Monday, October 20, 2014

October Thus Far

Where does the time go?!  I actually know right where it goes I just wish it I could control the speed of it all. You know- to fast forward through the laundry and dishes and vacuuming and press slow motion during the sweet times with kids, friends and family and those rare, rare moments I have to myself to recharge.

Here are a few glimpses into our last few weeks.

I'm sorry this photo is blurry.  I just wasn't willing to get any closer.  Sadie had run inside saying there was a huge raccoon by the red raspberries.  To make a long story short- it was acting really strange so I called animal control and a ranger came out and put it down.  It was a beautiful animal but the safety of our kids trumped its sick self.

We traveled to Jamey's parents' house for applesauce making and when we drove in the driveway, they were well on their way!  They had all the apples and jars washed, many apples were cut and a large vat of applesauce had already been turned through the strainer.  Three cheers for my amazing in-laws!!

After making applesauce and celebrating Jamey's birthday with his family, we traveled north into Sullivan County, PA, where my family is part owner of a hunting cabin (where I've been going since I was very young).  We like to travel up this particular weekend for the local Fall Festival.  If you ever have a chance to go, you must!  There are craft and food booths galore but what we enjoy the most are the lumberjack competitions- log rolling (above), chainsaw carving, ax throwing, spring boarding, hot saw competitions, etc.  Jamey would love to enter one of the competitions some year. Pharmacist lumberjacks are a rare breed, I would think:-).

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying family (particularly my newest nephew who we met for the first time), taking walks and playing in the creek. Oh, and eating. We do a lot of that there as well.

Walking with my {almost 12-year-old} boy.

At home, the rest of the garden was brought inside- white potatoes, sweet potatoes, dry beans (Scarlet Lady Runners below), butternut squash, some surprise tomatoes and peppers, and...

...a huge bowl of shiitake mushrooms.

With the garden gleaned and the applesauce made, our harvest season is complete...except for our pig. But she's a story for another time.
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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

We are in Love with Pearsauce

I wish I had thought to take a picture of our entire pear tree a few weeks ago when it was covered in pears. I also wish we had picked more of them because we finally have our pear groove on.

When we bought our house there were six large Keifer pear trees in our front yard.  They had gotten extremely tall making them difficult to pick, we hadn't yet learned the best way to ripen pears and even when a couple ripened successfully, they weren't that tasty.  Eventually, we cut them down.

Back in the little orchard behind the house however, was/is a pear tree of a different variety.  We took better care to prune it and tried year after year to eat and use its fruit.  It's a tough little tree.  Not only has it survived another tree falling on it and has provided shade and shelter for our chickens but every year it gives us a nice little crop of small pears.

in the shade of the pear tree

(If any of you recognize the variety, I'd love to hear it.  They are small, tart and change from green to yellow as they ripen.  We don't spray them, so this is what the un-sprayed version of this variety looks like.)

Once we learned the best way to ripen them, I started canning them and we all started eating them fresh because they are wonderful when allowed to ripen properly (otherwise, they ripened from the inside out).  This year they were especially small so the thought of peeling and canning them was not appealing so the plan was to try my hand at making pearsauce.

Jamey picked two 5-gallon buckets full (later regretting he didn't pick more) and he carried them over to our neighbor's house who generously keeps an empty refrigerator in their basement for our use. Thank you, Marie!! After chilling them for a few days, these same generous neighbors allowed us to lay them out on newspaper on their basement floor to ripen.  On Saturday Sam brought the pears back over in our little red wagon.  I halved them, removing the stem and loaded them into pots to cook them down.

You use the same method to make pearsauce as you do to make applesauce.  I did make a couple adjustments.  First, the pears were much juicier so I needed to pour off most of the liquid before loading them into my Food Strainer (we call it a "Squeezo"-the brand my mother has) otherwise I got more of a pear juice than a sauce.  Because these pears are tart, I also added some sugar.  The hot sauce was canned and processed in a hot water bath for 35 minutes.

The result was AMAZING.  We all love it- possibly more than we love our applesauce and that is saying something.  And we have plans to turn every last pear on next year's tree into pearsauce (except those we eat out of hand, of course).  Our two five gallon buckets yielded 10 and a half quarts and a bowlful for eating and making Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread.  If you haven't tried that recipe yet, you must.  I make it most often without even turning it upside down- we just spoon it out of the pan.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Shortcuts & Drawing the Line

My life has taken on a new level of busy-ness.  There have been days when I thought, "Is this really what the rest of my life (as least until there are no children in the home anymore) is going to be like?"  It's not bad- not by a long shot.  It's just busy.  And full.  And I like staying at home and keeping calm.

