Hoorah, 300th Blog Post with an Oops and an Aah!


An apple cake with half the recipe batter left out . . . the baked remainders landing on the floor. Double dumb mistakes.

That’s not the way I envisioned marking my 300th blog post.

The Plan

To mark this milestone, grandson Curtis and I planned to make an apple cake together, perfect for feasting two days before Christmas 2015. He likes to be in the kitchen and remembered our success with a spiced pork recipe a few weeks earlier.

The ingredients were laid out, I placed cups and spoons on the counter, the tube pan at the ready.

Curtis and I both donned aprons (his flowery, mine denim) and got to work. He helped core and dice the apples, careful to curl his fingers away from the knife blade. We both chatted happily over the hum of the mixer, adding apples, nuts, cinnamon, and vanilla to the mix.



What Happened Next

When the batter was ready, I poured the mixture into the tube pan and set the timer on my iPhone to a “check-me” time. Then Curtis and I sang Christmas carols around the piano, a first for just the two of us.

I heard the ping, ran to the kitchen, switched on the oven light and gasped. The cake had risen to only half of the height I had expected. Then my eye caught a glimpse of a bag on the counter with half of the mix inside. Sadly, I’d failed to fold it into the batter. That could account for the low rise. Still, the cake looked edible as I pulled it out of the oven, rounded and fragrant, and placed it on a rack to cool.

Just when I tilted the tube pan, the whole thing went SPLAT. Half of the cake flopped into the sink and the other half plopped onto the floor.


There were moments of silence. 10 . . . 20 . . . 30 seconds?

Then Curtis quietly asks, “Nana, where do you keep your broom and dustpan?”

Here is the space for the cleanup photo:

(Imagine broom and dustpan)




After the Dust Settled

We ate a few morsels that fell into the sink. They were actually quite tasty. Then I asked Curtis what he had learned from the experience. Of course, I expected a snarky remark about his addle-brained grandma.

Instead, he began recalling bits of advice I gave him over the mixing bowl:

  1. Drizzle a little lemon juice over the apples to keep them from turning brown.
  2. Use a toothpick to test for cake “done-ness” even if you use a timer.
  3. Insert a toothpick between pan and its lid on the stove to keep a simmering mixture from boiling over (his Great Grandma Longenecker’s trick).
  4. When you remove a pot from a hot burner, put a teakettle with a small amount of cool water over the burner to absorb the heat, especially during hot weather.

Was he just being kind?


What I Learned

  1. “It’s not that bad,” one of Curtis’ own sayings when things go awry.
  2. Even baking disasters can taste good. (The result was a passable apple “cobbler” even if it didn’t have the consistency of cake.)
  3. “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful,” another wise saying making the rounds these days.


Curt and I played Scrabble afterwards. He won, but not by much!


The Apple Cake Recipe, donated by my friend Bonnie Evans

1 yellow cake mix  (All of it!)

2 cups chopped/diced apples

1 cup chopped walnuts

I teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

brown sugar for sprinkling on top of cake

Blend oil and eggs into cake mix as directed. Add vanilla & cinnamon. Then add apples & nuts. Pour into tube pan and sprinkle brown sugar on the top. Bake at 350 degrees until done. Pour icing over top of the cake.


Melt 1cup brown sugar, 1 stick of butter and ½ tsp. vanilla. Stir until dissolved. Pour over top of cake.


A Miracle – Ahh!

Out of the blue, the very next day at breakfast my long time friend Wanda Rogers Long presented me with a perfectly baked apple cake – glittering in cellophane and topped with a red bow!


All’s well that ends well . . .


Several weeks later I baked the same cake with better results for my husband Cliff’s January birthday . . .


Most everyone has a similar story whether it’s a mishap in the kitchen or someplace else. Here’s where you can tell yours.

Was there a happy ending to your story – Yes? No?

Coming next: Comparison Shopper Finds His Valentine


Ice is Nice but Snow Glows

Do you have winter fun – sledding, tobogganing, ice skating, even skiing? Maybe now it’s a vicarious experience with kids or grandkids. I wrote about it last year in another post. Since then, I’ve paged through albums to find photos of our Floridian family having fun in the ice and snow.

