Seafood chowder

There’s a soup I must introduce you to, for tasting on these nippy nights.


I invented it last fall, when I was hungry for a fish chowder, but it took me a whole year to make it again because my husband (who in all other ways has impeccable taste, of course) was not crazy over it. He’s not a big seafood person.

When I made it again, it was even better than I remembered and all the kids loved it, so I grabbed my courage in both hands and clicked publish. At least, by the time you read this I will have clicked publish. I think.

(Just in case you are falling for that yarn: if this post were the one that took the most courage I’d be in clover. FYI.)

You can use whatever seafood you want. I picked three kinds for a variety of flavor and texture. And one disclaimer: it’s not the low-fat version. I often keep bacon drippings in my fridge, the fat left after frying bacon. It adds quick flavor to soups and veggies. You may skip that ingredient if you prefer, or add more of it (wink), or prepare real bacon bits to stir in.

Serve with good bread or toast, and a fresh green salad.

Seafood Chowder

½ pound fish, cut in 1 inch cubes
½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ pound scallops

Sauté in butter with salt, pepper, onion powder, garlic salt, and a generous shake of Old Bay seasoning. Do not drain.

2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 stalk celery
2 Tbsp. bacon drippings (opt)
½ tsp. seasoned salt
2 cups chicken broth

Boil 5-10 minutes till tender. Do not drain.

¼ cup butter
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
1 cup cream or half and half
½ tsp. salt
Additional pepper and Old Bay seasoning to taste
Parsley and thyme (fresh or dried) to taste

Melt butter; stir in flour. Gradually add milk and remaining ingredients to make a white sauce, stirring till smooth and thickened.

Stir all three mixtures together. Heat and serve.


It’s a good soup to eat on the eve of a holiday, when all the family is gathering for the next day’s celebration.

What kind of soup do you like? My sister says this Red Lentil is awesome. Link a recipe here for me to try, or share it in your comment if you’re willing. I’d love to find a new favorite. Share the joy, pass the soup.

Kids gifts under $15

Okay, I’m glad you weren’t holding your breath waiting for this post, because first I got sick (that is, I fell unexpectedly into a vat of back pain) and second, my suggestions involve pretty basic stuff… the kind of classic, useful, and slightly educational gifts I love for my children to receive.

If you like to buy big gifts, use these as gift toppers or add-ons.

But thoughtful gifts don’t need to be expensive. There’s an endless array of lovely gifts you can give a child for five to fifteen dollars. When my daughter turned six this summer and unwrapped beautiful presents from many friends, I started making a list. Here are ten ideas to get you started.

1. Wallet ($5-10)

What child doesn’t want a special place to keep their change? There are awfully handsome varieties for both boys and girls. My daughters have also received the cutest purses, sometimes stuffed with treasures—tissues, gum, a writing tablet and pen. Slip in a dollar bill and she’ll love you for life.


2. Watch ($10-$15)

Instant maturity advancement guaranteed. Besides the I’m-such-a-big-kid! factor, there’s no better incentive for learning to tell time. I always bought analog when my children were preschoolers and taught them the half hours, saving digital watches for the truly big kids.


3. Sunglasses ($3-10)

It’s the end of the season now, but here’s another favorite. Plus they’re so photogenic.


4. Clothing ($10-$15)

A cute sweater, fuzzy socks, a flannel shirt, a great hat, even a pack of undies patterned with Lego or princesses… Something that it makes them feel proud and happy to wear.


5. Craft ($10)

I don’t even want to start the list under this category… it goes on and on. Weaving looms, beading stations, wooden models, paint-by-number, sand art, modeling clay or playfoam, paint-your-own toys, science kits and robot creators. Anything that gives a child hours of happy and wholesome play.


6. Umbrella ($6-10)

Again, slightly seasonal—but adorable all the same. I try not to pep talk Walmart, but they stock the sweetest mini ones in their baby section. The only caveat is that sometimes it’s hard to avoid movie characters. I don’t object to all the movies, but I do object to becoming a walking advert.

