Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 42 - Learning to Fly

For awhile now when Clark and I go out to check the garden we have also been keeping an eye on our barn swallow family that lives in the garden shed/old chicken coop.  Today when we went in we only saw two in the nest at first.  Then we looked to the window ledge and there sure enough were the other two.  As I snapped a few photos Clark was watching and one flew off all on its own.  He pointed out the mommy and daddy swallow and said, "look mommy, the mommy and daddy swallow are teaching their baby to fly!"  Right on, kiddo!  Amazing!  Soon afterwards the second swallow followed the first with mom and dad swallow watching every (well not step) wing beat.  So our swallows are leaving the nest - now we have 4 more swallows to catch bugs!  This is probably a good thing; poor mommy and daddy swallow were really getting their work out the past couple of days catching enough bugs to feed the crew.

Clark and I worked in the garden.  I showed Clark the spot where he could use the hoe (far, far away from any veggies).  He also helped me load up mulch and put it on the potatoes.  We had to fill the big bucket with water from the hydrant so he could fill his little watering can and go water plants.  Such a little garden trooper.

We also worked inside today selecting the items to put in the Heritage divisions.  This led to rearranging and cleaning our bedroom because I needed to get to my grandma's steamer trunk which was tucked in a corner. Now, the steamer trunk is out where I can get to it which is wonderful because I am using it to store valuables (to me anyway) where no little fingers can get at them.  The rearranging the room was great fun for the boys.  New items pulled out to look at and play with.  Pillows to roll on.  Why is it the parent's bedroom seems to be the most fun room in the house?  Anyway, Clark made a little house for him and Grant out of pillows and all I heard were giggles coming from behind the bed.

I am now up to 10 Heritage classes which is my limit on number of entries I submitted for that area.  Whew - one department down!  Now they just all need to be cleaned.

Also, called the ISF Entry Department today to check on my limited floriculture classes.  I had selected two and ended up with one.  This is a good thing in my book - I want to start slowly in this area.  So, I have a small table in the class entitled "Tea for Two."  Sounds so sweet.  I need to figure out what flowers and greenery I want to use.  I also should probably find a tea pot and build from there.  To my husband - no, out of all my dishes and glassware I do not own a tea pot.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 43 - Quilt Top

Today I worked on my quilt top to prepare it for quilting.  This crib quilt is my first quilt.  I loved sewing the top, figuring block placement, colors, etc.  However, actually quilting rather unnerves me.  It seems so much work could go so horribly wrong.  But this is one of many reasons I am trying this.  I said I was going to enter a quilt and I will finish it.  However, without this motivation that quilt top may have ended up just sitting there in my sewing room.  Which would be a shame because I am putting it together for my oldest son.

I trimmed up the threads on about half of the back of the quilt.  Amazing how nice the back looks when all the thread is trimmed.  Unfortunately I found one major error on the back where a seam may be a little unstable.  I am going to try to do some hand work on the one area to strengthen it.  Great, now when I post a picture of the quilt it will be my luck one of the judges will have read this and know exactly what errors there are on my quilt!  Well, let's just hope the Fabric and Thread Judges have much better things to do than read my blog!  Eeek!

Not much else today.  Picked and froze more black raspberries.  I should probably make some jam with a batch of them at the end of the week.  It looks like beans will be ready to go in a week and a half or so.  Since I have already discussed one thing the unnerves me another item that tops that list is pressure canning!  I don't know why - I have done it plenty of times yet I still always worry the thing is going to blow up.  However, the desire for my own canned beans overrules the fear of explosion (just barely).

This morning Clark and Grant had their annual doctor's appointments.  All is well.  Took us two hours though since Clark had to have his hearing checked due to a blown ear drum earlier this year.  He's good.  They were really good boys for that length of time.  Grant had 5 shots which of course makes mommy sad; and Grant scream.  Hopefully he doesn't become as sick as Clark did after his first shots 2 years ago.  It must have worn him out though.  Grant isn't really a cuddler (sitting still is not his thing) but when we sat to watch "a little TV" as Clark says before nap time Grant crawled over to me and wanted up.  So we sat and rocked watching a little TV.  Grant quickly fell asleep on my lap.  I cherish those moments!  I finally took him back to his crib to sleep but grudgingly.

At supper time we went to a park.  Alan is at a conference in town this week and they were having a cook out where families are welcome.  So we went to eat supper and play.  Clark told me on the way home that he had fun tonight.  He had a lot of play time on the playground which made him happy and hopefully sleepy.

Now to watch a "little TV" and work on one of my sewing projects before going to bed myself.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 44 - Oh Fudge!

The challenge of the day was candy!  No, I have never entered candy before.  Quite honestly I have never really made candy before.  Earlier in this challenge I did make caramels to test it out and they turned out quite yummy and pretty set (for not having had a candy thermometer).  Today since it was somewhat cooler I decided to try fudge.  The recipes look so simple yet that is so deceptive.  For those of you who can make fudge and other candy without problem you're my candy heroes.  I have actually sat in and listened to some of the candy judging in prior years.  I realize temperature and humidity can play large rolls in success or failure.  But I think when it comes right down to it you have to know how to work with the ingredients.

Part of my problem in this arena may be that I am really not a big fan of fudge.  I like it OK and will try it but I don't go out of my way for it in general.  This holds true for the other item I made today - cream cheese mints.  You know, those mints that are traditionally served at weddings and graduations.  I've always wanted to try making them because I simply think playing with the molds sounds fun; however, here again I have no desire to sample.  Which from a weight loss perspective - whoo hoo!

So - fudge: tastes yummy, looks gross, is way too thin.  I am usually pretty good at determining how good a recipe is going to be and I should have known that this recipe did not use enough chocolate.  Yes, this is a chocolate almond fudge but it looks much more almond than chocolate (with almonds mixed in).  Plus, I must have done something extraordinarily wrong for this recipe to only set 1/4" high in the 9x13 pan called for.  Will I try fudge again?  Hmm -maybe but I prefer the baked goods and canned goods.

