Sunday, May 31, 2009

Uniting Our Suffering with That of Christ


Our priest told a very moving story at Mass this weekend - it was a first-hand account told at a retreat he attended many years ago, by a priest from Washington D.C. This priest had a brother that was not active in the faith, and the priest had said many prayers on his brother's behalf.

There was a young boy in his parish that was dying of cancer, and when his hour was near, the priest was called in. The priest assured the boy of his prayers, and made a request of the lad. He asked the boy to pray for his brother, knowing that when we unite our sufferings with those of Christ, they are made perfect, because Christ is perfect.

Sadly, the boy slipped into a coma that evening and died. What happened the next morning was not known to the priest for about a week, but it surely shows the work of the Holy Spirit. His brother was awakend at about 6 o'clock in the morning, just several hours after the boy's death. He managed to hold off until about 7 AM, at which time he knocked on the door of the nearest rectory where he was welcomed by a sleepy-eyed priest. He made a good confession and rejoined the church.

Better yet, when our priest returned to his parish after this retreat and told this story, after Mass he was approached in the sacristy by a man. He thought Father must have told that story just for him as the circumstances were quite similar. He hadn't been very faithful up to that point, but afterwards, he and his family rejoined the church as well.
Come Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in them the fire of Your Divine Love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created, and You shall renew the face of the earth. Oh God, Who by the light of the Holy Spirit instructed the hearts of the faithful, Grant, that by the same Spirit we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolation. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.
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This link has a number of Scripture references to suffering.
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Fr. Mike Manning says:
St. Paul gives us an insight into this when we wrote in his letter to the Colossians, "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church." Colossians 1.24 That means that Christ is relying on us to be part of his suffering and cross. He values our suffering. Read the whole thing here.
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The Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraphs 2014 and 2015:
Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called "mystical" because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments - "the holy mysteries" - and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.

The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. (68) Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes:

He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows. (69)

68 - Cf. 2 Tim 4
69 - St. Gregory of Nyssa, Hom. in Cant. 8:PG 44, 941C.
Also see paragraphs 774, 407, 2725, and 1438
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Brian Pizzalato says "So, why do people suffer? Suffering can be a result of sin. Of this there is no doubt. Suffering can also serve as a way of testing and purification." Read more of his good stuff here.
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Agape Bible Study has an article on How Should The Christian Respond to Personal Suffering? The verse at the top of the article is 2 Corinthians 12:9, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." I have more than my share of weaknesses, for sure.
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While I was visiting the mission in Mexico, I saw a lot of suffering. I saw people living in conditions that were a hundred times worse than the garage where I parked my car - and smaller, to boot. I saw them sharing a piece of Christ's suffering on a daily basis. I learned a great deal about our call to holiness.
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Come, Holy Spirit!

Image found at Web Gallery of Art.

Weekly Link Roundup: Cherry Pie Version

Hubs and his dad went to an air show yesterday - in Rapid City, SD. Goose and I really missed him, and my loneliness manifested itself in an attempt to make homemade cherry pie filling. I probably won't put it in a pie (unless I get brave enough to try Kim's crust recipe); it'll likely end up as a crisp/cobbler/whatever.

I really tried to hold my number of links down this week - let's see how I did!

LEARN:
Five Cent Nickel has a post titled "Is Personal Responsibility Dead?" (via The Simple Dollar)

I've not ever used witch hazel but find it intriguing. I was hopeful it might help with my face explosions until I learned that it does not work well with rosacea. Neither does anything else, sigh.

I thought this story on disciplining toddlers at Faith & Family Live was adorable.

The Simple Dollar has a post on the top 25 pieces of software sold via Amazon.com, and free equivalents for most of them.

Amy at Finer Things has a post on keeping childhood simple. I'm famous for overcomplicating pretty much everything.

EAT:
Sushi is just making its way to central Nebraska, and I don't think I'll be trying it any time soon. But this candy version would be fine with me! (Mommy Knows)

Some interesting tips on making jelly and jam at Tipnut. I'm leaning towards jams as jellies just don't seem like much beyond sugar. But right now, I just mooch off my dad's stash.

I'm fascinated by marinades - somehow they make meat easier for me to deal with. Trent at The Simple Dollar has a very interesting article on marinades here. Trent also wrote an interesting post on quantity surcharges and when it does NOT make sense to buy the bigger quantity. (Just do your per-unit calculations and you'll be fine.)

My friend Sarah wrote a very intriguing post on going grain free. I don't know that I could go that far. But I do know I lost a crazy amount of weight while on a yeast elimination diet where I cut out white sugar and white flour. I know that was a much healthier way to eat . . . I think I've mentioned my willpower issues, though.

PRAY:
Feminine Genius has a post with a couple of links and a very brief discussion on the Archdiocese of St. Louis's statement regarding the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Annemarie posted about the Three Hail Marys devotion here. I have not been able to make the rosary a part of every one of my days, but this is definitely do-able. (I do pray it while in the car - but there are a lot of days I don't go anywhere!)

This week's wake-up from Jennifer at Conversion Diary is a post on discernment. Good stuff. Reminds me that I need to keep my ears open for the Holy Spirit's whisperings.

MAKE:
We use stakes (and this year, a few random markers) in our garden, but these markers found at Imagine Childhood are cute cute cute. I know they could be modified to use what you have.

This enormous outdoor chalkboard at Chasing Cheerios looks like a ton of fun! Then again, there will likely be plenty of concrete for sidewalk chalk. Then again, Papa might not appreciate art which will not soon get washed away since it'd be indoors. Melissa also has a post on homemade sidewalk chalk.

Another cute cute cute printable - ice cream cone favor holders. I'm not sure Goose will have enough birthdays (or enough friends out here on the prairie) to use all these birthday ideas . . .

I tried making bathtub fingerpaint (and crayons) a while back and it was not successful. I have high hopes for these fingerpaint recipes found on Tipnut.

This lazy susan art on Frugal Family Fun blog looks like a blast. I think we'll also be trying their homemade pinwheels.

Lori at A Frugally Old-Fashioned Homemaker posted on her homemade reusable sandwich bags. I agree with her - they'll be useful for more things than the sandwich wraps that I've seen around the 'net.

WORRY:
Extraordinary Mommy writes here about a friend finding a picture of her family being used as an advertisement in the Czech Republic! Makes you think twice about what you post on your blog!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Homemade Detangler and Leave-In Conditioner

Allow me to begin by explaining my qualifications for this post: as a pre-schooler, my mom kept my hair cut short but I grew it out long in elementary school. In fifth grade, I cut it short and while it was cute enough, it was during that awkward stage so nothing looked quite right. From the seventh grade on, I only trimmed my hair and grew it out to all one length, until it was well past my waist last year. I then had my mom cut off about a foot total over a few months, but it's still pretty long.

All this time, I believed what I read - that I needed to buy a leave-in conditioner to help protect my long hair. I still protect it, but for a few pennies per bottle versus three or four bucks! Here's how to do it:

I use water from my filtered pitcher in the theory that it won't get icky. I haven't had any problems so far, but if it started smelling funky before I could get it used up, I'd probably add a few drops of tea tree oil the next time. Or, make a half-batch!

You can use any regular ol' hair conditioner - whatever is on sale (or free for you lucky CVSers and Walgreens people), or this would be a good way to use up those little bottles from hotels. Just make sure it's straight conditioner and not a shampoo-conditioner combo! You'll also need an empty spray bottle such as your former boughten leave-in conditioner or detangler, or hair spray. Just rinse it out.

I don't measure how much conditioner I squeeze in - it's probably close to the amount I use on my hair when I wash it, although in this picture, it sure looks like more than that. I usually squeeze it right in the bottle, but if you want to measure it on your hand like this, just scrape it in the bottle from your hand. I'd recommend erring on the low side, then adding water so the bottle is about half full (or half empty, if you're a pessimist) and testing it out to see how the proportion is. If your hair feels too greasy or heavy, add more water. If it doesn't seem to do anything but get it wet, add more conditioner. After a few times, you'll get a feel for about how much you need.

