hot-fudge-sauceIt’s summer time, ice cream time…and even if you don’t like to eat sugar, you no doubt have enjoyed ice cream!  It’s part of being an American, isn’t it?

Here’s a great, tried-and-true recipe for hot fudge: the thick, creamy, milk-chocolate-delicious fudge sauce that cost $3.99 or more at the grocery store. This recipe makes nearly two jars in 5 minutes, really!

No high fructose corn syrup, no trans fats, no modified food starch!  Now…if I can just find a way to replace the sugar…

Hot Fudge Sauce

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/4 cup flour (whole wheat or white, either is fine)
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 large can (12 oz.) evaporated milk

Put all ingredients into a saucepan and whisk over low heat until well blended.  Turn up heat and boil for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. If you take it off the heat after about a minute, you will have the kind of Hershey’s type chocolate syrup that stirs easily  into milk.  Boil for approx. 3 minutes and you’ll have hot fudge sauce.  Boil for 4-5 minutes and you’ll have the thick kind of fudge that you have to spoon out of the jar.

Enjoy!

 

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A Nasty Word . . . and How to Cure Yourself

swept floorBUT: a nasty, nasty word.

Your English essay was really good, BUT you keep making that same mistake with commas.

You washed the car!  BUT why didn’t you vacuum inside?

Wow!  What an excellent report card!  BUT why this “C”?

So glad you swept the floor, BUT you missed a spot here.

“But” invalidates our praise and compliments.  It stings the eager listener, turning a smile into disappointment.

How to cure yourself:

Put a period on your praise. Once you start saying something nice—noticing someone’s effort—put a period in the sentence right before the “but” pops out.  Just stop.  Don’t say it.  Bite your tongue. If your family is used to hearing a negative ouch on the end of every compliment from you, they are going to look at you in wonder…waiting for you to finish your sentence.  It’s kinda fun to watch them and confused and quite happy that you’ve stopped just in the nick of time!

Write yourself a note. Parents feel compelled to make sure children learn all that they need to learn, including how to write an essay with proper comma placement.  Seeing the commas misplaced jogs your memory…”oh, I really need to teach her how to use commas correctly!” Difficult as it is, do not mention it.  Jot yourself a private note to work on commas another day, when this paper is out of her mind. Let the good English paper be her happy success today!

Stop doing it to yourself.  Upbeat treatment of others starts with how you treat yourself. I got a great idea to remodel my bathroom, so I thought up a theme,  bought new towels, and eagerly ripped the wallpaper border off.  Well, part of it…the part I could easily reach.  That was weeks ago. Maybe longer.  It is easy to look at it and say to myself, “I’m enthused to remodel my bathroom, BUT I sure can’t finish a project.”  I am going to reword that right here and now: “It’s amazing that I got this far, considering all that is going on in my life!  Bravo!”

I’m on a campaign to banish “but” from my vocabulary forever….I know it will make my loved ones happier!

 

 

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Teaching Against Entitlement

Whose responsibility is it that you are happy?

…healthy?

…educated?

…have friends?

…have money?

We live in a culture that has slid ever so gradually year-by-year into an entitlement mentality.  Even if you know better, it sneaks up on you. Try signing up for college…you’ll be bombarded with “get-it-free-from-the-government” programs. It seems no one realizes anymore that it is noble to pay for things you want with the money you earned!

I have a chart that hangs on a wall in my home:

It is my responsibility to create a meaningful life that I enjoy:

Spiritually

Physically

Socially

Mentally

Financially

Family Relationship-wise

From time to time, I print off copies of this chart to use as a goal brainstorm worksheet for a family meeting: “just choose one thing in each category that you want to do to improve your life and happiness”.  Thinking about how to make your own life better in each area helps reinforce the realization that “if it’s going to be, it’s up to me!” Which is the opposite of entitlement.

Freedom entails responsibility.  Each entitlement freebie we allow into our life costs us a little freedom. I think it is good training for kids to hear from their parents that there is no free lunch—that we should work for what we get. That is what it means to be a responsible adult in a free nation. Our happiness is our own responsibility.

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Basics for New Gardeners

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Summer Bliss!

If you are new to raising a garden, it can be overwhelming. I can remember going to the garden shop and feeling so bewildered at everything: zones, perennials or annuals,  when to plant, how far apart, what…?!

Now that I’ve gardened for half a century (!), I finally feel confident, and I still learn new things every summer. One of our readers asked for a basic “how-to for the newbie”, so here’s my attempt at summing it all up!