Two things have recently vamped up the pace of my life.

First, activities.  I love that homeschooling allows us to get our out-of-the-house activities accomplished during the day so our evenings are free for family time and just being.  But that means they infringe upon the school day which adds a sense of urgency to get work done in a timely fashion.  Our activities include twice a week PE, a half day (once a week) homeschool co-op- our first experience in one, sewing lessons (Sadie gets dropped off on our way to PE and picked up on the way home) and choir.  This may seem like very little for some of you but for the homebody that I am, it feels crazy at times.  Do you realize that this means I have to have my hair brushed and wear something presentable every day of the week?!  See? Craziness.

Second, fostering.  There are naps to work around, doctor's appointments and family visits that all revolve around the scheduling preferences of others.  Not to mention, all the cuddling and changing of diapers.

There are many cuts I've been making just to keep us all afloat and generally happy.  Here are a few...

1) It saddens me to say so but I have only used my clothesline a couple times in the last couple months.  The dryer has become my new best friend.

2) I've been buying lots of convenience-type snacks for the kids.  This sometimes includes fruit that is not in season (or local) and many of them are packaged (organic and fruit/nut based when I can find them).  Just getting a home-cooked dinner on the table feels like a huge accomplishment and sometimes that dinner (or lunch) comes a little later than hoped for so the kids need something to tide them over.

3) I'm using disposable diapers (I just signed up for a trial of these) instead of using cloth like I did with Miriam.  And I use wipes for everything because, you know, sometimes finding a clean rag, getting it wet, rinsing it out and hanging it up just takes too much time and energy.

4) I've stopped giving the garden and my flower beds attention.  They are what they are.  The little people require the tending right now.

jungle garden ~ some deliberate (lettuce going to seed, beets and winter squash yet to harvest, etc.), some not-so-much (weeds, finished plants waiting to be torn out)

5) I've been writing here a lot less.  Partially because of the time it takes (to write, upload photos, etc.) and partially because so much of what I'm doing right now is repetitive.  I haven't been trying new recipes or starting new projects.  This doesn't mean I never will again.  I still have new ideas- they just exhaust me to think about them :-).

6) The beekeeping has been turned over almost entirely to Jamey.  I can no longer leave the kids in the house while the two of us are in the very back of the yard for an hour or more.  So, just Jamey goes out and does the managing.  Our record keeping has greatly decreased because of this but I've been trying to still keep track of major happenings.

With these short cuts (and others), I'm surviving and most days even thriving despite the fact that I still get overwhelmed occasionally. Overall, we're adjusted.

I do know that I don't want things to get any busier.  I know people say that as your kids get older, the activities and busy-ness increase.  I can see how this can happen!  There are so many wonderful things to choose from and expose our children to.  But I wholeheartedly believe that there is such a thing as too much.  And I don't want to get anywhere near that.  We believe that our children need time to just be at home- to rest, relax, play with each other, the neighbor kids and sweet babies.  And even get bored.  When else will they process all the neat stuff they're learning and doing?


So...I'm curious (and maybe looking for some more tips). What shortcuts are you making to survive the busy season in your life?  And what lines do you draw to keep your family from becoming overextended? Pin It

Monday, September 15, 2014

Cookbook Special!

Back in November of 2012, I self-published a cookbook.  It was (and is) a compilation of our family's most used and loved recipes.  I also included instructions for canning and freezing in terms that beginners can understand.  It truly was a labor of love.  With an emphasis on both the labor and the love ;-).

In the past (almost) two years, I am so pleased to say that I've sold almost 500 copies of the coil-bound version of Thy Hand Hath Provided (the cookbook).  I have been humbled by the cookbook love and encouragement I've felt from all of you!

As an early means of celebrating it's two-year anniversary, I have a special to share.  I've highly discounted the e-version of the cookbook on Amazon again (and is available now!).  The low, low price will slowly inch back up over the course of the week until it returns to full price, so act quickly if you'd like to add it to your e-library.

(click image to be taken to Amazon)

The paper, coil bound version is, of course, available as well.  You can read more about it and find links to online reviews here.  I will personally mail your copy and even sign it if you ask.

