Thursday, December 18, 2014

Gingerbread Play Dough

 This time of year always fills me with hope, as I ponder the 
miracle of Jesus' birth. If a King could be born in a stable, anything could happen. When I was a child, Christmas was a time of wonder. I hope to never lose that feeling of child-like wonder.

The wonders of His love, the wonders that He doeth, and the wonders of heaven.

It's a spectacular experience to see the wonder in Little Mister's eyes, now that he is getting old enough to comprehend Christmas a little more. All the tiny delights that prompt round eyes and mouth to form an "oh" of awe. I long for a heart filled with awe at the miracle of the season. To see everything anew, through the eyes of a child, is a gift meant for all of us. I'm sure of it, and think it's meant to be carried with us all year too.

 I did little in the way of decorating this year. Just some basics and a few things that were handy. When I decorate for this time of year, I do like to mix old things with new. Treasured and timeworn alongside new.

 One afternoon, as I do every year, I baked a large batch of gingerbread cookies. An army of molasses men waiting for decoration. What fun to surprise those little round eyes with all of those gingerbread men awaiting faces of icing and garments of sprinkles. 





But what's this? An impostor! 


No, it's NOT a gingerbread cookie. It's homemade play dough made to LOOK and SMELL like gingerbread! What a neat gift. One of Little Mister's teacher's shared the recipe for this unique clay. 

1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 Tbsp. cream of tartar
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 cup water 

Food coloring (or Koolaid powder)

Optional: If you want it to smell like gingerbread dough, add 1/4 cup allspice, ginger, and nutmeg. But I want you, it really does smell like gingerbread dough and your kid will want to eat it. So will your pets. 

For gingerbread dough: Mix spices until you get the scent/color that you want. 

Mix all dry ingredients in a pot, then add oil and water to mixture. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring frequently until mixture forms a mound. Remove from heat, cool slightly and knead together. Cool completely before having fun and store in an airtight container. 

For colored play dough: Add food coloring to oil and water before adding to dry ingredients, and omit spices.


Wishing all of my readers a Christmas filled with the joy and wonder of a mighty King.

Monday, December 8, 2014

No Cost or Low Cost Gifts for the Special Needs Parent

Would you like to give a gift that could cost as little as a couple dollars or even nothing at all? Chances are, you know someone who has a child with therapy needs, doctor appointments, endless meltdowns, and some tired parents holding the whole thing together. Sometimes we're just holding it together with string, chewing gum, and a little duct tape. In my experience, our loved ones want to help but don't know how. Sometimes they offer money, and hey, that's great. Depending on what kind of needs your child has, money might help. But for those of us holding our own in that department, there is something even more valuable you can give and that is TIME and CREATIVITY


Here are some ideas to get you started...

Offer to go on a doctor appointment and/or babysit the siblings. Children with a diagnosis often have extra doctor appointments, sometimes scheduled up to a year in advance. These appointments might be 30 minutes away or at some specialist 3 hours away. Offer to go along and be an aide while mom fills out paperwork or asks the doctor questions. Alternately, mom might need a babysitter for her other children. 

Make a busy pack. This so easy, inexpensive, and even a little fun. Find a craft of the appropriate level, assemble instructions and materials in a zipper seal bag, and hand it to mom. If you are not the crafty type, find a few inexpensive toys, maybe a small book, and a novelty treat. Give it to mom on the sly so she can add it to her arsenal to subvert a tantrum or rainy day meltdown.

Offer to help at church. This is a big one. Church should be a refuge, but for special needs parents it is too often a depleting war zone. I can't begin to tell you how many parents would be encouraged by someone asking if they could help with your child during Sunday School or take a child out to the playground after church so the parents can enjoy some fellowship after the service. It would absolutely be a gift.

Donate an hour.- Offer to run an errand, take their car to the wash, or take the kids to the park for a nature walk. How about an hour of respite in your home? It might just be the time a parent needs to make phone calls, do paperwork, or just decompress. We'll take it.

Give your special skill. Photographer? Offer a free mini session. Baker? Drop off a couple loaves of bread. Do you enjoy sewing? Take on the mending pile. It all makes a difference.

There are probably at least a dozen more ideas, but this could serve as a jump off point if you choose to bless a parent of a special needs child on any occasion. If you still find money to be the best option, no one in the history of mankind has ever turned down a gift card. Also, many parents rely on services from non-profit organization that do yearly fund drives. Ask when the next fund drive is taking place and donate at that time. 

Finally, sharing this list in some way would be a free gift, too. Who knows where it might touch a heart and inspire goodness?

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Hanging in the Balance

You know, when Little Mister started his daily afternoon preschool program I thought, now I'll have plenty of time to get things done.

You know who that joke was on, don't you?

Most days still feel a lot like I did as a young waitress many, many moons ago when I struggled to get meals to table five just as table six ran out of drinks, while tables seven and eight sent up smoke signals for their check.