Cream cheese mints: these were fun to make - I actually really enjoyed putting them in the molds.  Now I know what those molds I found in grandma's cupboard were to be used for.  I knew they weren't chocolate molds so when I went downstairs to look through my chocolate molds I saw these little single molds sitting there and had an "ah ha" moment!  It's amazing how many of the little things you get from such a small recipe. Although I guess for serving a large function the recipe would probably need to be doubled or tripled.  They were super easy - even Clark could mold nearly perfect mints.  I tried one to make sure the taste and texture were what I wanted - they were, that's enough for me.  Grant seems to be like minded in this.  Clark on the other hand loved them.  I had to limit his intake.  At least I know they are edible.

Grandpa Spencer came for a visit this afternoon and played with the boys while I molded all my mints.  Actually the timing worked out quite well.  Clark is suddenly very into dominoes.  He loves to set them up and then watch the domino effect.  Grandpa Spencer taught him a new way to play with dominoes - building them high.  Not sure that I like this quite as well as the single layer play.  Oh well, they had a lot of fun.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 45 - Appetizers

These are little meatball appetizers that I think I will enter in the appetizer course.  They are super simple and you can freeze them easily.  For the party simple thaw in fridge overnight and pop in the crock pot 2 hours before the event.  They are yummy - sweet with a little zip!  Made a double batch tonight and ate some for supper and put the rest in the freezer.

Since all of this cooking and baking means grocery shopping I thought a picture of the boys helping me shop was appropriate.  This is the first time they have gone for a cart ride together.  They enjoyed "steering" the cart!  The great thing about having my entries more planned out and spread out means the groceries are built into my weekly plan and weekly shopping budget.  That makes it nice!  Finally found the orange cake mix I have been searching for at various stores.  I was beginning to think they took it off the market.  That would have been a shame since it makes up the base of my cake mix fix up cake.

Today we took Clark to see Toy Story 3!  It was a fantastic movie.  Clark was so excited.  It was also the first time we have left Grant with a babysitter all by himself (normally he has Clark with him).  It went well and our babysitter had no problems with him.  So a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon for all.

And finally - the photo below is Clark's train.  When he was done his train was the width of the floor carpet complete with "boxes" and "freight."

As of July 1st I can start working on the cakes for the decorated cake classes.  I am working on themes.  For some inspiration I visited the Cake Wrecks Blog.  Sunday Sweets are great posts to look at some beautiful cakes.  None of which I can even come close too but nice for a little inspiration!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 46 - Ode to Our Apple Tree

Good bye old apple tree - we will miss you!  We will miss your yummy yellow apples.  We will miss the boys playing on the picnic table under your branches.  We will miss picking fresh apples each day in the fall after nap time for a snack.  We will miss your applesauce, apple butter, apple crisps and apple pies.  Good bye apple tree.

During the storms last night our old apple tree fell in the wind.  Our new apple tree that was just starting to produce apples was taken out by a nearby dead tree a few weeks ago in a storm.  Looks like no more apples around here for awhile.  We will need to plant some new ones in place of our beloved old tree.

In other news, the garden flooded this morning.  Hopefully the water drains off quickly.  We know that with heavy rains and flooding years the areas of the garden that will flood so we only plant our extras or items that aren't of as much value (like decorative gourds) in this area.  However, it rose up in the garden higher than normal so much of our corn crop may be gone.  Drat!

After taking stock of the damage I did go to town and go to some garage sales with a good friend and garage sale companion.  We each found some good deals (after we found the garage sales)!  I found a nice juicer so when I need fresh lemon juice I have a hand held juicer to better get the juice out.  Which after doing some reading on utilizing fresh lemon juice I found that you should use them at room temperature and roll them between your palm and the counter to help squeeze out more juice (just a helpful tip of the day).  Other than that just some clothes for the boys (no exciting finds in the ISF competitive arena).

This afternoon I ironed out my cross stitch pieces.  I have narrowed my collection down from 12 to the best 6 but I need to get that down to one (for that size class).  I guess I will have to give them a more critical eye when it comes to the stitch work and choose the best.  Other than that my extent of working on ISF projects involved cleaning up the house; especially the kitchen so that I can start working on some more entries next week.

I also decided I should take some pictures of my hollyhocks.  I don't remember them ever being so tall (or thick).  Clark happily posed with our cat "Buddy" out by the holly hock patch.  He enjoys searching for bees and watching them crawl through the pollen.  I actually took a lot of photos of the holly hocks - some really nice close ups.  After looking through some scrap booking magazines I picked up at the library today I think I could make a nice scrap book page layout with some of them (which works in a class).  I'll have to look through some of my scrap book paper and see what I come up with.  I also have an idea for a decorated wreath.  Well, since getting out to the garden in the next few days seems out - heading to my craft/sewing room in the basement is in!

And finally - Grant has figured out how to open my cupboard doors.  He managed to grab the box of couscous and it spilled all over the floor.  He started to cry and moved as far away as he could get as fast as possible.  Not sure if a. he knew he did something he shouldn't, b. didn't like the feel of the stuff falling on him, c. it startled/surprised him, or d. all of the above.  I think answer D.  He did leave the cupboards alone after that.  In fact, he stayed away from the kitchen after that incident.  No fears, he'll be back at it tomorrow.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 47 - The Rooster's Alive!

Ah - all is well in our household!  Daddy is home!  While daddy fixed supper and entertained baby Grant; Clark and I went out to pick black raspberries.  Clark is a great little berry picker.  I went out to check on the chickens.  Clark deciding his hands weren't holding enough - went in to get a bowl from dad.  Much better!  

Back to the chickens.  The rooster I thought was caught last night - survived!  All I have to say is after losing that many feathers, coming out of it seemingly unscathed and showing back up to the coop the next day that guy deserves to rule the hen house.  I think I need to incubate some of his eggs.  Yesterday, I called him a prize rooster.  Yes, he has never won a "prize" but I think the title fits him - now, more than ever.  He won't end up in a stew pot anyway.  

