Monday, September 19, 2016

Lightening Your Load By Extending a Hand


   In the midst of my endless canning time, school time steps in without any subtleties and inserts its new sneaker firmly into our well-established routine. I'm still picking and canning tomatoes. This year I did a lot of pizza sauce since the tomatoes are free. I figure I make at least 50 pizzas a year. What if I had sauce for every one of them? Anyway, I'll be ready for fall when most of you are wrapping Christmas gifts.

   School, however, can't be ignored. Things shut down after Labor Day. The weekend before school started, Little Mister liked my spontaneous suggestion of a backyard picnic on a blanket by the swings. I could not have concocted a better idea had I spent all night planning one. The basket! The turkey sandwiches! The special drink that he has no idea is Kool Aid! Honestly, a strategic team of fun experts that couldn't have produced this grand a time. Secretly, my heart was a little dim with the knowledge that in a few short days I would put him on the bus for another year of preschool and speech therapy. While I'm grateful for all of the speech therapy he has gotten from the local school, there is still a part of me that feels no child should be experiencing their THIRD first day of school at the tender age of four. A child that age should be home baking cookies with mom, getting into things in the backyard and begging me for ice pops on joint trips to the store.

   Little Mister would like it just fine if we turned it down. He doesn't care if someone doesn't understand him when he talks. That's their problem, he figures. 


I like having fun at home, he tells me. 

"You have to understand," I say to his Dad, "I am extremely fun." 
He howls. 
What? Who wouldn't want to spend all day with some lady telling you to clean up your mess and to stop messing with the dog, he does not want to pull your sleigh. I sometimes yell. I have to yell because my house is loud.


Sandwiches, blue corn chips, guacamole. 
I have Morning Glories everywhere right now.
   Yet, the school has done so much good. He has made so much progress. You absolutely wouldn't send him if it wasn't the very best for thing him. I had to keep reminding myself. We send money to missions in other countries so that children with little opportunity can go to a school. Oh, the irony.

   In the midst of the first-day blues, I longed to take the focus off of my feelings of being deprived of what could have been Little Mister's last year home with mom. I needed to stop thinking about me and readjust my thinking to what is right for him, at least for right now. 


   On Sunday morning I heard the sound of a vehicle stalling at the nearby intersection. One of our ministries, if you can call it that, is helping the numerous people who break down on our busy road. I have lent out tools for changing flats to confused teens at an hour before midnight. It's a mission that chose us when we unknowingly purchased a home along a rural mini-intrastate. Out the kitchen window, I saw it was an older man with a nearly new truck that was overheating. I walk over and set him up with a bucket of water while he waited for his son to arrive and offered what help I could. 


   Later, when he returned the bucket, he tried to give me a cash tip. I wouldn't take it. 

"No, you take it, you don't find friends like this anymore," he told me. He threw it in my bucket and walked away. 

   "We're all just here to help each other," I hollered back. The simplicity of that truth rung in the air.
The first day...again.

   I sprinted up the steps into the house, feeling a little more "free" from "me". If I could effortlessly drop my routine to help strangers with car trouble, my own longings could surely take a backseat to doing what's best for my own child. It's true what they say. A pity party can be disbanded quickly when you reach out to help others What a blessing that I don't have to leave home to do it, and neither do you. 

   For my birthday, a good friend and fellow food lover gave me this wonderful book on making fun looking, healthy food for children: (Amazon affiliate link) What I love about this book is that all of the ingredients are things you likely have on hand, so you don't need to make special purchases. Also, the ideas are all healthy and animal-themed, so it's nice that your child recognizes what that pancake with eyes is supposed to be. Also, if you're not gifted enough to make any of them, it gives you some ideas, like this peach parrot I put together: 


  It's not perfect, but I kind of pride myself on posting recipes that I actually feed my family and that fit into a busy mom lifestyle. With two peaches, a knife, and a pair of scissors, this is fairly easy and fast. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Pictures & Peaches

A common view these days.