Plants or Seeds?

Seeds are the most economical way to go, plus you have the choice of so many more varieties. You can also reduce your need for buying seeds or plants every year by saving your own seeds.  You can use your own saved seed to plant directly in the ground or to start early indoors to produce plants you can transplant into the garden later.   It will say on the seed package if it is a heirloom or a hybrid. If it doesn’t say “hybrid”, it is a standard or heirloom and will produce seed true to the parent plant.

The bigger package of seeds you buy, the better deal you get.  You can even buy seed in bulk by weight at farm stores like IFA (Intermountain Farmer Association).  Department or hardware stores offer seeds along with onions sets (a dried-out looking bundle of baby onion plants),  garlic bulbs, bare root strawberries,  and potato starts (baby sized potatoes).

Buying plants in May/June is the easy (and costly) way to go and gives you several weeks of jumpstart on the season.  A 12″ tall tomato plant is going to give you tomatoes weeks before the seeds you plant in the garden.  If your season is short (where freezing weather stops in late May and comes again in September), you won’t even get ripe tomatoes or peppers if you don’t use plants that have been started indoors.

Here is a general rule for those who live in areas that freeze (thus giving them a shorter growing season):

Plant by seed:  all the cool weather crops  (listed below) plus squash, melons, beans.

Buy plants: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant—and broccoli and cabbage if you don’t get it in by early March— and melon or winter squash if you want a headstart and an earlier harvest.  Also buy onion sets and bareroot strawberry plants, rather than attempt to grow them by seed.

Here are a few good places to get heirloom seeds:

  • your local dollar store—they usually have seed packets in the spring for a cheap price like 4 for $1.00. Just because they are cheap doesn’t mean they aren’t great.  They grow. They are non-hybrid although they don’t say it. No fancy varieties, but you can usually get marigolds, Marketmore cucumbers (a non-hybrid variety), green onions, radishes, summer squash and other standard crops.
  • drug stores (Walgreen’s, Rite Aid, CVS, etc.)—have a cardboard stand with cheap seeds, usually all non-hybrid varieties.
  • Walmart—Walmart will have the same cheap seed packets as mentioned above, plus they have started a 50 cent seed packet line that gives you fewer seeds. This is a great way to get lots of variety without spending too much.
  • Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds—fabulous variety of  heirloom seeds!  Their catalog is full of color pictures that make your mouth water.  You’ll find everything you ever dreamed of growing.  http://www.rareseeds.com
  • Standard gardening companies such as Burpee, Gurney’s, Park Seeds, etc.  Just google “seeds” and you’ll find plenty.
  • Your local garden nursery.  Pricier usually, but I like supporting local business.
  • Neighbors!  This is the best resource, because the seeds are tried and true—have been grown in your own area and soil type and are usually free.  Can’t get better than that!

When to Plant

Squash blossoms

Squash blossoms

Cool crops should be planted when the ground thaws in early spring (which is March in Utah):

