These Are a Few of My Favorite Things- Grandkid Edition; Part 2

  • when they sing our made up songs weeks later: Pee Pee in the Potty (conga line), I Play Bongos (using the kids as bongos, courtesy of Big Bang Theory) are two that come up a lot.  When i use them as bongos, Jackson always asks to see the BBT clip of Sheldon playing bongos.  He laughs as if he understands.
  • when I’m in the bathroom on the potty and they all crowd in (including Archer) and have conversations with me while I’m doing my business.  Jackson comments on my big butt and Elena flushes the potty.
  • Elena looks up at you with those big blue eyes and you’re ready to give her anything and everything.
  • Jackson looks up at you with those big blue eyes and you’re ready to give him anything and everything.
  • when Elena says yes, her head nods and also her eyebrows.
  • you can never hear “I love you, Ammaw” too many times.
  • the blue glasses Jackson just got.
  • how much he loves school.
  • how Elena says “Pashta” and loves her pasta.
  • when Jackson wakes his mommy up at 5 am and says he has to bring the dwarf (Sleepy) to Ammaw’s house.
  • when Elena gets upset when she can’t go to Ammaw’s house.
  • how they are so helpful and independent.


…to be continued.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things- Grandkid Edition; Part 1

  • when Jackson comes to talk to me and he wraps his arm around my leg/arm/waist and pats me with his hand.  Or he just leans on me, making contact with me.
  • when I’m standing and Elena ducks her head and positions herself in the space between my legs and grabs my knees with her hands and makes me walk around the house.
  • afternoon dance parties with Alexa.
  • Hokey Pokey cookie time in the kitchen when they need a snack.
  • seeing their little faces at the side door looking out for me to get back from feeding the chickens.  And that one time I caught them licking the storm door glass, lol.
  • anytime they call out “Ammaw?” my heart melts.
  • whenever Jackson gets all mushy with his sister and spontaneously hugs her, or kisses her or holds her “baby foot”
  • when they put my sweatshirt strings in my mouth and laugh when I blow them out.
  • rocking them when they’re hurt or sad or tired.  And when I stop, they put their feet out and push to continue rocking.
  • when they make me “castles” and “puppies” and “trains” out of their blocks.  Just for me. And then they ask me to take pictures of them.
  • that time Jackson crawled up into my lap when I was working on the computer and fell asleep.  It’s obvious he needed some Ammaw love.
  • whenever I ask Elena something (diaper change, night-night time, lunch) and she answers “nien” (NO in Laney-speak).
  • when we do the Chicken Dance and hold hands to circle.  If Laney is not there, Jackson calls to her to “come spin!”
  • speaking of spinning, when they ask me to spin them in the 70’s p*orn chair. “Faster, Ammaw, faster!”
  • playing modified Hide and Seek in the house.  Archie is on their team and he always leads them to me.
  • how helpful Elena is.  She unloads the dishwasher, shuts every door and cabinet, cleans up without asking, brings Jackson his juice cup, puts the dishes in the sink and sets the table.
  • motorcycle rides on my lap.  Those turns are doozies!
  • more lap time fun- SeeSaw with Elena, horsey rides for both and sliding down my legs.
  • when they share their toys on a timer system, thanks to Alexa.  There are no fights if they each have the toy for three minutes and listen for Alexa chiming or the owls hooting on my phone.  And today Jackson told Alexa to stop the alarm and she listened!
  • bath time.  No explanations needed.
  • how they play upstairs in “their” room (our spare bedroom has a Thomas train set and toys and it’s where Elena takes a nap.)  They’re not allowed in my sewing room upstairs so when they come down (by themselves) with something from my room I tell them they’re not allowed in that room.  He reasons “but we wuv your room so much!”
  • when Laney asks me to pick her up to look at all the pictures on the rails in the living room.  Or steals my Groovebooks and spends time flipping through them.
  • watching Jackson just stand next to Ampaw while he’s on the computer, paying him no mind.  The kid is content just to be in the same room as him.
  • how Laney asks if something is “ready?” “Pizza ready?” “Archie ready!” (to come in), “nuggets ready?”
  • the way they love Archie and will feed him and give him water and Bone Toy (his rubber toy with a treat inside) and throw balls to him.  Elena has become fearless around Archie the Boy and will put her hand in his mouth to get his ball. To quote Jackson, “Him is a good boy”.
  • the way Jackson calls his sister “Yayo”, “E-I-O”, “Yaney”, “Baby”, “Ewena Kate”.
  • when Beena tells me Jackson told her all about his day here.
  • seeing them look out the window of a cardboard house box Ampaw built for them.
  • the look on his face when he first sees me.  Please let it never go away.