   This will mainly be a picture post as we arrived home from our planned family time to tomato stakes groaning under the weight of heavy fruit-laden vines, ripened corn, and that was on top of the peaches that came home with us. I got busy as soon as we unpacked, and spent day 3 resting as I wore myself out after two long days. It's funny how ten years ago I could work a full day at the library, drive an hour home, and can food deep into the night while still being able to get up the next day. I couldn't do it now, and I'm grateful I don't have to at this age. 

   For the most part, we had a refreshing time and I was pleased with how the Little Mister behaves better in restaurants, except for his occasional one-boy improv routine that can happen anywhere. I was very proud of The Mister who rode amusement park rides like a champ and tackled a large waterslide multiple times. I'm usually in charge of water-themed activities, so it was great to not be the only person spouting reminders about not drinking the water.

   Oh, I also got to meet Lydia of Thrifty Frugal Mom and her precious newest baby. She was a complete joy, and it was a pleasure to spend an evening getting to know her better. 



   One afternoon, we took a train ride through the beautiful countryside, and I used it as an opportunity to work on my landscape photography. Landscapes and places are my favorite photo subjects. 




It is deceptively hard to get landscape pictures that don't contain utility poles, trucks, random people walking into the frame, and pterodactyls. Just kidding. 



Feeding a mini-pony. I almost want one as a pet. We could take it to the vet in the mini-van. 

Little Mister and me, on yet another train ride. For a while there he wouldn't pose for pictures. Who would believe it? he stayed awake on this train ride because it only cost a dollar or something. The expensive train ride knocked him out in five minutes. 

A farmhouse as seen through the wavy glass windows of a historic mill.


One of my sanity-saving tactics during the summer is simple suppers and no baking. I made the exception when one of my jars of peaches didn't seal and I had some very ripe peaches that needed an assignment. Also, I think the men were getting tired of Oreos. I know. We should all have such problems.



Peach Praline Pie
Before the bake


4 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
2-3 Tbsp. corn starch, for thickening
1 tsp. lemon juice
cinnamon

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup butter

1 unbaked pie shell

In a large saucepan, combine peaches, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Heat and cook until the mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon, about 1/4 tsp. 

In a small bowl combine flour, brown sugar, and pecans. Cut in butter until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle 1/3 of crumbs over the bottom of the pie shell; cover with peach mixture. Sprinkle remaining crumbs on top. 

Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 minutes longer or until peaches are tender and topping is golden brown. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Numbering Our Days



   Like most of the country, we have been experiencing an endless heat wave. For all of the discomfort, I rejoice for the sunshine. 

   One of the delightful oddities of this garden thermometer is that the minute the sun hits the glass, it gives a false reading of 120 degrees. This is true whether it is August or February. It's kind of comforting when it happens in the winter. But here it is, on a day when the heat and humidity are debilitating, giving a true reading.

   We are getting ready to pack and have some much-needed family time together, something that has been carefully planned for months. During the year, we don't get nearly enough of it. Months can go by where The Mister is so over-extended that he might only have two full days out of a month to spend with his work-widow and little boy. I will admit that it is a blessing to have a husband who is so needed by his employer that the hospital calls to ask him to come in when he's already there.


   It is also a blessing to say no, and make a commitment to family. It's never really about finding time. It's really about priorities. Rearranging our priorities is more refreshing than a new coat of paint but without all of the labor and clean up. 

   One of my earlier summer projects, before travel and food storage kicked in, was putting my good dishes in my new-to-us china cabinet. Back when I was a new bride, I imagined hosting gatherings of our extended family with my better dishes and a thoughtfully crafted tablescape of interesting finery. Then, I got back on my unicorn and flew over a rainbow into a blue sky of that glittered with dew. In reality, I inherited most of my good dishes only four years ago and we bought the perfect china cabinet for our space only six months ago. We purchased it from a lady who was downsizing, and I had watched it online for about a year as the price dropped lower and lower. The journey of pulling my dishes out of storage (the barn at my in-law's farm) and rediscovering them was time-consuming but fun. One item I wanted to display was some of my grandmother's vintage handiwork on these tea towels. I actually used a few before discovering how fragile they were, and then decided they would be decorations. 



