Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Learning to knit

I have a great respect for women who knit. Seems like it is a dying art. Knitted throws, knitted sweaters (which it seems like are made fun of! Considering the amount of time and energy it takes to make them, they should be deserving of respect.), knitted socks. Something to keep the hands busy while still being able to talk to others. Impressive. Not to mention--portable!

A few years back, I dabbled in knitting. Got that super fluffy yarn that made those neat scarves. Man, those things took chubby knitting needles, were pretty darn forgiving (the yarn hid a multitude of sins!), and I could whip out a scarf in about an hour. I made about 10 or 20 of them that year and then put them away and totally forgot all about how to knit. memory isn't all that great. I saw a blog on knitted washcloths (and knitted socks--I so want to make a pair of knitted socks. Do you know they have yarn with aloe in the yarn?! And the choices of yarn are super cool these days!) and it perked my interest. Washcloths. How easy is that? You knit a square. No special instuctions, no weird things going on, just a square.

Riiigghhhtt. It's been three or four years since I've picked up a pair of knitting needles, I am back at square one! A friend of mine graciously spent an hour or so showing me the basics again this weekend. Number one, I couldn't even remember a slip-knot. Come on, sweetie! A slip-knot! Casting on was another trial of epic proportions. (Makes me oh-so very glad that there is now YouTube and I can just watch a video showing the instructions over and over and over until I finally grasp it.)

The older ladies were watching me knit. Good to get the input. "Hun, your stitches are too tight." Gals, I hate to tell you, but there is a lot about me that is too tight, not just my stitches. "You have that so tight, not even water is going to get through it." Well, I guess that means it will last longer than a normal one! I know, it was all said in love.

I took it with me to my son's class. Sitting there knitting during his instruction. I felt very....old school. Here I am, a stay-at-home mom, knitting, while watching my 14 year old in class. Makes me sound like a freaky 1950's mom that I really am not (but kinda am?).

Ah well. I like my new hobby. Making washcloths is ...not "fun" yet. It is learning a skill, and certainly isn't easy at this point. It is a skill, and will take me a while yet to master. I picked washcloths because if I make a mistake, who cares? It's a washcloth! Knots, slipped stitches, twisted yarn, doesn't matter.

I encourage all of you, try something new this week. Its good to stretch yourself!

Living healthy--a way to save money

Here's a picture of my favorite walking buddy. And yes, his name is Buddy. He is Skinny-Boy's dog, a mix of Rottie and Doxie. (No, don't ask. But so you know, be careful what you are offered for free at a baseball game!)

I have always suffered with migraines. Both of my parents have migraines, so my having them is no surprise. For most of my life, they have happened just once or twice a month, around my cycles, not a big deal. Very manageable. And then, earlier this spring, BANG! I started getting them several times a week for apparently no reason.

Leading me to do some research on the internet, go to the doctor several times, start some new preventative medications, and making some significant lifestyle changes.

Over the past two months, I have cut out practically all fast food from my diet (and ohh....I do love a french fry and fast food burger!). I have cut out all soda, all diet drinks. No more caffeine for this girl. I cook 100% of what I am eating so I know exactly what is going into my foods.

Even scarier? I have started walking three or four times a week. Buddy and a church friend are my walking friends. Buddy loves his walkies. I am walking two to three miles each time. Understand, I don't enjoy walking, I don't like to exercise at all.

The up side? I haven't had a migraine in THREE WEEKS. I am sleeping through the night most nights now. I feel awake and productive, less irritable and snappy.

And I have lost 10 pounds! (When I started all of this, my goal was to reduce my migraines, not to lose weight. Losing weight is an unintended side-effect, but one that I will happily take another 15 pounds worth of!)

My nutty nurse practitioner is very proud of all the lifestyle changes that I have made since July. All she says I need to do now is double my exercise every week. I told her she was pushing it with that one!

For dog owners, my four-legged walking Buddy almost killed me on day one. Goodness, walking him was exercise without even moving, I thought he was going to rip my arm out of my socket. Later that day, I went to the pet store to get a new leash and a choke chain (because that's all I knew to get---dreading getting it because it meant another several days of training the dog to not pull.). Talking to the pet store employees, they recommended getting a "Halti" instead. You can see it in the picture of Buddy. It is black, and fits over the snout, clips behind the ears, and attaches to their collar. This thing works like MAGIC. Within a block, he was walking like he had gone to obedience classes. Walking with him is a breeze now. He is truly a pleasure to walk with, and after walking three miles a day, he is far mellower the rest of the day. I highly recommend this product to other dog owners, especially if you are out walking yourself anyways (and no, I am not affiliated with them in any way, are you kidding me?!).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The bacon madness

I swear, some days I am just totally off my rocker.