 I do not want to be one of the people who glorify "busy-ness".  No one wants to stand in a monsoon when they can sit beside the still waters. Sometimes I think my life will be spent finding the balance, a way to keep everything gliding like a smooth carousel while I ride the horse of my choice. 

There is a selfishness inherent in busyness. When the preoccupation with our to-do lists and the constant focus on our own interests take over, can we spare time to look outside of our families, our house, our own little worlds and extend love to others? I struggle with finding a balance when dueling priorities come knocking at the door.

Recently, someone complimented me on something I do for Little Mister. It's nice when that happens, and rare. Mothers don't get nearly enough of that sort of thing. It was so unexpected that I shrugged it off with a yes, well, I do that because it's fun. It's something I can do, so I do it. I can't do everything, but I can do that. It taught me the truth of an old saying:

You do what you can. 

Part of finding balance, I think, is noticing what you can do and finding some satisfaction in knowing that there is something you often do well. It makes up for the chronically un-swept porch or leftovers that went to waste. There's no perfection this side of eternity, but there are certain things that you do well. It's the heavy weight on your scale.

Isn't it funny how some tasks can be done effortlessly, while others can so thoroughly deplete you? I could probably spend substantial time baking in the kitchen and never notice the clock. I could travel many miles and loose track of the days. A Sunday afternoon can disappear faster than a drop of water evaporating in a glass on a warm day.

I spent one such afternoon gathering up a few apples that had been hanging around too long and turning them into a deliciously moist Apple Crumb Bread. I adapted it from a recipe out of The Busy Mother's Cookbook. I love a cookbook that doesn't shy away from simple ideas. If this strikes your fancy, just know that I modified the original by adding a lot more apple and decreasing the sugar.


Wouldn't it be fun to dab some apple butter on it?
1/2 c. butter
3/4 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. baking soda
2 Tbsp. milk
2 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 c. chopped apples

Topping:
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. flour
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Cream butter, sugar, and eggs in the mixer.
Dissolve baking soda in milk and add. Add flour, salt, and vanilla. Add apples last. Mix thoroughly and put into one large greased loaf pan. Mix topping and sprinkle on top. Bake at 325 for an hour. 







LORD, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know how frail I am. Psalms 39:4

Friday, November 21, 2014

Gifts of November


 It is seven in the morning as I walk around the perimeter of our beloved Compound, and deceptively noisy. The wind and a light sound of battered leaves surround me. In a matter of hours the leaves will fall from this tree, a skeleton of branches left behind.


With a light frost on the ground, my feet crunch with every step.

Honking, honking everywhere. Geese en route to warmer places fly overhead and take a break at their rest stop in the field.

I don't recall ever noticing that November is so alive.








 At our church's annual Thanksgiving carry in, I am one of five people who were asked to give a brief testimony of gratitude. My first thought was all the obvious blessings- family, friends, food, shelter, health. Especially health. I had a broken ankle and a walker this time last year, so I'm especially mindful of that one. My next thought was that everyone is going to get up and say that they are thankful for those exact things. I wanted something less rote, something more specific and easily hidden, something unique to my life at this point in time right now.

I spent a week being mindful of the lesser blessings, those small but meaningful moments of thanks that get lost in the fold, or perhaps never even make it out of the dryer.

Here are some things I found and sorted.

I am thankful for opportunities to give, and am thankful every time I witness someone who wants to give their time and resources to others in need. This is a good time of year to observe this, as it becomes more abundant with Christmas approaching. I am thankful if someone in need is being fed, clothed, or comforted by any laborer in the field. It happens often, but it's a bonus if I get to see it.

I am thankful every time someone asks about our son, asks about his progress, or just plain asks about his unique diagnosis. Any opportunity to share the joy of his accomplishments or educate someone about Childhood Apraxia of Speech is a personal blessing. To advocate for your children is a special extra-credit assignment.

I am thankful that my husband will be working on Thanksgiving day. It means he has an important job that is in demand. Yes, once in a while we have to reschedule a holiday, but not every holiday. You get used to it when you have a loved one who works in the medical field.

Finally, I'm thankful that I don't shop in any actual stores on the day after Thanksgiving. I can't think of any place I would rather not be than out in the crowds. My Christmas shopping is done, anyway. I guess I can be thankful for that, too.



South bound journey.

What are your unique blessings?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Prayer in a Season of Thankfulness

We're adjusting to a new routine. The Little Mister has started a special preschool program where so far, he is thriving. Even as I blinked back some tears the first time he got on the bus, you can't begin to imagine the depth of my gratitude for this opportunity. So far, he loves it and has adjusted seamlessly in the small classroom of peers. He receives therapy, and so much more. He has two words now: "Yes" and "No". He also has some half words such as yuck, uh-oh, ah-hah, and he is working on "ok."

It has been the answer to a very long prayer journey.


