Fresh Perspectives

What do you do when your work never leaves you?

It is truly a blessing to be a stay-at-home mommy  yet sometimes the amount of work can start choking the life out of you. It is always there…always a constant. You do and do and do some more but there is always one more mess…one more thing that needs to be done.

I was feeling suffocated.

I needed out.

So I walked away.

And, as the Lord is EVER so good, He met me where I am and blessed with fresh perspective.

A evening stroll ~ blessings # 568 ~ 590

~ walking with the littles who are still so excited to be with mommy and daddy

~ allowing the older two to spread their wings a bit with the first tastes of freedom at home alone

~ a grouping of oak leaves striving for that summer green but remaining in a beautiful fall coat

~ milkweed on the side of the road

~ the anticipation of looking for monarch caterpillars on said milkweed come August

~ unexpected wildlife…

~ watching a meadowlark sing

~ seeing a woodpecker in his glorious black and white and red coat searching for evening insects

~ the deer peeking out from among the brush

~ the quench of thirst from a pit stop for soda

~ searching for tadpoles

~ seeing how a yarrow flower is both one beautiful big flower head made up of hundreds of tiny, perfectly detailed flower heads

~ a meadow in our own back yard

~ picking flowers for mommy

~ finding a mommy and daddy goose with their gosling

~ watching the chase

~ seeing the prize

~ finding a prairie coneflower amongst the weeds

~ the gift of picking wildflowers

~ the walk back home

~ legs tired from muscles working the hills

~ the land spread out in front of me

~ a glorious sunset

Psalm 148

Praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.

Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, you hightest heavens and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,

ligtning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding,

you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,

wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,

kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,

young men and maidens, old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted;

his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.

Play Learning in the Summer

What do you do with leftover strawberry tops after making strawberry jam?

Well, the sensible thing to do would be compost them.

That is, unless you have a three and five year old in your home. Then it seems much more sensible to play with them!

Pretend gardening anyone?

Harvesting with your “tractor”.

I see the kids emulating us…playing Adam and I as we embark on this journey to grow all our own food and buy only local, in-season food.

Sometimes, especially after watching an episode of Sid the Science Kid, I long for my children to take a school lesson and run outside to “play” it, allowing the learning to sink to that deeper long-term memory center of their brain. Occasionally a history figure will capture them like Sacagawea and they do play what they learn, but mostly not. That’s not to say that they don’t use the concrete in play…like letters and numbers and reading…they most certainly do…just not those stories of history and science and art and music that I had hoped would captivate them. While they enjoyed their history, no one was outside “playing” Statue of Liberty last week!

That said...playing is an integral part of learning and it reaches us in a way no other learning can. Do you know what a three and five year old play? They play what seems of value…what is important…what they want to do and try when they grow up. Why do you think dolls never go out of style?  They see and sense what is really of value to us as an adult. We can say one thing with our lips but they are much more intent on watching our actions.

This is the secret that the unschoolers embrace and are not afraid of. This is the truth that us homeschool listmakers who want to track progress usually fail to grasp. And even if we know it we are mostly afraid to allow our children to live it. I know for myself there is comfort in the checking off of the yearly school list.

But if playing gardening and composting is where they are at, I think of what their futures hold and I smile and relax. I am teaching the important things even if they weren’t in a school lesson! Maybe my kids won’t remember everything I taught them about history…okay…most definitely. But maybe they will be a part of history, changing it for the better and passing that down to their own kids. That is a lesson worth teaching!

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

Canning No-Chunks, Kid-Friendly Strawberry Jam

Mmmmm…..

I’m sitting here smelling strawberries simmering down on the stove top. There is no other smell like it in the world. I can only describe it as scrumptiously heavenly. The childhood memories it evokes…grandma’s house, strawberry shortcake dolls, summer playtime, childhood foraging…is probably as strong as the deliciousness of the smell. And today it reminded me that I had taken some previous pictures of canning strawberries and forgot to post about them.

My strawberry jam is kid-friendly…by that I mean no chunks!!! You know how texture-oriented kids can be. But the best part about this jam is its versatility in my kitchen. Not only is it good on PB & J sandwiches, biscuits, or morning toast, we also use it on pancakes, in crepes, and as our natural sweetener for homemade yogurt and ice cream. The no chunks translates well to all other applications making them kid-friendly as well. So I’ve tweaked the original recipe which I swiped from the book Jams and Preserves under Classic Strawberry Jam (lovingly given to me as a gift from my mother in law) and have made it my own.

I’m not going to go into all the canning process…you can read about that in any good canning book or visit Freshpreserving.com. I’m just going to share the process of my recipe. And, I must note, this jam is ideally made with strawberries that are locally in season where you live…not the grocery store chain variety. But, I will sheepishly admit, mine are made with the grocery store variety due to price prohibitions. I am taking baby steps to that local, food-sustainable living thing but that is not the baby step I am on. I buy my strawberries when they are in season and go on sale for 99 cents per pound. That makes canning them economically work for me. Canning is cheaper than store bought jam and avoids that nasty high fructose corn syrup…the greater of two evils at the moment. (My cost is about $2 per pint jar. I try to buy my sugar on sale too.) And yes, I know strawberries is one of the dirty dozen yet I also can’t afford grocery store organic variety. So you work with what you have. This I will garauntee  you…it will still be the best tasting strawberry jam you’ve ever eaten! My kids won’t eat any other variety.

Now…on to making jam!

Step 1 ~ Get all your equipment ready to go.

Step 2 ~ Wash your fruit thoroughly. I use about 4-6 one pound containers.