Today I was totally off my rocker. On Tuesday, I bought some Velveeta (I know, but I bought it to go in chili for dip, or in enchilada's, things like that. Not to mention, it keeps in the cupboard!), and it had a tasty looking recipe on the back for Spinach Dip. Ohhhh......I love spinach dip but have been unable to find a good tasting recipe for home that isn't crazy expensive to make. This one seems reasonable, so I figured I would give it a whirl.

One of the ingredients is a few strips of bacon. Okay, no big deal. Except, the bacon I have is 6.5 pounds of bacon in my freezer. mmmm..... I have Skinny-boy pull it out of the freezer this morning to thaw and get on with my day. And on and on with my day.

Had a meeting with the school counselor after school, then rushing around with the kids, up at the home at 9pm. Get the kids in the bath then off to bed. Now it is almost 9:30, and the bacon is thawed. UGH. My options: put it in the fridge and deal with it tomorrow, or just suck it up and cook it tonight. Hubby, of course, votes for option one. Me, I vote for option two.

I am also very weird about cooking bacon. I refuse to leave any bacon uncooked once a package is opened. My personal thought is: just cook up the whole thing at once and clean the mess up ONE TIME. Otherwise, you will need to clean the stove and the pan multiple times when you fry up a few pieces. And to heat the bacon up, just toss a few pieces in the microwave with a towel or small dish over the top.

What that means is that, here I am at close to midnight with over a pound of raw bacon still left to cook. *sigh* Folks, I know I am not the only crazy person out there like this!

Nice thing about this? If Oscar Mayer can sell pre-cooked bacon in the refrigerated or frozen section, well, that means I can freeze bags of cooked frozen bacon! (I know my family! Hubby and Skinny-boy will suck down pound after pound of bacon until it is gone unless I "hide" it from them.)

Wish me luck that I will get the rest of this bacon done SOON because I have to be up in less than 6 hours to get Skinny-boy up for school. Will really need the coffee in the morning.

Bubble Boy likes the new eggs!

Got another present this morning (oh happy day!). Makes getting the ducks out much more exciting, let me tell you.

Because my hens are so young, the eggs are still small (this is normal, from what I have read. They will get larger over the next few months). Compared to a store-bought large egg, they are slightly smaller than that.

I have seen on several websites the comparisons of store-bought eggs vs home-grown, and wanted to see for myself. I had been told that the whites are more firm and gel-like, and that the yolk would be closer to orange than the sunny yellow of a store egg. Sure enough, our egg yolk was a deep orange, highly rounded up instead of spread out and flatter like the store bought was. The store egg ran all over the pan, while the home egg stayed in one place. Interesting.

Best part? My son declared the egg to be yummy! And that would be why I started this whole thing to begin with. To have yummy eggs that I knew from start to finish what feed had gone into creating the eggs. I am thrilled.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Our first egg!

It's a red banner day at my house!

I let the ducks out before daybreak like normal (half-asleep like normal). I latch their pen so they can't pig out on grain all day. Later in the morning, I went back out to their pen to see if there were any eggs....and there was one! Granted, it was completely poo-covered (thank you, whoever you were. You really didn't need to wrap it for me.), but it is our first egg, so I don't mind too much.

I don't know which hen stepped up to the plate and decided to start them off, but I hope it's the beginning of a trend. My friend, who also has runner ducks, told me that the hens are a little competitive and will try to "out-lay" each other. Fingers crossed that mine are the same.

Here is hoping that my days of buying store-bought eggs are nearly over!

Hubby's comment when I called him to tell him we had our first egg? "How soon before we can start selling them?" Probably not in the near future, honey. But, way to be positive!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The bread curse is OVER!

I am doing a happy dance! Look at that beautiful bread. Oh my goodness, it is gorgeous. Smells so good, so soft and airy.

I figured out why I was failing time after time at making bread. And I didn't learn it from a cookbook or from a recipe, but from reading the reviews to a recipe. I found a recipe from (for Amish White Bread). I read several of the reviews, and one of them described very well how to proof yeast and what it looked like while yeast was proofing. Knock me over with a feather, I have been doing it wrong all these years.