There is a song that says "Someone is praying for you." I always thought it was kind of ridiculous. Who, and why? How or why would they pray for me if they did not know me? How would they even know what they should pray about?

On Little Mister's first day of school I was adjusting to the new routine with my regular Monday trip to the grocery store. When we first were married and moved to this area, I used to sometimes shop at a store on the other side of the county. It was located in a large shopping center and I could do several errands at once. There was a lady I would sometimes see in the grocery store who caught my eye. Perhaps in her fifties, and dressed so flamboyantly that it bordered on a costume, I surmised that she might be self employed in a manner completely off the books and in a very old profession. Her garish clothing caught my attention every time. Once I saw her shopping with a man. She kept rough company. Beneath the flashy and cheap, I could see evidence that she was once very beautiful.

They built a store closer to where we live, and I no longer saw the lady. In fact, I forgot about her.

Until last week.

It was the high spiked heels of her boots and the skirt shorter than her worn out fur coat. Maybe the coat was a Goodwill find, or a gift from long ago. Now, she was pushing a cart through my new store, more creases on her face than even five years ago. How did she get out here? Her cart was far from full, just a few things for a single lady to get by on, pasta sauce and soda. As I encountered her in aisle after aisle, she never once noticed me, the denim skirt mom who was praying that the world would show her some kindness. Winter is coming, will she be warm? Is there anyone to look after her? What about in twenty years?

We ended up in the check out lanes next to one another. She was having a hard time paying. After using the balance on her food stamps, she was scrounging for seventeen dollars and change.

My heart longed to help her. What should I do? Lord, please let her have the money. I don't want her to have to put anything back. Should I help if she needs it?

She leaned over her cart, calmly sifting through her large purse. She was unfazed, and after a while produced something to pay the balance.

We paralleled again on our way out of the store, and I wondered as she pushed her cart through the parking lot. Could she actually have a car? She had too many bags to take on the bus, and she wasn't headed for the bus stop. She confidently strode to a vehicle and began unloading the cart into the back of something. I craned my neck and saw an elderly man helping her. They were putting the bags into the back of his van, while his wife waited in the front passenger seat.

Ah, familiarity. I recognized him as the Deacon from a nearby church, an extremely kind man whose acquaintance I had made a handful of times. So they were looking after her. No doubt doing more than just giving her rides, but maybe also feeding her physically and spiritually.

Thank you.

Someone is praying for her.  

Maybe someone is praying for you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Easy Baked Apples


It was before I even heard the first flock of geese fly away for the winter. The unmistakable whirrrrr of a combine started in the field one evening. Can you see its lights? Like a thief in the night, he began taking down the field. My beautiful corn field was being harvested by a green and yellow monster, driven by a friend and neighbor who sits within twenty feet of me every Sunday.

The next day, Little Mister and I went out to wave and watch as the field out front was harvested, the corn was poured into a truck. He bent down and picked up a husk, and peeled it back to nothingness.

"Waaaah!" He expressed his disappointment at the cob that had disappeared.

"No, no, that's GOOD!" I tell him, and then go on to explain how it all works, ending with "...and that's how he makes money." 

I think he understood, but he still seemed suspicious. 

"What a marvelous system God designed to feed us," I tell him. He looks pensive. No way to know if he is actually listening and thinking about what I tell him, or planning his next adventure. 

I often feel like motherhood is just casting some seeds and hoping that somewhere, something good will grow.




I've encountered all of the usual suspects this October: Apples, pumpkins, hayrides, and of course, harvest festivals. Our local apple festival included all kinds of seasonal goodies, like fried candy bars and cookies...

Eww.

I much preferred these neat gourds that look like enormous green apples. They are about the size of a medium pumpkin and would make unique decorations...



At one farm we took a hayride that turned out to be an apple picking hayride. I kid you not, it was like an abduction where we were forced to do the lightest and most enjoyable farm labor imaginable, all for our own benefit. It was fun to pick a few fresh apples, even though it meant a hearty surplus at our house.


                                                                                                                                                                                                               
I wanted to do something quick and easy with some tart apples, so I carved out the centers and cores, and filled them with butter, raisins, brown sugar, walnuts, and, just because I had some at the moment, a piece of caramel candy. Sprinkled with cinnamon, I placed them in the slow cooker with a little apple cider, and cooked on high for two hours. They were delicious for dessert, and reminded me of the baked apples we always made on Christmas morning when I was growing up.
It hasn't all been hayrides and apple picking this month. Some of Little Mister's most important services, such as speech therapy, end in just a few weeks and we have been working on securing new avenues for help. I feel awash in paperwork, phone calls and meetings, all on top of some yearly deep cleaning projects that I'm anxious to start. With that in mind, I'm trying to keep life as uncomplicated as possible right now. I hope to share some of my recent simplifying domestic/parenting/life tactics in an upcoming post.

