Monday, April 29, 2013

Jam Session

Last summer I bought some strawberries at the store.  For some reason we didn't eat them, but I didn't want them to be wasted.  My interest in canning had just begun, so I got brave enough to try my hand at jam.  I could not believe how easy it was to make my whole two jars of jam.  lol!  Well, even if it was only two jars,  I was hooked.  The canning bug was in my system, and I knew there would be more to come.

When we picked strawberries Saturday I knew I would be making lots of jam.  I was going to see to it!  Have you ever had homemade strawberry jam?  Seriously, is there anything that tastes any better?????  Well, I took some berries to my sister and asked if she and my mother would come down for a jam session. :)  My mom wasn't really into the whole jam making thing, but she did prepare some of the berries.

First, my sister crushed berries and added the right amount of pectin as I got the sugar and jars ready.

Don't faint!  It took 20 cups of sugar!  Yikes! (Update:  I will NEVER use that much sugar again!)  Next, the crushed strawberries with the added pectin were placed on the stove and cooked to a boil.  The jars were in another large pot to boil for sterilization.  The lids were in a third small pot of warm water.

Once the berries and pectin come to a boil, the sugar is added all at one time, unless you are me, that is.  Normal people make sure the pot being used is big enough to hold all the berries and sugar, but how boring is that!?  I like to try to add too much sugar into too little of a pot, spill sugar all over a hot stove, make a mad scramble for a chair to reach an upper cabinet to get a large pot, and pour the contents of the small pot into the big pot, add the remaining sugar, and smell burnt sugar while trying to quickly wipe up the stove!  My sister had slight panic in her voice in the middle of all that while telling me that she couldn't stir with the spoon she had.  She was on her own with that one, poor thing.  I think I heard her ask where another spoon was, but I don't know if I actually uttered words to answer her.  I do know she ended up with the wooden spoon, so it worked out.  :)  Sorry Sis!  Hopefully, you aren't like me, and you do things in a sane manner.  If not, however, once your berries and sugar are happily cooking in a nice, big, comfy pot, you can breathe and calm down for a while as you stir the mixture constantly.  Make sure your jars are ready or nearly ready at this point.  My sister and I kept stirring the berries until they came to a boil that didn't stop when stirred.  At that point, the berries were boiled one minute, and removed from heat.  The sterilized jars were removed from water and filled the with the jam.  The jars were then given a lid and ring.  My sister was a wonderful help taking jars from the water, helping get the lids on the jars, and moving filled jars so I could fill the other jars more easily.  Once all the jars were filled and lidded, they were placed into a water bath for ten minutes.  Not everyone agrees with this step.  Some do it and some don't.  My thought was that it doesn't hurt, so why not?  :)  While you wait on the jars in the bath, I dare you to try not to stick your finger in the jam pot to sample the jam you cooked!  When the ten minutes were over, the jars were removed from the pot to cool and listen to the tops pop as they sealed.  I LOVE that sound!

Ideally, the foam would be skimmed from the top of the cooked berries before being poured into jars, but well, um, my methods aren't always ideal are they?  heehee!  ;)  Considering our faulty methods, I am still happy with how pretty the jam turned out!  I am telling you, if we can make pretty, delicious jam with all the mistakes we made, anyone can do it!  It is not a hard process at all!  I can't wait to see what else I find myself canning this canning season!

So, tell me.  What is your favorite thing to can?  Don't can?  Do you have a favorite home-canned item you like to eat?  I hope to hear from you!

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Chickens and Strawberries

Good evening friends!  I know I told you I would post about a home school on the go idea, but I regret to inform you that I can't do that post until next week.  Part of my project is still an hour away from my home.  I promise I will share it next week.

Perhaps, though, you would be interested in the unexpected fun I had today.  Yesterday I found an invitation to a chicken butchering in the messages on my phone.  I changed around my original plans for the day so that I could go.  Do you remember the post about the hog butchering?  The chicken butchering was at the same place.  My friends Esther and Mari simply amaze me.  I think they have forgotten more wonderful things than I will ever learn!  The chickens we were butchering belonged to Esther and her husband.