The tip? I knew that liquids need to be about 110 degrees (I had been doing that!). And then I would add the yeast and stir it in. What I didn't know is that you need to allow the yeast to proof, to foam up. Now this can take several minutes, five to ten, so just be patient and let it work. It starts to look a little bit like tan cappichino foam. Wait until the entire surface of the liquid is covered and then start stirring in the rest of your ingredients.

As for the bread itself? A bit too sweet. Another reviewer said that the recipe was too sweet and to reduce the sugar by a quarter cup (which I did do), and I still found it to be sweeter than I would like. Still, I now know what I was doing wrong, and feel far more competent to try other recipes!

Brings me to the thought that so many of these homemaking skills are being lost. My mother would on rare occasions make bread when I was a kid (very rarely). And she didn't want to be bothered with teaching me how to bake bread. I can understand the feeling, it takes a lot of effort and extra time to teach a child skills. Usually when I would help in the kitchen, I would get stuck on peeling duty (meaning peeling potato after potato, or cutting up things) while she would do the technical stuff, and now that I have a household of my own, I am missing all this knowledge! Like proofing yeast. So when I have these ah-ha moments, I love to pass them on. Hopefully, they are helpful to others.

A reminder of why I stockpile

Tomorrow is payday. Rightly, it is MY payday, which is pretty small. See, I only work about four days a month doing bookkeeping, so my job income is usually just pin-money for the family. The fun cash that comes along that allows us to do things that we normally would do without.

But, with vacation last month, and Hubby missing several days of work, his paycheck was VERY short last time, should be better this time, but that is still another week away.

Bottom line? Bubble boy ate the last piece of bread yesterday night. Skinny boy finished off the milk this morning. We are out of fruit. The good yogurt has been gone for a week now (the horror!). So, mom was getting to thinking today.

Well....I had good luck with the artisan's bread last week, maybe my run at bread killing is over. I could try my hand at making white bread again and see how it goes. I check on-line for "recipe easy white bread" (go with your strengths!). Sure enough, there are tons of them. I pick one that got good reviews and am giving it a whirl. It's been rising for nearly an hour and is looking good (there is hope!).

For dinner, I dug up some dried red beans, a pound of hamburger, some fresh tomato's from the garden, a few odds and ends in the kitchen and am making chili. It's very filling, should last at least two meals, and is healthy.

I buy milk when it is on sale and I freeze it (if in plastic gallons, pour off a cup or two to allow for expansion). So I took out a gallon from the freezer and set it next to the warm stove to thaw.

All in all, even though I haven't bought groceries in close to two weeks, we aren't too badly off! I try and try to buy pantry items seasonally when they are on sale, even if I know I won't be using them right away. Such as, flour and sugar will be going on sale in November and December because of the holidays and increased baking. Sure, I do some baking, but not like a lot of families do. The holidays isn't traditional "baking time" for me. I still stock up on these items at this time! Right now, I am practically out of sugar at my house, because I have used it all up making jelly. Yes, it's the jelly making that uses up my sugar supplies. But come November, I will buy 10 to 20 pounds of sugar and set it aside for next summer and fall. I know I will use it. I shop this way for all kinds of things. Pick up odds and ends, even if I know I have plenty at this time, if the sale price is significantly below the normal retail price.

That way, when we hit a tight patch and there is not a lot of money for a while, I know I have plenty of toilet paper, shaving cream, flour and all the other necessities of life. There is peace in that!

Hankering for Cheesecake

I was out at hockey try-outs with Skinny-boy (you rock, kid!), and was pondering what to make for dinner. Pfft! Let's get to the important stuff. What to make for dessert!

My first thought? Cinnamon Rolls. Oh, I have a cinnamon roll recipe that uses my bread machine that totally rocks, but, sadly, it takes two hours in the bread machine, an additional hour to rise outside the machine, plus baking time, and....well, it's after 9pm. OUCH. Oh-kay. Can't do cinnamon rolls. What else can I make today? Hmmm....I have a few pounds of cream cheese in the fridge (a friend of mine gave me a huge loaf of cream cheese). Logical thing to make? Cheesecake!

I love the internet. You want to find a recipe on a whim, best place to look. And, I don't need a foofy recipe that requires 24 oz of cream cheese, a spring-form pan and a water-bath. Sweet heavens above, I want a down and dirty recipe for us lazy people!

Found one off of Kelloggs website. Okay, so their recipe calls for a Keebler Graham Cracker Crust. My solution? Use what I have on hand! What did I have? (This is bad...) I had Mini Teddy Grahams. It's okay, you can laugh. I put them into a sealed bag, tap-danced on them, and then used a rolling pin to crush them. Melted a few table spoons of butter in the microwave, mixed the crumbs and butter together, and pressed them into the bottom of a glass dish.

