Friday, July 30, 2010

Sweet Deliciousness

I've been itching to can lately, and I just couldn't stand it anymore.  We went to our local orchard, and bought a half of a bushel of "grade 2" peaches.  They were half the price of the "grade 1" peaches, for no good reason!  There were no bruises, holes, or anything wrong with them.  Their loss!  Aren't they pretty?

I washed the peaches off a batch at a time.

While water was boiling to prepare the peaches for skinning, I made a simple syrup of 1 part sugar to 3 parts water.  Yes, it's clear, you're not missing anything here.

I boiled the peaches for 30-45 seconds, then threw them in a (cleaned) sink with ice water.  I cut them in quarters, and the skin just about fell off.

I'm using the hot pack method.  So I took the skinned peaches and put them in the simple syrup.  I kept them hot as I funneled the peaches and juice into the jars.

So gorgeous!  (You can even see more peaches hanging out in the sink.)

I used a hot water bath to can these, even though I used a pressure cooker.

I only did an eighth of a bushel, and this is what I canned!

I had some peaches left over, so I made my mom's famous peach cake.  Oh, is it good.  I've never quite made it as well as she does (and I over filled this pan below) but it will hopefully be pretty good.

Mom's Peach Cake

4 cups Jiffy Baking Mix
6 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 cup milk
2 egg, slightly beaten
4 Tbsp. shortening, melted
Blend together batter ingredients and spread into 1/2 mix on bottom of prepared pan. Cover with layer of sliced and peeled peaches with juice. Add other half of mix.  Put as many peaches as will fit (with some juice) on the top of the cake.  Bake 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What Simplicity Means to Me

I know exactly the events that precipitated my launch into blogging.
  1. On a trip to Hartford, CT, I picked up a magazine from the airport called Organic Style.  I was enthralled, and I read it until it went out of print a few years later.
  2. This new found appreciation of things organic led me to do a project on alternative energy for a college course, and sent me to the site for the Center for the New American Dream.
  3. From here, I learned about voluntary simplicity.  I subscribed to a newsletter from
  4. In researching other sites like this, I found Shirley's blog (Choosing Voluntary Simplicity).
  5. At about the same time, at about 4 am one morning, I watched a 20 minute PBS special on Tasha Tudor.  I was in love.
  6. From Shirley's blog, I found Mrs. Mordecai's blog Be-It-Ever-So-Humble.
  7. From Mrs. Mordecai, I was introduced to Mormon principles, including the idea of preparedness, which fell in line with my dream of self-reliance.  And I found a whole bunch of other bloggers that I've come to respect.
  8. From there, I started my blog.
I've been meandering around in my bloggy-ness since then.  In my wanderings, I've kind of lost sight of what I'd been heading toward.  Total boredom on a road trip pushed me to buy two magazines that have re-inspired me: Mother Earth News, and The New Pioneer.  Mother Earth News is older than dirt (or at least older than I am).  The New Pioneer is so new that the issue I read is their first issue, and I can't find a website for them.

I can't nail down the time or place that most closely resembles the life I want to lead.  I know that I want old trees, some meadowland/farmland, space for gardening.  I want a solidly built house, with environmentally responsible electricity, heat, and water.  I would love to have a pond of some form (especially one like Shirley's spring fed ponds).  I would consider myself lucky to have chickens, sheep, and cows.  Especially cows.  I love them so :o)  I'd like to keep bees, even though I'm mildly allergic.  I want to have a cellar, with shelves of home canned goods lining the walls.  I want to have homemade soaps and candles.  A wood stove and/or fireplace would be amazing.  I would be thrilled if I could have tap-able trees to make homemade syrup.  I'd really love to learn to be alone and to be quiet.  Growing up in the space age means that I have a hard time not multi-tasking.  Even at this moment, I'm watching the History channel as I type.

Simplicity to me means knowing where things come from.  It means being responsible for your own survival.  It means possessions being not only pretty, but useful.  It means having time to enjoy nature, friends, and family.  It means being relaxed and serene.  It means providing for your own physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Garden Goings-on

I hadn't had enough time to spend in my garden over the past few weeks, so I decided to use my free morning today working in the garden and getting errands done.  I didn't get pictures of it, but I had mushrooms growing in my garden.  I ripped them out right away.  I can't believe I've been so neglectful!  She doesn't look too bad though:

 The garden (plus a hose) is doing well.

Our mess of a tomato patch

Just one of about 7 gorgeous green bell peppers

Our lovely parsnips - I'm so excited to try these!

Our carrots have gone crazy

The lima beans are slowly coming back from an infestation of some form

The marigolds are absolutely thriving and flourishing

More yummy tomatoes - beefsteak

Even more tomatoes - Romas

This one we're not going to talk about.  We're just going to giggle and squeal and hope the bugs don't get to it.