In the midst of a very busy back-to-school month, I wanted to say thank you.  Since I can't bake you a peach cobbler, I hoped this would do.

P.S.  The peach cobbler recipe I *would* make you if I could can be found in the cookbook.  It's my grandmother's recipe and is called "Cobbler, Southern Style". Pin It

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Earning Hours Through Books

Our local foster care agency requires that we accumulate a certain number of training hours each year in order to keep active status as a foster family.  In addition to actual trainings, a certain number of these hours can be earned by attending a support group, reading a foster care magazine (and taking a little quiz) or reading a book on the subject (and doing a brief write-up).

Nothing has motivated me more to get my hours in than actually having a foster child in our home.  Yes, because I want us to stay "active" but also because I want to know better so I can do better.  I've read four books this year on the subject of foster care, three of which are worth mentioning and even recommending.

The first is To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care.  Beam lays out the history of foster care in New York City as a way of helping us grasp how it has evolved throughout the United States. Dispersed between the history and politics/bureaucracy of it all are stories.  I  love stories.  These stories are of real kids, real foster parents, real social workers and attorneys, and real birth parents.  The social worker in me found the non-story sections interesting while the parent and foster mom was enthralled with how the author followed many of the children and families over the years.  What happens down the road? What impact does foster care have on these children?  I digested the book in small spurts, chapter by chapter.  This was in part because of the whole not-having-much-time-to read factor but also because I needed to take it in slowly.  It drew me back in each time, nonetheless.  If you're interested in the story of foster care, in all it's parts, read this book.

I picked up Angels Passing Through: Reflections on Growing Up with Foster Babies because I was intrigued by the perspective with which it was written.  The author is the biological child of a couple who took in over forty foster babies over the course of his growing up years. How did the revolving door of babies in and out of the home impact the permanent children who lived there?  And what of these babies?  The author talks about his parents, what life was like during those years of fostering, some of the babies themselves (and their incredibly moving stories), and how he feels this type of upbringing impacted his adult life.  I won't spoil it and tell you what he'll have to read it yourself :-).

Lastly, my favorite, is/was Another Place at the Table.  I loved this book.  I read it on vacation and had trouble putting it down.  I think I liked it so much because I could relate to Kathy Harrison.  Not because I have 13 years of experience fostering and not because I've fostered close to one hundred children in that time but because the reasons she does foster care are reasons I strongly relate to.  The first chapter or so that describes their life pre-foster care parallels ours- living out in the country, growing their own food, raising animals, etc.  She's a homebody who wants her family to eat healthy, simple food and she's drawn to babies in need.

Some of the stories she shares are not for the faint of heart.  Not everything (or every child) has a happy ending and many of the details of what brought these children into her care are extremely hard to read and accept as real.  Despite all that, Harrison left me with an honest look at the highs and lows of fostering while giving me hope. Hope that it's worth it- despite the struggles that it's riddled with. And, she made me want to adopt her as a new BFF.  I'm not sure that was her intention but it happened nonetheless.

There are many ways to advocate for children in foster care without becoming a foster parent.  Learning about foster care itself is a great start.  If you have any other book recommendations on the topic, I'd love to hear about them.

In the meantime, do your best to make your little people feel special, loved, safe and celebrated.  Not all children are so lucky. Pin It

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Late Summer Green

I don't remember a summer that has ended so green.

I only wish I had more time to be out enjoying it.  And weeding it.

Our first week of school started out great and ended with most of us sick.

It wiped me and the littlest one out.  

Jamey took the older three and headed out of town to visit his family.

A couple quiet days to rest and regroup was just what I needed.

This week we give school another go.

It's our last week of only school before all the extracurricular activities begin.

Since they're all (but one) during the day, this means the running and the juggling of naps, meals and schoolwork falls on me.

I just need to remember to get myself outside every once in awhile.

It calms and centers me and reminds me that the God of creation is there waiting to grant me the strength to tackle each full-to-the-brim day.  I just need to lay it all down at His feet and ask.

There is none holy like the LORD: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. For there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God. I Samuel 2:2
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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Pasta Primavera, Any Old Time

Need a way to use up the menagerie of vegetables still straggling in from the garden?  This is my go-to spring and summer dish.  Easy and delicious.

