wocket in my pocket

Looking for the unexpected in the mundane.

Putting August in the Freezer

Just in case you have been given a box of peaches, like I was, here is a wonderful way to put them away for winter that does not involve canners and jars.

One of my sisters-in-law introduced us to peach slush, which is basically sliced peaches frozen with some extra stuff for flavor. When you serve them, partially thawed but still icy, they taste just like a burst of sunshine in the wintertime.

I had a daughter running the camera and two daughters on rotation with the peach operation, so this post will treat you to some inexpert, but authentic photos of the process.

  1. Wash the peaches.
  2. Split and remove pits.
  3. Peel.
  4. Slice. If you use an egg slicer for this, it makes them nice and uniform.

 

 

5. Keep at it until you have about 6-8 quarts of slices

6. Add 1 can of crushed pineapple (You can add this right away, juice and all, and stir             occasionally while you peel. It keeps the peaches from turning brown.)  and 1/2 can           of thawed orange juice concentrate.

7. Stir gently and do a taste test to see if the peaches are sweet enough for your taste.             Ours were just a little too tart, so we added a cup of sugar.

8. Fill freezer bags or containers and tuck them away for the middle of winter when               you need a happy pick-up of summer flavor.

Serve these peaches while they are still slushy. That is when they are best.                   Sometimes when we have unexpected company, we stir up a brownie mix and serve plain brownies and peach slush for dessert. Easy peasy.

Any other good ideas out there for quick ways to store up August? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to put links in the comments.

 

 

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Efficiency Tips for Martha

We all need more white space to ponder and pray and take care of the really important things, right? And how, we ask, do we make this space to be like Mary? The stuff to do keeps coming at us and it isn’t going to quit anytime soon. I have compiled a list of things I have learned about keeping house. These are tips for homemakers, okay? Don’t laugh if you have never been one and maybe you think we just sit and drink tea. You. have. no. idea.

  • Never go up or down steps without checking if there is something that needs to be carried up or down. The same goes for room to room. Don’t step over the brush in the hallway 11 times. Scoop it up and put it into the bathroom while you are walking that direction anyway. It’s a lot easier than mounting a full scale search party when it’s time to brush your child’s hair before church.
  • Throw away ALL junk mail immediately. If it’s a company with a website, don’t keep the catalogs. If it’s a Lego or American Girl catalog, let the children look at it until it is soggy with drool, then immediately bury it deep under the eggshells in the trashcan.
  • If there’s a load of laundry, just do it. Don’t ever worry about running out of laundry. Keep your used towels and washcloths in a separate basket/hamper so you can do them often and avoid that stinky, musty smell.
  • Do not put stacks of folded laundry on beds or on top of dressers. It might take 20 seconds to open the drawers and put them away. The same 20 second rule applies to hanging up coats instead of draping them over the nearest chair. Buy hooks until every piece of outerwear has a place to hang out when you aren’t wearing it.
  • Do not store stuff you don’t need or have no sentimental attachment to. If your cupboards or closets are stuffed, sort through them and donate anything you haven’t used for a year to someone who will be grateful for it. (Or put it in storage out of sight.) Stuff can seriously bog you down, did you know that? If you have stuff that nobody would want, well… what are you doing with it?
  • Buy a tote for each child to store their sentimental keepsakes in. Help them decide what they want to keep when you are deep cleaning their room. (Within reason. Some children cannot seem to part with anything! But they probably won’t ever look at those Sunday school papers from 10 years of childhood. Sometimes you just have to disappear things. Unless, of course, you have access to unlimited space for totes.)
  • Keep your fridge organized. It is so much easier to find the ketchup if the ketchup has a spot to live in the fridge. This is not to say that the absent-minded child won’t stand there and gape for the longest time before they find the ketchup. Also, it is much easier to use up food before it spoils if it is visible in the fridge. Buy clear storage dishes. Odds are pretty high that leftovers stored in old cottage cheese containers will grow mold.
  • Avoid ironing clothes if at all possible. Learn how to tumble-dry the permanent press clothes and hang them on hangers while they are still damp. If you forget to get them out of the dryer and they get sadly wrinkly in there, just give them a quick rinse cycle and try again. Life is too short to spend hours ironing.
  • Mulch your garden heavily. And your flowerbeds. Mulch everything. Put newspapers under the mulch. Do not let those weeds come up and spread their noxious seeds.
  • Invest in cleaning tools that your children can use, preferably tools they fight for the privilege of using! That mop with the little water tank that squirts out when you press the trigger?.. Those microfiber window cleaning cloths?..The fun feather duster? Even the Lysol wipes… All these things will make your life much easier than just scrubbing away with a rag cut out of old shorts. Seriously.
  • Delegate. If a child can do it, then let them do it. See above. ^^^Learn to be okay with imperfection.
  • Have a pair of scissors/gluestick/tape roller/sharpie that is verboten to all but yourself. So many motions are wasted while we scurry hither and yon, tracking down the missing household item that someone carted off to make a kite in the garden. I know this.
  • Whenever it is practical, double up your meal prep and freeze the extra. If you are frying a pound of burger, you might as well fry 5 pounds and freeze 4 of them for later use. When you have chicken, make bone broth in the crock pot overnight and serve it with the leftover bits of chicken in a nourishing soup the next day. Make friends with one-dish meals.
  • Keep a schedule, as loose or tight as you need to feel happy. If you know that Thursday is downstairs cleaning day, you can calm down about the mess on Wednesday because you know it will get hit the next day.

