Sunday, February 27, 2011

Quilted Wall Hanging: Win It

Some months ago, an opportunity arose to use some of my meager skills to help my friend raise money for her adoption. I was asked to do make a wall hanging from a previously pieced quilt block. I was so excited to help! The block was a lovely 8 point star pattern in blue florals and stripes, made out of poly-cotton dress fabric that is resistant to fading. After adding some borders, hanging sleeve, binding and embellishments, we finally have a wall hanging.

These are the specs: Finished project is 34” wide by 32 inches. It is machine quilted with light blue thread, yo-yo flower accents on the white inner border, and white backing with hanging sleeve. All fabrics are new. The last picture shows it on a table because even in if you are not in the market for a wall hanging, it would make a nice table topper or decorative accent piece, too. The pattern is a traditional 8-point star.

Like I said, I did not piece the center star pattern, just turned it into something more complete!

It is completely homemade, and as such there are a few unique quirks with it. Maybe you won’t notice...maybe I’ve just been looking at it too long. It definitely has a homespun quality to it.

How to win: You must submit an entry by making a minimum donation of five dollars to the Dueck family’s adoption fund. You can do this by going to their site and clicking on the link on the right hand side for REECE’S RAINBOW and making the donation through Paypal. Once you have donated, and we can confirm this, you are entered! Please leave us a comment so we can confirm with RR that you are entered to win.

You will also gain additional entries for donations of more than five dollars. A five dollar donation will buy you one entry, but $10 will give you two, $15 will give you three, etc. One entry for each confirmed $5.00 donation.

For additional entries, you can also spread the word about this on your blog and provide a link to your post in the comment section.
You can share about this fundraising giveaway on Facebook and let us know.

Unfortunately, I have to limit entries to the United States on this one, since I am also donating the postage. Hope you understand!

A winner will be chosen at random in two weeks on Monday, March 14.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Menu Planning: A Primer

What's for dinner?

Recently I was asked about getting started with menu planning. Sometimes, all it takes is a question to find out how many ideas you have about something and then it all gushes out of your mouth in a stream of menu-planning-mania.

If you are serious about saving money and making the most of your shopping trips, claiming good stewardship of your time and resources, menu planning is the ONLY way to go. It stops you from buying stuff that looks good at the time but sits around in your cabinet forever, stops you from making impulse buys, and in the long run makes your life easier. Who doesn't want life to be easier? Last year I shared my tips for making the most out of seasonal visits to farm markets, but this time I thought, what about meal planning?

Here are some initial points to get started:

Plan for one week at a time. Look at your calender and decide how many meals you’ll be eating at home, and what days might demand quick and easy suppers.

Start with your supermarket circulars if you use them and see what's on sale. Pay special attention to the front and back pages because those are you best bargains. The items that stores are losing money on go on the front and back pages. Start planning. Don't forget to plan for leftovers, snacks, and lunches to take to work. If possible, make extra food at supper so you can have it for lunch the next day.

Make sure you plan your menu right up to the day when you know you will be able to make it back to the store. You need to know when your NEXT trip to the store will be after this one, so you don't over-buy or under-buy.

In case life happens and you can't get to the store next time when you thought that you could, keep an "emergency meal" on hand. Maybe even two. These should be meals that are made from frozen and pantry items that won't go bad, so it doesn't matter how long you have them stored, within reason. These are your safety nets in case you can't get to the store, or in case you thought there would be leftovers when there is not.

Don't forget to plan for dessert, too. And breakfast!

I used to menu-plan for 2 weeks ahead. It really didn't work for me because I found that there was always the inevitable SOMETHING that I would run out of and have to go to the store for anyway. Also, if you cook with a lot of fresh ingredients like I do, things would go bad before I could use them. I find that I can get away with planning for about ten days. Just something to think about.

Common menu-planning mistakes to avoid:

1) Finding a recipe, putting it on the menu, getting to the store and discovering that the ingredients are expensive or out-of-season. Or else it involves a small amount of an expensive ingredient that you will only use once.

2) Putting something on the menu without checking to see which of the ingredients you already have and do not need to buy again. Make sure you "inventory your stock" before going to the store. Don't assume you have something-check!

3) Buying out-of-season ingredients when they are at their most expensive. (Example- this is a good time to buy potatoes, not blueberries.)

These are things that work for me, but everyone has different schedules and family sizes.