Coming back from the chicken house I found Clark sitting on the grass smack dab in the middle of the back yard just chowing down on berries.  When he saw me he told me he needed the blanket we use to sit on outside.  So, I went to get it for him and he ate his whole bowl full while watching the cats play.  Plus, he still ate supper including more berries I picked!

Grant likes to play with the berries.  I couldn't capture a great photo - the one above was as close as I could get.  However, he kept sticking the berries on the end of his finger making a little finger hat.  This kept him entertained for quite some time.

While the boys played with dad after supper I went out and picked the next round of ripe berries (there were still plenty even after Clark's supper bowl).  I picked about 2 quarts.  Rinsed them, dried them with paper towels and put them on cookie sheets in the freezer.  Tomorrow we should have a gallon bag full of black raspberries in the freezer.  There are still a lot of red ones yet to ripen.  I would say good eats for winter but somehow I doubt they will last that long!

In an update to yesterday's blog I processed another 12 pounds of cherries - yielded 7 pints of canned cherries.  I had not quite enough for another quart so I decided to test the dehydrator I bought last weekend.  It worked great - only took half a day and I had nice dried cherries.  However, only about a 1/4 cup worth.  I may need to pick more cherries and dry them to utilize in holiday baking.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 48 - What Not to Do . . .

Today's pictures have a series of things considered what not to do when working with raspberries.  You'd think I would remember this from year to year but it seems I need a couple of reminders every now and again!

This morning after doing chores I stopped and picked about a quart of black raspberries in our backyard.  Lush beautiful bushes all in the wrong place due to bird droppings a few years ago.  The problem is I love black raspberries - have ever since I was little girl searching them out around the farmyard; so, it is very hard to pull them up.  I hope to move them this fall and hope that they will be successful in the garden.
Here is a photo showing what not to do with raspberries.  I wanted to show my beautiful selection when I realized I picked them in a plastic tub.  Last year at the berry farm we visit they told us plastic is hard on the berries.  You should use a cardboard box for storage rather than anything plastic.  When processing it should be done in stainless steel. 

We ate quite a few berries with our waffles this morning - the boys gobbled them up.  The rest I decided to freeze since there wasn't enough to process into anything.  Plus, they are great to have around frozen to put on pancakes and waffles throughout the year!  To freeze, wash them and dry them well on paper towels.  Lay them out in single layer on a cookie sheet and find a flat space in the freezer for about 1/2 a day.  What I forgot was to put down wax paper first - makes them so much easier to remove once frozen!  Oh well, still made it in the freezer bag OK.  

Clark and I went out to work in the garden today.  In the picture below he is helping find peas to pick for lunch. I have my peas planted around the outside of my tomato cages.  Also have a few rogue sunflowers from last year coming up around the garden.  I decided to let them grow - we can harvest them for seeds or let the birds have some good eats later this year.

While out the garden I was looking at the monumental task that is weeding.  I have been keeping up better than some years.  But with complete focus on the garden some of my landscaping has fallen behind.  Looking at it this morning I felt bad because there is a crop of thistles that really need taken out.  However, later in the day as I was working at my desk I caught a glimpse of yellow out the window.  I should remember God has a purpose for all things - even thistles.  Right outside the window a male and female goldfinch were busy feeding.  I know they can feed from thistle feeders (which is probably how this crop of mine was started) but actually watching them on the thistle plants was so much more fascinating and just seemed so natural.  I don't know if birds can be happy but I would like think they were as the feasted on my "horrible" weeds.

Really - I could have watched them all afternoon!

After the boys got up from naps (neither of them actually slept though today - not sure what that was about) we changed clothes and headed for Ankeny to eat with Alan at the NLCSO (National Leadership Conference for State Officers) banquet.  Of course this means "official dress" for my little guys.  Yes, little FFA jackets for the two of them.  I designed the pattern and sewed them for my little guys.  Grant is wearing the first one I originally made when Clark was little and Clark's was made especially for National FFA Convention last year.  However, I don't think Clark's will fit again this fall - it was pretty tight today.  Clark is being the good big brother in the photo below helping Grant put his shoe back on.
I just have to say traveling with a newly potty trained child has it's own set of challenges.  Such as "mommy, I have to go potty" as we're on the interstate headed home.  Amazingly he told me this just before the exit for the rest area.  Better than after we went past!  Put the boys to bed and went to lock up the chickens.  Unfortunately one of our neighborhood predators took out my prize rooster.  Granted I would rather have it take a rooster instead of one of my hens but he really was a beautiful rooster.  From the feather trail it looks like he put up a good fight.  My only question is - with all these predators running around (fox, bobcat, etc), WHY do I still have rabbits in my garden?  WHY?  Seriously - they can't catch a few rabbits?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 49 - Half Way

Realized today is day 49 out of my 100 day journey.  Half way there.

Last night when Clark and I put the chickens to bed we noticed the black raspberries had some berries ready for harvest.  We each picked a couple hand fulls to eat - so yummy.  So this morning on my way back from chores I picked a bowl full to have for breakfast.  Clark gobbled them down.  Grant wasn't quite so sure but tried some.

Today was the kids' day.  We went down to the Science Center of Iowa.  This is the first time I have taken the boys down to explore at SCI.  They had great fun.  We didn't get to see it all and Clark was disappointed to leave.  We may need to get a membership because I see us going back again (and again).  Clark loves places like this - the Children's Museum in Indianapolis is one of our favorite places and we spend a whole day there every October. These places are so good at incorporating hands on exploration for little ones.

After the Science Center we ate lunch with daddy and then headed to get some anti-itch medicine for Clark before heading home.  Last night Clark's ear was swollen - almost double in size.  Ended up calling first nurse to make sure it wasn't too serious.  Probably had a bug sting him and he reacted to it. Plus with his itching the ear swelled up.  We put some cream on last night and he said it helped.  We have been putting the new ointment on today and the swelling is much better.  Dang bugs.