Other than that, I followed the recipe (pretty much). I skipped the sour cream topping, and used my own blackberry jam (after only one week of setting, it is jelling nicely!). Oh goodness! How yummy was that!

Hubby and I sat around the fire pit last night, talking and listening to the ducks, eating homemake cheesecake. Life doesn't get much better than this.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Two left and two arrived--my ark stays full.

Yes, that needs a little explanation.

We have had leopard geckos. Two of them, Blake and Gloria. My oldest son, Skinny Boy, begged and begged for them. So, it was Christmas gift of 2005. Wow, that was a LONG time ago. Minor miracle right there that we have managed to keep them both healthy and hale all these years! Anyhoo...oldest son has long ago lost interest in the geckos. It has become a chore and not a joy to have these geckos. They are never handled or watched. You know how it is with kids and animals.

We offered the geckos to science teachers (gee, I figured they would be a good object lesson! I thought wrong.), offered them on-line. Nope, no takers. Yee-ahh. They have been on our version of animal welfare, the black hole eating worms and crickets. At least the chinchilla is cute! Geckos aren't really very "cute" to me.

I had given up on getting rid of them. Resigned myself to having them until Skinny Boy leaves for college (packing them into his car with him and making him take the blasted things!). And then, this week, a young friend of mine asked me if I would be willing to give them to her. Would I?! I would LOVE to give them to you! Here, take all the stuff that goes with them too! Enjoy them! Be fruitful with them! End of the story? She is thrilled to have them, and I am thrilled they are gone. A happy ending!

The two new arrivals? Well, we got our four ducks (as hatching's) from Holdderread this past spring. I am so thrilled with my Indian Runner Ducks. I love watching them in the yard, seeing them chase the dogs, eating the bugs, digging at the dirt. I am excitedly anticipating eggs, but realize that it will be a few months yet until that happens. I've already mentioned to my husband that I would like to get a few more in the spring, but I don't really want to do hatching's all over again (raising ducklings in the bedroom is an intense, and pungent affair).

Hubs was looking online last night and saw an ad for two pair of ducks originally from Holdderread that were looking for a new home, hatched this spring, just like mine! Bonus, they are the same age as mine. Yes, hubby was joking, but I wasn't. My sweet man drove up, looked at the ducks, and brought me home ducks. Just in time for our fifth anniversary. Nothing sez love like a pair of ducks for your anniversary!

There you have it! Two animals out, two animals in. The two new ducks are the dark gray ones, they are called "blues". We have named them "Lady Grey" and "Blue Crew". Must be a guy thing, 'cause I am not sure what hubby is referring to! I have a FLOCK now! I love it!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bread Success!

Look at that beautiful loaf! And yes, it tasted as good as it looked.

I made the dough early this afternoon, went and did some errands outside the house, came home, cut off a ball of dough and put the rest of the dough in the fridge for later. I love that part about this recipe...I have many loaves of bread just waiting to be baked inside my fridge. It's a beautiful thing.

The instructions said to cut off about a pound worth of dough, approximately a grapefruit size of dough. Well, perhaps my mental thought of a grapefruit is pretty small, or the loaf didn't rise well for it's second rising (a possibility). I was disappointed at the size of the loaf and worried that it was a sign that I had, once again, killed the yeast.

Hoping against hope, I baked it. I pulled it out about five minutes short of the recommended time (perhaps because it was too small). It turned out crunchy on the outside, soft and airy on the inside. Wonderful with butter, and perfectly yummy with my tomato salad.

I tell ya. This bread is the bees knees. Check it out!

Artisan Bread

School is back in session (Mom doing a happy dance!). This means I now have more free time during the day. Thank goodness for that.

I was fiddling around on StumbleUpon on the net, and ran across a few sites for Artisan Bread. Now, I have a very poor track record with bread. I am a yeast killer (KILLER!), and need the training wheels that my trusty bread machine gives me. But these recipes swear that even the most inept baker can handle this.

One particular site ( has an Artisan Bread that is stored in the fridge for up to two weeks and that you simply cut off a hunk and bake it when you want some. Got my interest!

So I am giving it a whirl. The picture is of the bread in the first raising. I made a wonderful tomato-basil salad from the garden, and am looking forward to some crusty bread to dip into the left-over oil.