So readers, help me out. What would your advice be to the young lady who first asked me?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Sense of Humour Will See You Through

There are some things at this stage of life that do not affect us at all, but are “challenges” I would love to be experiencing. For instance, we don’t have to deal with the more enjoyable homeowner quandaries such as worrying about wall art, unless you count the calenders we have hanging in every room on our unfinished walls. And that includes the poultry calender in the bathroom that The Mister picked up at a farm show, and it’s only there because my husband has some sort of innate drive to both pick up free calenders and hang them someplace, any place. It bothered me at first, but now it’s become amusing.

Another burden I cannot carry is the luxury of worrying what people think of my home at this stage. “Thank you Lord for relieving me of caring what other people think.” Now there is a motto you won’t see splashed across a wall in trendy vinyl letters any time soon, no matter how true it is. Another truth is that when you are confronted with a half-finished home with piles of construction materials in the driveway, and a dog standing on top of a mountain of stones that still wait to be spread out over the driveway, you really don’t notice the errant weeds, or smudged windows. It would be like realizing your shoelace is untied as a bomb is dropped overhead. How’s that for gratitude?

Please look at these bulbs sprouting, not the cement mixer. Thank you.

Finally, my unfinished home relieves me of long house-cleaning sessions and affords me the luxury of not being pestered by the occasional muddy shoe that finds its way inside, and saves me from expending a sigh if a little grape juice gets spilled on the floor. As my grandfather used to say, “A hundred years from now it won’t make a difference.” I think this was his spin on the familiar phrase Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last. Again, a lot of truth in that.
There are of course some serious aspects to living in a state of chaos (hospitality is at an all-time low, and you could dust hourly here if you had it in you) but pondering the minutiae over and over again will not see you through. Learning to laugh along the way and appreciating the things you don’t have will certainly help just as much as appreciating what you do.

Let me just say to the rest of you with fully finished homes that need tending, AND children who need mending, I don’t know how you do it! (But I’d like to try my hand at it someday, too.)

This is a delicious and EASY crustless quiche I made the last time we had breakfast for supper. I would usually serve this with pancakes or french toast. The Mister likes it with a little maple syrup. I call it “fast and fancy”.

3 cups chopped broccoli (boiled for one minute if using fresh-boil the head of broccoli whole, then chop)
6 eggs

½ cup milk
1 cup shredded cheddar
salt, pepper, nutmeg

optional: I had about a cup of fried crumbled sausage left over from pizza night which went into this also.
Other options might include chopped red pepper, fresh tomato, diced ham, or sliced mushrooms.
Butter a 9-inch pie plate. Preheat oven to 350. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, milk, ¼ teaspoon pepper, ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, and ½ tsp. salt. Stir in broccoli and cheese, and pour into pie dish. Bake for 35 minutes, until edges are slightly brown.

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Sweet-Heart Story

I like chewy, he likes crisp.

Over the past few years, readers sometime e-mail to ask how I met my husband, known on this blog as The Mister. Instead of retelling the story over and over again, I thought it might be fun to write it once and post it here to share, and what better time to share this than Valentine’s Day?

I had moved back home to my mother’s house so that I could return to school one final time in order to get the necessary degree to become a librarian. After moving back in and getting settled, I started to look for a church. My choices were somewhat limited, geographically. There were only a handful of Mennonite churches within reasonable driving distance. There were two that I was interested in becoming a part of, and began visiting. The first one was a fellowship that a good friend was a lifelong member of, and she was eager for me to join. The second, was one in which I knew no one, but felt warmly welcomed. It was a tough decision to make and required a lot of prayer. One morning, as I stood in the second church, I heard God’s small, still voice telling me that this was the “right” church for me at that time. I couldn’t help but wonder why God made that decision and why He wanted me there, but I knew without a doubt that He did and so I followed.

Months went by as I finished up library school and settled in to my new church family. There was a constant round of dinner invitations on Sundays from families in the church. Everyone was eager to get to know me, and was generous with their hospitality. One thing that I liked about this church was that I was not the only single person in the congregation. While by and large, most of the members were happily married and had been for years, there was a handful of us thirty-somethings who had spent our lives thus far working, going to school, and doing various mission and ministry projects. It was comforting to have others to speak with for whom the Lord had plans outside of what seems like the norm. There was even a childless couple who enjoyed having the older singles over on Sundays and hearing about our jobs, interests, and walk with the Lord. The diversity of experiences among the people in my new church won me over almost as much as the hospitality.

One afternoon at church, after I had been attending for about six months (and had made application for membership), someone asked me if I had met the-future-mister* yet? (name changed to protect The Mister). They introduced me to a man about my age who didn’t initiate eye contact, and didn’t seem particularly excited to meet me. Even better, he rolled his eyes at me when I asked him where he worked. I had once thought that I saw him noticing me after church some weeks before, but now I saw how wrong I was! This man could not care less about making my acquaintance.