As you can probably tell I didn't do much ISF related today.  I think tonight I will pull out some of the stitching on one of the needlepoints I am working on.  I decided the color of the little flowers wasn't what I wanted so I am tearing out and doing them in different colors.  I hope to finish it up tonight while sitting with my feet up in front of the TV.  One thing about summer I don't ever seem to stop.  I really should go out to the garden and weed or work on some more cherries but I think knowing my limits is as important as striving to accomplish a goal.  If I overdo now I will only burn out during the critical time.  So my mini goals tonight include: to read Clark a few really good stories, watch some TV (hmm - I have a bunch of Cake Boss's saved on the DVR) while I finish my needlework and get to bed before 10 PM.  Hopefully this way I'll be ready to go strong tomorrow!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 50 - Peas for Breakfast

This morning after I let the chickens out I went out to check on my garden (which unfortunately has been ignored the past few days).  Must WEED!  It is so hard to get outside in the evening though when my calvary isn't home at 6 PM.  So I need to schedule garden time even if it is at 9 PM.  This is a fact - when 6 PM rolls around I'm ready for the calvary (ie - daddy) to be home!

Anyway - back to the blog title: I went out to check the garden and noticed the peas needed to picked.  So I picked a couple hand fulls to take in.  Last week Clark had his first taste of fresh garden peas and loved them.  Shortly after I returned to the house Clark opened his bedroom door and headed to the kitchen.  He saw the peas and wanted to shell them.  I popped them open for him and shelled them all out.  I love his look of concentration! He asked if he could eat the peas and I told him they're best when they're fresh.  Peas for breakfast!  That should make his grandma proud!

I had to show this picture - that is how Clark stacked the shelled out pods (on his own).  I had never seen such a neat pile of shelled out pea pods.  Now if only all his toys could be so neatly stacked and put away.

Day 51 - Reason for Absence = Photo Catastrophe

OK - so here is why my blogs have been so off this weekend.  Well, Friday I was up past midnight getting cherries done and then just had a busy Saturday.  Thought I would catch up on Sunday but on Saturday night I had a small panic attack (am over it now).  I discovered in searching for some photos to hang in Alan's office that somehow I wiped out a large chunk of my 2009/10 photos.

UHGGG!  I am so careful with photos I still don't know how it happened.  Believe me I tried everything to figure it out.  I have Carbonite but they delete any files you delete after 30 days of your deletion and tracking back I believe I must have done this sometime in March.  So no help from that.  I have an external hard drive but for some reason the file I'm looking for isn't there.  I downloaded a recover system and got a few back that way but most have been written over since it happened so long ago.  For the life of me I can't figure out how it happened since I always make sure my photos are backed up before moving them.  So, I have erased a large chunk of Grant's first year (and Clark's 3rd year).

On Monday I went to work organizing ALL of my digital photo files.  They are now so organized (and so backed up) that nothing is getting to them!  My way to attack a situation like this is to think it through - go through all the options and figure out a plan.  So, it will not happen again, I will be more cautious, I will take more photographs and I will on a monthly basis load them to an on-line photo account (Shutterfly) to make sure even if all of my files go down they are still somewhere.  Plus, I will print out copies of the best photos more frequently.

Luckily, I think I have every month now covered by at least a couple of photos of the boys and/or a Flip video of them (which I can turn the video into a couple photos).  I pulled and re-saved all of the photos I had uploaded to sites like Blogger, Facebook, Shutterfly, etc. and so have some of my favorite photos throughout the year saved.  Also, it wasn't exactly the whole year - for some reason I had saved part of certain months in one folder and parts in another.  So I have photos of all the major events (birth, baptism, 4th of July, Iowa State Fair, National FFA Convention, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas - and the 2009/10 blizzards/snow drifts).  However I still ask any friends and family that may have photos of my family btw May 2009 and March 2010 please send them to me.  I cannot thank God enough that Alan had copies of Grant's birth saved on his computer - whew!

I am now probably going overboard with photos and videos since I have increased the number taken in the past few days substantially.  This will taper off I am sure but for now a little extra photo attention won't hurt anything.  If you take nothing else away from today's blog - please safe guard and organize your photos.  I kept putting it off and was heartbroken on Saturday evening.  It wasn't as bad as I had thought at first (it could have bee SO much worse) but still - don't put it off!

My philosophy through the whole thing was (and what got me thinking rationally) we are blessed by God to have the boys and my own memories of our time spent with them.  This is more than I deserve and I will cherish the time spent with them far more than any photo!

I did have to laugh - I bemoan the loss of the photos during this time (and to those who have lost far more I am so very sorry).  However, I still probably have more photos of them than my husband and I have from one year growing up combined.  And my dad was a great photographer and had a great camera and I do have lots of photos but it still isn't like the numbers of photos we take so easily today.

Now just a couple of my favorites from today and yesterday so I have them in case all three of my back up systems fail me all at the same time:

Day 52 - Happy Father's Day!

Today was all about dad!  I have been promising my husband that I would help decorate his office, so we finished it up this afternoon so that he could have a nice inviting office for the coming week when lots of state officers from other states and some national officers and staff will be visiting.  His office is now very FFA themed and has lots of blue and gold.  Along with family photos and other happy items to remind him of how much his family loves him!

Clark loves going to "daddy's office" to watch the fountain and explore the long hallways.  Grant wore himself out crawling up and down the hallway - eventually that little one will figure out how much faster two legs can be when going upright.  Even though we spent the afternoon at daddy's office at least we spent it with daddy!

One follow-up note from yesterday's blog: daddy did get to change a very blue diaper in the afternoon.  So blue it stained Grant's little bottom blue.  Just as the blue stain was finally working its way off his fingers and face. We do have photos but they are not for the blog - we'll save that for his first girl friend.