Autumn selfie.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Five Fall Moments


Those green fields are yellowing, the sunflowers have hung their heads in a sorrowful pose. That chill in the air has come too soon and whispers a warning of long, cold months ahead. I know how to make it all go away. Want to know a secret? I will just pull out the cool weather clothes for the seasonal clothing swap, and that will guarantee an eighty degree day. You just wait

The cooler days suited me just fine since I spent a few afternoons with the oven running non-stop in preparation for the bake sale at our church's community outreach day. I was packaging up a few dozen cookies when I saw that I was going to be late picking up Little Mister from a therapy appointment. I quickly grabbed my purse and jumped into the car. About halfway there, I made an awful realization. All of my packaged baked goods, including the previous day's work, were in a laundry basket left out in the open, in close proximity to a mischievous dog.
 

A dog who devours everything.  

A dog with super scent-tracking capabilities.

All of my hard work. Right there in that basket. The basket I had meant to put away somewhere before leaving, and then was forgotten. There was no time to turn around and run back home to save them, if it wasn't too late already.


I'm sure a tear or two sprang to my eyes. I started praying.

"....and dear Lord please protect the banana bread too..."

Almost a half hour later I pulled in the driveway, my heart heavy in my stomach. Would you believe I found a perfectly untouched basket, with all my goodies neatly wrapped and undisturbed? Buddy laid nearby, completely uninterested.

Exhale. Thankfulness. Laughter. 


Then, on the first official day of Fall, my true love gave to me....


A giant bucket of paw paws. I've never heard of these, and certainly had never tasted one. Years ago, The Mister planted a paw paw tree at his parent's farm and they are just now bearing fruit. In case you have never eaten one, I'll describe it. They are very fragrant with a sweet aroma. They are easy to peel and have a soft yellow texture inside that reminds me of a cross between an avocado and a mango. They are mildly sweet and kind of tropical tasting. Some say they taste a little like a banana. 


The last blooms before winter are the Montauk daisies. They bloom in a big shrub all through September.


 .  


It wouldn't be early Fall without applesauce.
Remember our big strawberry harvest? I pulled some berries out of the freezer and did one batch of strawberry applesauce, just for something different this year. It was five pounds of apples to three cups of frozen berries, simmer and sieve. It smelled wonderful cooking on the stove!

 



Finally, window washing. DO NOT be impressed by our housekeeping. We just happened to have the scaffolding up for a home repair, and I suggested we leave it up so we could clean off the picture window properly. Window washing occurs around here on an as-needed, as-is-convenient basis. It works out to once every other year in which there are fourteen full moons and two months with additional Wednesdays. Or something like that.


Not a bad start to the season. I hope you're enjoying it, too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Small House Living

It happens all the time. I get excited about an article entitled something like "How We do X with a Small House" or "Maximize Your Space in a Small Kitchen". Living small is one of my pet topics. I click on the link. Maybe it has some useful tips.

Then, I see that the house in question has a basement for storage, the small kitchen is three times the size of mine, and the house has two, yes, TWO bathrooms. I get indignant. No, no, you do not have a small house. Get out of here, you can't even play this game, you are unqualified. 

We live in a tiny old tenant farm house which suffered a few random additions over the years, ultimately concluding with less than 1,000 square feet of total space. Far from a micro-home, it probably was closer to average just fifty years ago. We do not have a basement. We do not have a garage. My laundry room is a stacked washer and dryer in a corner of the kitchen. I know people with homes like ours who do it with six times as many children, and I pray they are richly blessed with creative storage solutions.

Do you want to know if your house is small? Here is a quiz I created to find out:

If someone gives you something you would really like to own, do you immediately have to consider where it will be stored in your home and what you may need to get rid of in order to keep it?

When you get chilly, is it viable to heat up a couple rooms by baking something in the oven or putting a load of laundry in the dryer?

Is your food preservation strategy to place an empty jar everywhere you can fit one, in all kinds of crazy places, and then fill as many as you can?

When it comes to family planning, are you concerned about the possible legal implications of a one child per square foot ratio?

If you answered yes to all four, then you are in the big little-house leagues. If you got two or three out of four, you are in the game. If you answered no to all three, then you are a spectator. Enjoy your indoor swimming pool.

No great honor comes with living in tight quarters. I am not more spiritual or virtuous because I live in a smaller than average one-story doll house. There are a few hidden blessings, which I've mentioned here in the past. In general, less cleaning, less clutter, smaller bills.

I also have no magical formula for living small with great ease. 

Well, okay. I've picked up a few reliable tips:

For instance, try to make the most out of storage space underneath large furniture. For instance, here are some things we store under the couch:


Likewise, you should try to utilize overhead space above doors and windows. For example, I hung an organic insect control device on the kitchen ceiling. No one but me has noticed it, and I hope it will help with the late summer fruit fly problem.

Alright. It's a spider, and it moved there on its own. Who can blame it? It must enjoy a cozy habitat where every room smells of a freshly baked pie, a warm fire heats even the farthest nook on the coldest day, and the family living space is always full of life.