  • Sugar snap peas – Yum!
  • Regular peas - I don’t plant these, because they require shelling and I like the edible pod of the sugar snap peas eaten raw.
  • Snow peas - a flat pod used in Asian food
  • Cabbage – very prone to aphids and cabbage worm, but diatomaceous earth will solve that.  So sweet when grown in the garden, a very different product that the grocery store cabbage.
  • Carrots – a garden staple.  The seed must be kept wet for a week to germinate. If you plant this when the weather is warm and dry, lay a piece of cardboard, cloth, wood, whatever on top of it after planting and watering to trap the moisture. Leave in place for a week until the carrots germinate.
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli – cut the head off and your plant will produce more broccoli heads over and over all summer long
  • Brussel sprouts – so sweet and good when you grow your own!
  • Lettuce – plant leaf varieties, not Iceberg type (which is low in nutrition, cheap to buy in the grocery store, and difficult to grow if your summer gets hot).
  • Kale – high nutrition, not big on taste (in my opinion).  I chop it and add to everything:  stew, soup, casserole, scrambled eggs, lasagna, honestly everything.  I dry some in my food dehydrator and crumble it  and store it in spice bottle to add nutrition to whatever I’m cooking.  Buy the flat leaf variety as curly leaf kale is a safe haven for bugs that are hard to wash out.
  • Collards – I use this the same as kale.
  • Beets – Can use the young greens in salads, and the ball root for a sweet delicious veggie.  Don’t plant too many!  Can harvest when golf ball size up to softball!
  • Swiss Chard – Bright Lights has colorful stems: yellow, red, pink!  Use this fresh in salads, or shredded in casseroles or soups.
  • Spinach – we eat this mostly raw, plucking off outer leaves as it grows.  Bolts easily, not a summer crop.
  • Radish- Hailstone is my favorite, a sweet radish that grows into big white balls!
  • Cilantro – bolts easily in heat so plant early and enjoy that delicious flavor!  Essential for salsa or Thai cooking.
  • Parsley – very slow germination (weeks) and must keep soil moist while it germinates. Once you’ve got it growing,  it will overwinter and reseed itself generously. Choose the Italian flat variety as it is more flavorful and has no bug hideouts like the curly variety.
  • Green onions – a garden staple that I use from early spring until late fall
  • Oregano – super flavorful, and healthy too! Overwinters and comes up again in the spring.  Spreads easily, so put it off to the side of the garden.
  • Garlic – plant it in the fall and it will be up very early in the spring, and ready to harvest in June, when the tops grow curling “scapes” which are edible too.
  • Strawberries – can tolerate some shade, which is a plus for those garden areas that aren’t full sun.
  • Chives – easy to grow, delicious chopped in salads, stir fries, on baked potatoes, and more.  They flower with a beautiful lavender pompom blossoms the second year before reseeding themselves!

You can continue to plant many of these as the weather warms up, but lettuce will turn bitter and bolt, as will spinach.  Peas can’t take heat, so if you don’t get them in during the early spring, skip them.

Warm weather crops have to wait until the ground warms and all danger of frost is past:

  • Cucumber - There is a wide variety in the taste of cucumbers!  Pickling cucumbers are warty and are grown for pickle-making… not my favorite fresh. Lemon Cucumber is a round yellow-green cucumber that is delicious when picked the size of a lemon. Armenian cucumbers grow up to 18″ long and are light pale green with a mild taste. My favorite cucumbers are dark green, long, small seeded cucumbers. I plant some hybrid variety of cucumbers because they have improved the taste so much.  I just don’t get to save their seed.
  • Tomato – there are so many heirloom varieties!  I also plant many different types of big heirloom tomatoes and just one plant of a cherry or grape tomato for pick-and-eat in the garden.
  • Winter Squash – Butternut, Hubbard, Buttercup, Sweet Meat are all good varieties.  For me, nothing beats the taste of a ripe Hubbard. I especially like the Blue Hubbard.  These are huge squashes, so make room!
  • Summer Squash – Gotta have straight-neck yellow squash, and zucchini.  What would summer be without these filler foods?  Chop them up and put them in scrambled eggs, Asian food, soups, stews, casseroles, etc.
  • Melons – Crenshaw, Honeydew, Cantaloupe, Watermelon (Sugar Baby or other small varieties)—super delicious!
  • Beans – Blue Lake pole beans are my favorite. Bush beans ripen all at the same time for those who like to can (not me).  Pole beans make a vine that just keeps growing, keeps producing all summer long.
  • Peppers - I always plant jalapeno for our favorite Jalapeno Poppers dish, along with green and red bell peppers.
  • Eggplant - Black Beauty is the classic eggplant variety that I love. For fun, I grow FairyTale which is purple and white striped. This year I planted “Little Fingers”.  Chop and add to spaghetti sauce or make eggplants steaks, or ratatouille (a delicious mix of eggplants, tomatoes, peppers and onions).
  • Basil – A very tender herb (tender meaning it cannot take the slightest frost) that is highly flavorful. Summer wouldn’t be summer without pesto, spaghetti sauce or pizza flavored with basil.
  • Flowers - Tuck some marigolds, bachelor’s buttons, alyssum, cosmos and zinnias in your garden for lots of color!  It’s great to have a vase of flowers on your table all summer long.

Mulch

Growing up....on a fence! That is carpet between the rows, and black plastic under the planted area.

Growing up….on a fence! That is carpet between the rows, and black plastic under the planted area.

Any dirt that is not covered is going to grow something green and tenacious. Period. Mother Earth operates on a “no bare soil” policy. So only leave openings of dirt where you have a plant you desire growing.  Cover everything else up! That is the trick to enjoying gardening.  Who needs a big weeding job and a backache?  Weeds, being more vigorous than the plants you want to grow, will steal water and nutrients—plua shade and crowd our your crops. Some weeds produce as many as 70,000 seeds in a season.  You aren’t going to win! Never let a weed grow a seed head, and never expose dirt unless you are going to plant in it immediately!