The nasturtiums survived their move and are beginning to flower again

Coneflowers, aka Echinacea, are sprouting up everywhere

Our lone surviving sunflower is growing smack-dab in the middle of our lawn

Now that I've been able to fill the feeder more often, the birds are back

A butterfly enjoying our flowers

Our gorgeous hibiscus bushes - I love them so!
Our newest addition - we've looked for pineapple mint for MONTHS since our old plants didn't survive our move.  This big boy was on sale for $2!

Our second tomato harvest!

Check out An Oregon Cottage for others' garden posts :o)

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Today has been a perfectly lovely day.  Last night, I stayed out entirely way too late.  I got home around 2:30 am.  We celebrated a good friend's 25th birthday with the card game Apples to Apples for a good 4 hours.  It was good, clean fun.

I woke at 7:30 in order to get into work on time.  It was a fairly productive time, even though the air conditioning was dead and it was 102 F outside.

I got home, had an awkward email freak out from my dad.  But I quickly recovered by getting out of the house.  We went to our first ever estate sale.  It really creeped me out, but it was interesting.  The house was amazing - probably nineteen-teens or so.  After we found nothing, we explored the local countryside for a good hour.

We found an amazing, inexpensive restaurant in a nearby town.  I had a crab cake, and *B* had the most fantastic french dip and brie croissant ever.  It was really brilliant.  I will definitely be getting that sandwich next time.

After that, we rushed off to Saturday evening Mass.  I don't remember the last time that I went to church two weeks in a row.  *B* and I have decided to make church a regular occurrence, and I'm very excited about it.

We're ending the night with one of my all-time favorite movies, The Holiday.  I love Christmas movies set in Britain.  So much so that we almost had hot chocolate for an evening treat, despite the raging heat wave.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Simple Pleasure Thursday

My simple pleasure for today is having time to clean my house.  Because today was the last day for kids at my camp job, I will have a lot more time to take care of my home in the future as well.  Tomorrow is camp clean up and Monday is a trip to an amusement park for a counselor treat.  After that, my mornings are totally free and open.

To celebrate this new-found free time, I crossed a bunch of stuff off of my to do list.  I vacuumed my whole house (minus the basement), I took care of the animals, I visited the garden, I helped *B* clean the kitchen.  I look forward in the coming days to being able to take proper care of my home.  I've been neglecting the very things that I love so much.  Rhonda at Down--to--Earth had posted on the joys of taking care of the home.  It's absolutely true.  And I feel so much better now that I've been able to fill that role again.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marriage Preparations

On Saturday afternoon, we had our reception planning.  We're going with - shocker - Christmas themed food considering we won't be home for Christmas this year.  We're having roast turkey breast, mashed potatoes, root veggies, cranberry chutney - yummm!  This will be tasty!  The cake needs to be worked on, because I hadn't even given it any thought.  What kind of cake should we get?  We were thinking a chocolate first layer, a lemon second layer, and a vanilla/chocolate third layer.  I have some work to do.  Well, more work to do - the invitations came in (correctly!) on Friday.  I will be addressing for weeks!

On Saturday night, we met with our sponsor couple.  They're very nice people from the parish in which we are getting married.  We really did enjoy spending time with them.  They have three children - 14, 11, and 9 I believe - so they're a bit older than we.  We did some exercises on how well we know each other and ourselves and exercises on our respective backgrounds.  Soon, we will be taking a "test" to see which areas we should focus on discussing and working through as a couple.  I'm very happy that we are working on our marriage before anything happens, rather than controlling damage afterward.

On Sunday, we went to Mass.  The husband in our sponsor couple had mentioned that he was going to 8:30 mass that day, so we decided to check it out.  *B* even gave me breakfast in bed/on-the-couch-where-I-fell-asleep.  We made it there just in time, even though I was sure we'd be late.  It was much better than the last two Masses I had been to.  I'm thinking that I'm really making some breakthroughs here.  I could really see us going to Mass there from now on.

Simple Pleasure Thurs- errr, Friday - err, Monday?

Oops!  I meant to post yesterday, Friday, but my simple pleasure is exactly the reason I didn't post.  My simple pleasure is reconnecting with my fiancĂ©.

Our first and only real argument, though we never raised voices, was a few weeks ago.  Father's Day to be precise.  We had gone to Mass in a neighboring parish.  I had meant to go many times, but I never got to it.  It was right after Camden, and I had felt really connected to religion for the first time in a while.  The Mass was awful.  Really awful.  I hated it.  But I knew that it was the priest, not the Church, that I was unhappy with.  So on the ride from the church to *B*'s parent's house, we discussed religion.