Even though we'll likely build a modest addition in the future, I'm choosing contentment for now. You can never have too much of it, and it's a good fit for any home. Sometimes I lose it, grow discontent, and have to find it again. When that happens next time I'll just look under the couch. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Late Summer Love

Have you ever had one of those days where it felt like you got nothing done? It was the most unproductive day, ever. Maybe you had a headache and every time you thought to start a project, calamity broke out, followed by organized chaos and a complete memory loss of what it was you were trying to start ten minutes ago. 

Then, at the end of the day you realized that although you did nothing, someone managed to do two loads of laundry, served three meals, answered the phone, changed the dead batteries in two toys, volunteered for the church bake sale, cleaned up the kitchen, and gave the dog a bath? I guess someone might have done something after all. Sometimes summer feels like that. It flies by and you think it went so fast and didn't get a chance to do it all, but you find that somehow, you did even more.

 I've been blessed with some lovely summer moments these past few weeks. The freezer corn is all in, the last pickle has been picked, and we were able to enjoy a few days in PA visiting and enjoying some family time together. One day I even got to fly solo and do a little shopping. It felt a little decadent to take my time browsing in a bookstore while, all around me, women were pulling wagons of empty jars and peach bushels.


 I adore windmills and don't see them very often anymore. There are other ways of pumping water now, but I hope they don't disappear altogether. 

One of these things is not like the other...


We enjoyed a day with some extended family at one of our favorite antique tractor events in mid-August. Last year, Little Mister fell asleep in his stroller and I dashed out for a quick trip to the fruit farm. No such luck this year! His plan was to start his own parade of power while the others fell asleep at the wheel.


The field corn is starting to brown a little bit on the edges now, but did you know it is still fun to run through and hide while mom chases you and visions of helicopters and search teams dance in her head? True story. Someone save me.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Recipe: Spaghetti Pie

The Mister actually spotted this recipe while reading one of his farm newspapers. I was skeptical because we've eaten baked spaghetti ten different ways, but this one looked a little different than my other stand-by pizza casserole dishes. I think it's the layer of herbed cream cheese that  makes it extra delicious. As an added bonus, there was plenty left over for a second meal.

I like that anything right now that's easy to put together because, most days, I'm all about just getting some kind of nutritious food on the table. 

It was definitely a winner.



Crust:
12 oz. cooked spaghetti
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (I just sprinkled)
2 T. butter 

Combine crust ingredients and spread into a 9x13-inch pan. 

Herb layer:
8 oz. softened cream cheese
1/2 tsp. salt (Again, I just gave it a few shakes)
1/4 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. basil
1 tsp. oregano
1/3 tsp. pepper
1 cup sour cream

Combine herb layer ingredients and spread over crust.

Meat layer:
1 pound ground beef
24 oz. spaghetti sauce

Brown and drain ground beef and combine with spaghetti sauce; pour over herb layer. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Top with:

Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese (I omitted the extra parm and it was still delicious)

Heat until melted.

 
Picnic, anyone?    

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Summer Delights

So far this summer I've encountered  more than one blessing in disguise, and I sure needed some. 

For one thing, I just could not keep up with our garden this year. As Little Mister's therapy schedule grew more demanding in June, I had to make a calculated decision to just focus on saving a few of our crops that we really count on and enjoy. That meant corn, pickles, berries, and a tiny watermelon patch. I had to say good bye to beans and peppers. It was a sound strategy. As I'm fond of saying, I can't do everything, I'm already doing too much.

Here are five little unexpected delights:

Free tomatoes! 
I only planted three tomato plants this year, and planned to buy tomatoes for canning projects. As it turned out, I didn't have to buy anything! This bushel came from my brother-in-law, and a neighbor gave us a box for free.
 


Help in the garden. Little Mister is a champion berry picker. Just forget that he sometimes eats them all before they ever make it into the house. 


Mystery flowers! I must have thoughtfully scattered a pack of flower seeds and then promptly forgot about it.  A  row of these tall flowers  prompted me to wonder if they were wildflowers or what? I honestly don't recall planting them, but I have a whole row.


Butterflies! This year I planned on doing several batches of pickles and was a little worried when I saw these bugs systematically eating every ounce of my dill.  It turns out they become eastern swallowtail butterflies, and now we have butterflies everywhere. Oh, and the dill recovered. So far I've done three kinds of pickles and am planning for one more batch.


Oh, the view! I love when the farmer who works the land around us plants field corn. More often it's soybean, but I think this is so much nicer.

 And to think it's not over yet. How I love summer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Smooth and Sweet Black Raspberry Jam (Updated with Better Photos!)

It's black raspberry season, my favorite harvest of the year. 