   When I look at her tiny stitches making up the words that spell out the days of the week alongside the vintage pictures, I wonder, where did she find the time?  I admit that time management has never been one of my strengths. I was late for my own birth and not much has changed since. 

   I like to think that it got done because she made it a priority to sit in a chair one Sunday after church and allow herself to be soothed by the quiet meditation of a needle and thread. As she carefully criss-crossed the word "Tuesday" into a linen, she planned for the future while sitting by the still waters. 


 

   I strive to be that kind of time manager. I have been picking, pickling, and chairing my own personal sunflower appreciation committee of one. I am making the most of my time, putting away food and books for the winter. Yes, I stock books, too. Although I am growing fonder of my space-saving Kindle, I look for used book sales and put my treasures aside for a dark winter night. Soaking in my own still waters, planning for the future, one hand still firmly on the plow. 


August is my favorite month. 

What are your priorities this summer?


Used book sale, Lancaster, PA. Oh, the heat!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Summer Storms: When Your Mother Heart Gets Rained On

   I wanted to share a cheery missive in one of my July posts about how wonderful our summer is going, and I still plan to do just that. However, along with my joys, I also feel called to share my burdens with you. Sometimes I really need to write out those sorrows to find the blessing. Sometimes, you relate, too. 

   My heart was recently broken by finding out that an opportunity I had dreamed of for Little Mister wasn't going to work out. Even worse, I found out the bad news completely by chance. No one even told me. I had spent a delightful day up until that point, and suddenly it was like hearing thunder in the night. The kind where you wake up and realize that all the windows are down on every vehicle and the wash is still on the line. I won't go into the details of it for privacy reasons, but it all left a bitter taste. Is there anything that makes us more nuts than striving to do something for our children and falling short? Seeing them saddened or disappointed by something beyond our control? Yes, there will be great injustices and things we cannot protect them from, but in this instance, I have chosen to trust God, His plans for us, and to focus on all of the wonderful blessings that my child does enjoy and those that still await him. Mothers, we're already doing the most important thing that a child needs, we are BEING THERE. Being present in their lives, holding their hands on nature walks and errands, eating meals together, and saying "I love you". We are round the clock Directors of a ministry where we are counted on every minute of the day, and we can't do it all on our own. God fills the gap. Moment to moment, we may not see it and I know there are times I can't even feel it. It's there when we step back from the canvas and behold the big picture. Then we can see where a Master Artist filled in the spots we missed. 

   There are some immediate blessings that come when our children face disappointment, too. It nurtures our hearts as mothers, makes us more protective. Ultimately, it may free us to find greener pastures for our children. It shows us that we have choices, and freedom, and if something doesn't work out, maybe we can do something else entirely. Although we may stumble, free will is a gift. 


   Although deeply disappointed, I had also remembered another time when I stepped out of my comfort zone a couple years ago in order to make a similar opportunity happen. It didn't take off in the intended direction, and I felt like a bit of a failure. However, when I recently mentioned that same situation from a couple of years ago to my son, he had no recollection of it at all. It was something that had been important to me, but not him. In the big picture, the fact that it went nowhere didn't really matter. 

   Today, I'm finding hope and grace in the big picture.


   In other news, I'm very pleased with how the raised beds are working out. Everything is growing well and there is a lot less weeding to do than ever before. Sometimes a pirate shows up, though. It's a little disarming at first, but you get used to it. 