*B* wasn't raised with any religious education or association.  He had only been to a Bible camp with friends once, and they told him he and his family were going to Hell.  Most recently, he had been exploring non-Christian religious ideas.  I wasn't thrilled with it, but considered it harmless.

When we decided to get married in the Catholic church, we knew we had to answer affirmatively to three questions:
  • Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?
  • Will you love and honor each other as husband and wife for the rest of your lives?
  • Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?

When the priest had first told us these questions, he put the third one as "will you expose your children to the law of Christ and his Church?"  *B* was okay with that.  When the priest at the Father's Day mass reiterated the question as posed above, *B* started to get worried.

So anyhoo, the whole way to his parents' house, we talked about religion.  Since his awful experience with Christians (of some Protestant denomination), he was very leery.  To be fair, I was inordinately dismissive of his current beliefs.  Either way, I felt so cut off from him.

Last night, we went out to dinner.  We had been having a good conversation, so rather than going home, we went for a drive.  We got back on the subject of religion, but in a much better way.  I asked him what he actually believes (because even though you categorize yourself, no one believes all of what their religion says 100%).  The things he identified were not mutually exclusive from Christianity, and forms of it are actually present within Christian teachings.  We talked about how unlikely it was that some dude died for something he something he did wrong, even though he hasn't done anything.  We talked about taking the Bible literally versus investigating the metaphors behind the passages.  Then, we got home and picked out the readings for our wedding.  I haven't felt so connected to him in a long time, and I certainly haven't felt connected to him in that context.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Totally Unexpected

Last night, I dreamed about an earthquake that shook the bed.  It wasn't hard, and nothing was falling down around me, it just shook the bed a little.  So today I woke up, and guess what - there WAS an earthquake this morning!  I probably felt it in my sleep and figured I dreamed it.  *B* was awake and eating breakfast when it happened.  We had a 3.6 magnitude earthquake just outside of DC.  It was felt from PA to West Virginia.  There has never been a stronger earthquake in the area since records were first kept by the USGS in 1974.  That being said, I've felt stronger ones (while awake) when I was in Tokyo.  But to have it happen at home - that's cool!
It also makes me think about my preparedness efforts a little more.  When I originally thought about my endeavor, I figured the only problems my area has to deal with are ice storms, blizzards, severe thunderstorms, floods, and the very rare twister.  The biggest tornado that I can recall happened to the south of us by a good bit, and it was a total shock.

This is a before and after comparison of an F4 tornado in Maryland.  The part that looks like an eraser mark was the path of the tornado.

So apparently earthquakes are on my radar now.  While I'm not battening down the hatches for "the big one" like those in California do, I think that I'll watch out for a couple of things.
  1. No pictures or heavy objects above the bed.  We used to have shelves above our bed in our apartment.  I had considered putting them back up, but maybe I'll choose a different wall.  As evidenced by the rather large scar on my dad's forehead, heavy objects can sometimes fall out of the wall on their own, earthquake or no earthquake.
  2. Heavy objects go on the backs of shelves.  This is mostly related to my pantry.  While the shelves are not bolted to the wall (mostly because I need to change the pantry layout), I can make my own setup more stable as it is.
  3. Keep a bag of supplies under the bed.   I had heard of people keeping shoes, a flashlight, water, and a granola bar under their bed in a ziploc.  Maybe that's not such a bad idea after all.
What kinds of natural disasters do you prepare for?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bad News, Good News, and Overdue Post #1

Bad news - that little illness I've been battling beat me over the head last night/this morning.  When I woke up, I couldn't really talk at all and my throat was killing me.  I shouldn't take off of my summer jobs because they're so short.

Good news - I did take off of work.  This is the first day I've had to actually relax in a long time.

Overdue post - the garden.  We've had a lot of problems with things eating our plants lately.  Our lima beans and squash are the hardest hit.

Limas with chewed leaves

Stripped lima stems

Zucchini blossom taken over by ants and cucumber beetles

There are good things brewing in the garden though.  The same zucchini plant pictured above has a little guy struggling to make it.  Can you find him?

Baby zucchini

Lima bean with minimal damage

Amish paste tomatoes growing nicely

Sunflowers with actual tiny little buds on them

We're all about encouraging local life around here.  So we've got two bird feeders, two bird baths, and a ton of pollen producing plants for the bees.  At one point a lot of bees would have been scary (I'm allergic), but I've grown to accept and actually like them.

*B*'s dad made us this feeder.  We've put some really nice seed in there - no shells.  Don't worry about fat birds, the squirrels will eat it all. 

This is a finch bird feeder that we recently got.  *B*'s parents had one and it attracted the most gorgeous birds.  I haven't seen one on ours yet though.  Side note:  the feeder is suspended on our paracord clothesline by a carabiner.