In this case, the umbrella was coming to get her. Poor baby.






7. Set of matchbox cars ($5-10)

Not just for boys, Matchbox cars provide endless playing opportunities from emergency vehicles to hot rods to construction equipment. At Regan’s last birthday party, we used new ones for cupcake toppers and let the guests take them home.


8. Big pack of crayons or playdough ($5)

There’s nothing like art supplies to make me want to be a kid again. I love the giant packs of Crayola crayons, every imaginable color, with a built-in sharpener—or the sets of fifty different colored pencils. Washable paints and markers are another alternative. And new Play-Doh brings out the happiest, artsy creativity in a child.

(Don’t worry too much about the mess, moms. You know you have to let Play-Doh dry before sweeping the floor, right? Okay. Then it’s easy.)


9. Personal care accessories ($10)

For a girl, buy a pretty hair brush and hand mirror, a new comb, some fun elastics or little clips. For either boy or girl, pick out some cool kid shampoos, tub finger paint, and bubble bath. Or a vibrating toothbrush and a tube of paste.


10. Puzzle ($10)

Floor puzzles are great fun for toddlers. For puzzles our whole family loves, we pick designs by Charles Wysocki or Anthony Kleem, with their tiny details, bright colors, and homespun peace. We started a tradition of buying a new one before every Christmas vacation. (Older children may also enjoy Wysocki’s adult coloring books!) Our favorite of favorite Christmastime puzzles is O Night Divine by Richard Jesse Watson, a gift from our friends Bob and Jean.


What would you add to the list?

This post contains affiliate links, mostly so that you know what I’m talking about.

That means if you buy something linked from this page, I get rewarded by Amazon at no additional charge to you. It’s part of my unending and deeply personal search to make blogging worthwhile.

Christmas giving

“To: GOD! From: Kelly!

Dear God,

I’m exitet For you’r Birth-Day, at Chrismas!!

Love, Kelly”


I know it’s terribly uncouth to mention the word “Christmas” too early, but I waited as long as I could. Could we just call it “The busy season of merriment and festivities that fast approacheth” for short?

It’s coming.

It’s been years since I’ve looked forward to it with such joy.

For one thing, Kelly has been longing for it since August, when we heard a chorus program that shook her world. They’re releasing their CD in December.

For another, it marks my baby’s first birthday. Everyone told me how much I would hate having a Christmas baby, but I loved waiting for The Baby both literally and figuratively, and I loved having all the hustle behind me by the time Christmas came, because of my obsessive nesting and preparing. (I think I bought the last of my presents on Halloween.) It was a very gentle holiday, quiet and reflective and sweet. Now each year when we celebrate Jesus and Jenny, the house will be festive for a month, and music will be playing, and twinkle lights will be sparkling.

Buying presents always creates a mixture of happiness and angst for me. Giving gifts is one of my favorite ways to love people, but giving so many at one time, and suiting them perfectly to their recipients, calls for much thought.

Three things have simplified the season for me.

First, shopping ahead and shopping online. I don’t ever again want to spend most of my December hunting frantically through crowded stores for just the thing for Uncle Dan. I love having so many good things arriving at my door in mysterious brown boxes and getting squirreled away under my bed.

Second, having our children exchange names among themselves. Now instead of supervising the headache of three to five cheap presents per child, I can help them choose one nice one. We set a $10 guideline: each child contributes five dollars of his own saved money from allowances and odd jobs, and we parents match it. It’s amazing what you can buy with ten dollars: 3-D puzzles, science kits, board books, endless crafts, durable toys. (I’ll share more ideas next time.)

And third, finding a workable plan for extended family giving.

