Monday, December 22, 2014

Getting ready for Christmas....

I always think I am so busy when Spring gets here, getting the garden ready, tending the plants,  harvesting the produce and thing I know I have to start thinking about Christmas...and I get busy all over again! :)

I've had a multitude of thoughts over the past several weeks, however I just never had the time to  set down and write them out. The maker room has been going hot and heavy since about mid September when I started working on the grandkids costumes. From there my feverish brain began to get "ideas" on what I'd like to make and give for Christmas and the maker room became off limits to the family for the rest of the season. I'd already informed my children that this year would be a "homemade" Christmas to which I followed with the oft used phrase my granddaughters use: "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit"!! Not that any of my kids or grandkids would ever throw a fit over anything I might hand out, but it seemed a fitting remark at the time since I wasn't completely sure where all these ideas of mine were heading! ;) Let's just say those "ideas" got a little out of hand and I ended up with a conglomeration of things, but I think there will be a little something for everyone in all of it!

And....I'm not quite done!! I would have been done, but a certain item I purchased back in November to help me along went kaput on me over the weekend. It is however, being replaced, free of charge, and I have been assured it will be here before Christmas, so I hope they know of what they speak and it arrives within the next two days. It's not that I couldn't give what I have without this particular thing, but it just adds that extra touch to the homemade-ness of my gifts and that was the part I was striving for. In the meantime, the idleness is killing me...I don't do last minute very well at all. I commend those folks who can wait til the last day or two before Christmas to do their shopping/creating, but I would have a nervous breakdown if I ever tried that! So what have I done in the meantime? Come up with another idea of course! LOL! Yes, yes I know...that could easily be considered last minute, but in MY mind, I can relegate these particular things to the "not necessary" pile...if it works, I get it finished, then GREAT!! If not, that's okay too because I already have gifts ready and waiting...these will just be extras!!

But it's the fairness of things that always gets me in trouble! This latest idea came about after seeing the newest post on a favorite blog of was necklaces made from clay and one particular necklace caught my eye because it was one I knew the youngest granddaughter would love to have...yes, it has to do with Frozen!! ;) I didn't have all the things that were listed on the blog in order to make it, but I did have some things I could substitute, or at least thought I could substitute, so substitute I've done. I realized I had the clay, I had the stamps, and I had some paint, so might as well give it a try. I liked where I'd gotten so far, but then that fairness thing kicked in...if I made one for one granddaughter I probably should make one for ALL my granddaughters....see how I get myself into trouble?!!! So this morning I've pulled everything out and made two more, in a different format of course, since the other two are older and not into Frozen at all. So far, what I've pulled out of the oven looks pretty good, now I just have to paint, glaze, and string them all and I'm done (see how I convince myself this was a quick and easy process?!). There are times when I fully believe I am my own worst enemy...especially at Christmas time!!

While I might sometimes work myself into a corner, I do love the making, but even more so, I love the giving and for me Christmas is just the perfect time of year to do that. I don't make near what I used to, or give to all those that I did once upon a time. It's not that I don't want to, it's just that my time is shortened so much with working that I sometimes do well just to get my own family taken care of. It's this time of year, that I often wish I was retired, because then my list would get to grow. I'd still work myself into a corner, but it would be fun to know I had the time to get to that corner! Still, I do enjoy my job and I enjoy my making so I've learned to make the two things work together as best I can...and if I get an idle day now and then? Well, I just make necklaces!!

Merry Christmas everyone...and may your own corners be happy and bright!!


Friday, October 31, 2014

Goblins and Grandkids!!!

It's that time of year when my grandchildren begin to anticipate Halloween and trick-or-treating...visions of plastic pumpkins full of hyper-ness float through their heads and they can hardly wait to hit the streets in search of all that sugar!!

I've been busy the last few weeks working on costumes for three of them. I don't normally do their costumes as their parents take care of that, but this year the youngest granddaughter wanted the costume of all costumes...the costume that probably every little girl in an age range from 2 to 10 will be wearing all across the nation...yes, it's Elsa from the movie Frozen!! It wasn't a costume her mother thought she could pull off and after checking the prices to purchase one, well, that wasn't happening either! :) And sure, she could of just bought one at Walmart, but let's face it...there's a lot to be desired in Walmart costuming!

After watching the movie back over last Spring, Shelby immediately hit me up to make her an Elsa dress, complete with train that flows down the back. I told her that probably wasn't going to happen and tried to convince her that she already had something similar to Elsa in the "winter princess" dress I'd made for her this past Christmas...not in Shel's book!! Yes, that one was blue, and yes, it had even had a tiny snowman top hat for a hair brett that could of possibly passed for Olaf, it  had a blue satin cape, but it wasn't long and it didn't have a train, the snowman did NOT look like Olaf, and there was no sign of snowflakes anywhere...{Ga sighs}! I knew I couldn't win the argument so I gave up and let months pass in the hopes the new would wear off and the idea forgotten...nope!!

So as October began to approach I started looking at all the "Elsa stuff" that was appearing on the internet, checking others ideas of what they had done and how they had done it, looking and searching ideas for a close facsimile that would pass her expectations without costing us the bank. I still had leftover tulle from the previous outfit that I knew I could incorporate into a tutu version, I just had to come up with the rest of it. Luckily, some other ingenious person posted a crochet hat idea to replicate Elsa's hair and I was off! I didn't let one word slip to the granddaughter that I was even considering the idea of making this outfit because I still wasn't sure I could pull it off and I wasn't about to have her disappointed.

As time passed, Shel began going into more detail as to how Elsa's outfit looks...including this fitted skirt part that had a slit in the side up to her knee...I was in trouble!! My plan was to do a simple tutu dress, throw a train on it and call it good...apparently Shel had other grandiose ideas that I was going to have to try and replicate! In the meantime, two of the grandsons also ask me if I'd make their costumes this year and I tentatively ask what they wanted to be. One wanted a pirate and the other the grim reaper...those I was pretty sure I could handle!

So with all these thoughts and ideas in my head I started on my search for possibilities and for me that meant...thrift store hunting! In the process a friend of mine had a few things she donated to the cause. One was a grim reaper mask, a purchased pirate costume, and some gray cheesecloth...those three things got me started and then I just ran with the rest of it!

I was able to find a ready made adult grim reaper at the thrift which I brought home and cut down to an eight year old's size! I added some of that gray cheesecloth as rags hanging from the outfit, put the hooded mask with it and presto!! Perfect costume!

I had the other grandson try on the ready made and he was happy with it, but this is my grandchild that would seriously be happy with a rag or a box of rocks. He's my happy-go-lucky child, never complains, whines, or any of that and well, Ga just couldn't quite relegate him to the ready made pile when the others were getting more homemade stuff, so I dug through the material pile and found enough white taffeta to make a balloon sleeve pirate shirt, cut up a black t-shirt for his vest, cut up another red t-shirt for his skullcap and sash, and then made him a neat little painter's cloth and leather scabbard to house his sword!! We used the pirate pants from the costume and borrowed one of Pa's leather belts to hold the scabbard...he was absolutely thrilled with the outcome!! Two on to that Elsa costume!

Since the top of Elsa's dress has long sleeves, but sheer, I went with a long sleeved white leotard for the top..after all it's going to be cool out there on the streets and MY Elsa can't very well end up "frozen"!! ;) I found an extra large tutu band at Etsy in the exact color I needed for $2 and ordered it. Once it got here I began to start adding the tulle strips to the bottom. During my search of thrift stores I had ran across a pair of big girl leggings, that luckily also matched the color of aqua/teal I was using. I brought those home, cut the seams from the legs and then sewed it back together for the perfect "underskirt"....yes, it's form fitting and yes, it has a slit in the side up to the knee!! :) My "not very crafty" daughter (her words not mine!) suggests I flip the leggings around and the use the band at the bottom of the legs as the waist band for the top which also gave the slight flare for the bottom...PERFECT!!!! After getting those things all together, the daughter then suggested I take out some of the tulle in the front which leaves the skirt more visible, so that's what I did and it just made the outfit. Luckily our Walmart finally got in the sheer blue snowflake material so for $4.44 and one yard, I got the long and flowing train to hang off the back. I'm sure the train will not survive the sidewalks and streets and hopefully the granddaughter can be convinced to remove it for most of the trick or treating, but if not we can always make a new train after she's done! It was then time to "reveal" the outfit and oh my goodness...what a revealing it was!!

The granddaughter was very happy with the outcome...we've done a couple of dress rehearsals, and of course, she's adorable in it! Her only complaint was the "hair". I worked and worked trying to get a crochet hat size to fit and for some reason they just kept turning out too big, but after the third try I managed to get one that actually fits and fits well, so I untangled the original yarn hair and attached it back to the new cap and I shortened the braid...because I was informed that Elsa's braid was NOT that long! :) Mom found a sparkly Frozen tiara to top it off and now I do believe "Elsa" is finally ready to go!

I have to admit it was pretty fun putting those costumes together, and while they are a long way from perfect (do NOT look at the seams of  the grandson's pirate shirt!!), they will fulfill their purpose...and that was to make three kids ready and happy to dress up for Halloween. From the sounds of our weather for the evening there may be several little children that end up "frozen", but such as kids are, they won't notice that nip in the air one bit with all the excitement of the haul awaiting them! Have a safe and happy Halloween everyone!


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Boxed Cake Mix Muffins...