Of course, these things do not mean you don’t have to work hard to keep your home free of chaos. The goal is to work smarter, not harder. Ever heard that one? You can then discover a little pool of white space and just enjoy it. Maybe you can find a piece of paper, or if you are artsy, you can get some paint and a board and make yourself a motto:

“Smile! It’s life and you’re living it!”

And now, do tell, what are the ways you have learned to simplify your homemaking?

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May to Date

What in the world have I been doing, I asked myself when the children wanted to know the date for the Sunday school lesson to study. I couldn’t quite believe it’s May 22, but there it was, on my phone which doesn’t lie. I made a list, just for clarification that I haven’t been dawdling. *Insert sounds of guffaws*

 

  • We started with this line-up on May Day. It looked pretty promising.

spring florals, May 1

  • I employed myself to a program of outdoor maintenance at my dad’s decking/vinyl railing business. This included about 4 trips to the greenhouse to get everything looking gorgeous for their annual open house. Then it rained most of the day and people didn’t even walk around the grounds. And then we had a surprise frost that nipped the pretties right back to square one.
  • I turned 39. Yep, I did. That morning I determined to make myself a luscious London Fog cake but I forgot to take it out of the oven and I left for a solitary stroll at a nearby park. Halfway around the lakeside trail, I remembered and sent a frantic text home, but the vanilla cake was quite dry and sawdusty by then. When you are 39, you should know better than that, but at least you have learned not to give up too easily. I already had the Earl Grey infused cream for the icing, so I mixed another batch of batter and made cupcakes after I got home.   I also picked up pizza for supper. With spinach and sriracha sauce because it was my birthday, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it!

Burnt cakebirthday cupcake

 

  • I got to visit with our friends, Motz and Paige, he being a sort of unofficial little brother from way back when. At the same time, my actual little brother and his family were in the area, so we had a grand catching up time. Unfortunately it was an evening that Gabe had to work, so he missed out on the reminiscing. (Thank a nurse today.)
  • I celebrated Mother’s Day with five of the most dearling  (Addy’s new word) children, again a day when their father had to work, and yes, I feel a tad bitter about nurse shifts on these occasions. (Thank a nurse’s spouse today.) However, I do not believe that it is in anyone’s best interests to marinate in the inconveniences of hospital employ, so we went on a hike that day and found a bunch of wildflowers. (Don’t they look like little rascals? But I wouldn’t trade them for anything!)

Mother's day, 2016

  • We all 7 had dentist appointments in one forenoon, with one orthodontist appointment to make, 2 follow-ups for fillings and 1 in six months for sealing of molars. I could happily forgo dental appointments all my life, for real. I HATE it. The hygienist always compliments me that I have no plaque, but I end up being the one who needs fillings. I blame it on gestating and lactating and freely offering up my calcium to others for all those years. It can’t be eating gummy candies, in any case.
  • There was a doctor’s appointment in Pittsburgh; I took three little girls along for the ride on west to Ohio to my sister’s house where a gorgeous tea awaited us on arrival. I had carefully selected my favorite scented jar candle from my stash because Rachel had told me that she always ends up giving away as gifts the ones she likes best. When I handed my hostess gift to her, she got a funny look and said, “I gave you that candle at Christmas.” I thought I remembered picking it out at TJ Maxx, but who knows who is right? After all, she is pregnant and I am 39. At any rate, we each gave our best. 🙂 The ride to Ohio included picking up freezer beef for us. Have you ever driven four hours with styrofoam coolers squeaking against each other at every bump in the road? It does help to listen to “The Boxcar Children” on audio really loudly, but I don’t recommend it.
  • I prepared, if I calculated correctly, about 462 individual meals, plus a few extra on the day that Gabe had friends over to help him with a barn raising project. It was my pleasure, and especially once I had a freezer full of beef to work with. Approximately every 3 days a meal includes asparagus, which is of itself an item of great cheer. Just occasionally I would give up my French press for an in-house cook though.