Life went on.

A couple months later I was having lunch one Sunday with the other singles at the home of our unofficial “Advanced Youth Group” sponsors when the wife said a curious thing to me. She told me how irritated the-future-mister was to find out that I would be coming over that day since he had other plans and could not be there. How odd, I thought, What difference would it make?
“He even asked me why we couldn’t have invited everyone over next week since we knew he had plans, and he was so upset because he really wanted to meet you,” said the wife.
Really? The guy who rolled his eyes at me wants to meet me? I took it with a grain of salt. But I was completely surprised when, towards the end of my visit late in the afternoon, the-future-mister cut short his plans and stopped by for a visit. Only this time, he was polite, conversational, and definitely making eye contact.

I didn’t know what to think.

There would be many more Sundays as we visited and got to know each other better, becoming friends before anything else. If the-future-mister was interested, he was slower than molasses. (Later I found out that his mother always said he was as slow as “cold tar”. Meanwhile, my boyhood Mister always wondered just who Mr. Cole Tarr was and how he would know him.)

Finally, on a week night in early December, we had our first date. This was a big step as once you announce your courtship and have your first date, it’s like announcing an engagement. We were discreet for as long as we could be, but of course could not hide our growing affection. All eyes on were on us, or so I felt! We both discovered we liked to travel, and had many dates that were interesting day trips. We even took a trip to Tennessee together. That raised some eyebrows! People probably felt better once they knew that we would be visiting The Mister’s aunt and uncle.

One year to the day of our first date in December, we announced our official engagement and plans for a Spring wedding. It was announced in church by our minister, during the morning announcements. Unexpectedly, people clapped and cheered, and I just about could have died from embarrassment, even though I knew they were happy for us. I remember one older lady coming up to me after the service and reaching for my hand saying, “You are the answer to our prayers!” At that moment it dawned on me that long before I even joined that church, people were praying for the-future-mister and the Lord’s will in his life, and many people had likely prayed for us along the way. It helped make the day special.

We soon began the mandated pre-marital counseling with our Minister. Basically, that was just a series of discussions to make sure we were all on the same page as far as our beliefs, the church doctrine, and to make sure there were no red flags for problems. We were married five months later, in a small wedding in early May. It was a perfect day, sunny with a mild breeze. I won’t go into all the details, because it would be worthy of its own post, maybe someday.

Let me just say for the record that The Mister has always maintained that he has no recollection of that first meeting in church, and certainly did not intend to roll his eyes at me. He believes that if he did roll his eyes, it was not at my question but at the thought of the company he was working for at that time. And now that I’m married to him and experience his incredibly short memory on a weekly basis, let me just clarify that I believe him!

What’s your sweetheart story?

Monday, February 7, 2011

A Wintry Mix of Blessings and Challenges

It was a perfectly lovely Sunday. The sermon was inspiring, the fellowship meal was simple and delicious (Baked potatoes with fixings) and to top it off, it was a perfectly mild day without the usual icicles and harsh breath of cold air. As The Mister and I settled in at home to our routine, everything seemed fine...until the bad news.

The bad news was announced grimly, by The Mister, who just came in from the backyard where he witnessed it firsthand. Our septic system is broken and un-fixable. Oh no! How can that be? What do you think happened? What will we do? When you are mid-construction on your home, you have little time to deal with the things that go wrong along the way. You are far too busy building new infrastructure while having to keep up with substantial maintenance, too. But even if your home is completely finished and every last bit of trim is set in place, you would never want to hear the words “broken” and “septic system” in the same sentence. There is never a good time and never enough money to fix anything that can go wrong with a rural plumbing system. Never.

Only hours before we had sang “Standing on the Promises of God” and so soon after, it felt like we were standing on something, but it wasn’t very promising.

Of course, it could be worse. Couldn’t it always? We plan to start conserving water until work can begin on this important subterranean project. And of course, praying for patience and wisdom along the way.

People who live in cities and suburbs often express to me a desire to live in a more rural setting on a farm or farmette, or at least in a place where the can have a large garden and animals. I admit, I like this, too, and am adverse to dense populations, traffic, and many other aspects of metropolitan living. But when I start to discuss the self-sufficient mentality that is prevalent in rural communities, eyes begin to glaze over when they hear about well-water and hauling your own trash. Oh, and when it snows? Forget it. If you have ever found yourself as one of those country living admirers, I’d encourage you to incorporate the best of what that experience has to offer while enjoying the conveniences of fewer power outtages and plowed roads. After all, we’re all just doing what we can to make our lives healthier and wholesome on various levels in whatever ways we can, no matter where we live!