When I went back to work several years ago I found I didn't have as much time to bake as I did before, yet my grandkids still liked their "treats" from Gaga, so with a little creativity I came up with a way to make their beloved "nanny cakes" (banana muffins) a little easier. And really, I don't know that it's less time consuming than making everything literally from scratch, but it sure makes good muffins!! This weekend I made up two batches...banana and pumpkin spice and decided I might as well share the recipe that goes with them because you can make just about any flavor/kind you want starting with just the base mix.

Base mix:
1 pkg. yellow or chocolate cake mix (I've found the cheaper, store brand makes firmer muffins)
3 eggs
1/3 cp. of oil
1/2-1 cp fruit/veggie of choice
1/2 cp (more or less)  oatmeal
1/3-1/2 cp (more or less) of ground flax seed
Water as needed to bring the batter to the right consistancy

I have two grandchildren who have stomach/bowel issues and their mom's needed a way to get some fiber into them that not only tasted good but would appeal to the kids. The oatmeal and flax seed does just that and helps to "clean out" their systems as well, so short of the boxed mix...I like to think these things can be healthy too! :)

For the pumpkin spice muffins I added 1/2 can (the small one) of pureed pumpkin (not the premixed filling) and 1 and 1/4 tsps. of pumpkin pie spice. They're even better with a "dollop" of cream cheese icing on top which I made with a 1/2 pkg of cream cheese and 1 and 1/2 cps. powdered sugar. After tasting these the daughter claimed them to taste like carott cake, which is something my family loves, so a second batch was made adding the additional 1/2- 3/4 cp of drained crushed pineapple along with 1/2 cp black walnuts. If you tossed in a 1/4 cp of shredded carrotts you'd have carrot cake for sure, just top them up with a pineapple cream cheese version of the icing.

When making banana muffins I just mash up 3 or 4 over ripe bananas and stir it into the base mix...done! Of course they are even better with nuts in them, but with most of my bunch not caring for nuts, I normally leave them out.

My grandsons' all time favorites are chocolate chocolate chip zucchini muffins. This is one where I use a chocolate cake mix instead, then add a full cup of finely shredded and drained zucchini along with about a cup of mini chocolate chips to the rest of the base. This is also one that has better "results" in cleaning out the systems! ;)

On all of these I only add about a 1/2 cp of water at the beginning just to get everything mixed in and then I use more as I need it because I want a thicker dough consistency than what a normal cake dough would be and the amount is really dependent upon what your fruit/veg's are. I don't think I've ever used more than a cup on any of them.

The biggest trouble with this recipe is my "abouts"...I have a tendency to not measure anything too much...I seriously use my hand to throw in the oatmeal, flax, and nuts, so take these measurements I've given as what they are...abouts!! You can add more or less of any of it and still have good muffins! The above three are my family's tried and true favorites, but I've also made these using apple sauce, a little finely chopped apple, and some cinnamon...sprinkle a strussel topping on them before baking and they are DELISH! The possibilities are endless and with the cooler weather moving in who wouldn't enjoy a batch of muffins! :)


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sometimes there's much more to a classroom than education....

I fell asleep last night on the couch...early!! That's not a good thing for me because I don't STAY asleep which meant I was also up a little after midnight this morning...uggh!! It will make for a very long day, but it will also mean an early nap later on as well! :) I did attempt to go to bed and try to get back to sleep, but unfortunately I tend to toss and turn and my mind begins to think on things and I'm just better off to get up and get at it, which is what I doing.

Knowing the weather was taking an abrupt change for this weekend I had started some sour dough mix a couple days ago for making bread...I decided to bump up the production a few hours! :) So while my bread machine was doing it's thing I also decided I'd use up those over ripe bananas I had stored in the frig for making "nanny cakes" for the grandkids and those are now in the oven baking while I decide what else I might want to whip up in the wee hours of the morning!

It's pretty "Fall-ish" feeling outside my door, you'd almost expect a frost, although it's not quite that cold just feels like it...but that Fall feeling gets me thinking on pumpkins and all those Fall things I love. With the thought of pumpkins (which I'm hoping to pick up a couple later on today!), I was also thinking about making some pumpkin spice muffins and that of course led me to thinking about a happening at work a few days ago that also had to do with baking and pumpkin!

I have a young lady in my classroom this year; she's not new to my classroom, she was here her Freshman year for awhile, left, returned a week or so her Sophomore year and then left again. For the program I work in things like that are nothing happens...quite often. And to describe this girl as a "young lady" would be a far stretch of the imagination, not because she isn't young and female, but because she's as far from ladylike as a girl can get! She can cuss like a sailor, has anger issues that are readily detectable, and is not someone you'd be willing to meet with in a dark alley....BUT....I like her....I like her a lot! I do so because I see the potential in this child, and perhaps I also see just a tad of myself in her when I was that age. She's rough and she's tough, but only because she's had to be. No doubt circumstances beyond her control have made her that way in order to survive....that also saddens me because I see this every day in the kids I work with. I also know that her "acerbic" personality puts a lot of the other teachers off, that's understandable, but I think it also lends them to write her off as well. It's not because they don't care, it's because they have an entire classroom of students they have to not only teach, but control, and a student that can erupt at anytime is not one most teachers welcome with open arms. I'm lucky in that we have a much smaller population in our classroom, therefore I do have more time to spend with the individual and that's what I love about my job. I'm also lucky that God has blessed me with the ability to reach out to these kids and connect with them and for some of them, it's the only connection they'll ever get. Sometimes that connection comes in the form of something as irrelevant and minute as a recipe!

One day this past week my girl came barreling into the classroom, a tad on the cranky side (okay, she was looking for a fight, but I'm trying to be kind here!), announcing at the top of her lungs she had to "make freakin' muffins" for her Foods class. She'd missed a couple days due to sickness which meant she also missed out on the assignment in the classroom. In order to make it up the teacher had told her to find a muffin recipe, make them, and bring them in for taste testing. I spent the first few minutes just getting her voice level down and then proceeded to calm the beast within by telling her this was something very do-able. Now, I have to admit...I wasn't exactly sure it WAS do-able...I mean, this is not a child I would have imagined knew much about the workings of an oven, let alone preparing a food that might go in one, but as is her norm, she surprised me once again. Once we got passed her rantings of it had to be done THAT NIGHT and how hot my classroom was and how heat makes her angry and all the other CRAP (insert a different expletative, but know that I called her down for it!) homework she had to do, we went to work on finding a recipe!

Being somewhat calmer I asked her what kind of muffins sounded good to her that she'd like to make, her reply? Pumpkin Spice!! Because, you know, it's like Fall and everything, so pumpkin would be good right?!! Why yes..yes it would!! So I pulled up Google on my computer and went to search for a recipe for her. In the process she asks me..."sooo, what about some of that cream cheese stuff...for a filling, but how do you do that?" While I'm searching, I tell her about making cupcakes for my kids years ago that had filling and how I filled them, but I also told her since they were muffins maybe it would be better to just put a dollop on top and dust them with some cinnamon. After explaining what a "dollop" was she began to get excited, got her chair right up against my desk, and was watching the search...and that's when it hit me...I HAD a recipe of my own that would be perfect for this! I told her how I make muffins nowadays and that this particular concoction could be made in almost any form she wanted to make them in with just a change up of a couple ingredients....she wanted the recipe.

Now, when I say I had a recipe that's somewhat on the vague side...I tend to start with the base and then just toss a little of this and little of that and not really measure anything...if it looks like enough...stop...if it don't...add a little more! So the rest of our time was spent in me trying to explain what I meant and giving rough estimates of how much to use. What surprised me the most was her comments back...she got what I was saying...she understood the concept of what the dough should look like and what to do to remedy it if it didn't...including the instructions for the "dollop"! When the bell rang she went off with her recipe of instructions, a happy camper, a promise to bring me one for tasting, and me praying to PLEASE GOD let this work!! :) She was outside my door first thing the next morning with muffins in hand, complete with cream cheese dollop...they looked fantastic! And the taste? EXCELLENT!! I couldn't have been more proud of her than if she was one of my own kids! But the best part was the smile on her face! And yeah, she was a tad cocky over her production, but she deserved to be and I told her so.

Later that day we had her again for our tutorial and she informed me the Foods teacher not only loved her muffins, but had informed her she would now be the leader of their group!! Score!!! She also told me a couple of change ups she also made on her own and I could tell she was very proud and pleased with the whole outcome. We then yakked a little about changing them up to banana nut and just had an overall, calm, and intelligent conversation about was like talking to a completely different child, but it was THAT child that I knew had to be hiding in there somewhere and the one I've been trying so hard to drag out as the year has proceeded.

