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What Says Fall to You?


For the past 15 years or so, we have enjoyed a community tradition here in the Shenandoah Valley: cooking for the annual Lion’s Club Pancake Days in Broadway, Va. The tradition goes from 6 a.m. on Friday morning, serving all day through about 7 p.m. that evening, and from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Saturdays.

JohnKnepperGravyJohn Knepper stirring his famous and great sausage gravy. Photo courtesy of Dawn Turner.

Folks get up early here in the Valley.

I know families who say their fall wouldn’t be Fall without coming to Pancake Days. This year the Hoover family was there in full force: 15 or so, counting visiting relatives, grandkids, and spouses.

P1060571Husband, Stuart, far right. Can he get the sausages done in time??

But the best part about Pancake Days is actually cooking and serving the meal. (Now the getting ready/cleaning up part is a huge chore but part of the deal.) This year I finally joined the Loins Club with my husband (yes, it is co-ed now, and has been for a number of years) so although I’ve helped in various capacities as a spouse, this year I heard all the pre-planning and negotiation such an effort takes.

Usually the Pancake Days are the same weekend as the local high school’s homecoming game, but due to that being scheduled very early and conflicting with an important Lion Club district/training meeting, the first issue was that we would have to break with tradition and have the fundraiser a different weekend. So we chose one that tied in to the annual Fall Festival–a street craft show and sale event.


Would it be as successful? Would we miss the great influx of pancake eaters right after the town’s homecoming parade?

P1060577Empty sausage pan. :-(

Answer: We ran out of sausage by 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, an hour before we were slated to close at 10. So we had to close early.  It was probably the most successful sale ever. (Final figures are not in yet of course.) To all those who missed out, we are very sorry about that, and will try to plan for it not to happen next year! The sausage of course is the most expensive part of the meal—great little links that are the best ever. The sausage gravy is homemade (no mix, see my version of the recipe here). While some of the food supplies are donated by local businesses, we purchase others. The proceeds from the sale go to help with the sight and hearing projects typical of Lions Clubs, both locally, nationally and internationally. To all who came out, a big huge thank you!

But the best part of Pancake Days is not the cakes, sausage, gravy or coffee, but the camaraderie: learning to know club and community members in deeper ways than you can do by just going to meetings. Service projects—whether they be for church, school or club—are totally the best way to connect and find roots when moving to a new community or seeking new friendships and meaning in an old.

Sure there are always the little controversies about who can flip pancakes fast enough, not making them too far ahead so they’ll be fresh and hot, whether to buy more supplies or fewer, who is a good worker who quickly adapts to whatever work is at hand. You have those kinds of questions and tiffs no matter what service project you are with. Don’t let them spoil the community comradeship.

P1060576Happy customers.

The Broadway Lions Pancake Days even survived changing one huge part of the tradition by transitioning from holding the cookoff in a makeshift tent made of tarps for many years, subject to rain, wind and cold October mornings and evenings. Everyone always said that was part of the fun—and what made the food taste so darn good, like when you are camping. The “tent” was pitched behind a bank in downtown, making it super easy for folks to stop by for a good hot meal after a chilly homecoming parade—before they rushed off to the big game. Those were great days too, but no one seems to mind that we’re now serving in the nearby Fire Department community hall. We’ve maintained one part of the tradition by cooking the cakes on a great old gas griddle in a tarped “kitchen.” And there are inside bathrooms instead of the great Johnny Blues.

tentCooking in the “tent” portion. Photo by Dawn Turner.

But thanks to some good signage around town, and a nice article in the local paper, the sale this year was a huge roaring Lion success. We thank everyone who came out and if you are lucky enough to have a Lion Pancake fundraiser in your community, check it out. Good folks!P1060566Grateful to Blue Ribbon Landscaping in Broadway for a great sign.

My friends dealing with serious sight problems remind me frequently of the precious gift of sight. My own hearing issues (I’ll likely be stone deaf in both ears some day) also echo in my head on dark days. Besides these major club foci, the clubs frequently contribute to other causes.

