Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Weight Loss Update

I mentioned back a while ago that I had lost 10% of  myself since school started last September.  Well, with the school year ended and summer here, I'm having to do a lot of shopping for clothes lately.  A frugal trade off: lose weight = need to buy smaller clothes; but lose weight/get in shape = healthier me saving money on food now (eating less and better) and health care in the future. . . or so it should.

Today I did something I haven't done yet this decade, and only the second time I've done it this millennia.  I bought a bathing suit.  See, last weekend, DH, DD1, her boyfriend and I went canoeing and kayaking up north.  My second time in a kayak ever (and I love it, hate canoes, but have found I love kayaks).

It was also the first time this year I've worn my trusty rusty black tankini bathing suit purchased sometime between 2003 and 2005 (it's predecessor was purchased in 1998; see I'm not much for buying new stuff annually).  Said trusty rusty bathing suit is rather loose now.  I was pleased, because last summer it was tight, almost grossly so--and then later, after we were done kayaking and off the river and out of earshot of everyone else, DH told me by bathing suit was too big.  Now, he's not one to notice clothing much, so for him to express this opinion-that my swim suit needed downsizing--was a very big deal. A huge compliment for one thing, and a nudge toward replacing the trusty rusty bathing suit with one that fits better.

So, today I actually went to the store and tried on brand new bathing suits.  I started with one size down from my trusty rusty black tankini circa 2000-something.  And then I went down from there. It took a while to find the size and style that fit me.

Then I battled sticker shock, weighed two different suits on the scale of "they both look good, but do they look good enough to pay this?", and finally chose the winner.  Another tankini, slightly different styling, in black and white this time.  A suit to hopefully last nearly another decade (which makes the price easier to swallow; amortized over 5 years of use, it only cost $10 per year. If I get a whole decade of use, that's only $5 per year).  Given my current weight, I don't think I'll be losing enough weight to make this new swimsuit baggy because I'm within 3 pounds of my goal weight, and within 9 pounds of my 'absolutely no thinner than this" weight.

Oh, and I'm now 15% less than I was last September.  :0)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reflections on Marriage

This month, DH and I observed our 19th wedding anniversary.  Nineteen years!  They've flown by, yet at times it seemed like such a large number would never happen for us.  In fact, if you'd asked me two years ago, I would have told you I didn't think we'd make it to our next anniversary, let alone our nineteenth.

We certainly didn't have a good start, statistically.  He was 23, I was 21, we had two children, one college degree, no money, no place to live, and he hadn't started his first job out of college yet.  He'd graduated from college only 3 weeks prior to our wedding; his last two years of college we'd lived together, with me working two part-time jobs sometimes totaling 50 hours a week and him taking 15-18 credits each semester, including summers. The economy was not great then, and brand new engineers weren't having much luck finding jobs in their field. So we had marks against us: our ages, our kids, our having co-habitated, our lack of resources.

What did we have then, other than kids and the odds against us? We had two people who were very in love, both hard workers, both committed to marriage and a traditional family.  We had a vision, a goal, and a firm belief that marriage is for life.  In fact, before I even accepted his engagement ring I told him "I don't believe in divorce, only death.  So if you mess up, I'll kill you."

Through the years, that statement has been both a guide--divorce not an option--and a source of joking between us :  "I just haven't figured out how to off you yet without getting caught."

Really, though, it has been us taking our commitment seriously; our commitment to each other, and our promise to God that we would stay married until we are parted by death, that has been the glue that has held us together through the tough times and repaired the cracks and chips that threatened to weaken us to the point of breaking.

There have been the trials of money--as in not enough money to cover necessities, let alone wants. 

There have been the trials of job losses (unfortunately two times these job losses were coupled with having a 3 month old baby at home).

There have been the trials of deaths in the family (most notably, DH's father only 13 months after DH & I married). 

There have been the trials of moves.

There have been the trials of building a home (this is a huge trial, no matter how exciting and rosy the prospect of building a house together is) and a homestead. 

There have been the trials of DH's job requiring him to travel frequently, and even live halfway across the country from me and our four children  for five months in late 1998/early 1999.

There have been the trials of DS2's health issues when he was little, and having to deal with the news that his asthma and allergies were so severe there was a chance he might not survive to adulthood (he has, and I believe mostly due to lifestyle changes DH and I were willing to make--that's where the homesteading really came in). 

There have been the trials of premature labor and the threat of losing DD2 before she was developed enough to be born. 

There have been the trials of strong willed children and possible ADHD in DS1 and trying to guide him as he grew up.

There have been the trials of family, of our parents and siblings not always supporting our marriage and sometimes inadvertently doing or saying things that could (and sometimes did, temporarily) drive a wedge between DH and I.

There have been hurts and slights and misunderstandings.  But we have been committed, trying to keep the big picture in mind and not get sidetracked by the challenges of the day (or month, or year).