   We were recently blessed when an overly optimistic neighbor went to the produce auction for cabbage to make sauerkraut and came home with 80 extra heads of cabbage. When his wife got up off the floor from her fainting spell, it was suggested he disperse the excess goods amongst the brethren. I picked out one nice large head of cabbage and made an old favorite called Pepper Cabbage

   For some of my readers, this is very familiar and you've seen it your whole life. 

   It's a pickled cabbage salad made from finely shredded cabbage, a nice addition to meals in the summer, or anytime. We could eat it year round. I've heard it called "Amish Slaw" or variations on that idea and sometimes made with grated onions or celery. I like it simple, and recalled that our Minister's wife once brought a very good Pepper Cabbage to church, so I called her for the recipe. Naturally, she didn't really have one but she gave me basic instructions and I was able to make a perfect recipe that was just as worthy as what you would get from the salad stand at any Dutch market. 

Pepper Cabbage



1 large head of cabbage, grated

1 medium or large red sweet pepper, finely diced
Combine in a large bowl or stock pot.

In a separate bowl combine:

1 cup vinegar
2 cups sugar 
1/2 teaspoon celery seed

Stir until sugar is dissolved, then pour liquid over cabbage mixture. Using a spoon or spatula, work the syrup through the cabbage until the vegetables have been saturated. Allow to stand before serving. This will keep in the refrigerator a long time and also freezes well. This recipe makes about 4-5 quarts. 


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

When You Meet an Old Friend for the First Time

    The long days have been too busy for words as I strive to soak in the beauty of every blooming day lily, every roadside bucket advertising squash for a quarter, and pick every last plump, juicy raspberry and turn it into smooth pie filling to be canned for another day. A day when the lilies are no more. 

I fill our evenings with Vacation Bible Schools, especially if a church is doing an ocean-themed VBS. Little Mister loves the ocean and I just can't resist. The days are equally busy, and this was written only because The Mister gave me a break and hauled our boy off to the county fair to feed the goats.

Something else exciting happened this week. I got to finally meet someone who I have known and loved for years, but never before had the opportunity to know in person. 


I have lost track of how many people I have come into contact with through my blog, through social media, and in ye olden days when there was time for it, discussion forums. People who I have come to know and go on to actually meet, and they have continued to be genuine, solid friendships that have lasted for years. Honestly, if you are reading this right now, I might have no idea who you are but you are probably halfway to my house for pizza night. So when Hope Anne told me she and her husband would be passing through the field outside my neck of the woods, I said, yes, yes! We will venture out into the field and make this happen! 

When the day came, I pulled on my comfiest skirt, least worn t-shirt free of any summer stains, and my soft, thick summer covering that protects the thinning hair on my scalp from the sun. We three climbed into the car and messaged back and forth with travel updates until we arrived at our meeting place. I was amused that Little Mister promptly fell asleep in the backseat. Wasn't he excited to see my friend? What is with kids these days? Our meeting was as comfy as cotton and as relaxing as a chat on a wraparound porch with a pitcher of lemonade.


Sisters at heart...and some loiterers we might know in the background.

Longtime blog readers may recall that somewhere around five years ago, I was a supporter of helping to bring home Hope's daughter from an orphanage in the Ukraine. We corresponded for years, have had late night phone calls, sent care packages. In fact, I can still picture myself at my old library work desk tapping out a message to her and complaining about feeling ill when she brought me to the realization that I was most likely pregnant. 
Hope Anne went on to be my unofficial long distance midwife during that extremely difficult pregnancy. She unselfishly gave me time and support while her own difficult journey was beginning with a newly adopted daughter who had a litany of medical and behavioral issues. More than once I thanked God for this friend. 