And of course to my dad --

Happy Father's Day!  I have many happy memories of sitting on the floor of the tractor cab and singing songs like "Bingo" and "This Old Man" over and over.  Having my own children I can't believe how long my dad put up with this.  I loved being in the tractor with dad and I'm very glad he took me along to do farm chores with him quite frequently!  I also spent a LOT of time in the milk house with dad and grandma and I gained a lot of life skills there.  I also have to say that every time I eat a pickle I can't help but think of my dad. Why?  Because my dad's nick name for me is Pickle Seed.  Yep, I loved pickles when I was young and I still love them today.  I don't get called this very frequently anymore but it still pops up every now and then.  Love you dad!

Day 53 - Seeing Blue!

Thought you might like to see the inside of the cherry almond bread.  We ate this lovely bread for breakfast with some of the leftover cherry preserves from last night.  Wow!  Ribbon winning or not this is a keeper recipe!  My husband thinks I'll never make it again (which to his credit there are recipes I toy with for the Iowa State Fair and then they may not be seen again).  But I do think this recipe is one to add to my quick bread stash of recipes.  I did toast the almonds before putting them in the batter which helps but the fresh sour cherries really give the bread a wonderful taste!  Adding the preserves on top - well, that was just the cherry on top (ha!).

Was up early this morning to make strawberry syrup and finish off the strawberry juice I made the other night.  It looks good and should be wonderful on pancakes and waffles with a few heated frozen berries.  I also put up the rest of the cherries.  I just made a light syrup to put them in and processed them as is.  This way if I need some for a recipe I can just drain them and use them or I can still make a cherry pie filling from them if the other runs out.

I did pick up some jars at the auction today.  Although mostly quart and pint jars.  I need to trade out some of my jars though since some have small chips in the rim.  I check every jar each time I bring it up - if it has any chip or imperfection it gets taken from the collection.  If it is an older one (I like the square bottom kind) I save it to use as a flower vase.  I box up the rest for some craft projects I keep meaning to try.  Bottom line though don't use jars with chips or cracks for processing- messes with the seal!  Grant went with me to the auction so that Alan and Clark could work on the lawn mower and the lawn.  Grant was a very good little boy.  He watched with interest and had plenty of people to see and things to listen to.  He enjoyed flirting with the ladies (I am a little scared this will keep with him later in life) - he is such a charmer.  We did pretty well at the auction - a food dehydrator (have wanted to try drying down some delicate herbs this way), some jars and some cutting boards.  Grant fell asleep in the stroller.  A lady asked if she could take his picture (I believe she was documenting the event - family or friend of the estate owner) to label it - bored at auction.  Have to mention it is great to live in Iowa - as I was packing up a nice couple in their 20's asked if they could help me load up.  I realize there are nice people everywhere but I think Iowa has more than it's fair share.  Thank you so much to this couple - I could have done the chore myself but with Grant along it sure made my life easier!

At nap time Alan started up our old Oliver tractor and raised me up in the bucket to harvest more cherries.  Picked about another 12 pounds!

And finally - from the title of the blog (and if you read yesterday's blog) I bet you thought I was going to talk blueberries!  Nope!  We went to our 5-year old nephew's birthday party in the evening.  It was a great space themed party that had a space shuttle cake and lots of "planet" cupcakes.  Just a note: there was a warning about the blue cupcakes!  

Really - what kid can resist a blue cupcake?

Day 54 - Seeing Red!

Happy Friday!  Yes friends this is 12 pounds of sour cherries that I harvested from our cherry tree during nap time this afternoon!  Although not exactly wonderful to eat straight from the bucket (unless you're a sour nut like me) they make some wonderful pies and they work wonderfully in baked products.  Mainly because they will maintain some of their flavor even during the baking process.

Early this year we invested in a hand held cherry pitter/stoner that did the process one cherry at a time (see earlier blogs).  But deciding that 12 pounds of cherries takes what seems an eternity this way.  I had my husband call the cooking store in Des Moines to see if they had anything a bit faster.  When he came home he brought me this little German beauty --
That's what I'm talking about.  Speeds the process tremendously.  Cherries with pits loaded in the top, pits spit into holding container and pitted cherries come out the other side.  Into their nice bath of anti-browning solution to wait for all the things I have planned for them.  Note: this was great fun for the boys.  Next year Clark may be able to operate this thing on his own.  Imagine the speed at which cherries can be processed then!  He certainly enjoyed pitting cherries this year.  

After the children were in bed I kept working on cherries.  You see here some delicious cherry almond bread.  One loaf for us - one for the freezer and the Iowa State Fair.  You really should leave a quick bread sit for at least 12 hours before slicing into it but Alan and I simply couldn't resist.  It was good even though it was only 4 hours old.  Can't wait for breakfast!

Also decided to make some cherry preserves.  With that I am only out of jelly jars - hope to pick some up at an auction tomorrow.  I don't think I have ever completely cleaned out my stock of jars of any one size.  I am determined to process/can as much as possible this year - not for the State Fair (although there are plenty of canning categories) but just to have in the basement.  Usually I freeze a lot of produce but my freezer space is getting pretty limited and I have lots of jars that I can use so trying to can what is able to be canned and freeze that which doesn't can well or easily or that I just run out of time on the canning end of things.  In this picture I am wiping the rims on the cherry preserves with a damp paper towel.  Also working on my canning callus on my thumb.  Much more of handling hot jars and my thumb will be numb to all pain for the rest of the year.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day 55 - Heat!

Decided that today would not be a good day to crank up the old oven or the water bath.  I realize in Iowa it's not going to get much better from here on out; but for today we'll keep the energy costs down.  This means I am probably going to have to rework my daily schedule so that cooking is done early morning or late evening.  Of course when canning season truly heats up (ha!) I'll have to can as veggies need processing.  It's amazing what that water bath does to the house.  Not to mention my hair - if anyone reading watches Phineas & Ferb on the Disney channel my hair does the same thing as Isabella's.  I may need to download the song "Izzie's got the Frizzies" for motivation.  This is why I have gone to wearing a bandana or scarf on my head.  It's mainly to protect the food and keep hair out of my face.  Grant at first found it weird and had to lift it up to make sure my hair was still there.  Now he just finds it funny.

