Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Nineteen years (and one day) ago I was busy getting to know my brand new daughter, and marveling at everything my mother (who'd had a ring-side seat during the delivery) was telling me about her birth, and what happen immediately afterward in the NICU (I had asked her to go with them when they took Ri). The Dr.'s and nurses were still scratching their heads over how she had come through completely well after such a long, difficult, and dangerous delivery; they certainly hadn't expected her to. They could not explain how it was that she was fine. So many things went wrong during that delivery, but she was perfectly healthy. I believe she was a gift from a merciful God. I wasn't saved at the time, but later on Ri was part of the reason I did get saved.

Yesterday we celebrated her birth with a day full of some of her favorite foods. I fixed pizza sticks for lunch, chicken and dumplings for supper, and chocolate pie for dessert. Right after I served her pie it started raining hard. She jumped up from the table with an, "Eeeeeeeppp!!", ran in the sunroom, slung open the sliding glass door, and threw herself prostrate on the floor in order to get pictures of the rain spashing on the deck with the camera she had gotten for her birthday. Family, Superman, and her best friend had all pitched in for the ridiculously expensive thing, but that's okay. She's worth it.

Nineteen years ago I felt lucky to be holding my daughter. Today I know I'm incredibly blessed to have her. She's such a wonderful, beautiful, exceptional person. I'll have to give her over to her new husband in a year, but I'll hold on with all I have and enjoy every minute I can with her until then.

Happy Birthday Sweetheart!!
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The way we pray.

Gardener's Prayer
-by Karel Capek

O Lord, grant that in some way it may rain every day,
Say from about midnight until three o'clock in the morning,
But, You see, it must be gentle and warm so that it can soak in;
Grant that at the same time it would not rain on campion, alyssum, helianthus, lavendar, and others which You in Your infinite wisdom know are drought-loving plants-
I will write their names on a bit of paper if you like-
And grant that the sun may shine the whole day long,
But not everywhere (not, for instance, on the gentian, plantain lily, and rhododendron) and not too much;
That there may be plenty of dew and lttle wind,
enough worms, no lice and snails, or mildew, and that once a week thin liquid manure and juano may fall from heaven.  *hopefully, only on the garden - added by me :D*

Boy, that's some prayer. It get it though. I want it to rain often enough that my cukes stay sweet and my tomatoes never split, but not so often on my rosemary since it doesn't like wet feet. But why stop there? I also want it sunny on the sun loving plants and shady on the shade loving plants. Of course, I want that without having to worry about where I should plant them in the yard in order to best achieve those results. And the best thing of all would be if God would allow my garden to have different temperature zones. You know, so I could grow cool loving plants like lettuce and sugar snap peas at the same time I'm growing the heat lovers like tomatoes and peppers. Just imagine the salad you could make, right out of your garden, just any time you want.

Ridiculous - no?

Well, it is a little silly, but the thing that came across to me the most when I read this little prayer earlier today is that, for many of us, that is how we approach prayers in general. I'm not condemning anyone - I'm too guilty of this particular habit myself. We start praying, asking God for every little thing we want, often  not even noticing the contradictions in our prayers. There are times that praying for what we want, followed by praying that His will be done, is a contradiction. I've often caught myself praying like that, and try now to pray instead that __(insert prayer request here)__ be done, if it be in His will, and if it's not, to help me, or whoever it is I'm praying for to accept it. And too, just like in the Gardener's Prayer where she suggests the list for God, we think we need to tell/remind Him of everything He already knows. It's interesting, and perhaps a bit telling, that this tends to happen the most (at least with me) when things are actually going along pretty well. There have been many times when life's pressures are at their greatest that I don't even have words when I pray. I'm too physically or emotionally spent to be articulate. Or maybe it's during those times that I'm all too aware of the fact that I don't have the answers, so I don't know what to pray for anyway. In either case, I'm sure God does His best work when I get out of the way.
On another note about prayer - my husband's maternal grandmother once told me that the biggest problem she had with turning things over to God was that she would get impatient, snatch those things back, and try to solve them herself. Hummm.That sounds vaguely familiar.
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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Cheese Dip

I love this cheese dip. So does everyone else in my family, extended family included. We rarely have a family function (only Thanksgiving) for my mom's side of the family where this dip isn't on hand. I made the mistake of not making it for one of the birthday partys one year and nearly didn't hear the end of it, so it's now a staple item. Some of them even want it for Thanksgiving, but I put my foot down about that one.
There are many recipes similar to this floating around, some with Velveeta and salsa, some very close to mine but using ground beef...this is the way we like it.

Cheese Dip
1 large box Velveeta
1 lb sausage - regular or hot, depending on how spicy you like it
1 can original Ro*tel (diced tomatoes and chilies)
chips - your preference

This easily doubles (that's how much I ususally make), or even triples if you have a large enough crock pot.

Cube your Velveeta and put it in the crock pot.
While you're working on this, start cooking the sausage, breaking it apart as you go.
Drain the fat off the sausage and add it to the pot.
Next, pour in your Ro*tel.
Give everything a good stir and turn your pot on low until everything's melted, about 2 1/2-3 hours.
You can turn it on high and it should melt in about 1 1/2 hours(depending on your pot), but you need to check it more often because the cheese will burn on the sides of the pot.
Once it's done, keep it on your warm setting, if you have one.
The cheese does burn on the edges if left too long, but it will last through a typical buffet dinner, or even longer, especially if you remember to go back and stir it once or twice.