For this 10.5 ounce bottle, I added about a cup of water to fill it. I warm my water a bit in the microwave to make it easier to combine, but it isn't necessary. Just shake it and use it! I use it after showering - I brush the tangles out, squeeze out as much water as I can, and spray it on. (This is in addition to regular conditioning, mind you.) It also works well on static hair during the winter! Finally, I use it on Goose's hair for detangling, although if you're going to use it on a very active little girl, or one with thick or curly hair, I'd definitely up the amount of conditioner. Goose doesn't get too many tangles yet, so I just use the same proportion as for my hair.


Isn't that easy?!? For more frugal ideas, visit Life As Mom.

(EDIT: I initially saw this idea at Delighting in the Days but when I went to make it, I couldn't find the link *anywhere*. So I made up my own recipe. But I found it after cleaning out my favorites folders and I wanted to give credit where it was due.)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Home Sweet Home

I love visiting my parents and spending time with family, but I am such a homebody. Goose and I had a delightful time up until 3:45 this morning, when something wasn't right in her world. The third spare bedroom at my parents' was occupied by my uncle who has been battling cancer for over a year and my aunt, so I was trying to minimize the bother to them.

We ended up leaving early in hopes that I could get her home for a good nap in her bed. She actually did quite well on the way back - we had to stop about halfway home to get out and run around because *I* was getting sleepy, though! I was glad I did because Goose had a seriously wet diaper. We swung by the "city" to pick up a few things and made it back right about her normal naptime. She hollered about five minutes before conking out. (whew)

Anybody know if there is a Borax conspiracy going on? I noted earlier that my two regular Wal-Marts - 60 miles apart - were both out of Borax. I checked Target, and although they appear to be in the middle of re-arranging the laundry aisles, there was no Borax. I am seriously hoping that our little grocery store in the next town over will come through for me tomorrow. I'm almost out!

We also zipped through Hobby Lobby, where I picked up a couple of flannel remnants and some ribbon that was on sale for 50% off. I also spent part of my birthday money from my parents on a scrapbooking paper cutter. I'm pretty tight when it comes to spending money like that - if only I could get it to translate to the rest of my life! Anyway, I am thoroughly unable to cut in a straight line and am hoping this will help. I've been waiting to pick it up until I had a 40% off coupon, so it was a good deal, I think.

The best deal, though, is what I borrowed from my dad - all these canning books! The Ball Blue Book of Preserving is smaller than I thought it would be, so I'm definitely glad to be borrowing that instead of spending money on it. I had borrowed the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving from the library but didn't really get it read by the time it had to go back. Dad said he uses Putting Food By the most, and there are notes carefully tucked into the pages to prove it! I also grabbed A Guide to Canning, Freezing, Curing & Smoking Meat, Fish & Game because canning meat fascinates me.

My parents will actually be here tonight for a few days, and then they'll go on to my brother's for a week or so. I'm glad, because we have a funeral to attend tomorrow and they can keep an eye on the Goose. Funerals are a bit of a stretch for her good behavior, especially when they edge dangerously close to naptime.

I can't believe June is right around the corner. I'll (hopefully!) be putting these canning books to use before long at all!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Converting Recipes for the Crockpot

In going sorting my recipe collection, I'm finding lots of kitchen tips that I've tucked away! I think this one was cut out from one of the Taste of Home magazines.

* Find a similar recipe that is intended for a slow cooker. Use it as a guide with regards to the weight and size of your meat and veggie pieces, and adjust the liquid in your standard recipe to mirror that of the crock pot recipe. The heat setting and cooking time should be similar.

* You'll likely need to reduce the amount of liquid because there is no evaporation in crock pots. Although if the standard recipe doesn't call for any liquid at all, you'll want to add half a cup of water, broth, or juice.

* When making stews and soups, place the veggies on the bottom and up the sides of your slow cooker. To get them to go up the sides, make sort of a well in them in which to set the meat.

* Canned condensed cream soups can be substituted for dairy as they'll hold up to the longer cooking time without breaking down. To be safe, you may want to add them near the end of the cooking time.

Here are some rules of thumb for converting cooking time:

Conventinal Recipe: 15 to 30 minutes
Crock Pot Low: 4 to 6 hours
Crock Pot High: 1 1/2 to 2 hours

Conventinal Recipe: 35 to 45 minutes
Crock Pot Low: 6 to 8 hours
Crock Pot High: 3 to 4 hours

Conventinal Recipe: 50 minutes or more
Crock Pot Low: 8 to 10 hours
Crock Pot High: 4 to 6 hours

And remember, to keep your kitchen cool, you can plug your crock pot in outside, on a porch, or in a garage (as long as you have an outlet available).

For more kitchen tips, visit Tammy's Recipes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"It Feels Like Sunday" Weekly Garden Update, Week 4

Wow, I didn't even think to take a picture yesterday. It was a bizarre day, though. Goose fell off the pew twice during Mass - both times I was kneeling, and I broke her fall both times, so it was more of just a bump - then went down for her nap well but woke up screaming all too early - I think it might be nightmares? anyway I spent an hour calming her and trying to get her to lie back down - and finally we went to a barbecue yesterday evening. (I made blueberry crumble - recipe is here, except I recommend doubling the topping.) (Why yes, I do realize I'm in the running for the world's longest sentence.)

The garden sure looks a lot more green; unfortunately, most of it is weeds! I should have been out there today weeding but we've had a few showers over the past couple of days (I don't much like mud) and I managed to forget all about it anyway. I put some more effort into sorting my recipe collection. Another ten years and I'll have that sucker whipped into shape for sure.

After getting a bit more advice, I haven't transplanted anything that needs thinning (peas and beans, mainly). I think we'll put up the fencing for the tomatoes and green beans this week. I did some mulching around the tomatoes and peppers, thanks to Hubs's lawn mowing.

Looks like Goose and I will be traveling a bit this week; we'll head out to my parents' tomorrow for a mini-family reunion with some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins. I'm never happy going anywhere without Hubs, but he doesn't get away from the farm too much.

Finally, it is with mixed emotions that I tell you Baby Faith went to be with Jesus this weekend. I rejoice for her, and her mother is rejoicing, too; I just can't imagine losing a baby. I've been prayerfully reflecting much of today and kissing my own baby.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Look Out Again - Weekly Links Post

Here's a list of what I found interesting this week (I know, I'm going to have to cut it down . . . there's just so much good stuff out there!):

MAKE:
I more like the process of making fabric labels and using the leftover scraps as stickers, found here at Making Chicken Salad.

Same with this method of using packing tape to transfer images at Molly Likes to Draw.

These birds on Craftster are made from your standard plastic Easter eggs and are way cute. (But I save mine from year to year!)

I have actually made these barrettes from Belle and Burger for a niece and ran into problems getting the fabric to stay glued on. I'm glad to see this update to the project. I'll blog about my version one of these days.

These fabric buckets from pippijoe are also very cute.

I'm a sucker for pom-pom flowers like these found at lilyella. Apparently I think the Goose and I will spend a lot of time doing such things someday soon. Molly the Pirate puts similar flowers on a garland here.

Here is a template to make a box that looks like that which french fries come in. At Creating Keepsakes.

While I'm not necessarily crazy about butterflies, the method for punching tin to make these would likely translate well to something I do like. (at Gingerbread Snowflakes)

There's something about these teeny envelopes at Cottage Industrialist that just makes me smile.

As much as I try to control my Google Reader's growth, sometimes I stumble across a blog like A Frugally Old Fashioned Homemaker and I just gotta subscribe. I really liked this post on Busy Kid Kits and this one on making butter. Crazy as it seems even to me, I remain convinced that I'll end up using predominantly raw milk some day.

I love these wrapping embellishment ideas at Homespun Heart.

This homemade jumprope looks fun for a certain Goose in a couple of years, or her cousins. At Zakka Life.