Don't get me wrong...I know that one batch of pumpkin spice muffins is not going to change her overnight. I'm well aware that there will be a day next week when we're huffing and puffing, ranting and raving in the norm. I also know that one batch of muffins might not be enough to keep her in school for the rest of the year...she may decide to cold cock someone before the week is out! What I do know is that she gained just a little bit of confidence in making those muffins. She also gained some pride in herself with being complimented over them, not just by me, but from all those she freely handed out muffins to. If I've learned anything at all about working with the kids I do it's that sometimes it only takes one little thing to spark their interest, one time of doing something "right" and being praised for it, just one moment of what it feels like to be "normal" in a less than normal world to make them want to feel that again and then work toward keeping that feeling. I also know, that with this particular student, she's came back this year with the willingness to apply herself and a desire to prove she can do it. She may still be teetering, but at least it's a start. She's very intelligent and a hard worker when she does apply herself, and she's got a great personality...yeah, she's a tad caustic, but she's also funny, when you can look past the layers of anger and self-doubt. Yesterday she told me she wants to be a's the first time I've heard mention of any type of future, let alone a hope of getting to it and I'm thrilled to know she at least has the thought. I did tease her though, that in doing chest compressions for a heart attack victim she couldn't just punch them and scream "DON'T DIE!" I got a belly laugh at that one and told I was a "hooch"!! Coming from her, that was a compliment!! ;)

I honestly don't know where this girl will end up, but I hope and pray it will be somewhere good. I truly pray that she will one day see the potential in herself that I see in her. I can tell her until I'm blue in the face of what she's capable of and what she can do if she sets her mind to it, but until she sees it for herself, nothing I say will ever stick. I've had former students tell me they would of never gotten through high school if it wasn't for me...that's just not true...they would of never gotten through high school if it wasn't for themselves. I might have set the spark, but they were the ones that kept the flame going. They have to seriously want better for themselves and find a reason within for working toward it, otherwise nothing I say or do makes a difference... I've also lost enough kids to know this as a fact. Even so, I will continue to use my arsenal of weapons...past experiences..."been there done that's", and yes, even recipes if that's what it takes to get them started. Getting a handle on their education is the least of my worries...helping them get a handle on life is my biggest.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Waiting on the apples...

We got a drastic change in the weather the past couple of days and I love it! I guess it really isn't THAT drastic, but after running through muggy, hot and humid days for the last couple of weeks, this new cooler, dryer air is wonderful! It's September, what we'd normally expect this time of year, and when it arrives my brain goes into overdrive on what to cook, sew, bake, or create!!  The coming of Fall has always been my favorite time of year.

But, I'm getting impatient...nothing really new for me, especially when I'm wanting to try out a new "homemade" something or other...this time it involves an apple tree and fermenting! No clue, of course, how or what the end result will turn out like, but I'm going to give it a shot and see what happens just as soon as that apple tree hurries up and gets done producing! :)

I've done a lot of canning over the years and with that came the use of vinegar...cider and white. Never really knew there was much of anything else but those two choices until one day I stumbled across a bottle of red wine vinegar and tried it...I love that stuff and keep a bottle in my fridge at all times. I use it in my coleslaw and potato salad dressings among other things and can't imagine ever being without it. I also keep on hand and use big jugs of both white and cider vinegar for all my canning needs. Most folks know there are a lot of healthful benefits to using vinegar, although, short of cooking, I've never really used it for much of anything else except maybe applying it to a sunburn.

With the help of the internet I'm learning a LOT about vinegar, more especially raw apple cider vinegar. Until just a few short months ago I didn't know there was such a thing, or if I did, I didn't realize the difference between it and that big, plastic gallon jug you buy off the store shelf. But in researching healthy eating styles I've ran across many blogs and articles that talked about using raw apple cider vinegar so I went in search of some. Of course, eating anything healthy these days seems to cost you an arm and a leg which is one reason, I'm sure, most people DON'T eat can't afford to! And there are so many "organic" this and  thats, that you begin to wonder just really how organic is it? I mean, if everyone is buying organic then it's being produced in mass quantities as well..right? So, how can you really be sure it's as "natural" as they say it is? I get the really distinct feeling that much of what we're being told and sold as organic is just a wording affect and not really as natural as they'd lead us to believe....but I've always been a skeptic to a certain extent. To me, the only way you are going to be really, one hundred percent, assured of  "all natural", "organic" stuff is to produce it yourself!

Anyway, back to the vinegar! :) At our local Dutch store, which I visit regularly, I found a bottle of Bragg's Raw Apple Cider Vinegar...the self same brand that you'll find most bloggers and health food enthusiasts talk/write about, so I bought a bottle....and of course, I paid more money for it...I use it very sparingly. In that bottle is a small, foggy looking creature floating around on the bottom...they call it the "mother" and it is one of the reasons this particular vinegar is more healthy for you and also one of the things that should be present in a raw vinegar. I honestly don't know whether or not having a "mother" in your vinegar makes it more healthy or not...I also don't know that Bragg's is in anyway produced more organically than any other brand touted as such. I've not been to the factory where it's produced and I'm going to assume it's produced in one, which again makes me wonder, from the tree to the bottle, just how truly "natural" is this stuff over any other....I don't know!! That type of thinking is what usually gets me in trouble...and leads me onto further searching as to just what it takes to make my own and guess what? You can make vinegar at home...easily!! (You know where this is heading right?)  ;)

So, here I am, waiting on my ages old apple tree to finish doing what it does...producing apples. This lonely little tree was one of several my dad planted back in the day that was to be the only one that also survived. It's a dwarf Jonathan, although there is nothing dwarf about it! To me the Jonathan apple is the ultimate apple, it's sweet, tart, firm and can be used for just about anything that has to do with apples. This particular tree has stood for many years, usually producing...nothing!! After a severe ice and snow storm hit our area a few years ago, the hubs came over (this was before we had moved here) and "trimmed" it up. In fact, he butchered it!! Seriously, after I seen it I told him he might as well have cut it down it looked that bad! But guess what? The thing went crazy after that! We know next to nothing about fruit trees...okay...we know ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about fruit trees, so we just left it alone and low and behold we're now getting apples! Last year the thing was loaded, albeit the apples were really nothing to brag about. They were small, scrappy things with worm holes and spots throughout, but they were good enough to turn into apple juice that I canned to use for jelly. This year there are less apples, however, they are bigger...I'm watching them closely and yes, they still have some worm spots and dark patches on the skins, but they look much closer to being a real apple than anything we've seen so also hasn't lost any fruit prematurely yet either...that's a good sign!

And during all this watching I'm preparing to try my hand at making vinegar. I've got a few weeks to go yet, but when that time arrives, I plan to pick my apples and see what happens. I'm hoping to maybe get enough good ones to make at least one pie, but all those peels and cores? They're going into a crock and heading down that fermenting road toward, what I hope will be a truly natural, organic, raw apple cider vinegar! I can't wait! In the meantime, I'll continue reading, hoping to have this process fine tuned in my head before I start, but really all it takes is some apples, a little sugar, some water...and time! I'd love to make actual apple cider for drinking on those cool October evenings, bringing the scent of cinnamon wafting through my kitchen, but so far what I'm reading appears to be alcoholic in content before it gets to the vinegar part. I don't want the alcoholic part and couldn't drink it even if I did, but now that I've got the vinegar process stored away in my head, I'll keep looking for a cider that's safe to drink as well. If I'm lucky and that tree continues as it's doing, I'll be making apple pie and bottling vinegar before too much longer and when I do? I will know that mine is as natural and organic as you can get! :)


Monday, September 1, 2014

Alcohol can kill in more ways than one....

WARNING! This is not my usual type of isn't funny, informative, or lighthearted. It is in fact lengthy, very real, and might be seen as slightly unnerving for those who know me. It is also one I feel the need to write...

I'm not a fan of consuming any shape or form. Probably because I've seen and lived through what it can do to an individual as well as those in close proximity to them. Alcoholism used to be considered a disease...I don't know if it is still classified as that or not, I quit following that line of thinking many years ago. I wanted it to be a disease, although by classifying it as such it also becomes an excuse and I'm not real big on excuses! But as a child of an alcoholic sometimes that's just the only way to deal with the questions, the "whys" of an alcoholic person's actions and/or can sometimes help you deal with the anger you feel toward that person as well. But there comes a time when you just have to realize there really is NO excuse for any type of abuse...physical or verbal, alcoholic or not.

My dad was an alcoholic...he was what, over the years, became termed as a binge drinker. He didn't drink all the time, he didn't drink every weekend... perhaps that was only because my mother forbid alcohol in our home. He'd have a spell of a short period of time, sometimes once or  twice a year, but during those times he became quite literally a "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide". My mother, who endured this kind of lifestyle for fifty four years of marriage learned early on when to detect the signs that would lead to a very unsettling evening. As a child, I learned to depend on my mother's detection to keep us from the worst of the onslaught. It's not my intention to run through the memories of some of those occasions...some things really are better off left unspoken and in all honesty, I have no wish to dredge up things now that certainly won't change things, nor do I have a desire to "beat up" the memory of my father....he was what he was and no amount of wishful thinking or prayer ever changed that. But to keep imaginations from building, my dad was never physically or verbally abusive to me.

That's also not to say I don't have fond memories of my dad...I do. I actually have several such memories and the older I got the more I came to accept that those were as good as I was going to get. Again I have to give my mother credit for that outlook. I don't remember ever seeing my mother "unsettled", she was in fact a rock, steady as could be and my dad's binges never seemed to shake her up. She didn't understand him, she could never wrap her mind around why he didn't want to change, or how he came to be the way he was, or why he said and did the things he did...but she also accepted the fact that it was just who and how he was. She never made excuses for him, at least never to me. She never expected us to love him unconditionally...I don't feel like it was ever "expected" of us to love him at all...she never handed us platitudes of "the poor man", or "he can't help it"..she allowed us to feel what we actually felt. She never covered up what he said or what he did. We did not grow up thinking we were not to talk about it, and while she never walked around announcing to the world how my dad was, she certainly never shied away from stating the truth of the matter when asked. She also allowed us to question the reasoning behind some of his actions and was brutally honest in telling us she just didn't know why. She did it with a calm, straightforwardness that thankfully relayed to me it wasn't her fault, my fault, ANYONE'S was his...he chose to live the life he did and he also chose to not do anything about it. I'm very thankful for that, because there came a point in my younger life that I hated my dad...hated him enough to wish him dead. I wasn't alone in those feelings, all of my siblings at one point and time had/have felt the same way...I'm pretty sure some of them still have those feelings. Thankfully there also came for me a time in my young adulthood that God, quite literally, showed me a picture of just what hating him was doing to me and with that epiphany, the hatred left me. I still hated the actions,  the words, and the alcohol, but I never again hated my dad. In truth, I learned to love him for who he was.

