Sunday, November 16, 2014

5 Savory Tips for Delightful Cooking

My husband is spoiled. He married a woman who likes to cook—and serve leftovers. I am spoiled too, for he never complainsand I mean never. Here are my five tips for the cook who wants to find her way to her husband's stomach.


A good set of knives. I have Pampered Chef. I do not store them in those wooden knife holders. Used to, but one time I pulled one out and found a smashed up bug on the knife. I promptly bleached all the knives and threw out the wooden block. Sorry sister Brenda, I think you gave me that thing. But I made up for it by showing her how having a large butcher knife to chop up onions and veggies is a lot easier that digging out a chopper and having to clean up all the small parts. I store my knives on my counter top in a Longaberger crock so I can grab them.

homemade jam


A great cookbook. It helps if it is a three-ring—a cook does not need the frustration of trying to keep the pages flat. My husband bought for me, or should I say for him, a Taste of Home cookbook for my birthday at my request. He does not mind me trying new recipes, but I will not be buying anymore $50 sides of beef like I did one year. Tried to make beef Wellington. Total flop. But that setback did not stop me from continuing to try new things. Chris and my step-daughter Brittany and I have a long-standing joke about recipes and me. I have a hard time making simple things like fried eggs, tomato soup from a can, and mac and cheese from a box. Go figure.
Harris time 2013 ~ Chris' b-day: Joe & Val's brisket in 2012 ~ Nikki's family in 2009


The desire to learn. The Pioneer Woman’s website has great recipes and easy instructions for a cook at any skill level. Ree Drummond’s pictures make cooking fun. Her TV show does the same. Because of her, I have these items available each week: garlic, onions, heavy cream, cumin, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper, fresh mushrooms, bell peppers of all colors, and of course, butter and olive oil. Her show is on the Food Network on Saturday mornings. I had never heard of The Pioneer Woman until our neighbor, Travis Ball, who has had business dealings with the Drummonds, told me about her being one of the top bloggers in America. This was back when I did not even know what blogging was. Ironically, my husband graduated with one of the Drummonds from Pawhuska High School in Oklahoma.

our backyard eating spot back ~ this is when Ev met Erik in July 2008

The desire to serve others. On more than one occasion, I have crammed many people around two tables in our tiny house to enjoy a meal I prepared. Sometimes we end up in the garage or outside under the pavilion. These are the best of times to me. Family, friends, food, and a reason to get together. I even made my own 40th birthday meal when family came down to Kansas in 2006. My brother-in-law Rick could not believe how I was up at seven in the morning preparing ribs for the noon meal. Sometimes, I flub up, like not knowing the lack of power of a borrowed crock pot and the food is not ready, but that's when a sister-in-law like Tammy steps in to save the day. So humble yourself and ask for help.

preparing one of my birthday meals in my pajamas


Color. In a couple weeks when we will all be loosening our belt buckles a bit after the big meal, remember that someone is planning right now on how to make your Thanksgiving feast enjoyable. Not every meal can be a spread like that, but presenting an attractive plate full of color, as my high school home ec teacher Kathy Olsen taught us to do, is just as important as the taste of the food.

my pretty plate of Aunt Grace's lasagna ~ a favorite of my brother-in-law Lawrence's

Do you have any words of advice as we enter the holiday season of eating and entertaining? How about short cuts or tips for not getting stressed out about it all?

homemade buns

Saturday, November 8, 2014


Cliff hangers. I ended last week's post, Seven Silly Tidbits, with an unanswered question. Which deceased relative would I choose to spend time with if I could?

Grandma Elizabeth.

Grandma Elizabeth sitting where the kitchen sink now resides in the family farmhouse.

She was dad's mom who died long before I was born. She was the writing type. Kept five-year diaries that no-doubt influenced my Aunt Mary Ruth, the niece she raised like a daughter. My middle name, Beth, connects me to her, the woman whose house I grew up in.

My dad, Aunt Mary Ruth, and Grandma Elizabeth standing on the west side of the house. The window behind my dad used to be the front door. This is the only picture I have seen with that in tact. Now it's the bathroom.

One of Grandma Elizabeth's silly sayings has endured. Many times, people broke down with flat tires or cars would just stall. So whenever the family turned the corner near the farm, she'd say, "Now if we had to, we could walk." I find myself saying that whenever I return from going out of town.