But a great benefit for all is simply building community in a time when there is so much isolation and individualism.


What makes Fall to you? What is your favorite community or church activity or fundraiser along these lines? I’d love to hear, and what you like about it!




What Does Christian Community Mean? Reflections on Bonnet Strings Book

Saloma authorAuthor Saloma Miller Furlong at a book signing.

The initial publication buzz is off for Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worldsa book Herald Press released this past January, written by Saloma Miller Furlong. I wondered if I was too late for some reflections (not so much a review, since I work for the publisher, who would believe I would be objective?).

bonnet strings
It took me awhile to get around to reading Bonnet Strings—lots of others on my stack. Knowing a little of the conflicted nature of Saloma’s family struggles and abuse in Saloma’s earlier book, Why I Left the Amish (although I haven’t read that one), I wasn’t sure I wanted to wade into this one.

David Saloma ShirleyDavid Furlong, Saloma Furlong, and Shirley Hershey Showalter at Herald Press/MennoMedia luncheon.

Then I saw a comment by Shirley Hershey Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World, which was published a year ago—that she still appreciated a “late” review “after the initial book rush is over” (here, by Leanne Dyck). As a fellow author/editor, I know these things take time to be read and gel in the mind of the reader or reviewer—and then get into a publication cycle.

Saloma has quite a life story: how many of us actually successfully run hundreds of miles away from home (as adults) on a Greyhound bus and try to start a new life with a new name, place to live, job, and have the elders of our church, family, or community come not once but twice (she hid effectively from them the first time) to hunt us down and carry us back to kith and kin? How Saloma wrestles through the dilemmas caused by her deep love for her community, faith and family while also struggling with the rules and rigor of Amish life is the core of her second memoir.

Bonnet Strings starts out with 20-year-old Saloma increasingly frustrated by the restrictions of Amish community life. Her family also had some outstanding problems, including a father in desperate need of medication and counseling, and a mother reluctant to get help at that point even though Saloma had made initial inquiries about such. So there’s the conflict and crux of the plot.

Saloma and David FurlongAt the Harrisonburg Barnes & Noble book signing.

I was delighted to meet the author last spring when she and her husband David Furlong came through Harrisonburg on a self-sponsored book tour. They are both genuinely likeable, lovely, personable and engaging human beings. It is important to realize that Saloma has lived most of her life quietly and quite happily, out of any limelight cast by authoring two memoir-type books and telling parts of her story in two PBS documentaries, “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned. Since I also wrote two memoir-type books about my own young adult years (On Troublesome Creek, Departure), I know what writing about earlier experiences can do in terms of processing and capturing the memories and the learnings—and translating how those life experiences can connect with others. I also know from working on documentaries myself—interviewing and helping people relate their stories, is often transformative—helpful and life-changing for the teller and those of us who share or hear their stories.

Saloma’s comments on community in her book gave me much to think about, and also made me reflect on and better understand my own relationships and connections to Old Order Amish or Mennonite friends and family through the years.

Through one of my associations with a local Old Order Mennonite community here in Virginia, I began to pick up vibes that although my friends welcomed us royally when we visited, a bishop expressed concern to my friends about too much contact. After reading Saloma’s book, I better understand the why behind that distancing.

Belonging to an Amish community requires strict adherence to community rules and expectations, and for Saloma, absolutely stifled her individual growth and interest in further education. She asks, can you have community without full faithfulness to community guidelines? While some communities say sure, for most Old Order Amish or Old Order Mennonite the answer is no. Thankfully in most Christian communities—however defined—the answer is yes.

I think of my own church (Presbyterian now) and small group/house church experiences. These are defined communities. There are certain expectations in membership, sure, and as house churches we write and sign new covenants each year in which we set group goals and promise to maintain certain spiritual disciplines. But thanks be to God, there is latitude, grace (when we don’t complete every jot and tittle of our covenant and goals) and a wide embrace.

Saloma author signingSaloma genuinely enjoys talking to readers and answering questions.

