It’s A “Dicey” Affair

The harvest of tomatoes is finally in full swing.  I love seeing the bright red orbs waiting to be picked when I peer out the kitchen window.  And it blesses my heart to see the look of satisfaction and contentment on the face of my nine-year-old as she strolls through the garden plucking the fruit from the vine.  (She won’t eat them, but she sure loves growing and picking them.) 

I have lost a chunk of my harvest to garden intruders. The chipmunks have had more than their fair share.  The little rascals have eaten a significant portion of my large tomatoes!  They only eat about a third of the tomato and leave the rest on the vine.  I wish they would just eat a whole cherry tomato and leave the beefsteaks alone!   I also have a four-foot garden pest child that loves tomatoes.  She is consuming them nearly as quickly as they are ripening.  I shouldn’t complain, because she would choose to eat a tomato over a piece of candy.  But, it has definitely made an impact on the amount I will be able to preserve for the winter.

Needless to say, I won’t have enough to do canning this year.  So I will be limiting my preservation to freezing.  Last year, I froze diced tomatoes.  I loved pulling them from the freezer to use during those cold winter months when the tomatoes you purchase don’t taste like tomatoes at all.

Freezing diced tomatoes is a simple process.  After washing and drying the tomatoes, simply dice them to the size you want and place them in snack or sandwich size zipper bags. (I put most in single-size servings and then use multiple packages if I need more.)  Seal the bags and place them in quart or gallon sized freezer bags, seal the large bag, and place them in the freezer.  (I found that after thawing, I needed to drain some liquid from the bag before using the tomatoes if I wanted to use them on salads or tacos, etc.  I didn’t bother if I was using them for soup.  Roma’s really freeze well because they don’t contain as much liquid to start with.  I would also recommend using only the fleshy part of the tomato.  You can clean the insides out and put it in a soup base.)  Thaw by running the baggie under cool water.  Don’t use the microwave.

Just think how wonderful those garden fresh tomatoes are going to taste on your tacos in January.  Enjoy!

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Persistence Pays Off

After three long years of waiting, we finally have a harvest of grapes!  My patient husband has lovingly cared for the vine, trained and watered it, and closely watched for any signs of pestilence.  His diligence paid off.

We purchased netting to keep the birds from enjoying them before we had a chance to.  It worked – Not exactly.  The birds didn’t get to them, and that is what the netting was for.  We just underestimated the determination of the giant urban raccoons.  Just after the grapes started to ripen, we noticed piles of empty grape skins lying under the vine accompanied by a pile of raccoon droppings.  Thankfully, although it was discouraging, the loss was not significant!

So the harvest, by necessity, has begun.  Because we have only one vine, I will only make grape juice. (See recipe below.)  Hopefully, I will be able to make some grape jelly from the juice at a later date.

This morning, I canned the first 3 quarts.  It warms my heart to know what delicious goodness rests inside those jars.  I can’t wait to have the first glass!  I think it just might be what has been referred to as the “Nectar of the gods”.

 GRAPE JUICE RECIPE

This is the simplest grape juice recipe I have ever seen.  I have made the recipe with both amounts of sugar.  It seems to be a personal preference regarding the amount of sweetness you enjoy.

 

Place 1 cup of Concord grapes in the bottom of a sterilized one-quart canning jar.  Add ½ to 1 cup of sugar.  Fill the jar with boiling water. Cover with lids and bands.  You can process 10 minutes in a hot water bath canner.  (However, the boiling water should cause the lids to seal without it.) Place in a cool dark place for six weeks.  Strain before serving.  We dilute with water to taste.  Enjoy!

 

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Technology is the BOMB!

We have all experienced it – that sense of elation when technology does something amazing.  Maybe it was the first glimpse of recording your own movies or seeing television in 3-D.  Perhaps it was new medical technology that saved the life of a premature baby.  It could be something as simple as paying your bills on line.  But with the wonders that exist from the technology that surrounds us, I have to say it’s the BOMB!

