Honey-Oatmeal Muffins Updated Again

honey-oatmeal muffinsHi and thanks for stopping by the Gravel Road. I’ve been experimenting with my tried and true honey-oatmeal muffin recipe, hoping to make it better at fighting candida, a normally harmless yeast fungus that can exacerbate allergies if not kept in check. Coconut and flax fight candida while sugar (even honey, maple syrup, agave, and the like) feeds it. So this version of the recipe substitutes coconut oil for corn oil, adds shredded unsweetened coconut and ground flax seed, while cutting down a bit on the honey. Give it a try and see what you thing!

Honey-Oatmeal Muffins

1 egg, beaten                            1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup honey                          1 cup soured rice milk*
1 3/4  cup whole wheat flour     1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup oatmeal                           1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder        1/4 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup ground flax seed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl combine beaten egg, coconut oil, sour rice milk and honey. Stir. Mix the dry ingredients together and add to liquid mixture. Stir by hand until dry ingredients are moistened, but batter is still lumpy.

Line muffin pan with muffin papers. Spoon batter into cups until they are ¾ full. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes until the edges turn golden brown. Do not over bake! Serve them warm. Or let them cool and store in gallon freezer bags. Makes one dozen.

*Sour rice milk by putting 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in a 1 cup measure. Fill to 1 cup mark with rice milk and let sit at least 15 minutes before using.

Ten Men Who Changed My Life

John, Jim, HarlanAt the beginning of last Tuesday’s post, I explained the reasons behind that day’s list of ten woman who changed my life. Today, the exercise continues and concludes with a list of ten men who also impacted my life. My hope is that what you read will prompt you to do something similar and discover many, many reasons to be thankful for the people who touched your life in profound ways.

10. Gene Ulrich, a college science professor family friend when my sibs and I were quite young. He had a way of relating to us as children that made us feel secure, valued, and interesting. Years later, he became a middle school teacher and was one of 4 finalists for NEA National Teacher of the Year. His interactions with us taught me how to relate to children.

9.  Tim Trudeau, the pastor of our local church who constantly exhorts us to read, to learn, to be curious, to become experts in something, and to delve into Scripture and mine it for the jewels waiting to be found in it. Because of him, I continue to be a life long learner.

8.  Dory Little, pastor of the church we began attending in 1985 when we moved to Boone. He was the first expository preacher I had ever heard. The impact of his belief in the power of Scripture and his willingness to test and approve it using reason and logic showed me that Christians don’t have to check their brains in at the door.

7.  Tom Balm was the pastor of the church my family attended during my childhood. He was a creative, funny man who marched to his own drummer. He also visited my father almost weekly, and they would laugh together until they were both crying. Through his example, I learned humor can be healing and faithful friends do not forget invalids and shut ins.

6.  Harry Thompson was the pastor at the church my parents attended during college. A couple decades later, he and his wife retired and moved down the street from us. He “adopted” our family, helping us kids with 4-H projects and visiting Dad nearly every day. My life was changed by his steadying presence in our home. One day, when it’s time for me to quit driving, I hope to follow his dignified example by turning in my driver’s license out of concern for others on the road.

5.  Mr. Frerichs, an extraordinary and precise high school senior composition teacher at Le Mars Community High School, who provided a strong foundation concerning the mechanics of writing. What he taught his students–and what his students complained about every single day–I now draw upon every single day with gratitude rather than complaint.

4. Mr. Hallum, another superior high school teacher at Le Mars Community School, who turned tongue-tied, insecure high schoolers into gifted, confident speakers and actors. He also took me aside one day and said if I wanted a lead in a play, losing 20 pounds would make that much more likely. That was all the motivation one chubby sophomore needed to change her eating habits, develop a healthy lifestyle, and snag the lead in the fall play her senior year.

3. Jim Hoey, my uncle and demanding high school World Cultures teacher, who filled another bedrock role in the lives of me and my sibs. He was a father figure who did for us what Dad couldn’t. He took us swimming, camping, hunting, exploring. He took us up on top of our roof to see the view. He pushed Dad in his wheelchair up hills and across fields and carried him to the basement when the tornado siren blew. When Dad could no longer get out and about, Uncle Jim visited him several times a week. Because of Uncle Jim, I know the joy of adventure. (Jim is on the left in photo above, holding my little brother.)

