Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Our Little Experiment

We picked the hottest June for our little experiment.  Really.  Our average high temps is 83.3 and our average low is 65.1.  This summer, It seemed like we hit at least 90 nearly every day and had many nights that didn’t dip below 75!  It had made our little no air conditioning experiment very difficult, to say the least.

No Air Conditioning!  Yeah.  For you northern folks, that may not mean much, but for us high humidity, hot summer southern folks not having a/c is nearly unheard of.  Some folks will even call you crazy to your face if you admit to living without a/c.  And you better watch out, or you’ll end up on a church benevolence committee report!  Just kidding, but we do have to make sure folks know we are doing this by choice and not by necessity. 

We decided not to replace our heat pump when it gave out on us last winter.  We use our woodstove to heat in the winter because it is a slightly cheaper and much more comfortable way to heat our home.  Thing is, our heat pump cools our house in the summer.  We decided to go without a/c for the summer to see if we can live without it before we sink thousands of dollars into replacing our system.

Our main reason for trying to do without air conditioning is related to our reluctance to spend money.  We’d like to build a barn and move our driveway, but that costs money.  Add on a new heat pump and something has to give.  We are no longer the go into debt for stuff kind of people.  Still, you’d think a/c would win out over a barn.  The thing is, I love being outside.  I love it when the kids spend time outside.  I like to work in the garden.  I love a good breeze blowing through the house.  I love, Love, LOVE having the windows open.  So, we thought we could do it.  Besides, it’s green and I love green.

And now, this.  It’s been so stinking hot, it feels more like August than June.  I was not prepared for this.  In fact, we were so unprepared that we caved in and borrowed a window a/c unit from my in-laws.  We’ve also learned a lot, very quickly.  So, I thought I’d share a few great ways to beat the heat for those of you who are doing without this “necessity” and for those of you who like to be outside.

Ways to beat the heat.

1.  Take advantage of cool night time temps. 

Open your windows and use fans to pull cool air in.  Close the windows when the outside temps equal the inside temperature.  Don’t open the windows until late in the day, when the outside temps begin to drop or when the inside air would be improved by a bit of a breeze.

Do your outside or any chores that involve heat during the coolest early morning hours.  The old-timers were right on that early bird stuff.  It’s much easier to get things done when you are not sweating.

2.  Put up some curtains.  Sounds crazy, especially to you city folks, but I have never bothered with curtains here in the country.  My neighbors can’t see into my house, so I let the cedar trees act as curtains.  Worked for me until this no a/c thing.  Now, I can’t seem to put up curtains quick enough.  That summer sun can raise the temps in my living room by 10 or 15 degrees if I don’t cover the windows.

3.  Be aware of the heat produced by your appliances.  Cook outside on the grill.  Unplug any unnecessary refrigerators.  Don’t leave the lights, TV, or computer on if you aren’t using them.  If you don’t believe me, sit in front of your computer on a 95 degree day.  Goodness.

4.  Dress for the heat.  You don’t have to go around naked to stay cool, you just need to choose the right fabrics.  Avoid heavy or synthetic materials.  Go for those light, breezy cottons.  Ladies, get that pretty sundress out of the closet and enjoy wearing it even if you are working in the garden!

5.  Siesta.  Plan to spend your hottest afternoon hours not doing much of anything.  Sit by the pool, eat ice cream, read a book on the porch swing.  Let the kids nap on the couch in the basement.  It’s actually quite nice to be too hot to work.  It’s a good excuse to take a long break.

6.  Sounds silly, but break out those old CD’s you loved when you were younger.  A little Dave Matthew’s Band, Aerosmith, or Tom Petty just makes the heat more bearable.  Turn on the oldies station and laugh and dance with the kiddos.  It’s a great way to beat the heat.

7.  Give the kids a cool, wet wash cloth to take to bed with them on steamy nights.  Enjoy a cool shower before heading to bed. 

8.  Drink plenty of water and eat good foods.

Keep your sense of humor and when all else fails, go to the movies, a library or shopping to cool off a bit on the hottest day.  It’s really not so bad.  But then, I have a window a/c unit in my kitchen for the worst days.  We’ll see how this little experiment goes.  If you have any great tips, please leave them in the comments.  Meanwhile, enjoy the summer!

Summer Veggies and Pasta Alfredo


I’ve waited all year for this.  Zucchini, yellow crookneck squash, green peppers, green beans, tomatoes and eggplant.  The veggies are starting to ripen faster than I can cook them.  It’s wonderful!

So, here’s last night’s supper. 