“Mulch” is the name for anything you put down on the dirt that prevents essential sunlight from getting through.  Mulch can be black plastic, old carpet, cardboard, newspapers, wood, gravel, wood bark chips, thick autumn leaves, aluminum foil, dried grass clippings, pulled weeds before they form seeds, nut shells….you get the idea!  Even shade from seedlings will discourage weeds, so plant things close! The only “dirt” you see in my garden has something planted within an inch. All my pathways are covered with old carpet.  My long tomato and melon beds are covered in plastic, with little openings cut for the seed or plant.  I use red plastic for tomatoes, eggplant and peppers (which gives you 20% more yield), and black plastic for melons and squash. (I’ve just learned that green plastic makes melons ripen faster, so I am going to try buying a green plastic tablecloth from the dollar store to plant in.) I use mulch everywhere in my garden because I don’t enjoy pulling weeds. I enjoy growing plants for food and beauty!

Baby Peppers

Baby Peppers

Spacing

Plant your seeds 3 x as deep as the size of the seed.  So a big bean seed that is 1/3″ in thickness should be planted 1″ down.  A tiny speck of a seed like a carrot seed should barely be pressed into the soil.

Imagine the finished crop.  A carrot is about 1-2″ in diameter, so ideally, plant your seeds that far apart, so when you are ready to harvest, the carrots will barely touch each other. Of course, you will be pulling and eating carrots all summer long, from tiny carrots in early summer to big guys at the beginning of fall. Ready grown seedling plants are spaced the same way. Imagine the fully grown plant and space accordingly.

If you use square foot beds, instead of rows, you can plant about 8 carrots across by 8 carrots down, resulting in 64 carrots in one square foot of soil!

Transplanting

If you pay good money for plants at the garden shop, make sure you don’t kill them when you plant them in your garden.  The ideal transplanting weather is cloudy and cool.  Gently squeeze the plastic pot to loosen the soil and then tip it upside down gently easing the plant into your hand. Resist the urge to yank on its stem!  If your plant is root-bound (you see roots circling the outside of the soil),  you will have to gently scratch the side of the soil to rough up the roots so that they don’t continue to spiral around but instead send their roots out into your garden soil and thrive.  Melons and squashes do not like their roots disturbed at all, so go easy here. Slide the plant gently into the hole you have made, pressing to squeeze out any air pockets.  Make sure you keep the soil level that same as it was in the pot. Water thoroughly.

If it is a sunny day, set up some shade to help the plant adjust. You can set a lawn chair over the plant for a day or two. Create shade any way you can, but don’t leave a newly transplanted plant out in the broiling sun…that’s murder!  

Bugs

I don’t like to poison anything in the veggie garden, as I feel it contaminates the crops and gets into the soil, and I don’t want it in my body.  There is one natural “bug killer” that I use freely: diatomaceous earth.  It is healthy enough to be taken internally for humans (as a parasite cleanse) and it does the same damage to bugs in the garden.  The sharp diatoms in this naturally occurring earth will kill soft bodied bugs.  Sprinkle it on or around your plants when the soil and plants are dry, as water dissolves it.  You’ll have far fewer bugs to deal with!  Note: be careful not to inhale the dust, as it isn’t good for your lungs, but the powdery substance is 100% non-poisonous.

The other precaution I take is to have my chicken run surrounding my garden so the grasshoppers get eaten before they jump in!  If you have problems with grasshoppers, plant tobacco around the edge of your garden.  They love to eat it, and it poisons them!

You can also plant companion plants that deter bugs.  Marigolds are supposed to discourage bugs in  squash plants. Some people plant dill as a trapping plant, as aphids will go there instead of on your food crops.  I don’t like aphids anywhere, so I use diatomaceous earth.

Tomato horn worms, those devilish green-camouflaged worms that gobble up your tomato plants, can most effectively be hand picked—which is creepy but some kids like the job!  They are easiest to see in the cool of the day before they move into the center of the plant for shade.  Throw them to the chickens!

Watering

Basil, all ready to be made into yummy pesto!

Basil, all ready to be made into yummy pesto!