Unfortunately, Murphy’s Law works in the world of technology just like everywhere else.  “If anything can go wrong, it will – at the worst possible time.”  Yep, the camera quits when you are taking the award-winning candid.  The digital cable goes out in the final minute of the championship game.  The ATM keeps your card because you pushed the wrong button one too many times. The netbook dies in the middle of writing the next blog.  (This last one is the reason I haven’t posted a new blog in a few days.)  Again, technology is the BOMB!

Two equal and opposite sides to a very real phenomena that proves the old saying, “You can’t live with it and you can’t live without it.”

Since I replaced my dilapidated machine last night, it is my hope that I will truly feel that my new netbook is the BOMB!

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Presenting….

Drama presentation

Last  night was the “Presentation” by all of the campers who attended the Arts Day Camp at St. Joe United Methodist Church here in Fort Wayne. After a week of days filled with various forms of art projects, music, drama, dance, and creative writing, they put together a collective to present to the parents.

It was quite fun to see all the little people on the stage trying to put their best foot forward. Of course, it was obvious who were extroverts, and who were introverts, as well as everyone in between.

As is the current “norm”, cell phones rather than cameras were clicking pic’s at a rapid pace, and the slightest bit of effort from the children brought excited applause from smiling family and friends. Parents are sooo funny! (Not just about their own children either, but also about littles in general.)

The funny thing is that these children don’t even realize the monumental gift they were given tonight. They received praise for a job well done. They were given an opportunity to express themselves in new ways without criticism. They received affirmation for trying something new and outside of their comfort zones. They received the gift of encouragement that will allow them to take the next step and try the next new thing without fear. And that process will eventually enable them to soar!

So to Miss Peggy, the staff and volunteers, and the parents, “Great Job! You were a blessing to a large group of children this week.” To the children who participated (including my Allie), “Congratulations! You worked hard and it paid off. Remember that people believe in your abilities, and we can’t wait to see where you go next!”

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I’ll take Garden Fresh!

This is the second year with our small, organic garden. Last year our schedule kept us from spending much time with the garden and our yield was minimal. This summer we have been able to give it a little more attention. However, the hot, dry weather has been a challenge.

We added organic manure, compost we worked through the winter, and some new soil to our lasagna garden beds from last year. The plants have looked so much healthier. We have not used any fertilizer or pesticides. Last year I did have to spray the plants with a mixture of diluted dish soap and garlic to kill the bugs. But we haven’t seemed to have any pests this year. (I will keep watching.)

We enjoyed our first summer squash. It was such a bright, sunshine yellow it looked painted. It was as beautiful inside as it was on the outside. (I wish I had photographed that as well.) We sautéed it with some garlic and onions. It was delicious!

Our broccoli didn’t do so well. The plants grew, but only produced very small florets. They never produced any heads. If anyone knows a trick to growing broccoli, I would love to hear it.

The tomatoes are coming on strong. Although we haven’t had any ripe ones yet, it won’t be long. I can’t wait! Garden fresh tomatoes are my favorite. My mouth waters just thinking about eating a tomato sandwich. We still have a few small bags of diced tomatoes in the freezer from last year’s garden. (I’ll tell you how I prepared them in a future blog.) They were wonderful to use this past winter instead of the flavorless ones found in the produce section.

Our pride and joy this year is Greg’s grape vine. He planted it three years ago and has babied it waiting for this season. We have been amazed at the large quantity of bunches ripening on the vine. Within the next week or two we will be covering them with some netting. We have no intention of letting the birds eat our grapes before we get to them! My plans for them include grape juice, grape jelly, and frozen grapes. I’ll take pictures when they are ripe.

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JUST-A-SWINGIN’!

Fewer things in life bring as much pleasure as relaxing in a swing. The gentle back and forth sway let the cares of life just flow away. Maybe that’s why children do “happy” so much better than adults.

