Merry Christmas from the Hartmans

I can hardly believe it, but this year marks the 20th Hartman family Christmas.

19941994 – Hanna was 6 years old; Phil and I had been married just over a month. Because my brother John and his family were unable to attend the wedding, the three of us flew to Phoenix on Christmas Day right after celebrating with Phil’s family.

19951995 – In April we moved across the circle drive to our current house. Laura was born on Thanksgiving Day and baptized on Christmas Eve. Somehow we missed getting a full family picture, but did get this adorable shot of Hanna with her new baby sister.

19961996 – Phil moved from Health Industry Data Institute to Capital Region Medical Center. Laura, now a year old, cried when held by anyone but Mommy. Our stained glass window was newly installed – we had not even had time to paint the frame yet. On Christmas Eve I asked Phil to open a special gift from his Christmas stocking. He guessed that the package contained a ballpoint pen. Ummm, no.

19971997 – Phil’s Christmas gift last year was not a ballpoint pen, but a positive pregnancy test. This picture was taken on Laura’s second birthday, when Joseph was just three months old. In our new parent stupor we neglected to take any Christmas photos at all, but I managed to write my favorite Christmas letter ever.

19981998 – The year of the infamous pith helmet. Phil insists that I told him I wanted one. I think he dreamed it.

19991999 – These pictures were taken when we decorated the Christmas tree. Christmas Eve Phil, Laura, Joey and I came down with an intestinal bug. Eleven-year-old Hanna did her best to take care of the rest of us while Phil and I took turns napping and comforting the little ones. During one of my shifts I had Laura on one knee and Joey on the other, when both of them started puking. Phil staggered in, took one look at us, muttered, “I can’t help you,” and left me there. True story.

20002000 – At last we regained our wits enough to remember a family picture. Joseph was 3, Laura 5 and Hanna 12. I no longer wore glasses thanks to LASIK surgery earlier in the year. Kitty joined the family.

20012001 – The kids were growing fast. Hanna was in 8th grade and Laura in kindergarten at Trinity.

20022002 – Hanna started high school. Phil had a week left at Capital Region Medical Center before moving to Jefferson City Medical Group.

20032003 – Joseph joined Laura at Trinity Lutheran. Concordia Publishing House printed my first story in the December issue of Happy Times.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2004 – The kids grew so fast. Hanna was 16, Laura 9 and Joseph 7.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2005 – A few days after Christmas, we adopted Daisy. Laura cried with joy when we brought her home. Earlier in the year, my first Arch Book®, Mary Magdalene’s Easter Story, was published.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2006 – The pets were camera shy this year, Hanna graduated from Helias High School, Laura started playing basketball and I wrote another Arch Book®, The Ten Plagues.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2007 – Daisy joined us for the Christmas picture but didn’t understand about facing the camera. This was the last year we cut a tree because I was diagnosed with a cedar allergy the following spring. My first Christmas Arch Book®, When Jesus Was Born, was published. Phil was promoted to CIO at JCMG and completed a MBA program through William Woods University.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2008 – We didn’t all fit on the sofa any more, but at least both pets showed up for the picture. In June I suffered damage to my left facial and hearing nerves during a microvascular decompression surgery; that began a year of loss that continued when Phil’s father passed away in October.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2009 – Sadly, Phil’s brother Tony was killed in a car accident in March and my dad passed away in May. But despite my neurosurgeon’s pessimistic predictions, I regained 85% of the hearing in my left ear and my facial paresis began to improve. Phil was well into his carpentry hobby and built this armoire for my Christmas gift. And Daisy faced the camera!

20102010 – Hanna graduated magna cum laude from Truman State University with a degree in history and a minor in philosophy and religion. Laura graduated with third honors from Trinity Lutheran School. Joseph got taller than both of his sisters.

20112011 – Hanna accepted a placement as an English teacher at Hanoi University of Science and Technology through Lutheran Church Missouri Synod World Mission. She was able to come home during the summer and the rest of us flew to Vietnam visit her for Christmas. The Ten Plagues was released as an iPad app.

20122012 – Joseph graduated from Trinity Lutheran. Hanna returned home after 18 months in Vietnam and started working for JCMG and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Laura established herself as a top student at Helias, played basketball and ran track.