Thinking back, I realize that our success in staying married pretty much boils down to us not believing that notion that marriage is a 50/50 partnership.  Because there have been many times where one or the other of us was not giving 50%, but we've made it through anyhow.  If either of us, during those times where the other was not pulling half the load, had stopped at 50% and said "I've done enough, I'm not doing more until you do", we would be living in separate houses and shuffling the children back and forth between us instead of enjoying family times and looking back at nineteen years of marriage.

No matter what people might tell you, marriage is not a 50/50.  If you only give fifty percent, your marriage is going to crumble.  If you only give when you feel your spouse is giving, your marriage is going to crumble.  If you only love when you feel loved, your marriage is going to crumble.  If you only look at the present, not the past, not the hopes of the future, your marriage is going to crumble.

Marriage is a one hundred percent endeavor.  Give one hundred percent of yourself.  Make a one hundred percent effort.  Take one hundred percent of the hard times so you can receive one hundred percent of the good times.  When you have a disagreement, reach out.  Remember that you are on the same team, not opposing ones. A team cannot win if it's members are fighting against each other. There is no winner--not you, not your spouse--unless your marriage itself wins.  There cannot be any holding of grudges, there cannot be any one-upmanship, there cannot be any tit for tat.  There cannot be one partner who is greater than the other. There must be love and forgiveness and effort and respect by both parties.

Is this easy to live?  Heck no! That's where the rough spots come in.  But if you remember that you loved this person once (especially for those times when you're not sure if you still love them) and why you loved them (in other words, see their good traits instead of only the bad/annoying ones that might be most apparent at the present time), it will be easier to hang on.  Remember that you're no walk in the park yourself; you have annoying habits, you have mood swings (yes guys who might be reading, you do have mood swings.  Just ask your wife ;0) ), you probably don't look the same as you did when you were dating.  It's not just your spouse who has changed from the perfect person to someone who gets on your nerves.

It all starts with you.  Doesn't matter if you are the wife or the husband, you are responsible for your own happiness in your marriage.  You cannot change your spouse.  Not by concentrating on trying to change them, anyway.  The only person you can change is you.  So when you are unhappy, don't look so much to what your spouse might be doing or not doing that makes you feel this way, look inside to how you are reacting to your situation.  Then change what you don't like. 

I'm not saying you should become someone you don't want to be.  What I am saying is that other people will react to what they see in us; our body language, our tone of voice, the efforts we make.  Follow the golden rule and treat others--most especially your spouse--how you want to be treated.  If you want to be grumped at and found fault with all the time, well, go ahead and treat your most loved one like that.  If, however, you want love and forgiveness and empathy and gestures of kindness, then that is what you should do for your spouse.

To use an old-timey farming illustration here, two horses teamed together (you and your spouse) make no progress, get no work done, by pulling in opposite directions. They (you) only get upset and worn out using their (your) energy against each other. But two horses who pull in the same direction can get the work done more quickly, easily and enjoyably.

Raising kids will strain your relationship, at times.  But I can honestly say, as DH and I prepare for our third child to leave home and know that in three very short years the fourth and final one will also leave the nest, that if you remember that you and your spouse are a team, you can make it through those child-rearing related strains and when the kids are grown, you will still have your best friend at your side to spend the rest of your life with. 

Pull together.  Enjoy your marriage, for the years fly quickly and you never know when you will suddenly find yourself at the end of your (or your spouse's) time.  Try to make the 'worsts' (at your wedding you did say you were taking your spouse "for better or for worse" didn't you?) as brief as possible so you can enjoy the 'betters' longer and longer!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Saving for a Not Rainy Day

Hot weather has descended upon this little place here.  The weatherman is mentioning the "N" word--nineties--too often this week.  Add the fact that we've had a dry spring, and my brain is thinking drought.  Drought is another bad word, especially when you are trying to grow your own food.  Not much grows well in drought conditions.

After several years of occasional contemplation on the subject (usually in the winter when thinking "what can I do better in the garden next year?"), I have decided to start 'capturing' the water from my washing machine and using it to water the flowerbeds and garden.  After all, with four of us still living here (DD1 scheduled to leave for college in less than two months!), the washing machine gets a lot of use.  That's a lot of grey water going down the drain. 

Grey water that could very well be employed watering plants in the summertime instead of 'good' water drawn out of the well, both decreasing the water table and increasing my electric bill.  Grey water that has already been 'paid' for by it's first life as wash and rinse water for our clothing.

Since I use homemade laundry soap, there's no bad stuff in the washer water (phosphates, etc).  Since several of us at this little place here are sensitive to chlorine, I don't use bleach in my laundry, so no chlorine to do bad things to my plants.  And since we are way, way, past the cloth diapering stage of our family, it is relatively clean water that gets kicked out of the discharge hose on the washer every day of the week.  And, since the discharge hose empties into the laundry sink next to the washer, it is easily accessible for me to tamper with!