I admire Saloma Miller Furlong and Shirley Hershey Showalter: followers of Christ living out their unique calls as children and women of God. Each has a different community with different parameters. Who is to say which is harder: to live within a strict community with boundaries all spelled out and enforced, or to live a Christian life with boundaries less clear but trying to be just as faithful?


What does community mean to you?
Can you have community without full faithfulness to community guidelines?


For more on differences among Mennonites, Amish and Old Order groups, check here.

Rise’n Roll “Amish Crack*” Donuts: My Hunt For a Top Secret Recipe


Spoiler alert: This, so far, is an unsuccessful attempt at recreating the most decadent donut my family and I ever tasted. I share it because I’m on a hunt and in hopes that you may help figure out the missing ingredient, step, or tweak.

Back story: It all began with my high school friend Deb while we were all in Northern Indiana this summer. She served us some great homemade bread and my daughter and her husband wanted to know where she got it. She told them (I wasn’t around) about Rise’n Roll bakery between Middlebury and Shipshewana. And she also tipped them off that they had a donut that was so good and so addictive and so sweet it had the underground name of “Amish Crack.” Let me be clear: *not a drug, but it might as well be.

The donut: Freshly made at Rise’ n Roll, it’s a yeast raised donut apparently dipped in a caramel type glaze and then sprinkled with a heavy dose of cinnamon sugar. So you’ve got a warm fresh donut, coated with thin caramel and then cinnamon POWDERED sugar. Do I need to go further?

It is to die for, and yes, if you eat too many, thou shalt surely die, to quote someone in the Bible. Oh, yeah, that would be God in the Garden of Eden. Well “Garden of Edenish Delights” could be another name for Rise’ n Roll.

The store/bakery/restaurant sets out about a dozen cups of samples throughout the deli area of freshly made ham salad, tiny crackers, humus dip, traditional dip, cold meats, cheeses, jams, apple butter, pickles: some Amish-style treats, and others (like the humus) not so Amish. All of the Amish and conservative Mennonite young people working there were like a busy hive of bees, scurrying to provide great customer service while in the background, you could see the baking prep operations going on. It is the real deal. There are several of these Rise’n Roll bakeries in Northern Indiana (Middlebury and Nappanee and also small markets in Chicago and Fort Wayne) and it is a good thing I don’t live there anymore. The best news is you can buy some of their stuff online. But not the fresh donuts.

At any rate, we all fell in love with The Donut and I set about trying to duplicate the debauchery.

I found a review on line that at least gave me a hint that the glaze was a caramel type frosting. And that the sugar was as described above. But ratios? I was on my own. And while I hardly follow a recipe for everything I cook, when it comes to baked goods, I stick to recipes and usually just improvise.

This was improv from the get go.

They were good, but not THAT good.

Here is what I tried.


Using my favorite Yeast Raised Donut recipe from the good old North Goshen Mennonite Cookbook, I made half a batch (since I was experimenting, and my husband and I were the only ones home. Usually we make donuts as a party or family celebration).

Step 1: The Donuts

Raised Donuts

1 cup scalded milk
2 pkgs. dry yeast
1/4 cup shortening, Crisco type
3/8 cup sugar
¼ cup warm water
3 ¾ – 4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs

(Also takes 3-4 cups Crisco in electric skillet or other cooker to fry the donuts.)

Scald milk, then add sugar and salt. In separate container, dissolve the yeast in the warm water for 5 minutes with stirring. When scalded milk has cooled a bit, stir yeast and water before adding to the milk. Stir in beaten eggs and add shortening. Add the flour in 2 additions, using hands if needed to add the last half and knead dough for several minutes. Let dough rise till double. Punch down, rise again. Then roll out dough to 1/3 inch thick on floured surface, and cut with doughnut cutter. Put cut out donuts on trays, such as cookie sheets. Let rise again about 30-45 minute.


To fry donuts, drop in hot shortening, 375 degrees. Turn donut over once. (It will probably only take 30-40 seconds on each side to nicely brown.) Do not over cook. Remove donut from shortening and drain on paper towels.

Adapted from recipe by Sue Christener, North Goshen Mennonite “Fellowship Cooking” Cookbook, 1960s era.

