Thursday, April 28, 2011


A friend of mine has been making her own strawberry jam for years and offered to show me (and a few others) how to do it.  Unfortunately, her jam making session was on a day that the boys weren't in pre-school so I couldn't go, but I promised myself that I'd figure it out for myself.

First, we went strawberry picking at a nearby orchard.  We, and by "we" I mean Ryan and I since the kids picked about five strawberries each and then sat in the wagon and ate a snack, picked about 14 pounds of the yummy little berries:


As soon as we got home, I got to work hulling and washing them.

This is what four pounds of hulled, washed strawberries looks like:


And this is what they look like all smashed up with a potato masher:


Almost all of the recipes I found for strawberry jam called for 3-4 pounds of mashed up strawberries, a package of pectin (to create the "jelly" consistency) and, get this, 6-7 cups of sugar.  Now I'm not a health nut; my kids know what candy is and they're allowed the occasional non-caffeinated soda.  But 6-7 cups of sugar?  No thank you.

I eventually found a recipe that said you can use no sugar added apple or white grape juice so I compromised and added one cup of white grape juice and one cup of sugar to our mashed up strawberries.  The juice added too much liquid and I wound up boiling the mixture way too long to get a good consistency.  My four pounds of strawberries turned into.....wait for it.....just two and half jars of jam:


It's a lot thicker than I'd like it to be, but the taste is phenomenal.  I can't wait to spread it on our pb&j sandwiches and breakfast toast.

Will we do it again?  I don't know.  It's yummy.  It'll last a long time (it's so rich a little bit will go a long way).  It's fairly healthy since I cut the sugar by five cups.  But it was a lot of work for two jars of jam.  My friend said to skip the big pot of boiling water to sanitize and then seal the jam jars and that will cut an hour off of the jam making process, but I'm a bit leery about germs and bacteria and such.  Of course, she knows what she's doing since she hasn't killed anyone with her jam.

So we'll see.  Maybe we'll try again next year.  Or maybe I'll just keep buying it from the people with the last name of Smucker who know what they're doing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Cleaning (Kinda)

Some people get the urge to do an intense house cleaning each spring.  I am not one of those people.

If there's a room that is particularly bad off (I'm currently thinking of our bedroom which has become the holding area for kid artwork, quilting projects that are works in progress, an exercise machine that rarely gets used, music equipment that is too fragile to be near children for more than five minutes at a time and toys that have been confiscated due to misuse and/or excessive noise [this is in addition to the regular bedroom items like, oh, a bed, chest of drawers and desk]), I spend several good hours doing a complete overhaul and cleaning.  But that could come at any time of the year, not just in the spring time.  The master bedroom is due for its big cleaning any day now; the fact that it happens to be spring is just a coincidence.

But, like any good procrastinator, I decided to tackle something else first, because what better way to think about how to organize your bedroom than to organize your pantry first?  (This reminds me of the numerous times that I re-organized my dorm room closet to avoid writing some awfully boring paper.)

When my mother-in-law told us that the not-so-nice Tupperware people were going to strip her of her consultant title due to low sales, we put in a huge order.  And by huge, I mean huge.  She generously charged us for only half of it, calling the other half my belated birthday present.  And our pantry went from this:



(Notice the large number of giant plastic bags holding things like powdered sugar, brown sugar and marshmallows.  So classy.)

To this:



(Yes, I used a label maker to label the canisters.  And yes, I am totally type A.)

We are loving it!  Now we're trying to figure out which appliances can be donated to the annual church garage sale so we can free up some more pantry space.  The coffee maker that gets used once a year when the out of town in-laws visit?  The fry-cooker that never gets used because we don't eat fried foods anymore?  The juicer that was a wedding gift that we've used a grand total of two times in ten years?  And then there are the mixer accessories we got as wedding gifts.  Seems kinda dumb to keep storing them when we don't even have a mixer, doesn't it?

Maybe once the pantry is completely organized to our liking, we'll get started on our bedroom.  But then, I'll probably find some other project to latch onto just so I can keep avoiding the bedroom.

Ahh, procrastination.....gotta love it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Random Friday Tidbits

* We have eight tiny tomatoes growing on our tomato plants!  I cannot believe how excited I am about this.