2. Harlan Stratton, my dad, whose sense of humor never failed throughout his 38 year battle with multiple sclerosis and who never became bitter. From him I learned that by choosing to live well in adverse circumstances, parents can bless their children beyond measure. (Dad is on the right in the photo above.)

1. Hiram Philo, my husband, also known as the Man of Steel. From him, I have learned so much about loving unconditionally, though I don’t do it nearly as well as he does. Because of him, I was able to leave teaching to do what I do now. Thank you so much, Man of Steel!

Who’s made a difference in your life? Leave a shout out in the comment box below!

Petal Dancing This Fantastic Friday

crab apple petal danceThe Man of Steel cut down the dying crab apple tree outside our bedroom window 6 years ago. But the memory of its beauty and my sweet, laughing children remain fresh in my mind, thanks to the post below. I hope it makes you smile.

Earlier this week, the crabapple tree that guards our bedroom window began to flower. Yesterday, in the soft, warm breeze, it began to sluff off it’s blossoms petal by petal in a slow and lovely dance. They looped and twirled and floated along until the west wind set them, ever so gently, between the waiting blades of green, green grass.

I watched them dance, fresh and pink, and thought of my children. One May day years ago, Allen and Anne stood beneath the tree while Hiram shook the branches and petals rained upon their hair and shoulders. Our children danced, their hands raised high to catch the soft flood. Hiram’s mother, here for Mother’s Day, laughed as she snapped picture after picture. Finally the kids, tired and sweaty, flopped onto the greenish-pink, trampled grass.

The tree is dying, has been dying for years, was dying while Hiram shook the branches. All that’s left is one large limb, and we know that this year, after many seasons of procrastination, the tree must come down. “But wait,” I asked my husband, “until it blooms again, until after the petal dance.”

Yesterday, when the breeze arose, I took my mother-in-law’s place behind the camera and took picture after picture of the petal dance. If you look closely, beyond the wind-shaken branch, you can see them falling, – tiny, hazy, pink raindrops. And I think if you are still enough, patient enough, then perhaps you will see what I do: two precious children, arms raised high in a springtime dance, so happy, so young, so loved.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

Camp Crook, South Dakota


  1. The top of my dresser is covered with toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, and coconut shells. Can you guess who is going to receive a cornucopia of craft supplies from his grammy this weekend?
  2. Our son-in-law received his Masters of Fine Arts in Acting and Directing from the University of Wisconsin, Madison last weekend. Kailen Fleck, we are so proud of you!
  3. 30 years ago this month we celebrated our little boy’s 3rd birthday just before we moved from Camp Crook, South Dakota to Boone, Iowa. This year I just completed the first draft of a novel set in the tiny town where we used to live…just in time to spend the weekend celebrating our son’s 33rd birthday and our son-in-law’s graduation. The best things in life are worth the wait!

What’s been worth waiting for in your life? Leave a comment.

Way Too Healthy Tomato Sauce

spaghetti sauceThis recipe is another that comes compliments of the allergy elimination diet that’s ruled my life for the last month. The good news is that the reintroduction part of the diet is now in full swing, and rice, whole wheat, corn, carrots, potatoes, apples and bananas are now fair game. However, most sugars, all yeast, and alcohol (including vinegars) are still off limits. So to ease my hankering for whole wheat spaghetti noodles topped with marinara sauce, I made up my own version because the prepared sauces contain sugar. I’m still playing with the ingredients, which received the Man of Steel’s coveted seal of approval, to make it even more tomato-ee, but this recipe has added some much needed variety to our menu.

Way Too Healthy Tomato Sauce

1 pound ground beef, pork, or turkey, browned (I used pork)
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 Roma tomatoes, peeled* and diced
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup Kalamata olives, sliced thin
1/2 cup sweet pepper, diced (optional)
1 cup water
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon salt

Brown meat in large dutch oven. Drain off grease, if needed. Add garlic, onions, and peppers. Saute for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes, water, salt and Italian seasoning. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a slow simmer. Simmer on stove for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve hot over whole wheat spaghetti noodles.

*Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute before peeling and they will peel much more easily.

Ten Women Who Changed My Life

Dorothy and DonnaA few Sundays back, our pastor spoke about the importance of leadership in the church and in individual lives. He then paid tribute to 10 people who had influenced his life in profound ways. He encouraged everyone listening to do the same thing. After giving the matter some thought, my list quickly grew to 20. Not being able to prune the list to 10, I solved the dilemma by making 2 lists: one of influential women and the other of influential men. To prove that chivalry is not dead, the women’s list comes first.

10. Mrs. Margarent Eggleston, Franklin Elementary 2nd grade teacher, who presented her students with oodles of opportunities to be creative…and let this girl use show and tell to hone her stand up comedy routine.

9. Mrs. Zoe Hemmingson, Franklin Elementary 4th grade teacher, who made social studies come alive for her students. 10 years later, she taught social studies elementary teaching methods at the college where I learned how to make social studies come alive for my students.

8. Betty Kingery, Westmar College elementary education professor who had taught elementary school for many years and passed her practical wisdom and humor on to a bunch of wannabe elementary teachers, one of whom wouldn’t have made it through her first year of teaching without the wealth of resources she provided.

7. Cheryl Gottschalk, the Harding County Schools elementary principal who gave specific feedback after every classroom observation and submitted my name to Who’s Who Among American Teachers. Until then, I had no idea whether or not my teaching was up to par.

6. Dr. Ruth Monroe, Westmar College theater professor. She was a strong, independent, creative, single woman who opened doors to the world to her students. She took us to the Guthrie in Minneapolis, to Broadway, to Washington, DC, and demonstrated how to mount professional productions in unusual and unexpected places.

5. Dorothy Pederson, head dietician at Brentwood Good Samaritan Center, who was my first boss. Under her tutelage, I learned time management, efficiently, and quality control. She promoted an insecure high school junior from dishwasher to assistant cook and made me feel competent.

4. Jane Bricker Lindell, who into our neighborhood between our 8th and 9th grade years. At the beginning of 10th grade, she suggested I read the textbooks and complete my assignments on time and then made sure I did. Because of her, I became a good student and had a magical high school experience.

3. Judith Markham, who was an editor at Discovery House Publisher when we first met. She encouraged me to pursue writing and publication through traditional publishing houses. She championed the book proposal for my first book, A Different Dream for My Child, and edited the project. Without her, I might not have become a published author.

2. Donna Hoey, my aunt and Mom’s younger sister. Words aren’t enough to tell what a presence this woman was and still is in my life. She was unconditional love, security, kindness, and stability to a little girl whose life was upended by her father’s illness. When she hugs me each time we meet, she still makes me feel safe. (On the left in the photo above.)

1. Dorothea Stratton, my mom who carried three young children and a disabled husband on her determined shoulders throughout the 1960s and 70s. Because of her, I am an educated woman. Because of her relationship with Dad, I understand what it means to love someone to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. (On the right in the photo above.)

Who are the people who profoundly changed your life? Give some of them a shout out in the comment box. I’m looking forward to meeting them.

When I Say, “Jump,” You Say, “How High?”

Roger Hallum Scholarship Fund A while back, one of Gravel Road’s top ten post listed many lessons learned from Roger Hallum, high school drama coach in the late 1960s through the mid-1970s. The response to the post by his former students was heartening and eventually resulted in the creation of a website in his honor to promote the Roger Hallum Scholarship Fund. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to Roger Hallum, a most extraordinary teacher.

When I say, “Jump,” you ask “How high?” Those words ring in the ears of Roger Hallum’s students decades after he uttered them. Hallum, Le Mars High School speech and drama coach from 1969-1975 was speaking to a tough crowd–three dozen or more high schoolers who comprised the cast and crew of 1971 fall play, You Can’t Take It with You.