Step 2: The Glaze

While warm, dredge donuts in caramel glaze. The recipe below is adapted from Ree The Pioneer WomanTasty Kitchen Recipes.

Easy Caramel Sauce (also good on ice cream, apple pie, etc.)

1 cup brown sugar
½ stick butter
½ cup half and half or cream
1 Tablespoon vanilla
Pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium-low to medium heat. Cook while whisking gently for 5-7 minutes, until thicker. Turn off heat. For glaze type consistency, add more milk if sauce is too thick to dip donuts in.

Dunk doughnuts in glaze/sauce while still warm. Then let them drip, hanging on a clean dowel rod to suspend the donuts over a dripping pan for glaze to cool without making a mess everywhere (could also use the long handle of a wooden stirring spoon).

Step 3: The Sugar On Top

Cinnamon Sugar Topping

2/3 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon cinnamon

Put powdered sugar and cinnamon into sifter. Sift onto the glazed donuts. Set on paper towel to absorb mess.

Like I said, they were pretty good, but not to-die-for good.

So. Here I am, a pathetic wannabe part-time recipe blogger, writing a half-baked recipe that is not the yummiest yet or the bestest.

What suggestions do you have? Have you eaten the Rise’n Roll donuts? Go there. Other reviews say it is worth driving 100 miles out of your way. While I wouldn’t literally go that far, if you’re in the neighborhood, do stop in, and tell me how YOU would duplicate them.

Or, looking at the above, what ideas do you have for improving my odds of hitting my big fat donut target??



Homemade Doughnuts: Techniques and Recipes for Making Sublime Doughnuts in Your Home Kitchen by Kamal Grant (Quarry Books, 2014) has a recipe for Salted Carmel Icing especially for dunts. Here’s that recipe, but I have not yet tried it:

¼ cup white sugar
2 Tablespoons water
¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature
¼ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup powdered sugar
½ teaspoon fine salt


Briefly stir together the white sugar and water in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring, until the mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6-7 minutes.

Remove from heat and slowly add butter, cream, and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Combine the caramel, powdered sugar and salt in a large bowl and mix until completely mixed and lump free. Cover and refrigerate before using. Makes 1 ½ to 2 cups.


Do you think that would be worth a try? Speaking of caramel, my neighbor/blogger friend Jennifer Murch wrote about to-die-for Homemade Salted Caramel Ice Cream just last week, which does look yummy!


And oh yeah, anyone want to open a Rise’n Roll franchise in this neighborhood??

Top Ten Things I learned About PR Working for a Poultry Company


Top Ten Things I learned About PR Working for a Poultry Company

Twenty-one years ago in October 1993, I took a three-month “sabbatical” from my job writing, producing and marketing media materials for the Mennonite church. I contacted several companies within a 50 mile radius to find anyone willing to take a gamble on a 41-year-old “intern” who had been professionally employed for about 17 years. I offered to work 32 hours a week for anyone who could give me a different media environment to see what I could learn about how other organizations or businesses conduct their public relations. I did this to improve my skills and have a refresher instead of going back to school for a master’s or other degree.

Any time you work for a specific company or position for a long period of time it can be eye opening to take a break (and I was lucky to have a paid sabbatical which the company offered at that time even for my level of employee). They were enlightened enough to know how it can benefit both the employee and the company. Sometimes that fresh outlook can be gained by just a week’s vacation, a maternity/paternity leave, or even just a nice long weekend or walk around the building if you only have five minutes. When I go for my lunch time walk (usually 20 minutes), I often come back with a fresh idea to apply to a project.

The corporate communications director for WLR Foods was a woman I’ll just call Gail. This was one of the largest poultry companies at that time in the Shenandoah Valley. Gail saw my offer and according to her description, pretty much jumped at the chance for some free labor. They were entering their busiest season of the year: the holidays (think all those holiday turkeys), were planning a grand opening for an expanded facility in West Virginia, had an annual investor’s meeting coming up, and eventually, one of their turkeys was heading for a pardon at the White House! Lots of publicity needed. Lots of positive, glowing publicity.