Grandma Elizabeth miscarried twins years before my dad was born. The stillborn girls were buried on the family farm. No marker served as their grave. I think that's sad, but Dad said that's how things were done back then. 

My dad Waldo doesn't look too happy about this family picture.

Grandma Elizabeth also had rapid weight gains and losses. She battled depression to the point where she received shock treatments—twice—at the state hospital in Yankton, South Dakota. My dad, who watched the first treatment, said it lifted her entire body off the table. He did not watch that again.

Grandma Elizabeth spent a couple days in the hospital afterwards. My mom stayed with her. She embroidered tea towels to pass the time as Grandma slept for two days after the treatments. Because of this family history, I am cognizant of my own thought life and find any study of the human mind to be fascinating.

Grandma with Grandpa drove this car during a parade in Hitchcock.

My mom used Elizabeth's China closet and matching server until the house was remodeled in the '70s for the first wedding in our family. Read more about that in my post entitled Curlers, A Bra and an Airplane Ride.

That China closet now holds my best Longaberger dishes, but when Mom got her new one when I was around seven, the old one became a three-level Barbie doll town house for Ken and Tiffany Tayler. For more about how those dolls kept me company on long road trips in my blog post, Seven Kids and Me. Mom would often stick pictures behind the wooden inlet in the China Closet.

Grandma's China closet

Writing on the Back of It: Feb. 27  ~  1941      $31.95      Gamble

Why the handwriting on the back? Seems that was the thing to do. Write the price and the purchase year. The matching server resides in our garage. Needed more room in my house for the piano.

Another piece I have of Grandma's is what we call the game chest. It stored the table games. I use it now as an armoire. It is solid wood and houses our bedroom TV on top. When my Dad, my sister Brenda, and I were moving this heavy piece downstairs, Grandma's writing on the back revealed something. What we saw made it even more special. 

the game chest

Grandma wrote ~ Our Father gave this dresser to me in 1929 ~ which he made himself ~ Mrs. Pete ~which I appreciate

It took us awhile to decipher Grandma's spelling. I thought she wrote apricot, but it was appreciate. My Great Grandpa, Michael Hofer #2, made the game chest. He was a blacksmith and a carpenter of sorts.

Precious. Just precious. Just like time with Grandma Elizabeth would be.

Some day, I hope those five-year diaries of Grandma's will be mine. And maybe someday, one of my greats will cherish mine. 

Do you have a relative you've never met that you wish you could spend time with? What traits have you inherited from them?

Writer's note: this is a continuation of last week's post, Seven Silly Tidbits, written in response to a challenge from my online friend, Shelli Littleton. She tagged me to post random facts about myself.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Seven Silly Tidbits

Do you possess any unique abilities? 

I can squat so that my elbows touch the floor without lifting up my heals. Try it: put your feet in a V-position and squat. When kids attempt it, they fall over or almost rip their pants. I thank my jr. high basketball coaches, Ruth Hausemann and Cindy Borkowski, for my flexibility. They required stretching of hamstring, quads, calves, and more before we did a thing in practice.

Me at 40. I can still do it eight years later.

What ability or skill do you wish you had?

Operating a hair dryer to style my hair. I just don't get it. Hair stylists have patiently tried to teach me. I can't do it. For those like me, here's how to solve this problem: go to bed with it wet so it will puff up by morning. I place a towel on my pillow to absorb the moisture. It also serves as a drool catcher.

If you could live anywhere in the world and afford it upon your retirement, where would that be? 


In my childhood home in South Dakota renovated by my HGTV favorites: the Property Brothers, the Fixer Upper couple, the Love It Or List It duo, and the Flip or Flop couple. I have fond childhood memories of that house, and it would be the best place to grow old—just like my dad. At 89, he's living in the house he was born in. Parts of the house are ready to fall in, so all those HGTV reinforcements and remodeling gurus would be necessary. I would need lots of money to pull it off.


Believe me, it looks even worse now. This was back in 2011. Paint alone would do wonders.

You can only keep one modern amenity in your home. What would you pick between the microwave, the Internet, and the television? 