Leaves can “sunburn” when they are watered during the bright daylight.  The water droplets on the plants act as a magnifying glass and burn the leaves. The best time to water is early morning, at dusk or during the night. Better to leave the water on for two hours every few days than to stand and spray the plants with a hose for 15 minutes or so daily. That works for getting seeds wet, but not for growing plants. Even though everything looks wet after you sprinkle with a hose, dig down a few inches into the soil after watering and you’ll be surprised to find that it is very dry!  The soil needs to be wet down to the roots, so longer periods of slow watering is best.  Watering just the soil via a soaker hose or irrigation system of lines with emitters is the best choice.  Overhead sprinkling can work too, but squash can get mildew on their leaves if they are overhead watered.

Some crops (potatoes, melons) need a lot of water to give a good crop.  Don’t let them get too dry. The top of the soil is not a good indicator. Stick your finger down into the dirt to see what is really going on.

Fertilizer

I’m an organic gardener, so I don’t use chemicals.  I do gather fall leaves (yes, I snatch garbage bags full of leaves that people set out on their curb and haul them home in my van!) These get dug into my garden beds, adding chicken manure/straw from cleaning out the coop.  This decomposes while the garden lies dormant late fall through early spring, and is ready to plant.  If you don’t have chickens, you can take the easy route by adding some bags of aged steer manure to restore nutrients to your garden beds—they usually cost less than $2 a bag at Walmart.

Rows, Boxes, Beds?

I love to use Square Foot Garden 4′ x 4′ boxes for anything small: herbs, lettuce, spinach, onions, cilantro, peas, etc. I plant close together so a weed doesn’t stand a chance.  It is a beautiful thing to see those boxes full of green growing things!

For big sprawling plants like melons, cucumbers, squash, tomatoes or plants that prefer to have the ground heated up by black plastic—like eggplant and peppers,—I use 3 feet wide beds.  I cover this with plastic mulch, laying carpet between the beds to walk on.  Everything is neat and tidy, and I only water the beds, not a whole huge plot of dirt that can grow endless weeds.

Supporting Sprawling Plants

I grow everything up.  I live on 7 acres, so I am not pressed for space, but it is so much more efficient to plant in a small area that is weed-free, under mulch, and let the plants vine up a fence for support. It keeps the fruit off the ground, cleaner, and easier to access.  I grow tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, melons, squash, pole beans and snap peas along a wire fencing support.

Seed Saving

Easy and fun: save your own garden seeds!

Easy and fun: save your own garden seeds!

If you plant non-hybrid (heirloom) seeds, you can let one or two plants of each crop mature beyond the edible point for seed production.  For example, if you want a hundred radish seeds, let one or two radishes stay in the ground growing bigger and bigger and tougher and less edible. Eventually they will bolt, or send up a seed stalk, flower, and go to seed.  Radishes form bumpy pointed seed capsules that each contain multiple seeds. Wait until fall time, when they have dried and turned brown and pluck them from the plant. Lay the seed capsules on a cookie sheet out of the sun and let them finish drying completely. Break the capsules open and shake out the seeds. (If you wait too long in the garden, the seed capsules will dry and pop open, reseeding themselves, which is nice, but maybe they will drop seed on the pathway instead of the soil.) Label an envelope or ziplock baggie and store your seeds for next season.

Not all plants seed the first year.  Onions, carrots, parsley and others will overwinter and go to seed the second summer.    For details on this rewarding and money saving practice, I highly recommend the book, Saving Seeds.

What Else?

I know I left out about a million things, so if you have questions, feel free to ask them in the comment section of my blog, and I’ll answer them!

Happy Gardening!

Please leave a comment or ask your questions here.  Thanks!!!

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Organize Your Seeds

seed organizer
It’s that planting time of year that I love so much!  A couple of years ago, I decided to organize my seeds, and it sure has made spring gardening so pleasant.  I can see at a glance which seeds I need to buy, saving me from multiple duplicate purchases.  It also helps me remember to plant all of the vegetables and flowers we enjoy. Best of all, I don’t have seed packets strewn all over my laundry room anymore!

I used a box with dividers that held greeting cards, but any box will do.  I assigned new names to the tab dividers:  Tomatoes, Peppers, Greens, Lettuce, Squash, Melons, Root Veggies, Peas/Beans, Flowers, Herbs.

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I like to grow heirloom seeds (non-hybrid) and save seeds from them—which is really an easy process, and saves you lots of money on seeds. Once the seeds are well-dried in fall time, I put them in a little ziplock bag, label them and file them for next spring’s planting.