Pasta Primavera 
serves 4-6 generously

1 pound pasta of your choice
3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped into short sticks
4-5 cups vegetables (asparagus, snow peas, zucchini, peppers, green beans or whatever firm veggies you have on hand)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Cook pasta per directions, tossing the carrots in with the pasta during the last 4 minutes of cook time.  Drain and transfer to a large bowl.  In the meantime, saute the veggies and garlic in oil until just tender.  Add broth and cook for another minute.  Stir in sour cream and parmesan cheese and remove from heat.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Add vegetables to pasta and carrots, toss gently and top with more cheese.  Serve immediately.

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Monday, August 25, 2014


Somehow, we managed to complete many of the food projects we had hoped to complete this summer. There might be one more batch of tomatoes to take care of and our 2 bushels of peaches have yet to arrive...and those pears.... Our tree is laden but they are small and I am tired...we'll see.  Free fruit does tend to win me over.  And then we'll do applesauce in October.  Some people eat bread and butter at every meal.  We eat applesauce.

My husband has a thing about efficiency and energy conservation Above is pressure canned Brunswick Stew (also found here). 

tomato sauce

the best kind of kitchen island, in my opinion

I think I've got this Tattler thing down!  My seal rate is close to 100% now.  I love them.

I am generally not a fan of change.  Unless it's planned change.  As in, change that *I* planned.  I look back on a summer I didn't expect but one I wouldn't trade for anything.  We've grown and stretched and we've survived- even thrived.  Thanks be to God.  And just when everything seems predictable and running smoothly, change comes again.  And now we'll grow and stretch some more.

On Monday (the day you'll likely read this) our fall schedule begins.  We'll start another year of school at home (K, 3rd and 7th) which includes activities outside the home (co-op, PE, choir, and sewing).  Even though I have 7 years of this behind me, there is trepidation (both good and bad) at the start of every year. And lots of praying.  I love having my kids at home with me and can't imagine it any other way.  But.  I also know that homeschooling (just like parenting) does a wonderful job of highlighting my weaknesses and areas in need of growth.  It highlights my kids' too.  Thankfully, the good outweighs the bad but it's still something I prepare myself for.

Even anticipated change can be a bugger. Until it becomes the new normal.  Then it's okay and I'm usually better for it.  I just wish I wasn't so leery of it. I wish I did a better job of trusting God when it looms before me.  It's one of those things I know I may forever struggle with- thinking that I face change alone.  It's a lie, you know. I'm never alone and neither are you.  I'm not an Israelite facing my enemy, but I take courage in Moses' words to God's people...

"Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6

What changes are you facing this fall?

Please take heart that whatever it is, you are not alone.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Responding to Foster Care Questions & Comments

My posts on foster care speak to our personal experiences only.  My prayer is that they will give an honest peek at what it's like for us and encourage others to prayerfully consider the journey.

People who know you notice when you're toting around an extra child.  They just do.  Naturally, they ask about the extra child (I would ask, too).  Once we explain, the questions and comments ensue (I would question and comment, too).

The problem is that the questions and comments require lengthy explanations and discussion to be answered properly.  This is no un-complicated, one-word-answer life we're living.  But, alas, the inquiries come in grocery stores, between church and Sunday school in the hallway, and at get-togethers when said addition is crawling away and needs to be gathered.

So, we attempt to come up with meaningful answers in twenty words or less.  And it doesn't really work that way.  You see, while the inquirer/commenter has been faced with the idea of us having a foster child for all of 5 seconds, we've been seriously thinking about, praying about, training for, reading about, and, most recently living foster care for the last three years.  There are layers upon layers to the responses that we live in but cannot adequately convey in a few perky sentences.

I wish folks would identify themselves at the get-go.  If you're just being sweet and polite and supportive, wear a sign that says so.  This way, I can give you the brief, concise answer you're looking for without being a bore.  If you are fascinated and intrigued and want meat in your answer, wear a sign that says that. Then maybe we can find a quiet place to talk.

Sometimes, I can tell that the genuine person is just checking in but *I* need to do more than check-in.  I need to process, to talk through my feelings and day-to-day life with a foster baby.  And so I launch into it all realizing that there is a good chance they may avoid me next time they see me.

Other times, the person may want depth but I may be at a peaceful place that day when living it feels second nature and feeling normal is a blessed reprieve.  My answer may be brief followed by a change in subject.  I hope people don't take offense those times- I do appreciate their asking.