For those not in the know, Jackson is 3-1/2 and Elena is 2. And this Ammaw is one lucky lady.


Just Call Me Femke- Part 2

…and there I am.  My DNA. The basics of everything I am, handed down for generations.

And I am surprised.dna1

English! Scandinavian? IRISH?!?  And not a trace of Native American.  I really shouldn’t have been surprised.

I suspected the English since my grandmother’s maiden name is Hewlett and that happens to be a town a mere 15 minutes from where I now live.  Yes, we founded that town. No, we don’t have the Hewlett money.

Dad gave me a year’s subscription to My Heritage and I’ve been adding people practically daily.  Our family tree is up to 1625 people and I have connected with different people with the same links in their trees. The earliest I have been able to go back is a 16th generation Grandfather, William Pepper, born in 1458. It’s so exciting yet frustrating.  I try to go through every match (there are hundreds) to see if they are actually part of my heritage but it so slow going.  And I’m not getting any hits on any other branch of the tree- MR’s branch is withering and my cousin’s branches are bare. Eventually I’ll have to sit down with those sides of the family and pick some brains.

What’s really exciting (yet frustrating) is that I found my maternal grandfather.  He left my mom and sister when they were very young and my mom’s hatred of him was well known.  Nana married a nice man who also had a daughter (he died when I was two) so she did have a father figure around.  But I was always curious about the missing grandfather and I didn’t dare ask Mom.  Anywhoo, I found that he never remarried, did a stint in the Army, moved around a lot and died in 1991.  In Staten Island.  STATEN ISLAND, so close to me.  I could have met him, talked to him.  It makes me sad that a piece of me was taken and can never be replaced.

Back to the DNA test. If you can, have it done.  I believe it’s accurate because a third cousin of mine had it done and who was on top of the list for possible third cousins according to Ancestry?  That same third cousin who had it done as well. Our little DNAs were a match.

So there I am. I knew I was a mutt, but now I know what breeds make up my muttness.

I still like cornbread.







Just Call Me Femke- Part 1

It seems that my whole childhood was a lie. Not the “Santa Claus is real” or the “Tooth Fairy put a quarter under my pillow”  type of lie that every childhood has, but a real identity lie.  One that may have led to ridicule (or may not have,  I was kind of a little jerk when I was a kid.)  One that gave me a sense of always being on the fringe of normal.  One that I didn’t realize until I’m older had left me with questions about who I really was.

In elementary school, starting in Third Grade, I took French.  I don’t remember why exactly I ended up taking French over Spanish.   Something about not returning the form on time, or my parents not having the foresight to see that Spanish may have been beneficial- I don’t know.  All I know is that I didn’t choose it.  I would never have chosen it.  My teacher, Ms. Nussbaum, scared the shit out of me.

French classes continued until Junior High School.  Maybe into High School, I don’t remember and I won’t bother to look it up. All I know is I can recite the “Solomon Grundy” poem in French and I know where my Aunt’s pen is. (It’s on the dresser.)

So, as they do to this day, language classes always hold “Cultural Fairs” and “Ethnic Feast” where the kids are supposed to bring in dishes native to their nationality.  I always dreaded those days (I didn’t know then what I know now, that ethnic food is DELICIOUS),I never ate a thing my classmates brought in.  Spanish food and Italian food and Jewish food and German food, ack.  Gross.  The most ethnic dish my family ate was lasagna, made with Ragu pasta sauce.  What did I usually bring in?

Cornbread. Why?

Because I was told I was part American Indian.

It seemed that this ethnic piece of my pie trumped my German piece of the pie (dad’s side), so no, I’m not bringing in Schnitzel.   We were half American (mom’s side) and a portion of that was Native Indian.

That cornbread was accepted in my lower grades because what little kid doesn’t like corn bread and Cowboys and Indians? But as I got older and brought in that pan of maize cake and explained that I was part Native American Indian, I started getting major side-eye from both my classmates and teachers.  When they asked what tribe I was descended from, I couldn’t answer.  When I pressed my mom on what tribe we were, I never got a straight answer. I stopped bringing in corn bread.

