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Ugly Sweater Cookie Contests and EA/TEF Memories

Ugly Sweater Cookie Contests and EA/TEF Memories

What could ugly sweater cookie contests and EA/TEF memories possibly have in common? For this EA/TEF mom, the answer is plenty and here's why.

Ugly sweater cookie contests and EA/TEF memories. What could they possible have in common? The answer is plenty, thanks to a recent Facebook post by a dear friend named Barb. She posted a picture about the ugly sweater cookie contest she hosted during her family’s 2019 Christmas gathering and asked Facebook friends to vote for the ugliest.*

Of course, I thought, Barb held an ugly sweater cookie contest at Christmas. That sounds just like her.

We met Barb and her young family way back when, when we lived in a remote town of 92 people in the northwest corner of South Dakota. Her 2 oldest daughters were in my country school classroom, and Barb created beautiful birthday cakes for them each year. Word got out, and since our town was at least 60 miles from the nearest bakery, she was soon creating cakes for all sorts of occasions.

She even created a cake for our EA/TEF baby’s first birthday in 1983. The cake featured a baby-with-a-feeding-tube-and-a-string-coming-out-of-his-mouth. Those who are used to 2020 EA/TEF technology may not be familiar with the 1982 version. Our baby’s feeding tube was a honking, huge Foley balloon catheter. The string went into his mouth, down his esophagus (placed there during a very dicey surgery), into his stomach, and out the feeding tube hole. The two ends were tied in a knot that was untied so dilation tubes could be attached to it when his repair scar needed to be stretched. Our baby endured this process, without anesthesia, about 2 dozen times. Thankfully, modern day dilations are less frequent, more effective, and much more humane.

Back to the cake.

My husband and I tucked the cake in the back seat of our car and strapped our baby into his car seat. Then we drove 120 miles to Rapid City Regional Hospital to celebrate our boy’s birthday in the GI lab with his GI doctor and his nurse.

The long trip was not kind to the cake, which looked like it had been in an earthquake by the time we arrived. Even so, our fellow party goers oohed and aahed over it. “Who made that? How did she do it?” they wanted to know.

Barb was amazing then, and she still is.

For me, posts about ugly sweater cookie contests and EA/TEF memories go hand in hand. Both of them show that things we’d rather not have in our lives (ugly sweaters and EA/TEF) can be redeemed in relationships and celebration.

Families decorating ugly sweater cookies at Christmas and asking Facebook friends far and wide to vote.
A friend turning the hard bits of an EA/TEF baby’s first year into cake decoration.
A doctor and nurse taking time from their day to eat cake with the young parents of a baby whose life they saved.
A cozy mystery book series (if, God willing, a publisher offers a contract) to celebrate the long ago place and time where our EA/TEF baby was born.

Thanks to my friend Barb, ugly sweater cookie contests and EA/TEF memories will always belong together. If you have an EA/TEF baby, and even if you don’t, hope you have a friend like Barb in your life, too.

*I forgot to vote, but the cookie I deemed ugliest won, which can only mean that my thoughts are able to influence elections.

Adding a Dollop of Caregiving to the Cozy Mystery Genre

Adding a Dollop of Caregiving to the Cozy Mystery Genre

Adding a dollop of caregiving to the cozy mystery genre, and this year I'm taking the leap. I'd love to have you join in the adventure! Here's how.

Adding a dollop of caregiving to the cozy mystery genre has been a dream of mine. So this winter, I’m making the giant leap from writing non-fiction to fiction while my agent pitches See Jane Run! to publishers. I’d love to have all my caregiving friends join the adventure. Because cozy mysteries are fun, and caregivers need more fun in their lives. Do you need a little more convincing? Check out the book’s elevator pitch:

When young woman dies and an old bachelor rancher goes missing, a greenhorn schoolteacher solves the mystery. But the murderer remains free to roam the vast, remote short-grass prairie of South Dakota in the late 1970s. Can she keep the killer from claiming another victim?

Jane, the schoolteacher, has a disabled father. Guilt from leaving her mother to shoulder all his care dogs her throughout the story. Years of watching multiple sclerosis steal away her once-vibrant father move her to find the person who killed the mother of one of her students.

Are you ready to leap with me? Then jump in with me as this website is transformed into my cozy mystery fiction central HQ. From here on out, the plan is to feature pictures, snippets of history, and authentic recipes from where and when the story takes place. You’ll also find exclusive content and more at Down the Gravel Road’s Facebook group, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. (Note: If you want to search for Down the Gravel Road on any of those platforms, shorten “road” to “rd” as in “DowntheGravelRd” or “Down the Gravel Rd”) Once the website’s RSS feed and mailing list are up and running, you’ll be able to sign up for those and stay up to date on everything the site has to offer.

Still not sure about adding a dollop of caregiving to the cozy mystery genre? Maybe these questions and answers will ease your concerns.

What’s a Cozy Mystery?

