You may have never heard the name Gene Stratton Porter, but if you had lived 100 years ago, that would not be so. Born in 1863, Gene was one of America’s most popular novelists and is still considered by many to be Indiana’s most famous female author.

Her most famous books, Freckles and Girl of the Limberlost, both depict simpler times and feature characters who enjoy and learn from nature – much like Stratton Porter herself.

Happily, Gene’s two Indiana homes are still open to tourists. Our family has visited Limberlost State Historic Site, which is the house she and her husband built after their marriage.

The home is a large cabin-like structure built of massive logs. The interior is full of original furnishings, the significance of which is described in loving detail by tour guides. Items of note in the home are a large collection of moths which Gene had collected, and a conservatory with plenty of windows to observe birds and other creatures outside.

Gene Stratton Porter house Limberlost Geneva Indiana

This home was built near the Limberlost Swamp, so named because there was a legend of a man, “Ole Limber Jim”, who wandered into the 13,000 acre swamp and never returned. The cabin was named in tribute to this swamp, which Gene loved to explore.

Gene and her husband, Charles Porter, had a daughter, Jeanette. Jeanette’s small room can be viewed, complete with her dolls and a door leading to the large porch wrapping around the house. My girls were enchanted by it, and I feel sure it was a magical place for Jeanette.

Gene was distressed when she learned that the swamp was scheduled to be drained. She worried about what would happen to the birds and insects that depended on the swamp for their habitat. She needed a new place to live, and found it about 80 miles northwest in Rome City.

The family had a home built there in 1913, and called it Wildflower Woods. This home was also made of logs and is rustic, but it was quite a bit larger than the Limberlost House, probably because by this time Gene was becoming more famous and her books were doing well. The house is full of things special to Gene. As a child, she loved seeing Indians run through the yard of her family home, and inside the entrance to Wildflower Woods she placed an “Indian Torch” light at the base of the stair railing.

Gene Stratton Porter house Wildflower Woods Rome City Indiana

The house features built-in cabinets throughout which feature Charles Porter’s knick-knacks from his world travels.

A highlight of the house is the living room fireplace. It features stones from all the states, and the stones above the center are in the shape of Gene’s favorite creature, the moth. A revolutionary soldier can be seen formed from stones, and other pictures as well.

The home features its own dark room (Gene also loved to take photographs) and had 7 bedrooms (contrasted to Limberlost’s 2).

Gene Stratton Porter house Wildflower Woods Rome City Indiana

Spring at Wildflower Woods where Gene enjoyed relaxing

In 1920, the family moved to California, both because of the perceived health benefits and because several of Gene’s books were being made into films. There they had a spectacular, castle-like home built. Sadly, before they moved in, Gene was killed in a car accident in 1924.

In 1999, Gene and Jeanette’s bodies were returned from California back to Wildflower Woods, where they rest today, in a wooded setting reminiscent of the site of Gene’s novels.

Our family enjoyed visiting both sites. The homes’ websites can be viewed at the links listed, and from there you can find admission rates and hours. We were impressed with the enthusiasm of the guides at both sites.

recycling cereal liner bagsSave Money and Resources with This Free Alternative to Wax Paper and Plastic Bags
Our family used to throw away five or six empty cereal boxes each week, and with the boxes, the plastic liner bags inside. No more! I have found a way to reuse these, thereby “greening up” my kitchen, reusing resources, and saving money, too.

Why? Cereal liner bags have many uses. Here are my top five favorite uses for cereal liner bags:

  1. Rolling our pie crusts. No more wax paper to roll pie crusts on – I simply cut off the closed ends of a cereal liner bag, shake out the crumbs, open out the bag, and voila! A perfectly-sized, non-stick surface perfect for rolling out crusts or cookie dough. Use another bag on top of the crust or dough for less mess.
  2. Crushing crackers. If you need crushed crackers, candy canes, or other items for a recipe, don’t put them in a plastic bag – reuse a cereal liner bag. Use a rolling pin to crush the items inside. Your rolling pin won’t even get dirty.
  3. Lining food containers. At Christmas, we like to bake cookies and other goodies. I used to divide layers of these with wax paper, but now I’ve discovered that it’s cheaper to use cereal bag liners. They can be cut into any size needed, and they are great at dividing layers of cookies and candies.
  4. Sandwich containers. Okay, here I admit you may feel a bit embarrassed if you are seen taking your sandwich to work in a cereal bag liner. However, it does work well – just put the sandwich in, roll down the top and staple it. If you can handle the raised eyebrows, you’ll save the expense of ziplock bags, and the earth will thank you (and hey, maybe your coworkers will secretly admire you, too).
  5. Play mat for kids. When your kids want to play with playdough or other messy substances, put down an opened-out cereal liner bag first. This avoids the mess on the table. When your kids finish playing, you can gather up the mess in the liner bag and throw it all away.

As you can see, the possibilities are many for the lowly cereal liner bag. I’ve begun using them so often that now, every time we finish a bag of cereal, I take out the liner bag, dump out all the crumbs, and fold the bag to store it in a drawer. That way I always have one handy when I need it.

Reuse – it’s the ultimate recycling!

Linking to more great ideas at Works for Me Wednesday.


Stuffed animals – my kids love them. So when my daughter asked for a stuffed animal birthday party, I began researching. I was frustrated to discover that almost everything I could find online dealt with having a party at the popular Build-A-Bear stores. This was not what we wanted. After some brainstorming and creativity, we came up with a wonderful party where each guest brought her favorite stuffed animal and left with some treats for it.

As the children arrived, I had animal-themed coloring sheets for them to color and/or paint. Try these resources for online coloring sheets:




After the guests arrived, we made our first craft: name tags for our pets. I had purchased 1″ paper key tags at the hardware store (like the type of tag you would put on a keychain). The kids decorated these with fine-tip Sharpies and then threaded them onto a ribbon and tied them around their pets’ necks. Very cute!

For games, we played Pin-the-tail-on-the teddy bear (you can make a large outline shape of any stuffed animal), Doggie doggie where’s your bone? (we used a little stuffed dog for the “doggie” to hold while guessing who stole the bone), and a game where the girls formed a circle and passed a mini stuffed animal around while “it” stood in the middle with her eyes closed and had to guess who had the animal.

Our main craft involved making blankets for our pets. I cut 10″ x 18″ pieces of fabric (one decorated, the other a plain soft flannel) and had sewed them together for each child. I then gave each child a large needle threaded with yarn and the children tacked the top and lining of their blankets together at various spots (similar to making “tie quilts”). The girls were so pleased with their pet blankets!

stuffed animal birthday party

The party was completed with a cake in the shape of my daughter’s favorite stuffed animal. We also served fruit kabobs which the girls made, and I put out mini party-picks for the kids to use to make kabobs for their pets as well. The girls enjoyed playing with their animals as they waited for their parents to pick them up.

My daughter loved her stuffed animal party, and I was pleased with how easy it was to pull off. The guests all enjoyed themselves as well, and many parents commented on how much they liked the items the children made for their pets.

Happy stuffed animal party to you and your little animal lover!


Menu Plan Monday


Menu Plan Monday time again! What’s the weather like where you live? My youngest daughter and I helped at a marching band event Saturday, and it was so cold here. Temps in the 40s, but with strong winds, and at times sleet and some even said a bit of snow. Not what I would hope to see in early October, that’s for sure. This week looks a little better.  I would like to hold on to the 70-degree days as long as I can.

This week is extra busy cooking-wise, with dinner guests here Friday for the high school football game (we go to watch the band), and on Saturday morning I am hosting the ~25 marching band flutes for breakfast. I did this last year too, and it was fun. The girls are all nice and polite.

Here are the plans:

Monday:  Wendy’s chili — the weather is certainly cold enough to start making chili again. I wish I had more garden tomatoes to use in it.

Tuesday: Oven Roasted Chicken and Veggies — easy and tastes great!

Cut up a couple of chicken breasts, a couple of carrots, a couple of potatoes – put in a roasting pan, then top with 1/3 c. olive oil and a packet (actually I use 1/2 packet) of dry onion soup mix.  Bake 45 minutes at 425.