 A few years ago when we were visiting a friend in Ohio, she served the smoothest, most flavorful pie made from black raspberries. It was love at first bite. On that same trip I also found a delicious black raspberry jam, silky and seedless, a rarity in that type of jam. I started growing our own soon after that, but was never able to find good instructions on how to make a jam like the one I remember from a few years ago. Most of the recipes I found were either jellies, or they had instructions but no actual measurements. I read about a dozen recipes and created this one. If you have access to these delicious berries, this is a great way to stretch and preserve them so you can still enjoy them after the season is over.

This jam is equally delicious on breads or stirred into plain yogurt. It makes my morning!

There is one thing you can do to make this an even easier project: Cook the berries the night before, strain out the seeds by pressing the berries into a mesh strainer over a bowl with the back of a spoon, and let it the strainer continue to drip into the bowl overnight. The next day, you'll have your juice for jam making and can either freeze it for another day, or go ahead and cook your jam.



You will need 3 liquid cups of berry juice, which equals about 6 pints of berries. I simmer the berries in a stock pot with a small amount of water until they soften. Using a ladle, I scoop about two cups of the warm berries into a strainer positioned over a glass bowl. Using a wooden spoon, I push the juice and pulp through a metal strainer until only a seedy clump is left in the strainer and the juice is in the bowl. I repeat with the rest of the berries using about two cups at a time and disposing of the leftover seeds in the strainer between straining. These are the tools I use for that process:


2 quart glass bowl, metal strainer, wooden spoon. 


Also:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. butter
5 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tablespoon pectin

Combine berry juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a stockpot. Add 1/2 tsp. butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat that cannot be stirred down, while stirring frequently. Add pectin. Continue hard boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if needed.

Ladle into hot half pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in water bath canner for ten minutes.

Makes 6-7 half pints.



Smooth and Sweet Black Raspberry Jam (Updated with Better Photos!)

It's black raspberry season, my favorite harvest of the year. 


 A few years ago when we were visiting a friend in Ohio, she served the smoothest, most flavorful pie made from black raspberries. It was love at first bite. On that same trip I also found a delicious black raspberry jam, silky and seedless, a rarity in that type of jam. I started growing our own soon after that, but was never able to find good instructions on how to make a jam like the one I remember from a few years ago. Most of the recipes I found were either jellies, or they had instructions but no actual measurements. I read about a dozen recipes and created this one. If you have access to these delicious berries, this is a great way to stretch and preserve them so you can still enjoy them after the season is over.

This jam is equally delicious on breads or stirred into plain yogurt. It makes my morning!

There is one thing you can do to make this an even easier project: Cook the berries the night before, strain out the seeds by pressing the berries into a mesh strainer over a bowl with the back of a spoon, and let it the strainer continue to drip into the bowl overnight. The next day, you'll have your juice for jam making and can either freeze it for another day, or go ahead and cook your jam.


You will need 3 liquid cups of berry juice, which equals about 6 pints of berries. I simmer the berries in a stock pot with a small amount of water until they soften. Using a ladle, I scoop about two cups of the warm berries into a strainer positioned over a glass bowl. Using a wooden spoon, I push the juice and pulp through a metal strainer until only a seedy clump is left in the strainer and the juice is in the bowl. I repeat with the rest of the berries using about two cups at a time and disposing of the leftover seeds in the strainer between straining. These are the tools I use for that process:

2 quart glass bowl, metal strainer, wooden spoon. 


Also:
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp. butter
5 cups sugar
1/4 cup plus 1/2 Tablespoon pectin

Combine berry juice, lemon juice, and sugar in a stockpot. Add 1/2 tsp. butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil over high heat that cannot be stirred down, while stirring frequently. Add pectin. Continue hard boil for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if needed.

Ladle into hot half pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in water bath canner for ten minutes.

Makes 6-7 half pints.


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Strawberry Ministry

While the world stands in awe of box office beauties and other spotlight seekers, my intense admiration is aimed at two unlikely women. We shall call them Mary and Anna, and I came to know of them came from hastily digested news blurbs that I read late at night. Both in the ninth decade of their lives, Mary sewed something like ten dresses a week for the purpose of having them sent overseas for women who had little or none. Anna, in her lifetime, has sewn over 23,000  cloth bags which are then filled with donated school supplies or hygiene items and again, shipped out for relief efforts. I've actually sewn a few of those bags in my time, a very few, and if you had to sew even one thousand of them you would go mad.

Anna said something like, "Well, I'm home all day with a sewing machine, and people donate the fabric for free so it seemed like something to do...around here they call it my ministry."

And I was in awe, this time at her combined humility and sense of duty. She might have just as well declared that there was air, so she figured she better breathe it.

I find personal ministries fascinating, and am always interested in finding out what people consider to be their ministry. There's a lot of talk among wives and mothers about how our families are our ministries, and yes, a home ministry is important, too. Yet, it's always the unrecognized workers toiling in the fields that get really pique my interest. It's also a little frustrating. My imagination holds a hundred ministry ideas, everything from giving breaks to young mothers so they can get much needed showers, to animal therapy and organic farm co-op ideas. There can never be enough time on earth for all of my wonderfully under developed ministry concepts. 