All of these thoughts came back to me after checking the messages on my answering machine. Unfortunately I had one from the only still living brother I was drunken and filthy, something he is quite good at being, has always been good at. He's always been good at spewing forth his hatred to me and our mother and both of us have endured his litany of abuse for many, many years. He's also the only one of us siblings that is/was an alcoholic. He's the only one of us kids our mother ever attempted to make an excuse for...she laid blame at our dad's feet (which was justified), but also took upon herself some of that blame as well (which was NOT). Now that's not to say that Mom expected me to endure his rantings, or excuse his behavoir...she didn't. She just always said she felt like if our dad had been different maybe my brother wouldn't have turned out like he was. I think she also felt if she hadn't of stayed in the marriage and put up with what SHE did that somehow that would have kept my brother from turning out the way he did...maybe, maybe not. But what I know, and often told my mother, HE is accountable for his actions and (just like our dad) HE could choose to do something about it. And while this self-same brother would never believe it, our mother worried and prayed over him her entire life. I also know she cried many, many tears for the life he chose to live and that was something I never saw her do for our dad. He would also never believe.... that she loved him and she endured a more broken heart over him than she ever did over our father.

You often hear there is a real thin line between love and hate....I believe that...because I've experienced it. I loved my big brother for many years. He was my idol, I looked up to him, and I depended upon him. He took care of me when I was little and our mother had to go to work. He quite often would thump my other older brother (who was younger than him) when he was picking on me, which was also quite often! :)  He brought me cotton candy from the fair in town, of which to this day, I never eat without remembering my first one. He bought me a teddy bear that was almost bigger than I was when I was no more than three years old and I have an old black and white photograph to remind me of that. I also recall him hauling me out of a ditch around that same age when I had managed to stumble and fall into it because the other brother didn't help me across as he was told to do. He cleaned and bandaged my scraped knees afterwards too.  He fashioned a complete and believable tale of Rudolph pulling Santa's sleigh across our evening sky one Christmas Eve when I was no more than eight and used the airplane's blinking red light to prove it. I don't remember, but have been told, he also always held me on his lap in another room while listening to one of our dad's drunken rantings. I have no memories...none...of him ever being mean to me, of him ever getting angry at something I'd done, or yelling at me in any way...none. I laid in my bed and cried for hours when I knew he was being shipped to Vietnam...I was old enough to be aware of that war and to know that many didn't come back. I was terrified he wouldn't come back. He made me get out of bed and dry my tears because he assured me he WOULD be back...he promised me and he had never, ever broken a promise to me so I believed him. There is another old black and white photograph that captures me standing at his side, in his Army uniform, with his arm tucked around me, readying to leave. He was my protector, ten foot tall and bullet proof...just what you would imagine a big brother as being, and I loved him.

I don't know where that brother went...he disappeared one day never to return. That brother was replaced by another man who is more verbally viscous than his father ever thought about being. That man is cruel and mean, both physically and verbally and has done more lasting physical and verbal damage to his own family than his dad ever came close to doing to his. That man has spewed forth more vile and filthy accusations to me and our mother that I wonder at times has ever been produced by another human being. That man's hatred is so palpable that you see it in his every move and it drips with his every word. This man's hatred and anger has consumed him....and it has also consumed the love I once had. I'm ashamed of him, I pity him...and yes,....I hate him. I hate who he became and who he still is. I hate his mouth, his actions, his stupidity. I hate his weakness, his seemingly joy at hurting others, but most of all, I hate that he seems to be so proud of the fact of who he is, how he acts, and what he does.

I've tried time after time to overlook what he's said and what he's done...I've forgiven episode after episode of his verbal abuse, not only to me, but to our mother as well. I've tried year after year to curtail my own anger when dealing with him and to keep watch on my own words in retaliation. Through the endless filth, the accusations, and the spewed hatred I've worried, I've cried, and I've prayed for him. Since our mother's death two years ago...I've failed at doing pretty much all of those. I tried to overlook the fact he showed up at my house to our mother's deathbed in a totally drunken state. I tried to forgive the stupid and ridiculous rantings he carried on at her bedside. I've tried to block out the fact that my mother left this world still listening to his drunken carrying-ons, his railing at "her God"...I've also tried to forget that I even allowed him in to see her.

Once upon a time I had three brothers...I now have none. Two I lost to to alcohol. I haven't spoken to my only living brother since a few weeks after our mother's death when once again I was subjected to his drunken abuse during a phone call. This time I did not overlook his words, I did not curtail my own, I could not and had no desire to pray about it afterwards. I slammed the phone down on him and I have not forgiven him for it since...and yet....he continues. Because of a drunken tirade in the store where my d-n-l works and him being asked to leave the premises due to it, he felt the need to call my house and leave me a message of how he felt and what he thought of me and my was nothing new or unusual, it was pretty much par for the course, but it starts again the chain reaction of feelings and emotions that goes along with being tied to an alcoholic. Alcohol can kill in more ways than one and an actual death is the least of it's concern. It kills the essence of the real person who once lived inside the one that now is. It kills the structure of a family to the point it may never be repaired again. It kills the love that used to be and destroys any attempt at gaining it back. It kills the reason, intelligence, and the thinking abilities. It kills the desire to be anything but what you are....and for the one who is on the receiving end of it, it can kill your ability to forgive. Alcohol is deadly and just like actual death, once it kills, there's no coming back.

There are times when I think I still love this brother, no matter what he's said and done...but most often I don't. Most often it doesn't feel like he even is my brother. Time doesn't always heal all wounds, especially when those wounds are tied to such strong mental images they become total recall when triggered. If there is anything left of the person he used to be I cannot find it, no matter how hard I try to look. I can pull out every psychology book I own and try to reason why he does what he does, but I just can't quite make myself believe what I read. I could allow the blame to fall on our dad and those times he also became someone we didn't know, but, in reality, my brother is accountable for living his own life and has no one to blame but himself...he's chosen this lifestyle freely.

If you gain any insight from reading this I hope it would be this...NO ONE is to blame for the actions of an abusive person, alcoholic or not. You cannot be good enough, give up enough, do without enough, or suffer enough to make it right enough in their eyes they will walk away from their anger and take responsibility for their own actions.You can't cry enough, beg enough, or love enough to change an abusive person's actions. You can't argue, reason, cajole, or explain anything to an's impossible because they choose not to listen nor do they want to be told they are wrong. I can also tell you this...there is NO EXCUSE for it either...and until they are ready to take responsibility for themselves, the life that surrounds them continues on and with it will eventually come a "killing" in some form or fashion, whether to themselves or those they claim to love. It's a viscous and ugly cycle that repeats itself over and over again and the only way to stop the cycle is to get out of it or get away from it. It's what I chose for myself and I'm glad I did. I have very little "family" left....most of my extended family has an addiction of some form or other and those addictions have destroyed any semblance of what it means to even be a family. Do I wish it was different? Most certainly...will I put up with the abuse, the mockery, the hurt intended or otherwise to have a mere tidbit of a family...I will not. I've made my choice and they appear to have made theirs.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Putting up the harvests...

It's that time of year again, when the gardens are in full swing and so is the harvest! For the past few weeks I've been busy picking and cutting, canning and freezing...with a little "sharing" thrown in. I don't do a big garden anymore, haven't for years, but our little one always manages to produce plenty for us, some for the kids, and when we're lucky, a little bit to share as well.

This past week the tomatoes have really kicked in on production and so the girls and I have been working on two of the family favorites...salsa and pasta sauce! I learned early on in my gardening experience to "work up" the firsts and hope for the "lasts". With unpredictable temperatures and rain fall, I know if we hope to have anything saved for future eating we need to start early with our canning/freezing because the pickins' can be slim as the weeks progress. Not that we don't enjoy fresh sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fried zucchini, or sauteed green beans in between times, but I like to take those first pickings and get them started on their way to our Fall enjoyment! :)

But I think my biggest enjoyment in all of it is seeing my girls involved. When my oldest daughter moved to their farm years ago, she decided to try her hand at gardens. And not just "a garden" was more like a "truck patch" was huge and she had TWO!! While that might not seem like a such a big thing to some, for the girl who was always the "blonde cheerleader, don't do the country thing" it was quite a feat!! :) She grew and canned everything she could get her hands on and was very proud of her accomplishments...her mother was too! One year her garden did extremely well and mine didn't and she passed along her extras to me...I carted off a couple buckets of green beans as well as tomatoes, and one year she even had extra okra...ummm. Beck took to "farming" like nobody's was great!