20132013 – Phil left JCMG and is now working for IRG Inc., a technology consulting group. He is scoutmaster for Troop 8. I have a second Christmas Arch Book® out, The Christmas Angels. In January I will join the adjunct faculty at Central Methodist University’s Columbia campus, teaching two sections of basic macroeconomics. Hanna was accepted into the LEAPs Program at Valparaiso University, a two-year in-service master of education program. Over the summer she attended intensive coursework on the Valpo campus; during the academic year she is teaching second grade at Grace Christian Academy in Chicago. Laura is in her senior year at Helias High School. She remains at the top of her class and chose to drop school basketball in favor of a Parks & Rec team, freeing time to take an after-school job as tutor to two Trinity students. She attended Missouri Girls State over the summer; both she and Joseph attended the National Lutheran Youth Gathering. Joseph has moved to the main Jefferson City High School campus. He is working on his Eagle Scout project and joined an Explorer Post through the police department. Daisy and Kitty are still with us and we have semi-adopted Moses, the neighborhood cat.

Happy Christmas and a Blessed 2014

Phil, Sara, Hanna, Laura & Joseph Hartman


Scavenger Hunt Cookery

I spent a couple of days with my mom last week as she recovered from eye surgery – partial left-side corneal replacement. There have been significant improvements to the surgery recently so that the recovery is quicker and much less arduous. Mom is recovering nicely, but is prohibited from reading for three weeks. That’s an eternity to a former librarian. Thank goodness for books on CD.

It’s always an adventure staying in someone else’s home. At my house, I know where most things are (most of the time); routine and familiarity help me to operate in a relatively smooth groove. But at mom’s . . . well let’s see – she moved to a new city following my dad’s death, recently renovated her kitchen, has had an extra generation to accumulate kitchen stuff, and our brains seem to be wired differently with regard to organization. But I wanted to give my brother a respite from caregiving while I was there, so I accepted the challenge of fixing dinner without knowing what ingredients and equipment I might find, or where.

In the waiting room at the surgery center, I had seen a really delicious-looking chicken recipe in a magazine. Rachel Ray maybe, or Martha Stewart or Good Housekeeping. I have been following a gluten- and processed sugar-free diet for a while and the recipe fit that too, so I made a mental note of the ingredients and instructions. Back at Mom’s I embarked on a scavenger hunt with my brother’s help. We managed to find everything except scallions, which we put on the grocery list we had already started.

I did not remember the exact proportions for the recipe, so I decided to wing it with what we found. I don’t like leaving little bits and pieces of leftover ingredients to get moldy in the fridge, so I try to use whole units as much as possible. Here is my adaptation of the recipe:

Spinach & Feta Chicken Breasts

  • 3 pound package frozen bone-free, skin-free chicken breasts, thawed
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained and squeezed dry
  • 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 6 ounce package crumbled feta cheese
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced

Using a sharp knife, cut a pocket into each chicken breast. Our 3-pound bag of chicken contained 5 thick breasts. I was able to halve each one lengthwise and then cut a pocket in each half.

Combine cream cheese, feta cheese, spinach, garlic and scallions in a medium mixing bowl. Pack mixture into each chicken breast pocket.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a frying pan at medium heat. Brown chicken breasts for 4-5 minutes on each side, turning gently to avoid losing the filling. Transfer to a baking dish and bake for 7-10 minutes.

Serve with a garden salad and quinoa or rice. Approximately 10 portions, more or less depending on number of chicken breasts.

Notes: One of the chicken breasts shredded as I was forming the pocket, so I cut it into pieces, browned them, then added the leftover spinach and cheese mixture and put in the baking dish alongside the stuffed chicken breasts. It was equally tasty, just not as pretty. I think that bone-free skin-free chicken thighs would also work for this recipe. If we didn’t already have a grocery list, I would have substituted chopped onion for the scallions. There are no herbs or spices in the recipe, but the spinach, feta and garlic give it plenty of flavor. Delish!

I regret that I did not think to take a picture of the finished recipe and I have been unable to find it on the internet. Most are covered in bread crumbs; this is the closest I could find. I will be sure to snap a pic next time I make it.