This week, I conducted an experiment.  I located a small bucket that I could sit in the laundry sink under the discharge hose.  Okay, it was actually an old, empty, clean paint can.  But, with the label peeled off, it made a nice one gallon bucket.  First thing learned by this experiment: the washer puts out more than 1 gallon of water when it drains.  (I kind of figured this, but it is a front loader, which are supposed to be water misers, right?)  Second thing learned by this experiment: I don't want to carry water out of the basement one gallon at a time.  Especially all the way to the garden.  Just out the door to the terraced flower/herb/rhubarb beds is one thing.  Way over to the garden is another.

Based on this new found knowledge, I located, in the cellar, a two gallon frosting bucket I had rescued from the local recycling drop off site several years ago.  (Sometimes you can find very usable stuff there, if you look over both shoulders, are furtive about putting it in your vehicle, and willing to wash it up when you get home.  One time I found a set of 4 plastic stacking bins, another time four 2-gallon frosting buckets from a bakery, another time four one-gallon glass apple juice jugs and most recently an outdoor baby swing in need of new ropes. . .). 

Commence phase two.  I replaced the paint bucket with the frosting bucket and ran another load of wash.  First thing learned in phase two: the washer discharges more than two gallons of water at a time.  Second thing learned in phase two: the first discharge in a load of wash comes out brown, not grey (well, could have been the socks I was washing. . .).  Third thing learned in phase two: I don't want to carry water out to the garden two gallons at a time.

Phase three was then implemented: Placement of a 'storage tank'--a 55 gallon blue plastic barrel formerly residing in the barn--just outside of the laundry room door.  Water will go from the laundry room and be poured into the storage tank.  I will then use the tractor with loader bucket to carry the storage tank to the garden, where I can unload the water by use of a siphon hose.  Less muscle, more brains!

Second part of phase three: five gallon bucket put into laundry sink in place of the two gallon bucket.  Ahh, much better, more capacity, less waste. 

Interesting tidbit I learned during phase three by frequent monitoring of a load of wash:  my front load washer uses more than 15 gallons of water in a cycle.  But not quite, I don't think, 20 gallons.  I emptied the five gallon bucket three times, with a little going down the drain each time, but the amount caught in the fourth bucket was minimal, less than a gallon.

Another tidbit I learned: I can fill my blue plastic barrel in less than three loads of laundry.  So most likely not exactly a 55 gallon capacity.  Since we do roughly six loads of laundry a week, I'll need to scrounge up another blue barrel from the barn to hold a week's worth of grey water from the washing machine.

Also, I learned that if I let the water sit for a day or two, it seems to settle; if I dip a bucket off the top, the water looks clean and clear, with any sediment being in the bottom of the barrel.  I imagine this water will get fairly well filtered by going down through the soil before being taken up by the roots of the plant.  Really, this is how my engineered (and expensive) septic system works--'dirty water' goes into a holding tank where things settle out, with the fluid rising to the top.  The fluid then goes to the drainfield via a pipe, and the drainfield is made up of a series of perforated pipes that allow the fluid to seep down through the soil, filtering and cleaning it.

I'm amazed at how much water I've been letting go down the drain when I could have employed it growing vegetables.  If we conservatively say I'm capturing 15 gallons from each load of wash, a simple four loads of wash in a week gives me 60 gallons of water for hydrating my plants.  Six loads is 90 gallons.  How much water could you save from your washer for your flowerbeds or garden?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hay Time, With Softball Added!

Last week was hay time again.  We again hired a neighbor to custom bale for us, since a larger tractor and haying equipment were not in our financial cards this year. 

They came and cut it on Tuesday, and the weather forecast for the next four days was just glorious:  sun, breezy, low humidity.  Perfect hay-drying weather.  The only hitch was that Tuesday afternoon, DD1 and her high school softball team played in the state Quarter-finals.  They won 9-3, and DD1 batted in 3 of those 9 runs.

What sweet victory!  Perfect haymaking weather, and DD1 making it back to State Semi-finals at the end of her senior year.  Elation quickly turned to panic though, as realization set it: Semi's were the same day that my hay would be ready to bale.
Even with having the cutting, raking, and baling hired out, my family still had the hard work of putting the hay up in the barn.  Having all of us gone to the Semi's on the afternoon hay would be baled was not a good thing.

Dilemma.  What do I do?  I couldn't risk leaving the hay down, it would at best bleach out and lose nutritional value as it waited to be baled.  At worst, rain would return early and ruin the whole crop.  On the other hand, I couldn't very well skip the semi's and not watch DD1 play what could be her very last high school softball game in order to put up hay. Besides, I couldn't throw hay into the loft, and stacking it downstairs by myself would take forever.  Not to mention that I lose the first layer when I stack hay downstairs, even on pallets. No, I wanted my hay up in the loft where it had better airflow, less moisture and wasn't going to mold.