I make this recipe a lot, and you can feel free to tweak it: add different vegetables, add more or less oil, adjust the temperature based on your oven, etc.

Wednesday: My husband is gone on a work trip, so — pancakes for dinner! Woo hoo!

Thursday: Poppyseed chicken -- one of the girls’ favorites, and I haven’t made it in a while.

Friday:  Cheeseburger Buns

Saturday: Flute Breakfast —

Cinnamon Roll Cake

Cheesy Potatoes

Bacon (I never cook or eat bacon, but it’s a band breakfast tradition. I’ve heard that it’s easiest to bake it. I tried this last year and didn’t think it turned out too great. Oh well, we’ll see how it goes …)

Grands Biscuits

Fruit Salad

Chocolate Milk, OJ

Fall M&M’s, Candy Corn and Peanuts.

What is going on in your kitchen this week? More ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.


Childhood Memories Friday

My oldest daughter is a high school senior, and I’ve found that when my kids go through any stage, it brings me back to when I went through it myself.

high school class 1983
Here’s a photo of me in my senior year pre-calculus class, in the 1980s. First, of course, we notice the hair and glasses. Oh, my. We never believe it when others tell us that, no matter how ‘cool’ we think we look at the time, 20 years or so later we’ll cringe. It’s true. I remember that sweater I’m wearing — I loved it. The floral embroidery around the front — ahhhh. I wore that a lot, with my trusty green polyester pants.

So there I am, studying my math diligently, although I appear to have noticed the yearbook photographer who stopped by. My friend Cheryl is behind me — I’m  happy to say we’re friends to this day.

Math is a popular subject to hate, but I never did. Our teacher, Mr. Stickles, was a kind and matter-of-fact man. I remember him saying most days, “First, I’ll prove this to you (referring to the math concept we were learning), and then I’ll show you how to do it.”

Every time, I would think, You don’t have to prove it to me. Really. I have enough faith that whatever you’re showing us is true. I never understand the proofs anyway, so can we please just get on to the actual algorithm? PLEASE?

Of course, being the total teacher-pleaser, I never actually said that.

One day, Mr. Stickles stopped me on my way out of class. He asked if I might like math as a college major, and as a career. This was in the days before all the emphasis on encouraging girls in math/science, so his suggestion kind of shocked me.

I told him that I didn’t think so — I had observed how many of the kids in class loved math, and approached tricky problems with glee, almost like solving them would be a type of treasure hunt. While I did struggle my way dutifully through each one, I didn’t feel that same love of the subject.

True to his steady manner, Mr. Stickles smiled . “Well,” he said, “someday you might just decide that you like numbers.” And with that, he turned and erased the chalkboard.

I did go on to take college calculus as a freshman, and felt that Mr. Stickles had taught us well — I remember thinking the class seemed to cover the same things I’d learned senior year. That was my pinnacle in math, however — my eventual major required a much easier math class, which I (with a bit of humiliation) ended up taking as a sophomore.

I had to dig out some papers from the class, just because they make it seem more real -- purple mimeograph ink and all!

I had to dig out some papers from the class, just because they make it seem more real — purple mimeograph ink and all!


How about you? Any math memories?


In high school I became penpals with an Italian girl named Monica. We corresponded regularly, and it was a great thrill to actually be able to meet her the summer following my senior year, when I toured Europe with a band and choir.

A few years later, Monica and her friend Olga came to the US and stayed with my family for three weeks. We exposed them to all the excitements of our small midwest town: Baskin Robbins (they loved Pralines ‘n Cream), picnics, and a visit to the campus of Indiana University. My mom kept them busy hanging out laundry (they didn’t seem to mind!), and they enjoyed going to church with us.

Monica and Olga hang laundry in the US.

Monica and Olga hang laundry in the US.

During their visit, a few things struck me as unusual: they didn’t ask to have their clothes washed very frequently, and often remarked that we were “very clean” (I don’t think we were any cleaner than your typical American family!). They also really enjoyed our church – they seemed quite surprised at how friendly the people there were, and at the “spirit” of the services as evidenced through singing, preaching, etc. This was not something they were accustomed to at home.

