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Mary ConleyDear Friends,

I believe each generation thinks theirs is a more difficult time to raise children. I remember the decade that teens started using drugs for the first time, and unprepared and distraught parents wrote in to a popular advice column saying that if they had known what was in store for them, they would never have had children.

One of the difficulties of raising children at the present is technology. Although it is wonderful, it is also a source of conflict, causing parents to have to put up safe guards and time limits on the computer, having to make their children go out and play, and demanding that phones be turned off during meals and other times.

Watching the news can cause concern about this present generation for sure, and it is no wonder from what I've observed while shopping. Who would believe that educated people would let a little child talk back, swear at them, or hit and kick them? So many times, I would like to say to a mother that I could give her a little hint I had learned along the way that would turn that whole scene around. I wonder what would happen if I did? Would she be relieved to get help, or tell me where to get off? On the other hand, I have observed many of my piano students over the years and know that there are parents who work hard at raising healthy and happy citizens.

I've found an exciting part of getting older is watching our own children become parents. One of our sons said that he hadn't realized when he was first handed his infant son, he would instantly know he would die for him. Yes, what a blessing, and now we get to watch THEM do the parenting!


This photo of our nine grandchildren was taken a year ago.

I find it difficult to remember the cute things my own children did or said, but have several memories about my grandchildren; probably because I repeated them so often to my friends! I would like to share two memories of examples of good parenting that made me proud to witness.

On the lighter side: The children had taken me out to lunch for my birthday. Little Charlie made a face of dislike about the water. His mommy said that some restaurants put lemon in the water. Charlie said, "I hate yemon." Mommy told him hate was a strong word and he could say, "I don't like lemon, or, I don't care for lemon." Daddy said, "Shall we practice that Charlie?" Charlie said, "I don't yike yemon!"

Serious parenting: We have nine grandchildren, and they have always liked each other and gotten along even though they are strung out in age. But one Christmas Eve a few years ago, it was well past young Charlie's bedtime and he was tired. I didn't see it happen, but he evidently wasn't being nice to older cousin Molly. Mommy and Daddy took Charlie upstairs and had a little talk. When Charlie came back down, he went to Molly and told her that he was sorry. Instantly, Molly put her arms around him and said, "I forgive you."

Doesn't that make your heart feel good? There is hope!



Mary ConleyDear friends,

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Since tax time is coming up, I rather like what Margaret Mitchell wrote in her book, "Gone With the Wind," "Death, taxes, and childbirth! There’s never any convenient time for any of them.” Well said, but I’m actually wanting to chat about what we used to call a funeral, but now often refer to as “the celebration of life.” I think you know that this is going to be one costly celebration unless we embrace the emerging way to go out without a bang.

Nothing stays the same in this world, and just as the small bookstore and the family hardware business, it is my opinion that the traditional funeral home may also be on the way out. Here is what I’m hearing that people are doing or plan on doing to escape the funeral home’s exorbitant costs. In a nutshell, to save the most money, be cremated and scattered.

Now I will be more compassionate. There are all kinds of changes you can make to that brief statement to fit your desires and still save money. I’ll try to write about as many as I’ve heard about and thought through. The main thing, though, is to bypass the funeral home.

The gathering: You can do this in your place of worship for little or no cost, or perhaps at a lodge or town hall. These choices may be more conducive to visiting and reminiscing. You can still have photos displayed, slides shown, and your eulogy or exciting life history read. Since my parents, aunts and uncles, and four out of five of my brothers have already passed (bowing of head), I would like mine to be in my own home with perhaps an open visitation one day, and a private family funeral the following day. Unless, or course, my residing place has been a nursing home.

The burial: I’m sure you have already heard of myriad places someone’s ashes have been strewn. They can be buried, too, but this adds to the cost. We already have plots my father gave us in a beautiful well-kept cemetery in our home town of Washta, Iowa. We will pay for a headstone, but the bonus to cremation is that our bodies can easily be transferred to that site without charge. And if (ha, ha), our children ever visit us there, they will find graves of our extended family from both sides. I can just about see them excitedly calling out to one another as they find one family tombstone after another. I heard recently, that in some places, you can even have a family member dig the grave to save money. I guess that might happen if they are hard up for a little more inheritance. Or, you used up all your savings in a nursing home and left them nothing for such things.