I talked to the guys doing my hay.  Would they be willing to stack it in the loft for me--oh by the way, my elevator's broken--for an extra charge per bale?  Or could they possibly round up enough wagons that they could leave full wagons in my field for me to unload Saturday morning? Or, did they think that possibly the hay might be dry enough to bale Thursday?

We consulted.  They consulted their parents (my 'hay guys' are two twenty-somethings my sons played high school soccer with, recently branching out from doing  hay with their family to doing custom baling on their own).   They tedded the hay Thursday mid-morning.  We looked at the hay.  Some would be ready to bale that afternoon, but the thicker windrows that had a higher clover content needed another day of drying.

We planned to bale what we could Thursday around four p.m.  The rest they would come back and bale Friday, leaving me up to three wagons, but I would have to unload them myself Saturday.

I thanked them profusely for being willing to work around my schedule.  Then I did what any person who wanted to stay sane would do:  I put an ad on Craigslist for hay out of the field at a reduced price (but still enough to cover my custom baling costs).  I only need about a third of my first cutting hay to feed my own animals, so selling the rest out of the field not only would save me the trouble of putting up hay I don't need, but it covers a large part of the expense of having the hay done.

That evening, DH, DD2 and I put 40 bales up in the loft, and sold 96 off the only wagon to get filled that day.

my view from the wagon as DH towed it to the barn

Friday morning, I got another response from my Craigslist ad, a lady who wanted about 200 bales.  I told her she could come pick them up Saturday morning (because if DD1's team won semi's they'd be playing in the Finals Saturday late afternoon, 1 1/2 hours away from this little place here).

Friday afternoon, we went to Semi-Finals.  DD1's team won; DD1 batting in the winning run.  School history was made: our softball program had never made it past Semi-finals before (they've been to Semi's only two other times--DD1's freshman year and sophomore year, she's been on varsity her entire high school career).  We would be playing in the state Finals the next day.  At this little place here, we'd be hustling our buns in the morning to unload the rest of the hay I needed, and sell the remainder.

It all worked out.  DH threw the rest of the bales I needed into the loft on Saturday morning.  Right after we'd finished that task, the lady buying the remainder of my hay arrived.  Her husband and son loaded bales while she and I conducted business.  Cash changed hands.  Between the hay I'd sold Thursday night and her purchase Saturday morning, I only had to come up with $58.30 out of my pocket to cover the cost of the custom baling (so, about 38 cents a bale for what I kept!).

And the State Finals game?  DD1's team won it, defeating the team who had beat them two years ago at Semi's and who had reigned as State Champions for the past two years.

Perfect hay at a spectacular price per bale, and seeing my daughter become a State Champion in softball:  Priceless.

Friday, June 15, 2012

DIY Graduation Cake

If you have more than a kid or two, and aren't afraid of baking, you may want to do what I did with the first child, and purchase a sheet cake pan (mine is an 11" x 15" x 2" by Wilton) and a set of decorating tips before throwing your first graduation open house.  With those items, plus a frosting spreader/spatula thing, I have made three graduation cakes so far, saving myself quite a bit of money versus ordering and purchasing a bakery made cake for each open house.

My pan is a 1/2 sheet cake size, which, depending on how big you cut the pieces, serves 18-40. For an open house, we cut pieces small and get 40-50 (some people request a 1/2 size piece because they are diabetic but still want cake!)  It holds a double batch of any from-scratch cake recipe I've tried in it so far.  Not sure how that translates into boxed cake mixes (which have never been at this little place here, I think I stopped using them in 1997 if not earlier. . .) but I'd guess at 2-3 mixes. 

Back in May, I received some coupons in the mail for my local grocery store that takes cake orders.  According to those coupons, their 1/2 sheet cake starts at $25.  Price goes up depending on what type of cake it is and what types of decorations you want. 

For my kids' open houses, I have made the equivalent of a full sheet cake (lowest price @ store $42); baking two cakes in my pan and then either layering them, or doing two different flavors and setting them out side by side.  DD1 chose a confetti (white) cake and a chocolate cake, which I converted to egg-less so her egg allergic boyfriend could have some. Anyway, had I purchased her cakes at the store, I would have spent a minimum of $50 and most likely not have been able to have the egg-less option.  My ingredients for both cakes, including frosting, cost about $20 total.  Yes, it did take my time to make, frost and decorate the cakes, but while baking I was able to work on other stuff, so that time is negligible.  The frosting and decorating probably took an hour, which is roughly equivalent to the time I would have spent on the phone ordering the cake, then driving 20 min to pick it up after it was ready and 20 min back home.  So, to me, time is not a factor, just the actual money spent.  Since I buy my baking supplies in big sizes (10 lb bag of sugar, box of flax seed meal, 5 lb bag of cocoa, etc) my price of $20 is a guesstimate based on how much of each ingredient was used rather than bag of flour, bag of sugar, tin of cocoa powder, dozen eggs, etc.)