The Ballad of Psycho Cat

Come and listen to the story ’bout a psycho cat,

She’s grumpy and she’s mean and she’s gotten very fat.

Once upon a time she was small and she was sweet

Then the vet went and messed with the nerves in all her feet.

Paws, that is. Indoor pet. No more claws.


Well next thing you know she hisses and she spits,

Other cats and dogs can throw her into frenzied fits.

It’s hard to believe she can sometimes be quite tame,

The same cat that plays “Kill the Beanie Baby” game.

Ty, that is. Any will do. Birds are best.


Psycho Cat plays games that are really kinda cute,

Hand Under the Blanket is truly quite a hoot!

The shower curtain and bannister are two more ways to play,

And she’ll stay with whomever comes down sick that day.

Sleep, that is. On their bed. ‘Til they’re well.

Joe Kitty nap

Attacking Sara’s foot came as one great big surprise,

Joseph’s love is all that kept the kitty from a quick demise.

She’s older now and slower but she still can blow a fuse,

So anywhere near Psycho Cat be sure to wear your shoes.

Footwear, that is. Boots are good. Slippers too.


The Jefferson City Psycho Cat!

The Story of Princess Crazy Daisy

Daisy's baby picture. She was five months old when we adopted her.

Once upon a time, a father came home from work. He kissed the mother, who was preparing dinner.

The father asked the mother whether she would like to get a puppy. The mother, who had spent the day taking children to and from school, sports practices, and orthodontist appointments, imagined what it would be like to add feeding, housebreaking and cleaning up after a puppy to her already hectic schedule. But the mother was overcome with curiosity. Instead of saying no, the mother asked what kind of puppy it was.

The father, aware of the single answer that might weaken the resolve of his beloved wife, informed the mother that the puppy was a black Labrador. The father offered to take the mother to see the puppy with the understanding that they would not bring it home if she did not like it.

Later that evening the father and mother went to visit the puppy. Against her better judgment, the mother fell in love with the little black puppy. The father took a leash and collar out of his pocket. He and the mother took the puppy home.

The father and mother had three children. The youngest son was interested in the puppy. The oldest daughter was indifferent. The middle daughter cried with joy and asked to name the puppy Daisy. So they did.

The father set up a dog crate in the family room. The father and mother started to house-train the puppy. The puppy was used to living outdoors and had some accidents on the carpet. The mother cleaned them up. Soon the father and mother pulled up the carpet and had a hardwood floor put down instead. The father and mother repainted the family room and replaced the windows.

The puppy learned to be good. She did not jump on people or climb on furniture. One day the puppy went upstairs against the rules. The mother sternly told the puppy to go downstairs. The puppy never went up again.

The puppy learned to “sit,” “lie down,” “stay,” “shake,” and “come.” She learned to “drop” a toy but did not learn to “fetch.” The puppy leaned that “go to bed” meant to lie down in the dog crate. The puppy learned to be obedient.

The puppy loved to take walks. She picked up tree branches to carry around the park. The puppy loved to chew on sticks and rawhide bones and plastic bottles and frisbees. The puppy loved to play tug-of-war with squeaky stuffed animals and to romp in the snow.

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One day the puppy started to shake. The mother thought that the puppy was choking. The mother carried the puppy to the car and drove to the animal hospital. When they got there, the puppy was fine. A few weeks later the puppy started shaking again. The veterinarian told the mother that the puppy had ideopathic epilepsy. The puppy had to take medicine called potassium bromide. The medicine would help the puppy to have fewer seizures.

The puppy grew. One day she was not a puppy any more. She had grown into a dog. She still liked to act frisky like a puppy. She still loved to go for walks and carry sticks and chew plastic water bottles and play tug-of-war.

One day the dog got very sick. The veterinarian told the mother and father that the dog had pancreatitis. The dog stayed in the animal hospital for almost a week. When the dog was well enough to come home she had to stay on a strict low-fat diet. The mother and father and children could give her doggy treats. The dog could also have bits of fruits and vegetables. The dog liked baby carrots, cauliflower stems and apple peels. The dog learned to catch treats in the air when the mother and father and children tossed them.

The father takes the dog for walks in the park and rides in the car. The father lets the dog outside in the middle of the night. The father thinks that the dog loves him best.