EAT:
Did I say something last week about canning beans? I wonder how long they'd keep . . .

I don't think *I'll* be eating these, and I haven't given Goose hotdogs yet, but I suspect these spaghetti dogs will be served at our house someday.

A while back, I stumbled across a blog detailing among other things, the writer's weight loss journey. A certain sentence has stuck with me since, and as I reread it now, it's actually from a book she read several years ago. Anyway, the quote: "Three-quarters of the world's population goes to bed hungry, and so should you." Read that specific post here, and the top of her side bar has two links to her weight loss and exercise posts. Found this time and last time via Elizabeth Foss.

PRAY:
Jen at Conversion Diary knocks my socks off about once a week. This week, it was a link back to this post about really and truly letting go of fear and trusting God. I don't know why we bother to think we're in charge - and anyway, why would we want to be?

I've been debating whether or not to tell my life story on here because it really isn't all that exciting. But then I want to refer to a certain point in my life and can never remember if I've mentioned it on here. So, when I lived in Colorado, I coordinated a mission in Mexico, and I met occasionally with the bishops to update them on the mission, including Archbishop Charles Chaput from the Archdiocese of Denver. He's a very gifted writer and speaker, and here is text from a speech he recently gave. Amazing stuff.

Here is a post on praying with little ones and what should be expected of them, at Faith & Family Live.

I also bookmarked this post on Faith & Family Live, about defending marriage; specifically how everything ties together with Natural Family Planning, divorce, gay marriage, etc. This is one of those things that quickly becomes a slippery slope once you take a step away from God's design. There's so much to say about it and this isn't the post, but I will note that I have extended family members who are gay and I love the sinner, hate the sin.

I've been reading Stacey at Almost There for a while, and though she doesn't have much time to post, when she does it usually hits me right between the eyes. This week, she blogs about the resurrection of the dead including this link that more fully explains Church teaching.

Three words: toddler at Mass. I don't read Elizabeth Foss regularly, and I occasional stumble across something that sends me back there to catch up.

Annemarie at Through the Narrow Gate posted a beautiful poem that Edgar Allen Poe wrote about the Blessed Mother here.

Over the past year, I have been drawn to a number of bloggers who have written about miscarriages and babies who have not lived long outside the womb. One such blogger is Bethany at Precious Infants, and she recently posted a link to a charm to memorialize an unborn baby.

Along similar lines, I read a blog about baby Faith Hope who was born over 13 weeks ago to a young Canadian woman. Faith has anencephaly, meaning she is missing much of her brain (and the skull and scalp covering it!). Myah had to fight tooth and nail to even have her baby - most doctors there wouldn't even talk about treating Faith once she was born; they couldn't believe Myah would carry her to term. Faith is beginning to have some medical problems - please join me in praying for them.

This is a bit on Church history from Christianity Richly.

Karen Edminston (a fellow Nebraskan!) wrote a post on what her daughter received as a confirmation gift from her godparents. I am the only Catholic godparent to all four of my nieces, so I will definitely tuck this away for later!

FILE AWAY FOR LATER:
Can't remember where I found this (was it you, Kim?), but the Repair Clinic can help you find parts for your appliances so you can fix it yourself (or have a handy Hubs take care of it, that is). Wherever it was that I found it recommended that you do an internet search on your appliance make and model and the problem it's having and see if you can find a fix, then this site will help you find the parts.

I appreciated this article on Dr. Sears' website on coughs and colds. (If you get an error message, click OK and then refresh - should work.) The range of normal is much broader than I might have guessed.

Here are a bunch of canning publications online. I really, really want to get over my fears of canning this year!

Goose isn't quite old enough to help with too many chores, so I'm bookmarking this post for down the road when she's able to do more to help. Also, here is a post on I'm an Organizing Junkie regarding chores with lots of links. And one more at Sunny Side Up.

This site seems to be a great resource regarding mail-order seeds and plants.

Ants have been marching their way through my kitchen (much to my dismay!) so this article is pretty timely. If I could find a Wal-Mart that stocks Borax, I would probably mix up some of that for in the cabinets. (Seriously, Wal-Mart, what is UP with that? Neither of the ones I frequent - 60 miles apart, mind you - have had it the past couple of weeks.)

If God tacked on an extra five hours to today, I'd probably blow it clicking around this learn HTML site. There's a lot I need to learn . . .

I'm not sure I would actually go this far, but this chalkboard fridge is interesting. (Guest post at the kitchn)

Remember when I linked to the post and book on the disappearing bees last week? Here's a way to help, via the Great Sunflower Project. It's for 2010, though.

Goose will probably need to be a bit older for much of these, but since I don't have a DVD player in the car for her, I bet Mom's Minivan can help.

This site has some lovely Christian graphics.

Frugal Farming Family is another new interesting read. This post is on garden pests.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Runza Casserole - Freezer Cooking

Tonight's contribution to the freezer was Runza casserole. If you don't live in or near Nebraska, you probably have no idea what I'm talking about, and I'm sad for you! Runzas are actually a single serving bread pocket with hamburger, cabbage, and spices inside. There are other versions that include cheese, swiss cheese and mushrooms, and an Italian version. Pure deliciousness! I've also seen recipes for something quite similar called bierocs.

They can be made at home a number of ways, with your own dough, thawed frozen bread dough, all the way down to canned biscuits. They're great for freezing and eating later - in fact, I can remember real frozen Runzas being sold for fundraisers.

I'm still not so good with dough. I'm working on it, but just not there yet. This is an easy way to get a similar deliciousness. I'm still tweaking this, but here's how it's written.

Runza Casserole

2 lbs hamburger
1 onion, chopped
1 small head cabbage, chopped
1 can cream of mushroom soup
8 oz shredded cheddar
salt, pepper, garlic powder, celery salt to taste
2 tubes crescent roll dough

Brown hamburger, drain if necessary. Add onion and cabbage, cook 10 minutes. Add soup and spices, mix well.

Lay one tube crescent rolls in bottom of 9x13 pan (ungreased). Press to cover the bottom as needed, pinch perforations to seal if you wish. (It really doesn't matter.) Pour meat mixture over dough and spread out. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover with other package of rolls. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or untill dough is golden brown. (Picture is before baking.)

I never can find a small head of cabbage, so I chop it all and freeze the extra. Tonight, I tried chopping it with a knife as usual - I quartered it, cut out the core, and sliced thinly then chopped. It was a huge pain and the pieces were bigger than I wanted. I then got out the food processor and pulsed the remaining. This is what it looked like. I ended up dumping that which I chopped by hand in the processor and chopped it, too. I then split it in thirds, two packages of four cups for the freezer and four cups in with the hamburger.

For seasoning, I used seasoned salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Several months ago, I made a few batches of condensed cream of mushroom soup. Not sure where I found the recipe, offhand. Amy at Finer Things has a post on how she did it here. I used the approximate equivalent of two cans, I think.

Finally, I used one 8x8 pan, one can of crescent roll dough, and half the hamburger mixture. I put the other half in a gallon freezer bag - I may have been able to squeeze it in a quart, but it would have been tight.

I baked the one 8x8 pan, I have one more pan's worth in the freezer ready to go, and two bags of cabbage for two more double batches. Yum!

Treasure Hunting for The Week

First, I must share a pic of Goose playing outside while I worked in the garden last night. My lawn mower isn't working, so Hubs took it to town yesterday and then brought over his dad's riding mower. He did a great job mowing the lawn (even brought the weed-eater over later) - plus he bagged the clippings and deposited them by the garden so I can use it as mulch. I don't mind mowing too much, but I don't care for stopping to empty the bag. If I put the mulching attachment on, I can just zip through it and the clippings blow out the side. So that was a blessing and it looks great! Here's hoping my mower has an easy fix, though. Oh, that yellow sweater Goose is wearing? It was Hubs's when he was a wee laddie. I smile every time she wears it.