Just an easy idea I thought I’d share…

Enjoy gardening!

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10 Minutes to a Spit-Spot House!

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Ahhh…. order!

I am not a great housekeeper… like my dear mother was.  I love order, but something about 7 kids and homeschooling and living in the country (think dirt) sort of got me off track on the path to a clean house.  Yes, dishes and laundry and meals get done, but the general clutter seems to build and increase daily. Some people have the gift of being able to see useless things and discard them. I am not one of them.

Recently, my daughter Louisa and I have hit upon a winner of an idea that is really working!  We work on clutter control for just 10 minutes. Truly.  Just ten minutes a day.

Ten minutes is not enough to wear anyone out.  It is not even long enough to feel complain-y or resistant about.  10 minutes is, after all, just 10 minutes!

So, after breakfast, we are committed to 10 minutes. Every one of us…Dad included.  If you have a household of 4, that adds up to 40 minutes of good solid work each and every day.  In a household of 9….well, you can see the possibilities! Ten minutes may not seem like much when you are tackling a cluttered house but it is breathtakingly amazing what 10 daily minutes of effort looks like after a couple of weeks!

The first day, we really didn’t know where to start. So much had stacked up, so much was in need of getting rid of, organizing and cleaning. Really, decades of raising 7 kids can create a staggering accumulation of once much-needed and well-used stuff, from homeschool supplies to holiday decorations to kitchen utensils!  You know what I am talking about!

We set the stove timer for 10 minutes and just tried to do something.  We focused only on the main living areas: living room, dining room and kitchen.  Our goal? Clutter control. “Everybody just get in there and take what is yours and try to tidy up the place.”  We actually got Dad to haul the Christmas decoration boxes away! When the timer rang, we stopped. Not very impressive . . .  but it was a start.

Before too many days had passed, we realized that the clutter in our living areas was…uh, er, can it be?in control! Seriously.  So at our next 10 minute cleaning session, Louisa opened a kitchen cupboard and worked on the contents.  We are branching out to including other areas of the house too. A drawer can be cleaned out in just 10 minutes! Even if it is a drawer that hasn’t been tackled for years. Just leave in it what you really want and use often, and put the rest in a donation box…to be donated in the future.  If you are really missing something badly, you can go fish it out. If there are nostalgic items,  you can give other family members a chance to take a look through the box and claim them. Or you can gift them to a pioneer museum…hee hee.

The great thing is that this clean-it-out mentality starts to take over, and pretty soon Dad was cleaning off his dresser in his free time, and Louisa was tackling her bedroom closet.

Visitors to my home started remarking on how clean and organized everything looked.  This is a “first” in my personal history! Louisa provides the steady push to do it every day.  I provide the guidance on what to throw away and what to keep.  I have the easier job.

Order begets order.  When a counter is clear and clean, it is hard to set the mail down on it, for sure.  It gets easier to nip clutter before it ever stacks up again.

Just “ten minutes” is really working for us! Yay!

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Dispelling Gloom

(Written years ago, when my children were younger. It still works the same way!)

It was one of those days. The sun never came out. It was cloudy, cold and gray, with the foreboding of a storm. The baby was pulling at her ears and crying—sick again. The little ones squabbled over every imaginable injustice. Homeschool was far from “homey”. I was without a car, but with a long list of errands that had to be done. My scripture study and planning time had to be set aside, as the baby wouldn’t nap but wanted to be held. Laundry was backing up so badly that everyone was wondering if they’d have clean clothes tomorrow. I could go on, telling you my woes. Bleak, very bleak.

Things could have gone from bad to worse, but I had one of those rare experiences in which I saw in glaring reality that we create our own happiness by our attitude. As dinner time approached, I had even more to gripe about, but I put on some fun, lively music and involved the children in work. We cleaned up the living room, set the table, and did chores that had never been finished in the morning’s awful gloom. No one was smiling or eager…yet. But I sang along to the music and rallied the children to make a super dinner. We peeled apples and made an apple crisp. Then we dove into making casseroles. We set the table with fancy goblets. The children took turns rocking the baby in the midst of the busy preparations with the upbeat music playing.

By the time Daddy and my teenage boys came home from work late (… it always happens on those days!), the dining room was bright and full of delicious smells. Immediately they picked up on the happy spirit and willingly helped with the final meal preparations. We enjoyed being together and no one even complained that the dinner was over an hour late.

