Embracing the Lilacs

grandmashere 045110

It’s a family tradition to visit the arboretum’s lilac exhibit every spring, just to embrace the beautiful blooms and their lovely fragrance.

grandmashere 025103

This year, great-grandma comes along, too.

grandmashere 081117

grandmashere 030106

She and my oldest daughter compare the various lilac blooms.

grandmashere 028104

My youngest loves the white lilac blooms best.

grandmashere 060111

grandmashere 065112

grandmashere 070114

grandmashere 042108

Of course, the lilacs aren’t the only blooms at the arb. The tulips look incredible.


grandmashere 086118

grandmashere 095121

And the magical crabapples are dripping with blossoms.

grandmashere 139123

grandmashere 137122

The cheerful daffodils dance on the breezy hillside.

grandmashere 092120

And a few magnolia blossoms still linger for our delight.

grandmashere 149126

I’ll close with a throwback of me embracing my mama’s lovely lilacs a long time ago.

Now please close your computer or set down your device and go outside! Find something alive and blooming and beautiful to smell!


Robin Says, ‘Cheer-Up Y’all!’

Today is the first day of spring, and much to our delight the girls and I saw our first robin in the maple tree out front! The girls saw him first and ran into the house to tell me. I grabbed my camera and followed them to the driveway. At first the robin was a bit shy, almost just a silhouette hiding in the shadows.


But then he must have realized the honors and title we were bestowing upon him as First Robin 2014. He moved to a closer branch in the sunlight and started to chirp, “Cheer-up Y’all!”

teddyspring 068cropx

And then he hopped to an even closer branch, turned his body, and posed for a perfect profile shot. What a dear!


A robin that perches long enough for me to grab my camera and document the monumental occasion — that’s a winning robin, indeed. I don’t ask much. So this year’s First Robin really set the bar (branch?) high for next year’s contest.

To be clear, we had caught a brief glimpse of a robin high up in a tree in the next-door neighbor’s yard a few days ago. But of course that didn’t count as an official sighting in our tradition. To be official, the First Robin must be in our own yard. We’re rule-followers, you know, and every contest must have its official rules. Once the First Robin appears, we commence the planning of the Annual First Robin Tea Party.

The robin sighting this evening topped off quite a lovely day, part of which was spent at the Arboretum, exploring the tapped maple trees there and soaking up the sunshine ourselves. But that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, it’s officially spring! And the First Robin 2014 says to tell you, “Cheer-up, y’all!”

Look at the Birds! Part 2

Now that everyone in our family has seen more than a dozen robins in our yard, we are overdue for our annual First Robin Tea Party — a sure sign of spring in this house!

Sadly, I have not been very good about planning the minor details, such as the party date, the guest list and invitations. Maybe those are the major details! Oh dear. My brain is still in a state of thawing out from our long, harsh winter. Well anway, I have been slowly adding spring decor — mostly birds and eggs — around the house. I’ve also been stumbling across new ideas for the party itself.

New Artwork

I often admire the Christian artwork available through DaySpring, but I’m cheap when it comes to that sort of home decorating, especially when my options are limited. (Or maybe I am just too much of a control freak?) So one evening I was playing around in Photoshop Elements and decided to make my own springy artwork. Here’s what I made:

I had Mpix print it on 12 x 12-inch paper, and then I threw it in a scrapbooking frame and set it up on the bathroom shelf. I think I like it. What say you?

Menu Changes

As in years past, we plan to make mud pies with (gummy) earth worms — the recipe for those is posted here. But this year I have a new recipe for the edible bird nests. I’ll try to report back on how that works out since nobody ever ate the ones we made last year. Sigh. I also added crackers to the menu since I recently found out that Target’s version of Goldfish crackers are bird-shaped and called “Chickadees.” How fitting!

New Literature

What I am thrilled most about for this year’s party is a new picture book! The Story of the Easter Robin, written by Dandi Daley Mackall, is a beautifully illustrated tale about a little girl, her grandmother and a robin’s nest build on a window ledge at the grandmother’s house. The book also incorporates the Pennsylvania Dutch legend of the robin’s red breast — a symbol of Christ’s suffering and love — as well as the tradition of decorating eggs in the style of Pennsylvania Dutch Easter birds. I love this book so much I bought extra copies to send to my nieces!