I arrived a little too late to see everything from start to finish.  When I arrived, the chickens had already been beheaded, and they had been placed in hot water and removed.

I arrived just in time for plucking!  I didn't know what I was in for, but I was tossed a chicken and told to just start pulling out feathers.  My first thought was, "Dear heavens!  This is going to take forever!"  To my surprise, it wasn't so bad.  Of course, the others could probably pluck two or three to my one, but still!  I think they cut me some slack since it was my first time.  :)  Who knew plucking feathers could be fun?!

Here I am with "my" chicken!  I didn't mean to leave the cute little cuffs around the ankles, but I am really liking them!  heehee!

Next the poor chicken lost it's cute little cuffs along with it's feet and innards (That's redneck for anything inside the chicken or other creature one may be describing!  heehee!).

A good rinse, and into the ice bath it went!

Finally the old bird was cut up and put into bags to be frozen!  Easy peasy!

Look at the view I had while I plucked!  Who would mind plucking a chicken when looking out at this?

Beautiful I tell ya!  Every time I go to this beautiful part of the world, I wish I could move our home and land there!

Well, as we worked, we all realized we had the same plans of going to pick strawberries just down the road after we were done.  That is exactly what we did.  It was comforting to know we wouldn't be the only person there covered in chicken feathers and innards!  ;)

Picking strawberries was a first for my children and me.  It was a perfect day for it, and we had a lot of fun!  And the berries?  Have mercy were they delicious! I have never had such sweet strawberries.  Don't even get me started on the fresh strawberry lemonade!  :)

Alissa simply adores Esther and her babies!  I think getting to play with and watch after the precious twin girls was her favorite part of the day!

My friends, I tell you!  I have a very blessed life!  I am so honored God picked me to live it!

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Sad Un-Garden

Yesterday, I shared with you a little ironing board I created from a t.v. table.  When that project was complete, I came in to work on a pen-pal basket for my daughter.  So many times my daughter writes letters to her precious little pen-pal and it takes me forever to get them in the mail simply because I keep forgetting to put an address on the envelope and put it in the mail.  It finally occurred to me to make a basket of supplies for her to prepare her own letters to go in the mail.  I am currently without a computer that works with my printer, so I just printed some labels by hand and added them to a small basket with a few envelopes and stamps.  Now, addressing and stamping an envelope is as easy as putting on two stickers!  Hopefully, now, her sweet pen-pal won't have to wait so long between letters- at least on my part!

After finishing that project, our family headed out of town to run a few errands.  Upon visiting a garden center, I simply could not resist the urge to buy tomato plants and a basil plant.  The thought of going through the summer here in the south without my own tomatoes was killing me!  What true southerner does that???  I didn't have a clue what I would do with them when I got home, but I just had to have them!  I looked at a few pots, but I couldn't justify spending $20 a pot for tomato plants I didn't have to have.  I decided I was just going to have to make a garden.  Do you ever feel sad over the appearance of your garden?  Well, I can just about guarantee your garden looks better than mine.  I know because mine isn't really a garden at all.  Since last summer I have begged for raised beds.  I have begged for tilled ground.  I have begged for the tiller to be cranked so I could try till up the ground myself and prepare it for planting...something, anything...just something somewhere where I could plant something!  Sigh....Planting season has found me with no place to plant my new tomato and basil plants or the little seedlings I have babied for weeks.  Now, you have to understand I don't have a green thumb whatsoever!  I have the worst brown thumb you have ever seen.  I am doing good to keep the hair growing on my head!  For me to have taken seeds from a vegetable I ate and to have grown actual plants was nothing short of a miracle!  I simply could not let my plants, bought or grown myself, sit and die.  With my son's tiny little trowel in my hand, I picked a spot in my backyard and started digging a hole.  There!  There is where my garden found itself.  No tilling and turning of soil, no soil amendments.  Nothing but a hole dug in the weeds.  Then another hole and another hole, and another hole until I had ten tomato plants, two garlic plants, a basil plant, and twenty one pepper plants in their new home in the weedy plot of ground I deemed a garden.  I planted the vegetables after I planted the ten snapdragons I started from seeds in an appropriate place in the flower beds.  My husband did feel sorry for me when I got down to the last few pepper plants and stabbed myself with the trowel.  He pulled out the mattock and dug the last few holes so I could more quickly get the rest of the plants in the ground.  That was a good thing since it was getting dark and he was grilling a delicious steak!  This is what I ended up with.  *Warning!  The following images may be disturbing to some viewers.  Viewer discretion is advised!*