Fast forward a few years to Seventh Grade.  March 17, everyone is wearing green because it’s St. Patrick’s Day.  Not me, unfortunately.  I’m not Irish, I’m Protestant (Lutheran) so I’m not wearing green.  Here, my mom says, wear this shirt. It’s more suitable to your heritage.

My orange Tony The Tiger shirt.  Orange.

I know now that it’s not a slight to wear orange.  The Irish flag is green (Catholic) and orange (Protestant) and the white symbolizes the peace between them.  But I grew up in a working middle-class neighborhood in the 70’s and those Irish kids were listening to their Irish parents talk about the Troubles in Ireland.  I think if I was a boy, I would have been beat up.  Not that I wasn’t threatened or stalked or intimidated. There was no way I was taking the bus home that day.  I begged a ride from a friend’s mom and they went out of their way to take me home.

So I grew up “knowing” that I was 50% German, 50% American, which included American Indian.  I “knew” my mom’s side of the family founded the Long Island town of Hewlett because that was Nana Ethel’s maiden name.  I “knew” I wasn’t Irish (even though EVERYONE is Irish on St. Patrick’s Day).  I “knew” my ancestors came over on one of the ships soon after the Mayflower landed in America.

These are the “lies” I grew up with.  Not intentional, absolutely not.  Just repeated from generation to generation without a smidge of fact checking or research. And for the next 40 years, I was content to believe them.

It wasn’t until I started going to the cemeteries with Dad that I became interested in my family history.  When Joyce contacted me after coming across this blog post I became even more so.  When Sandy wiped out all of the family photos and I had to rescue them and started really looking at these people in these old photos and wondering how they were related to me, I was hooked. I had to know where I came from.  Who were my ancestors?  Where are those Native Americans?  How was I related to the Hewletts?

Thank you  And MR. And Zombiegirl and her quest for scholarships.

Last Christmas, MR gave me the DNA kit.  He’s fully supportive of me finding out where I come from and what I’m made of.  I spit in the tube and mail it out.

Eight weeks later, I get the email I’ve been waiting for.  This is it, this is my past revealed to me.  I will finally get some questions answered and some facts validated. I can’t wait for MR to come home, I have to open it now. My hands are shaking as I click the email…

Serious Eats for One Month- Bye Bye Baked Pasta

Oops, I forgot to blog last night.  Send the NaBloPoMo police.  I got caught up in things and I had a headache.  My migraine concoction was used and it worked, but I’ll tell you about that another time.

Do you like plays?  Musicals?  I’m thrilled that I raised three play-lovers.  Working in the heart of midtown Manhattan, I can walk through Times Square at lunch and happily point out plays I’ve seen or ones we need to see.  Instead of giving the girls more crap they really don’t need on their birthdays and Christmas, we give them play tickets.  Utah and her Kevin went to see The Lion King (again) for her birthday.  I sent all three of the girls in to see Aladdin for Christmas last year.  Beena and John want to see Matilda for Christmas.  If you recall, the girls gave me tickets to see Rock of Ages on my 50th and I turned around and gave the same thing to Utah for her birthday that year.

MR gave me my long-awaited for tickets to Kinkyboots for our anniversary.  And I didn’t even have to take him! lol!

It’s not only Broadway shows we love to see.  We haven’t missed a middle/high school production in about six years.  We will go to a church play is we see one.  We passed a High School in another neighborhood, saw they were putting on Seussical the Musical, bought tickets and loved it.  That was a talented bunch of kids.

Tonight the Middle School put on Bye Bye Birdie, and Zombiegirl didn’t even have to ask if I wanted to go- it was understood.  This play holds a special place in my heart because it was MY high school play, I think when I was a freshman.  I didn’t remember who I played until Kim McAfee and her best friend Ursula sang together. Bam! It all came back to me…I was Ursula.  I recited the lines right along with the (very talented) middle-schooler.  Yet I can’t remember to take the damn chicken out of the fridge in the morning.

All this is leading somewhere, promise.

I get home at 6 every night and the play started at 7.  I’ve been slacking in the cooking department so I enlisted MR’s help and made Crispy Baked Pasta with Mushrooms and Sausage in Creamy Parmesan Sauce.  They promised it would only take a half hour.