There was also a that concerned a mutual friend that we weren't immediately aware that we had in common. One day in a phone conversation, Hope Anne was talking about a conservative Mennonite publishing company she worked for many years ago. It wasn't the first time she had mentioned it but this time something awakened in my brain and I threw out the name of a local friend who had also worked there as a single (unmarried) lady. It turned out they had shared an office! Hope Anne was excited, "Do you know where she is? I've been looking for her for a few years!" 
"Yes," I told her, and if you were searching on the internet you would be out of luck because she is not allowed on there, but guess what? She lives two miles down the road. Hold on while I connect you.
Then Hope Anne lamented that she had been invited to our friend's wedding so many years ago, but things in her own newly married life were too hectic and she could not attend the ceremony. 
Well, I didn't go to that wedding either because I did not know our friend back then but I did attend their anniversary celebration where she wore her white wedding capedress and served the exact same meal from the wedding. "I ate your meal!" I said gleefully. It was delicious. 

On a side note, I often take pictures that don't make it on to my blog because they might not exactly fit with the content or some such reason. I've recently started using Instagram and you can follow me there if that is your thing.  

The fishermen.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Slow, Steady, and Losing: Weight Loss Update and My Easiest Healthy Salad


I hereby declare, in a most unofficial way, that the last day of school shall officially launch the first day of summer. 

   It is day one and there is a comfortably barefoot little boy, knee high corn, open windows, and all the good that comes with a time of year that I hold to be esteemed right up there with Christmas. It all feels relaxed in a way that is new again.


   We've finally reached the phase in our home renovation where landscaping has become a priority, and along with it, a major upgrade to our garden. Since it is too taxing for someone we'll call One Woman to keep up with the summer entertainment, growing, canning, traveling, and all that life holds in the hottest months, I decided raised beds might be an improvement. A better use of space and hopes for less weeding. The Mister built a number of raised beds for our vegetables and Little Mister's watermelon patch. For almost two weeks I hauled compost and filled boxes, hauled mulch for the walkways, hauling and lifting and shoveling. My kind of exercise, the kind that has a determined end with immediate results.



   When it was all done, seeded and transplanted, it was slightly more appealing. I guess when I count up my canning jars in September I'll better be able to quantify the success of this experiment.
Blackberry flowers
   Meanwhile, I drive by my neighbor's perfectly manicured truck patch. Their enormous garden, which feeds a family of ten, is so well maintained you can probably see it as a neatly defined rectangle from outer space. Mine never looked like that, at least not for long if it ever did. My ragtag assortment of rusty old gates that serve as berry trellises and tomato twine make for an interesting and rustic jungle that finishes the race a little worse for the wear.

   I know what my neighbor would say if I complimented her garden. "That weedy thing?" She would mean it, too. 

   I give a similar response when someone mentions the now 45 pounds I have taken off, and kept off, over the past 15 months. "Oh, but I've still got ten more pounds to go! Maybe 20! If only I could get rid of my..." (If you read my previous weight loss post from a year ago, I was then at a loss of 35 pounds. I slowly lost ten more.)

   Losing 45 pounds, something my doctor called "amazing", didn't seem like enough when I ran the comparisons. Surely I could lose just ten more quickly if I gave up bread, potatoes, corn. But, for what? I didn't want to start eliminating food groups for faster results, making meal times needlessly complicated. I don't need to lose ten pounds fast in order to fit into my gown for Miss Universe, and praise the Lord for that. Instead, I'll continue to shun the comparisons and will keep doing what's right for me, a slow and steady path. Like I've said before, I don't think there is a one-size fits all formula for health or anything else. We know for a fact there is no single way to grow a bountiful garden. Some fundamentals, but a lot of variation. If I lose another ten pounds over the next year, that would be great, but whether it's reshaping your body or your garden, it reminds me of the most valuable advice I ever read: You have to do what's right for your family. That might mean not jumping on the bandwagons, fulfilling the expectations of others. There is grace in doing your own thing, not to mention a higher comfort level.

   Also, you have to decide at some point whether a life without grilled cheese is a life worth living. 

