Away in a Manger

Away in a Manger

Friday, December 19, 2014

Sweet Treats

We've all been there: You see a cute idea in a magazine or on Facebook or Pinterest and think, "How hard can that be?" And then your version needs a caption to explain what you were attempting.

But, this time, I think the County Line versions turned out pretty cute, though not as perfect as the air-brushed magazine photos.

I needed to make about 3 dozen sugar cookies for a project at school, so I kept my eyes open for something cute, but simple enough that I could replicate it - without a disclaimer. These round cookies decorated to look like Christmas tree ornaments fit the bill.
But I had to do a little revision. Most of the professionally decorated cookies use a hard, smooth glaze. It's pretty and all, but I like my cookies with buttercream icing, tinged with a little almond extract for extra flavor. I'll sacrifice a little smoothness for a tastier product.
I used an unwrapped Reece's Peanut Butter Cup mini for the ornament hanger. (They come in a bag and you can find them in the candy section of your grocery or discount store.) You can also use a wrapped or unwrapped Rolo candy. 

For some, I used the regular-sized holiday M & Ms, but the mini ones were probably cuter, though a little more time consuming to place each one.
Grab some elementary-aged kids, and they could help make them, too. Preschool kids would likely not be able to arrange them in rows, but polka dot ornaments could be cute, too, don't you think?

For the other half of the cookies, I tried to make them look like snowflakes. Back when Jill was in 4-H and we were in charge of 4-H foods and nutrition meetings, we made something similar for one of our Christmas treat gatherings.
I don't know how much they look like snowflakes, but I think people will get the idea. They could also be used for "Frozen" parties (and I happen to know a little girl named Kinley who will be turning 3 soon and celebrating with a Frozen Princess party)! 

I do have a word to the wise, though. I combined white and silver glitter sugars and sprinkled them over the white frosting. Then, when I tried to pipe on the blue frosting to make the snowflake, it wanted to lift off the sugar. So much for trying to add any more intricate detail! This was as good as it got!

Next time, I'll pipe on the snowflakes first, then sprinkle with the glitter sugar. Just to reinforce the idea, I placed some snowflake sprinkles on the blue icing. 
To give as individual treats, carefully put them in plastic treat bags and tie with colored ribbon. I used Wilton shaped party bags, which made it easier to package. However, regular fold-over plastic sandwich bags would work, too.

To make the cookies from scratch, you can use this recipe for No-Roll Sugar Cookies. (For these decorated cookies, you can just roll them in regular sugar, rather than colored, if you'd prefer.)

But, to save time and effort, you could also slice and bake the sugar cookie dough you find in the refrigerator case at the grocery store or purchase plain sugar cookies from the grocery store bakery. 

For the frosting, check out this tried and true one from my kitchen. (And if you only have time for sugar cookie bars, there's a good recipe for those at that link, too!)

Merry Christmas from my kitchen to yours!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Under Construction

From the outside, it may have looked like the Stafford United Methodist Church was closed for business the past few months. Orange cones and mesh fencing blocked off access to the front of the building. CAUTION was printed in bold black print on yellow tape, crisscrossing the three front doors.

Our appearance seemed the antithesis to the United Methodist slogan, "Open hearts, open minds, open doors" ... well, at least the open doors part.

After several years of fundraising and generous contributions from past and current members, the Stafford UMC is refurbishing its southern entrance and steps. Generations of church members had climbed those stairs into the sanctuary, including four generations of Randy's family. Construction on the present building began almost 90 years ago, in February 1925, and the completed building was dedicated in May 1927. (For more on our Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired building and its history, click this link.)

When you think about it, a church should always be part of a construction zone. Churches ought to be in the business of building better people. Perfect people don’t go to church. We go to church to gather the tools to live life in the way Jesus modeled for us. 
The construction crews chipped away at old, leaky steps. But we all need to work on chipping away the “decayed” parts of ourselves and being restored through the grace of Jesus Christ. So I think living in a construction zone has been a good metaphor. 
Construction is never easy or convenient. It’s a messy, noisy process. But it’s worth it in the end – whether we’re talking the transformation of ourselves or a building.