Barn raising

  • I got to try my hand at messing with clay on a real potter’s wheel, compliments of my sister-in-law Ruby, who set up a training session for my birthday. It took us two hours to drive to the studio, but we had so much fun and I have been dreaming of a way to set up my own operation. Rather many $$$ would be involved. And a lot of time and more strength than I had any idea. It looks so effortless when you watch an artist draw that pot out of the lump of clay, but my shoulders were sore for days. Here is another sister-in-law, Rhonda, who will be having a birthday soon too, and who also had fun because someday her luck with finding pottery at thrift stores may run out and this would be a valuable skill. (I might add here that I went through three towels on my lap and still had clay water smeared down my skirt. The other two came out fresh as daisies. How do they do that?)

pottery making

  • Last, but definitely not least, we finished school, as in all wrapped up, portfolios, achievement tests, evaluations, and a party with the pretty dishes on the lace tablecloth! A field trip to the Lincoln Caverns and a very soggy picnic later, we are done!

I feel a bit like someone put me into a salad spinner and wrung all the moisture out, and that is why I intend to actually dawdle as much as I can in the next week.

Here is one final photo of the barn project as it stands, startling me when I look out the kitchen window because I am not used to it yet. Isn’t the timber framing elegant? One of these days I will look out and be startled by sunshine instead of this grey sky. I believe it! Oh yeah, and one of these days I will be picking 12 rows of peas. Dawdling will be a distant memory. Also one of these days the front of the garden will be bordered by callas and dahlias and zinnias. I can hardly wait!

barn skeleton

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Jaunting About

Jaunt: v.

  1. an excursion undertaken especially for pleasure

  2. archaic :  a tiring trip

We are jaunting about like everything these days and it is so much fun. It is a fast way to wear out, but it is great way “to blow through life without a budget,” as Rachel Jancovik says.

I am taking walks every day except when it rains, just noticing how things bud and burst open and it changes in every 24 hour stretch. I applaud the skunk cabbages along the roadside ditches from the first purple spears to the brilliant unfolding green leaves. I cheer the forsythias across the road, now very nearly at their peak of screaming hilarious yellow. And I got out the vases because my children are bringing me any and all blooms they find. There are no more daffodils or hyacinths outside because they all came into my kitchen.  I have plum blossoms and pansies on the window sill and baby broccoli too.

Yesterday I couldn’t resist and pulled out two baby evergreens that were growing beside the road on a deserted stretch. I wanted to plant them by the pond, and rationalized that the road crew comes along and whacks everything off for visibility purposes anyway. Gabe thinks I poached them off someone’s property, so now I feel conflicted about my baby trees, even though the state owns the road frontage: 20 feet from the middle of the road puts state property boundaries right at the edge of our front porch. So my trees come from state property, which they routinely deface with chain saws and whackers of various sorts. (I am making excuses here, I know! A preacher I know stops and picks up nice rocks beside the road to build chimneys. Is this different? :/ ) I did plant my tiny trees. If they die, I will know I shouldn’t have pulled them. My defense in court would be, “Spring made me do it.”

Last week I spent a sunny afternoon digging dandelions out of the asparagus bed. It was very satisfying. They are the most persistent things! Every year I do this, and every year they gird up their roots and try again. Now I am willing the asparagus to appear!

Spring means lemony desserts to me. I just got done lovingly assembling a Greek Yogurt Cream Cheese Lemon Cake for guests. It is a rite of April. I am pretty sure I posted about this before, but for your benefit, this is what it looks like:

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And here is my recommendation that you go show Lovely Little Kitchen some love and make this cake today.

Grating lemon peel always makes me feel happy. This morning I was busily mixing and pouring and was surprised to find myself feeling annoyed. It certainly wasn’t the gorgeous citrusy aroma or the cream cheese. I isolated the cause to a Pandora music station that I had playing with popular worship songs. I had chosen it because I wanted to hear one song in particular and here I was, listening to the next ones in the queue and getting really irritated. This is not to minimize anyone’s taste in music, but as a lover of language, after the 47th time of “I could sing of your love forever…” I want to say, “USE YOUR WORDS, HONEY!”