Earlier this summer, Allie decided she was going to make a hammock for the tree in our back yard. She was a very determined young lady. She worked over two hours to turn that old sheet into a hammock that would support her weight. Her testing gave her multiple falls, but she stuck with it. She finally found a way to make it work. Then came the fun part. Just-A-Swingin’

All of the children from the neighborhood came to join in the fun. For three or four weeks, the hammock was the neighborhood place to be. Then the unthinkable happened. The old sheet that had been hanging in the elements succumbed to the weight of a teenager and ripped in half. The disappointment was felt throughout the neighborhood.

Greg and I discussed it and decided an old-fashioned hammock and tree swing were far superior to the manufactured monstrosity of a swing set for which we had paid so handsomely. It was after Father’s Day, so I was able to find a nice hammock on clearance. Then Greg took one of the swings from the rusting swing set (which will soon be recycled) and made a tree swing from it. Both the hammock and the swing hang from branches on the same tree. And our backyard has once again become the neighborhood meeting place. The hammock and the swing are a central feature and a delight to all.  Yes, we have new dirt patches where little feet have worn away the grass, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The children swing daily. Sometimes the swings are used by “pioneers on the prairie“, or “dreamers” who sway idly back and forth. Sometimes the swings are reading hideaways, circus or fairy garden swings. One thing is sure, the hammock and tree swing have allowed young imaginations to soar beyond anything afforded by the “store-bought variety. And imaginings are the beginnings of great memories. I am sure that one day our girls will look back with fond remembrances of their summers spent Just-A-Swingin’.

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The Procrastination Cure?

Some of my favorite childhood memories are from when I was 8 to 12 years old. My sister, two years my junior, our neighborhood friend, sandwiched between us in age, and I loved to play “olden days”, especially on snow days. My mother collected antiques, so it was easy to pretend. We would dress-up (complete with aprons) and spend our days living on the prairie. My mother would often light the kerosene lamps, and since we heated with a wood stove, our playtime felt so realistic.

We did, however, often encounter obstacles to our ability to live in our pretend world: CHORES! (Procrastination is a horrible disease, and I have suffered from it for as long as I can remember.) My sister and I (mostly “I”) would dawdle at finishing our chores for the day. Our friend would come and want to play. Of course, we weren’t done. She would come in to wait.

You would think having her waiting would have encouraged us to move faster. Nope! Instead, we would often get sidetracked and start playing instead of cleaning. Then the frustration of waiting would take over and our helpful neighbor would encourage us to get things done. She would work alongside us and graciously respond with an, “OK”, to any new motherly directives and begin the next task. I am amazed when I remember how much fun we had doing our chores when our friend was there helping us. I’m sure much of the fun was from stopping early in the process to dress-up so we could pretend we were cleaning our “little house on the prairie“. But just having someone to encourage us and work beside us made the load lighter and the tasks more enjoyable.

Today, I had to smile in reflective amusement when I saw the same dynamic in my own daughters. They had a friend spend the night with them, and have had a delightful snow- day. Although they weren’t dressed for the prairie, they were all dressed as princesses and were having a classy tea party. When I asked for the dishwasher to be unloaded, and the basement to be straightened, guess who jumped first. Yep! It was the friend. With her quick, “OK”, my girls dove right in and cheerfully completed the assigned jobs. (An extremely rare occurrence I might add. Typically, requests are met with moans, groans and as you may have imagined, Procrastination. – I guess it’s contagious.)

Seeing history repeat itself sent me on my trip down Memory Lane. And as I pondered those memories, I realized how much we all benefit from the encouragement and help of others. Our grandmothers were right when they said, “Many hands make light work.” Whatever happened to quilting bees and barn raisings? I am saddened when I consider how rarely we just enjoy the work of life together. Busy is the buzzword of the day. And we don’t take any of our precious “me” time to reach out to one another and share our lives, as well as our work, on a regular basis.

As a mom, I have failed – until now – to recognize that I can be the one to encourage and come alongside my children to help them with their chores. I can be the one who puts an end to the moaning and groaning by being their encourager. And maybe – just maybe- I have found the cure for procrastination – sharing the load. After all, aren’t we supposed to bear one another’s burdens?  And maybe – just maybe – I can spread the cure by sharing the load of others as well. Join me?!

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