The past two weeks have found me buried in berries. We had an enormous strawberry harvest this year. Every time I turned around, stainless steel bowls glimmered at me with juicy red jewels in need of processing. I did all my jams, and a pie, some strawberry bread, and stuck boxes in the freezer. I actually got tired of them pretty fast, and found joy in passing out quarts to friends and neighbors. That joy was multiplied when I found out the local berry farm was charging a whopping six dollars a quart this year. For about a week, it was fun to surprise our friends and family with strawberries, and while putting my bigger dreams of grand endowments for the greater good on hold, it was somewhat fulfilling to have a brief strawberry ministry. After all, there they were and we couldn't eat them all. It's comforting that I might have another fifty years to find my footing as a Marry or Anna. Until I do, I'll keep looking for more opportunities in small benevolence.

Do you have a ministry? I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Recipe Box

Some years ago, I inherited a wild and wonderful thing. It was a well loved recipe box from an aunt, and it contained a wealth of information on 3X5 inch index cards. The box was in ill repair, with a broken hinge and made of unknown wood. The cards weren't in much better shape, and the ink was fading fast. Some of the cards had yellowed bits of recipes clipped from The Budget pasted on to them, while others had scrawled canning recipes that were only five sentences long. It was fun reading, but a real mess and almost a loss. Some of the cards were so worn from age that the ink was disappearing. I knew it was worth saving.

First, I bought a new box. A sturdy wooden one with a folksy scene hand-painted on it. Then I found a free online program that would allow me to type in the recipes and print them out on  card stock paper. I often did this in my free time when I worked at the library. Then I carefully hand cut the cards and filed them in my new box.

It was fun to type up many years worth of concoctions and tips, everything from a sour milk cake to a homemade fly repellant. An older cousin found out about my project and sent me a few of my great grandmother's specialties, which included an extremely simple pickle recipe and a instructions for bread stuffing that contained some suspicious store bought ingredients. Let's not look too closely at that one. Heirloom, indeed.

Over the years I've added some of my own favorites to the collection. Ten years later, there are still an awful lot of the original recipes I have never tried, while some have gone on to become family favorites. A few have been tweaked into something a little more special, but they all retain the basic, economical and no-fuss qualities that you would expect from a woman who wouldn't have had time to mess around in the kitchen.

One of my hands-down favorites is this hearty and easy to make skillet supper. You simply slice and layer the wholesome ingredients in a covered pan and let it simmer for an hour. It is often my go-to recipe when I don't know what else to make, or just need to throw something together. A lot of my cooking these days falls into the simpler-the-better category. One day, I thought to myself, I really need to share this recipe with the world. Surely, someone else might need it, too.


3/4-1 pound ground beef
3/4 cup medium shell pasta (white pasta works better than whole wheat)
1 cup sweet corn or peas
4 medium potatoes
3 Tbsp. diced onion
2 Tbsp. diced bell pepper
1/2 cup milk
cheese of your choice (cheddar is my favorite)
salt and all purpose seasoning

Heat a lightly greased skillet. Evenly spread hamburger (or sausage) in hot skillet. If using hamburger, I like to sprinkle it with some all purpose seasoning. Slice potatoes over the meat. Add onions, peppers, shell pasta, and corn or peas in layers. Sprinkle with salt. Add milk and top with cheese. Cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

More Like This

Every day is different, and that's a blessing. I sure hope no one thought my last post is what an average day is like around here. To be sure, there are good days, too. Not every day is a whirlwind, most days are more like this...

It's seven in the morning and someone is stirring. It sure isn't me. This still qualifies as the middle of the night, by my standards. Are those little feet padding around? What's that noise? It must be the battery powered mini-quad that I brought inside to recharge last night. At least, I hope it is that, and not an appliance. Please don't let that be the blender.Whatever it is, it has got to be better than the morning I found a dozen eggs smashed in an empty laundry basket. Yup, see, this day is already off to a good start if the eggs are still intact.

At 7:05 a.m. he is bringing me a book in bed. My shift has begun.

 Little Mister nibbling on a waffle while I try to actually pour my first cup of coffee. I'm also folding bath towels and sorting through a bag of hand-me-down clothing from a lady at church. To be honest, I don't have a lot of luck with hand-me-downs, but this bag is a winner. There's a nearly new winter coat that Little Mister should fit into by next year, a pair of barely worn boots, and several tops and bottoms. Even a four piece suit set with the tags still attached to it. Wow!

The Mister should be arriving home from work soon. He works the night shift at a hospital three days a week. It's an unhurried morning because Little Mister does not have therapy today. It's nice not to rush to get the house in order before a therapist arrives. I'm checking my e-mail quickly, and trying to plan our day.

