Tuesday, April 22, 2014


You may have noticed that we haven't been posting much lately. I'm still dealing with some health issues, and circumstances have resulted in our month looking like this:

The states in blue are the ones we will be driving through this month. Three trips. Fifteen days on the road. Thirty states visited (plus Ontario, Canada!)

Our first trip was to Washington, D.C. for our appointment with the Dutch embassy to renew our son's Dutch passport.  Unfortunately, due to Niels being a new dual citizen, there is another pile of paperwork that needs to completed first. So, we will be going to D.C. again soon. We did have gorgeous weather for site seeing though.

The next week we were in the Toronto area for a friend's surprise birthday party and to drop off one of my favorite quilts yet to a friend and her super adorable baby girl.

Now we are off on an epic road trip so that we can go to my gramma's funeral (in Arizona), Niels' work conference (in Nevada), and the benefit for my dad and stepmom to rebuild their house (in Minnesota). Of course, all three events take place in the same week!

But then, we will be home all summer!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Tribute to Gramma

Ten years ago--a few months before my first book was published and just days before the traumatic brain injury that would change my life--I wrote this about my grandparents:

My grandparents' marriage is ending. It's not totally unexpected. My 84-year-old grampa has been failing for several years. Mom called on Christmas Eve to tell me that hospice has been called to make Grampa comfortable. After many brushes with death, this time it's for real. Grampa's doctors—and all of us who know him—have been amazed by his perseverance. Every time we've been told to prepare for his passing, Grampa's heart somehow kept on ticking. Some has said it's my Gramma's iron will that has kept Grampa around so long. She's been known to say, "Leo, I'm not ready for you to go yet!"

My grampa and gramma have been together nearly seventy years. Seventy years! Can our generation even conceive of such commitment? Of course, they weren't all blissful years. My grandparents weathered war and trauma and heartbreak. Their marriage wasn't always a model of domestic peace and tranquillity. But in the end, what a beautiful love story! Anyone can love when their lover is lovable, but true love—really remarkable love—is when someone loves another with all they have, knowing that the object of their affection hasn't anything to give in return. In the seven years since my Grampa's heart started failing, my Gramma has become an incredible model of unconditional love to our family as she cared for him, cleaned up after him, laughed with him in his better moments, and yes, loved him.

A week ago, my gramma left this life. Like her husband before her, she surprised us time and time again with her ability to bounce back. Up until two years ago, she still lived on her own in her own house! When the end came, it came quickly, on her terms, after a week with all five of her daughters spent saying the things that needed to be said, remembering, laughing, and shedding tears.

I knew the end was coming and prayed that she would hold on until we were in town (twelve hours away) in two weeks. But she was ready and it's selfish to be sad when she had lived such a long, happy, healthy life.

What comforts me is that in her last days, she found comfort in the memory quilt I made for her last fall.

When she called to thank me seven months ago, she cried, "It's my whole life!" I had put minky on the back of the quilt because I thought it would be cozy during the cold Wisconsin winter after so many sunny years in Arizona. Instead, she asked for it to be displayed on the wall so she could show everyone who visited. 

When she was taken to the hospital for her final days, the quilt was taken down and wrapped around her so that those caring for her would know the vibrant woman that she was, not the frail woman in a hospital bed.

In a few days, our family will be driving to Arizona for Gramma's funeral. The last time I was in Arizona, she tried to teach me to crochet so I could make her famous scrubbies. 

After an hour, she snatched the crochet hook out of my hand and suggested that crocheting wasn't my thing! I was determined to find my own craftiness. (Hello, quilting!). Later in our visit, she was taken to the hospital, and I was able to spend several hours in her house alone. I had a feeling that it would be my last time there, so I took many, many photos of her home and her many, many pictures, most of which I had never seen before.

The last time I saw her, I had the images on my iPad and she was able to tell me the stories behind the photos. I noted the images that resonated most strongly with her, and used them on her quilt.