Since I grew up on a poultry farm (see an early blog post here on my sister and my “fight” in the chicken house) it somehow felt appropriate to be going back to my roots. Plus when I met my husband, he was working in a poultry plant, what some people feel is the lowest of all bottom feeder jobs.

A Shenandoah Valley legend, Charles Wampler, Sr., began artificially incubating turkey eggs back in 1922 which changed the poultry industry forever (some would say, unfortunately, getting away from free range turkeys and chickens). His son, Charles Wampler, Jr. (born on Thanksgiving Day, 1915, and as far as I know, still living) not only grew up on his Dad’s turkey farm, he was instrumental in the long success of Wampler Foods (before it became WLR Foods), and “gave back” by turning into a huge Valley philanthropist. In 1993, he was officially retired, but still loved coming into the office and plant once a week or so just to make some rounds and check on things.

P1060508Charles Wampler Jr., 1993

Charles Jr. checked on me one day too, as he shuffled through my boss’s office. He had one question for me: “Are we paying you?” I almost laughed. “No,” I assured him, “my company is paying my time and I am just here trying to learn all I can about how a communication office is run in a profit industry,” I said or something like that. That seemed to satisfy him. I got in that brief conversation why the company had been so successful: a caring, involved, and innovative employer who carefully watched every penny. I think other employees may have wondered if I was a lackey for management, sniffing out problems or issues in the company.


Charles Wampler, Jr., Governer of West Virginia, Gaston Caperton, CEO Jim Keeler at the Moorefield WV plant expansion ribbon cutting.

A month after my internship with WLR Foods ended, Tyson Foods made an unsolicited offer to buy WLR Foods. Now that’s a PR nightmare I was glad I didn’t have to go through. WLR ended up merging with Cuddy Farms Inc. to avoid the take over and eventually merged with Pilgrim’s Pride in 2001, which still operates in the Valley. So here are the top ten things I learned in my almost three month experiment at WLR Foods.

  1. It is terrifying to go out and be interviewed for a job, even if you are volunteering to work for free, especially when you haven’t interviewed for a job for years and years.
  1. Dead chickens or turkeys are still dead poultry even if you talk about their “livability” rate instead of mortality rate. That is just twisted.
  1. Hairnets always look dorky, even on company big wigs, and in photo ops the nets are there to reassure the public that you take great pains not to let hair get in the food, (especially when a photographer is around). Actually the woven WLR Foods nets did a pretty good job.
  1. Gail kept high heels, a suit jacket, hair spray, mirror and lipstick in her office closet for any TV interview, photo or media op that might turn up, even though the office was eight miles from town and frequently covered with chicken feathers.
  1. When you work for free, you just might get free coffee and more frequent lunches out on the company dime than when employed by a church non-profit. But at the same time I learned to work under more deadline pressure than I’d ever experienced: news releases that had to be edited and faxed by 10 a.m. to meet a newspaper’s deadline, or higher ups that needed to be summoned immediately—such as if the governor was on the line.
  1. Turkey farmers on contract don’t necessarily understand (or cooperate) that they are to call Corporate Communications before granting any interview to local media. (Gail lived in fear of a negative story breaking in the local newspaper of conditions in a poultry house showing piles of manure or “mortality”—dead chickens.)
  1. As head of Corporate Communications, you take the heat from the CEO if any of your staff (or unpaid intern) makes a mistake or words something poorly. (I ruefully recall the time I overheard the CEO take Gail to task for the wording in a flier I had written—and she never passed the blame off on me as the intern.

P1060492(Yes, I had a dreadful perm at the time.)

  1. There were only two degrees of separation between me and President (at the time) Bill Clinton. A photographer, Patricia Barrow, at that time of Silver Spring, Maryland, took this photo of me, above, for the WLR Food Company magazine. I was a little bit awed that the day prior, she had taken the family Christmas photo of the Clintons. (And this, I might add, was 1993, Clinton’s first Christmas in the White House, long before all of the Lewinsky business gave a bad name to interns everywhere, through which Clinton suffered a huge fall in my esteem).