I was raised with the grand hymns of the church and am well aware of the “outmoded, outdated, outgrown” arguments concerning church music of the past. However, after something truly beautiful like:

Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible hid from our eyes,
Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.

I simply can’t get into the modern worship songs with their overwhelming emphasis on how I feel and the music that croons to God like I used to croon to my babies. I love the substance of the old hymns, the descriptions, the grasping to know a glorious God who is so amazing that our best language cannot describe Him. I need music to remind me that God is so much bigger than I am.

*that creaking sound of a person gingerly stepping off a soapbox*

Anyway, the cake is now baked to perfection and the house awaits the weekly clearing away of stuff that didn’t get put into its proper home this week. I scored a great victory last week. I actually threw away the sweater vest from the ’90’s. And I replaced the beloved pair of shoes I bought when I was expecting Gregory (He is 11. You can do the math.) and couldn’t fit my swollen feet into any of my regular ones. I loved those shoes, even though they flopped when I wasn’t pregnant, but it was time to let them go.

I have a goal this spring that I am almost afraid to verbalize. I want to assign everything a place in this house, and if it doesn’t have one, it needs to go. This could be both cathartic and painful! My small treasure hoarders will need to be out of the house when I do their room, but they have a whole playhouse where they have free rein and can decorate their little hearts out. Now that it is warm, I am shooing them out there every afternoon after school. They have beds with old blankets and books and a plastic table with squatty little plastic chairs. It’s the perfect way to learn cause and effect in housekeeping. 🙂

Gabe has PTO for 8 days! We are working on building the critter barn and sandwiching in a field trip to DC with my big brother and his family. More jaunting. Hurray!

 

 

 

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Easy Peasy Camp Food

When we camp it seems that much activity centers around the food. The Pinterest search I did for great camp food brought up grills and skewers and lots of men standing around drooling while meat juices drip. I veered off on a completely different tack, since I had no desire to coddle a charcoal grill in 20 degree weather. I could have happily lived with cereal or protein bars for the duration, but I don’t like when people talk about how much their stomachs are groaning (Addy’s words) and it is equally disturbing when the polite child sidles up and whispers,  “Is there anything to eat?”

My game plan for this trip was to make a menu of Sustaining Foods, carefully think of portions, cook the dishes ahead of time, and not have any leftovers to bring home. At the last minute I threw in a bag of tater tots and a few packs of hotdogs with a bottle of ketchup just for a bit of  a buffer.  This turned out to be a smart move, because there were no restaurants close to the park and we were much too eager to get to our rental to spend time casting around for one. So the arrival banquet was just that. Hotdogs and tater tots. Yummy.

Here’s my Easy Peasy Camping Menu:

  • Breakfast One- Pancakes (just add water, thanks to Aunt Jemima) with some extra toppings like nutella and peanut butter, sausage patties, hot chocolate or coffee (Gabe cooked this meal. Gregory did the dishes. Win for me.)
  • Supper One- Baked potatoes with hamburger topping, lettuce, sour cream, fresh veggies-plain, because I forgot the Ranch dip. (I cooked. I mean I wrapped the potatoes in foil. The rest was precooked at home. Alex washed the dishes.) For a dessert/bedtime snack we made monkey bread, very dry because I forgot the extra sugar sauce, but tolerable when dipped in hot chocolate.
  • Breakfast Two- Scrambled eggs with cheese, cinnamon raisin toast, coffee, oranges
  • Supper Two- Taco soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheddar, assorted store-bought confections for dessert. (Is a double-stuffed oreo a confection?)
  • Breakfast Three- cereal and milk so that cleanup would be quick and easy before we had to check out.
  • Supper Three- a restaurant on the way home.

Maybe someone is interested in the snack list. Because we all know what happens with growing children. (What? You can’t be. We JUST ATE.) To minimize this frustration I took along a bag of apples, a bag of clementines, a jar of peanut butter, a hunk of cheese, some lunchmeat, extra bread and butter, and a few packs of Ramen. After we made the pretzel cabins, there were those to nibble on as well. If you didn’t like the selection, you weren’t hungry, and I heartlessly stuck to that.

This plan worked pretty well. I didn’t have to take any seasonings except salt and pepper because I had taste-tested everything in my home kitchen. Even so it seemed that we ended up with a ridiculous pile of supplies. There were just a few leftovers in the fridge after each meal, enough to drop into the cracks of the hungriest children. 🙂 Gabe thought to casually mention to me during our drive that he had invited his sister and her family for Friday night. She would bring extra food he said. That was great, only there was no cell service unless you hiked a few miles, so Ruby and I were not in touch. She brought whatever worked for her, and I heated the leftover potatoes and toppings and then she cooked our Saturday breakfast so that we were fortified with more than cereal on the drive home.