Without further ado, here are two recipes for a 1/2 sheet cake.  The first is my egg-less chocolate creation, so I don't think I have to give credits to any cookbook since I changed the original recipe so much.  The second is also an adaptation (since I've never seen a from scratch confetti cake recipe), but the base recipe came from the book The Best of Amish Cooking by Phyllis Pellman Good and is pretty much her Ice-Water White Cake recipe.

Egg-less Chocolate Cake
4 cups all purpose flour
4 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups soured milk (sour w/1 1/2 Tbsp vinegar)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups cocoa
1/4 cup flax seed meal
3/4 cup water

Mix flax seed meal and water in small bowl, let sit 10 min.  This is your egg substitute, so don't skip out on or try to subsitute for the flax seed meal! 

Meanwhile, grease and flour your (1/2 sheet) cake pan and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Then, in a large bowl, combine all ingredients (including the flax seed mixture) and beat on low speed of a mixer for 30 seconds, scraping bowl constantly.  Beat on high speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.  Pour into pan and gently jiggle pan to disperse batter evenly. 

Bake in center of oven 50-60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out cleanly.  Remove from oven, and cool in pan on wire rack.  When completely cool, loosen sides from pan with a knife and gently invert onto a cake board (which you will serve the finished cake on).  Frost and decorate as desired.

Confetti Cake
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
4 cups sugar
7 cups cake flour (you can substitute all purpose flour; 1 cup minus 2 Tbsp for each cup of cake flour, but for this recipe I really recommend spending the extra $$ for cake flour)
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp baking powder
3 cups ice water
1 tsp almond extract
8 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1/2 to 3/4 cup nonpareil decors

Grease and flour cake pan.  Heat oven to 350 degrees. 
Sift together cake flour, salt, and baking powder.  In a large mixing bowl, stir together (or beat on low speed) butter and sugar until creamed and fluffy.  Add the sifted mixture to the bowl alternately with the ice water, beating on medium speed until all have been combined.  Then beat on high speed 2 minutes.  Fold in the stiffly beaten (must beat before adding) egg whites.  Gently but quickly stir in the nonpareils (quickly so they don't bleed and make the cake turn grey).  Pour into cake pan, jiggle pan to disperse batter evenly.

Bake in center of oven 40-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out cleanly.  Remove from oven, cool in pan on wire rack.  When completely cool, loosen sides from pan with a knife and gently invert onto a cake board.  Frost and decorate as desired.

To frost the cakes, I made a chocolate frosting for the chocolate cake, and a white (vanilla) frosting for the confetti one.  Both recipes are Betty Crocker's (40th Anniversary Edition Cookbook), then doubled; the chocolate one I adapted to use cocoa powder instead of melting chocolate.

Chocolate Frosting
2 sticks softened butter
3/4 cup cocoa
4 cups powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
4-6 Tbsp milk.

In a medium mixing bowl, stir cocoa, butter and powdered sugar together.  Mixture will be dry and butter should 'disappear' rather than forming crumbles.  Beat in vanilla and milk until smooth, then whip (beat on high speed) to desired consistency.  Can add more milk to make thinner if desired.

Creamy Vanilla Frosting
6 cups powdered sugar
2 sticks softened butter
1 Tbsp vanilla
4-6 Tbsp milk.

In large mixing bowl, stir butter and powdered sugar together.  Mixture will be dry rather than crumbly.  Beat in vanilla and milk until smooth, then whip (beat on high speed) to desired consistency.   Can add more milk to make thinner if desired.

To make the colored frosting for the decorative writing and edging on the cakes, I made a single recipe of the vanilla frosting (3 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup--5 1/3 Tbsp--butter, 1 1/2 tsp vanilla, 2-3 Tbsp milk), then divided it into the quantity I needed of each desired color (white, black, yellow; the school colors) and added gel food coloring to make the correct shade of each color before spooning into my decorating bags.