Our youngest daughter wanted no part of it either...well, she liked eating the results, but to actually be interested in the process of getting it from the dirt to the jar? No way! It's rather funny really, because both of these girls were raised on country...mostly their mother drug them kicking and screaming through the many processes involved in country living, but still it was a part of their lives. However, they both seemed to want as far from that former life as they could get until one day...the magic happened!! ;) I always think of the verse in the Bible where it says, "raise up a child in the way they should go and they will not soon depart from it" (paraphrasing here!) and while I know that verse has to do with the spiritual aspect of a child's life, it also fits into other areas of our lives as well. And it seems to fit my girls! Over the years they both have grown into the satisfaction of putting a seed into the ground, watching it grow, and then enjoying the harvest...and that makes me...well, proud too! :)

Like my girls, I was raised on country. The difference in mine and their raising was necessity! But, like my mother, I never "made" my girls help...they were around it, exposed to it, and told about it, but I never forced them to help...they did, the same as I did, but it was never a mandatory option and I think that was a good thing. They've come to their own enjoyment of the doing and with that is the fun as well. I still remember my own sense of pride and accomplishment as I pulled my very first jars from the canner and heard the beautiful sound of the "pop" that told me I'd done it right...I still enjoy the sounds of those lids sealing! :)

In the midst of all this learning and enjoyment enters my daughter-in-law...she's taken to the art of harvesting as well. She's not had enough dirt to grow a lot, but her and the son have done raised beds in order to have fresh eating and they both like the idea of growing and preserving their own. Almost from the get-go, my d-n-l volunteered to help...with anything and she's done so. This year has been no different...her and the youngest daughter have been down several days and we've all worked on putting up the various produce. It's a lot of fun because while we work, we're also gabbing and usually laughing ourselves silly just can't call it work when all that is involved!

While the two girls still come here and we work together, I have the enjoyment of knowing that one day they will be fine to do all this on their own. I've "talked" them through most all the process and now, they just walk to the stove and get it all started. I had to chuckle at my daughter the other day when she said, "For some reason I always thought canning was hard...I could do this (meaning by herself!), it's easy!" Ahh, those light bulb moments! But I'm sure she recalls the days of her mother at the stove from daylight til dark, working on jar after jar of everything I could get my hands a kid, no doubt it did look hard and like a lot of work. There was a time when working up 75 quarts of tomatoes was nothing, add to that green beans, pickles, beets, chicken, deer and beef broth, sauerkraut, jellies, and more...and yes, putting up that much "stuff" takes a lot of work and I don't think even I would want to go back to those days, but I sure enjoyed the doing at the time.

I can recall the year my s-n-l convinced me to enter my canning in our local fair...I won several ribbons, some of those in blue and that just sealed the deal for me! I went on later to enter some in our state fair and again took various was awfully hard to crack open that blue ribbon jar in late winter...I wanted to keep it forever! For several years after that I canned with the thought of ribbons...sifting through the green beans to get them just the right size, picking the reddest tomatoes for the entry jar, making sure those beets were a glowing purple! I didn't always win blue ribbons, but I was just as proud of the reds and whites as I was of those blues. I don't enter the fairs anymore, haven't for a long time, but the memory of those days is still vivid in my mind and apparently they are vivid in the daughter's as "hard work"! And I guess it was hard work, but it brought with it that sense of accomplishment and a job well done.

Back in those days I had the privilege of being a stay at home mom and so I filled those summer days with filling jars...lots of jars! And sometimes I was filling right up to and through the Fall! Nowadays my canning and freezing falls only into that time slot where I'm off work. Thankfully, working at school allows me a good stretch of "free" time and I try to fill as much of it as I can with filling jars and freezer bags! I get a window of opportunity that I put into full swing, when I've got the produce, knowing that once August rolls around I'll need to be done and that's okay. Not having a full family to feed anymore doesn't require as much time and effort as it once did. I noted this the other day as I realized I rarely use quart jars's all pints! It just doesn't take as much to feed two of us as it once did five! :)

I plan to harvest and preserve as long as I'm able and hopefully that will mean enough years that I can also pass the art onto my granddaughters. The two that live close have already been exposed, the oldest, like her mother before her, finds no interest in it at all, but the youngest (at five!) wants to be involved in all of it. My other granddaughter is also being exposed through the planting, picking, and processing as her mother plants those truck patches and reaps the harvests. I have hopes that raising them up "in the way they should go" will one day bring their own "light bulb moment" and they'll remember back to those days when their Ga stood at the kitchen counter filling jars. I also hope they won't always view it as work, but as a job worth the doing!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crazy like a fox...or more appropriately...the joys of a cream separator!

Okay, call me crazy (and by now I'm sure most people think I am!), but I've been having the time of my life these past few months re-learning some old things and trying out some new "old" things, most of which involve a little bit of intensive work! Illness and diagnosis' has a tendency to do one of two things: make you change your way of thinking or make you want to give up. I don't care much for giving up, so the changing was just a no brainer for me. Now obviously, not everyone would go to quite the extreme in the changing as I'm attempting to do, but like I said, I find it all fun and sometimes the biggest boost to a person's health is just all in how you mentally perceive it! I do believe there is a lot of truth in the statement "laughter is the best medicine"...I think it goes hand in hand with "there is joy in the doing". I've just been pretty "joyful" here lately!! ;)

In a previous post I wrote about my excitement in getting enough cream from my goat's milk to produce was heaven...seriously!  That led to me thinking (which can sometimes be dangerous!)...if I had one of those cream separators how much more cream could I get? And being the sometimes extremely frugal person that I am, that followed with the brain blips of cost effectiveness. I'm not one to just go buy something just has to have a reason and a purpose and most of those reasons involve dollars and cents! ;) If I can't make it profitable (in terms of use for my family) then it doesn't happen, no matter how much I may want to try it. So in order to determine that profitability, I started on a search to find out....and that's what I've been doing for the past two weeks...finding out!

I did the usual internet search...Google, Amazon, Ebay, ect. Read various blogs of those who have gone before me, some who use a separator, some who don't, and weighed out the pros and cons. The first thing I learned was that separators are NOT cheap, however, there are foreign companies who do make and sell  fairly reasonable models. Having no experience whatsoever in the area of cream separating though, I wasn't sold on the idea of a foreign model, even though there were many who recommended them. So my reading and research continued throughout the days and I had pretty much come to the conclusion it wasn't going to be within my reach...more so that I didn't want to take the chance of having wasted money! And then came a miracle....okay, so it wasn't miraculous, but it WAS a very joyful moment!!!!

When picking up my milk a couple weeks ago I was relating my thoughts to my "milk lady" about trying to retrieve the cream, getting my first round of goat butter, and all my excitement in that. While I know all of this news was old hat to her, she had the patience of a saint listening to me rattle on about my experience. And then, with the hint of a smile beginning to form, she says to me, "did you know my husband is the cream separator man of the world?" What??!! Noooo!! She places my poured milk back into the cooler and goes off in search of her husband! A new adventure was about to begin!!

'...In the world of long ago, man made a machine that would separate cream from milk, and he determined it was good...' From that first machine, came others, the manual crank type, to the manual/electric, to the all electric. There were floor models and table tops, ones for major production, and ones for the lowly one cow farmstead and thankfully...some of those are still around today! And one of those has now made it's way to my kitchen!

Bless these folks with their patience and endurance, along with their willingness to let me trial this thing to see if it was even something I wanted to get in to. With only a crash course in operation, I loaded my separator into the car, along with my weekly two gallons of milk, and headed home ready to "play"! I couldn't have been happier! Once home, I waited impatiently for the hubs to get there after work in order to bolt this thing down to may be considered a table top model but this thing was going to require some steadfastness with that cast iron base! Enter my trestle sewing machine table, turned plant stand! It also has a cast iron base...perfect!! Hubs bolts it down, I put my parts all together, warm my milk, and pour it in! Since the hubs gets almost as excited as I do over these things (yeah, we're weird that way!), he wanted to be the cranker! ;) So he's cranking away, building up the speed, and I turn the valve. I get all giddy watching as the milk begins to run out the spout and into the bowl and turn my attention to the cream spout...and then...I feel it....splatters on my foot!! We both look down at the same time to see milk running out the side onto the kitchen floor....WHOA!!! That's not supposed to happen!! Hubs quits cranking, I'm grabbing towels, and we're both trying to figure out what we have close at hand to stop up the hole this stuff is running out of! I stand with my finger jammed against the hole, while he runs to the shop to find a plug...nothing fits that stops the incessant dripping! So we switch places...he plugs the hole with his finger while I quickly ladle the milk out of the bowl....strike one!!

A quick call to my separator man reveals I have a faulty O-ring, easily fixed...not to fear, all is well! Two days later, with O-ring replaced and water run through so as not to lose  more milk, I have a working separator! Once again I warm the milk, pour it in the bowl and begin to crank...I was on my own this time because I was too impatient to wait for hubs and he was otherwise in engaged! ;) Milk begins to run and I wait for the cream...and then I wait some more...and wait some more...where's my cream? I see a slight trickle start, watch it last a few seconds, and then stop...ohhhhh the disappointment.....strike two!! Not really knowing whether I should do this or not, I run the milk back through...get a little more trickle and stop. I stop, not only in frustration, but because my arm has give out with all that cranking and I've worked up a good sweat!! I determine it is not wise to keep running the milk back through and begin the process of taking the thing apart for clean up. As I remove the top portion and reveal the cream spout I see, wonder of all wonders...CREAM!! Heavy, THICK, thick and heavy in fact it couldn't go through the spout! It is about this time I get a call from my separator man to find out how things are going and I tell him my dilemma. This voice of experience tells me..."you're cranking too fast"!! Well, that would certainly explain the loss of the use of my arm for about 15 minutes!! Apparently, in my over exuberance to pull that cream out, my speed was such that I was practically on the verge of butter!

And once again, bless their hearts, they tell me to come get more milk and try it again! While there getting my milk they've set me up a demonstration with their own machine, so I can "see" the process and what to look for and expect...these are good people! They send me off with two more gallons of milk and the understanding they will continue to supply me with milk at no cost until I can get it figured out, we argue that fact, and I lost the argument...again....very good people!!!!