For author Patricia Hampl, The Florist’s Daughter, winter fun was ice skating:

In winter, skating was even better, the whole body thrown into orbit. Ice-skating was my sport, the only athletic passion of my piano-playing, book-reading, indoor girlhood: A northern pleasure, a cold-weather art form   (129).




2000-_1200_Ian skating w Grandpa

Grandson Ian wobbly at first on cold ice on a warm day in St. Augustine, Florida. Outside temperature was almost 70 degrees, the ice got slushy, maybe a good thing for beginners.


SKIING  Gliding, sliding down a hill, that’s what skiing is under the best possible circumstances.

Before they left the nest, Joel and Crista with parents in Snowshoe, WV
Before they left the nest, Joel and Crista with parents in Snowshoe, WV

1999_0100_Marian_Cliff_Snowshoe skiing

Hilarous fun: Helen and Charles Blankenship warming up with us after a cold day on the slopes at Lake Tahoe, Utah
What’s so hiliarous?: Helen and Charles Blankenship warming up with us after a cold day on the slopes at Lake Tahoe, California



Do you remember cutting out paper snowflakes like this?



For detailed instructions with a video, click here.


Snowflakes make Emily Dickinson want to dance a jig, so she says!

Snow Flakes

I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town,
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down.
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig,
And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig!

Your turn:  What is your winter fun? Sledding, tobogganing, ice skating, even skiing? Maybe now it’s a vicarious experience with kids or grandkids. We’re dying to find out.
Coming next: Teaser of Cuppa Coffee?

Birthday Butter Shake: A Sequel



You may remember when I visited Pennsylvania last month we made butter the old-fashioned way, my mother, sister and I shaking cream in a 2-quart jar. This week my Southern friend Carolyn threw a birthday bash that included friends making butter together. We did just that – working in pairs, taking turns shaking, and doing it all to music of the 1950s and 60s.

Here is Carolyn explaining how it’s done. Now girls, “Shake the cream until it curdles into butter. Add a pinch of salt. And then to spice it up a notch, choose a combination of honey, cinnamon, mixed herbs, or garlic salt to give your butter some personality . . . .”


Next the ten of us pair off with pint jars of cream, handing off the jar to our mate when our arms are about to fall off . . .

butter team

And away we go!

To the tunes of Let’s Have a Party and All Shook Up, we Shake, Rattle, and Roll, way past curds and whey. Finally, with our butter balls all molded and labeled we sit down to a fancy feast, enhanced by the fruits of our labors.

molded butter

In the 1960s, you could eat anything you wanted, and of course . . . there was no talk about fat and anything like that, and butter and cream were rife. Those were lovely days for gastronomy, I must say.         Julia Child

*  *  *

Have you attended a memorable party, birthday or otherwise? Tell us about it. We’re curious.

Maybe we’ll copy-cat it. You know, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Coming Saturday: The R-Word and You

Divas of Downton Abbey: Southern Style

Watching episodes of Downton Abbey is like scarfing down balls of caramel corn while swilling champagne.                   The New Yorker

I encountered Julian Fellowes, writer and creator of the Downton Abbey series, when he played Kilwillie, a distillery-owning character in the British drama series Monarch of the Glen. As an actor, he never succeeded in winning the hand of Molly, the land-rich, but beleaguered widow, the girl of his dreams. But as master mind of an award-winning PBS series set in post-Edwardian England, Oscar-winning Fellowes is surrounded by drama and divas galore.

Presented in an Upstairs, Downstairs format, Downton Abbey, now in its 4th season, depicts the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and the servants who work for them. If you are a devotee, you know that jealousy, revenge, and closely guarded secrets power the plot portrayed by glittering, gossipy, and beguiling men and women against a backdrop of history, politics, and the march of technology.

