Autumn brings the October Campout!

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Although Autumn was “officially” the third week of September, signs of nature say that it really IS Autumn now! The Sassafras tree in our back yard is beginning to change from the light gold and orange color in this picture to a dark red-orange. We have a baby Sassafras this year that has sprouted to about 3 feet tall. It is welcome to stay in our yard for a lifetime! The Virginia Creeper is showing off its red as it makes its way up the taller trees, and the Hackberry leaves are turning yellow and falling all around.  Soon Maples will turn orange and yellow, the purplish-red color of Ash trees, the dark reds and browns of the majestic Oaks. The last one to change is a Sweet Gum tree which we call our “Grandma Tree ” planted in honor of our Grandma Hildred. Just when I think all of the fall colors are gone, the Grandma Tree shows off its brilliant red star-like leaves, and the prickly balls are formed on the branches which later dry & drop to the ground. The prickly balls make a great addition to a wreath or other crafty creations a person might come up with. The Mums are decorating our yard in their colors of rust, burgundy, and cheery yellow. The gold Zinnia are flourishing in the cooler weather and really brightens up the place. The colors that God created for us to enjoy during Autumn just puts a smile in your heart, and sometimes the smile spills out onto your face! The days are warm, the evenings cool, and the sky is a very deep blue. Yes indeed, Autumn is here!

We are preparing for our annual October family camp out this weekend at Sassafras Hollow even though the weather forecasters are calling for 50% chance of Saturday morning rain. My husband says that is 50% chance of NOT raining, so we are going ahead with our plans! This is the 6th year for this event and is a time our family can be together before winter winds howl & snow comes to visit.

The menu is “Bring Yer Own” and “K.I.S.S.” which means Keep It Simple, Stupid! It is hot dogs or brats, buns, chips, maybe a can of pork & beans, and of course the makings for S’Mores!

Before darkness falls upon us, the youngers have fun choosing a spot to set up their tent, make their beds, being sure they have flashlights & whatever electronic devices they can get away with. A few of us olders have bodies that say “NO! NO!” to the thought of sleeping on the ground, so we eventually sneak off to the “comforts of home.” With sleeping spaces established, we all sit around the campfire, hypnotized yet engaged in one (or many) conversations…sometimes light and joking, other times we solve the world’s problems. Someone is softly playing a tune or two, then passes it to the next talented one. At no designated time during the evening, the sacrifice of at least one marshmallow to the fire has to be executed. This is a RULE! A marshmallow (or two…or three) is tossed onto hot coals so as we watch the thing come alive and grow into a mini-monster twice it’s original size, and then finally disintegrates.

The olders begin to yawn and fight to keep eyelids open…one by one going off to find that place determined earlier to lay our heads down. The bonfire is left to the younger generation with, of course, the usual Smokey the Bear-type fire safety instructions; “Don’t make the fire too big”, “Don’t play with the fire” (sure!), and as always…”there’s a bucket of water over there and here is the hose in case the fire gets out of control.” Then the kitchen patrol comments of “put the food up when you are finished with your midnight snack.” In past years MO the Dog and Maggie the Beagle had their own party after everyone went to bed!  The olders are finished with our part of the evening and climb into beds smelling of wood smoke which permeates clothes and hair, but does not hinder sleep. It comes quickly and so does the morning light.

Sunday mornings are at a turtle’s pace. We all look (and smell) like we have been camping…it’s a bad hair day, sleepy eyes and stiff bones. A few burning charcoal bits are discovered and the fire is revived. The morning breeze seems to keep us moving our chairs from place to place to avoid the smoke. But wait…smoke follows beauty, remember? I sit right in the midst of the smoke trying to make a point, but my eyes begin to burn and water, my nose is dripping…now coughing, crying and sniffing…not a beautiful sight! Haha!

The smell of the Hollow is now changed from wood smoke to one of the best smells ever…bacon, eggs, & coffee wafting in the air! Campfire breakfasts can be a pain to prepare and can take quite a while, but the experience can’t be skipped and “Oooh it TASTES SO good!” Probably because it is about noon-ish already and we are starved! Nevertheless, it is the journey and not the destiny.