In my Coblentz family, we’ve designated a different couple to do the planning each Christmas, starting with Dad and Mom the first year, my oldest brother and his wife the next year, and so on down through the family. We can each plan whatever giving we’d like, within reason. It has worked like a charm. One year we pooled our money to give to a sibling who’d had huge medical stress and expense. One year we drew names and exchanged homemade gifts. One year we gave only to the children, mailing packages to those who couldn’t come home. This year we’re stuffing stockings, choosing small items for everyone. I love it—endless variety, easy planning, and very little stress.

On the Zook side, we couples give simple presents to each other, often homemade: bath scrubs, drink mixes, cheese and deer bologna, sweet treats, whatever.

It’s a season of joy, when Christmas gifts ought not to become synonymous with overspending and stress. How do you bring simplicity and joy to your giving?

Or is this too early to be discussing it?

This post contains affiliate links.

October 31 tradition


After years of angst about Halloween—how to avoid it, connect with townspeople through it, inoculate it, renounce it, blah blah blah, what was I so worked up about?—we’ve finally found a family tradition that we love.

On the thirty-first of October, we welcome friends who might otherwise be alone that night—mostly the unmarried women we love the most, sometimes a wife whose husband is working. When we invite them ahead of time, we don’t call it a Halloween party or a non-Halloween party. We say “Come over Monday night for hot drinks and puzzles and games.”


We plan fun snacks like soft pretzels or caramel apples or spiced cider or hot chocolate—often something we can make together—and we fill our house with light and warmth and Jesus.

We get out ginormous puzzles and work till we finish them.


Our children talk too much in the glow of all that adult attention, and sometimes my snacks are a bit floppy, like the year the caramel ran off the apples, but we enjoy them together—snacks, children, flops, all of the above—and we soak in the laughter and light.

It’s a tradition I can live with.


Search “Halloween” on this blog if you want to find three previous posts on the subject when my friend Janelle and I were brainstorming back in 2012. I don’t have the heart to add the links right now.

The beautiful mug pictured above was created by White Hill Pottery, the puzzle was created by Anthony Kleem, and everything else was created by Jesus.

Of lost doors


I dreamed I saw her again

Her sweet little grin

Her sister hung back and wouldn’t touch me

But she came to my arms

And snuggled

And smiled

I held her

And when I woke there was a pit of darkness in my heart

That will not go away, still

And no matter what I am doing

There is crying in my heart

That does not show.

I am dying


I hate writing of loss

Because the tamest and wildest descriptions

Are equally true and equally ridiculous


There is a house near mine

Stately and serene

It had a pale blue chipped door

Like the blush of morning

And the soft, soft skin of an old woman’s hand

And the tender ageless hope of a robin’s egg.

I have loved it for years

Looked and longed and loved

The owners are renovating the house to sell

And one day they got out their paints

Their pretty, tasteful paints and made the door


Red. It is not chipped anymore, and it needed to be

Chipped and crackling and the palest blue


Why did I not think to photograph it while I could?

An old door on an old house is an unspeakably beautiful thing and

It is gone clean out of the world


On their birthday I obsess, full of regret and fear

Because we loved them, we loved them

But we could not keep them

We said we could not adopt them

Because of what it was doing to our family

Because the needs

Never ended

And we were never enough

And all six children deserved more of us

The twins deserved a home with less, and more

We stayed in the story and helped bond them with amazing pre-adoptive parents

Some days I know we did right

And some days the guilt and fear choke me


On their birthday

I want to bake their cake, want to see their morning faces bright and new

Want to make the homemade soup they loved

And suddenly I find myself sobbing because of the thing that hurts the most

I cannot remember how Twin B said soup


I am foolish, sobbing over a silly little bit

But that is the thing about


You do not lose once and then remember losing

You lose and lose, and go on losing

You lose the first birthday and the first Christmas and the first memory you cannot pull back

And maybe if you forget too much it will be like

They were never



Several hours later, I hear it in my mind

She said zthoop—a perfectly irresistible lisp that made me fill her bowl again.

I laugh in the middle of my crying and am grateful for this memory

For a photograph of what is gone



The girls are gone and the door is gone and sometimes we cry