The middle daughter feeds the dog and gives the dog medicine and baths. The middle daughter thinks that the dog loves her best.

The neighbors take care of the dog and spoil her when the father and mother and children go out of town. The neighbors think that the dog love them best.

The mother buys the dog food and medicine and chew bones and takes the dog to the vet. The mother cleans up the dog’s messes and sweeps up enough doggy hair to knit a brand new puppy. The mother allowed the puppy to come home in the first place. The mother knows the dog loves her best.

The dog will be 8 years old on Wednesday. The dog is slower than she used to be, and sleeps more. The dog is getting a lot of white hairs on her muzzle and belly and even the pads of her paws.

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The father and mother and children love the dog more than ever and wish a happy birthday to Princess Crazy Daisy.

‘Twas at the Siege of Vicksburg

Hanna and I took a field trip to St. Louis last Friday to see the Civil War in Missouri exhibit at the Missouri History Museum before it closes. It was nicely done with lots of information, artifacts and a number of interesting interactive touchscreen activities (that would in all honesty make great iPad apps). We discovered that we had been to many of the battlefields referred to in the exhibits, including Wilson’s Creek, Lexington, Pilot Knob, Pea Ridge (Arkansas), Shiloh (Tennessee), Vicksburg (Mississippi), and Gettysburg (Pennsylvania). A feature about James Eads’ ironclad warships reminded us that we had seen the USS Cairo during a family vacation.

The USS Cairo was sunk by a naval mine in 1862. Sections of the ironclad were recovered and reassembled at the Vicksburg National Military Park.

There is an interesting story leading up to our visit to Vicksburg. Like many good tales, it began long, long ago. Every family tree has its colorful characters; with a name like Jefferson Green Fields, my great-great-grandfather was predestined to be one. He had three known wives (with rumors of at least one more) documented through census files and marriage records. No divorce decrees have surfaced, thus it is possible that he was married to all three at the same time. JGF is known to have fought with the Confederate Army during the Civil War and later to have been a livery stable/general store owner as well as a circuit-riding Primitive Baptist minister.

Jefferson Green Fields
Jefferson Green Fields: Portrait of a Polygamist

I am a descendent of the second wife (family lore identifies her as Native American, but this is undocumented). In 2000 a grandson of the third wife contacted members of my family with an idea to reunite the descendents of JGF. He called it the “First Fields Family Union,” because never before having gotten the three branches together, it could not accurately be called a reunion. His idea was to meet the following summer in Memphis, Tennessee, where Jefferson Green Fields had enlisted in the Confederate army. My half-something-cousin-some-number-of-times-removed was also recruiting someone to write a paper about his experience in the War. Any guesses who volunteered?

I pored through Confederate payroll, parole and veterans records as well as books and websites about the Civil War. In summary, Jefferson Green Fields served as a teamster for the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery at the Siege of Vicksburg. At some point he was injured and hospitalized, but had returned to the battlefield by the time that General John C. Pemberton surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant. JGF was taken prisoner and paroled. (Download the entire paper here.)

Phil and I thought it would be interesting to take the kids to Vicksburg before heading to Memphis. The Vicksburg National Military Park is huge, with memorials for every state with troops that fought there.

Missouri’s memorial is the only one dedicated to soldiers from both armies. Twenty-seven Union and fifteen Confederate units from Missouri fought at Vicksburg.

We found the spot overlooking the Mississippi River where the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery was encamped:

Joey (3), Hanna (13), Laura (5) and I enjoy the view at Vicksburg National Military Park, June 2001.

as well as a plaque commemorating JGF’s company.

Joey, Laura and I pose for an obligatory cannon photo in June 2001. The summer of 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Vicksburg.

On to Memphis and the “Family Union.” (Sort of, anyway; descendents of the first branch declined to participate.) My paper was well-received by those who did attend, but an even bigger treat was in store for us. The 52nd Tennessee Regimental String Band was in town!

As Confederate reenactors, band members were both bemused and amused by the whole “Family Union” thing, but appreciated the explanation and treated us to a concert. Appropriately, they opened with ‘Twas at the Siege of Vicksburg.