A small thing. How different it could have been! I felt I had plenty of reasons to complain. Most wives and mothers come to learn before too long that their attitude is contagious. I have often wanted to moan, “Can’t I just have a bad day without everyone else borrowing it?” It seems that the family members pick up on mother’s attitude and transfer it into their own personal feelings about the day. If I am overworked, my husband feels he has worked far too hard, too. If I am too tired to make dinner, every other member of my family seems to be exhausted! I can’t even sit down during chore time without finding myself surrounded by others who just need to “sit down a minute!” And so it is with having a happy countenance. It passes on to each child and to our husbands like wildfire. Even a conscious effort can’t prevent it from transferring!

The woman is the center of the home, just as the hub of a wheel. She cannot have a bad day without influencing the whole family. And just the same, her cheerfulness or enthusiasm spreads quickly through the family.

How long and how much effort does it take to turn and look your loved ones in the eye and smile when they come home? Such a little thing. How much energy does it take to for a moment look at their sweet faces and say something positive to your little ones? What a pittance of a price. What keeps us from doing these things? Preoccupation? Laziness? What?

Victor Hugo, in his novel, Toilers of the Sea, speaks of the heroine Deruchette: “Her presence lights the home; her approach is like a cheerful warmth; she passes by, and we are content; she stays awhile and we are happy. Is it not a thing of divine, to have a smile which, none know how, has the power to lighten the weight of that enormous chain that all the living in common drag behind them? Deruchette possessed this smile; we may say that this smile was Deruchette herself.”

Later, he philosophizes: “There is in this world no function more important than that of being charming—to shed joy around, to cast light upon dark days, to be the golden thread of our destiny and the very spirit of grace and harmony. Is not this to render a service?”

I believe there can be no more important job than to cast cheer on dark days, spreading sunshine, and lifting those who live with you, and who work with you. It seems a small thing, but those moments add to make up a lifetime, and an eternity. A happy attitude draws others like a magnet. They enjoy the feeling. They long to be around it. Mothers, we have the power to dispel gloom!  Let’s remember . . . let’s use it!

 

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Easy Pumpkins to Make

One of our readers requested that I send this out again…so here it is.  Have fun with it!

Here’s a very easy fall craft to make with your kids to bring that cozy autumn feeling into your home. I don’t get too fussy about crafts—just use whatever you have on hand and have fun together!  Then stand back and admire your cleverness—that’s the joy of crafts.

Easy Cloth Pumpkins

1. Cut orange fabric into rectangles.  I don’t measure—just “guesstimate”. To make a tall pumpkin, cut the fabric approximately 10″ high by 18″ wide.  A big short pumpkin takes a piece of fabric about  14″ high by 30″ wide .  Little pumpkins need about  6″ high by 14″ wide.  These  figures are just to give you an idea, but you can make them any random size you wish.  It’s sort of fun to just cut and see how it turns out!

2.  Fold the fabric in half, right sides together, and sew across the bottom and up the side. Just like you are making a pillowcase. Don’t sew the top closed!

3.  Gather the bottom (sewn) edge with a needle and thread, pulling it tightly and securing. Or  just gather it back and forth with your fingers like you’d fold a paper fan, then secure by zigzagging over the end.  This does not have to be exact. The idea is just to scrunch up the bottom edge and secure it.

4. Turn the “pillowcase” shape inside out.

5. Pour about 1-2 cups of rice, beans, acorns, pebbles, chestnuts (or whatever you have on hand or can gather in your yard)  into the bottom to weight it down and make it stand up nicely.

6.  Add fluffy batting, stuffing your pumpkin full.

7.  Using a long gathering stitch, hand stitch around the upper opening, cinching it tightly closed.  Stitch and knot to secure.

8.  Set pumpkin on a long piece of twine, yarn or string, and tie it up like you would a package, crossing the twine on top and bottom.  Knot firmly on the top.  Leave a length of twine to look like a tendril. Arrange the twine so it creates sections, like a pumpkin.

9. Using a glue gun, top the pumpkin with a piece of branch, corn stalk or whatever other natural “stem” you can find in your yard, along with artificial leaves (get them at the dollar store).  Tuck the knotted twine ends under the stem when you glue on your pumpkin stem.

That’s it! Easy, and adds a festive look for the harvest season!

My daughters: Louisa, Emily, Julianna

 

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Got Apples? Easy Ways to Put Them Up

 

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My son Nathan and his boys pickin’ apples in our orchard.