It is with much happiness that I can relate in this post, I finally got my cream!! Not as much as I had hoped for, but certainly more than I could have possibly skimmed and I have no doubts, with a little more playing, I will actually increase that amount...ohhh the joy! The picture is not an indicator of my amount, this was actually what I got off of what was left of our drinking gallon in the fridge and the pan full of milk is what was waiting to go in. From my newest two gallons I basically got a full cup of cream per gallon, which is not bad for a first full try...I have hopes I will be able to produce pretty close to a full quart with a little more experimenting. This should equate to about a pound of butter and at $4 a pound for store bought "so called real" butter, and even more if a person was to buy organic and/or Amish butter, I'm starting to see the financial benefits. Adding to that is the milk left to drink, which is also $4 a gallon for store bought and then there's the cheese that can be made from the extras, also running pretty close to $4 a pound depending on the type. By my calculations I'm ahead $4 already, since I pay that amount per gallon of goat milk! With the cost of my separator being only $75 I feel like it's not only justifiable, but it will be more than profitable for our eating habits.

Is it work? Yep, sure is...not only in the cranking, but in the clean up afterwards, however, it's the joy in the doing that is just priceless! I realize not everyone would find this type of experimenting fun...not too many would even care to go to all the trouble it's taken me to get to the end result of butter, but it's seriously enjoyment for me. I've always liked to learn new things and I've always been curious as to how things work or how they're done, so just the trying makes it fun for me. But you can't help but get a sense of accomplishment in setting down to a meal at your table knowing that everything you're about to consume was grown, made, and/or produced by your own two hands! Whether doing any of those things makes a difference to anyone else, doesn't matter...whether it makes a difference to you DOES! It's been a long standing theme of this modern society we live in that we should "do whatever makes you happy"...well, these are the things that make me happy! Some folks might call you crazy, but crazy or not, you might just find a little..."joy in the doing"!! :)


Saturday, June 21, 2014

The guilt free art of making vanilla...

Early last Fall I ran across several blog articles about making vanilla at home. It caught my attention and I decided I wanted to give it a try. First thing you have to have in making your vanilla of course, is vanilla beans. Vanilla beans are NOT cheap, well, not if you try to buy one in a grocery store, however, I found several places online where you can buy beans in bulk that pretty much get your bean costs to about a dollar or less per bean...I was okay with that! The second thing you have to have in making your own vanilla is....alcohol...most generally...Vodka!

Now, I am certainly no stranger to alcohol. In my younger days (MUCH younger!), I tried several of the various forms of alcohol, but thankfully, I never acquired a taste for it! Having family members that have regularly imbibed over the years certainly did nothing to lend to my appreciation of said liquors, and to be quite honest? Having seen the effects of it...I have no use for it! And until a few short months ago, you wouldn't have found alcohol in my home. Whether good or bad, the discovery of homemade vanilla has changed that outcome! ;)

I decided to start small with my first batch. I had the idea to do a "homemade Christmas" last year and vanilla was going to be one of the items on the gift list. So, I ordered my beans, bought a small bottle of vodka, and set to brewing. I started this about September, figuring it would give it enough time to distill with plenty of flavor in time for the holidays. I corked/lidded my bottle, set it in the pantry where it's dark, and shook it every few days throughout the season. When I pulled it out to get it ready for gift bottling, it smelt wonderful, so I stuck my finger in and gave it a taste test.....oooohhhhh YUCK!! I couldn't taste vanilla (or very little), all I could taste was the booze! I was seriously disappointed, figuring money wasted for something that wasn't going to be fit to use, but I bottled the stupid stuff anyway, since I'd already shopped the various thrift stores for cute little glass containers to put it in. I spent a day or two making up my label to go on them, filled the bottles, attached the label, and let them set. Of course, the girls thought it was all cool and great to get several homemade items, but I warned them in advance that I didn't really think the vanilla was fit to use.

My own bottle set in the pantry for several weeks after the holidays...I couldn't bring myself to just pour it out, but my fear of the taste kept me from using it. One weekend, when it was snowy and cold, I decided to make some sugar cookies. When I reached into my cabinet for my store bought vanilla, I realized I had an empty bottle...what to do now? Against my better judgement, I brought out the brewed stuff and added a teaspoon to the mix and baked up the cookies. I wasn't concerned about the alcohol itself since I knew the content would "cook out", but the flavor was what had me worried. While the cookies were still warm I took a tentative bite...ooohhh my goodness!!! Those were best tasting sugar cookies I'd ever made!! The next morning I decided to make pancakes and added a teaspoon of that vanilla...heavenly!! I could not believe the vanilla was rich and intense...and very delicious! I stared at my home brew with a new-found appreciation and decided right then and there I was making another batch! ;) I also called my girls and told them to try the vanilla in their next round of baking as I thought they were going to be pleasantly surprised...they were! They've since informed me their supply is getting low and they want more!!! :)

Now then...the cheapest place in our area for me to buy alcohol is at our local Walmart...I can get a large jug of cheap end vodka for a little less than $10 and I've been on the lookout for it for the past several weeks. Every time I would go to get a jug the shelf was always empty. I don't know if there are a lot of alcoholics in this area, or just a large group of cheap drunks, but time after time, that particular brand was sold out. Having received my large pack of vanilla beans I was getting a little frustrated in acquiring my alcohol. The beans arrive vacuum sealed, but with the heat and humidity for the past several days I did not want them laying around for very long.

Now, you have to understand...I live in a small town rural area, one of those where everybody knows everybody and since I've lived in this same area most of my life, it would be safe to say that a lot of people know me. So to see me in Walmart perusing the alcohol isle could most definitely set some tongues to wagging! ;) However, through experience, I've come to know that tongues will wag whether there's really anything to be worthy of wagging about, so with a clear conscience, and after the fifth trip in and shelf STILL empty, I decided it was time to start inquiring. I headed to the service desk where a well known employee was stationed and asked if I could speak to someone in grocery. With a smile beginning to form she replies, "Ohhh sure...hang on and I'll call someone...was there a particular area you needed?" To which I immediately answered, "Well, yes...I need something in the alcohol department." Smile freezes, finger pauses over the call button and a confused look begins to form beneath the eye lids..."Alcohol?"

Okay, so maybe I'm beginning to enjoy the moment, maybe that little guy with horns starts to prod me into playing this up...perhaps I see an opportunity to be a little, shall we say, ornery??!! My mother would say that was just "the Stevenson coming out in me", but as deadpan as possible I reply, "Well, I've made umpteen trips in here to get a big jug of vodka and there's never any on the shelf, so I wanted to find out when and if it's going to be stocked and how soon I can expect to get some...." The employee's smile then fades to nothingness and the call goes went something like this: "yeah, uhhh...I've got a customer up here that's wanting to know about vodka and why there isn't any!" The rest of the conversation becomes mumbled and I'm thinking my reputation has just become very cloudy indeed! I'm not sure if the person she was talking to was expecting an irate drunk or what, but you could see the wariness as they were approaching the service desk, eyes darting around, looking for this alcohol searching customer...again, another employee who knows me. Since I'm the only person standing there, they do a once over, dismiss the idea that it could possibly be ME who has asked this question, and then turns to the service desk to inquire where the "customer" was. With a very dismissive flick of the wrist, I am pointed out!

I will give the other employee credit...there was only a slight widening to the pupils when they turned to face me, but again, the "shock" was there! I explain my dilemma, no I did not mention the manufacturing of least not at this point, and then inquire as to whether there could possibly be any bottles in the back. With an overly bright smile, and only a slight stammer, the employee tells me they'll have to check, so off we head to the back of the store. She runs her scan of the bar code that tells her there is indeed some bottles in back and off she goes while I wait patiently next to the Jim Beam/Kentucky Bourbon bottles and try my best to look nonchalant!! ;) I might add that the "beer man" was already there stocking the shelves. I know he is the beer man because I had already inquired of him earlier as to why there was no vodka...he told me, "I'm just the beer man..." hmmmm?! So he's stocking, I'm waiting, and pretty soon the employee returns with an entire BOX of vodka...she carefully places the box on the floor, looks up at me and asks tentatively, "Soooo, uh, how many do you want?" ONE...I just need one! As she hands me up the jug and I place my grubby little hands around the neck of the bottle I exclaim without thinking, "Ooohhhh halleluiah...FINALLY!" I hear the beer man begin to chuckle and the employee starts to we three have now become co-conspirators in a booze fest about to start!

Okay, I admit...I was rather embarrassed after making that comment...I mean, "halleluiah" and "vodka" really shouldn't be used within the same context, but hey! I WAS glad to finally get it and to know my beans weren't going to be lost in the waiting. As I set my jug down in the cart I turned to both of them and said, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that...I just want you both to know my intentions are not to DRINK this stuff. I'm actually making vanilla and I need it to make a big batch.." They pass a look between them and continue to chuckle as I head off down the isle. I'm pretty sure they didn't believe a word of what I told them and probably had several more laughs once I was out of ear range. I could just see them discussing the fact that "they've heard it all" when it comes to someone needing alcohol...but making vanilla? I bet they've never heard THAT one before!!! ;)

I managed to make it through the rest of the store and the checkout line without running into anyone else I knew. Thankfully none of my church ladies happened to be shopping in there that day, as I don't know if I could have explained it quite as unflappably to them as I had done previously! But as you can see by the pictures I posted (proof of my innocence!) I did indeed go home and make vanilla! I actually had enough left over in my jug at the bottom that I decided to try my hand at lemon extract as well, so all drops, sips, and drips went into glass jars! Both jars are now quietly resting in the darkened pantry working their magic to arrive at flavors to be enjoyed to their fullest in about 4 months.