Last night after posting the blog, Clark and I went out to the garden.  This was his first experience eating fresh peas straight from the pod.  He handed me his lemonade icy so he could work open pods and eat them as fast as I could find ones that were ready.  This morning at breakfast he asked if we could eat garden peas.  I had to tell him it would be a couple days before more peas were ready (if the heat doesn't completely stop them).  Peas for breakfast - what a champ!  Oddly enough my boys enjoy frozen peas as a snack and won't eat heated peas.  Thank you grandma!  So fresh or frozen - only way my boys eat peas.  Seriously if you have a child who won't eat peas try giving them frozen peas - thought my mom was nuts but now that's how my boys eat them and think they're quite a treat.

Worked for 2 hours weeding last night trying to get as much done as possible before it gets unbearably hot and rains more.  This morning I figured I had to get the isminis in before it ended up being July.  I planted them in with the glads since both bulbs have to be dug in the fall.  The bulbs looked good and I am sure they will do well.  I have planted them later (not intentionally) and they have still bloomed and/or at least developed enough of a bulb to harvest and store.  Can't wait until they bloom!

Everything is now up in the garden.  Clark goes to check on his gourd plants daily.  This morning he hoed around them (under close supervision by mom) to make sure those pesky weeds went away.  He likes going out to check the garden with me and is always reminding me that we need to water (lately I have had to tell him God has been taking care of that for us).  Tonight after making our evening rounds - garden check, watering the container plants, putting chickens to bed, he ran under the hose for awhile.  He thought it was great fun!  Hmm, maybe we should get the old stock tank out.  Can tell I'm a country girl can't you - you bet stock tanks = swimming pools.

Have some strawberries that I crushed and boiled cooling on the stove.  I will put them in the cheesecloth in my new jelly strainer and see how much juice I have in the morning.  Depending on how much I have I plan to either make jelly or syrup.  We are running out of the mulberry syrup I made last year.  Decided not to bother with mulberries this year.  However, we really like using homemade fruit syrup on pancakes and waffles instead of maple syrup.  I usually heat up some frozen berries to go with the syrup.  So yummy!  I hope to have enough black raspberries to make raspberry syrup in a week or two also.

Child Milestone:
OK - if you read the blog and you're not family or don't want to hear about potty training issues you may want to stop reading here - NOTE: you were given fair warning!

Whoo Hoo!  Clark finally went poopy in the toilet today!  So excited we had to call dad and grandma right away!  My son is a clever little fella.  He knows where he should be doing this but will wait until nap time when we put a pull-up on instead of underwear to do his business.  He is great when it comes to urinating and we haven't had an accident in a very long time - even nap times he usually stays dry but we just couldn't convince him to go in the toilet when it came to poo.  Today while I was planting isminis he came running up saying he needed to potty.  I figured well let's just do it outside.  He informed me, "no, mommy, poopy has to go in the potty."  I told him he was right pulled his pants back up and headed for the house.  He was a good boy and sat on the potty and then informed me it wouldn't come.  Told him patiently sometimes it's not as easy as just going pee.  He became frustrated and would no longer sit on the potty.  My patience ran out as I heard Grant start to stir in his crib and as my last ismini bulbs sat out in the sun.  I told him I was going to finish planting the last few flower bulbs and then would be right back and in the meantime no pants (but shoes if he needed to go outside).  If he needs me he knows to call into the baby monitor which reaches the garden and I would come right back in.  I quickly finished up the planting and ran back to the house.  Clark was waiting for me at the screen door with a huge smile on his face, "mommy, I did it, I poopied in the toilet!"  So we raced to the bathroom for him to show me his accomplishment!  I gave him a HUGE hug.  I guess mommy just needs to leave him alone to do his thing (without underwear on).  We have finally crossed that final hurdle - I am so happy!  Since Alan had a meeting  tonight I took Clark and Grant to Hickory Park to celebrate.  Clark really enjoyed his mint chocolate chip ice cream along with everything else.  I told him that was mommy's thank you and congratulations for reaching such a big boy step.  From his seat he said, "Thank you Mommy" in the cutest, most sincere little voice.

I realize we will have accidents along the way but now that he knows it's not such a scary ordeal I know he'll do great.  Maybe my pep talk last night on the fact that everyone does it and listed off how all of our farm animals and pets go helped.  Or maybe mommy just needs to not be in the bathroom.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 56 - It's On!

Oh - it's on!  More on that in a second.

Sorry no food today.  Today was spent organizing and decorating Alan's new office at the Iowa FFA Enrichment Center in Ankeny.  I framed out his 2 FFA jackets in shadow boxes.  Rearranged furniture, hung photos, etc.  It is now looking much more inviting and very Blue and Gold.  Will need to finish a few things on Sunday (need to go on a photo search in the house) and then he should have a nice office to work in (and so people don't continue to think it is a storage space).

Tonight I was encouraging my husband to sign up for a few food entries of his own.  We have a couple of chicken carcasses in the freezer that we save for making chicken noodle soup.  I say "we" when really my husband has taken over the soup making in the household.  I serve more as his sous chef when it comes to soup.  Usually we make soup during the Christmas break - it is fun and makes the whole house smell good.  We make up large batches of soup to freeze.  We still have a few left in the freezer but not many.  So, seeing there was a soup division and a comfort food division I thought he should enter one or two of his soup recipes.  He told me he'd make it and I could take it.  I said fine you make it; I'll take it down - but you enter under your name because it's your recipe.  Finally he decided this was doable.  I'll order his entry tags later this week.  However, once this was decided I jokingly said well I could go up against your chicken noodle with my taco soup in the same class.  He said (and I quote); "ha, my chicken noodle can beat your taco soup any day!"  It's ON!  In all fairness his chicken noodle could beat my taco soup any day but when a challenge like that is thrown down I can't resist.  We'll let the judges decide.  How will we know if neither of us place - oh we plan to watch the judging since it's on a day during the fair where Alan isn't extraordinarily busy.  You can often tell where you stand when you watch the judging.