P1060510Gail reminded stockholders how the open house in West Virginia ended up in national poultry news.

  1. Some of my learnings are tongue-in-cheek, of course, but seriously I learned buckets of how to take any media coverage you receive and turn it into a “good news” media story for your investors, customers and fans. My boss was an expert at—and this was long before Googling, Facebook or Twitter—at sniffing out any reference to her company in the larger press, and then showcasing that in news releases, insider “leaks” faxed to the media. If the company had a record number of people volunteering for or donating to United Way, for example, that is a good news story about the company. I felt it was something that the Mennonite church, for whom I worked, could learn from—and work to send good news media stories to places like Newsweek, the Washington Post, etc.
  2. My boss’s number one priority while she worked for the company was creating and maintaining her company’s positive image in the community and the larger poultry industry. There is a long history/reputation of conditions in poultry plants being like sweat shops. Community sentiment about stinky poultry operations, possible polluted ground water, feathers along the highways, smelly rendering plants, demonstrations by animal rights activities, health enthusiasts (chemicals in foods), all led to a real “challenge,” to use one of the worst buzz words that ever came out of the PR field.


Gail took a company—where many employees did look at the job as a bottom feeder job that was, hey “just a job that someone’s gotta do,” had them get spiffed up and included them in the company magazine, captured through day long photo shoots by professional photographers who, the day before, had been photographing the President of the United States. Her professionalism in carrying out PR for a company known mainly for the stink it creates stuck with me—these 20 plus years later.

 P1060500This article illustrated how employees were continuing their education in their off hours.

The take away? What is your number one priority in your job, or in your home? How can you look for and hold up the positive, rather than the negative? I admired Gail’s focus—and expertise in her field. While PR is sometimes spelled “P.U.” because of the lack of respect it engenders, (for overusing words like challenge instead of problem, or mortality instead of dead birds), Gail knew her job one was keeping a positive image for her company. Ultimately I walked away from any job requiring this level of spin, but we all deal with elements of our job that we don’t like. I’m grateful to Gail for taking me on—having an intern always requires some extra work and supervision—and I hope I did more good than harm.

When people wonder how I can stand being in one place and one job/employer for almost 40 years now, I point to experiences like this internship, three maternity leaves, and the constantly changing nature of technology and media. There’s something new every day.


How do you find focus for your work? How do you focus on the positive? How do you stay fresh? I always love to hear from anyone!

How to Use Up a Small Batch of Red Raspberries or Other Fruit

BergtonPigTailsPonyTailsRaspberries 060

We’re still enjoying small pickings of red raspberries as we move into early October.

I messed up this spring (technically late winter), pruning back our one and only red raspberry bush, which we planted several years ago when my youngest daughter was living at home. I cut back ALL the canes instead of just the older, seasoned canes. Why I didn’t Google how to prune first, and cut later, I don’t know. She took care of the pruning earlier, so I was winging it.

However, I’m having a fine late summer/early fall crop of fresh berries every other day. P1050944

Not really enough to do anything with except eat fresh on cereal or in fruit salad (fancied up above for company), or freeze them in small batches. Or this:


A mini-cobbler.

This was so easy it was sinful, because I had leftover crumb topping from making a quick pie out of Granny Smith apples recently. I had too much topping for the smallish pie but rather than toss out the leftover crumbs, I bagged and refrigerated them thinking I might use it sometime soon, but not sure how.

Eureka. Daughter (the red raspberry lover) was home a couple days before we took off for our grandson’s birthday weekend, so for dessert one evening, I threw together this quick mini-cobbler. Perfect end to a fall meal for two or three people.

End of story. Here’s the mini-recipe.

Mini-cobbler with raspberries, peaches, blueberries, apples

Wash and prepare 1 cup of fresh fruit (chopped up if peaches or apples). Add 1/8 cup sugar  (or more to your taste) and stir. Add two drops lemon juice if desired.



1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4  cup butter
1/2 cup flour
Cut butter into brown sugar and flour with pastry blender or two knives. Mix until crumbs resemble coarse meal with lumps the size of peas. Grease baking dish and add fruit. Sprinkle crumbs on top of fruit. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.