After breakfast, the family congregates around the campfire again for as long as we can stand ourselves. With our smoky-smelling clothes, our bad hair day, and the thought of being able to sleep in our own beds again, it is motivation enough to begin breaking camp. The work is slow…taking down the tents, packing (or returning) pillows & blankets, picking up leftover sacks of marshmallows, empty boxes of graham crackers, and Hershey wrappers, throwing away cans, cups, and other unidentifiable objects left around. Soon enough, the area is policed and one by one each family makes that journey home.

Some of us olders may not get very excited about our Annual October Camp out Weekend and I do have to admit that it is a bit of work. But for the youngers & the little ones…I am hoping they learn to love the natural surroundings of the countryside that God blessed this family with. I hope they look forward to seeing brother & sisters, cousins, aunts & uncles, great-aunts & uncles, grandparents and great-grandparents. Last but not least, I hope we all have helped to make warm memories that can be carried onward from generation to generation in Sassafras Hollow.

The Bounty of 2013

aee23209c077_bc5fc83f-862b-467a-9300-5c622e4bc979The gardens are dying off, which is bittersweet to me. The good news; no more constant watering or weeding, no more getting hot and itchy, no more freezing or processing. The sad news; no more bounty to gather.

In the raised beds earlier this spring,  the year-old strawberries gave us a few tasty bites to sample. We kept them watered and mulched and they are sprouting new babies! We are looking forward to a bigger crop next year. We planted yellow squash in a little spot beside the strawberries and got enough to eat and even freeze a few batches, but hopefully by next year that area will be taken over with new strawberries!

The blueberries gave us only a few bites, it being their first year as well. I am hoping to plant two more blueberry bushes very soon. Blueberries are tasty, healthy, and can be frozen or dried very easily for later use.

We let our asparagus come up and produce for its first year as directed and also waiting for a good crop next year! The foliage looked healthy and flourished over the summer.  We like asparagus and being a perennial makes it a good investment.

Planning to build one more raised bed for some type of perennial or herbs.

In the big garden many lessons were learned, but we still received this blessing of a bountiful crop… thank you God!

We dug Fingerling Potatoes of which I will not plant again. They were cylinder-shaped which was interesting, but too small, and the skin seemed tough. Lesson number one: plant a different variety.

We dug up a couple of hills of sweet potatoes just to sample. They were very good, but the dear man I got the plants from says to let them “cure” for more sweetness. The others are still in the ground awaiting our attention of being dug and “cured.”

Lesson two: I learned that potatoes do not really get along with other plants, and they also take up a LOT of space, so next year we will have a place specifically for potatoes.

The Roma Italian Beans produced heavily and were meaty and very tasty. They are easily blanched and frozen for later use!

Lesson three: plant more of these and plant in succession!

The Sweeter Yet Burpless Cucumbers have produced all summer long and are still getting a few from a successive planting. Replant next year.

Still gathering a few cherry tomatoes…we bought 8 plants and had some were volunteers which have given us plenty to munch on every day.

Lesson four: Only plant cherry-sized tomatoes. Regular tomatoes not worth my time and trouble…they do not do well for the amount of water and care they take. Buy supply from local farms to make salsa.

Still picking Burgundy Okra! Beautiful dark red plant with hibiscus-like flowers and grows well in our heat & humidity. I plan to plant more so that we have enough to roast,  freeze, and to pickle. Slicing okra and combining it with mushrooms, garlic, onion, halved cherry tomatoes, & zucchini (or whatever mixture), tossing them all with olive oil, salt & pepper, and roasting them for about 20 mins at 350 degrees is a great way to eat okra. Very healthy and NO SLIMY-NESS when roasted this way. Replant these next year!

Lesson five: Eggplant…even though the lavender flower is so pretty and the eggplant are very unique to watch grow, the only way we really liked them is cracker coated and deep-fried, of which is not all that healthy. I tried Eggplant Parmigiana and my friend’s recipe for a casserole with eggplant layered with crackers & butter, but we just were not crazy about either. Do not replant.

The purple pole beans did not do well this year, so either 1. planted too late and was too hot OR 2.  the seed was old and just didn’t produce. We ate a couple of meals and froze a couple of batches, but not the abundance like I had hoped for. Note to self…get new Purple Pole Bean seeds to grow up the fence next year. The spot we chose seemed to be good, just not many blossoms/beans.