What's that you said?  You can't see the plants?  Don't feel bad.  You are not alone.  It takes me a few minutes to find them too!  :)  Look a little closer.

There is the basil, and if you look carefully, you may be able to see a couple of tomato plants.

It's sad.  I know.  Painful actually.  I warned you, though!  Here.  Take a peek at a few of the peppers, and the torture will be over.

Anybody want to come get rid of weeds?  :)

Please share your garden success with me!  I would love to see them or at least hear about them!  Even if mine can't be beautiful, I can appreciate those that are!  It gives me hope for next year!

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Craft Room Ironing Board DIY

Hey y'all!  I told you yesterday that I was super busy marking items off my to-do list.  Creating this nifty little ironing board was one of the projects I completed.

The idea all started with this picture on Pinterest.  I was so excited because I do not have an ironing board.  I just don't like that big, bulky thing taking up valuable space.  :)  I clicked on the photo to find a list of materials I needed, and guess what...No list!  No description!  No instructions!  It was just a photo someone had found on Fliker!  I was disappointed and the perfectionist in me nearly started having spasms, but I decided I would just wing it on my own and hope for the best.

These were the materials I used.  I had one t.v. table, a piece of fabric that was tucked away in my craft supplies, a heavy duty stapler, a pair of scissors, and a roll of high loft polyester batting.  Oh, and one very cute dog was supervising!

First, I laid out my fabric with the right side down and then placed the batting over it.  I let the fabric leave a very small border.  It just seemed like a good idea, but probably not a necessity.  ;)  heehee!

I then turned the table upside down on the layers of fabric leaving about a two inch boarder of fabric on two sides and

just trimmed, freehand, around the other two sides also leaving about a two inch border.

Lastly, I stapled around the edges, doing opposite sides at a time, and then trimmed the excess fabric.  Viola!

Now I just need to find another project that will give me a reason to use the new ironing board!  :)  I guess I could go find something in a closet somewhere that needs to be ironed, but what fun is that?

Tomorrow, I'll be sharing my sad, little garden and a pen pals made easy idea that I also marked off my list yesterday.  On Saturday look for a home school on the go idea that I worked on all in the same day as these other projects!  Has the arrival of spring left you with a DIY itch?  I would love to hear what you have been working on!

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Homemade Peaches and Cream Oatmeal

Goodness, goodness, goodness friends!  I have been so busy today trying to finish up some projects that have been on my to-do list.  I am exhausted, but the projects are done!  I will be sharing those projects with you throughout the week.

Today, however, I wanted to share this oatmeal with you.  I have been experimenting with homemade oatmeal.  Last week I made brown sugar oatmeal.  The children loved it and asked for again this morning, but I had already planned to make peaches and cream oatmeal.  That is my favorite flavor in the little pre-made packets.  I had no idea what I was doing, but it turned out delicious so I thought I would share, especially with peach season just around the corner here!

To begin, from a can of sliced peaches packed in 100% juice, I poured 1/2 cup of peach juice into a large measuring cup.  To that, I added 1 1/4 cup of water.