I have told myself I will try to be a little more circumspect the next time I am in need of some alcohol and hopefully whatever thoughts the grocery employee had about my intentions, will at least keep the shelf stocked and not require any further inquiry into supply and demand! Even with five of us using this marvelous brew, I should have no need for further purchases for at least another year and by then perhaps all memories will be erased! ;) But I have a notion I will be carefully "watched" from now on when shopping the local store, as such is the way of small town America and our town is no different! And yes, I could have went out of town to make my purchase, saved myself some gossiping, but to me that would imply I was somehow guilty of something, and you can bet I would have run into someone I knew, also shopping out of town, that would have made my particular purchase appear more guilt infused! As I said, people will believe what they want to believe and at my age, if my strength of character hasn't proved anything by now, no amount of explaining will! I will continue to buy locally and cart my jug to the front of the store with no qualms whatsoever, because the proof "will be in the puddin"....or in my case...the cookies, cakes, and pancakes!!


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Chicken Pluckin' at it's finest...

Part of our family spent the day yesterday in our (somewhat) first venture in raising and butchering chickens. It's been many years since I, myself, have been involved in the butchering of chickens, and thankful I am for a good memory that I could remember most of how it was done! My children remember their grandma and I butchering, but like my own grandkids did yesterday, they spent those days playing and not involved in the actual process, so the "hands on" was a first for our youngest daughter and the d-n-l  (although the d-n-l and son, as well as the s-n-l, have processed a wild turkey). Our oldest daughter and her husband raise commercial chickens and while at their farm last year I got in on their "fat testing", which in turn led me to start thinking about raising some for our own use.

Hubs and I had discussed the idea in the early part of this year and we determined we wanted to try it, but on a small more than 6-8 birds. I determined there would be no killing field until school was out for summer break and I had more time on my hands, so with that in mind we calculated a date as to when we'd need to begin the process. We also tried to determine whether or not this little venture would even be cost effective, after all, chicken is still reasonably priced in the store...well, the parts of chicken are at least, but trying to be more "food conscious" we believed our birds would have healthier meat being farm raised, so that also went in to our equation.

We still hadn't made a full decision when were given 8 culls from the local hatchery...decision was made!! ;) We figured with free birds we could hardly go wrong on the cost department! Our chicks were indeed meat birds, white cornish cross, and the first thing we noted above all else, was the fact all they do is EAT!! Unlike our layers that run around the pen, catching bugs and picking grass, the older these chicks became the less they moved! I likened them to the old saying of "like hogs at a trough"...they literally laid around the feed pan and done nothing but eat...or drank!! It was full time job just making sure the feed pan and waterer was full at all times. Still, we tried to keep them in a grassy enclosure in order to give them a little bit of variance in their diet, but I can tell you...unless the grass was right under their beak, they didn't bother to roam much to get at it!

Again, to try and keep the meat as healthy as possible, we used non-medicated starter and grower, eventually mixing in a little hen scratch as they grew. Our first "shock" was at the cost of non-medicated feed, which is NOT cheap by no means, which in my book also equates to "not cost effective", but we continued on with that decision. It was not "organic" feed...I don't know that we could have gotten that locally without special order and at the cost of what I've seen online, there was no way I could justify raising million dollar birds! And while I've read a few articles on making your own organic type feed, again, I didn't have the time, the dollars, or the inclination to go to all that trouble! So ours got commercial feed, with whatever kitchen scraps I had to add to their diet.

Butchering day arrived with (thankfully!) lots of sunshine and all our tools were assembled and ready to go. I have to say here that hubs and I weren't expecting the help, but both these girls let us know in advance they would be a part of the helping! Thank you girls!! :)  Like a well oiled machine (with only a few squeaks!), the s-n-l readied the scalding pot, hubs manned the decapitation stump, I started the scalding process, and girls grabbed a bird and began plucking! We ended up with a total of 9 birds, so we decided to process in groups of 3. Since it was my job (and I knew the where-with-all) to do the gutting, I would scald, hand off a bird to each girl, and hubs got the third. Once the main plucking was done, I inspected the birds for any lingering feathers and then began the removing of the entrails.
In the midst of this were a few "teaching" lessons as to how to safely remove the livers, hearts, and gizzards and the grandkids wanted to "view" the guts!! One viewing seemed to satisfy them and they were off and running again! ;) After that, I handed the birds back to the girls,  with the d-n-l removing the feet and the daughter then going over the entire bird for a final feather inspection! Since the daughter claims serious signs of OCD she made a good final feather inspector! ;) After that they went in to a cooler filled with ice and water to rapidly chill and then we started the process all over again with the next three birds. 

Once the final bird went in to the cooler we took a much needed rest on our backs, grilled burgers and brats for supper, and then started our final stage. Throughout this section of the kill, the s-n-l was doing the outside cleaning up, washing pots and tools, emptying and removing the scalder, and then helping the hubs take off the remains. Oh, and I might add here that he also washed my feet for me...he's a good man!! ;) With supper over, we moved inside and began the baggin' and taggin'. I ended up only cutting up three of the birds for parts...mainly because we had some really NICE roasters! I didn't think to weigh the birds, but lets just say they were BIG...and meaty! I was also getting tired, so my thought leaned toward the idea we could bag them whole and if I wanted a fryer I could cut it up later...worked for me! ;)

We had a little trouble with the new food definitely sucks any and all liquid from your bag, making it very difficult to vacuum seal. I was a little disappointed in this, but we finally decided to "dry" the birds as best we could, vacuum seal, and then double heat-seal the bags just to make sure nothing came loose during freezer time. The daughter and I had a sink each, doing one more final inspection and cleaning, then we handed over to the d-n-l for the bagging and sealing. We started this whole process around 2:30 in the afternoon and ended just about 8:30 that night...don't know if that was good or bad, but that's how it turned out for us. Then began the table discussion as to whether this was all worth it or not.

It was mutually agreed that we wouldn't have wanted to do a larger amount of birds, at least not without some type of conveyance to help in the plucking. Said plucker will be our son's department as he's the mechanical builder of the group! It was also determined that whole chickens take up a LOT of freezer space. As to cost of feed...well, that could almost make the whole thing pointless, unless you're willing to buy cheaper feed, or you figure the cost of buying a whole chicken. Obviously you can buy leg quarters cheap, you can also buy skinless chicken breasts by the bag at a fairly decent price and those two things have been the bulk of our chicken eating for the last few years. As to a whole chicken? Those are not cheap...just recently at a Save-A-Lot store I pointed out to the girls a whole chicken was running a little over $7. Mind you, my thought on this is coming from past memories of being able to buy a whole chicken for a buck fifty!! ;) And honestly, I guess $7 is not a bad price for a family meal, because you can usually get more than one meal out of a whole chicken. If I had to roughly guess-timate our costs in all this (without the labor), it would run pretty close to that dollar mark. The advantage is we KNOW what went in to the meat, and the processing of, which we can't honestly say that with a store bought chicken. If you were attempting to do all of this organically, I think the costs are going to be really high. If you're attempting to buy already processed organic birds, then doing it at home, organically raised or otherwise, may well be cheaper....but again, I can't afford to go completely organic, nor justify the costs in doing so, so that doesn't figure in to my cost effectiveness at all.

The real winner in all of this though, was the time spent with family in the doing! You can't put a price tag on the antics and laughter that went into all of this! The deadpan jokes, the dancing chicken carcasses, the itch that needs scratching in the middle of the messiest pair of hands you'll ever see, or the less than perfect feet removals that elicit even more jokes and laughter! The unwillingness of your daughter to "touch the butt feathers", the most definite unwillingness of the s-n-l to hold said chicken as the hubs was wielding the axe!! The ummmm...expletive from the d-n-l when she accidentally cut the bile gland trying to remove it from the liver, or the grandkids many "eeewww's", yet curious questions about the digestive workings of a just can't figure any of that into your costs...those things are just...well...priceless!

Will we attempt this again? Maybe...I think we'll determine the answer to that question once we've taste tested our finished product. The women of this outfit are envisioning golden brown, roasted chicken in the early days of the upcoming fall...the men will determine it by how well those same chickens go with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy. Either way, it seriously was a fun-filled adventure for all parties involved...and if you really want to determine the strength of your family.... just butcher some chickens together! :)


Monday, June 9, 2014

Butter from goat cream...a new favorite!!

I got the most desirable surprise of my life this evening when I decided to try what little goat cream I had managed to skim off my milk and turn it into butter! Using barely a half a quart of cream I got twice the amount of butter I had been managing to get from my cows milk that was at least a quart or more of cream.

With the pancreatic issues I started having I was determined to switch out my store bought milk to cows FRESH cows milk, and had thought I had a reliable source when I started. With that cows milk came the cream that settled to the top, which I dutifully skimmed off just as I remembered my mother always doing. However, being that it was a Holstein cow it was still lacking somewhat in content, but I was happy just to get the cream and turn it into butter....I had not had fresh cream butter since I was a kid!

We had a milk cow when I was growing up, but only for a short time as my dad could never seem to remember he needed to be home in time to milk her in the evenings. Mom and I would take turns but neither of use were very good at milking...we got milk, but it took us a lot longer than it did my dad! Mom felt sorry for the cow and told my dad to sell her. Later on she found a lady up the highway who sold milk and she started buying it from started out at .50 a gallon...yeah!! FIFTY CENTS!! Over the course of the years it eventually climbed to a whopping $1.50 but by then Mom was just buying from the store.