A few more years passed, and I was very excited to be traveling to Italy to spend three weeks with Monica and her family. I was a little apprehensive too: after all, this wasn’t an Americanized tour, but a “real” Italian experience.

And what an experience it was! Monica’s family lived in the Tuscany region, in a small town called Prato just 15 miles from Florence. Every day she was within walking distance of the world-famous Uffizi art gallery, Michelangelo’s David, Florence’s famous Dome, and Dante’s former stomping grounds. One of my first thoughts was profound embarrassment over the pitiful offerings we had offered her back where I lived – somehow the Wal-Mart SuperStore paled in comparison to the great art of the renaissance!

My weeks in Italy were very interesting. One thing I noticed was that I saw virtually no overweight people. One reason for this is that most Italians appear to do a lot of walking. While here in the States we often drive from one side of the parking lot to the other, in Italy it’s nothing to walk 2-3 miles to a destination (I got a few blisters during my stay!) I also attribute their apparent fitness to their diet, which is, well … different. There was lots of pasta, sauces, hard bread, meats (prosciutto, sardines), fruit, and wine. I was a little horrified when Monica poured about 1/4 cup of olive oil over the top of almost every dish that was served. They ate very little in the way of sweets, which was really difficult for someone with a sweet tooth like me! One night, Monica’s father, who spoke almost no English, came in grinning with a big Hershey Bar and handed it to me. I was ecstatic!

Another thing which stood out was the totally different perspective the Italians have about the human body. There were TV ads and billboards all over the place with naked women on them, apparently not meant to be provocative. Also, we visited many art museums, and I found myself thinking, Wow – almost all the people in these paintings are naked!! Monica, meanwhile, would be looking at the same paintings while declaring, with her Italian accent, “Isn’t this beautiful? Look at the use of perspective!” Elementary-age children were on field trips in these museums, apparently appreciating all the fine art around them. I just can’t imagine even showing most of these paintings to children in America! (As a side-note: on a later trip to Paris, I was able to visit a children’s book publishing house. They showed us two versions of a book they were publishing on the human body: the US version showed the child in underwear; the European version showed the child naked).

As I had begun to notice when Olga and Monica visited the States, hygiene is somewhat different in Italy too. Most people do not wear deodorant, and many women don’t shave their legs or underarms. This became quite noticeable, because almost no buildings or cars were air-conditioned, and I visited at a very hot time of year. Monica’s mother did all our laundry by hand (I felt really bad giving her my dirty underwear, etc.!). Then the wash was hung out on a line outside the apartment balcony (there’s yet another difference: all but the very wealthy live in apartments).

A final difference was the types of socializing that young people do. Every night around 10, Monica and I would go out to a bar to visit with her friends. When I first heard about this, I was more than a bit apprehensive – I did not drink or party! However, I shouldn’t have feared. What passed for a bar was actually the outer walls of a castle where many people visited outside under the stars. Monica’s friends were a group of about 10 college-educated men and women in their early 20s. Although I don’t speak Italian, and therefore can’t vouch for much that was said, I could pick up general themes. They spoke of various authors, political situations, current events, etc. I was so impressed, because most of my friends back home spent their evenings discussing how to get a certain guy to ask them out or something like that. Also, each person ordered just one drink during the several hours we stayed. There is no minimum drinking age in Italy, but the people I observed seemed much more mature about the whole drinking issue than young people in America. There was no “Woo hoo, let’s party and get drunk!” mentality. It was so refreshing!

My weeks in Italy are several years behind me now, but I think of them often. Monica now works in London for Standard and Poor’s and is very successful in the world of finance. I have visited her there, although sadly, we’ve lost touch in recent years.

Yes, Italy is far from America in both miles and in cultural traditions. It was fascinating, though, to “live like an Italian” for a brief time!

Last week, I ordered 3 pairs of pants and a shirt from Old Navy — and I felt a bit guilty. I tend to wear the same few pairs of pants and the same shirts over and over, and I didn’t really need any new ones.

Maybe I shouldn’t have felt so bad. I read an article informing me that the average American woman buys “64 new pieces of clothing a year.”