Step 3 ~ Cut the tops off your strawberries (a steak knife works great for this), cut away any bruises, and halve or quarter. I know, I know…what a waste…use a strawberry huller! A) I don’t have one. B) I’m lazy. I put my diced strawberries straight into the pot I’m going to cook them in. One less bowl to wash. Did I mention I’m lazy?

Step 4 ~ Compost your strawberry tops (or let your little ones play garden with them!) and rinse and recycle your containers. (See…those tops didn’t go to waste. They are soil builders…yeah, soil builders!)

Step 5 ~ Dice up (with skin on) into 1/4 inch pieces 2 granny smith apples. This creates natural pectin. Have you seen the price of pectin? Outrageous. With kids we always have apples on hand. You can make your own pectin which I’d like to try some year…not this year. You can also use rhubarb if you have it available. It is the in-season fruit to use but I never have it on hand.

Step 6 ~ Add a splash or two of lemon juice (acidity helps with preservation) and simmer the whole thing over medium heat for about 20 minutes…or until berries collapse. Take the opportunity to clean your kitchen while inhaling this oh so yummy aroma. Or blog like I am. You know…whatever.

Step 7 ~ Blend your berries in a blender, food processor or with an immersion wand. Just a quick blend will do. This helps further mix that apple in with the berries and obliterates the chunks making it kid-friendly.

Step 8 ~ As you add it back to your pot, measure it. Then add 1 and 2/3 cup sugar for ever 2  cups of strawberry liquid gold. You don’t have to be super precise with this part. Ball park it.

Step 9 ~ Simmer again for 15-20 minutes. Skim off the scum. This helps the jelly to be clear, not cloudy. I don’t know if this is kosher or not but, yes, it is okay to lick the scum spoon. It tastes heavenly and why let a good thing go to waste?

Step 10~ After about 15 minutes check temperature with a thermometer. If it is just at 220 (setting point) then you are ready to can. You can do the gel method test but I’ve never been good at this and ended up way over-cooking my jam so I just stick with a concrete temp. Allow to cool on stove top about 10 minutes and skim again.

Step 11 ~ Ladle into jars with a canning funnel. Make sure to wipe rims clean and check for air bubbles. Lid jars with new lids…learned this the hard way! Although, I’ll be checking out these new reusable canning lids soon! If you have a jar that is only half full then allow that one to cool instead of canning and use first (refrigerate).

Step 12 ~ Water bath can in boiling water for 10-15 minutes (start timer after your water comes back to boil when putting jars into the water).

Step 13 ~ Turn off heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so. Take out with canning tongs and move to cooling rack. Allow to completely cool before putting away. Remember to check for proper sealing. If one didn’t seal right, just stick that one in the fridge and use first.

This makes between 2-4 pints.

Step 14 ~ Enjoy for lunch on fresh homemade bread and stirred into plain yogurt. Use again on biscuits at dinner because it was so good that you thought that making breakfast for dinner was a good idea. Plus, you were too tired after canning to think of a clever dinner.

Gardening Woes

May I just say that I suck at growing cilantro.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but there are no other words to describe it. This is the third year we’ve tried growing this supposedly easy-to-grow herb. The first year it died within the first month. I thought, ‘too much shade…more sun next year.’ The second year it bolted too soon and died within the first month. Too much sun? This year I tried it in two different spots. I planted one in a container with rich dirt. The second I planted among the other herbs in full sun with compost worked into the existing soil.

Results: bolted and died.

Sigh.

My other plants? Doing fabulous. the thyme next to the cilantro in the container is thriving and so is the endive on it’s other side. The basil and parsley in the ground…nice and bushy.

How is it that I can’t seem to get this one plant right? I’m up for anyone’s advice.

Homemade Baby Food

It’s that time again. Little guy is getting bigger and his appetite is increasing. Time to start  putting aside some baby food.

Sure, I could go to the store and pick up some food. Seems pretty cheap in a jar. Seems to be nutritionally sound…just some fruits and veggies, water, and ascorbic acid. They even carry the organic stuff so why not?

I’ve done both ways, to be honest. And, yes, it’s easy and convenient to go to the store. But it’s also easy and OH SO MUCH CHEAPER and nutritionally fresh to do it yourself at home. The easiest way…work it into what you’re already doing in the kitchen.

Making supper for the family? Throw on a pot of extra veggies for the baby.

Doing dishes at lunch? Simmer down some fruit for the baby.

Passing out bananas at breakfast? Mash down a half for the baby.

Easy as pie.

  • Cook your veggies or fruit how you would normally. (They say steam is the best but I don’t have a steamer so boil, simmer or roast it is.)
  • Season with just a touch of salt or cinnamon…not too much. (They say no seasoning…baby doesn’t know anyway. But you DO want him to like it right? Have you ever tasted green beans without salt? Yuck. Just no butter or fats yet.)
  • Strain.
  • Puree in a blender or food processor with just a touch of the cooking liquid. Really pureed for 6-9 months. Still a bit chunky for 9-12 months.
  • Cool for about 15 minutes.
  • Freeze in ice cube trays.
  • Store in labeled freezer bag.
  • Thaw in fridge or reheat in microwave.
I also add a bit of baby cereal to my recipes after it has cooled. This adds that little extra carbohydrate and saves me from having to feed him two things.
And for you newbies out there…
Here is a fabulous site called Nurture Baby with everything you’ll ever need to know.
Homemade Green Beans for Baby ~ 
  • 1 16oz bag frozen green beans = $.87
  • Makes 7-14 portions = .12 cents for 7 portions
Store-bought Baby Green Beans ~
  • .59 per jar = $4.13 for 7 portions
Now just think of the savings when you upgrade to the number 3 jars!