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Note: The Civil War in Missouri exhibit at the Missouri History Museum closes June 2, however a traveling exhibit has scheduled stops in various Missouri cities and towns through 2015. See it if you have the chance.

Something Else I Never Knew: Prom Prep for Guys

I’m pretty familiar with the girly side of prom. Of course I have my own prom memories, although it’s an altogether different experience these days. Just a few short years ago, I was shopping for prom dresses with Hanna and doing her hair and makeup.

This year, for Laura’s junior prom, I felt fairly confident about the whole procedure. We found a beautiful gown early on, but unlike her older sister, she did not want my help getting ready. Laura got busy scouring Pinterest for hair and jewelry ideas; it looked as if my major duty would be picking up flowers.

That is, until one fateful Saturday when Laura was not available to help her boyfriend select his tux. Instead of watching her track meet, I met Kyle and his mom at a formalwear shop with the sash from Laura’s gown. Now, I was away in college before my younger brother arrived at dating age, and Joseph is just a freshman this year, so male prom prep was off my radar. Sure, I had heard about the pressure to come up with an adorable yet unique way to ask for a date, but I was blissfully ignorant about anything else.

Moms of sons, this is what you have to look forward to:

  • Black, white, charcoal, gray, navy or brown?
  • Solid or pinstripe?
  • One- or two-button jacket?
  • Notch, shawl or peak lapel?
  • Wide or narrow?
  • Plain or pleated shirt?
  • Laydown or wingtip collar?
  • Regular or French cuff?
  • Standard or bow tie?
  • Wing-tip or rounded toe shoes?
  • Pocket square or boutonniere?
  • Solid, plaid, check, stripe, polka dot, paisley or geometric pattern vest?
  • Match, coordinate or contrast with the dress?

That’s a lot of permutations, and the poor guy hadn’t even gotten to vest color yet. Vests come in every hue of the rainbow plus a few that aren’t. Purples range from lavender to lilac to plum to deep purple. This is where the dress sash came in handy: some vests were too pink, some too blue, some too bright, some too dark. Fourteen decisions and a few measurements later, Kyle was finally done. He set off to catch Laura’s relay, his mom to a baby shower, and me to check the color of a pair of purple sandals that Laura had seen (sadly, they turned out not to match). Flowers would have to wait for another day.

Here are the results of all that prep work:

Laura is resplendent in a taffeta ballgown with princess neckline, corset back and tiered pick up skirt embellished with seed beads, bugle beads and silver sequins. Her wristlet corsage features five tea roses with purple sparkles and silver ribbon.
Kyle rocks a solid black two-button notch lapel tuxedo with a plain white laydown collar shirt, deep plum striped vest and bow tie and a white rose boutonniere.



Coincidence vs. Influence

When he was six, Joseph asked if we could visit the Alamo. I don’t remember exactly what prompted his request (Davy Crockett, perhaps?), but everyone was interested in a trip to Texas, so later that summer we headed south. We visited all five San Antonio missions, strolled the River Walk, toured the USS Lexington aircraft carrier in Corpus Christi, traveled briefly into Mexico, and took Hanna to a campus visit at Concordia University – Austin.

Also in Austin we indulged my hobby of touring state capitol buildings. On our way home we did the same in Oklahoma City. During our tour of the Oklahoma State Capitol, we encountered the lieutenant governor, who invited us into her office, encouraged the girls to become active in politics and offered a photo op. Hanna and Joseph passed, but Laura took her up on it.

Laura with Mary Fallin, August 2004.

I hadn’t thought about this in years, but was reminded of the incident last week when Laura received an invitation to attend Missouri Girls State this summer. Only a couple of junior girls are selected from Helias each year, and the selection process includes an application with an impromtu essay and an interview with an American Legion representative. Phil and I are so proud of Laura!

Out of curiosity I looked up Mary Fallin; she is now Governor of Oklahoma. Now I’m not saying that our encounter with Governor Fallin eight and a half years ago directly led to Laura’s selection to Girls State. But interestingly enough, just as soon as the 2013 Missouri Girls State session wraps up, Phil and I will be taking Laura to meet her youth group for the National Lutheran Youth Gathering.

It’s in San Antonio, and we will be following the same route through Oklahoma City that we took back in 2004.