Got apples? I do!  They are crisp and sweet and ultra delicious and healthy! But because we don’t spray them, very few are perfect enough to endure winter storage. Plus I always have plenty of ground apples from windstorms. Here’s some simple ways to put up apples without too much effort:

Too-Easy Applesauce

Wash apples and cut in fourths, removing the core. Do not peel. Fill a big cooking pot with apples (mix varieties for the most delicious taste) and 1″ water. Put a lid on and simmer for 20-30 minutes or until apples are tender. Ladle into a blender and puree. Blend until smooth or chunky. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon if you like. No need to sweeten. Pour into recycled cottage cheese or yogurt containers, leaving 1″ space for expansion when freezing. Write “Applesauce ”13″ on the lid, and freeze—you’re set. This is really sweet and delicious on whole wheat pancakes, waffles, to top baked custard or stir into plain yogurt!

Ready-to-Go Apple Slices

To prevent browning, pour 1/2 cup of pineapple juice, orange juice or  a few tablespoons of lemon juice diluted in water into a big bowl. Or just dissolve a vitamin C pill in 1 cup of water—it works just as well. Wash apples and slice them right into the bowl, discarding the core. I leave the peels on because I don’t like too much work, and it really doesn’t matter: the finished dessert is just as scrumptious!  Toss from time to time to make sure the juice coats all the apple slices as you are filling up the bowl.

Lift apple slices out of juice to drain and put into a labeled ziplock freezer bag. The juice/water in the bowl can be reused. Close bag, inserting a straw just before sealing  and suck out all the air before sealing completely. It should look vacuum packed.  Lay the bag down and flatten it so it will stack more easily in the freezer, and be the right thickness to put into a dish when preparing a dessert later.  You don’t have to thaw the apples to use them, as they will thaw and cook in the oven. These bags are so handy to have in your freezer.  Pull one out, remove the frozen apples slab to your pan and put a crust or apple crisp topping on it, and bake.   You can also use frozen sliced apples to make a batch of warm applesauce at breakfast time to top  pancakes!

Dry ‘Em

If you are short on freezer space, put those apples on the dryer.  You do have to peel these apples because the skins turn leathery and hard to chew in the dehydrator.  So, this is more work, but here goes:

Peel apples and slice about 1/2″ thick.  Slice across apple slices to make chopped cubes (or actually rectangles). Don’t cut them too small or thin or you won’t be able to pry them off the drying trays.  They really shrink!  Process in dehydrator until dry but pliable.  Store in a glass jar and use to add to muffins, coffee cake, sweet breads, cookies, granola, etc.

Yum! Apple time…

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20 Minute Cure for Wolfing Down Dinner

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We get busy. Rush, rush, rush!   And we speed through dinner preparation with hungry kids.  So naturally, when we all sit down to eat, the racing pace continues.  I know I’m not the only mom that has spent an hour to produce a delicious dinner that gets wolfed down in 10 minutes!

Now you may think I am exaggerating, but if you put on your kitchen timer when you serve dinner, you’ll find out I am probably on target.  I didn’t really believe it myself, and the first meal I forgot that I’d set the timer.  It rang and surprised me while I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, and everyone had long scattered from the dinner table.

Did you know it takes your brain 20 minutes to register that you’ve had enough food? Twenty minutes before you actually register satisfaction and want to stop eating.  If you rush through your dinner, eating as fast as you’ve lived your day, you can pack away twice the volume of food before your 20 minutes blood sugar memo ever hits your brain and says “stop!”

One of the explanations of why South America women are slim, in spite of a less than ideal diet, is that their culture defines mealtime as a time to visit, chat, relax, sit back and relish a break in the day. When we were in Chile, I enjoyed watching the people eat.  They came into a restaurant and looked like they were planning to spend the afternoon.  There was no rushing, no urgency to get through and get out.  They were just hanging out, getting something to drink or a snack. They talked and visited—maybe later they’d order food. They would stand, greet and embrace anyone who joined their party. Getting the food down was not the main event. 

Eat slowly to eat less.  It’s relaxing. It’s a nice change from a hectic lifestyle. It allows the day’s tension to melt off. It  lets you really enjoy and taste the food.  It gives you a chance to talk and discuss things with each other.  It puts us more in tune with children, whose natural pace is not hurry, hurry.

Twenty minutes to savor and enjoy and take a break.  I like it.

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