I started by making an Alfredo sauce.  It’s easier than you think.


Start by melting butter (the real stuff, please) slowly in a sauce pan.  This  is not quite one stick of salted butter, about 6 tablespoons.


Next, add some diced garlic.  I used the rest of my rosemary roasted garlic


Now for the heavy whipping cream.  Add it slowly, about 1/8 of a cup at a time to allow it to warm slowly on medium low heat.  It took me a few minutes to add the full 2 cups, stirring frequently.  Don’t rush this part or the butter will separate, leaving a greasy mess.


Now for the parmesan cheese.  Add about 1 cup, finely grated.  I used to be too intimidated to buy that expensive wedge of parmesan, but then I found out how far it goes!  One wedge will last me a few months, and we eat this cheese a lot.  I use my Kitchen Aid grater attachment to grate it up, one small piece at a time.  I leave the larger piece of the wedge in the fridge, wrapped tightly.  It keeps longer if it isn’t grated.


Leave this yummy concoction on a low heat setting to simmer, stirring frequently.  Don’t rush this yummy goodness.  It will take about 30 minutes for it to thicken up.  Feel free to dip a spoon in from time to time to taste-test.  Add salt and pepper as you like.


Now, for the veggies.  I cut up an eggplant and soaked it in a small amount of buttermilk.


Then, they moved to the whole wheat flour with salt and pepper…


Into some sizzling hot oil.  I don’t know enough about preparing eggplant to do anything other than frying it, but it sure is good.  Our supper didn’t include any meat, so I figured this would fill that crave.


Sam helped by eating raisins and playing with some measuring spoons and cups. 


With the eggplant out of the way, I rinsed my pan, added olive oil and all those yummy diced veggies with salt and pepper.  Look closely and you’ll see yellow squash, zucchini, peppers, and green beans.  I cooked the veggies until they just started to tender up a bit, adding some yellow cherry tomatoes at the very last moment.


Add a little angel hair pasta, and it’s the perfect summer meal.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bambi In My Backyard

I got a big surprise on Friday as I was hanging out the laundry.  There was a big commotion involving our calf and some crazy sounding animal.  After a quick head count of the kiddos, I investigated and found this.


She was scared and couldn’t hop over our fence.  I don’t know how she got in there in the first place, but she was pretty determined to get out.  With no deer momma in sight, I was a bit worried but figured we would just catch the calf and then leave the gate open.  She’d find her way our eventually.


But then, she decided to mosey on up to the front edge of the fence that borders our back yard.  I was able to walk right up to where she was and snap a few pictures.  Once I was that close, I realized she had a pretty big gash from trying to escape the fence and was in bad shape.

Not knowing what to do to help this little deer, I called our local sheriff's office and asked for a message to be relayed to a conservation officer.  I waited and watched the little deer resting in our pasture.

When the officer got to the house, he did a quick check of our little friend.  Then, he gave me the bad news that the deer was in bad shape and all the rehab facilities are full.  He had two options.  First, he would try to get the deer out of our pasture and set it free to live or die.  The cycle of life, don’t you know.  Coyotes have to eat, too.  If he couldn’t get the deer free, he would need to end it’s suffering. 

I went back into the house to check on the kiddos and filled them in on the baby deer.  I didn’t hold any information back, nor did I go into any gruesome details.  This is life.  It is a lesson, not always easy to learn.  Sarah said to tell the officer that she has super powers and band-aids.  She’d be glad to help.  Gotta love that.  We all watched the progress with hope that the deer would get to be freed and given a chance at healing and life.

The officer, (bless his heart, ‘cause it was so very hot that day) chased the deer all around our pasture.  For such a hurt little thing, she sure had a lot of spunk.  Finally, she was just worn out.  She let the officer lead her gently to the gate.


And away she went.


She’s there, you just have to look hard because she really blends in. 

And the kids cheered and thanked the officer for a job well done.

The end.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thankful Thursday

Ten years of being married to a wonderful man.

He brings me wild flowers. 

He dances with my girls in the kitchen.

He wrestles with my boys in the yard.

He loves me, even when I mess up (and that’s pretty often).

He encourages me.

He goes along with my crazy schemes, usually against his better judgment. 

He holds my hand when I’m scared and hugs me when I’m sad.

He works hard so that I can stay home and be a momma.

He laughs at my corny jokes.

He let me bring home a cow and 15 chickens.

He didn’t know what he was getting into…

But, it’s pretty wonderful.

Thanks, honey, for ten very wonderful years. 