My luck the only ribbon won in this family will be done by my husband!  What do I say to that - awesome!  I am privileged to eat prize winning soup on a regular basis made with love by my amazing husband!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 57 - Black & White

Mmmm - brownies!

Really I could just end the blog post today at that.  These have two components the chocolate macadamia nut portion and the cream cheese white chocolate portion.  Mix together and yummy!  Although looks like my marbling technique could use some help.  I'm sure out of a 9x13 pan I can cut and find 4 good looking little brownies.  It still has a chocolate glaze but that will go on just before the day of judging.  Best part about bars and brownies - they are easy (although this recipe had a lot of steps), put aluminum foil in the bottom of the pan and NO clean-up - plus it is already half way wrapped for storage.  Most bars and brownies freeze extraordinarily well and can be stored for 2 - 3 months.

I absolutely LOVE brownies!  This is why I allowed the boys a tiny sample around the edge (which I wouldn't use for competition anyway) and the rest went in the freezer.  Again, boys approved the recipe - not sure they have ever not approved a recipe.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 58 - Entries Adding Up

Needed to update my entry list - they are starting to add up!  I have many others in progress but I am not counting certain items until they are actually completed.

Clark and I checked on the garden last night - everything is coming up (including the weeds).  We should have some peas ready this week.  There are blooms on some of the cherry tomatoes.  We also discovered a beautiful tomato, cucumber and melon garden in the old hog lot.  I guess a few seeds that went through our hogs last year decided to grow.  They look lovely and some of the tomatoes have blooms!  We'll keep it as a back up/back yard garden.  Actually Clark has claimed it as his own little garden.

Today I made my regular bread and banana bread.  No big deal this is usually on my meal plan for the week.  However, Clark was gravely disappointed when I packed up the banana bread.  I decided this was the one I was going to freeze for fair entry.  Luckily I have a few extra bananas from last week that should be brown enough to bake another loaf this week so he has banana bread for a few snack times this week.  I decided my old bundt pan was well seasoned enough that I only needed to spray the very bottom.  It worked - my bread climbed the sides much better/higher and the bread still released easily from the pan.

We also cleaned up a piece of milk glass that I found at the auction this weekend.  I picked it up for very little (less than $2.00 when you consider it was a whole flat full of milk glass).  It is actually a Fenton piece and very pretty.  Now I have to figure out which milk glass piece I want to enter in the Heritage milk glass class.  I was set on my cake plate but now am having second thoughts.  My poor husband doesn't understand my love of beautiful white dishes.  At least they can be used for any occasion - I'm nothing if not practical (and cheap) when it comes to my vintage dishes.

Well, time to clean the dishes.  Still have some of the cherry dishes laying around from yesterday.

Happy Flag Day!

Child Milestone:  Grant pointed to his nose and mouth today!  He has had knowing his head down for a week or so now.  Plus, he is standing on his own now!  Not long before he's walking.
Last week on Sunday (in church) he clapped for the first time.  I forgot how these new discoveries and achievements at this age seem to develop exponentially!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 59 - When God Gives You Sour Cherries . . .

. . . you absolutely must make cherry pie filling!

When we moved to this home we were so excited to have a cherry tree.  We believe it is a very old cherry tree and in the past few years some storms have really taken their toll on the female.  We actually have two cherry trees but one is the male and produces no fruit.  We would actually like to try either grafting or growing  more of these trees because the female is marvelously productive and has such great sour cherries.  The cherries were definitely ready today (and there will be more ready later in the week).  If only we could pick them all but many are up out of reach.  That's OK though -- as long as the birds keep to the upper branches they are welcome to as many as they can find up there.  There are plenty to share!

This is a better picture of the mass quantity of cherries on the tree!

Alan got up early this morning and picked a large quantity before getting ready for church (and before the rain came).  After lunch I went out to pick more.  I needed 6 quarts for my cherry pie filling recipe which is a whole lot of cherries!  While harvesting cherries the power went out.  It was out for 2 hours.  Not knowing when it would come back on we still decided to go ahead and pit them all and if we didn't have power by later afternoon I would just freeze them instead of processing them.

Clark wanted to learn how to use the cherry pitter.  I think we should still keep looking for one that can do mass quantities of cherries rather than one cherry at a time.  However, it went a lot faster than last year where I did everything with a knife!  After pitting they went directly into an anti-browning solution.

Then blanched them all 6 cups at a time (24 cups total).  To keep them hot while waiting for the other batches to blanch I put them in the crockpot and covered it - that worked rather well.  After blanching stirred up all of the sugar, clear jel and liquid.  To can pie fillings you need to use clear jel - it isn't available in stores though (at least not that I can find anywhere - if anyone knows of a store in central Iowa that carries it let me know).  I order mine through King Arthur Flour.  I also added a little Cherry Liqueur to the liquid measure.  Chalk that up to living a year near the Black Forest region of Germany.  My host mom believed in adding liqueur to all baked and processed products.  A little goes a long way but does add a unique flavor.  At least you can't get drunk off my Black Forest Cake.  I believe you could have at least gotten a decent buzz from my host mom's.

Goopey goodness!  Folding in the cherries to the base mixture.  I did not put food coloring in and it still has a wonderful red color!