The drive home ended up being through Jonas the Storm. The restaurant meal plan was flawed, alas. “Oh well,” I told the children, “we won’t starve. We still have our cheeks.”

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And that is how it ended, our vehicle just barely off the road and a snowed-in weekend. 🙂

I have one more camping post, all about ways to make it doable with a family. Until tomorrow!

 

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Underfoot or Out of Sight?

I sighed a private little gust of weariness when I saw those bags of apples on the front porch, still sitting there, getting riper and sweeter by the day. I mean, I don’t even like applesauce myself. Except maybe frozen/chunky/with cinnamon, and then only when I have pizza or casserole. I ate so much applesauce as a child, I completely filled my life-quota before I turned 16.

But my children love them some applesauce and it is about as cheap and easy a side dish as you can imagine. Not to mention “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” and all that.

So there I was, walking past those apples every day and pushing them to the back of my mind because we needed to do school or we had to fold laundry or it was raining or the leaves needed raked or the seasonal clothes swap was more important or the canner was full of tomato chunks in the freezer.

This year, for the first time ever, I needed to do 3 bushels, because we had been out of applesauce for months, except for occasional batches of chunky stuff we made fresh. So yesterday I was out of stalling material, except that two of the children were mopey with sore throats and headaches. We decided to just get ‘er done anyway.

Friends, we cranked out 60 quarts in less than 5 hours. That included washing the dishes, even the nasty, sticky food mill and the canners. Just me and the kiddos. I couldn’t quite believe we were done at 3:30, but there it was. And I had flashbacks to about 10 years ago when I only did 2 bags of apples and had a 1 year old and a 3 year old who were constantly pushing chairs across the kitchen and taking bites out of random apples and sticking their fingers into the sugar. I remembered how I would be cleaning up the mess at supper time and feeling as exhausted as if I had been attempting to employ a lively flock of gophers all day.

I also recalled how tempting it was to shoo them away, the little ones who pushed chairs around me, everywhere I went for at least ten years. There were just always these chairs to trip over. The floor in front of the sink became a lake by the time the apples were washed. They wanted knives to chop and I had a special set of really dull ones with bright handles for them. They wanted cutting boards. They dropped apple snitzes on the linoleum with such regularity that I quit picking them up until we were all done and then just salvaged the whole lot of them. They insisted that they were big enough to crank the food mill, then strained and panted as they slowly turned the handle and watched, fascinated, as the applesauce squished out.

It just took really long back in those days. I am not going to pretend that I was always sweet about that. We all know better. It is a special sort of therapy for adults with an agenda to include little children in their work. If you have ever tried it, you know how all the squirminess inside you has to simply slow down and just chill, you know, because it will be all right and we have plenty of towels to sop up the mess.

Here is the thing I can’t quite get over. It only took a few years and now they can actually really help. If I had sent my oldest son out to play or sat him down with a movie every time I did a project, then yesterday he would not have known how to assemble the food mill and exactly which picnic table bench we always use to attach it to and why we do it. If I had never bought those brightly colored dull knives for them, my middle boy may never have graduated to whacking skillfully with my chef’s knife like he did yesterday. If I had never let anybody mess with water, then my girls could not have washed those apples like a boss (sorry, I just like that phrase) yesterday,  and without even needing to change clothes when they were done! I shouldn’t forget to mention that they hauled all 60 empty jars upstairs. Divided by 5, it’s not so bad!

This is an aspect that I didn’t really consider back when it was a trial to let the children help. I think I mainly involved them in what I was doing because then I could be sure they weren’t getting into trouble somewhere else. Honestly, I had no lofty goals about teaching my 3 year-old life skills. But that is how it works, and when I think back, I know that is how my mom taught me things. I have known how to make applesauce ever since I can remember because… we all had age-appropriate jobs when we made applesauce. The chicken butchering didn’t quite catch hold in the same way, no matter how much Mom said every girl should know how to butcher one before she gets married. :/

All this is just to say, you young mamas with your hands full and your long chore lists that you have to accomplish single-handedly and your small fry hovering around and breathing your air… Do you wanna work yourself out of a job? Don’t just hand them a device all the time and tell them to bug off. Let them “help”. Let them feel the importance of making a contribution in the household effort. One day you will pinch yourself when you realize that they are, indeed, making your life a lot easier and there is no need to dread applesauce day anymore.