Really? Seriously? Because, I’m not sure I’ve purchased 64 new pieces of clothing in the past decade.

clothes in closet

Granted, I have a few questions about the research: do socks, underwear, belts, etc. count as clothing? Also, I should admit that when I was working outside the home, I bought quite a bit more clothes than I do now. Still, when someone compliments me on a shirt, asking if it’s new, and I say “Yes,” mentally tabulating that it’s probably 5 years old — but that still counts as “new,” right? — I realize that I don’t do a lot of clothes shopping, that’s for sure.

Aside from the bit about not working at an outside job, there’s the whole aging issue. In my 20s and 30s, it was definitely fun to shop for clothes — trying on new things, imagining how to accessorize them. Sometime after I’d had all my kids, I stepped into the dressing room with a pile of clothing and was horrified when I glanced into the mirror. Had styles changed that much — or had I? I had a sneaking suspicion I knew the answer to that one, and it wasn’t pretty.

The article I read also stated that half of the typical American woman’s 64 annual new purchases are worn just once. Again, this is so unbelievable to me. I can’t imagine buying 32 pieces of clothing each year, wearing each one time, and then  — what? Donate them? Although I suppose this does account for some of the like-new clothing pieces I’ve picked up at garage sales. For those, I am grateful to these typical American women :)

How about you? How many pieces of clothing would you estimate you buy in the average year? How many do you wear just once?

In 1996, my husband and I visited Israel for a week. It was quite memorable, because as a Christian, it was surreal to actually SEE many of the places I had heard and read about so often in the Bible.

First, some general observations: Israel is quite small. It is just 1/3 the size of Indiana. This is amazing, to think that such a small nation has been at the center of so many major world events.

Also, the terrain of Israel varies greatly. Our trip began in the northern part of the country, where the land was lush and green. As we traveled south, the land became much more barren and desert-like.

In many of the cities we visited, there was a stark contrast between Jewish and Arab areas. The Jewish areas were generally very neat and well-kept, while the Arab areas were trash-strewn and run-down. I say this not in a prejudiced way – it was just a very obvious fact.

One of the greatest pluses of the trip, for me, was being able to actually put a place with a name. So often, when I read a place name in the Bible, I just skim over it. Now, I can say, Ah ha! I remember driving by there! Visiting various sites makes them much more real and meaningful.

bowl bought in Israel

Bowl bought in Israel

Here are some sites we visited while visiting Israel:

QUMRAN: This is the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found (these contain the oldest and most accurate texts of the Bible). You can actually see the caves where the scrolls were discovered in 1947 by some Bedouin boys. This is also the site of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The Sea has an unusually high concentration of salt, and many go into it for its supposed health benefits. I can’t vouch for that, but it is really fun to swim in – the high salt content makes it impossible to sink!

SEA OF GALILEE: This ‘sea’ (actually we would call it a lake – we learned that when “sea” is used in the Bible it can refer to ANY body of water) was the scene of many incidents from the life of Jesus. You can ride across the Sea in ‘The Jesus Boat’ – yes, terribly touristy – but hey, we WERE tourists!

BETHLEHEM: A church is built over the supposed site of Jesus’ birth. I say ‘supposed’, because since 2000 years have passed, the actual site is somewhat of a guess, based on traditions. The church is Greek Orthodox, with lots of incense, tassles, gaudy baubles, etc. There is a golden star on the floor at the site where Jesus was born. You can also visit shepherds’ field, which is a peaceful area perhaps near where the shepherds might have been watching their flocks on that long-ago Christmas night.

JERUSALEM: This is the “biggie” – the must-see if you could pick just one city to visit. You can actually walk in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed the night before his death. You can visit the house of Caiaphas, where Jesus was tried. You can visit the Temple Mount, where the magnificent Jewish Temple formerly stood (the Dome of the Rock, a muslim shrine, is now there – which greatly irritates the Jewish people). One side of the Temple Mount is the Western Wall (or the “Wailing Wall”, as it is often called in the US). This is where many Jews come to offer prayers. The wall is divided into a men’s and a women’s area, and you will find many prayers written on small pieces of paper and pushed into cracks in the wall.
As for the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – again, these are subject to speculation. The most likely site is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a huge, quite crowded Greek Orthodox church. Another possibility (less likely historically, but more aesthetically pleasing) is the site of the Garden Tomb. This site was first suggested in the 1800s. There is a lovely garden, and nearby is a cliff with a clear skull face in the side (Golgotha?). You can visit a tomb there (Jesus’?) and take communion in the garden. The site is owned by England, and the tour guides are retired English pastors who volunteer for 2-month stints.