Yesterday while I was in town, I made a quick stop at the dollar store to buy bubbles - Goose hadn't tried them yet and I thought she might enjoy them. I discovered they had some school/art supplies on sale, so I picked them up at $1-$1.50 each. And a few other things. :>) The two little tubs of colored "blocks" are plastic gel or something filled things that you freeze and then put in your drink to keep them cool. I've seen a number bloggers who use them for sorting by color, shape, etc. I think there are two paintboxes, and three to five sets of each of the markers. I should be set for a looong time! (It ended up too windy for bubbles by the time we got to them.)

And then today, I hit our little thrift store. I only had about half an hour of proofreading to do at the newspaper, so I had some time to kill. My MIL doesn't like it if I come back too soon and cut into her time with Goose! :>) I scored a number of great finds for $2.50. Not shown is a woven placemat I got to put on the backseat of the car as a rug of sorts for Goose. I've been letting Goose walk down the deck stairs and into the garage holding my hand. But then she gets the seat dirty climbing in - so this should help. I was thrilled to pick up the box of stationary as my collection is dwindling. I especially love the colors - brown and mustard yellow. I love picking up odds and ends of ribbon - these spools are pink and white.

Of the books, I picked up some random textbooks. They include two Spanish books, one on science, one American history, one speech, and two writing/grammar. The big coup for me was Teaching Montessori in the Home although mine is the 1968 version. :>) I was also excited about the guide to growing vegetables.

I can see Goose and her papa writing each other secret messages after reading Codes & Secret Writing in a few years. I loved Encyclopedia Brown as a kid, and I'm betting Goose will too. (1982 version) We also picked up 100 Pounds of Popcorn (great for entrepreneurship!), and three Scholastic books for when she gets into chapter sort of books.

I also picked up a book for Hubs. It's one I read in middle school that I did NOT like, called A Day No Pigs Would Die. I can't be exactly sure, but I suspect this is at least a large part of the reason that I gradually quit eating meat - it was about that time, wasn't it Mom? Sixth or seventh grade? Parts of it have really stuck with me through the years, and not at all in a good way. I told Hubs once he finishes it, I'm taking it back to the thrift store to re-donate.

Pretty good haul, I think! I'm not sure if they get new (to them) books in very often, or if I just all of a sudden see them after looking over them several times. It's so fun to see what I can find, though.

Baked Oatmeal Recipe

It's been a while, so I made baked oatmeal for breakfast yesterday (leftovers for breakfast today and again tomorrow). Hubs doesn't care much for it but the goose and I love it, so maybe I'll make it a bit more often for us. I found it in a Taste of Home magazine but tweaked it to make it a bit more healthy. Here's my version:

Baked Oatmeal

3 c soaked and dried oats
1/2 c brown sugar or honey
1 c milk
1/4 c butter or coconut oil, melted (I have forgotten the butter/oil before and it turned out OK)
1/4 c applesauce
2 eggs (note: I have made it with only one before and it was fine)
2 t baking powder
1/2 T salt
2 t vanilla extract
2 t cinnamon

Combine ingredients, mix well, and spread in a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until edges are golden brown. Spoon into bowls and add warm milk (or use the milk to cool it off for little ones). Top with fruit such as strawberries, blueberries, peaches, etc. Store leftover oatmeal (without milk or fruit of course!) in a covered container at room temperature. Yield: 4-6 servings.

I used to make this with regular quick oatmeal, but after trying soaked and dehydrated oats, I am a believer! Goose and I both experience less "rumbly tumblies" and it is still delicious. It works fine without soaking, though.

Pentecost Novena to the Holy Spirit

Jen at Conversion Diary had a post yesterday linking to this novena to the Holy Spirit that leads up to Pentecost.

From the EWTN link:
The novena in honor of the Holy Spirit is the oldest of all novenas since it was first made at the direction of Our Lord Himself when He sent His apostles back to Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost. It is still the only novena officially prescribed by the Church. Addressed to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity, it is a powerful plea for the light and strength and love so sorely needed by every Christian.

And who doesn't need more of the Holy Spirit in their life? I started mine at breakfast this morning - won't you join me?

Protect Your Laptop Battery

I'm on my second laptop and I love the portability. It seems that, regarding hardware, the thing to give out the quickest is the battery. While your laptop is still portable without a battery, it kind of defeats the purpose, if it has to be plugged in wherever you go. What fun is a laptop if you can't take it to the park?!?

I realized that it is simple to remove the battery on my new laptop. On my old one, it required a tiny screwdriver, and then there was a gaping hole. The new one is a Dell, and there is a toggle switch sort of thingie (it's a technical term, I promise) on the bottom that I slide over and the battery pops off.

So, I make sure the battery is fully charged, and if I'm going to be leaving my laptop plugged in at my desk, I simply remove the battery. If I do want to switch to battery power, I just pop it back on, wait a few seconds, and I'm ready to go!

I then use the battery until it runs all the way down (sometimes it is over the next several sessions) - whether I am at my desk or not. Once it is run down, I plug it back in, and once fully charged, I remove the battery until I need it again.

As an aside, while I'm at my desk I much prefer to plug in a regular monitor and a keyboard for comfort's sake. I had both left over from my old desktop, and it's nice to be able to get more used out of them. I also use my mouse and mouse pad at all times since the touch pad just doesn't do it for me.

Hope this helps you get more out of your laptop! For more frugal ideas, visit Life as Mom.

And, you can see what I'm praying about this week here.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Portable DVD Player Deal (and Extended Rear Facing Car Seats)

Last Christmas, my dad and Hubs ganged up on me a bit about letting Goose watch DVDs in the car. I really try to limit the amount of TV she watches - in fact, most of the time, I try not to turn it on at all. But, it has to be rough when you're strapped in a car seat (rear-facing, no less) and your arms are too short to reach anything. (That's part of the reason she's still rear-facing - I can still reach her to give her stuff that way.)

Anyway. One of the deal blogs I read is Want Not, and today Mir has posted a deal on a dual-screen portable DVD player at Buy.com. I like the dual screen because I could hang the extra screen for Goose to see, and then I should be able to reach the DVD player part to change DVDs as needed. It's $89.99, free shipping.

Hubs said no. I understand - we don't need it right now (although if we take a car trip to a cousin's wedding in Wyoming and then go on to Yellowstone this summer, we might need it then!) and we'd just as well save our money. But just in case any of you are considering one, this seems to be a good deal! The reviews at Amazon.com are mixed, but I always wonder about people who say it didn't work but don't seem to have attempted to return/exchange it.

Yes, we all survived childhood without watching videos in the car, but we also crawled around and read a book laying on the shelf in the back window and whatnot. And we drove uphill both ways in six feet of snow, even in summer. Ah, memories. :>)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Southwest Salad Version 3.1

Last week, Tammy's Recipes shared a link to this salad. I thought it sounded good, but perhaps a bit bland.

So, I followed the basic recipe but added seasoned salt (use more if your beans were cooked from dried; less if canned), chili powder, cumin, and garlic powder to my beans and corn. [edit: I also added some oregano! Most people think of it as an Italian seasoning, but it also compliments Mexican food.] I then heated them a bit because that's how I prefer my taco salads. I love the cool, crisp greens contrasted with the warm, spicy meat (or in this case, beans and corn).

And, in keeping with my Kitchen Incident tradition, I accidentally used cinnamon instead of cumin the first time around. No problem! I just dumped the beans and corn in a colander and rinsed, then re-seasoned properly.

For dressing, I combined a blop of ranch with about an equal-sized blop of BBQ sauce. It was perfect.

This is also a very good recipe to keep me on track with Laura at Heavenly Homemaker's eat more fruits and veggies challenge. I estimate the salad I had to be around four servings of veggies. Yeah!


For more salad recipes, visit Tammy's Recipes for the in-season recipe swap.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Browning Frozen Hamburger

Here is another tip courtesy of my mother:

When you need to brown hamburger but you don't have any thawed, put the frozen ground beef in a pan and add a little water (enough to cover the bottom or so). Cover the pan tightly, and cook it over medium heat. The water will create steam and will cook the hamburger on all sides. (If you're not getting much steam, turn it up a bit. If it's really boiling, turn it down.)