The series Downton Abbey, a Masterpiece Theatre classic, is now a flourishing brand and there is merchandising to match:


Tuesday evening, my Southern friends and I, escorted by husband Cliff, brave the mild wintry weather to attend a premiere of the 4th season at WJCT, Jacksonville’s PBS station. Period costumes are encouraged and attendees do their best to comply with apparel from the Edwardian period to the flapper age.

We begin with an appetizer at our house:

Mincemeat tarts from Scotland
Mincemeat tarts from Scotland

Tickets and a programme:


Then oohs and aahs over wardrobe choices!


And there is a flapper in our midst, heralding the coming decade!

The lovely Susan Smathers

Finally, the new episode begins!



After the screening, inquiring minds want to know:

What zingers did Lady Violet fire off?

After her period of mourning, who will be Lady Mary’s next love interest?

What new technology is introduced?

Who is in Carson’s arms at the end of the episode?

The mysteries of Downton Abbey are made all the more fascinating by the true story of the castle in which the series is filmed, Highclerc Castle, whose history is recounted narrative-style by its current owner, the Countess of Carnarvon, in her book Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclerc Castle by the Castle of Carnarvon.

Are you a Downton Abbeyite? We are dying to know why. Or why not. Add your bit to the conversation!

There is still time to read and respond to my entry in the My Gutsy Story Contest posted on the website of award-winning author Sonia Marsh:

Rising Above the Pettiness to Focus on the Positive


Colleen’s Comfort Quilts: Knot Plain, Just Fancy

Since our children were little babes in blankets, Colleen and I have been friends. Our friendship, knitted together by similar values, compatible tastes, and love of beauty, has flexed with her moves from Florida to Maryland to Texas to California and back again.

Collie with Quilt

Like her quilts, experiences in our lives have at times matched the dark, nubby patches, the smooth, satiny ones, all stitched together by the happy binding of love.

Soon I’ll be taking her latest creation as a gift to my dear Aunt Ruthie’s 95th birthday celebration in her new residence at Landis Homes near Lititz, Pennsylvania.  Ever the artist, Aunt Ruthie has  painted in oils, designed her gardens as colorful collages, and sewn her own clothes in quaint combinations. She’ll love the quilt!

Dark, nubby patches mimic doggy fur of Ruthie's beloved Schnauzer Fritzie
Dark, nubby patches mimic doggy fur of Ruthie’s beloved Schnauzer Fritzie

Last weekend I caught up with Colleen and asked her a few questions. Please listen in!

1. What are touch quilts?

A touch quilt has various textures that are intended to provide a calming effect and soothe jangled nerves as they are stroked.  A touch quilt may be used while sitting in a favorite rocker or recliner, wheelchair, at naptime, in a waiting room or hospital bed and are similar in theory to the security blanket used by many small children.  They are loved by elders and children alike and have been found to be especially useful for those who are blind or have dementia.

2. How did you get started making them?

In 2005, my church started a Prayer Quilt ministry where I learned to make lap-size quilts;  I loved the idea and process and have been making them ever since.  In 2010, a women’s group I belonged to asked if anyone knew how to make touch quilts, which were  to be donated to the local Elder Day Stay.  I did a little research and found them to be very similar to the prayer quilts I already knew how to make, except for the fabrics used.  I made about 16 Touch Quilts over the next two years and got wonderful feedback from the excited recipients.

Gold, satin petals attached only at center
Gold, satin petals attached only at center

3. What types of fabrics do you use?

I look for pleasing colors in a variety of soft fabrics such as satin, corduroy, minky, flannel, fleece, fuzzy, furry, and more. I like to have some satin and fuzzy in every quilt and prefer satin bindings on all of them.

Sizes? (Dimensions of quilts)

I have made lap size (42 x 42), which is the most common size for all ages, nap size (42 x 54), and wheelchair size (36 x 36), which is intended to fit comfortably between the wheels without getting snagged.

4. Where do you get your inspiration for the designs and color combinations?

I try to include at least one fabric with a pattern and select complementary colors based on that. I start out designing on the computer and then put the cut fabric on my quilting “wall” to ensure the design fits the fabrics selected.  When I’m using a new design or a fabric with a new pattern, I often spend quite a bit of time rearranging the fabric blocks on the wall before I find a combination that feels and looks right.  It’s a creative process that can take hours and occasionally, days.