   Would you like a recipe for a fast, healthy, and extremely versatile salad that always gets sincere compliments at potlucks? Of course you would! This easy corn and black bean salad is one of my go-to side dishes for summer and is indispensable for something to bring when there is a last minute invite to a backyard cook out. As a side dish for the family, I cut the recipe in half and put it on my table at home at least once a week during summer. 

My Super Easy Healthy Black Bean & Corn Potluck Salsa-Salad

2 cans black beans, rinsed a drained
2 cans whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained
1 red sweet pepper, diced
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro

In a two quart bowl, combine all ingredients.

Add:
2 T Red wine vinegar
2 T Extra Virgin Olive oil
salt and pepper

Options: This recipe can easily be halved. It is also delicious served as salsa with tortilla chips. 

Substitute two tablespoons of red onion for the red pepper. 
Instead of the red wine vinegar, you can dress it with 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinaigrette


So fresh and fast!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Creation Inspiration

 Something amazing happened today. I got cleaned up, took extra pains to corral my strubbly hair, and put on a halfway decent outfit to go to the store. Then, before my cart even hit the entrance, I ran into someone I know and was able to have a nice chat while feeling okay about my appearance. I'm telling you, ten times out of ten, I can go to the store perfectly presentable and never see a familiar soul. It's that one or two or TEN other times that I step out while look like I've just been cleaning out the garage that I meet every long lost friend and acquaintance. I guess once in a while you are thrown a curve ball and you actually catch it.

   Right now, the end of the school year activities and picnics are colliding with our booming strawberry harvest. I love this time of year. The beginning of the harvest, the preservation. The satisfaction. Even the exercise.

   It can be a little tiring. I am the night owl, not the early bird. Even the birds outside the window know this. I hear a bird trilling something that sounds like "Truuuuue, truuuue, truuuue!" When I think about what motivates and energizes me for such a time as this, it is the glory of creation. The fragrant honeysuckle blooms as the grass tickles my feet and I walk towards a field of corn stalks only a few inches high yet. The earth has burst forth in glorious new life. The warm sun, buttercups, and scenery that changes with new blooms before I even done admiring the old ones. Was it ever this good before? The newness is refreshing every year. I love bringing things into my home that are inspired by nature. Or just plain bringing in nature, in case of Little Mister's penchant for housing orphaned insects in various containers.



Inspired by the real deal.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation...

The real deal.
   I remember as a child finding my first hatched baby robin's egg on the ground. What a thrill! To think that a real live baby bird had hatched from there and left it behind. What must it be like to see such a thing? It was such a pleasure to experience that anew through my own son's eyes when we found a hatched robin's egg one evening. What a poignant reminder that God cares for the baby robin, and sparrow, and us. Another gift? His mercies are new every morning. 

   Back to picnics. While I could best be described as "ïn-doorsy" there is something special about sipping a cool drink outside on a warm day while sharing food with those you love. Extra points if the children are enjoying it. This dessert is a timeless classic and has probably been on the table at every church carry in meal (pot luck) that I've ever attended. You can make the top layer with any thickened fruit pie filling, but for this one I used strawberries.



Prepare your fruit filling and allow it to cool completely. For this recipe I used:
3 1/2-4 cups of fresh or thawed frozen strawberries
1/4 cup sugar
3 T corn starch

Combine and stir over medium heat until thickened. You can add more sugar according to your taste.

1 1/2 cup crushed graham crackers
1/3 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

Melt the butter and combine with the graham crackers and sugar in a small mixing bowl. Stir until crumbly, and then press into an 8x12 baking dish.

8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
8 oz. of whipped cream or whipped topping

In a mixer, use a paddle to thoroughly mix the cream cheese and sugar. Add in the vanilla while mixing. Next, use a whisk attachment to mix in the whipped cream or whipped topping until you have a light, creamy consistency.

Spread the cream cheese evenly layer over the graham crackers. Chill until set. Last, spread your fruit filling over top. After everything is chilled, cut into squares and serve. Finally, take your empty dish home from the picnic. 


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