included in the cookbook.  I’m sure she probably did win Grand Champion with those ginger snaps.  I also think Miss Dorothy may have been a bit like one of my grandmas who didn’t really measure and had her own way of doing things, and that writing them down may not have been a big priority.

I’ve been craving something sweet and spicy, and ginger snaps sounded good.  Really good.  Since I don’t remember Mom making these much, I searched my recipe books and found Dorothy’s recipe.  With some extra time this morning, I thought I would make the dough, let it chill while I went to school to grade, and then bake the cookies this evening.

I read through the directions.  I had all the ingredients.  The process seemed a bit strange, but I’ve never made ginger snaps before.  What do I know, right?

I’m good at reading and following directions when I want to.   You don’t excel in analytical chemistry lab if you don’t pay attention to detail, and I had that down.

Or, so I thought.

The first step in the recipe said to combine the dry ingredients.  I looked down the out-of-order list of supplies.  The things I saw that I considered “dry” were sugar, flour, salt, soda, and baking powder.  I sifted them together, as directed.

Then, I read the next line.  Cream shortening and sugar together.

AUGH!

The sugar was already dispersed with my flour!   I have made cookies many times and have always creamed the sugar with the butter, margarine, or shortening as the first step.  I thought it was strange that the sugar would be mixed with the flour this time, but it was dry, wasn’t it?

Unsure of how to proceed, I continued with the steps.  I added the eggs (which were not mentioned anywhere in the method!), vanilla, and vinegar.

Then, I found my molasses was not only 3 years beyond it’s recommended usage date, but was also less than the volume I needed for the recipe.

I’ve never bought molasses.  This jar was some that a friend brought when we were cleaning up from the tornado that hit our town one summer, you guessed it, three years ago.

So, on my way home from work this afternoon, I’ll buy molasses.  I’ll continue with the recipe and see if it turns out.  I’ll share a re-written version of the recipe if it does, one that’s a bit more mistake-proofed.

Dear Dorothy was likely an excellent, prize-winning baker, but she could use some tips on writing work instructions.  Let’s hope she created a recipe that is robust against these kinds of blunders that I’m making!

~Dana

(See how these turned out by reading my follow-up post.)

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Special Mornings with Special Treats

Saturday mornings, I’ve been trying to bake a little for fun if time allows.  Usually these treats have been something I can enjoy over the next few mornings as well.  (See my previous posts for recipes for Cherry Squares and Caramel Rolls.)  I enjoy the baking itself, the creating and, most of all, the eating! 🙂

At my house right now, I’m really the only one who is very interested in something like scones at 6:30 in the morning, but as I sit down with a hot cup of tea or hot chocolate and open my Bible, I feel rather pampered with a delicious baked treat to nibble on as I read.  It’s me trying to bring a rich, coffee-shop experience into my own home. 

I savor my times in the mornings when the house is quiet.  I’ll get up at 5 a.m. to have that hour of solitude, if needed.  (Lately, it’s been more like 6 or 6:30 though.  And don’t be too impressed.  We generally retire for the night earlier than most people.) 

 Tomorrow, I’ll be back to my regular bowl of cereal, but this morning was sweet!

Cranberry Buttermilk Scones – a perfect morning treat!

Cranberry Buttermilk Scones

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, divided

2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup cold butter or margarine

1 cup buttermilk (or substitute 1 tbsp. lemon juice and fill with milk to make 1 cup.  Let stand 5 minutes.)

1 cup dried or fresh cranberries

1 teaspoon grated orange peel

1 tablespoon milk

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a bowl, combine the flour, 1/3 cup sugar, baking power, salt and baking soda; cut in butter.  Stir in the buttermilk just until combined.  Fold in the cranberries and orange peel.  Turn onto a floured surface; divide dough in half.  Shape each portion into a ball and pat into a 6-in. circle.  Cut each circle into six wedges.  Place on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Brush with milk.  Combine the cinnamon and remaining sugar; sprinkle over scones.  Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Yield: 1 dozen

Enjoy!

~Dana

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Finishing Strong

The end is near.  The countdown is on…  Two finals to write.  Three finals to give (and grade).  Twenty-two group project reports to grade.  One and a half other assignments to finish grading.  And, all things considered, that doesn’t seem too bad, especially since the finals must be written by tomorrow morning, the students will take them, I’ll have at least a couple of hours to grade while they’re working on the exams, and the project reports are much shorter this year than in the past.  🙂

There are other things that also need to be done also, though, before I leave the workforce.  I need to revise a couple of articles so they may be submitted to journals for publication.  I need to finish a review of an article that is long overdue.  I need to clean out my office, a rather overwhelming and sentimental task.  And, I’ll need to find a place for my academic books at home (also overwhelming).  There are several logistical and administrative things to take care of also.

I keep telling myself to finish strong, but I’m losing steam and motivation.  I’m motivated to work hard to try to finish everything in the next couple of days, but once grades are turned in, I just want to stay home, snuggle with my daughter while reading books to her, bake cookies all day, (Not do the dishes, though.  That hasn’t changed.  See my first post:  A New Beginning), write and send Christmas cards, and decorate our Christmas tree.  (There’s a reason the tree decorating has been so delayed this year, but it’s kind of a long story.)

I “ran” the 3200-meter (~2 mile) race in high school, and I remember feeling the sixth lap (of 8 ) was always the most difficult for me mentally.  I guess I’m kind of at that point now, where the end is in sight, but not quite close enough to pull me toward it.  (That happens starting in the 7th lap.)  I need discipline to finish strong and give my best until the end.

And so, I’ll get back to the grading and exam writing now and try to push myself to finish this race, knowing I’ve worked hard and given my best for my students.

~Dana

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