I have always loved TV. As a little girl, I got in trouble for sitting too close to it. As an adult, I do housework and exercise while watching TV. I do enjoy cooking, so I could live without a microwave, and I can get Wi-Fi at work or in public places, so unlike my husband, I could survive without the Internet at home. There is nothing like sitting down with my doggies and watching television. TV is like another person to me. It talks to me and I talk back to it. No, I’m not Mildred from Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. I don't have three walls of it, but I do own four televisions.

What is your greatest fear?

A tornado or some other disaster destroying, not my house, but all of my computer generated documents. So for years, I have had a tornado file. I coined the term a long time ago when Esther Mayer, one of our school's maintenance employees, caught me running off papers and stuffing them into manilla envelopes at the end of the school year. I told her I was making copies to store at my sister Priscilla's in South Dakota. Thus came the term, tornado file. Now I just switch out jump drives when I go up for a visit. But I do have back-ups in my house on an external drive, on my home PC, and on another jump drive. I keep a jump drive in my desk at school too. No, I do not trust the Cloud, Dropbox, or Google Drive for my back-ups. I want access without the Internet. A bit overkill? Maybe, but this is a fear I can do something about, so I will do everything I can to prevent losing over two decades worth of work.

Biggest regret?

I should have taken a basic economics class in college. If I had, I might actually understand the difference between stocks and bonds, an annuity, a 401B, and a Roth IRA. I might even be able to explain what the heck a mill levy is. My oldest nephew Michael has given me countless lessons on these terms, but I do not retain any of it. Taking an economics course might have stopped me from making money mistakes. To learn more about those, read my post entitled, Dollars and Sense: A Lesson in Interest of a Different Kind.

Future wishes?

I have been an aunt since I was 6-years-old, and I want to be healthy enough to live so I can be a great-great-great aunt. I am already a great aunt with my oldest great, Leah, being 12-years-old. So if she marries in eight years and has a child soon after, I will be in my mid-50's and become a great-great. Then if her child gets married around 20 and has a child right away, I'll be a great-great-great and be in my mid-70s. That's possible. Now, if I have to depend on the youngest great, the one to be born this November to my niece Suzanne and her husband David, I'll have to make it well past a hundred years old for it to all work out using that have-a-kid-at-20 formula. 

I am in the middle surrounded by my nieces and nephews. From these 8, come 19 greats.


You are given a chance to meet and spend time with one of your relatives who is no longer living. Who would it be?

After I wrote my answer, I decided this person deserves more than a few sentences. Will it be one of my second cousins, my grandparents, my mom, one of my aunts or uncles, or my state wrestling champ cousin? Stayed tuned for a future post about this person.

Writer's Note: I was tagged by my online writing friend and fellow blogger, Shelli Littleton, to post random pieces of information about myself. So I interviewed myself and had fun writing this post. Thanks, Shelli, for the inspiration of this post and some others to come! The link for Shelli's list is here.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Treating with Tricks

Popcorn balls, Snickers, Kit Kat bars, and maybe some Sweet Tarts. My typical load for Halloween trick-or-treating in the middle of rural South Dakota.

our scarecrow head in 2009, a year-old jack-o'-lantern
Not much, but I did get to nibble on the leftovers in the bags Mom had assembled for the kiddos: Hershey's Kisses, Tootsie Rolls, hot cinnamon hard candy, and salt water taffy. I knew it would eventually all be mine because not many masked goblins came knocking.

The popcorn balls came from my mom's cousin, Mary G. Wipf, a woman who was like an aunt to me who passed away this summer. Braces kept me from taking a big bite, but they tasted the same after busted up with a knife. Mary G. made the same treats for Christmas time too—only with green and red food coloring.

my dad with Mary G., the popcorn ball lady, summer of 2009

Why was my Halloween haul so small? We only had a few neighbors, and Mom never drove me more than five miles from home. I do not remember going too many places.

One year Aunt Grace and Uncle Johnny were not home, and my childhood mind wondered why. 

They knew I would be coming. They should have stayed home. 

Mom must have sensed my disappointment when I plopped back into the car. She said, "Go move that ladder and block their door."

"Why? What for?"

"They'll have to move it when they come home. What do you think trick-or-treat means anyway?"

Ironically, this summer, my youngest sister Brenda and I went to that same farm and played a trick-or-treat of a different kind on my cousin. No one answered our knock, so we moved a pot of flowers in front of the door with this note: "Your Kansas cousins were here."