To that, I added 1 cup of half and half.

Then I crushed up 5 slices of peaches and added them to the measuring cup.

This mixture was poured into a large sauce pan to heat just to a boil while I gathered and prepared the remaining ingredients.

2 1/2 cup oats, 2 pinches salt, 1 t vanilla
When the liquid and peach mixture had come up to a boil, I added the oats, salt, and vanilla, and cooked it for about 5 minutes until it was at my desired thickness.  Sugar can be added to sweeten if desired.  The cooked oatmeal creamy, devine yumminess was then ready to be spooned into bowls and topped with peach slices.  :)

Yum, yum, yum!

1 15 oz. can of sliced peaches packed in 100 % juice. 
1/2 c peach juice from canned peaches
1 1/4 cup water
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
5 slices of peaches, crushed
2 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 pinches of salt
1 t vanilla flavoring
2-3 T sugar, if desired for sweetening 

Open and drain the peaches, reserving 1/2 cup of the juice.  In a large measuring cup or bowl (or directly into cooking pan), combine the juice, water, cream, and crushed peaches.  Pour the mixture into a large sauce pan and bring up to a boil.  Add the oats, salt, vanilla, and optional sugar.  When the mixture comes back up to a boil, reduce the heat and continue cooking for about five minutes or until oatmeal reaches desired thickness, stirring frequently.  When the oatmeal is done, remove from heat and serve immediately.  

I hope you enjoy!  What have you been creating in your kitchen?  No, a mess doesn't count!  :)

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Crock Pot Shredded BBQ Chicken

Good evening friends!  I hope you are having a good week so far.  We are busy here tying up loose ends with our official home school year.  I just wanted to stop by and share this super easy and SUPER yummy recipe.  Both of my children even loved it.  On his way to bed tonight, my little boy was asking if I would save some for him to have another sandwich tomorrow!  That never happens with my picky little man.  :)

I found the original recipe here on Pinterest.  True to me, I didn't follow the recipe given.  Here's my recipe.

3 large chicken breasts with rib meat
1 can of cherry flavored soda
3/4 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce
1 clove of garlic, minced  (DeeGee, if you are reading this, you will be impressed to know I used the real thing!)  ;)
1/2 cup of brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in the crock pot, and cook on low for three hours until chicken is done and just starts to comes apart easily with a fork.

Remove the breasts and shred.  It is very easy to do with two forks.

Oh my stars!  I have never made chicken this moist in my
crock pot!
Return shredded chicken to the crock pot to keep it warm until you are ready to use it.  At this point, I added in a little more BBQ sauce.

Be prepared to do the happy dance when you take the first bite!

I hope you get to try it!  Thank you Pinterest for creating happiness in my kitchen!  ;)

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Re-purposed Treasure

Hello again dear friends!

Oh how glorious the weather was today!  It was in the 80's and the sun was shining brightly.  It was so nice to take a few moments to enjoy God's goodness on my front porch after a very hectic morning.

I thought I would just stop in and share a little redecorating that happened in my home over the weekend.  Oh, it was nothing major, but sometimes just a little change can make a world of difference.  Do you remember the other day when I told you of a little wooden plaque with a couple of old coat hooks that I had found at a flea market?  Well, that plaque sat in my floor until this past Saturday.  I simply could not make up my mind where to put it or what to use it for.  As I was pulling everything off my counters in one of my cleaning frenzies, I finally figured out exactly what I wanted to do with that little treasure I had rescued.  I happily smiled to myself as I continued cleaning imagining the moment when my husband would come in the door and I would tell him my brilliant idea knowing he would probably try not to give me a crazy look as he complied with my wishes to hang it under our upper cabinets in the kitchen simply because he loves me and gives me reign over my beloved kitchen.  ;)  I knew he would cautiously trust me, and in the end he would end up loving the idea as much as me.