Before I made my first graduation cake in 2007, I made what I called "practice cake"  (only 1/2 the recipe of batter, adjust cooking time downward to reflect shallower cake) just to see if I could get the cake out of the pan cleanly without destroying it.  I didn't want to have any disasters during the crunch time of the several days immediately before the open house.  On the practice cake I also frosted it and experimented with the different tips in my decorating set so I could get the hang of using the bags and tips and decide which ones I wanted to employ for the official cake.  Every graduation since then, my kids have requested practice cake a week before their party!  (Needless to say, I gained two pounds last week. . .too much cake.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Dill Cheeseball, Sweet Tea and DIY Lemonade

For DD1's open house, we served two flavors of cheese balls; the one I gave a recipe for in my post from May titled "Cheese Ball!", and another one I concocted because I wanted one using the dill from my herb bed, but couldn't find a recipe for.  So, no copyright infringement occurring by posting the recipe, since I created the recipe ;0)

Dill and Garlic Cheese Ball
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened to room temperature
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, cut in small pieces
2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 Tbsp fresh dill, snipped in small pieces (use the feathery leaves, not the heads),
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried black pepper
2 Tbsp fresh snipped dill leaf

Mix together the cheeses until well blended.  Stir in the remaining ingredients except the 2 Tbsp dill, beat on medium speed of the mixer until smooth.  Cover bowl and chill overnight.  The next day (or 8+ hours later), form into a ball with your hands, and roll in the 2 Tbsp dill to coat.  Place on a small plate, cover, and chill at least 2 more hours before serving.

For drinks, we served a home brewed Black IPA, sweet tea (South Carolina style?  DS1 learned to make it down there, and taught me while he was home on leave), and lemonade.  DH made the home brew recipe; I'll try to get it and post it in the future.  As for the other two beverages, recipes follow below.

Sweet Tea (1 gallon)
6 bags (or 3 large bags) Lipton tea ("black tea, yellow box" as DS1 instructed me)
1 1/2 cups sugar
ice and water to make one gallon

Place tea bags in a 1 or 2 quart sauce pan.  Cover with at least 2 cups water.  Place on stove and bring to boil.  Once boiling, remove pan from heat and let tea steep 5-7 minutes depending on how strong you want it.  Pour tea into pitcher containing the sugar, keeping bags in pan.  Stir tea until all the sugar has dissolved.  Run some water into pan and swirl around to 'rinse' the pan.  Pour water into pitcher, press water out of tea bags while holding over pitcher.  Discard bags.  Add ice and cold water to pitcher to bring to one gallon.  Chill before serving (I made mine--three batches--the day before the party and put in the fridge until serving time)

Lemonade, 5 gallons
10 cups lemon juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
water and ice

In a 5 gallon igloo cooler ("the orange jug" at this little place here), stir together the sugar and lemon juice until dissolved.  Add water, one gallon at a time, stirring in between additions so you don't end up with sugar syrup at the bottom of the jug.  After the third gallon, toss in some ice, then top off with enough water to fill the cooler. 

For a 1 gallon batch, just use 2 cups juice, 1 1/2 cups sugar and make in a gallon sized pitcher.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cute, as Long as There Was a Windshield Between Me and Them

Yesterday, I was driving into the village to pick up DD2 from her second session of driver's education (let's not even go into how old this makes me feel--my fourth and final 'baby' on her way to earning a driver's license) when up ahead in the road I saw small black critters.  And they were moving, so I knew I better slow down rather than just shift in the lane to straddle them with the Suburban as I drove.  (Straddling small dead critters in the road is second nature, no need to slow down, LOL.)

When I got closer, I could see it was a mother skunk and her two babies.  Now, say what you will about skunks, but they are cute.  Especially baby skunks.  Especially baby skunks who are dawdling in the road instead of quickly following mommy as she leads the way to safety on the other side.

Since it is a two lane, country road, and it was the middle of the day, there was no other traffic but me.  So I stopped.  Yep, came to a dead stop in the middle of the road.  Where I watched the babies play and mother skunk repeatedly walk a foot ahead only to turn around, go back to her babies wrestling on the tarmac, chastise them (she'd bump them with her head), then turn to face the direction she wanted them to go, and walk another foot ahead.  The babies would follow, for about six inches, before they were again distracted by jumping on each other, or sniffing the yellow line in the center of the road, or watching a bug fly by. . . and mother skunk would again have to halt forward progress, backtrack to her wayward offspring and try again.

I sat there, in the middle of the road, for a good two minutes before they crossed out of my lane and into the next.  While waiting, I decided (maybe foolishly) to roll down my window, stick my cell phone out, and attempt to get a picture of them.  The first picture didn't come out, as they were too far away.  So I slowly rolled the Suburban closer.    Meanwhile, the three skunks continued their journey to the other side, seemingly oblivious to me and the big black behemoth I drive.  I took another picture, as shown below.

Daily dose of cute administered, back to the task at hand.

DIY Potato Salad

I have a confession to make:  I don't care for potato salad.  Tried it numerous times as a child and an adult, but have never found one I liked enough to eat.  That is, until I held DS1's open house in 2007 and made a batch (ok, more like a vat) of it from scratch.  By some stroke of luck, Betty Crocker's potato salad recipe is one I find delicious.  So now I eat my potato salad, but no others!  (Yes, I am rather a food snob that way.)

Giving kudos (and copyrights) to Betty Crocker, this recipe comes from  her 40th Anniversary Edition cookbook, which is probably my all-time favorite cookbook.  Most of my best recipes came from (or started from and then I tweaked) this book.