Up on the patio, I planted Sweet Banana Peppers and Garden Salsa Peppers in containers and they always do well.  Disappointed in the Garden Salsas…not a bit hot and will be looking for a different variety next year…maybe  Habaneros!!

I also planted Rosemary, Basil, & Thyme in a container and is doing great!  I love being able to walk out the door to pick my peppers & herbs to throw into the pot of whatever I am cooking. Have had plenty and hoping to be able to bring indoors over the winter and use as needed.

We picked Bluebyrd plums off our tree this year, enough to make a few jars of plum jam! That was exciting and am looking forward to doing it again and again!

Had a great bounty of blackberries to eat and to freeze. Made some Blackberry-Jalapeno Jelly to put on crackers with a bit of cream cheese…yum-YUM!

All in all, our gardens did great albeit the novices that we are. I am humbled and thank God for this bounty and give him all the glory!  It took some work, we learned, and I declare that next year we will have more than enough for our needs, and to share with others!

The Bible says:

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Luke 6:38

Two Down Days

Day number one…

Yes, it even happens in a sleepy little town like the one nearby Sassafras Hollow. A bomb threat to our schools and the loss of precious life.

A 17-year-old youth texted his intentions to a fellow school mate, who reported it to his parents, who called the authorities. Authorities thoroughly checked out all of the schools and found nothing, then went to arrest the young man. He evidently asked to go his bedroom to change clothes before going to jail, got a gun and turned it on himself.

This happened to be Suicide Prevention Day. As per a “social media” request from a young lady I am acquainted with whose heart is in this area, I had earlier written the word “LOVE” on my arm in support suicide prevention. Then I read about this incident on this same social media site. Our little community has had way too many youth deaths either to accidents, car accidents, overdoses, and suicides. My solution is that youth need to have parents who are: 1.  solidly married and give their children the time of day, not money or things and 2. parents that go to a good church and take their children – regularly! In a good church, there is a large circle of people who are (or SHOULD be) walking in love, forgiveness, full of hope and faith, and who are committed to pray for one another (without judgement), their community, and their country.  There are good churches that teach those things and churches that have good entertainment, and a few words that tickle the ear. I found out long ago that attending a church for several weeks and speaking with the pastor about his heart and purpose. That will give a good idea of what that particular church is all about.

Not to say that those two things would totally prevent these heartbreaking incidences, but I believe would put a HUGE dent in teen suicide, overdoses, drugs & alcohol, and their trouble with rules, authority and the law. So sad that this youth was so confused and with no hope that he felt he had to end his life. Praying for his family and friends and this community.

The second sad day…

It was yesterday…twelve years ago today the World Trade Center in NYC was attacked by people who hate us. I remember I was home schooling Jordan and happened to have the television on. We watched in unbelief and confusion as both towers were struck by aircraft crashing into them. Then the same thing happened at the Pentagon. Shortly after those attacks, the crash of Flight 93 happened in Shanksville, PA. This aircraft was hijacked and was believed to be headed towards Washington DC. A few brave souls fought the hijackers and though it crashed, the plan was diverted and foiled. God bless those that had the courage.  It was a day was a day like no other, thousands of people killed, injured, and a country in total shock and affected forever. But we are Americans and we carry on even with our battle wounds and memories. I watched the memorial today, giving those who were involved, my prayers, my time and my honor.

On a happier note, today we will have a break in the extreme heat and hopefully some rain! I am still watering every other day, babying and coddling the last of our garden, getting weary of the garden work now and looking forward to fall. The leaves on a Sassafras tree turn a very brilliant red of which I am ready to see again.

Until the next time…be sure your loved ones know you care…tell them how much you love them. Spend TIME with them and…begin to look for and plug into a good church!

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The Treehouse & Thymes Forgotten

As I was preparing dinner this afternoon, I glanced out my kitchen window to seek a familiar sight that brings warm memories to mind, but to my dismay, it was gone! I panicked quietly within my soul, searching to and fro desperately trying to find that structure. What happened to it? I thought that maybe I was looking in the wrong area. I scanned to the left, then back to the right. No, that is where it is SUPPOSED to be! Where is it? Then through the small bushy trees, I saw a glimpse of it and all of a sudden I was both relieved and saddened. The tree house that our youngest helped build was sadly being overtaken by a growth of wild bushes! They were purposely trying to steal my joy!