* I've been saving glass jars for a few months now and after we go strawberry picking next week, I am going to make strawberry jam for the very first time.  I can't believe how excited I am about this, either.

* I bought some flax seed at the grocery store and then came home and ground it up myself.  I think moving to the suburbs has made me even "crunchier" than I used to be in the city.

* My budding reader, Sydney, has started the 6th Harry Potter book.  She's read books 2-5 this year; she read (the 750 page) book five in about three weeks.  She reads at the breakfast table, in the car on the way to and from school and the other day she walked into a wall because she was reading.  Love my little bookworm!

* On a related note, Sydney has about 150 AR points at school (the kids read books, take computerized tests on them and earn points for correct answers).  Last year she ended the school year with 32 points.  Talk about a huge improvement!

* And another related note, she told us that someone paid her a dollar to help them with their AR test.  We put an end to that and made her give the dollar back, but I'm kinda proud of her for using her brain to get paid.  Is that bad?

* The boys only have about four more weeks of pre-school until they're out for the summer; I want to cry.

* We had some friends over last weekend for a really fun crawfish boil.  I spent a couple of hours peeling the leftover crawfish and I'm going to make a yummy etouffee out of it for our Good Friday dinner.  Yum!

* We're getting really excited about our Disney trip.  I'm trying to decide if we should go to Universal Studios for a day so that Sydney can see the Harry Potter theme park.  I'd hate to miss the opportunity for her to see the Harry Potter stuff since she's currently obsessed with it.

* We're taking the kids to go see Disney on Ice tomorrow for the Toy Story 3 show.  Both boys love all things Toy Story.  They have no idea we're going and I can't wait to see their faces!

* My mother-in-law officially retired yesterday.  I wonder if we can wrangle some more free babysitting from her now.....  ;)

* We're using our tax refund to pay medical bills.  Aren't we exciting?

* I need to go buy myself two new swimsuits for the summer.  I am convinced that having to shop for swimsuits after having children is torture.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

As is tradition here in Texas, we took our annual bluebonnet pictures this past weekend.  I may not be the best mom when it comes to taking my kids to a photography studio on a regular basis, but I have managed to get bluebonnet pictures every year.  Darn it, my kids are going to know that they are Texans!

Without further ado, our 2011 bluebonnet pictures:


(Liam = family clown)

(She loves having her picture taken.)

(You can just see the mischievousness in his eyes, can't you?)

(Even with messed up hair, he's a sweetie.)

(Evan enjoying his reward for sitting for pictures - yum!)

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's a Mystery!

On our way to take our annual bluebonnet pictures this past weekend (pictures coming soon), we stopped at our rental house in The Big City to set some rat traps in the attic (cue the collective "ewwww!") and pick up some mail that our renter was holding for us.  Our sweet neighbor happened to be outside and we visited with her for a while.  She couldn't believe how much the kids have grown since she'd last seen them and then made us a little sad when she said she's about to put her house on the market.  Her house is officially designated as an historic site because it's the oldest, free-standing brick (former) grocery store in the neighborhood.  In fact, the people who owned and ran the grocery store nearly a century ago used to live next door to it in our house (also about 100 years old).

Anyway, that was quite a tangent considering what I really wanted to write about what was one of the letters that our renter was holding for us.  Although it was addressed to both Ryan and I, neither of us recognized the handwriting or return address.  It read:

Dear Sir,

Back in 1962 I owned the house at _________.  I would like to know the owners' names and phone number so I can call them and see if a picture I painted on the wall is still there.  Thank you so much.  My address is _______ and my phone number is _______.  Enclosed is a stamped envelope to mail back to me.  


His Name

The house he was referring to is two doors down from our rental house.  Neither of us had ever talked to the people living there so we have no idea if the painting he mentioned is still on their wall, but I did jot down a few notes about the condition of the house as we drove by it.

As soon as we got home, I looked up the owners' names on the county's website and found their phone number in The Big City phonebook.

I mailed a response to the man this morning and I'm sure we'll never hear from him again, but the whole thing has really piqued my curiosity about both the painting on the wall and the man who wrote to us.

Who knows if the painting is still there after nearly fifty years, but wouldn't it be really cool if it were?