Memory Work

One of my memory verses for last month was Psalm 91:1,4 — very fitting scriptures for our robin tea party discussion, as is the passage of Matthew 6:25-27

Over the past several months, the girls and I have memorized a new poem that fits quite nicely with our bird theme.

Little Bird

a Mother Goose rhyme

Once I saw a little bird

come hop, hop, hop.

So I cried, “Little bird,

Will you stop, stop, stop?”

And was going to the window

To say, “How do you do?”

When he shook his little tail

And far away he flew.

Of course, the best-ever poem for the first robin tea party is this one, which we all still have memorized from last year’s party. 

To the First Robin

by Louisa May Alcott

Welcome, welcome little stranger,

Fear no harm and fear no danger

We are glad to see you here,

For you sing ‘sweet spring is near.’

Now the white snow melts away,

Now the flowers blossom gay.

Come, dear bird, and build your nest

For we love our robin best.

 If I ever actually stop piddling around with minor details, set a date and invite real-live people to the party, I will take pictures and share a slide show of the celebration.

In the meantime, let’s all go get some fresh, spring air! Shall we?

If It’s Not Chocolate, Why Bother? #3

Disclaimer: I’ve posted this recipe before. But since my mama’s chocolate “mud” cake recipe ranks in the top 3 of all my favorite chocolate recipes, it’s worthy of repeating, especially if you didn’t catch it the first time!

We use this recipe for nearly every birthday cake in our family. Rumor is that my brother even has his wife bake this cake for him on my birthday, even though we live hundreds of miles apart! I’m not sure whether I should feel deeply honored or deeply disturbed by that…

Anyway, until just a few years ago, I was certain my mother had all but invented this recipe. If you saw the frayed edges and spatters on her blue recipe card, you’d understand how I came to that conclusion.

But then one day while baking the cake, I noticed a cake recipe on the back of the Hershey’s cocoa container. The title claimed it was “Perfectly Chocolate.” Immediately, I thought, “Ha! Perfectly chocolate whatever! These Hershey folks have not seen the likes of my mama’s chocolate mud cake.” So just for fun I compared the ingredients and now I almost wish I hadn’t.

I was utterly shocked — and somewhat deflated — to find the two recipes were identical! And since I don’t recall the Hershey folks ever snooping around my mama’s kitchen, I can only conclude they must have played some significant role in the recipe’s development. Since the recipe calls for nearly 1.5 cups of cocoa — if you count what’s in the frosting — I suppose I should have seen this coming. Although, in my defense, you should know that I come from a long line of bakers and my great-grandparents were the Hiersches.

Mama’s Chocolate “Mud” Cake (aka, Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake)

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • chocolate frosting (recipe follows)
Directions:1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.


1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. (I only soften mine so my icing stays fluffy and easier to decorate with.) Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

The appliances/tools I use for this recipe are my KitchenAid Mixer and my Wilton Desssert Decorator Pro. Hint: The cupcakes look prettiest when baked in brown or black baking cups.

A Quiet, Simple Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve and I have time to blog because we have no family visiting this Christmas, and no relatives nearby expecting us for dinner.

Of course family isn’t really what we celebrate at Christmas anyway, as much as we dearly love all those grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins who have decided against braving a frightfully White Christmas in Minnesota.

No, Christmas is about Jesus, celebrating Him and worshiping Him. Sometimes it’s easier to remember that when Christmas is simpler, quieter, and settled comfortably in a picturesque, snowy white background.

Every year our little family of four worships at our church’s 4 p.m. Christmas Eve candlelight service. The girls love getting all dressed up for the evening. Most years my husband participates in the worship band, playing guitar and sometimes singing. This year he also played the mandolin. The music was beautiful. Reverently the service closed, as is tradition, with everyone singing “Silent Night” by candlelight. Seeing my children’s hopeful faces glowing in the candlelight, that’s my favorite gift.

Back at home, with the pot roast still simmering in the slow cooker, the girls endure posing for a few photos.

 And then they ask — for the 100th time today — if they can open presents. They typically exchange gifts with each other on Christmas Eve. Perhaps someday when they are grown and have families of their own, this tradition will continue.

At dinner we light all five of the Advent candles, and the girls eagerly lead our discussion the story of Jesus’s birth. Linnea wonders about all the many details the Bible doesn’t tell us in this ancient story. A deep thought for an 8-year-old.