It was not a pretty tree house or anything special. Just 3 or 4 boards nailed to the trunk of a huge Redbud tree used to climb up onto a flat, make-shift floor that I am most sure was full of splinters. As I stared at the spot that was familiar to me, I wondered how could have ever let that growth slowly take my little landmark away? I have raised garden beds back there that I water nearly every day…was I too busy to notice??

The sight brought tears to my eyes as I remembered the homeschooling years that our son sat up there like a king (or at least a prince) of Sassafras Hollow, reading and writing his lesson for the day. Today I realized, though it sounds silly, I had failed at being a good steward of this little sanctuary, as if I was supposed to keep it tidy and groomed so that I could better remember. It was a place that made him happy and that all was well with the world. Seeing him happy, made me happy as well!

Pan forward to our son’s new life as a graduate fresh out of college. He is testing his wings with moving to another state and settling into new land. For three long months, he faced the horrendous job market shortage until very recently got hired. He has his foot in a door and though it is at the bottom rung, it is a job with good opportunities. It was very hard for us to watch him struggle with the ups and downs of job hunting and always tried to encourage him with our love and the Word of God. His father and I would have taken him back into our home in a snap, but he knew…and we knew…this was something he must do. We quietly believe that God will grant him blessing and favor and that everything he puts his hand to will prosper, as we choke back the tears of missing our young man.

It is my prerogative as MOM and GRANDMOM to be saddened from time to time with the missing of ALL of my children and my twelve grandchildren! Oftentimes I wish that they lived closer so that we could share what we have learned in life with them…being “proper” grandparents, you know. Then I remind myself of how blessed they are…happy, healthy, and doing very well in their endeavors. Though the visits are few and far between, we have today’s technology to “keep in touch”, but truly it is not the same. I cannot reach out through the microwaves and wires that enable communication to actually touch my children and grandchildren, look them in the eye, put a hand on their shoulder, or hug them to help ease pains of life.

I am missing that today…to be able to give a touch that only the love of a mother can give. It hurts. Tomorrow, or even in a few hours I will be okay. I will get the pruners out and cut back the nasty brush that tried taking my familiar sight away, but for now I cry.

P.S. Two weeks later I am HAPPY…husband and I cleared out weeds and I can now see the tree 0edee89f2b78_79af77d9-3bc1-426e-8e6e-cc736e31f6e5house. Picture posted!

God in my Kitchen

a791d837ed8d_1edd0b5f-7312-40b3-a6f4-ad9bdce7bc92Today I mixed up a lemon cake for the hubs who has such a sweet tooth. After mixing the cake and putting it into the oven, I cleaned up and ready to continue on with cooking dinner. I had left the mixer plugged up, (of which I NEVER normally do) but pushed it back out-of-the-way until time to mix the frosting. I found a nearly empty bag of Dill Pickle Potato Chips that we didn’t particularly like the strong flavor of, and thought I could crush them up to use as a “crust” for the salmon patties that I had planned to have tonight. Thinking I would just use the bag to do the crushing in, I grabbed the kitchen shears and began to cut off the excess top part. In cutting, I hit a snag,  “Must be the seam!” I said to myself as I continued to use a little more force. Then “BANG!”

!!!FIREWORKS IN THE KITCHEN!!!

Along with the chip bag, I had cut right across the cord of my mixer and it exploded! I left the kitchen for a moment to settle myself and reflect. Many things ran through my mind, but mostly “Thank you God!” I believe that because I picked up my kitchen shears of which the handles are coated in plastic, I was protected from being electrocuted or at least from a very bad shock. All I came away with was a good shaking up and thoughts of what could have happened!

God is omnipresent and I am so thankful I am one of HIS! He knows how silly I can be at times and He still loves me. He will never leave me nor forsake me! Hebrews 13:5 says “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

In Another Jam

Today I am cooking a bit of peach jam. Having 5 peaches that were not all that tasty, I decided not to waste, but cook them down with sugar and some bits of orange rind (just the orange part, not the white!) making a delightful spread! I had saved the outside of an orange in a little baggie and stuck it into the freezer for a later meal of Orange Chicken with Rice and one of the halves would work perfectly! Taking a sharp knife, I was able to peel enough of the frozen rind to brighten the flavor of the soon to be peach jam.