Though the construction, we entered through the back doors of the church. And the life of the church went on. We celebrated the great "cloud of witnesses" who've gone before us on All Saints Sunday. We remembered the people who climbed the steps with us and were part of the church family here on earth.
The past three Sundays, families have lit the candles on the Advent wreath. The candles have symbolized hope, peace and joy. This coming Sunday, we light the fourth candle, the candle of love.
As Pastor Ben writes in the liturgy for this week:
With the flame, we will signify the love of God that surrounds and fills us at all times, but that we recognize in a special way in the Christmas story. There is no greater power than love. It is stronger than rulers and empires, strong than grief or despair, stronger even than death. We love because God loves us. Christ is coming! Christ is always coming! Come, O Come, Emmanuel!

It seems fitting that the construction on the new steps is nearing completion. When I went by the church yesterday afternoon, just one of the construction machines remained in the side yard. Because the steps still need to "cure" for a new days, we'll still use the back doors to attend our Sunday service.

But, on Christmas Eve, the front doors to the church will again be flung open to welcome worshipers who will come to celebrate the newborn King. The timing seems right, doesn't it?
"We wait at the edge of your nativity, O Lord. Make us ready by sweeping away the clutter of our lives, that our journey to your manger would be a clear path of hope and joy."
From the December 21, 2014, Stafford UMC church bulletin

(Christmas Eve services at Stafford UMC are at 5:30 and 11. All are welcome at 218 West Stafford St., Stafford, Kansas.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


I didn't really intend to be AWOL from the blog for nearly a week. But neither did I intend to catch the holiday bug de jour.

You know, you teach your kids to share. Then they teach their kids to share. And you think it's a good thing. And it is ... until they share their germs.

Kinley was sick right before Thanksgiving. She shared it with her Mommy. Her Mommy shared it with Randy. And Randy generously shared it with me.

Jill still isn't back to 100 percent after more than 2 weeks. Randy is still struggling after more than a week. I'm figuring that listeners to KFRM radio's Central Kansas report think there's a new reporter, since my voice is about an octave lower than normal.

And, yes, Santa: We all had flu shots. 

Early last week, I carried the Christmas tree and all the tubs filled with Christmas finery upstairs myself, since Randy was sick. The evening after I took him to the doctor, I decorated the tree. I'm really glad I did. The next day, the congestion and headache hit its next victim - me!

And, I must admit, those sparkling Christmas lights made laying on the couch a little more tolerable last week.

Right now, there's nothing under the tree. But, thankfully, that doesn't reflect my level of preparation. I have wrapped nearly all my gifts. I now just need to gather the energy to cart them all upstairs.

Since I'm handing out blame to Jill, I'll also hand out credit. She was ultra-organized this year. She wanted her own Christmas purchases made and wrapped before she returned to work from maternity leave. Thankfully, her promptness inspired me to "get 'er done," too. I am very thankful for that right about now!

And another thing? I wouldn't trade those days with the kids and grandkids - even if they came with a few side effects!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Film Star

Photo from the Susanna Wesley email newsletter
Some people may be waiting for the Christmas Day release of the movie, "Unbroken." There's already Oscar talk for the movie based on Laura Hillenbrand's book, which tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.

I'm sure it will be great, but I'm waiting on the release of a new film a little closer to home. It's "The Christmas Story by SW Kids."

Move aside, Angelina Jolie. This film has the biggest star of all. Our newest granddaughter, Brooke, stands in for Baby Jesus. Kinley could have had her time in the limelight, too. The role of "little lamb" could have been hers if stage door jitters hadn't derailed her acting debut. 

"SW" stands for Susanna Wesley, the United Methodist Church where Jill, Eric, Kinley and Brooke attend in Topeka. "The Christmas Story by SW Kids" will debut on Sunday, December 21, during their morning worship services. After that, the video will be a Christmas greeting from the church, offering a message of hope, peace and salvation in a fallen world.

I've been waiting for a month to see it.

She looks like a film star, ready for her closeup, don't you think?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Get a Mooo-ve On by Kinley Marie

Hello! It's Kinley Marie, getting a "moo-ve" on at my Grandpa's and Grandma's farm.

I was there with my family to celebrate Thanksgiving and an early Christmas. We were going to have our own feast for the second day in a row! But the cattle needed their breakfast first. I learned that a farmer has to make sure his animals are fed, even when there are important things to do - like open presents!