Anyway, we'd stop and pick up a gallon, sometimes two, and Mom would bring it home and immediately run it through an old tea towel to strain it. Where we bought the milk was clean, but she just liked knowing it was extra clean! ;) She'd pour it into a large bowl, cover it, and set it in the fridge to let the cream rise to the top. Later she'd skim off the cream into a quart jar and set it back in the fridge until she gathered enough to make butter.

We didn't own a butter churn, ours was the simple "jar and shake" method and I seriously loved doing that. I had the ability back then to set still for longer periods of time so I didn't mind shaking that jar and watching for the butter curds to start forming. Through the whole process Mom was telling me the hows and whys of butter stuck! When it was ready she'd strain off the buttermilk for my dad to drink later and then run that butter through cold water, working it this way and that until it was where she wanted it and all the milk product was out...then she'd salt it down, mix it a little more, swipe the spoon and hand it to me! There was nothing better than fresh butter straight off the spoon!

Thankfully, after all those years, I still remembered Mom's teachings and couldn't wait to get my first batch of butter, which I did, but in a lot smaller amount than I remember. Still, I was happy to have what I got and I limited my fresh eating to just a dip or two of my finger! ;) I thought I was happily on my way to having at least enough real butter to slather on toast or a biscuit, but then my source got erratic! One week I'd have milk and the next week I didn't...then it would be two weeks before I got it, so my dreams of drinking fresh milk and eating fresh butter began to falter by the wayside until some old friends of ours stopped by the hub's store and he told them about my bout of illness. The next day they came in packing a gallon of goat milk to send home for me to try...well...I fell in LOVE with it!!

My only round of goat milk tasting was a very small stint I attempted back years ago while raising goats. I bought an "elderly" nubian nanny who was about to kid and after she did I was determined to milk her as well. I wasn't impressed and my kids weren't either. I've since come to realize that just like a cow, a goat's milk is largely determined by what she eats...ours was eating scrub brush!! Really, that's why we bought them in the first place, to help clear out the brush on our new property. Needless to say the milk was not that great, so I eventually left it for the babies she had and called it quits. But this milk that was delivered to me? Oh man!! Was it ever good...the creamiest, richest tasting milk I've ever drank...I was hooked!

I had one slight problem though, I was already committed to buying the cow milk and knew there was no way, just the two of us, could use that much milk in a week, so I tried to alternate and basically let the goat milk fill in when the cow milk didn't show up. After going through a 3 week stint of no cow milk and no explanation why there was none, I talked to our goat folks and asked them if I could just start buying on a weekly basis from them and I've been happily buying regularly for the last several weeks (funny, after 4 weeks went by and us telling them to just not worry about it, a gallon of cow milk showed up, still with no explanation for all the missing weeks, but wanting to know if we were going to continue buying it...uh no!!).

Now I also had one problem with the goat milk...not enough cream to make butter, but I decided I'd just relinquish those thoughts and turn instead to making cheese. Goats milk is naturally homogenized, so while they do in fact have cream, it doesn't run to the top as easily as cow cream does, therefore, without a separator, it's kind of pointless to try and skim it just don't get much. But this week I'd let my gallon jugs set a couple days in the frig and could easily see what looked to be about a 1/4 inch layer of cream on the top of my gallon...I decided to take it off. The first thing I noticed was how thick it reminded me more of the Jersey cream we got when I was a kid...very thick, very creamy...nothing like that watered down,thin stuff I had gotten off the cow milk. But I didn't get a whole lot, maybe a quarter of quart jar and wasn't real sure how much of that had milk mixed in. My other gallon was already in the drinking jar in the fridge and there was definitely cream on top of it, so I just kept siphoning off through my spigot and letting the cream slide right on down to the bottom of the jar. Tonight I added that cream to my quart jar...I had almost a half a quart.

My personal preference is fresh cream butter...I can do the cultured, but it's just not as much to my liking, so rather than have my cream ripen on me waiting on more, I thought, "well why not try it and see?". I hooked up my small blender cup and poured in the cream...hit the blend button and let her run (I can't set still long enough now to do the jar shake thing!). I don't think it took even 5 mins til I had globs whirling around and banging the sides of my container. I pulled the lid off and....OMG!! The thing was FULL of butter!! I began hoopin' and hollerin' for the hubs to come look at what I had...yeah, it don't take much to excite me these days!! ;) But seriously, I was totally astounded at the amount of butter that little dab of cream had made and happily elated to know that my buttering days were not going to end after all!

One of these days I may just invest in a cream separator (I'm already checking prices!), because now that I've seen what a little skimming will do, I can only imagine what I could get off of two gallons with a separator...and yeah, I think it would be worth it! I've yet to figure out just what skimming the milk will do to my cheese making endeavors, but I think I'd be willing to forgo the cheese in order to have the butter...after all we eat butter on pretty much a daily basis and cheese we don't! But I can always grab some of that erratic cow milk now and then to make cheese with! ;) Or maybe I'll start checking prices on a Nubian milk goat too and then I'd have a steady and full supply for both!! But for now, I'll enjoy my little dabs of home made goat butter on a fresh slice of home made can bet I will set still long enough for that!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The forays of down home....

I've been on a few "adventures" here lately...most of which have all taken place in the kitchen! Oh, there's been the usual gardening preps and all the things that go with it now that growing season has fully kicked in, but in between times I've been playing with other things. I have a list of even more things I hope to get accomplished while I'm off for the many of those will actually get done is another thing altogether!

What has started most of my adventures actually began with some health issues back in the winter. With the diagnosis came my search through the wonderful world of internet and looking up things I could do for myself that didn't require a medical expert or a vast array of medications. All that looking led me to various blogs and other folks doing basically what I wanted to do, or have dreamed of doing. I started out reading up on healthy foods and those blogs led to other blogs, which in turn led to even more blogs and all that reading then led me to searching for things that made me question, "hmmm...wonder if?"'s been interesting to say the least! And for those purposes...the internet is fabulous (although, you must remember not to believe everything you read!).

Because of switching out my store bought milk to real cow/goat milk I began playing with the idea of attempting cheese making. I have discovered that making cheese is not hard, time consuming yes, but not difficult at all. I began first in making a soft cheese with my milk kefir, think sour cream taste with a cream cheese consistency. It's very much like the EXTREMELY small (and expensive!) logs of goat cheese you find for sale in stores. I then moved on to trying my hand at cottage cheese and we loved it! No, it doesn't taste like "store bought", but it comes pretty darn close when you add sour cream to your curds after you're finished.
During these two processes I decided I wanted to go back to my dream of several years ago and try making hard cheddar. We love cheese, but my blood pressure rises every time I go to the store because the price just continues to go up and the packaging becomes smaller. Not having an abundance of milk on hand and dependent upon those friends of ours whom we now get our goat milk from to drink, I knew I wouldn't have a lot of extra to just play with, so I've read, and read some more, and determined the hows of making smaller batches of said cheese. I was rewarded the other day with my first pound of cheddar!
Now my only problem will be is the waiting on to see whether or not the finished product does in fact taste like cheddar cheese. This little round is currently air drying and when that's done it will be waxed and moved to my cellar where I will allow it to "age". Hopefully, in about 3 months I will find out how my efforts turned out. In the meantime, I plan to make a few more rounds to wax and age, with the thoughts that come fall we have will something to enjoy. I want to try smoking some as well, but that is going to be dependent upon the hubs and whether or not he'll be able to come up with me a cold smoker!

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the abilities of my son to provide me with a cheese press. After looking online and discovering the costs of owning a cheese press I hit up my talented, woodworking, youngest child to make me one...and wow!! did he ever come through with the prize! Using walnut and a little oak this is what he presented me's a beauty...and I can attest to the fact that it works and works well! I loved how he added the name "Down Home on the 40" to it, although he told me he was disappointed in how his wood burning efforts turned out...I was not disappointed in it at all! Having made vanilla over last fall and gifting it to my "girls", I had produced a label with a rooster and "Down Home" title that I added to the bottles and of course, it's also the title to this blog. While I have no thoughts of marketing anything I produce, I rather enjoy the idea of having my own "signature" product!! :)

Among other things I've been playing with has been hard lotion bars, body butter, and a bug bite reliever...all of which have turned out well and the fun in doing all this has been well worth the efforts. The bug bite reliever also doubles as a clay facial mask and my girls have been having a hey day in playing with all of it! My youngest daughter has already let me know that her supply of clay is dwindling fast and she's putting in her next order...NOW!! Then last week I decided to have a go at homemade mustard. I decided to try a spicy honey blend, which probably should have been allowed to mellow a little more, but it was used in dipping ribs into over the weekend and I tried it out on a ham sandwich and found it pretty darn tasty where it's at! ;) My plans are to try a couple more varieties in the next few days, something slightly milder in taste the grandkids can handle.

While I am certainly in the learning process of many things right now, what I do know is that I am having a ball in the learning and the adding to of many of the things I'm already familiar with. In my own little corner of dreamland I would love to be totally self-sufficient and "off grid" so to speak, but reality tells me often that may not ever be possible. Still, I've always been one to love trying new things, adding my own perspective to those things, and then waiting to see where it all leads me next! Most assuredly I will continue in my reading and research and living my life vicariously through others blogs. Right now though, it's time to head back to the kitchen and decide which adventure I'm starting on next! :)