Finished jars of cherry pie filling.  It didn't make as much as the recipe said it would but oh well (recipe said 7 quarts - I ended up with 5 quarts and 1 pint).  These will make yummy pies!  The little one we plan to use on one of our ham steaks.  We also have just a little left over to put on ice cream tonight.  I must add just as I believe strawberries and peaches are the only jams one needs - my philosophy on pie fillings are cherry pie and peach pie are worthy of the effort to process.  I know - very un-American not to have apple in my top two (it's in the top five along with blueberry).  There is no class for pie fillings but I do plan to enter a cherry pie in the pie division.  Now to work on pie crusts.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 60 - Cross Stitch Bliss

Cross stitch is perhaps my ultimate form of relaxation.  I absolutely love it and if I'm not careful time will slowly slip away from me as I work.  But the beauty of a finished piece is so amazing.  I'm not the only one in the family with a love of cross stitch.  My cousin Lori does beautiful work and she is wonderful with many other forms of needlework.  My mom started me with cross stitch at a very early age.  I still remember her iron transferring a pattern for me to work when I was pretty young.  She was a good teacher and led by example by doing some of her own nice pieces.

Since it was raining this morning I decided to stay in and work on a piece I had started for my mother in law that I simply put up when she passed away.  But it is such a beautiful verse I think I'll finish it and give it to my father in law on her behalf anyway.  Of course as I worked my way down the piece this morning I also realized I didn't cut the fabric piece accurately and will be very close to the bottom of the fabric.  Luckily, I think it will still fit - framing it may be a challenge though.

The boys all headed down to Des Moines to check out the Bass Pro Shop while I packed up and headed to an auction.  I came home loaded down with lots of aida cloth/fabric, linens and blankets all for needlework.  I won't have to purchase more anytime soon since there were literally two bolts of fabric in the one box!  All for less than $10.00 - can't beat that price.  I also purchased some great leaflets/charts and continue to add to my cross stitch magazine collection.  Although my best purchase of the day was a jelly strainer!  Yay!  I have been looking for one at sales for awhile now and this was the first I have found and it was in excellent condition.  Now to line it with cheesecloth and wait for my raspberries to ripen to try it out for making some jelly!  Note: this is not one of the new jelly bag holders/strainers you find for purchase on-line these days - this is the old-fashioned metal cone shaped contraption with holes and a wood press.  My father in law also uses his to strain applesauce.

After supper we settled down to watch the Toy Story Movies in the basement (where it is so much cooler).  While the boys played and watched their Saturday night movie I sorted through my new books and found some pretty designs that may be worked this winter.  I told Alan maybe next year my goal should be to try and stitch an entry for each cross stitch class (come now that's not so bad - only 20 classes).  Ha! We both had a good laugh at that - maybe I'll just shoot for half (or a quarter).

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day 61 - Spritz

Today we played with Spritz cookies.  Seriously - these cookies are so remarkably like playing with play dough you can't help but have fun.  I enjoy pressing them out anyway.  I have two presses, one newer style one and one I found at an auction that is the very old variety.  Which to use, which to use?  I went with the old tried and true.  It just makes such nice looking little cookies and the guide on it helps me line them up with perfect spacing on the tray.  Someday the boys can have the new model to make cookies with.  The boys enjoyed watching and then of course munching.  Grant's little arm kept pointing to the cookie tray after he tried the first one.  Had to cut them both off at snack time.  Addictive little butter cookies.  Luckily, I have never been a fan of Spritz cookies so other than sampling one to make sure I had the flavor right I left them alone.

I did have some heat issues today.  No matter what I did it was just so hot in the kitchen by the time I was to the last ones they were really spreading out on the pan (even after putting the pan in the freezer for a minute to cool them off).  Of course by the time I was on the last cookies much of the dough was mistake dough that was going through the press a second time so that didn't help any.  But I still had plenty that turned out well enough that I am not ashamed to enter them.

All I have to say is it is a good thing I have friends who are my butter suppliers since this recipe alone took out almost a pound (the recipe was doubled so that didn't help any).  Don't know how I'd survive without their annual butter gift each year!  It's good to know Wisconsin dairy farmers : ) thanks Leigh and Dave!  Of course, I am sure there are some people that would say they're just enabling my habit!

I don't know about any of you but I always think Christmas when it comes to Spritz cookies.  At least my Grandma Clark always made a large batch or two of these at the holidays.  I decided to mix it up a bit and gave these a citrus spin and pressed them in flowers and butterflies with purple sugar on some and others plain.  Once again I managed 2 classes in one day with one recipe!  Sweet (really)!  One for the cookie division and one for the holiday exchange division in the Other than Christmas class.  I think I'll make a tray of spring/Easter type cookies for this exchange tray class (so one type down for that - need at least one other cookie type to put with it).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day 62 - My Math Teachers Were Right

After all these years I finally realized how right my math teachers were.  Yes, we do use math on a regular basis and yes you will need to know fractions.  I think honestly I came to this realization a while ago but today just seemed math heavy! I recalculated some ingredients in the pumpkin date bread the boys and I made and had to recalculate and add up some fractions.  This evening I went to the quilt store to purchase my backing fabric, binding fabric and batting.  More math - although in this case I had someone else help with calculations or I probably would have ended being either much too short or way too long on fabric and batting.  Amazingly quilting requires A LOT of math.  That won't stop me from working on more quilts though - it's well worth the calculations!

This week I finally have two classes worth of ISF entries to freeze out of one recipe!  You are allowed to use the same recipe in two different classes.  So today was a two for one deal.  Out of the 4 recipes I worked on this week only this one turned out so that by my calculation is 25% for the week.

The pumpkin bread looked good and smells yummy.  Last year I had issues with quick breads - maybe I over thought the process.  No matter what I tried last year my quick breads turned out 1" tall; flat and not pretty at all.  This year I've decided to hand mix the quick breads rather than using my mixer and making sure I only grease the bottom of the bread pans.  Other than that hopefully the recipes also work out.

One tip from my judging cards last year was to toast nuts whenever you use them.  The pecans were toasted in the oven prior to chopping and adding to the bread.  The boys enjoyed the leftover toasted pecans!  Toasting does bring out nicer flavors in the nuts.  Thankfully I remembered to save the pecan package today so that I have the proof of purchase for one of the classes I plan to use this recipe in.  Be sure to read instructions for various divisions carefully since there are some that require proofs of purchase.