The coffin: Forget it. Years ago, we went to the gravesite service for one of Larry’s brother’s and there sat a little wooden box about the size of a large jewelry box. At least that is how I remember it. Cremation was new to us, and when I saw that little box, I don’t know what came over me, but I got the giggles and almost had an aneurysm burst right there trying to contain myself! Our friends recently went to a funeral where the woman, who loved to fish, had her ashes put in a large colorful bobber! The point is, you can be put in anything you want to be buried in, thrown out to sea, or to stir up a little conversation at your visitation! Maybe we should go choose something right now while we’re thinking about it. You know, like some people choose their favorite suit or dress ahead of time.

So, is there anything left to pay for besides that fiery furnace? Maybe the death certificate if it didn’t come with the cremation, I’m told, but you will save thousands. As usual, you can find all that information on the web, or leave it for your family to do; that and cleaning out the years and years of stuff accumulated in your house! Its payback time!

On a lighter note: My sweet friend, Roxy, wants her ashes scattered out among their trees. I told her that if I’m still alive, I will spread wild flower seeds around her. Isn’t that a happy thought?

Quotes I hear my husband, Larry, saying:

– Every day above ground is a good day!

– Don’t take life too serious. You aren’t going to get out of it alive anyway!

– Larry also sometimes honestly mistakes the word funeral in place of wedding. When corrected, he says, “They’re the same thing!”

– Lately, he has been fond of repeating a Woody Allen quote: “It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens.” He thinks that is so funny!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

Although it is early February, for some of us it is time to kickstart our gardening. Usually, for me, this only means planting onions from seed, but for the first time, I’m also going to start sweet potato plants from scratch. Well, from sweet potatoes!

What a proud mother/grandmother I am to be able to get my information about starting and growing something from my daughter's, blog called The Chicken Dumpling Gang. Amy and our granddaughter, Molly, not only grew their sweet potatoes, but first started the slips from the previous year’s harvest. Then Molly turned it into a 4-H project, receiving a blue ribbon.

I started on February 3 using sweet potatoes that my son, Perry, grew last year. He got them from Amy, so they are a family affair. If you purchase yours from the supermarket, be sure to buy organic or they may have been coated to prevent sprouting. I used half gallon jars filled with water, and skewered the sweet potatoes close to one end so most of it is submerged. I didn’t have skewers so my inventive husband brought up a box of plastic Pick-Up-Sticks!

sweet potatoes 

Side Track: Larry, my husband, is always nice enough to read my posts before I send them in. He doesn’t find many or all of my mistakes, but I feel safer knowing he’ll catch something important before I completely embarrass myself. Anyway, when he gets to something like “my inventive husband,” he gets stuck on that phrase like a scratched record (if you’re old enough to know what that means) and reads that part over and over until I yell at him! He never tires of it! From now on, you can imagine that whenever I say something nice about him!

Back to the sweet potatoes. First you will see roots growing downward, and then shoots growing upward toward the air and sunshine. Those shoots or slips will be the future plants, so when they get to be 6 to 12 inches, break them off and put them in water to grow roots. It will take about two months before the slips are ready to be planted in dirt, and the soil should be at least 8 inches deep. Remember that the vines will sprawl, but they will also be beautiful! Amy and Molly harvested 40 pounds last year off just a few slips started from two sweet potatoes.

kitchen sink 

Keeping watch!

Yes, you can skip the above directions and buy plants at your local nursery, but I’m going to watch this amazing process as I do the dishes, and become sustainable in another area at the same time. Happy gardening!

Another side track: I love it when people leave comments. On my previous post, “Happy Happy Happy.” ASantarelli commented that what makes her happy is sitting down to a meal where some of the food comes from their own acreage, and a fellow blogger, Nebraska Dave, said the thing that makes him the happiest is to share his produce with others so that they can know how REAL food tastes. Leave a comment today and make me even happier!


Mary ConleyDear Friends.

Are you happy? If so, what makes you happy? Most of us would put our family and friends at the top of the list, but I’m fairly certain there are other things around us contributing to our happiness far more than we realize.

The beginning of the new year brought suggestions to start a thankful jar or daily journal to help us become aware of the wonderful things we have in our lives that we often take for granted. My husband, Larry, often remarks how he appreciates a nice hot shower, so I’m sure he would include that.

A few years ago, we changed the way we did many things in our city home. We stopped using chemicals to have a perfect yard, and started composting and gardening on a small scale. It is curious how something like that can contribute to happiness, but I know it to be so from experience. We have done these things for so long, now, they have become second nature. Yet, just this week, I was peeling an orange, and had the happy thought, “When some people, peel an orange, they just get an orange to eat. When I peel an orange and toss the peeling in the container by my sink, I also get compost!” I wish everyone could have that feeling of satisfaction from making the rich earth that gardeners refer to as black gold. Kristin Kimball, in her book, The Dirty Life, said of all the things she experienced on their journey, making compost was her favorite. The wonderful thing about it is that anyone can do it.