What is your favorite thing to do with red raspberries, besides just eat them fresh of course.


For more recipes and family stories check out my book, Whatever Happened to Dinner.


How to Celebrate a First Birthday


We celebrated the first birthday of our first born grandson last weekend.

My husband and I agree we can barely remember the first birthday of his mother, Tanya, our second born. Good thing we have photos to record the moment. I do know I made the cake.

tanyabday1Celebrating with cousins 1984: JoAnn, Cathy, sister Michelle squeezed in, Cindy, and the birthday girl, Tanya. I’m holding Tanya up.

After my post last week about carrying my camera everywhere, you’ll never guess what I did for Sam’s birthday.


This little sweetheart lives about five hours away. Big big event for grandkid, parents and grandparents.


Great blogging grandma I am.

By the time I discovered I had forgotten to pack it, we were way too far down the road to think of turning back. And my aging flip phone decided to lose all functionality other than making and receiving phone calls, so I couldn’t even take pictures with it!

So I had to rely on my daughter’s camera, which is a little slow in grabbing a kid’s fast action. But oh well. At least we were THERE! Living in the present and enjoying every every second of time we got to spend with all of them, and especially dear Sam.


In some ways, it allowed me to be more present and watch his little face light up and take in what he was absorbing and doing. I kept wondering what a one year old thinks about. How do they process their world?

But let’s be honest. I was also kicking myself a lot, since it is kind of part of my new hobby and avocation.

P1060467ExploringCakeTanya, top, 1984. Her son, Sam, 2014.

I was pondering the expression on Tanya’s face, 1984, and Sam’s, 2014. Tanya looks a little bewildered about this strange custom that somehow came into vogue sometime between the time I was born and when our children were born in the early 80s. Now some bakeries even give away the “smash” cake or include it with the purchase of a party cake.

BibPreparationA sheet draped over the high chair, towel on the floor, long sleeved bib on the kid: what are they getting me ready for now?

For the child, it must be like all of a sudden, after having his or her face endlessly wiped and cleaned and washed, the adults in the child’s life suddenly want him to get messed up. We declare a free zone and laugh at the poor little thing. As the kid gets into it, the adults laugh more, and the child eventually laughs too, but it is more like exploring Play-doh for the first time, or making mud pies, or building a sandcastle. It’s a new sensation. Not that funny for the child—but representative of all the explorations they will make in the year and years to come. My sister recalls her granddaughter refusing to get messy in her first birthday cake. She was a little neatnik who didn’t want to muss her hands. The custom or ritual is a little bizarre, if you think about it.

So whatever you do, let it be something they enjoy (I would NOT make a crying child mess their cake if they don’t want to! I would not take frosting and smear it on the child myself. Just sayin’.) After all, it’s not about the adults or the picture. It’s about the child. Providing a safe and encouraging space to discover their world and learn all they can is what it is all about.

AuntDoreenBubblesAunt Doreen and Sam enjoy blowing bubbles.

We just hope they understand why smooshing a cake doesn’t mean they get to play in their spaghetti or soup or cereal. Contradictory? Sure!

SamStanding2Car1Top pic: Tanya and Sam practice a stand while opening a gift, while Sam’s other grandparents, Ron and Sue look on. Below: Dad Jon pushes Sam on a scooter car, a great hand-me-down from other cousins. Don’t worry, he’s safely strapped in.

Now, opening the gifts, that was a new experience too. But there was no mistaking the delight and wonderment in Sam’s eyes as he investigated his new treasures.


Happy birthday little Sam! What a year you’ve come through! The most important thing about a first birthday—or any birthday—is celebrating love and life.


Celebrating with cousins, 2014: Here Sam hangs out with cousin James via Google on his birthday.


Did your children smoosh their cake? How about grandkids? Did you? What do you know about your first birthday? I’d love to hear!