As it cooks, uncover and use a spoon to scrape cooked meat off the top and sides of the block of hamburger, then flip the block over and scrape the bottom in a similar fashion. Recover, and repeat. As the block gets pretty small, leave your pan uncovered so the water can cook out, or you can use a slotted spoon and/or colander to drain the meat.

It's ready to use in your recipe in a fraction of the time! As a bonus tip, if you like your browned hamburger broken up in small pieces, use a potato masher like I did in my freezer sloppy joe recipe.

Along those lines, you can also brown several pounds at a time using this method. You can either put two cups (or any amount!) in a freezer bag, label, and refreeze; or add the rest of the recipe (as is the case with my sloppy joes) and then portion out and refreeze.

For those of you that just came over for Kitchen Tip Tuesday, I just posted about the cloth ABC book I sewed for my daughter's second birthday; you can see it here. I'm excited about how it turned out, and the little one loves it!

For more kitchen tips, visit Tammy's Recipes.

Goose's Birthday Gift - ABC Book

A few months before Goose's second birthday, I decided to make a fabric book as a gift. Temporarily forgetting just how stinking many letters are in the alphabet, I opted for an ABC book.
The first thing I did was decide on a word beginning with each letter to depict in a picture. I wanted them to (mostly) be words that she knew AND that would more or less be easy to re-create in simple, fabric form. This was reasonably difficult! I'll give you a hint, though - if you get stuck, ask your creative friends for help! My blog friend Kim gave me a huge boost near the end - I was stuck on the letter G. I had intended to do a goose, and discovered there would be WAY too many tiny pieces to try and depict it in a 3x3" space. Kim suggested grapes, which was perfect!

So, what I finally ended up with was this list:
Apple Buttons Cow Diaper Eggs Flower Grapes Hat Ice Cream Jacket Kite Lotion Mitten Nappy (our cat and her first word) Oatmeal Pocket Quilt Rabbit Shoes Tractor Umbrella Vine Water X-ray Yarn Zipper

For the letters, I used these coloring pages for letters. You could also use a font that you like. I used Microsoft Word and the Format Picture option to get the size I wanted (which was no bigger than 4x4"). That way they were pretty much all uniformly sized.

Next I did a search using Swagbucks* for each word and "coloring page". I found many on this site and this one. I would pull up three or four sites from each search and pick the one I liked best that also seemed the most simple to recreate. I again used Word and the Format Picture option to keep the size consistent with what I needed.

The next step was to print everything out, and cut it out. I opted to keep the pictures intact for now, waiting until I had my fabric ready to cut the individual pieces. It seemed easier to keep everything together that way!

All the fabric I used for my book was either something I already had or something I found in the remnant bins in Hobby Lobby or Wal-Mart. The pages of the book came from a HUGE piece of muslin-like material. I used a cutting mat, ruler, and rotary cutter and still ended up with a lot of crooked lines, sigh. It was about this point that I realized I had to accept imperfections or I wouldn't have the book finished by the time Goose turned 18.

Courtesy of my mother's fabric stash, I had a piece of navy blue fabric (left over from curtains, I think) that I used for the letters. I used Wonder Under fusible backing and I love it! You fuse it to the fabric, cut it out, peel off the paper backing, and fuse it to something else. It works great! You can sew around it (like I did) or you don't have to. Actually, I did a bit of both as the letters on the front of the book and the last page ended up fused by another brand which I found frayed my thread if I tried to sew too quickly. So, I just sewed around the outside and left the insides of Os and Ds and the like plain.

Next I picked out colors for the pictures. I tried to figure out about how much of each color I needed, approximate a chunk of fabric erring on the larger side, and arranged them as close together as possible on an appropriate piece of Wonder Under then fused them all at once. I cut them out and tried to keep them stacked together so I didn't lose any.

When it came time to fuse to the pages, I did all the letters first, then went back and did all the pictures. I then zigzagged around everything with my sewing machine, using a normal width but short (tight together) length stitch. I had to play with it a bit to find what I liked, so I recommend doing that on some practice fabric. I definitely found that I got much better at it as I did more of it, and went back and used my seam ripper to take stitches out and re-do them.

I embellished some of the pictures with embroidery thread, such as the yarn shown above. Off the top of my head, I also put a face on the cow, sticks on the egg nest, a stem on the grapes, tail on the kite, decoration on the lotion bottle, a face on Nappy cat and the rabbit, laces on the shoes, and outlined the cab of the tractor.

I learned that my sewing machine has a "locking" stitch, and that looked much better than sewing a bit, backing up, and sewing forward to start and finish each letter or picture. To turn a corner, I would sew past the end on the first side, leave my needle down and pick up the presser foot, turn the fabric, put the foot back down, and keep sewing. Go ahead and laugh, but I also learned that there's a little arrow on my foot that is the center of the stitch. (Why yes, I should have known that!) It is also important to slooooow down when going around curves as it makes for a much neater stitch.

There were two items for which I didn't use pictures. One was buttons, and I just sewed several buttons on the page. The other was zipper. Instead of buying a zipper, I bought a pair of infant pants with a zipper for ten cents at a thrift store and removed the zipper. Goose LOVES to zip and unzip it - in fact, I should have stitched it several times at the top as she's pulled it loose.

One thing I wish I would have put more thought into was how to lay out the pages. I took one page and put A and B on one side, and C and D on the other. I might have instead put A and B on the left and the last page (which reads ALL DONE) on the other; then the next page would have Y and Z on the left and C and D on the right (because it would face the previous page) - know what I mean? But it worked out.

When it was time to stitch everything together, it became painfully apparent that my pages weren't the same size. I just stitched and let it be crooked! I started by folding the raw edges to the wrong side and ironing them. (Thereby making it more crooked and mis-sized, since being exact isn't my strong suit.) I then matched the front cover to the A/B page, pinned carefully, and sewed around the three outside edges (not the middle) with a smaller width but still narrow length zigzag stitch.

I then took the right side with C/D on it, and stitched it to the left side of the next page, with E/F. And so on, and so on. Once everything was put together, I went back and sewed up the middle of each page.

It took some trial and error, but I was quite pleased with the way everything turned out. This was definitely a time intensive task, although it didn't cost much. If you'd like to see the rest of my pages, they are here. Pictures don't do many of them justice, I promise!

For more homemade Christmas gifts, visit Abbi at Proverbs 31 Living.

* Swagbucks is a search engine where you can earn your way to gift cards to places like Amazon.com, Target, Starbucks, and more! It's not the fastest way to get free stuff - I've been using it for probably a few months and I just finally hit 45 swagbucks, which can be redeemed for a $5 Amazon.com gift card. I've found that I get pretty good results, although if I don't find what I'm looking for in the first page or two of results, I do another search at Yahoo or Google. It takes a bit of practice to get used to going there instead of straight to Yahoo or Google, but it has now become a habit. The link I provided is a referral, so I get a few swagbucks if you sign up through it. If you have questions, please feel free to ask me!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Garden Update, Week 3

Looks like I'll be trying a bit of transplanting this year - my green beans and peas kind of came up in clumps. I'd really like to spread them out a bit! My dad recommended waiting until they get about 3" tall or so (any suggestions Annemarie?) as he thought they'd do better with the big move.
So, it looks abut the same as last week, although you'll notice (I'm sure!) a different angle and excitement at the neighbors'. They're having a party, and I didn't want them to think I was taking a picture of them! You'll also notice Goose's ball - somehow it found its way into our yard and no one ever came and got it. She loves tossing it around and chasing it while I'm hanging out laundry or working in the yard. Today, she was squatting and leaning on it and saying "stretch!" (At least I think that's what it was.) I'm guessing she got that from my MIL, but I'm not exactly sure.