Grandpa wanted me to ride with him in their big, big, BIG feed truck. I said, "No, no, NO!" It was much too big and much too loud. So Grandma and I followed behind him in the pickup.
Once Grandpa got to Peace Creek, he turned the big truck around and went through the gate to the silo.
Jake was in the tractor and got silage in his tractor scoop. (Click on the silage link to learn more about silage on my Grandpa's and Grandma's farm. I am not the only writer in the family.)
He dumped scoops into Grandpa's feed truck. I counted them, "1, 2, 3!"
Then Grandpa drove down the road into another lot and unloaded silage into the bunks.
Jake brought two bales of hay on the back of the tractor.
Soon, the cattle came running! I guess they were hungry.
I watched them eat. Silage must taste better than it looks and smells.
There was a calf looking in the mirror at me while I was looking at his friends!
Once we got back to the farmyard, Grandpa picked up a handful of silage and showed it to me. I was glad I was getting homemade pizza for lunch instead of silage.
Feeding cattle was quite an adventure. I had plenty to tell my fellow preschoolers when I got back home. They know all about Old MacDonald. But I know a real farmer, and he's my Grandpa!

But, I have to be honest (since my Mommy and Daddy say that's important). I liked swinging even better than feeding the calves and the kitty cats. I know I can swing at home, too, but I really do like Grandma and Grandpa's swing in their backyard.
Until next time,
Kinley Marie

P.S. My sister did not get to go on the expedition to feed the calves. She also did not get to swing. Sorry, Brooke. Maybe next time.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Weather ... or Not?

"Weather" or not we found a weather balloon is still up for debate. (It looks like the cat has an opinion, but he kept it to himself.)

Randy drove past "trash" on the road a few times on Friday before stopping to investigate. He thinks it's the remains of a weather balloon, though there was no attached data box.
We used a more archaic method to determine our rainfall this weekend. The rain gauge collected 0.80" of rain. It gave the 2015 wheat crop a nice drink of water. 

When the kids were in elementary school, a weather balloon provided a "show and tell" opportunity.

According to How Stuff Works, scientists have been using weather balloons for more than 70 years. In these days of advanced radar systems, you have to wonder if the weather balloon will soon become obsolete.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the National Weather Service uses radiosonde data to accurately assess and predict changes in the atmosphere: "The data help forecasters identify and warn the public and pilots of severe weather and helps verify satellite data and input for weather prediction models. The data also further research for weather and climate change."

Here's how it works: 
As the balloon rises through the atmosphere, radiosonde sensors measure and transmit profiles of air pressure, temperature and relative humidity from the Earth’s surface to about 20 miles high in the sky. While in flight, radiosonde sensors also obtain data for wind direction and speed. Radiosonde data are received by a ground-tracking receiver, which processes it for transmission to weather forecasters and other data users. This information is a primary source of upper-air data for weather prediction models.
From the NOAA website

According to NOAA, the National Weather Service recovers less than 20 percent of the 75,000 radiosondes released each year. We wish we could have helped them out, but the data box was missing on this one.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Photo Finish

It came down to a photo finish. In this case, my photo, Blizzard Baby, earned second-place honors in the Faces of Agriculture division of the 2014 Kansas Farm Bureau annual photo contest.

There's prize money involved, which is definitely nice. But, more importantly to me, it recognizes my work. I spend a lot of time photographing life on our South Central Kansas farm. I share photos and information about our farming and animal husbandry practices on the blog, which I've been doing since January 2010.

But, as I often say, I'm no Pioneer Woman when it comes to blog followers or commenters. And that can get discouraging.

It doesn't take long for a blogger who is denigrating wheat producers' use of herbicides to have an army of people commenting on how farmers are too stupid to realize that big ag companies are brainwashing all of us. There's many a blogger or YouTube activist who wants us to keep cattle roaming pastures all year. (Never mind that there's no pasture for cattle to eat in much of the Plains during the winter months. Let's not let facts get in the way of a good rant.)

So, when my work is recognized, it does feel good. I enter the Farm Bureau contest every year. In 2008, I got a second-place trophy for this photo I took on the first sunrise after the massive December 2007 ice storm that knocked out our power for 12 days. But I hadn't had a winner since then.
There were three categories for the Kansas Farm Bureau contest this year. My other photos didn't place.

This one was entered in the Uh Oh Monday category. As I said on my entry, this calf decided to test the theory that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence, while the farmer objected to the experiment.
I entered a sunset photo of the Zenith branch of the Kanza Co-op in the Seasons of Agriculture category.
It's always hard for me to figure out which of the thousands of photos I take each year to enter. (What else is new? I've been having these butterfly-inducing dilemmas since I started entering things in the county 4-H fair or singing at music contests as a kid.)

To see the prize-winning photos from other Kansas photographers, click on this link to the Kansas Farm Bureau. Thanks Kansas Farm Bureau!