There it is, my little treasure!  I don't know what it was in it's former life, but now it has a very useful job and purpose.  It is simple, it is humble, and it does not scream, "Here I am!"  It quietly graces my kitchen and serves it's purpose.  I am sure it will be one of my favorite things in my kitchen for a long time, and yes, my husband did end up loving the idea.  :)

I am sure you saw it coming...the moral of course.  Aren't we like this little flea market find?  When we come to Christ rusted, broken down, beat up, neglected and tossed to the side, don't we become clay in the potter's hand?  Doesn't God, the master potter, mold us and shape us into what he wants us to be?  Doesn't he say our sins are as far from him as the east is from the west, and he doesn't recognize what we were?  He sees us for what he created us to be.  When he has us in our broken down form, then he can do his masterful work.  He makes the ugly beautiful again.  He gives us a new purpose, his purpose.  It may not be anything great or grand, but we do have a purpose in him.  When we come to him broken and ask for forgiveness, his spirit can move within us, and the life-giving flow can move through us.  Only when we humble ourselves before him and ask for forgiveness of our sins, admitting we were wrong, and turn from those ways, can his beautiful spirit, that life-giving flow, move through us.  Won't you turn to him today?  He has a purpose for you that is far greater than anything you can know and understand.  You are loved, and he can use you for His glory if only you obey.

You are loved my friends.

Until we meet again, may you be blessed.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Biscuits at Last!

Good day, friends!

We have been enjoying such beautiful weather here, and it has my energy levels in high gear!  I have been enjoying finishing up Alissa's second grade year, cleaning and organizing a few things, and trying my best to master a few recipes.

My husband was finally able to make it home Thursday night after being on the road for a couple of weeks, so I have taken the opportunity to work on a couple of bread recipes.  I can't make too much bread when he isn't here because I would eat it myself!  I am still having a hard time with my artisan bread, but I think I have finally mastered my biscuits!!!!  I have been trying for so long to make them well without very much luck.  Still, I kept trying and devouring everything I could read or listen to others say about making biscuits.  What a long journey it has been!

I posted pictures of my last two batches of biscuits on Facebook and a couple of people asked for the recipe.  I thought the easiest way to share would be with this post.  I hope you try them and let me know what you think!

Southern Flaky Layer Biscuits

2c all-purpose flour
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t salt
5 T cold, unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3/4 c cold buttermilk
1/4 c sour cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the butter and cut in the butter until the pieces are no larger than a pea.  I use my fingers, but any method you choose is fine.  Place this mixture in the refrigerator for at least ten minutes to re-chill the butter.  This is the point I start preheating my oven.

While the mixture is chilling and the oven is heating, I make my own buttermilk by adding a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of regular milk.

When oven is almost to 400, remove flour mixture from the refrigerator.  Gently mix in the sour cream and buttermilk until dry ingredients are moistened.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently 2 or 3 times to bring the dough together.  Roll dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick.  From the long side, fold the dough into thirds.  Roll the dough back out into a rectangle of 1/2 inch thickness, and fold it into thirds again.  This time, roll the dough into 3/4 inch thickness.    Using a biscuit cutter or a circle cookie cutter, cut out biscuits without twisting the cutter or dough.  Place biscuits about one inch apart on the prepared pan.  Scraps can be rolled together and cut at least once.  Bake for 11-14 minutes until golden brown on top.

My husband ate six of these before he stopped!  I don't recommend that for your waistline, but I do hope you enjoy them!