An Amish Recipe for Oatmeal Bread


Next up in testing recipes for Gather Round the Amish Table is Mother’s Oatmeal Bread. (Here are my other two tests, for Chocolate Cake and Amish Pecan Sticky Buns.) Yes, I’ve written about another oatmeal bread recipe that is my family’s ALL TIME FAVORITE from More with Less Cookbook, so I had mixed feelings trying this. Nothing could beat More with Less, could it?

Or was it exactly the same? If so, perhaps the More with Less recipe actually came from Amish sources, since many Mennonite families have Amish background just one or two generations back (indeed, my great grandfather). I was mainly intrigued by the idea of making FOUR loaves at once and just stocking my freezer with great bread. When I emailed my daughters about the bread, one quickly responded, “We’ll take some off your hands.”

Making four at once was interesting. Would my Kitchen Aid stand mixer with massive dough hook be up to the challenge? Would I burn out the motor on such a job? Would the heap of dough rise way up over my large pottery raising bowl? Such drama.

The project coordinator for reissuing Gather Round the Amish Table had her own questions she needed to have answered—which gets us to the whole reason for redoing the cookbook, which was originally Countryside Cooking and Chatting, by Lucy Leid (Herald Press, 2006).Countryside Cooking and Chatting

Many of the recipes in this collection—like so many old timey ones—were incomplete in directions, assuming that most cooks would easily be able to fill in the blanks of steps left out or even amounts left out: like how much flour to put in! This recipe lacked the flour amount.

Not to fear.

It passed all my challenges with flying colors and the taste test too. This recipe calls for honey which I usually don’t use for the More with Less recipe, which calls for brown sugar. (I’m sure many cooks make that substitution anyway.) But overall the honey resulted in bread that was perhaps a little less sweet. But that’s OK—and preferable and healthier for many folks. What do you think? It also uses eggs and oil (instead of butter which I used in our usual recipe).

But if you need a great recipe for making 4 loaves at once, or want to divide this in half and make two, this works either way.


Mother’s Oatmeal Bread

Makes 4 loaves

3 ½ cups boiling water
2 cups quick oats
1 cup honey
2 Tablespoons salt
1 cup warm water
2 Tablespoons yeast ((I used 3 packages)
4 eggs
¾ vegetable oil
10 cups white flour
4 cups whole wheat flour*

Mix boiling water with oats, honey, and salt. Let stand 15 minutes or until lukewarm. As it cools, mix yeast with warm water and allow to sit a few minutes until yeast action begins. Add eggs and oil to oatmeal mixture and stir; then add yeast and water. Add one cup flour and beat. Continue adding flour one cup at a time, enough to make a soft dough. Turn out of mixing bowl onto floured surface. Knead 5-10 minutes. Form large dough ball and place in greased rising bowl. (I always spray the top of the dough with a spray shortening to keep it supple during rising.)


Cover with clean towel. Set in warmish place. Allow to rise until double in bulk. Punch down and form four loaves and put in 4 greased bread pans. Allow to rise again until double. Bake at 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Use small amount of butter or margarine to spread on top of crust when done. Remove from pans. Cool. Enjoy! (If you need help with these steps, check out photos here.)


*The original recipe called for an even 50/50 split of white and wheat flour; your call on that. In my opinion, making this flour mixture half and half makes too dense of bread for our tastes (although I know that freshly ground whole wheat flour lessens the density, I’m told).amishbread1

I also love that I was able to use a bunch of whole wheat flour from my friend Nancy Landis’ family mill, Rohrer’s Mill near Lancaster, Pa. which we purchased a number of years ago and still keep in the freezer in this bag. We were so pleased to visit the mill, which unfortunately burned in 2006.


In the forthcoming book, Gather Round the Amish Table, there’s a delightful story along with this recipe about how the originator served this bread at an Amish birthing center. The original book was called Countryside Cooking and Chatting, and again, the “chat” is great but I won’t spoil the book by sharing that story here. There will be lots of fun and fascinating stories along with beautiful photos in the book next year.


Do you substitute honey for sugar frequently? What is your all-time favorite bread recipe, or bread that you buy? Where do you get it? I’d love to hear.

Shirley Hershey Showalter

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