Once the dinner dishes are cleared, I mix up some bread dough and tuck it under a towel, letting it rise. The girls like to think of the dough as sleeping when it is rising, so they tell it “goodnight” and blow it kisses. I tell the girls it’s almost time for me to tuck them into bed, too. Already sporting their matching striped pink pajamas, they beg for a story. Of course, I was already planning to read one. 

Tonight we read Christmas Day in the Morning by Pearl S. Buck. Written in 1956, the book was a gift given to us last year by my dear friend Kate. And what a lovely story it is about a son who gives his father, a dairy farmer, a gift they both treasure for years to come. Be sure to read this heartwarming tale!

Next my husband reads the story of Jesus’s birth from Luke 2 and Matthew 1. We talk about favorite Christmas memories and the best gifts ever given or received. Then we ponder together what it would have been like to see Jesus as a baby. My husband decides he’d want to see the angels that appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord that shone around them. Five-year-old Laurel is still pretty sure she doesn’t want to have anything to do with angels. (Click here to read about her recent angel trauma.) Will we ever convince her that real angels help protect her?

After prayers comes bedtime for little girls, and then comes stocking stuffing, cinnamon roll rolling and gift arranging for us grown-ups. As the evening closes, the tree boasts way too many gifts beneath its boughs, and all through the house the smell of cinnamon rolls lingers. 

This is our quiet, simple Christmas Eve.

Merry Christmas!

More Piles of White Stuff

As the snow continues to pile up in frightfully large amounts outside — they say it’s the snowiest December on record here in Minnesota — the girls and I are making some additional piles of white stuff in the kitchen. You know, piles of flour and powdered sugar and sparkling sugar sprinkles…

Ahh, sugar cookies. Michael and I had mixed up the dough last night, so it was nice and chilled this morning. The girls and I started rolling out the dough mid-morning, and I don’t think we stopped until nearly 3 p.m.! Whew! 

It’s been nearly two years since we’ve made sugar cookies, and my children’s decorating skills seem to have progressed noticeably. The funniest thing about today was the red hot cinnamon candies because Laurel kept referring to them as “hot rods.”  Linnea decided that was easier and more fun to say, so all day long it was “hot rod” this and that…

After shoveling in countless cookies topped with buttercream frosting, I put my “sugar rush” to good use by shoveling the entire the driveway. Sadly, the snow was coming down at a rate of one inch per hour, so the driveway was completely white again when Michael drove in from work. At least I still had some sugar cookies left to show for our efforts!

Tree Quest 2010

Today’s quest for a Christmas tree felt magical. All the trees were completely laden with snow. Such breathtaking, verdant beauties!

This is the first year we’ve had to shake so much fresh snow off the tree before confirming it was THE one! It was also the first year that my cousin Rachel joined us in the adventure. Thanks for coming, Rae!

Below is a slideshow of my photos from the quest. Merry Christmas!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!

Thanksgiving Storytime

re-posted from last fall

“In everything give thanks.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Tomorrow I have the honor of leading our homeschool group’s preschool storytime at the library, and this month’s theme — just in time for Thanksgiving — is thankfulness and contentment.

In my research and preparation for storytime, I keep coming across the “Five Kernels” tradition in various places. I’ve never heard of it before, but it’s a simple and meaningful little tradition that I plan to incorporate this year in our family’s Thanksgiving meal.

The Five Kernels tradition is based on the Pilgrim’s “starving time” during the spring of 1623. Some say all that was left to eat was five kernels of corn a day for each person. Likewise, the tradition is to put five kernels of corn on each plate at the beginning of the Thanksgiving meal. One by one, each person gives thanks to God for five specific blessings, puts the kernels in a basket, and passes the basket to the next person.

I’m also going to give this a whirl during storytime, but we may just do two or three kernels since the audience is so young.

Of course storytime will feature some great lessons on thankfulness, too! We’ll read about God providing bread, quail and water for the Israelites (in Mighty Acts of God). We’ll also read about a discontent little bird, Gertrude McFuss, one of the “other” stories in Dr. Seuss’s Yertle the Turtle. At the end, everyone will get one feather to take home.

Storytime will also feature Lydia Maria Child’s classic Thanksgiving poem, “Over the River and Through the Wood,” and Laurie Berkner’s song, “I’m Going to Eat on Thanksgiving Day.”