Within minutes a cell phone rang. Our cousin Gordie hunted us down via our nephew-in-law Erik who lived nearby. It worked. We headed back for a short visit with Gordie and his wife Charlotte before they headed off to 4th of July festivities. 

Gordie's treat: a kiss from two of his Hofer cousins

My childhood trick-or-treating days ended around fifth or sixth grade, but for that last go-round, Mom let me stay in town at Tami Price's house. She was a friend and classmate whose birthday was near Halloween. And yes, she lived in town.

10-year-old Tami, my friend who lived in Hitchcock

In-town trick-or-treating for a country kid was like a town kid getting to run naked in mud puddles on a farm after a rain storm.

My orange pumpkin bucket was so full that the candy lasted until Christmas time. I have no idea where I kept it at school the next day so the candy would not be stolen.

Good thing Mom had kept me close to home for Halloween all those years because I am not sure I would have any teeth left today. I already had a mouth full of cavities due to pop drinking. For more about that bad habit, read my post entitled Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew, and a Slew of Yahoo.

What is your favorite Halloween memory? Ever play an innocent Halloween trick on someone? Or get sick from too much candy?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Computers: I Saw No Value In Them

I know just enough to be dangerous. Our tech guy at school, Brad Buscher, would agree with that—even though I never made my teacher home page the school main page like colleague Peggy Jones did a few years ago. No one still knows how that happened.

Like most Generation-Xers, I have a love-hate relationship with computers and other forms of technology.

It started in the spring of my senior year in 1984 when Hitchcock High School acquired some computers. This was back during the C-prompt days. Maybe pre-MS-Dos if there was such a time. See, I told you, I know just enough to be dangerous.

Poor Mr. Frank Podraza, he had to put up with my attitude. He was our football coach, principal, and my algebra teacher.

Frank Podraza in the HHS study hall room

My first memory of him is as a ref in one of our jr. high basketball games when I was 12-years-old. I tried to take out the ball after we had just made a basket. He said nothing and just gave me that you-dummy look. Guess I never held it against him because Mr. Podraza became one of my favorite high school teachers.

During my senior year, he was teaching us programming. Yes, computer programming. We had never even touched a computer, and we were learning programming. Big disconnect.

After a couple days of it, I told him, “I want to throw this thing out the window.” And our school was an old two-story brick building with no grass nearby, so it would have shattered the beast. I went on and on about how much money the school board wasted buying these things, and that I just might let a couple of them know since they went to my church. I saw no value in what the thing could do for me.

Me shaking the hand of LeRoy Gross, one of the board members who also attended my church.

Fast-forward a few months to the fall of my freshman year in college. I returned home and shocked Coach Podraza with these words, "I love computers."

You see, I never knew I could type a paper on the thing and print it out. And I would not have to retype an entire page because I forgot to leave room for my footnotes at the end of my research paper. Another thing, it wrapped the text. No hard carriage return.

Who taught me these wonderful tasks that a computer could do? Dana Davis, that’s who. He was our freshman orientation leader.

the guy who made me love computers

Dana was an upperclassman in charge of about a dozen or so of us on a weekly basis. We learned how to set margins, double-space, save to a floppy, and add that crazy perforated paper to the dot matrix printer. I was amazed at all it could do.

I must not have completely trusted the machine though because I typed all my philosophy papers that year on the electric typewriter my parents had gotten me while I was still in high school.

I loved to type. In fact, I even went to a business competition for it while in high school. Never placed, but I do remember achieving 90 words a minute with no errors one time in class. I credit piano playing for that speed.

Fast-forward a couple decades. I still love the computer and have learned to love the iPad, but not for the same reasons.

This week, teaching colleague Heather Potter and I present on how we use technology in our classrooms. She is talking about Google Classroom and the ShowMe app, and I am explaining how to differentiate assignments with the iPad app called Notability.

Notability, my favorite iPad app

It's my first professional presentation in 26 years of teaching. And if someone would have told me two years ago, when I did not want to go 1:1 with iPads, that I would be presenting at the Kansas State Department of Education's state-wide conference, I would have called you crazy. Click on the link, scroll to Wednesday at 8:30 on page 23, and you'll see it there in print. So cool. Heather and I are so pumped.

Like my mentor, Mr. Podraza, I had to overcome the learning curve. I am sure he was frustrated trying to make us see the relevance in what he was required to teach us, just as I have had to adjust to iPads and other forms of technology throughout the years.