More or less.

Crispy Baked Pasta with Mushrooms, Sausage, and Parmesan Cream Sauce


  • 1 cup Panko-style bread crumbs
  • 6 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh chives
  • 2 small shallots, finely minced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces Italian sausage (mild or hot), removed from casings
  • 1 pound mixed mushrooms (such as portobello, shiitake, and oyster), cleaned and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces fresh or 8 ounces dried ridged pasta such as rotini or campanelle


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and keep at a bare simmer. Combine bread crumbs, 2 ounces cheese, half of parsley, half of chives, 1/4 of shallots, 1/4 of garlic, and olive oil in a medium bowl and massage with hands until combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (I really need to read through a recipe first.  I added all the cheese.  It’s okay, we like cheese.  I also didn’t use my hands- I was on my way out.)

Melt butter in a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat until foaming. Add sausage and cook, mashing it with a potato masher or a wooden spoon until broken up and well browned, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer sausage to a small bowl, leaving fat behind. (MR’s job.  He’s meticulous.)

Increase heat to high, add mushrooms to skillet, and cook, stirring frequently, until moisture has evaporated and mushrooms are well-browned, about 10 minutes. Add shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add soy sauce and lemon juice and stir to combine. (Okay, we deviated big time here.  No one in this household likes mushrooms.  They’re poison.  Like the floor is lava.  I like a grilled Portabello sandwhich, but that’s about it.)

Add flour and cook, stirring, until a thin film begins to form on the bottom of the pan, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in chicken broth followed by heavy cream. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in remaining grated cheese until melted. Stir in remaining parsley and chives. Stir in sausage. Season to taste with salt and lots of black pepper. (Somehow, I forgot the cream, which pissed me off because I actually HAD cream from the Fettucine Alfredo.  I added a little more cheese because…it said to.)

Adjust rack to 10 inches below broiler element and preheat broiler to high. Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions, removing it when still just shy of al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Return to pot. Add mushroom mixture and stir to combine, adding liquid to adjust consistency. Pasta should be very loose but not soupy. Return to cast iron skillet and top with bread crumbs. Broil until golden brown, rotating pan as necessary, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve immediately (I didn’t cook this in my cast iron pan because I have yet to season it from the last time I used it.  I didn’t want everything to taste like rust.  MR threw this in the oven and Z-girl and I ran out to the play.)

I sat through all the squeaky singing, bad acting, wonderful acrobatics (go Monster and Jamie!) and cute tap-dancer (Yay, Grace!) thinking about dinner.  It didn’t distract me enough not to hum the tunes under my breath, however.  They did a great job but damn, we needed to get home and eat.

This dish was really good.  I’m kind of glad the cream was forgotten- it was creamy enough without it.  I would have added more sausage and maybe a little less parmesan, it had a bite to it.  MR ate two helpings but Zombiegirl wouldn’t eat it…two things she hates, pasta and sausage.  And she’s 1/4 Italian.

What’s the story, Morninglory?  What’s the tale, Nightingale?

This one’s a keeper.


The Sweet Things In Life

The stars just didn’t line up today.  Messages weren’t received in time and traffic was too dense so I didn’t get to cook today.  It was quick, crappy pizza and I’m left feeling disconcerted from the lousy dinner and the lousy day.

I should have had the Fettucine from last night.  It really was comforting and delicious.

So no post about my cooking adventures but I do want to talk about food.  Maple syrup to be exact.  And how it changed my life.

MR’s sister and her husband bought a “farm” upstate close to Cooperstown.  When they first moved in, it wasn’t much of a farm- it had land, a lake, a cornfield and tapped maple trees, the latter two both rented out to other people to harvest.  In four years, they’ve fixed up the house, built a barn, adopted chickens, turkeys, goats and a pig.  Most importantly, they took over the tapped maple trees and built a state-of-the-art wood-burning organically certified sap house.

It’s an amazing process.  The pumps suck the sap into the huge vat, which feeds into the boiler.  When it reaches a certain temperature, it pours into the barrel.  It can then be bottled or dried into maple sugar.  When you enter the huge house, it’s warm and smells delicious.  You have to raise your voice to be heard over the pumps and the oven and the boiling.

I am simplifying everything, of course.  Except for it smelling delicious.