Also, I've been proof-reading a manuscript for a friend who is writing a memoir, and I send her a quick pm to let her know I'm definitely reading it and taking notes. There are also a couple e-mails regarding Little Mister's therapy program, one of which is about his upcoming annual review which will consist of several meetings and an astounding number of people. I feel like we need parking arrangements and a hall rental, and maybe goody bags. It's overwhelming to think about right now.

By mid-morning The Mister is home and I am trying to get Little Mister dressed in pants and a shirt. It is not going well. When will society recognize the plight of clothing-resistant toddlers and the moms who love them? We need an awareness campaign. There is much fussing. Dad is getting involved.

Another pressing concern: There is no interest in the hummingbird feeder I set out last night. I wonder if I did it right? I'm not much of a birder and this is my first attempt at attracting hummingbirds.

 We're on the road and driving behind a VW Jetta that has strong convictions about doing the speed limit, which fluctuates between 35 and 55, due to the presence of a state park. It's an exercise in patience, if not good exercise for the brakes. We're on the way to the local Humane Society to donate some paper towels and dish detergent. These are all things I get for almost free these days, and we have far more than we need, so I'm thrilled that animal shelters can use these items. I wonder if they take laundry detergent? I get a lot of free laundry soap, also.
Someone is having a blast pointing out tractors, animals and huge irrigation structures. It's a nice day and a lot of field work is happening today.

Someone is asleep. I make the drop off to a thankful shelter volunteer. Oh, and they take laundry detergent, too. I also need to find a local food pantry to work with, as I often come across free food items that someone could use.

At the farmer's market, I only have a little bit of cash and forgot to bring along the glass milk jug that I return for deposit for organic milk. My planning for this errand wasn't great. We'll just grab a few things and go, so it's still not a waste. The lunch crowd isn't here yet, so it's easy to get around with the stroller and there are no lines for anything. We're getting hungry. The man selling pickles asks if the Little Mister likes pickles and offers a pickle. Yes, and he also likes cheese, bread, and all kinds of salads. I wish someone would offer a sandwich.

Fuss attack in the parking lot. Here, have a doughnut. Poor lunch planning on my part.

It's early afternoon and a beautiful day. I'm negotiating to get Little Mister into the backyard for some outdoor playtime. I wonder if I should weed some of the garden today? The berry patch is a mess. The strawberries have flowers, and I'm betting on a lot of strawberries this year. Daunted by the weedy mess, I opt to put in a load of laundry.













Little Mister is having fun on his slide and is blowing raspberries at me. He indicates that he wants to to go for a walk in the back field where we can hear construction being done on an engine repair business not far from our house. Little Mister loves the sounds, and ultimately can't resist heading in that direction. Especially when he spots an excavator at the construction site.


 Visitor at the hummingbird feeder!



 

By late afternoon I need to think about getting back into the house. Whatever became of that laundry I put in? I also need to wake The Mister soon, as he has an appointment before supper.

The Mister and I are sorting through the mail. There's a huge tantrum happening, but it doesn't last long. A new book catalog has arrived, and even though I don't have much time for reading these days, I like to see what's new. I'm enjoying some iced coffee while looking through the catalog.

As The Mister is getting ready to leave for his appointment, I'm starting to prepare our meal. I know the little one will be hungry soon. Right now he's snacking on yogurt while I get ready to cook some fish. We have enough leftovers for sides, so it's an easy supper. I'm hungry but our youngest diner has just eaten one bite off of my plate and picked a few chickpeas out of his salad.


 Looks like dessert is going okay.

After our meal, The Mister begins the bath routine while I start washing dishes and cleaning the kitchen.

Our son has some pretty heavy sleep issues, and it can take anywhere from ten minutes to even as much as four hours to get him to bed. This is shaping up to be a tough night. We read some of his favorites, Good Night Construction Site, Corduroy, and some Little Golden Books.

Twelve hours after waking up, I'm cleaning the kitchen while The Mister and I switch off childcare/sleep routine duties. "Supper: The Sequel" is now playing at the table, and leftovers are being served.

 
8:16 p.m. Sunset

9:00 I'm finally folding that load of laundry I did almost nine hours ago.

10:00 Now I can finally get cleaned up. It's time for my hot shower, or as The Mister calls it, my "boiling".

11:10 It feels like I've been trying to go somewhere all day, but where? Oh, right here! Tucked in to my cozy, soft bed. It's like a cloud resting on a marshmallow, if marshmallows were made of feathers.

It wasn't an exciting day, it was just moderately productive, and not very memorable. But the next time the whirlwind flies through our house, I'll remark that we could stand to have a day that is more like this.

As an aside, let me express my regret for not accompanying this post with a lot of riveting photographs. I envy people who have posts full of cute pictures of themselves baking in the kitchen and reading to their children. How do they do it? Camera crew? Walking tripod? Sorcery? I want to know. Since I take all of my own pictures, I'm never in any of them. It's hard to believe that no one is following me with a camera, but my guess is 99% of you can identify with that.

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