Fingers crossed, wish me luck that my bread turns out well. I am SO hoping this works, because I would love to be able to bake up bread during the next two weeks for dinner. My mouth is watering with the thought of it. I will let you know how it goes!

Monday, September 7, 2009

The end of the beans

It's been wet and windy here in my area. My poor bean trellis didn't make it through the storms, falling over last night. So, this morning, I went out and picked the last of the beans, and ripped all the vines out of the ground.

I am shocked (!!) at how many beans I was able to get off of those vines! Prior years, I have planted bush beans, and they have done okay, but never super. This year I was able to find pole beans, and those things have taken off like gang-busters. I am so surprised at how prolific they have been for several months now. Even today, there were still blossoms, and if I hadn't needed to remove the vines, I would be getting more beans.

Well, I am off to do blanching and freezing. Today is correctly named "Labor Day"!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Whew! I am finally done with it.

It was nearly an all day project, but I am finished (nearly) with the jam.

I love the way jam looks in the jars. So deep and rich like jewels. Makes me wish I had a shelf in front of the window so that the sun could shine through the jars. (Corny, I know. But I think homemade jam is beautiful.)

Fingers crossed that this will last me through the winter. With a teenage boy in the house, it may not last.

Once all the jars have cooled, I will label them and then tuck them into bed. Yes, I store all my canned foods underneath my bed. I have five cases of various things under there right now. But it is doubtful that my household will starve!

Two weeks for the jam to set up....then we can dig in! I can't wait.

The haul

Here's all the berries. I washed them and picked out the funky ones, now I am just cooking them down. That is one FULL pot of berries!

Picking the berries

Hubby said I looked like Frodo. Thanks dear, I love you too!

The days of Blackberries!

'Tis the season! For all good jam makers to gather supplies and get ready to do battle! (Okay, a bit over the top...I'll dial it back a notch.)

Saturday was a wet and rainy day here in our area, but it was the best day I had to go picking. I was graciously invited to a friend's property to do battle, er, I mean, to pick berries. (Thanks, Ms. Michelle!)

I went out, armed with my pots and buckets, and picked for several hours. Lesson learned? Well, picking in the rain isn't really so bad! I was wearing several layers, plus had on heavy shoes, and I didn't get nearly as scraped up as I normally do. Typically, I pick in hot weather, and am wearing sandels and shorts, end up all cut up. Wearing a hoodie was also good, I got brambles over my head, and I just ripped 'em out. Worked pretty good!

Listening to music while you are picking makes it more enjoyable. I loved having my iPod on for this task. Make it a lot more bearable. Also, if it is raining, the bees stay away. Bees don't like to fly in wet weather, so it was PERFECT for me. Plus, it being so cool, I didn't fret about getting bitten by a snake. (Yes, it's an irrational fear, but I get skiddish if I think there are snakes around. Sorry, I am weird.)

Now I just need to process all the loot that I picked. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Deals to be found for Labor Day

Sorry I haven't posted much, but I have been busy. The tomato's are coming on fast and furious, I am canning a few times a week. I am still getting beans, and freezing those. Doesn't leave much extra time for other things.

One thing I can't go a week without? Grocery shopping. Yup, gotta do it. And this week is Labor Day, which means all kinds of good meat sales. I found hamburger for $1.49 a pound this week at TWO different stores, plus boneless pork ribs, also for $1.49 a pound. Hot dogs are on sale, grilling brats are on sale, not to mention other grilling necessities (condiments, pork and beans, etc). It is a great time to stock up for what you think you might be needing in the future!

I bought over 20 pounds of meat (between the hamburger and boneless ribs), and I package them into individual meal sizes (about a pound each) in freezer safe bags, and freeze the load. It is so nice to know I have meat in the freezer, and stayed within my personal goal of spending less than $1.50 per pound!

Other things to stock up on? Well, all the back to school sales, of course. I am super picky about the type of pens I use, and I stock up on my favorite types during this time of the year. I buy extra spiral notebooks, extra filler paper, and anything else that my family may need in the upcoming year. If you have toddlers, don't just ignore the sales because your children aren't in school! Pick up some crayons (usually about 25 cents a box at this time of the year), some watercolor paints and plenty of paper. Then let those kiddos go to town being creative at the kitchen table. You didn't pay very much, so it doesn't matter how much they use!

Children's clothing are also on sale. Be careful how you shop, but there are some great deals to be found!

So there you have it! Happy shopping, be sure to check out the farmers market for current seasonal produce and celebrate your shopping success with some homemade yummies!