My gramma was many things: A game warden's wife in Northern Minnesota. Writer. Avon lady. She loved many things: nature, golfing, fishing, cards, crossword puzzles, lemon bars, leopard print, Betty Boop, and most of all, her family. She was the mother of five girls. Gramma to ten. Great-gramma to fifteen. Her most recent great-grandchild was born in January, and she was first to hold him. (Here's a sneak peak at the first baby quilt I finished this year).

Over the past few weeks my family's facebook pages have been filled with pictures that show my gramma's personality. A picture (or two) tells a thousand words, so here are a few thousand words about my feisty, red-headed gramma whom I love and miss very much. 

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Boerenkool: A Dutch Comfort Dish

Boerenkool (literally, farmer’s cabbage) is form of Dutch stampot (translation: mashed pot). Stampot is a very popular Dutch comfort food, basically glorified mashed potatoes. Other forms include potatoes with carrots, endive or other vegetables. I never regularly bought kale until I learned to make this, one of my Dutch husband’s favorite meals. Now it’s a staple on our menu.

  • 1 bunch kale with stalks removed
  • 2.5 pounds potatoes, chopped into chunks
  • 1 12 oz. smoked sausage
  •  ½ cup milk (or unsweetened almond milk, for dairy-free families likes ours)
  • 2 T. butter (or Earth Balance vegan butter stick)
  • Salt to taste

1. Wash kale, remove stalks, and roughly chop.

2. Cook kale in boiling water of ten minutes.

3. While kale is cooking, wash and chop potatoes.

4. Drain the kale.

Save the water if you have plants because when it cools, it's a nutrient-rich drink for them. (I have a black thumb, but I keep trying).

5. Pot potatoes in a large pot and just cover with water. My original recipe said to only cover half with potatoes, but the potatoes either got scorched or the top ones didn't get cooked, so cover them up.

6. Add drained kale on top of the potatoes.

7. Cut a slit in the smoked sausage, then add it to the top of the kale.

8. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes. The potatoes are done when you can easily slice a form through a piece of potato.

9. Remove sausage and drain the vegetables. Put the vegetables back in the pot and mash to desired texture.

Niels prefers a chunky texture, so we use a masher.

If you like a smoother texture, an immersion blender works really well.

10. Add milk and butter and combine. Add salt to taste.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fun Food

Note: I used to have a food blog for a little while. Every once in a while I move a post over here to share. This post was originally posted in three years ago, shortly after our little guy turned two. (He's 5 now!)  

One day a few weeks, while we were walking around my hubby's hometown in the Netherlands, we hung out in a bookstore. I love bookstores in general, and now that my Dutch has improved, I'm able to (mostly) follow the instructions in Dutch cookbooks.

One of my favorite souvenirs from our trip to Holland was this Dutch cookbook for kids.

Roughly translated, the title is "Garnish with Kids" and it's full of step-by-step photos of fun meals for kids that look like animals and vehicles and things.

I haven't found anything similar in English...yet.

D and I have had lots of fun with these lunches. I've had to improvise quite a bit and my options are rather limited until we go shopping tomorrow, but it's been a really cool way to spend our long car-less days at home. (We'll getting a new car on Monday). One of D's favorite things is to "help" me cook. At least once a day, he'll pull a chair over to the kitchen counter and say, "Cook, Mommy?" Sometimes he'll go over to the pantry and start handing me seasonings. I love that he loves food, and this cookbook is an especially good way for him to appreciate the process of putting a meal together. For now, his job is to watch, help gather the ingredients, and most important, sample often!

A few of our recent creations:


Now that D is in preschool, we don't get to make as many fun lunches, but I recently made this rocket in honor of his love of space. 

You can find more fun kids meals on my Pinterest board.

Follow Jen | de Jong Dream House's board Culinary Creations :: Kids on Pinterest.

Linked to:
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