These gorgeous flowers attract a lot of bees.  Does anyone know what they are??
This is my state flower.  What are they and what state am I in?  Side note:  Until this very moment, I thought that it was illegal to remove these.  My mom always told me so.  There is no such law!

Our latest harvest - red beefsteak and roma tomatoes, one unripe amish paste tomato, one carrot, two shallots, two teensy heads of garlic, and four onions.

This one didn't make it to the harvest picture.  Nom!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Can See the Light

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!  I have nine more days at one of my jobs, and one of those days is a trip to a local amusement park.  After Monday, July 26th, I'm back to one job at a time.  That is, until school starts back up three weeks later.  When I started my second job, they asked if I could stay on through the school year.  I said I thought I could.  I'm really not sure if I can keep up a 12 hour a day schedule.  But I think I'm going to try as long as I hold out.

When I told my grandmother that I was working two jobs this summer, she told me that I was going to get sick.  Nah, I thought, I'll be fine.  It's 95 degrees out.  Who gets sick in the middle of summer?  Wouldn't you know it, two days ago my throat started hurting, yesterday I got migraines, and today I'm stuffed up like I've been playing in the rain in January.

That being said, as soon as I get a chance to breathe (literally and figuratively), I promise an awesome pantry post.  Hopefully tomorrow.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Wedding Drama

Oy vey!  Things have been crazy around here.  As far as the wedding goes, everything has been planned for a while.  We've just been waiting and paying things off little by little.  Unlike many people these days, I refuse to take out a loan for my wedding.  That's just crazy.

So anyhoo, I finally got around to ordering our invitations.  They're so pretty!

I originially found them at Papyrus for $500+.  I almost died and resigned myself to hand-making my invitations.  Then, I found a website that sold them for more than half off.  That I could deal with.  So yesterday, I bit the bullet and ordered the invitations.  *B* and I worked together to come up with wording and everything.  

Here's where it got ugly.  We decided we didn't want any kind of a quote on the bottom, so we selected the option "no quote desired".  It turns out we were supposed to delete those words before ordering.  I missed that tiny little direction.  It now appears that "no quote desired" will be on the bottom of my invitation!  I emailed the company twice (two different email addresses) within 15 minutes of ordering.  I am praying and hoping that they can fix it before printing.  Otherwise, I have to pay to have them reprinted.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Care and Keeping of Plants and Animals

My garden hasn't been doing all that well lately.  Today, we harvested our last shot of snap peas.  They are so delicious.  We followed advice I found online and ripped out the plants, then scoured the plants for the pods.  We got a fair amount for a last harvest.  This is what it looks like sans peas:

Given our recent 100+ temperatures, I don't think the roma tomatoes look too bad.  They're just a little dead around the bottom.  And some have blossom end rot.  And the bugs are eating some.  Okay, maybe they're doing pretty lousy.

My squash is also being killed by cucumber beetles.  Specimen one:

 Specimen two:
I only have one two-inch by half-inch yellow squash growing.  All the people at the farmer's markets have TONS of squash and zucchini.  I'm working on getting these suckers to produce.

I did get one ripe tomato off of the semi-dying plant above.  Isn't she gorgeous? :o)

And so far, I've got one female-palm-sized green pepper.  Of everything still growing right now, the peppers are doing the best.  Each plant has at least one decent pepper on it.  None of the others are quite this big though.

After the hamster cage fiasco this morning, we needed to shuffle cages.  *B*'s big red-eared slider (a terrapin) has needed a new tank for a long, long time.  But aquariums are very expensive.  He decided, in a moment of brilliance, to buy a $130 150 gallon Rubbermaid stock tank rather than the $400 150 gallon aquarium.  Shamrock looks so happy (when he's not hiding from me).

Because Shamrock got a tank upgrade, my Terpy (same species) got a tank upgrade as well.

My turtle's not camera shy though.  Though he doesn't look very big, he's HUGE!  He's about the size of my hand, fingers included.  He was one of those Myrtle Beach silver dollar turtles.  They said they'd only get to big as big as their tank.  That is true, because if you don't get them a bigger tank, they die.  So he's been through five tanks now in his three years of life.

And as for Sixie, she'll get Terpy's old tank tomorrow.  It has been a looooong day, and she's doing okay for now in the bucket in our closet.  We did, however, find a fair amount of blood on the sock in her bucket.  I can't find a single speck of blood on her, though.  I'm really hoping that it's not an internal trauma.  She's not squeaking in pain, and I was able to handle her just as much as usual.  This hamster may have been named because she was the sixth animal I brought into our house, but I'm beginning to suspect she's got six lives, too.