Hallum’s students took his words seriously and jumped as high as they could whenever he asked. In turn, he believed in them and trusted them to do more than they thought they could do. The lives of those students were profoundly impacted by Hallum’s wisdom, humor, and faith in their abilities.

Several months ago, Chris Lindell, ’74 learned that Hallum had died on July 1, 2009. He passed the news along via Facebook, and his former students began to share their favorite memories of him. Funny stories about standing on stage and hearing his voice booming from somewhere in the dark theater. Practical advice useful to this day: “When you’re going to give a speech, never say ‘I’m gonna talk about’ about what you’re gonna talk about.” And regret that “I don’t think I ever saw him after he left and I’ve always wished I’d had.”

Eventually, Hallum’s former students created a scholarship to honor Hallum’s wisdom, humor, and faith in their abilities. Through the Roger Hallum Memorial Scholarship, they hope to pass along his confidence in young people to today’s LCHS graduates.

The scholarship fund is available to Le Mars Community High School graduating seniors who are pursuing a college degree in the creative arts. The fund is administered by the Le Mars Community School District Foundation. Donations are tax deductible and may be sent to the following address:

Le Mars Community School District Foundation – Roger Hallum Fund
940 Lincoln Street SW
Le Mars, IA 51031

More information about the scholarship fund, Hallum’s biography, and a picture gallery can be found at www.hallumscholarship.org. Questions can be directed to Jolene Stratton Philo, ’74 at jolene@hallumscholarship.org or to Chris Lindell, ’74 at chris@hallumscholarship.org.

Former students of Mr. Hallum are invited to leave a tribute or share a favorite memory about him on the tribute page at the Roger Hallum Scholarship website.

Smelling the Lilacs While They Last this Fantastic Friday

LilacsThis post that first appeared in May of 2008 speaks for itself. Uncle Ralph, you are dearly missed.

On Sunday, the swiftness of death and the uncertainty of life touched me twice. Mom called after lunch with the news of her brother’s death. His son had called Saturday and said Ralph was failing. “Within a week,” he said. We thought we had a few days.

But Ralph didn’t mess around. He died like he lived – fast and full-steam ahead. The swiftness of his passing surprised but didn’t shock us. After all, he was in his late eighties and had lived a good life. Once we received funeral details, we crowded a trip to Minnesota  into the upcoming week’s plans and moved on.

In the evening, my husband and I helped at a graduation party for our friends’ daughter. During the festivities, word came that a tornado had destroyed a high school in Parkersburg, where the uncle and aunt of the graduate teach. Next we heard seven people had died in the storm. Then word spread that some of the deaths occurred at graduation parties. No one said the words, but we read them in one another’s eyes. It could have been here. It could have been us.

This morning I walked down our road. The grass glittered, washed clean by gentle rain in the night. The birds sang. The trees swayed gently in the breeze. The first iris bloomed in the ditch. The lilac branches drooped under the weight of blossoms at the height of beauty. Tomorrow, they’ll begin to fade. If the wind comes up, they’ll be gone.

I did the only thing I could in the face of the fading beauty of this life and the swiftness of death to come. Today, I smelled the lilacs.

Three Thoughts for Thursday

No. 2 pencil

  1. Iowa’s Republican straw poll has introduced some changes to make it less expensive for the candidates dabbling their toes in the presidential race waters. I would gladly add to the cost savings by offering free lodging at our house, which is closer to the straw poll venue than the nearest hotel, in exchange for having my name removed from every political mailing list and our television McGyvered to go silent during political ads during the upcoming presidential season.
  2. College-bound high schoolers will soon have the option of taking a computer-based ACTs rather than the paper and pencil test. I hope the test proctors will pump the aroma of #2 pencil lead and wood shavings into the computer labs. The tests just won’t be the same without it.
  3. I totally understand the Minnesota state senate law banning eye contact in their chambers. As the child of a Minnesota mother and niece of numerous Minnesota uncles and aunts, not making eye contact is the norm for natives of that great state. Making eye contact is considered pushy. And for their generation the proper response to “I love you” is a very uncomfortable “I know,” a quick change of subject, and an offer to fix you a sandwich.

How do your elders respond to “I love you?”