I recommend that every Christian visit Israel if at all possible. It will strengthen your faith and make Bible study come alive for you.

Menu Plan Monday


It’s Menu Plan Monday again! This weekend, I was looking around the remains of the garden. There’s not a lot; even the weeds have slowed down:


From the left, we have the remains of an alfalfa patch (treats for the rabbit and chinchilla), thyme, and cilantro, and my pitiful tomatoes. The tomatoes haven’t done well this year, and I’m not sure why. Usually at this time of year, the plants would be full of green tomatoes, ready to gather the night before the first frost. This year, there are probably under a dozen green tomatoes, and I’ve hardly had any to freeze or make into sauce. I’d like to think that the puny harvest portends a mild winter. We’ll see … if you have a garden, how has it done this year?

Here are the week’s plans:

Monday: BBQ Ranch Chicken Casserole — new recipe that looks good to me UPDATE — this was delish!

Tuesday: Spaghetti. Yep, just plain spaghetti and pasta sauce. The kids requested it, and it’s easy, so …

Wednesday: Tater Tot Enchilada Bake — another new recipe, but — tater tots, enchiladas  — what’s not to like? UPDATE — sadly, this wasn’t that exciting. Won’t make again.

Thursday: Tacos — another request from the kids. They requested simple, so I’ll just set out bowls of toppings, shells, and turn everyone loose …


Chicken Parmesan – an easy family favorite

1 jar marinara sauce

4 chicken breast halves

2/3 c. shredded mozzarella

1/4 c. bread crumbs

2 T. olive oil


Pour marinara sauce in bottom of ungreased 12 x 8 dish.

Place chicken over sauce.

In small bowl, mix cheeses, bread crumbs and oil. Sprinkle evenly over chicken.

Bake at 350 30-35 min.

Serve over noodles.

chicken parmesan

What are you cooking this week? More ideas at OrgJunkie‘s.

Childhood Memories FridayRecently, my aunt sent me a link to an article about migraines. I feel blessed to never have had a migraine, but several in my family do suffer from them. The article suggested that highly sensitive people are more prone to them, and after reading it, I felt even more grateful not to have these headaches. Because, I definitely am sensitive and always have been.

old beat up pencil on ground

As a child, I was sensitive to being the center of attention. At my birthday parties, I disliked having everyone sing to me. We even have a photo or home movie of me with my face buried in my plate as others sang. I always empathized with the underdog, and the behind-the-scenes people. My mom sometimes suggested that I should play with some toy or another, since I hadn’t for a while, and when she hinted that the unplayed-with toy might be feeling sad, the insinuation nearly sent me over the edge with sympathy.

At a recent football game (I should say that I attended solely to watch my daughter’s band perform, since I have zero understanding of or interest in football), our team was beating the other team by 30+ points. And while I was somewhat happy that “my” team was winning, my overwhelming thought was, Wow, I kind of hope we don’t score any more points. I wish the other team would score. They worked hard, too. I bet they feel so bad, getting beat by so many points …

I’ve had to remove myself from prayer lists because I just can’t handle all the things people have to face. I agonize over the plight of dogs and kittens I see on Facebook who need “forever homes.” On and on it goes.

The other night on a bike ride, I saw a pencil on the pavement in a nearby school parking lot. And, reader, you guessed it: I stopped and picked it up. Who knows what stories this pencil could tell? I think I can rescue it, take it home, clean it up, and it will have another life, making grocery lists and checking items off the monthly bank report.

Sadly, the pencil ended up having uncentered lead that refused to be sharpened — but still, my intent was good! (or perhaps it was just strange. I’m willing to admit that).

How about you? Any other sensitive souls out there? Or perhaps any migraine sufferers? Do you think there’s a connection between the two?