How about you? Do you get a charge out of reusing things? We haven’t always been a wasteful, throwaway world, and Larry and I often discover examples of wise usage of salvaged material on our little farm. I’m sure the lack of extra money, or time to run into town to buy something needed was a great motivation, but, shouldn’t we always be trying to reuse, repurpose, or recycle?

I just have to tell you of an example we found this past summer. Larry was taking metal electrical conduit off the outside of the loft before we repainted it, and he noticed the conduit was held on by a piece of metal that wasn’t the normal clamp used for this purpose. Upon looking closer, he turned the piece over and realized someone had used a Prince Albert tobacco can that once held tobacco for filling a pipe or rolling cigarettes. We had to admire his ingenuity! He had cut strips from the can, turned it over so the bare metal was on the outside, nailed both ends over the conduit, and painted it.


Larry had this antique can for me to photo!

I want to be more like that person, and find ways to reuse things here and there. This is my latest idea that I recently read about. I save toilet paper rolls, stuff them with dryer lint to make great fire place starters for on the farm. That’s so silly you say? Nope, I just reused two things that normally get thrown away. *If only I used my dryer more so I could have more lint! Now I AM being silly, but you get the idea.


Great fireplace starters from toilet paper rolls and dryer lint.

Share with us about something that makes you feel good to reuse, and be happy, happy, happy!

*For those of you who have read my post on “To Hang or Not to Hang,” you may be wondering how I am getting dryer lint. I still do hang nearly everything and I much prefer it. This winter, however, I have been using the dryer for our king-size flannel sheets as they are getting difficult for me to handle. I also used it for all the bedding after the gang was here for Christmas. As my mother used to say, “Getting old isn’t what it’s cracked up to be!”


Mary ConleyDear friends,

If you are one who wants your countertops completely empty, this post is not for you. I have never had a hidden little cupboard shelf that will pop out and up for a standing mixer, so I don’t know what I’m missing. I did learn years ago, though, that my friends who had to dig out their blenders rarely used them, while I used my handy one nearly daily.

I have a helpful hint, that may be of use to some of you. I discovered it when we purchased a Vitamix blender. The base was very heavy (10 pounds 9 ounces), and the black rubber feet slightly marked my white countertops when I pulled it out to use. I found that if I sat it on a placemat, I could effortlessly slide it out. Recently we bought a KitchenAid standing mixer and it was impossibly too heavy (26 pounds) for me to move until I put it on a placemat. I easily fell into this idea since I had already used placemats under other items on my countertops such as the coffeepot and fruit bowl, and enjoy changing them to match the seasons. I hope this hint will save some of you a backache and brighten up your kitchen at the same time.


Fortunately, I feel a kind of coziness with my most used appliances around me. 

My kitchen is almost 26 years old, but the cupboards are still nice. I’ve had the canisters shown in the photo since we married 54 years ago. I’m surprised that I don’t seem to covet a new kitchen with the latest countertops; probably because I’ve become an antique, myself!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

If you’ve read my posts, you know that I’m often telling you that I like to learn new things, but now I’m going to admit that I sometimes “get stuck” when I should be trying something new. It is like my brain can’t go there. It is just too hard. I’m 73, so that could be part of the reason, but to be honest, I’ve always had that problem. A good example might be a recipe with too many ingredients. I’ll start reading it and my mind will just quit on me. Sometimes this doesn’t matter, but when my husband bought me something that I asked for and should use, well ....

Case in point: We bought a Vitamix to make nutritious and delicious smoothies. I have used it over and over, and you might have read my post on Planting For Our Vitamix. Soon after we purchased it, Vitamix had a sale on the dry blade container. I wanted to start making my own bread, and this container/pitcher could grind the wheat for me. The cookbook that came with it was what did me in. It just made my brain tired. When Larry would ask me when I was going to use my new container to bake bread, I always had good excuses about how busy I was.

Well, it is January, the month of no excuses! That container has been in my cupboard for months and only used for making laundry soap. As the saying goes, “Getting started is often the hardest part.” I skipped its cookbook and got out my old bread-making machine. I followed a recipe that I had used ages ago that was taped to the front of it, ground my wheat in the new dry container in nothing flat, and waited while knowing the bread wouldn’t rise. But it did! I also used molasses instead of sugar, which I’m trying to cut out of my diet. Larry even liked it. Makes one wonder what was so difficult!