I have matured, but my love-hate relationship with technology continues—only now instead of wanting to throw something out the window, I throw up my hands and say, “I think I’ll go be Amish." 

What are your earliest memories of the personal computer? How about when you learned to type? Did your teacher put fingernail polish on the keys and provide you with powdery paper to erase your errors on your research papers?

Writer's Note: to read about the purchase of my first personal computer, check out the post entitled, Dollars and Sense: A Lesson in Interest of a Different Kind.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Saturday Morning Child

An antique secretariat sets inside the front door where I hang my coat. I turn the corner. A teeny tiny television resides near the baby grand whose top holds fancy picture frames of loved ones and her students. Immaculate and dustless.

I close my eyes and I am there. Back in that house. My piano teacher's house.

Mrs. Matson. I never called her by her first name, Ruby, a classy lady full of piano playing talent.

Ruby Matson, photo from The Daily Plainsman, Huron South Dakota

When my mom was in the Huron Nursing Home near the end of her days, so was Mrs. Matson—only she seemed to have a bit of dementia. Such a cruel condition for a sophisticated white-haired woman who spent 68 years teaching piano.

I never knew her husband, for she was already a widow when I entered her life. She had no children of her own, but her piano students seemed to be just that—her children. I became one of them when my first piano teacher, Lillian Horn, moved out of town but had arranged for me take lessons with Mrs. Matson.

And how fortunate I was. Years before, Mom said she had tried to get my older sisters in with Mrs. Matson, but even back then, she was booked. Many times I felt out of my league surrounded by her talented students. I never realized at the time, I was slowly becoming one of them.

a recital program from spring 1982 when I was a sophomore

One was Huong Nguyen, a Vietnamese girl whose lesson was before me, and sometimes her equally talented younger sister, Trang, played after me. I loved to hear Huong play the beginning piece in Grieg's Holberg Suite. So if Mom was early or late in dropping me off or picking me up, I soaked up their incredible playing. Sometimes the schedule would change, and I then admired Heidi Krutzfeldt playing Debussy's The Sunken Cathedral. Heidi and I were duet partners for a couple years when Huron hosted a mass piano-duet concert involving more than a dozen pianos playing at once.

judge's comments about my performance at a contest during my senior year

Mrs. Matson was usually all business with little chit-chat. So I was shocked one Saturday morning after the boys' State B basketball tournament when she told me she had cheered for the Crow Creek Indians the weekend before when they were on television. Mrs. Matsonwatch basketball? I was stunned.

I close my eyes, and even today, I have a hard time imagining her sitting in her fancy curved-leg high-back chair, cheering on Chuck World Turner and his feisty teammates. But she spoke enough of the game that I knew she had watched. This was in 1982 when Webster defeated the crowd favorite, Crow Creek.

Mrs. Matson had a way of doing that to me. Stunning me. Nothing shocked me more than when she placed that Grieg piece in front of me.

I earned a I+ on the piece, Praeludium.

The faith Mrs. Matson had in me to master it lead me to write the poem below in 2008 when I took part in the National Writing Project, a program for teachers to not just assign writing but to teach it.

This poem went through multiple revisions. Originally well-over 100 lines, I was forced to cut, cut, cut by the instructor and the e-anthology critiquers. It pained me, but in the end, I agreed with colleague Steve Maack, the lead instructor for our local project, who said, "Now it is a poem."

One of Ruby’s Jewels
by Melodie Harris

I’m up next. I walk to the piano
   with a half dozen books in my arms.
I see the photographs on the baby grand.
   Faces that sit, like me
   One of Mrs. Ruby Matson’s protégés
   A Saturday morning child, waiting to be taught.

I glance around.
The teacher has changed the knickknacks
   on the always dustless end tables.
The best China adorns
   the dining room table expecting company.
A half-written letter awaits completion
   on the open secretariat.
A mostly blackened score is placed before me.

   Grieg's Holberg Suite.

How about you? Ever been challenged to a task so difficult you could not believe you were being asked to take it on? What happened? How has someone's belief in your abilities shaped who you are?

Writer's Note: read more about the role of music in my life in the blog posts entitled Hootin' ~n~ Tootin' and Mom's Pestering Pays Off.