I quadrupled the recipe for the open house, but here is what Betty gives for a normal sized batch of potato salad:

Potato Salad
2 pounds potatoes (roughly 6 medium, if you don't have a kitchen scale)
1 1/2 cups mayo or salad dressing (I only use real mayo here & think that's what makes the difference between "I like" and "yuck")
1 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp prepared mustard (ya know, the stuff in the yellow bottle)
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 medium stalks celery, chopped (about 1 cup)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
4 hard-boiled eggs, chopped

Peel, wash and cut potatoes into 1/2s or 1/4s depending on size.  Boil until just fork-tender, don't let get so soft they fall apart.  Drain, and cool slightly (chop celery and onions while they cool).  Cut potatoes into cubes. 

In a large bowl, mix mayo, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper.  Add potatoes, celery and onion, stir well.  Add chopped eggs and stir again.  Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.  Serves approximately ten 3/4-cup servings. (At open houses though, hardly anyone takes 3/4 cup, so I figure a 4x batch to serve about 70-80 people.)

For the open house, I made the potato salad a day ahead of time so it could chill quite a while (plus, I had a softball tourney to attend early in the day of DD1's party).  The flavor is also better after 24 hours instead of just 4.  I used 8 lb potatoes, 4 1/2 cups mayo, 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup mustard, 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper, 4 cups celery, 2 cups onion, and 16 eggs.  I also used an enormous bowl to mix it in and then divided into 2-3 smaller 'serving' bowls so that I could have just one on the buffet line at a time, with the others staying cold in the fridge so that the potato salad never warmed up to unhealthy temps during the party.  When it is on the buffet line, I take a bowl that is about 2x larger at the base than my serving bowl, put ice in the bottom of it, then set the serving bowl on the ice.  If I had numerous dishes that required icing, I could use a small inflatable swimming pool to hold the ice and all the chilled dishes at once, but DD1 only had 2 items that needed ice.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


So, after the pig is rubbed (yesterday's post "Life Goes On"), roasted (to see our pig roaster, go to my post from June 2011 "The Homemade Pig Roaster"), and shredded, you can add barbecue sauce to it if you wish, to make pulled pork sandwiches.  I'll share my bbq sauce recipe with you.  It is what we've used for at least 8 years now; all the sauces from the store are just too sweet for my tastes anymore, not to mention the preservatives, etc in them.  This sauce is good for anything you want to grill, especially chicken, and mixes well with roasted shredded meats such as beef and pork for sandwiches.  It's easy to whip up, and does not require cooking, so even a child can do it (DD1 has been our official sauce maker since she was 10; she'll turn 18 in a few weeks).

BBQ Sauce

2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp mustard (the prepared kind, not dry mustard)
1 Tbsp tabasco sauce
2 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 tsp paprika
2 Tbsp coarse salt (canning or kosher)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion power
1/2 tsp celery seed
1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on how hot you want your sauce)

Mix all together and enjoy!  Can be used to marinate meats before grilling, or to baste while cooking/grilling, or to mix into cooked and shredded meats for pulled pork or bbq beef.  Store unused sauce in an airtight container in the fridge.  Should keep for several months, although at this little place here it's never been in the fridge more than 3-4 weeks without getting used up.

For DD1's open house, we quadrupled the batch of sauce and mixed it into an 18 quart roaster-worth of shredded pork.  Sorry I don't know the poundage of the meat, I just know DS1 filled the roaster about 2/3 full of meat, poured in the sauce (slightly less than a gallon), and mixed it together for BBQ pork.  The other pork (about 4 more roaster's worth!) we left 'plain'; it's really good this way too, and we can always add sauce to the leftovers later.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Life Goes On. . .

The party is behind me now.  DD1's graduation open house, that is.  It engulfed a huge part of the past three weeks; sending out announcements that double as invitations, cleaning and shopping and prepping and cooking and setting up and decorating and. . .

PHEW!!  The party was Saturday.  Sunday I spent in "open house lag", which if you've ever thrown a graduation open house, you'll know exactly what I mean.  If you haven't had this particular honor yet, let me explain.

Open house lag is where you are awake, but your body is in slow-mo.  Your brain works, but not quickly.  You move, but not quickly.  It is a state of mental and physical exhaustion coupled with the elation that you have pulled it off, the open house was a success, is now over, and you have clean-up to do.

But now it's Monday and life goes on.  Jobs require attendance today.  DD1 has softball practice today since her team won the regional championship on Saturday (championship game ended just 90 minutes before her open house began!).  Tomorrow she plays in the State Quarter Finals.  DD2 begins driver's education class today (my baby!).  DS1, K2 (his girlfriend, whose name is almost identical to mine) and K3 (their daughter, my grandbaby) had to return to SC.  DS2 has gone back to the U.P., where he is living and working this summer.  The garden needs to be weeded and watered, the laundry needs to be done, my 18 quart roasters need to be put away,  life goes on.