Blueberry Jam


Canning and preserving your own food can be a bit intimidating.  There’s a lot to learn if you have never done any canning before.  There are tools to purchase and books to read.  There are hot, boiling canners and steam filled pressure canners.  If it all seems a little much, start small with one of summer’s yummiest treats. 

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The very first thing to do is to get a copy of the Ball Blue Book or a similar canning instruction book.  It will provide precise recipes for many different foods as well as tutorials on the canning basics.  Follow the directions given in these books.  Make sure your book is up to date as well, as the directions for some foods (especially tomatoes) have changed over the years.  If you are going to put good food and precious time into jars, you want the results to be safe and delicious.  My goal in this post is to show you some of the basics and encourage you to try to preserve your own food.  It is not necessarily everything you need to know.  Again, get the Ball Blue Book and study it so that you will be knowledgeable and safe.


Canning blueberry jam starts with lots of blueberries and a willing helper with a potato masher.  Let her crush the berries while you go about your work.  She’ll have a blast and feel so great when she eats some of the jam, knowing she played a part.


Next, you get to add insane amounts of sugar to the crushed berries and stir them up. 




Slowly, bring the berries and sugar to a boil.  I like to do all the prep-work ahead of time and save this hot work until after the kids are safely in bed.  Canning isn’t as scary as it might seem to someone who as never done it, but it is a hot job that is best done when the kids are not running through the kitchen.  If you must can during the day, put up your baby gates in the kitchen door to protect yourself and the kids from spills.


Set out your tools.  Be sure they are clean.  I always re-wash my tools and jars before use just to be sure.

100_6672Now we are cooking!  Once the berries are boiling, turn up the heat to medium high.  We want to reach the gelling point quickly now that the sugar has dissolved and the berries have broken down a bit.



I stick 7 or 8 spoons in the freezer before I get started to use in testing the jam.  You have reached the jelling point when the jam coats the cold spoon (I drop some jam onto the spoon from the spoon I’m stirring with) and runs off in one long “sheet” instead of runny little drips.


Now, you are ready to fill your clean, hot jars.  I use a canning funnel, a large plate for catching drips and a glass measuring cup.




Wipe the rim of the jar with a clean cloth (I use a paper towel that is slightly wet).  Be sure that any stray jam is removed or it could interfere with the sealing of the lid.



Add your lid and the band to hold it in place.  I find that a kitchen towel works well when I am tightening the lid.  Those lids and jars are hot!






Carefully place your jars of jam into a boiling water bath canner.  Process the jam according to directions.  For this jam, you start the timer when the water begins to boil well.  Read, read, read the instructions.  Then, read them again just to be sure.




Remove the jars carefully and place them on a towel to cool.  You will hear each jar’s pop that signals a tight seal of the lid.  Do not remove the bands for at least 24 hours, as you want to give the jars adequate time to cool so the seal will not be damaged.


Enjoy the most wonderful, amazing tasting jam ever.  Share it with the people you love.  Be sure to save a jar back for when the late February blues hit.  There is nothing like a little taste of summer on a cold winter day to make you and your family smile.

Grilled Zucchini


Yes, I like to grill.  Everything.  Eric says I am a little possessive of the grill.  It’s true.  It’s mine.  Don’t you dare touch it, people.

So that said, grilled zucchini is one of the absolute best things about summer.  It is very easy to make and so good that you’ll want to make it every day.


Slice the zucchini into manageable pieces.  Drizzle with some yummy olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Grill the zucchini cut side down first.  Finish cooking the zucchini with the peeling facing the heat.  It is done when it has softened slightly, but is not soggy.


Enjoy a great and healthy side dish.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Rosemary Roasted Garlic and Mashed Potatoes




A sprig of Rosemary

Olive Oil

5-6 Potatoes

4 T butter

1/4 – 1/2 c milk

1 t salt



Slice the top off the garlic, drizzle with olive oil.  Wrap the garlic and rosemary in a double layer foil pouch. 


Roast in the oven or stick it on the grill until the garlic softens.  I like to roast the garlic while I grill chicken.


Use about 4 cloves of the garlic and store the rest for another recipe.  Add the butter, salt and pepper and mix well.


This smells so wonderful!


Now add your boiled potatoes and just enough milk.


Add another pat of butter in honor of you mother and grandmothers and try to decide who gets to lick the beaters.  Enjoy the best mashed potatoes ever!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Did He Just Call Me A Neo-Hippy?

We started our married life thinking that happiness and fulfillment could be found in successful careers and nice stuff.  We were brought up to do well in life.  You work hard, make your teachers/bosses proud, move up the ladder, buy a big house and nice cars, and then you start a family.  That’s the way it works. 