When we go up, we help out.  At the grand opening last year I made pancakes, sterilized bottles, poured and capped, checked the lines, folded t-shirts and hauled wood.  It’s a great experience and it was all worth it when a customer stopped in the store and bought freshly bottled syrup.  Their sap house was on a “trail” of maple syrup business in New York State so people were stopping by to see the process and taste the syrup.  We never experienced anything like this.

I wanted to do something similar.  MR and I were so impressed we talked all the way home the last time, trying to figure out what we could do that would be as awesome as what Ray and Paula have with Elk Creek.  We obviously can’t tap maple trees on Long Island- all of the trees on our property are oak.  We can’t farm- the aforementioned oak trees are too damned tall and we get very little direct sun.  Besides, our property is a whopping .092 acres- can’t do a whole lot with that.  I’d love to have chickens but we have too many predators.  What crazy scheme could did we come up with?

Bees.  The honey kind.

I have all my bee adventures written out for when we purchase a proper storefront/blog, so I’ll make this long story short to post here.

I took an eight-hour class to learn how to be a beekeeper.  The instructor (aka My Bee Guy) while knowledgeable wasn’t a very good teacher.  I think he’s been doing this a long time and I got the feeling he expected us to know a lot before we even got to the class.  However, he was available via a Yahoo group so if we had any questions we could ask.  We bought two hives from him as well as our NUC (nucleus) of about 10,000 bees and a queen.  We successfully installed them into their new hive on a warm spring day and we were one of the few new owners who didn’t have a swarm in the following weeks.  They stayed put and prospered so well we split them into the second hive.

Fast forward through a bout of infesting beetles, three stings (me, of course), a fierce yellow jacket/honey bee battle to the death in our backyard, countless internet hours of research and the discovery that my neighbor four doors down has been a bee keeper for 30 years for the neighboring farm.  Four months later we get to honey production.  Said neighbor loaned us his spinning extractor and showed us how to uncap the comb and spin the honey out.  The process of spinning the frames and bottling the honey took me right back to Elk Creek Sap house and I was happy.  We have 25,000 employees working their hearts out for us and yes, we totally appreciate it.  Each drop of honey is precious to us because we now know how intensive the procedure is.

And delicious. Just like maple syrup.

Follow us on Facebook/hive 451!


There wasn’t any cooking today. Today was a day of purging and expulsion.  Of cleaning and scouring. Of cleansing.

Ever since I saw my first episode of Tiny House Nation, I’ve been obsessed with minimizing my life (and building a tiny house).   Around the same time Beena expressed an interest in having a yard sale.  Perfect timing.  I started going through drawers, closets and attics.  If it had never been used or if there were duplicates of any one thing, it went into a box.  If it didn’t fit AT THIS TIME or, being realistic, I was never planning on fixing or making it, it went into a box.  If I felt I could reasonably live without it, it went into a box.

I was ruthless.  Out went six pairs of nail clippers.  Out went eight tote bags.  Out went a full set of Margarita glasses.  I practically halved my personal stuff and gained tons of space in my closets and drawers.  It felt wonderful.

Unfortunately, the weather the past several weeks prevented us from having that yard sale.  Now all this stuff is sitting in my basement, waiting for the spring.  I got depressed every time I went into the basement, which has its own special kind of crap crammed in.  Now it had a multitude of boxes to add to the messy mix.

The girls pitched in today and helped me pack and stack the boxes in a tidy corner of the basement.  They cleaned out the game cabinet and convinced me to get rid of some stuff I was hanging on to “just in case”.  Even though the crap was still in the house, it was neat and boxed up, ready to be sold.  It felt good.

I dropped a bag off at the church- a ton of baskets for the shut-ins, some angels my mom made years ago and some flower pins we once sold on Mother’s Day as well as floor plans of the various projects I worked on for the parsonage, the church office and the church itself.  Giving these little things away was more therapeutic than culling the clothes from my closet.  Knowing my time with this church has completed left me feeling light and clear-headed.  The anger has dissipated and I’m ready to merge onto the next spiritual highway and see where that takes me.

Seeing me run up and down two flights of stairs all day must have made MR take pity on me because he offered to take me out for dinner.  And honestly, that burger didn’t taste half as good as some of the things I cooked this week.

(Why would anyone have seven pairs of nail clippers?)