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(Love, love The Family Circus)

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Pumpkin Pots and Paint

We are walking in fresh sunlight these days. I do not take it for granted. I marvel at it and try to store it up. An art book we are reading describes warm colors as orange and red, and cold colors as blue and green. I have been working on a game plan for winter, because I know it is coming and I dread the chill and dark already. Our basement rooms have been the same color for 11 years. We drywalled and painted it grey just before Gregory was born. It’s a nice neutral color, but back then I couldn’t even imagine doing school down there with 5 children and a dog who thinks she is a child. I didn’t dream how much time I would spend in my laundry room.

I decided to liven things up a little, and I am glad I did it every time I walk into the laundry/bath room. Less than $20 dollars worth of paint (because I got one on the mistints shelf…I am cheap like that.) really made a difference. This room was off-white for 14 years. May I present to you Sunbaked Orange with the light off and with the light on. Hey, I saw you blinking. Isn’t it cheerful? This was not the mistint. I deliberately chose it while in my right mind. And yes, that space between the washer and the laundry sink is really small. When I was pregnant, it was uncomfortable. But I like my large sink for scrubbing things and rinsing bits of our property off small children, so I put up with the crack.

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(I did this painting while Gabe and the boys spent a week up north helping his dad dismantle a huge old barn. When they first talked about doing this, I weighed my options. I could sit and drink tea and read and write in a space of small appetites and little noise and bazillion paper snibbles, or I could tackle some projects on my list that I had despaired of ever getting done. I chose the latter and worked like a crazy woman. When Gabe got home, I had just finished showering off the last of the projects.)

The other room I painted Tavistock Green. I know. It’s not really a warm color, but it is a different color, and that is what I needed.

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I don’t have a clear photo, so this will have to do. Maybe you think this is still grey, but you should see the difference beside the grey wall. It just occurred to me that, being a mistint, this color swatch is not entirely accurate. I think the paint mixer person dribbled a little extra bright green into my gallon, because mine seems to be fresher on the walls.

This is one of my favorite colors in the world, and I picked it up when I saw it on clearance because you never know when you will want to paint something Tavistock Green. That was five years ago. See, I was right!

I did not go yard saling, even though it was Labor Day weekend and the roadsides were just littered with signs. I did not go shopping in Altoona, like I had hoped to do. But I did go up to Rome for 2 days to help out with cooking and whatever I could while the guys were so busily tearing down the barn. That was 8 hours of driving. And Olivia and I did our fall trek to Pittsburgh to see her specialist, so that was another 5 hours of driving after I counted in the detours and the missed exit and the bridge out at a very crucial point. One day I went to a party an hour away and back again for another 2 hours driving total. And I went to pick grapes 1/2 hour up the mountain, so I figure I put in at least 16 hours on the road in my “week off”. I also got pulled over by an officer for the first time in my life. Not that I never deserved it before, but this time seemed mild. I was just at the edge of a small town, speeding up now that I was through it, only I wasn’t through it. I was already past the “End 35” sign when I got pulled over for going 52. Bummer. There went that record. I got off with a warning because I looked harmless  wasn’t local.

The girls and I picked all our pumpkins. I wanted pie pumpkins when I bought the plants, planning to sell the extras out beside the road. This usually works out as a nice little cash crop for the boys. But this was the year for funny mistakes. Remember how the tomatoes turned out to be cherry-sized? Well, the pumpkins turned out to be Jack Be Littles. Ever so cute and decorative and… little. I roasted a bunch of them for pies and lattes, scooping out the minuscule bits of soft flesh and blending it. Then I made this one night:

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It was the prettiest dinner I made in a long time and I spent a good part of it coaxing the children to eat. What is with that?

I think I will spray paint a few of them for decor and give the rest away.

You haven’t heard the end of our mistaken identities in the garden. This was entirely my own fault. I wanted mini bell peppers because I heard that they turn colors quicker than the big ones and it always seems to take so long to grow a beautiful sweet red pepper and then it frosts on them. I bought plants labelled Cherry Bomb because the picture looked exactly like Mini Bells. When we cut into the first brilliant red baby pepper, it nearly blew us away with its heat. My mom said, “What were you thinking? Bombs? That should have been a clue!” And she was right. But they sure are pretty. My yellow Bells are ticked off about something, but the red ones have finally started turning sweet. Those are the bombs at the bottom of the photo.