5. Who benefits from your quilts? To what organizations have you donated them?

I donate quilts to the Trinity United Methodist Church, Elder Day Stay, and various individuals.


Quilts by Colleen: Touchable Chic

Questions or comments about Colleen’s quilts? Reply below please!

Children’s book: The Boy and the Quilt by Mennonite author, Shirley Kurtz: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2729926-the-boy-and-the-quilt-with-four-color-artwork?from_search=true

It’s No Secret: The Life of Bees and Beamans

Bee - Joel's FB

Joel Beaman and bee hive frame
Joel Beaman and bee hive frame
Beaman hive in back yard
Beaman hive in back yard

Bee Video / Facebook

The bees came the summer of 1964, the summer I turned fourteen and my life went spinning off into a whole new orbit, and I mean whole new orbit. Looking back on it now, I want to say the bees were sent to me. I want to say they showed up like the angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, setting events in motion I could never have guessed.  Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees       pages 1, 2

If you’ve read Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, The Secret Life of Bees, you know that bees are a metaphor for the flight Lily Melissa Owens takes to escape a mother-less house (except for nanny Rosaleen) and the domination of an angry father to find a true family and home. In the process, she learns the truth of her mother’s past, finds a hive of new mothers, and discovers her own identity. In other words, she discovers her true self, the whole point of a good coming-of-age novel.

Substitute a different date and a different age, and you have my story with major variations. Unlike Lily, I had a caring family with a highly functioning Mother, but I lived the life of a Lancaster County Mennonite girl, separate from mainstream culture. I envisioned a more colorful life that would offer excitement and surprise. Thus, the bees in my bonnet (literally, a bonnet) propelled me to explore life beyond what I believed was the sheltered, nurturing, but confining, boundaries of my Mennonite upbringing. “What would happen if I sampled the honey from a different hive?” I wondered.

No, I didn’t have a jar of bees on my dresser like Lily, but I did recognize an inner voice saying to me, “Marian, your jar is open.” And off I buzzed to a different state, a changed outward appearance, and eventually a new name.

In the process, I landed in another city (Charlotte, NC) in a house with two young women, who, like Lily’s three Boatwright sisters in the Pink House, groomed me for a different life. A life with bright colors, loose hair, fancy dresses but not jarring me away from deeply held values.

Like Lily Melissa Owens, I have sampled the honey of good experience along with the vinegar of trials. Of course, I like the honey better. Here are some life secrets from the “. . . Life of Bees.”


“We lived for honey. We swallowed a spoonful in the morning to wake us up and one at night to put us to sleep. We took it with every meal to calm the mind, give us stamina, and prevent fatal disease. We swabbed ourselves in it to disinfect cuts or heal chapped lips. It went in our baths, our skin cream, our raspberry tea and biscuits. Nothing was safe from honey. . . . [It] was the ambrosia of the gods and the shampoo of the goddesses.”   (84)

August [Boatwright] said beeswax “could make your fishing line float, your button thread stronger, your furniture shinier, your stuck window glide, and your irritated skin glow like a baby’s bottom. Beeswax was a miracle cure for everything.”  (84)


What works in the bee yard works in the world. “Don’t be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don’t be an idiot: wear long sleeves and long pants. Don’t swat . . . . If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates, while whistling melts a bees’s temper. Act like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved.”  (92) 


“People don’t realize how smart bees are, even smarter than dolphins. Bees know enough geometry to make row after row of perfect hexagons, angles so accurate you’d think they used rulers. They take plain flower juice and turn it into something everyone in the world loves to pour on biscuits.”  (137)

4. NOTICE THAT OTHERS ALSO HAVE IMPORTANT ROLES TO PLAY; YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS THE QUEEN BEE! In the bee kingdom there are nest-builders, field bees with good navigation skills to gather nectar and pollen, nurse bees, and mortician bees. At the extreme ends: drones and, oh, yes,  the Queen Bee with her attendants.   (148-149)