Then I got to try something that excites me. In the next loaf, I used zucchini milk instead of water and that also turned out just as good. I learned about zucchini milk from a fellow Capper’s Farmer blogger, Erin Sheehan. In her post, she said she freezes many cups of zucchini milk each summer and adds them to her breads and soups for extra nutrition, with no flavor change. Isn’t that fun to learn?! She also included her favorite bread recipe.

Zucchini milk is easy to make. Just put your prepared raw zucchini in the Vitamix and watch it turn into liquid. Then freeze in the portion size you will use. I just tried some in our favorite hamburger vegetable soup, and I’m regretting already that I wasn’t able to freeze more. Unlike stories I’ve heard about people trying to get rid of their extra zucchini, I seem to have difficulty growing it. Maybe next summer, when we are in town during the harvest period, we should leave our car windows down. I’ve heard that works for free zucchini whether you want it or not!


Above is a photo of a loaf of bread made in my bread machine. We usually buy Healthy Choice seven-grain bread, and love it. So why go to all the trouble of baking it? Well, the more food you make from scratch, the more you control what you are eating. Instead of a paragraph of ingredients in store-bought bread, mine only has seven. Of those seven, I used freshly ground wheat, which is naturally full of vitamins, molasses instead of refined sugar, and added the nutritious zucchini milk instead of water. It was not work; it was fun!

My Bread Machine Recipe:

2 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground!)
1 cup white flour
1  1/2 teaspoons yeast
3 tablespoons sugar or molasses or honey
1  1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1  1/4 teaspoons salt
1  1/2 cups cold water or zucchini milk

Layer in pan. Choose the settings for whole wheat bread and light crust. It takes five hours, so make sure you are available when it is finished or it will dry out in the machine.

Whew! I got that off my "to-do" list!


Mary ConleyDear friends,

Who would believe we've still been taking care of our harvest in January? In this case, it was the potatoes. We don’t have an ideal storage place, although we manage to keep them where it is somewhat cooler than the rest of the house. Tiny sprouts had started to form and something needed to be done quickly as we certainly didn’t want to waste all the hard work that went into them. Actually, something should have been done before the sprouts started.

Here is what I have learned on the internet: Soft and wrinkled potatoes should not be used. (Whew! Ours are very firm.) But, when potatoes begin to sprout, their starch also starts converting to sugar. Fortunately, they still have most of their nutrients intact, but I wish I had taken care of them earlier. I'm thinking that if people in the past hadn’t eaten their potatoes when they began sprouting, they very well might have starved.

As for our potatoes, I had plans for them. Canning potatoes was an option. My daughter-in-law, Nancy, did that one year, and we found that although they are not good for mashed potatoes, they work great for hash browns and potato soup. Another option I haven’t tried is dehydration. That would save space. We decided to turn them into hash browns and freeze them, and this was our method:

scrub potatoes

Here are our potatoes ready for Larry to scrub. Although some had a few sprouts, many didn’t.


We baked them until they were almost done. Do you wrap each potato separately in foil? I used to, but learned that placing them in a covered dish works just as well. It saves a lot of time and foil. Here, I covered the whole dish as I had filled them too full for the lid, then I saved the foil for the next batch.


After cooling, I peeled and stored them in the fridge for several hours. On subsequent batches, I did the peeling after they had been in the fridge. Either way works, but I prefer the second.

food processor

My food processor broke and it seemed a good time to invest in this lovely KitchenAid mixer and attachment. I had never owned a standing mixer, and still haven’t used this one! Larry is a willing helper and enjoys using it. I call it his new tool!

frozen sheets

The hash browns froze quickly on plates in my freezers. Notice that I used the inside of bread wrappers instead of clear food wrap. Worked perfectly. I know many of you like to reuse and repurpose, too.


I froze some in gallon Ziplock bags to be used for casseroles. In the above photo, I slid two of the frozen sheets of hash browns into the bag, but sometimes I stuffed it as full as possible with chunks I had broken apart.

small bags

I also froze several pint bags, which is a good size for the two of us.

If you don’t have a machine to make hash browns, I would suggest that whenever you bake potatoes, bake a few extra and shred them in the larger holes of your cheese grater for instant use, or to freeze for later. It will be a little more work than store bought, but you’ll have the good feeling of cooking healthier for your family.

After packing the last of the bags of hash browns in the freezers, I realized that the timing of preserving our potatoes was a good plan for us after all. Earlier in the year, my freezers would have been too full of other produce, and I certainly needed all that space over Christmas. Yes, sometimes things work out just right.

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