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I turned a whole bunch of them into pepper poppers and they were fine, indeed. Then I called my sister-in-law Ruby for her hot sauce recipe. One bottle of Tabasco typically lasts us about 8 years, but last year Ruby gave us a pint of her homemade hot sauce, something I had never even thought of making. We are down to the last of it, in one year. It is that good. I used the Cherry Bombs for hot sauce, and in my humble opinion, I think it is even better than the stuff made with Habaneros. Still, we will need to convince the kids to join in if we want to consume 8 jars of it.

The garden is down to a straggle of late tomatoes and green beans, a total failure of a broccoli crop, some really slow pole limas, and lots and lots of sweet red peppers. And weeds. Unbelievable trees of weeds that helped themselves when we got all that rain in August and we couldn’t keep up with them. But in September we do not pull weeds. We mow them off. It is really fun.

Are you getting bored yet? Just one more quick story about this cabbage that Alex kept until it started to split. It was 18 pounds with three babies attached around the bottom. We sliced it up and packed it with salt where it is happily fermenting into sauerkraut, amassing healthful probiotics by the millions. The children don’t like kraut either, but Gabe and I don’t really care. That’s more for us. Hopefully if they see how much we enjoy the stuff, they can get past the stink. 😀

That is about all the creativity I could handle the last few weeks. We are hitting the books with renewed vigor, finishing out 25 days this week. Ahh. It’s a long road is a school term. Rita misses her carefree outdoor existence. “Do you mean I have to do this for twelve years?” she wept one morning when the flashcards overwhelmed her. Because she just turned six this summer, I am letting her off with half days, taking it slowly, letting her go pet her bunnies and look for caterpillars. She can read, and surely she will know her facts by the time those twelve years are over.

Addy, on the other hand, feels left out because she is the only one without real school books. I bought her some wipe-clean preschool materials and that helps, but still is hardly official enough for her. Yesterday she sighed gustily, “I am so tired of this ‘yong, yong’ week! Because I am still not five!” The child talks in italics. Really. Talk about drama. It is just hard being the smallest, especially when you are dead serious about something and the other people at the table smirk. And especially if you still can’t say your l’s.

Well, look at that. I have managed to stay up until my husband gets off work. Thanks for listening!

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Yogurt, Simplified

Like way, way simplified. A while ago I posted a recipe that I used to make yogurt. Then I had a couple more children and life got more hectic and I didn’t have time to mess with gelatin and powdered milk. I learned a way to make it that takes one ingredient. Milk. Well, that and a starter culture from the last batch of yogurt.

When my husband was sick about three years ago, we briefly tried the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which he hated, but at any rate, I learned the only-milk method of making yogurt. (It had to be fermented/incubated 24 hours, after which the yogurt bacilli supposedly had devoured the milk sugars and left behind a product very gut healthy.)

Anyhow, here is what I do. I start with a gallon of milk, heating it slowly in a large kettle over low heat. I like to do this while I am working in the kitchen anyway, so that I can give it a stir every couple minutes. You do not want the milk to scorch.

I heat the milk to 180 degrees, F. This changes the milk proteins so they don’t curdle in the fermentation process. Then I set it aside to cool, giving it an occasional stir. A gallon of milk takes a while to cool. You want it to be about 115 degrees F. so that it doesn’t kill the yogurt culture.

If I don’t have any plain yogurt in the fridge from the last batch I made, I buy a good quality plain yogurt, making sure it contains live cultures (look on the label) and added acidophilus is even better. Once the milk reaches 115 degrees, I whisk 1 to 1 1/2 cup plain yogurt into an equal amount of milk. This helps to thin it so that it mixes easily with the rest of the milk.

I pour the mixture into quart jars, screw on lids, and set them into the oven with the light on overnight. (Shut the oven door, of course. This keeps the oven at a nice cozy temperature, just right for fermentation.) Usually after 12 hours the yogurt has thickened nicely. Plain yogurt, easy, peasy.

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Greek yogurt… that pricey stuff… is just one step away. Turns out it is more expensive because it is only half of what gets made into yogurt, and all you have to do is drain the whey to get the same result.

IMG_20150224_093457187_HDR    I set a colander on a bowl, line it with a  thin cotton cloth (in my kitchen, this is the yogurt napkin, used only for this purpose 🙂 ) and pour the yogurt in to drain. If you leave it exactly four hours in the fridge, the yogurt will now be very, very pluggy. Less time will mean slightly more sour yogurt, more time will mean you need to stir some whey back in so you don’t have to cut your yogurt with a knife. :O

I lift the napkin and gently coax the yogurt into a bowl. It peels right off, usually half of what I had before it was drained. The other half is the whey, which you can use for whatever pleases you.