“The whole fabric of honey bee society depends on communication—on an innate ability to send and receive messages, to encode and decode information.”  Gould, James L. and Carol Grant Gould. The Honey Bee, quoted in The Secret Life of Bees  (165)


The worker bee is just over a centimeter long and weighs only about sixty milligrams; nevertheless, she can fly with a load heavier than herself.  Gould, James L. and Carol Grant Gould. The Honey Bee, quoted in The Secret Life of Bees, (256)


According to August, if you’ve never seen a cluster of beehives first thing in the morning, you’ve missed the eighth wonder of the world. Picture these white bees tucked under pine tees. The sun will slant through the branches, shining in the sprinkles of dew drying on the lids. There will be a few hundred bees doing laps around the hive boxes, just warming up, but mostly taking their bathroom break, as bees are so clean they will not soil the inside of their hives. From the distance it will look like a big painting . . .  in a museum, but museums can’t capture the sound. Fifty feet away you will hear it, a humming that sounds like it came from a different planet. At thirty feet your skin will start to vibrate. The hair will lift on your neck. Your head will say, Don’t go any farther, but your heart will send you straight into the hum, where you will be swallowed by it. You will stand there and think, I am in the center of the universe, where everything is sung to life.    (286)

Bee - Joel's FB

Bee Video

Create a buzz!

Was there a time in your life when the jar of your life opened, and you flew out of it into a different orbit?

Like Lily Owens in the novel, have you found a hive of friends to nurture you?

Who is the queen bee in your life story? Well, it could be a king or a prince too, I guess.

All quotes: Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. New York: Penguin Books, 2002.

Southern Friends Meet PA Dutch Dish


Plan A

The sweet aroma of ham-loaf baking wafts through the house as I hurry to welcome my Southern friends at the front door. They are in for a real treat: ham-loaf from Wenger’s Fine Meats in Elizabethtown, PA brought shrink-wrapped in my suitcase on the plane,


My menu will replicate my mother’s, a superb Lancaster County Mennonite cook if there ever was one. Even at 95, she still makes some family meals:


  • Melon balls with citrus mint
  • Ham-loaf
  • Dinner rolls
  • Bread and butter pickles
  • Buttered peas & carrots
  • Mashed potatoes with fresh chives
  • Frozen lemon cream pie
  • Coffee

The table is set with formal elegance: wedding china and crystal with a lemony centerpiece:


My friends are genuine Southern belles: Not a gray hair among them, their diamonds are real, their speech soft: “How y’all doin’? and “Bless yah heart!” is part of their verbal repertoire. They have given me an education in southern emBELLishments, so this evening I plan to guide the conversation by asking questions. Growing up, did you meet Mennonites? What was your impression? Do you know what Mennonites believe?

But my plans dissolve as I am greeted by friends with party hats, balloons, and sparkly gift bags, gleeful that they have surprised me royally. My birthday is five days away, but—bless their hearts!—they know it’s never too early to party.  They produce smart-phones and iPads to capture the moment as I embrace Plan B:

4 friends party hars


Table conversation takes a different track from the one planned, and how glad I am that it does. We dish about vacation plans, family, embarrassing moments, dreams. We don’t weigh words! Then we enjoy dessert after I open presents and read more about Plan B from the memo pad gift:

Plan A is always my first choice  . . .

the one where everything works out.

But more often than not, I find myself dealing with

the upside-down version

where nothing goes as it should.

It’s at this point the real test

of my character comes in. . .

Do I sink or do I swim?

Do I wallow in self-pity

or do I simply shift gears and

make the best of the situation?

The choice is mine.

Life really is all about

how you handle Plan B.

— Suzy Toronto

Each one of us around the table has had our taste of Plan B. We have all have had our share of heart-ache, disappointment, and loss. But all of us have learned to put a high priority on our faith, family, and friends. After all, “life really is all about how you handle Plan B.”

The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men / Gang aft agley, / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!                                         – Robert Burns

Does your life experience resemble Plan A or Plan B?

How has your Plan B turned out for the better or worse? Share your story.