Only somewhere along the line, we found that it wasn’t all it was supposed to be.  We found ourselves in debt, with more stuff than we could care for, and a baby on the way.  When we realized that we both wanted our baby to have momma at home, we found that the things we were so proud to own, now owned us.  We had financed ourselves into bondage.  The life they all said was so grand lost it’s luster very quickly when our eyes were opened to the reality of the true cost.

So, we did something very drastic.  We made a budget.  We lived on the budget.  We did without things we wanted.  We scrimped and pinched every last penny in order to pay down our debts and free ourselves from that master.  It was awful.  It was hard.  It was frustrating.  It was worth every minute.

I stayed at home with Mary from the first.  Eric took on side jobs, we dipped a little into our savings, spent a few months in the red, and somehow we made it.  We are debt free, except for our house payment.  It has changed our lives profoundly.

Looking back, I can see the strength that battling debt gave us.  Our marriage is stronger, our lives are richer, our kids are blessed with a happy home.  We have also learned to live our life in a new way.  Once you fight so hard to be free from the bondage of debt, decisions are no longer so obvious.  Bit by bit, we have learned to make our decisions on purpose, based on so much more than doing what we are “supposed” to do. 

We’ve made decisions that others can’t or don’t want to understand.  We drive older vehicles, paid for in cash (well by check, actually) at the time of purchase.  We do without things we would like to have (a barn comes to mind) until we have enough money saved back to pay for them in full.  We decided to do without a replacement for our broken heat pump/air conditioning unit.  We shop for items we need at yard sales.  We use cloth diapers.  We garden and preserve food.  We have a cow and 15 chickens in our yard.  We tell our kids no if we can’t afford something.  We limit our dining out and recreation costs.  Our vacations consist of going camping instead of going to the ocean.

We’ve gained a lot, too.  We eat great food, much of it locally grown and organic in the very best definition of the word.  We know our neighbors and are becoming a part of our community.  We are able to give our time and money to support our church and other local works.  We are free to raise our own children at home, cherishing every single moment (yes, even the difficult moments).  We are not spending all of our time and resources trying to pay for something we bought several years ago.  We have a degree of freedom that most people do not get to enjoy. 

I read an article about this new and trendy movement toward simplifying.  The article used the term “neo-hippies” to describe folks like us who have decided to live life without all the amenities.  I suppose it must look strange to do without “necessities” and to do some of our work the hard way.  I know it is hard for some of our family and friends to understand why we do some of the things we do.

We are living life on purpose.  We are making decisions intentionally, instead of going along with what is culturally expected.  It’s not always easy, but we are happy doing things the best way we know how.  We are striving to live our life in a way that will leave a legacy of love, strength, knowledge and compassion for our children.  We are learning and growing as we go, doing the best we can.  If that makes us “neo-hippies,” then I guess we are in good company.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father’s Day!

So easy to make!  I just bought a simple black frame, some super-glue and a very fine-tipped permanent marker.  We “borrowed” the rocks from my mom’s flower bed.  The words are from the kiddos.  I added a small picture collage of the kids.  It’s a very manly, but very special gift.  We had a great time making it.
Happy Father’s Day!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Thankful Thursday

Kids enjoying a week of Vacation Bible School.

Cakes baked and ready for decorating.

Eric with a day off work, building a chicken coop.

Garden producing yummy food.

Good friends who call me on the phone.


Join in and share what you are thankful for today by leaving a comment.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Abundance, Freezing Blueberries


Blueberries are very simple to preserve by freezing. 


They are in season here, so Sam and I took a little trip to a local blueberry farm and brought home almost 2 gallons of berries… Not including the ones Sam ate before we left. 


They really should weigh kids before they go in and as they are leaving.


Pick berries that are very blue and fall into your hand easily, but are not soft.  Those berries that are ripe but not over-ripe will keep best and taste wonderful.


Wash your berries in icy-cold water and drain promptly.


I spread a thin layer of berries on an old (they might stain), clean towel to dry and sort.  I take out berries that were a bit too green, soft, or damaged by bugs.


Place the berries in freezer containers.  These are fancy containers (bought at the end of the season), but any tight-sealing, food safe container will do.  Freezer bags work as well, but you’ll need to be careful not to squish the berries.


All that’s left is to pop them into the freezer!  It’s really that easy!  They make a great treat to eat frozen, taste great in pancakes and muffins, and are lovely in a warm bowl of oatmeal.  Hope you’ll head out to the blueberry farm and store away some summer to enjoy this winter.