Back to the garden. I did a bit of hoeing to mess with the weeds. My carrots are looking pretty clumpy, too, but I don't think they'll transplant very well. Plus it doesn't matter quite so much with them - I'll thin them later and we can have true "baby carrots"! The tomatoes and pepper plants seem a bit sickly; I don't think they need water but I'll give that a try tomorrow and see what happens.

The onions are looking pretty good so far! I like to cut some of the tops and chop them like chives once in a while. My potatoes aren't up yet (except some volunteer ones that I pulled out) but I think it's a bit early for them yet since they were planted so late. I replanted some of my Indian corn and put some insecticide in with it. Hubs noted that we have corn borers in the garden, so hopefully that'll fix em'. It doesn't look like my gourds are going to do very well, but actually that's probably OK.

Hubs's grandmother is 92 or so and hasn't been able to garden the past few years. She's currently recuperating at a nursing home after a fall around Christmas, and we're not sure what is going to happen. Hubs asked her if we could plant some things in her garden, and with her blessing, Goose and I did that this week.
That's Hubs's parents' place in the background. We put in four hills of spaghetti squash, four hills of butternut squash (on opposite ends, so hopefully they won't cross-pollinate), three or four hills of pie pumpkins, and two each of watermelons and cantelope (again, opposite each other). Here's hoping that it isn't all for naught, though, because we need to get it watered this week. I'm hoping Hubs can help me out there.

Hmm, I typed in a nice little update on our week and it somehow disappeared while I was trying to get the spell-check to work. Nothing terribly exciting - Goose has been a bit under the weather with a random fever, but seems otherwise fine; my lawn mower is on the fritz and Hubs doesn't have time to fix it. Actually, I'm thinking the short version is sufficient. :>)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kitchen Incident Confession

So yesterday, I got five packages of hamburger out of the freezer for sloppy joes. I set them on the burners of the stove to thaw a bit while I did a few other things, and promptly forgot about them. Once I returned, they'd thawed enough to leak meat juice on the stove and down into the drip pans, some actually overflowing into that no-man's-land that you have to lift up the top of your stove to access. Major eew.

Fifteen minutes, one cranky toddler up from her nap and wanting MILK NOW, several paper towels, some Lysol, a quick soapy dunk of drip pans in hot water, and a few rags later, I was back in business. You may have guessed that dealing with raw meat is one of my least favorite parts of cooking.

My most famous incident, though, is the time I started a fire. It was a bunch of dumb little things that added up - and it added up big! A few days prior to the flaming incident, I had attempted to soften two sticks of butter on the back burner (not even the one over the oven vent) while the oven was on.

Of course, they melted a bit and some butter collected in the drip pan. I had needed new drip pans for oh, a little over a year at that point. I had actually tried to find some, but the one set I bought didn't fit. I'm also usually in a huge rush when I go to the "city" because I have a finite amount of time to get Goose home for her nap - and if I don't make the deadline, we both pay for it and that isn't fair to her. (or me.) And then I forgot that I needed them for a while. So, I didn't bother trying to clean that gunk out of the drip pans because I had good intentions of replacing them shortly.

Here's where it gets exciting. A few days later, I put a pot of water on to boil on that burner, forgetting about the butter in the drip pan. I continued with the other things I was doing, and realized it was smoking about the time that the flames started peeking out. Yikes! I moved the pot to another burner (I may have even used an oven mitt!) and shut the burner off. I then quickly assessed the situation.

On a side but related note, after moving here I opted to keep the fire extinguisher at the base of the stairs into the basement. Our bedroom is down there, and it would be difficult (at best) to get out of the windows down there in the event of a fire. We rent from a family member, and after casually mentioning that issue, he commented that "it wouldn't be too hard to put in one of those egressed windows . . . " and that was the end of it.

So. I grabbed the biggest pot lid I own, put it over the flaming burner, snatched up Goose, and headed down to get the fire extinguisher. After we got back upstairs (in a matter of about ten seconds), the fire had gone down considerably. Instead of using the extinguisher at that point, I just grabbed my box of baking soda and dumped. It worked! I was rather shaken for the rest of the night, but the next day, I just vacuumed up the loose soda, chucked the drip pan, scrubbed the top of the stove, and breathed a sigh of relief.

At least it finally prompted me to get the new drip pans! They were only like $12 for the set, too.

Anybody care to make me feel better about myself and share your best/favorite/most memorable "kitchen incident"?

Freezer Cooking - Sloppy Joes

Another meal I like to make ahead and put in the freezer is sloppy joes. Depending on your region, they may also be known as yum-yums. While it's convenient to open a can or jar of pre-made stuff, a former co-worker gave me this recipe:

Sloppy Joes

1 lb hamburger
one onion, more or less, chopped
one green bell pepper, more or less, chopped
1 can tomato soup, undiluted
1/4 c ketchup
1 T mustard
1 T brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Brown hamburger, onion, and green pepper, drain. (Can saute onion and green pepper separately.) Add remaining ingredients, and heat through. Can also make up and put in a crock pot on low for a few hours for a potluck.
Last night, I decided to make up five pounds of hamburger for sloppy joes, since that's what will fit in the biggest skillet that I have. There was a minor incident, but that's another post.

I use my potato masher (pictured above, obtained at an antique store!) to break up hamburger as it browns. Being a recovering vegetarian, I prefer meat to be in small chunks. I started with frozen hamburger, so I added some water to create steam and help thaw the meat on all sides. (ooh, that'll be my Kitchen Tip Tuesday post for the week!)

Once the hamburger was all browned, I drained it. If I'd have thought ahead more, I'd have chopped and sauteed the onions and green peppers (the latter of which, by the way, I forgot to buy). I didn't, so I just added some onion powder when I stirred in the rest of the ingredients. I found I was short on ketchup, but added a bit more brown sugar for sweetness and it's just a little less soupy. I have frequently used green peppers from our garden that I have chopped and frozen with good results. I just happen to be out of last year's peppers. (This really is exactly how my life goes.)

Quintupling the recipe (times five, right?), I ended up with three 3-cup packages for the freezer, three cups that I put in the refrigerator to eat this week, and about another cup or cup and a half that we ate last night. Plus I only had to wash dishes once!

What's your favorite recipe for sloppy joes? While I like this recipe, I'd prefer to get away from using the tomato soup. I have tried tomato soup recipes but neither Hubs nor I care much for tomato soup by itself. Plus I'm not sure if I've seen a recipe for the condensed version in quantity - i.e. one that is meant to be preserved and diluted when consumed later. (Mom, you should click through and leave the recipe for EJ's Yum Yums. I don't remember what's in them!)

Holy Buckets, It's Raining Links

Either I'm saving a lot more links to share with all of you, dear readers, or my favorites really truly grow by this much every week. Yikes.

(And the raining reference? I've not been able to hang diapers on the clothesline for a good sunning in a long time! I only wash every other day, and it seems like the sun slips behind some clouds just as I throw them in the wash. Plus it really did rain yesterday morning!)

OK, I'll try and be brief (and categorized):

EAT:
Cardamom's Pod has suggestions for doctoring up honey to make syrup. YUM and probably healthier, too.

Mom's Frugal has some great tips on grinding wheat. I would so love to try that sometime!

I love the Tightwad Gazette books and am glad Trent at the Simple Dollar reminded me of the basic casserole recipe that can be tweaked thousands of ways.
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MAKE:
Craftzine has a homemade hand scrub that must smell delicious.

Hubs doesn't have any old dress shirts, so I might have to hit Goodwill or the local thrift store to pick up a shirt to turn into a toddler dress and pants as shown by luvinthemommyhood.

I'm fascinated by things such as these glass tile pendants by the Idea Room. Except I don't have that many people to make them for!

Goose isn't quite big enough to make these pussy willows but she will be next time I turn around, I think.

Tipnut has a post on home remidies from the spice rack.
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DO:
US Dept of Energy has links for energy audits, both by a pro and DIY.

Tipnut has suggestions on preventing mosquito bites. I'm especially allergic to bites - my least favorite part of summer. (OK, besides excessive heat and humidity.)