Cozy mysteries are a sub-category of the mystery genre, and they have several characteristics:

  • They almost always feature an amateur sleuth.
  • The sleuth solves crimes that impact their work.
  • They usually take place in a small city or town,
  • They have a limited amount of suspects.
  • They have no sex, hard-core profanity, or violent scenes.

To read more about cozy mysteries, check out this Huff Post article.

Why a Cozy Mystery?

I’ve loved cozy mysteries since high school when I read Agatha Christie for the first time. Well-written cozies with vivid, character-driven stories are my favorite escapist medium. When I left teaching to become a writer, I was surprised by my 16 years of success with non-fiction. This giant leap is a return to my first love while I still can. After all, I’m 63 now and not getting any younger.

Why Are You Adding a Dollop of Caregiving to the Cozy Mystery Genre?

A first rule for writers is to write what you know, so combining my passion for cozies with my experience as a caregiver makes perfect sense. My teaching experience and the years my husband and I lived in a teeny-tiny town in northwest South Dakota are also big players in See Jane Run! 

Are You Ready?

Then leap over to Down the Gravel Road. Stay up-to-date by signing up for the website’s RSS feed and Down the Gravel Road’s mailing list. Find exclusive content and more at Down the Gravel Road’s Facebook group, as well as on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.


Coconut Cookies Redo

Coconut Cookies Redo

These coconut cookies are low sugar, dairy-free & soy-free. They are also delicious & bring back fond memories of a friend who gave me the original recipe.

The original recipe for these coconut cookies was given to me in the mid-1980s by a woman who remains a dear friend. I’ve reworked the recipe a couple times to make it dairy-free and as healthy as any cookie can be. You’ll find the most recent version below. Enjoy!

Coconut Cookies Redo

1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Sticks, softened
1/2 cup lard, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups oatmeal
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups unsweetened, shredded coconut
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°. Toast the pecans in the oven for 5-7 minutes. Remove them from the oven and cool.

Cream sugar, shortening, and eggs until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, flour, soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix well. Add oatmeal, coconut, and nuts. Stir well after each ingredient is added.

Drop dough by rounded spoonfuls onto cookie sheets. Bake for 8 – 12 cookies, depending on how chewy you like them. Makes about 4 – 5 dozen.

Triple Free Monster Cookies

Triple Free Monster Cookies

This monster cookie recipe make yummy treats that are gluten, soy, and dairy-free. They are also low in sugar and high fiber. What more could you want?

My daughter Anne and I developed this variation on monster cookies because her son required a gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy-free diet as a toddler and pre-schooler. Gluten isn’t an issue in monster cookie recipes since they use use oats, a grain he could tolerate, instead of flour. To make the cookies dairy-free, we substituted lard for the butter called for in the recipe we adapted, replaced the M & M’s with peanuts and dried fruit (raisins or Craisins), and used the Enjoy Life brand chocolate chips. (If soy isn’t an issue at your house, Costco’s Kirkland chocolate chips are also a good dairy-free alternative.) Now, on to the recipe!

Triple Free Monster Cookies

3 eggs
1 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
16 oz. jar of natural peanut butter*
1/2 cup lard softened to room tempature
4 1/2 cups rolled, not quick, oats not quick oats!
3/4 cup Enjoy Life or Kirkland chocolate chips
3/4 cups dried fruit (raisins, Craisins, or dried cherries are good)
3/4 cups peanuts

Preheat oven to 350°. Putt baking stones in the oven to heat them.

Cream peanut butter, lard, sugar, and eggs until creamy and fluffy. Add remaining ingredients in order, mixing well after each addition.

Scoop dough with a teaspoon or soup spoon, depending on how big you like your cookies. Shape them into balls and place them on heated baking stones. Press them slightly flat with a fork. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes to desired doneness.

*For best results use natural peanut butter (Skippy or Jiff) that doesn’t need to be stirred after the jar is opened. Otherwise the cookies will not hold together.

Gingersnaps (AKA Molasses Crinkles)

Gingersnaps (AKA Molasses Crinkles)

This recipe for gingersnaps, also known as Molasses Crinkles, is dairy-free, low sugar, and made with whole wheat they're kinda healthy.

Imagine my surprise when, after recording the All About Cookies podcast, I discovered a blog oversight of the first order. No recipe for Gingersnaps (AKA Molasses Crinkles) has been published before on this website. Today’s post rectifies the situation. The original recipe is from a cookies and candy cookbook Jolene received as a wedding shower gift in 1977. We updated it to make it lower in sugar, whole wheat, and dairy free.


1 cup lard at room temperature
1/2 cup Earth Balance Soy Free Buttery Sticksat room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup molasses
2 eggs
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
4 teaspoons soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 375°. Cream together shortening, brown sugar, molasses, and eggs until light and fluffy. Stir together dry ingredients; stir into molasses mixture until well-blended. Form into small balls. Roll in granulated sugar and place 2 inches apart on heated baking stones. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from pan immediately. Makes about 8 dozen cookies.