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Busy Day

Today was indeed a busy day, but it was a fun day.  We started our day doing a little school work.  Around lunch time we headed out to another auction.  This one was another annual auction to support the volunteer fire department.  Getting the details of the sale never seem to occur to me until I want to tell someone about it.  I believe our church and the Mennonite churches in our area are in charge of organizing it.  Regardless, it is a fun day for the older children to break off to themselves and play and for the ladies to relax and visit if they are not working.  I was so caught up in visiting and watching my curious and busy little one that I didn't pay too much attention to what the men were doing.  I think many of them were helping with the auction or gathering to bid on items.  I loved looking out across the field of colorful, simple cape dresses and kapps or veils of many of the women and children and the modest clothing of most of the other ladies and children.  I saw love and trust and acceptance among my sisters.  I am so happy being among my friends there.  There is such sweet fellowship and peace.  I don't feel the fierce competition I see and feel happen among many women of the world that corrupts what could be such beautiful friendships.  I feel a spirit of love and lifting each other up, a true joy for each other's triumphs and a strong support for the bad days.  What a blessing it is that God loved me enough to lead me "home."  I wish the majority of the world could experience what I have found.

My children on Easter

I felt uncomfortable bidding without my husband there, so I didn't stay for a very long time.  I only stayed long enough to have a bright pink sunburn.  :)  On the way home, I passed the same flea market I go by all the time.  Ever since we moved and started going to our new church, I have been saying I was going to stop there and just look.  Well, today I finally pulled in.  The children and I had so much fun rummaging.  For $25 we got a doll, a metal Tonka dump truck, three or four skirts, a cornucopia basket like I have been searching for, and an old looking wooden plaque with a couple of coat hooks in it.  Everyone was happy.

Once we finally got back home, I started working on a batch of artisan bread.  I love watching bread dough rise.

When I finished mixing the ingredients for the bread, it didn't even cover the bottom of the bowl.  A few hours later, it had completely filled the bowl!  It amazes me every time!  I have no clue what I did to the dough last time, but the dough actually looked like it was breathing after I made it.  It was the craziest thing I have ever seen!  I can't wait to break of some of this dough tomorrow and make a loaf of bread.  I hope it turns out well!

After feeding pigs and exploring strange tracks in the yard, I came in and realized I had lost all track of time, and was totally unprepared for supper.  I was dying for vegetables, so we went to Yoder's Pennsylvania Dietch Haus and Bakery.  I love going there and looking out across the fields as I eat.

If one is lucky, a beautiful sunset can be witnessed through their windows.  I don't drive at night if I don't have to, so tonight was not my night to view a sunset.  I did, however, take a few pictures as I was leaving.

Before heading home we went just across the street and down a bit to pick up my mother's sewing machine from one of my church sisters who had fixed it.  The day was finally coming to an end, and as we were turning in to our road, we were blessed with a beautiful sunset.

Sometimes God brings us to a point where the world no longer matters.  He places within us a desire and love for the simple things, the simple joys.  Today was a day full of those reminders.  I am so thankful for the beautiful life he has given me.  I am so glad he has broken the worldly bonds that bind and strangle joy and peace.

Until we meet again, may you be blessed.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Little Boys, Little Girls and Little Piggies

So much has been happening here!  I have trying desperately to get my house back in order and cleaned.  When we had so much sickness over the winter months, my house went into total disarray.  Some days it feels it will never be organized and straight enough to do a deep cleaning, but I am slowly getting there!

Other than Alissa being given a brand new bike which we were out-bid on at a pig pickin' and auction for a local Mennonite school and

and Jacob learning how to ride without training wheels,

the most exciting thing that happened in recent weeks is the birth of our first litter of piglets!  Thelma Francine gave birth to eleven piglets, but only two made it.  I thought you might enjoy a little peek at them.  They are SOOO cute!


Tell me that is not the cutest piggy face you have ever seen!

So stinkin cute!

Abbey loves the piggies too!

Since adding more protein to mom's diet, the piglets have gotten so fat!  In addition to nursing, they love to climb up in the trough and nibble along side of her.  AWW!!!  Today one of the little piglets found instead of jumping back from my hands, it actually enjoyed me reaching in to scratch it!  I love to watch these two funny babies rooting, running, jumping, playing, and learning about piggy life! AAhhhh!  I wouldn't trade my life for any other!

What exciting thing has happened in your life lately?

Until we meet again, may you be blessed!