I am trying so hard not to subscribe to Repurposeful, a blog about re-purposing things. If anybody else subscribes, please pass along all the cool posts, K? :>)

Letterboxing is the precursor of geocaching. Both very interesting!

Since I have determined that I am able to exercise little to no willpower (and get little to no exercise most days, sigh), The No S Diet is extremely intriguing.

Tipnut also has some links and tips on Once A Month Cooking.

Further, somewhere I stumbled across Once A Month Mom, an OAMC site, but I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around how to navigate the pages.

While I'm not crazy about the exact design, this garage door painting method could be tweaked however you like with a little thought. As long as you like the results, that's what matters!

Hubs's grandfather used to have bees on the farm, and I sent him this post from Here in the Bonny Glen with a note that we need to get those hives going again! I've put the book (Fruitless Fall) on my To-Read List, which means I'll likely get to it sometime around 2017. Sigh. (Link on Amazon goes to the paperback due out in Sept., hardback is already available.)
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KIDS:
A Heart For Home has suggestions for print your own color pages that are actually fonts. So fun.

These flower collars on katie did are adorabale. What a neat (cheap) way to liven up an outfit for a little one!

Like Merchant Ships posted a few links on camping with littles. I might be brave enough to try it this year! Perhaps well start with a tent in the yard, though . . .

These dolls by Saintly Sewing on Etsy are way. too. cute.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Freezer Cooking - Baked Spaghetti

For at least a year, I've eyed various posts, blogs, and sites regarding Once A Month Cooking. I love the concept, but as mentioned previously, I don't actually have that big of a recipe rotation that I'd want to eat over and over. I do have a number of recipes that I prepare in quantity, though - one of my favorites is Baked Spaghetti.
The original recipe came from Tammy's Recipes. I'm a natural born tweaker, though. For one, I have found that this recipe divides into multiple pans that are a much better size for our small family. I prefer angel hair pasta because it cooks so much faster. We also prefer ricotta cheese over cottage cheese - I've even made my own ricotta!

Usually, I have way too much pasta. This time, I tried 12 oz angel hair, and doubled everything else. I then spread it among two 8x8 pans and one 8" round deep dish pan (it was in the oven already when I took the picture). I'd say I didn't have enough pasta. Perhaps I usually stuff it into two pans? I'm not sure.
I would note that you definitely don't want to skimp on butter - and you want to make sure it melts before adding the cheese. Stirring sticky cheese into sticky pasta is difficult at best. The ricotta seems especially difficult to mix in and I wonder if it would help to let it come to room temperature before adding it. I also seemed to have extra mozzarella in with the pasta, and I'm sure I actually used less. While I believe it is difficult to hit the range of "too much cheese", it is possible.

Finally, I had about 1 2/3 cup of meat sauce left over, which I froze. I could have added it to the pans, but have you seen a two-year-old after eating spaghetti - especially when it has too much sauce?

To freeze the extra, I put heavy duty foil into my pans first, then filled them. I popped them into the freezer (uncovered), and then after a day or so, I pull the foil up over the casserole and pop the spaghetti-cicle out of the pan and into a gallon freezer ziplock bag. I write something cryptic on it like 3 CHZ BK SPAG and the date, and it goes back into the freezer.

Since I work two mornings a week proofreading our local paper, I love to use this sort of meal on those days. In theory, I ought to pull one out the night before and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. In reality, things do not thaw quickly in the fridge for me. So, in the morning before I leave, I put the frozen casserole in the oven and set it to come on around 10 AM at 350 degrees, with the theory that it will be hot and ready to eat at about noon. It usually works. :>)

This dish goes well with Tammy's Italian Cheese Bread if you have time. If you don't, here's a very good substitute:

Figure 1-2 pieces of bread for each person and I usually tack on an extra or two just in case. I lay them on a piece of foil* and then butter the top side. I then add some, most, or all of the following: oregano, parsley, grated green can Parmesan cheese, garlic powder (or better yet, Garlic Bread Sprinkle), shredded or sliced mozzarella, or shredded Parmesan. Broil until cheese melts and bread toasts to desired level of crispiness. (My dad prefers his burned. My mom would put a solid 1/2" of sesame seeds on hers if I kept them in the house.) I like to take them out before they're quite done and then run them through the toaster for a bit. It toasts up the back side that is otherwise too soft in my mind. Yum! This is also a good way to use leftover hamburger and/or hot dog buns - just use them instead of bread. If you want to get really fancy, use a loaf of french bread and split it or slice it. Either way is delicious.

* I don't like to wash pans - nor do I even apparently like to pull them out of the cabinet to lay a piece of foil on. But, I will warn you that two rows of three pieces of bread are about as big as you want to go. How do I know this? I dumped two rows of four pieces of bread on the door of my oven. Goose said "mess!" She was right.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Air-Popped Popcorn

After visiting my parents several months ago, I snuck out of there with this under my arm:

We were always a popcorn-loving family. As I remember, we used this until we got a Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper and then it got shoved to the back of the cabinet. It would get pulled out once in a while perhaps to pop corn for popcorn balls or some other such where it needed to be made without oil.

Several years ago, I began using a PowerPop Microwave Popper, but it had begun showing signs of aging and I knew it was on its last legs plus I was having trouble finding the cardboard cups it requires.

I figured I didn't have anything to lose - and I was right! I especially appreciate how I can't burn the popcorn since it jumps out into the bowl. Keep your eye out for one at a thrift store or Goodwill if you're interested.

One design flaw of this model is that it also shoots out old maids (unpopped kernels) - not only down the chute into the bowl, but some also come flying out the top. I find them on the counter sometimes, and I've noted a few on the floor after popping some corn. Thankfully they haven't caused a problem with Goose finding them first!

Along those lines, I will caution that you must wait until all the kernels have popped (if they're going to) before removing the top. I thought it was done one day, and took the top off to grab the last few popped kernels that hadn't jumped out. Just as I did, another kernel popped, and it sent a few old maids flying. One landed just under my collar and burned my shoulder! With the next pop, one actually flew down the back of my shirt into my sleeve, burning my arm in a couple of places until I could get it shaken out. Ouch! I think I could have averted this simply by leaving the top on.

For years, I have preferred to eat my popcorn by dipping it in a bit of Parmesan cheese (really!) and now Goose sits next to me with her mouth open just like a baby bird. :>) Michele at Frugal Granola has compiled a list of gourmet popcorn that will take a fun family night up a notch!


Which brings me to the most important part - sharing it with someone you love. That is certainly a finer thing!

Visit Life As Mom for more frugal ideas, and visit Amy at The Finer Things for Finer Things Friday!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Clean Dishes and Cheap Clean Balance


When we got married, we moved into our sweet little rental house with a kitchen that has an OK amount of cabinets and no dishwasher. I contemplated having a dishwasher installed, but didn't want to sacrifice the space. Hand washing dishes is not one of my stronger virtues, either.

Our friends and family generously blessed us with a number of cash gifts that, when added up, were enough to purchase a portable dishwasher! It tucks in a corner next to the table, where it is actually rather convenient to load. Once full, I roll it over to the sink, hook it up, and away it goes. I was a much happier bride for Hubs after we got it!

After five years, though, I noticed our dishes looked . . . icky. They were covered in a white film that only a long soak in straight vinegar would take away. Even using a rinse agent didn't help, nor did using vinegar as a rinse agent - it just wasn't enough.

About that time, I was trying to move toward more frugal and green ways of running our household. But, to be honest, there had been a couple of occurrences where I had a full-to-the-brim dishwasher and no detergent. I live 10 miles from the nearest store, and 25 miles from the nearest store that I can afford to patronize without selling my firstborn.