Now might be a good time to take a joy inventory and remind myself what I DO love about our home...

Wide open spaces...

Room to grow...

Low cost living (present situation excluded!)

how it's filled with reminders of loved ones,
who are the biggest blessing of all.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Of Icicles and Icing

My friend Martha and I were watching some children being pulled in a horse-drawn sled on an off day from school, after we had received a reasonable 4 inches of white powdery stuff. This was on top of whatever was already on the ground, as it seem this is the first winter in a long time where snow is a constant, unmelting presence. Martha, who is in the grandmother phase of life, began to tell me how when she was a young school girl an Amish man would come to her school after a snow fall and bring the children home in his sleigh, much like the scene we watched. The sleigh even had bells. “You couldn’t do that today,” she said indignantly, “Someone would get sued or have to sign a paper or something!” Yes, point taken. And Martha’s school was torn down to build an outlet mall, so it couldn’t even be recreated under the best of circumstances.

During these bleak snow-scaped days I remind myself that in just five months I’ll be walking around the Kutztown festival with a homemade root beer in my hand while mumbling about the heat. Such thoughts offer me just the right amount of comfort in my chilly moments.

This past week I’ve been putting together my seed order while simultaneously reading canning recipes. The latter may seem woefully out of season until I tell you my strategy. The strategy is to work backwards on this one: Find out what I want/need to can this summer and then if at all possible, grow it. Of course, this is what I do to some extent every year, but there have also been times when I’ve been dazzled by pictures of plump, green, and even exotic varieties of vegetables only to grow them and have to figure out quickly how to use and store them. I love organizing, and I think planning is one of the things I like best about the whole garden/grow/preserve cycle. You get to devise and execute a whole three-phase project that will feed you for the coming year. You couldn’t learn these management skills in a business school! But of course there is room for creativity, too, and a little folly. It’s a lot like painting a picture where you never know what it will really look like until it’s complete.

However. I’ve discovered that many of the items we will really need to be preserving this summer are things we don’t grow (some fruits, for instance) so that means more space for experimenting and trying new things. How exciting!

I think a snowy winter day is a good day for cinnamon rolls. Wait, could there ever be a bad for these fresh-out-of-the-oven treats?

Cinnamon Rolls with a dollop of Cream Cheese Icing
Makes 2 pans of rolls

½ cup milk
1 ½ t. salt
½ cup sugar
¼ cup shortening (or butter)
1 packet yeast (2 ¼ tsp.)
½ cup warm water
2 t. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups all purpose flour

Heat the milk until it’s just at the boiling point, and then turn off the heat and add salt, sugar, and shortening. While the milk mixture cools to lukewarm, add the yeast to the ½ cup of warm water. We want the water to be between 90-110 degrees. Also add in 2 tsp. of sugar. Let the yeast mixture stand 10-15 minutes before adding it to the milk. Pour everything in a large mixing bowl and add the beaten eggs. While mixing on a low speed, add in 4 cups of flour. When flour is worked in, cover the bowl and let it rise until it doubles. Divide dough in two and use a rolling pin to roll each half out into a rectangle. At this point you can either brush with melted butter OR dot the dough with thin slices of butter. Either way works fine. Sprinkle generously with brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll up the rectangle from the long side, so you have what looks like a jelly roll. I use scissors to cut slices off and place in greased pie pans. Cover, and let rise again. When the rolls are just about touching each other in the pan, bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

Cream cheese icing:
4 oz. (half a block) of cream cheese, softened
4 T butter
1 tsp. vanilla
powdered sugar

Cream the cream cheese and butter in the mixer. Add vanilla and then sugar about ½ cup at a time until you reach the desired sweetness. Keep mixing until you achieve a creamy consistency. It doesn’t have to be perfect- this easy and forgiving icing will melt on top of your warm cinnamon buns to form the perfect topping.

Caught on Camera

I use Google maps quite a bit to pre-navigate places that I plan to visit, or simply to show someone where a great little fabric shop is, or how to get from Uncle Will's to the ice cream dairy using the back roads. This afternoon I had heard about a place out in Gordonville, PA that I wanted to visit, but Google maps wasn't producing very good directions. So as usual, I hit the "street view" function and started virtually driving around Lancaster looking for this store. I love using the "street view" maps for this because it's always a sunny, clear day and once in a while you catch something unexpected. Like this...

View Larger Map

Is this the first Amish man to be caught unaware by Google's cameras? Better him than me!


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