What I'd like to do this week is share with you some of the recipes I used in creating the food for DD1's open house. Unfortunately I won't have pictures to go along with them, but I think--and hope--you will enjoy the posts anyway and find them useful.

So check back tomorrow and the next day and the next. . .  all the way to Friday, and get not just a peek at what we enjoyed at the party, but also ideas and recipes if you ever need to put on an open house in the future.

Today's recipe will be the beginning of the food:  the rub for the pig we roasted.

It was a large pig, about 250 pounds, roughly 100 pounds more than it needed to be.  But, it was free to us since Mother In Law raised it, so who were we to argue with it's size? Besides, roast pork freezes and reheats well, so the extra pork (about 6 gallon-sized baggies of it) will feed us for months to come,each meal of it bringing back memories of DD1's great celebration.

The pig was killed on Tuesday last week, four days before it needed to go in the roaster.  It was split in half down the spine, then hung in a meat locker to cool and age.  On Wednesday and Thursday, the 'inside' of it ('outside' still had hide and hair on to protect the meat while roasting), was rubbed each day with half of the following barbecue rub.

"Pig Rub" (or any other kind of meat you want to put it on; it's great on chicken too).
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup paprika
3/4 cup black pepper
3/4 cup coarse salt (canning salt, kosher salt, etc)
1/4 cup smoked salt (I used coarse salt mixed w/about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp liquid smoke)
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp onion powder
2 Tbsp plus 2 tsp celery seeds
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients thoroughly, using a fork or your hands.  Make sure all the brown sugar is mixed in well and no lumps are present.  Store in an airtight jar (I used a couple of 1 quart canning jars) away from heat or light.  Will keep for at least 6 months this way.

Use roughly 2-3 tsp of rub per pound of meat.  Let the rub sit for at least several hours (in the case of something small like a chicken; or at least a day for something large like a hog) before cooking.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Going Batty

Things have been a bit crazy around here this past week, with DD1's graduation and DS1 coming home on very short (only 5 days!) leave for it.  Not to mention finding out last night that the tables and chairs we reserved for the open house this Saturday have been double booked, so we needed to scramble and find seating for 60 when we thought we'd be picking up just that today. . .

Sigh.  I feel like I need a straight jacket, lol.  Sane is not an accurate description of my life right now.  I'm definitely going batty.

Speaking of which, ironically, this morning I got a phone call from a neighbor.  She had a bat get into her house in the middle of the night, and she was hoping I could come get it out.

With a hand towel and a thick pair of leather gloves, I climbed onto the back of her living room sofa, reached up into the folds of her curtains where the bat had settled to sleep for the day, and gently extricated it. 

Then I carried it outside, and set it on the ledge of the window (apparently if you set them on the ground they can't fly off and are easy prey for cats, etc.).  So, by putting it up on the window, I was giving it the opportunity to live to eat tons of mosquitoes (personally, I like bats for this trait.)

After releasing it, and removing my gloves, I took a few pictures on my cell phone for posterity.

Add bat removal to my list of skills :o)

So, today I truly did go batty. In a good way.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Another Proud Mother Moment

DD1 graduated from high school yesterday.  I cannot express in words, concisely, the pride I feel in her accomplishments thus far in life.  I hope this picture sums it up.

At the beginning of her senior year, she found out her grade point was the second highest in the senior class.  She was pleasantly surprised, since she was number six her junior year.  When she informed me of her ranking, she looked at me and said "I'm going for it.  I want to be Salutatorian."

Of course, I supported her decision and wished her well.  A few months later, I found out that a thousandth of a percent difference in grade point was all that separated the seniors who went into the school year as second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. 

Gulp. She was going to have to maintain straight A's all year.  A single A- would knock her out.

I knew it wasn't going to be easy for her to pull off, especially taking two AP courses, being involved in National Honor Society as well as Student Council, being Vice-President of the senior class, doing both band and drama, not to mention choir, tutoring a third grade student three days a week (that student has improved immensely this year), playing on the varsity softball team, and having a boyfriend.  That was a heavy load.  She was expecting a lot of herself.

And she did it.  That's my girl. Salutatorian 2012.

She was a child who couldn't sit still and concentrate for long.  Her kindergarten teacher said she had ants in her pants. She struggled with reading, her writing was suggestive of dyslexia.  She and I put in many hours after school working on learning to read and to write clearly  She was not truly reading until second grade.  In fifth grade, she again struggled and we had her reading comprehension evalutated.  We put in more one-on-one time outside of school working on academics. School has not been a walk in the park for her.  But she perservered, and she got stronger.  She set goals, and she accomplished them.

Her plan from here is to go to college and get a degree in elementary education.  She is going to  make a great teacher.