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The last step is whisking the drained yogurt until it is smooth and happy. It only takes a minute, but makes your end product look really much like the Fage or Oikos that you buy at the grocery store. This gives me 2 quarts of yogurt from a gallon of milk at 2 dollars a gallon. Those little 6 ounce pots cost a dollar on sale. You do the math. 🙂

This is what my children think of the matter. With honey and peaches, of course.

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(I have no idea why some of my photos turned out so small. I am choosing to think of it as a little mystery, and leaving for choir practice now.)

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Linky Love

My sister-in-law shared a link to an article that blessed my socks off and convicted my heart of ungratefulness at the same time. I have often pushed aside the thought that mothers, especially homeschool mothers, tend to whine about how hard life is, how busy, how crazy. That is because it is hard and busy and chaotic. I Signed up for This is an excellent article. I love how she points out that this is what it is supposed to be like. Only in the last century have women had so many choices to make life easier, and still we complain. After you read the first article, go here and be blessed by all the other things you signed up for. Thank you, Mrs. Gore, for the humor and logic you brought to this situation.

I have another link from a blogger friend who posted about her favorite therapy. The photos she posted of her work with pen caught my eye. I knew that my children would love trying it. They are incurable doodlers, at least three of them. Somehow they got a little confused and started calling their drawings “Pendoodles”. Gregory was learning about the ocean in his science, so he took off with that theme.

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He likes gel pens and has been drawing ocean life since he was a tot, but he never blended it quite like this. I like it.

The other son, who is getting to the age where he doesn’t like when I name him in posts, did some neat work with sharpies. Here is a sample.

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And now the sharpies are all worn out, but that is small price to pay for hours of absorbed concentration. I made a few doodles too, but I have to say that I am not a natural. 🙂

Last, but not least, I made some really amazing scones yesterday for my mom’s 60th birthday party. These are really easy, very petite, just right for a party where you want small servings. Find the recipe for Petite White Chocolate Cranberry Scones here.

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The only thing I did differently from the recipe was to make a glaze with lemon juice and powdered sugar instead of using the white chocolate. From past experience, white chocolate and I cannot come to agreement when it comes to drizzling. It is very humiliating to be beaten, over and over, by such a simple thing. Nevertheless, I wasn’t feeling top-notch and I played it safe. I am pretty sure the lemon glaze tastes better with the scone anyway.

Go ahead. You know you want them. 🙂

And that concludes the link love for today.

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For a Cold Day

I am ready to switch gears here. It was quite surprising to me that our love story garnered such interest, but I thank you for hanging in there with me. 🙂 If I ever start a series again by writing in third person about myself, I hope someone smacks me.

With apologies to anyone who is on a diet, I have a recipe for you that I hope you will love. It is so cold, so snowy and blowy that even my children prefer to stay inside. This is the weather for comfort food. I really like brothey soups, but my children, little ingrates, seem to prefer creamy stuff. I decided today is not vegetable soup day (aka one slow spoonful at a time day), but creamy chicken soup day.

Years ago a tea shop served a light, creamy soup with bits of cooked orzo floating in it. When I was eating it, I kept getting a refreshing hint of citrus. I flattered the proprietor into telling me her secret; the recipe was laughably easy. She used canned cream of chicken soup, added a bit of orzo and some orange juice concentrate.

This morning I thought about that soup and decided the time has come to recreate it. It took two tries, but I think I nailed it after experimenting with various ingredients. May I present my very own

Creamy Chicken Soup with Orzo and Orange

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You start with:

2 1/2 cups chicken stock or, like I did, 2 1/2 cup water with 1T chicken bouillon

2 T orzo, (which is a pasta shaped like large rice grains)

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 tsp. onion powder

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1 shake paprika

Cook for a few minutes until the orzo is soft at the edges, but not cooked the whole way through. (It will disintegrate if you cook it too soft before you add the rest of the ingredients.)

Mix well with a whisk or in a shaker:

1 3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup flour

Slowly stir into the hot chicken stock until thickened.

Add 1/4 cup finely chopped cooked chicken.

Now for the secret ingredient:

1 T orange juice concentrate

Simmer for a few minutes, and adjust salt to taste. I didn’t add anything at this point except about a tablespoon of dried parsley. This makes about 4 small servings.

Savor with sour dough bread on the side.

Of course, you can always go the easy route like the tea room lady did, and just open a can of Campbell’s or Great Value or Fit and Active if you want.

Here’s to comfort food. May we all survive until the asparagus shoots appear.

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