I am experimenting with not using commercially bought pectin and just cooking the jam until it is very thick. It may not be as set up as thick as what we buy in the store, but it will be spreadable and good on toast or over a pork chop or chicken. I did not use pectin yesterday either in the Plum Jam or the Blackberry-Jalapeno Jelly and in checking them this morning, seem to have thickened up very well without the pectin. Perhaps one less thing we really do not have to buy. Hooray!

That is one of my goals of this blog. To share information I know or find here and there to avoid having to buy things that you can do without, or can make at home for pennies! You will know what ingredients are in them and where it came from!

The Peach Jam is ready so…until the next time…

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Jammin’ Day!

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Today, I am feeling what I have felt many times…pain in my body but with a happy heart that far outweighs the aches! What did I do to create this? Run a mile? Bike 14 miles? Rowed a boat down the river? No, not hardly…I have spent the last 5 hours in the kitchen making jam! My body aches horribly from standing at the stove and sink, but I believe these little jars of goodness I processed today will prove to be worth every minute of the lower extremities screaming out!

My husband and I picked from our “Stanley” plum tree over the last couple of days and not knowing what else to do with them, I decided to make jam. Yes, I have canned veggies, relishes, and pickles many times, but other than making a friend’s tried and true recipe for Apricot-Jalapeno Jelly, I was nervous about this new venture! I had read too many jam and jelly “horror stories” and I really hated the thought of wasting my time and my ingredients on a flop, but what else was I to do with these beautiful purplish-indigo-blue fruits that God had blessed me with?

According to the Internet, there were several ways to make the jam…use this much sugar, no…don’t use so much sugar, use a bit of butter to keep the foam down, no don’t use butter…it will cloud the jam. Use store bought pectin, don’t use pectin. If you use pectin…which kind…the dry or the liquid, when do you put it in…before the sugar or after the sugar. On and on I read until finally rather than getting more confused, I just said “I can DO this!” After all, my Granny and my Grandma both made jellies and jams, and many others have done this…it CAN’T be rocket science!

I started mid-morning with washing the plums and inspecting them for worm holes or spots that didn’t look good. I cut and de-seeded about a half of a large pan full of these European-type plums. I left the skins on and added water to just cover and cooked the pieces until soft. Next I poured it all into my food processor, pulsed until everything was smooth, then back into the pan. Added sugar to taste (I can’t tell how much…maybe 2 or 3 cups), and cooked it on medium to low temp. I did decide to add a bit of cinnamon for that extra kick. Mm mm,  it was actually good and I could tell it was beginning to get thicker as it cooked. I might just be doing okay! While that was cooking down, I cleaned up my mess and thought, “That wasn’t so hard…why not try that Blackberry-Jalapeno Jelly recipe I had been eyeing for awhile? Plus, I really hate to put only 4 jars in the water bath all by themselves…” so back to the Internet L went for that recipe. Confusion again…one site said blackberry jelly does not need pectin, this recipe that I found calls for it. What to do? I forge ahead and again…”I CAN do this!” came to mind. 

To the freezer I went to dig out those blackberries I had frozen from only a month ago for a later time…maybe a cobbler or a blackberry pie. I grabbed 3 bags which measured about 6 cups total.

Covering the berries in a bit of water just to cover, they began to thaw and cook.  I added 3 minced jalapeno peppers, seeds and all (we like hot) and when the berries and peppers were soft, I poured into a sieve to push the pulp through, but not the berry seeds. Back into the pan, added one more pepper for good measure and lots of sugar, about 3 cups. I cooked on medium-low until I thought it was “jelled” enough  to test, probably about 20-30 mins. The test is to use a cold spoon, dip into the jelly spoon facing you, bring it up to see if it forms a sheet of jelly on the face of the spoon. If so…it should be ready to put into jars.

I ladled the Plum Jam into the hot jars, then the Blackberry Jelly putting hot lids & rings on each jar and tightening them down.

Process for 10 mins in a hot water bath. Take out carefully and cover with a dish towel. Let sit for 24 hours before testing lids. If sealed, remove rings, wipe jar and store away for later yummy usage!

Time to put up the feet and take a power nap so that I can get dinner on the table very soon!

ZZZZZzzzzz…..