One of the things people are most curious about is why the darling boy in my arms was removed from his family in the first place.  This is totally understandable.  I would wonder, too! But we can't talk about that. We can't talk about the parents or what was/wasn't done to their child.  We don't talk about these things out of respect for both the parents and the child.

What we CAN talk about is how it's going for us and our family.  We can also talk about what an amazing, beautiful, and resilient (from what we can observe) child we're privileged to care for.  We can talk about how he's incorporated his little self into our lives...big time.

The comment we get most often (and don't ever have the time to launch into a sufficient answer) is when people tell us that they could never do foster care because they would become too attached.  That's ironic because...

We are too attached.

In our brief experience, it is absolutely impossible NOT to become attached.  Here is this sweet little person- completely blameless and innocent.  Before long, it registers for them that you are their people right now. They can depend on you to care for them, feed them, put them to bed when they're tired and cuddle them when they're hurt or lonely.  In turn, they become your people.  It is impossible to imagine trying to hold back the fondness we feel.  How would one do that?  By hugging them...but only briefly and not quite as tightly?  By smiling at them...but not for too long or with as broad a grin (and don't you dare let your eyes twinkle)?  By only picking them up certain times when they crawl over, climb up your leg and reach their tender little arms up to the sky to be picked up?

It doesn't work that way.

And, it shouldn't.  If (Lord, have mercy) one of my children ever ended up in foster care, would I want the foster parents to show them less love than their birth children so they wouldn't get attached?  No! Does that blameless, innocent child deserve any less than our whole hearts? No!

We do this for him, not for us.

So, yes.  When he leaves, we will miss him terribly.  Our hearts will likely break a little bit (or a lot) and it might take us awhile to recover.  But that's okay.  We are healthy enough to come back from that.  These children deserve the fullest extent of the love we can give.  They will be affected if they don't receive it.

We're not extra special people for doing this (another frequent comment). We're just willing to take a little heartbreak.  We're willing to travel a bit backwards in our parenting journey.  We're willing to give up a little independence.

It's not always easy.  We don't always do it well.

I write all this not because I want people to stop talking to us.  On the contrary!  We LOVE that our friends and family are interested and supportive.  And we need to talk (and write) about it- it's a bit of therapy for us.  I just wanted to convey that there is a lot more to our answers and responses.  Our decision to do foster care was not made lightly.  We've thought about many of (if not all) the angles. If we blubber around with our responses it's just because we're trying to be concise but thoughtful.  If you want to hear more, ask for more. If not, that's totally okay, too.  Just please accept my apology if my answer goes a little long.

One more thing.  We know that many of you are praying for us.  We feel those prayers and thank you and God for walking with us on this journey.

"The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." 
James 5:16b
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Monday, August 18, 2014

Fruit Flies NO MORE

Nothing drives me more crazy than having to deal with pests in the kitchen when I'm dealing with food.  Flies.  Ants.  Fruit flies.  I abhor their presence and become a very grumpy woman when they dare to try to take over my kitchen.  Usually, just making sure my surfaces are clean and food is put away keeps things under control but sometimes I have to step it up.

Flies, I swat.  And repeat my mantra like a broken record, "Please pull the door all the way shut!" every time a child goes in or out the back door.

Ants, I poison.  I use the liquid TERRO ant bait.  A couple drops on a piece of cardboard (placed out of reach of all children, of course) attracts and then kills them.

Fruit flies, I drown.  I've tried several other methods of trapping these little buggers in the past and this way works best hands down.  I learned this little trick from this smart lady.

Put a couple drops of dish soap in the bottom of a small glass or jar.  Pour in some apple cider vinegar (just a couple tablespoons).  Stir it around gently without sloshing it up the sides.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and a rubber band and poke a few holes in the top with a pen point.  Set in the area they are worst.  Within a couple hours, you'll see the results.  The solution needs to be replaced every couple days to keep the potency up but usually that's not necessary.  Just make sure all your bruised fruit is put in the fridge.  You don't want there to be any competition.  You want the fruit flies to take a swim not chow down.

Happy canning, lovelies!

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Monday, August 11, 2014

HONEY Harvest Tally 2014

When we came home from vacation, our Langstroth hive had a surprise for us- surplus honey!  Once crushed and strained, it was a whole gallon of honey.  I even saved some of the beautiful, pale, honey comb by placing them into some baby food jars.

Our grand total for our first harvest year of honey (beekeeping year two) was... two gallons and one and a half quarts.  Thank you, sweet bees. Pin It
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