I can't remember where I first found the suggestion to use a 1:1 mixture of Borax and Washing Soda in the dishwasher. I tried it, and it seemed to work fine, but I felt like it was missing something . . . like soap! (OK, detergent, but still.) About that time I stumbled across another "recipe" that used a 1:1:1 mixture of the Borax and Washing Soda plus powdered Cascade. I felt good about using it, it's relatively cheap, and since I use the Borax/Washing Soda for the laundry, too, I can steal a couple of scoops out of there in a pinch. I use two tablespoons in the dishwasher, using a scoop that I can't remember what product it came out of. It has a teaspoon on one side (that I hang onto as I'm scooping) and a tablespoon on the other side.

(I store it in the coffee can above, that is standing in for a box of Borax since I'm currently out.)

That was great, but my dishes were still dingy. We have well water, and it's pretty hard and full of "stuff". I read a glowing testimonial of LemiShine on The Pioneer Woman and wondered what all the fuss in the comments was about. I found it at Wal-Mart, and in just one use, my dishes looked incredible - almost new! Hubs even commented on them, and noticing details is not his strongest virtue. Plus they even *felt* cleaner - before, I could feel a chalky residue and hadn't even realized. And the inside of my dishwasher looked better, too! (There is a map on the LemiShine website that shows the hardness levels of water. We're in "extremely hard". So it's confirmed.)

After a few loads and working to cycle all my dishes through (i.e. put the clean plates from the dishwasher on the bottom of the stack so they all get used), I backed off the amount of LemiShine that I used. I'd guess I use somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 the recommended amount and my dishes still look great.

It is a bummer to rely on something that never goes on sale and never has a coupon. I priced packets of lemon Kool-Aid and even the generic versions come out about the same as LemiShine, so I think we have a good balance between using less and clean dishes.

You can also go here to see how I use the borax/washing soda in my semi-homemade laundry detergent!

This post is linked to Kitchen Tip Tuesdays at Tammy's Recipes, and because I am so tickled that 1) I even *have* a dishwasher and 2) my dishes now come out of it clean, I'm also linking this to Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers.

More Dirty Laundry

It all started with my cloth diapers. When I washed them, I was incapable of using a small enough amount of detergent to still get them clean but not so much that it produced mountains of bubbles that refused to rinse out. We got a new front-load washing machine, and since I still had a huge jug of regular Tide left over, I mixed it with HE Tide . . . and had enough bubbles that I knew I still had too much detergent. If I backed off too much, though, my diapers didn't seem clean enough.

Enter the internet. I read up on a number of recipes for homemade laundry detergent, including one here on The Simple Dollar and a number of ones mentioned on Frugal Fridays when it was still hosted at Biblical Womanhood. The type of soap used varied from recipe to recipe, but the borax and washing soda did not. It seemed that the borax and washing soda helped the soap work better. Would it do the same for my beloved Tide? I decided to experiment.

First I had to locate borax and washing soda. Borax was easy enough, but I checked the area big box stores for washing soda with no luck. I called a toll-free number I found online (I believe it is 1-800-524-1328, and you need the UPC code which is 33200-03020) to see where it was sold in my area and came up empty. I had found it on Amazon.com, but upon checking again, it was no longer available. It is now coming up as available via drugstore.com, but at a pretty high price. [A web search indicated that it might be available via the above toll free number, and shipping may be free if you purchase multiple boxes. Worth a shot if you can’t find it!] [Or, if you are a bit stubborn like me or Amy, please look a bit more closely at your local store. Or at least ask a clerk.]

Then one day, I turned down the cleaning aisle at my local grocery store in a town of about 3,000 people. I usually avoid that aisle because I can get most things cheaper at Wal-Mart, and I can wait to get cleaning products until my next trip to the “city”. Lo and behold, there they both were on the top shelf! And the prices weren’t too bad, either.

So outside I went, with a measuring cup, my newly purchased borax and washing soda, and a clean small bucket. (As you pour the powders, they release a bit in the air.) I alternated pouring in a cup from each box into my clean bucket, figuring it would help me mix it up more easily - both powders look pretty similar to me. I tried to break up with my fingers any chunks I found, although I didn’t worry about it too much.

But would it work? I put about a tablespoon of the mixture in the detergent cup of my washer, and added a drizzle of Tide. The clothes came out smelling as sweet as when I used MUCH more Tide – I was convinced! I have learned that when washing hubs’s work clothes, I at least double the Tide and I sometimes double the powder, too.

Go here for my post on line drying - I'm a huge clothesline nerd, so there are tons of tips!

Mid-Year Resolutions

I've never really been one for making new year resolutions . . . not sure if I just don't see the point, or what. Perhaps it's because I don't have anyone to keep me terribly accountable - and that might be where you guys come in! If I have to admit to the whole world (read: the half dozen or so of you) that I've been slacking, perhaps that will give me better motivation.

Before I go on, let me show you what spurred these ponderings. Laura at Heavenly Homemakers is doing a challenge to eat more fruits and vegetables. (She has an adorable button that is giving me some html troubles.) I think I had just started reading her blog this time last year when she did a similar challenge and thought "hmmm..." then went on my merry way.

Not this year.

Here are the things that I would like to accomplish over the summer and build into long-term habit:
1) Eat a good breakfast every day.
2) Cut down on eating between meals by eating *healthier* meals. Make healthier snacks when we need them.
3) Plan out a menu and shop for groceries less frequently.
4) Walk over to the farm (Goose in a borrowed jogging stroller thanks to Hubs's sweet cousin) to feed the kitties at least 4 times a week.
5) Go to bed earlier and get up earlier.
6) Lose about 25-30 pounds. I add this as an afterthought - I'm hoping that if I'm successful with the above, this will fall into place on its own.

You know how everything ties up into a big snarl sometimes? If I got more sleep, I'd wake up more rested and not be so cranky about making breakfast vs. pouring a bowl of cereal and popping a pop tart. If I ate a better breakfast, I'd be more in the mood for a walk rather than staying home to eat a snack. If I got some exercise, I'd sleep better. And on it goes.

Menu planning has been a struggle for me. Since I'm so picky, I don't have a lot of meals that I *really* like. And I don't want to wear out the handful I have that I do like. In typical two-year-old fashion, Goose has a narrow, random, and ever-changing list of items she will eat. I try not to cater to her whims and she can eat it or go without, although I may allow a snack later. I probably don't stick to that as much as I should . . . she actually dropped off the bottom of the growth chart for a while and although her doctor and I weren't worried, I didn't like it very much.

The final struggle is that I don't know what meals Hubs will be able to be here for, and what meals he wants us to bring him something. And sometimes he comes home late and is not hungry at all! If it rains, he'll almost certainly be home - unless they're working cattle and then he'll be late and covered in mud and other substances to boot. See how that makes it a bit difficult to plan?

For the past several years, I have been amassing a huge recipe collection. I had it sorted by category in index card boxes, but it wasn't working very well. A bit before Goose was born, I began trying to put them into a spreadsheet so I could do some sort of searching (i.e. I want a recipe for soup that uses ham and broccoli) but that didn't seemt to be working, either. And then I had a baby and that was the end of that.

I've been putting in a bit of time here and there on it again - the main difference is that this time, I'm pulling out the ones I know I won't make. For one, I've learned more about Hubs's tastes over five years of marriage and something that I thought he might like I now know that it won't impress him much. This reorganizing is helping remind me what I have and would like to try, and clearing out the rest so I can find what's left.

Side note, Amy at The Finer Things has a good system. When she finds a recipe she'd like to try, she plugs it into her next menu rotation RIGHT THEN. I like that idea a lot!

Another thing that has been nagging at me like a toothache is food addiction. Jennifer at Conversion Diary has posted about her struggles with food a number of times. She came up with something called The Saint Diet and has cut out sugar and flour. To be honest, that blows my mind. I love my cinnamon rolls and bread and chocolate and cookies and I could go on forever. To be realistic, when I did the yeast elimination diet that cut those out, my excess weight fell off. So, it boils down to whether I want to be healthy or whether I want to eat what I want. I know which one would be best, but am I ready to commit? I think it's about time I do. Wish me luck - and I'm off to re-read those posts of Jennifer's and then get to work on the recipe sorting.