We like to use the hot sausage with this and have even added extra peppers when we felt it wasn't spicy enough. If there will be a lot of small children I will use regular sausage, or mix it half and half with hot. I use the homemade diced chilies and peppers that we canned, so mine is a bit more spicy than the original Ro*tel. I think they make a hot version if you really want it spicy.

This is great on regular potato chips, tortilla chips, Fritos (the Scoops work great), or just about anything else. My older brother and my nephew put it, along with almost every other condiment available, on their hotdogs, and many in my family like to top a taco salad with it. They tell me it's good on hamburgers and baked potatoes too. I'm with them on the potatoes, and may try it one day, but I think I'll do without it on my burger.
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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Hotdog Chili

The first time I ever found out how absurdly easy it was to make hotdog chili, I decided that I would start making it instead of buying it. Now, since we try to eat less pre-processed foods, I'm glad I learned how to make it.

Hotdog Chili
5 lbs Ground Beef           1 Large Onion
Tomato Juice                  Chili Seasoning mix (optional-I used 2)
Chili Powder                   Salt (also optional)

I don't bother making this in small amounts, although you can if you want. I typically make it when we're having company and freeze anything that's left, in meal sized portions, for our own use later. We're not really big hotdog eaters, so that seems to work fine for us. You can make this with nothing but salt and some chili powder, but I really prefer to use a couple of envelopes of the chili seasoning mix. It probably has cumin in it, so you could just add some of that instead, if you happen to keep it on hand - which I don't. You could also use more of the packets and not use any additional chili powder or salt if you like, but I like to taste and adjust as I go.
While you brown your ground beef, finely chop the onion.
Drain off as much of the fat as you can and throw in the onion for a few minutes, just until it begins to turn translucent.
Next, pour in your tomato juice. How much you use will depend on how runny, or thick you want your chili.
And finally, add your seasoning packets and two teaspoons of chili powder. Turn it on low and cook at least 8 hours.
A couple of times during cooking I use a potato masher to make sure any large chunks of ground beef get broken up. I also take a second or two to taste it and add more chili powder, or add a little salt if I think it needs it. You probably won't need to add salt at all if you use just the seasoning mixes (the general rule of thumb for them is one packet per pound of ground beef), but if you use only chili powder, or less of the mixes, you may need to add salt. The reason I don't add everything at the begining is beacase it takes awhile for the full flavor of the peppers to develop and any heat will increase during cooking.
All finished!

Mine is a little runnier than I usually make it, but I knew I would have to make this on Friday, and then heat it in a regular pot on Saturday. It would (and did) lose quite a bit of moisture during the reheating (and while waiting on my procrastinating relatives to show up).

Try it out. You can make it as spicy or as mild as you and your family like it.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011

This year's garden

"When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant." -Author Unknown

So true!

We spent part of the morning weeding (a hateful chore when referring to the front flower beds), checking on the plants and trying to keep the zuchinni from overtaking the entire bed it's planted in.

In the bed we have along the right side of the back of our house(we had zuchinni there last year), we have okra and a couple of tomatoes (which I forgot to put the tower around this morning - argh). The sage is to the left, with one of my pinapple sage just beyond that (out of the picture). I have several other pinapple sage in the front flower bed. I didn't bother with pictures of the entire corner bed, because with execption of the holly hock, everything else is just comming up - that bed doesn't get a whole lot of sun.
On this side of the deck we have asian cukes, another tomato and some sunflowers.
Working our way around the back, we have chives (far right - which you can't really see although they are coming up), peppers, and another variety of cuke.
Down the rest of the length we have beans.
On the corner we have the parsley that is in flower. It's huge - as you can tell since it's taller than T.Lynn. We couldn't get a picture of the activity, but it seems like the whole thing is constantly in motion with the different insects that are always around it, pollinating it for us. Anyone for parsley seed? It looks like we'll have plenty.
Then there's the lemon balm.
T.Lynn again helps with understanding how big this things is. Almost as tall as she is, it's recently started flowering.
We put in two more raised beds this year. This one has herbs, tomatoes, carrots, and peppers, though the tomatoes keep you from seeing some of it. I just love those compact basils. I like the intensity of their flavor, and besides, they're cute. T.Lynn is partially hiding the oregano, which is doing much better this year.
The other bed has zuchinni...
...and more peppers and tomatoes.
We had to pull the zuchinni back from the peppers. I told you they were taking over.
I know. It seems like a lot of pepers and tomatoes, but there were several different types of each that we planted, and I wanted to raise more tomatoes this year, in the hope that I wouldn't have to buy quite so many for what we plan on canning. I get a good price for them, but still, a dollar fifty for a packet of seeds is even cheaper.
After much debate, we decided to use concrete block to form our beds this year. One reason is because the concrete won't eventually rot like untreated wood will. We decided to try planting a few things in the openings just to see how that would go. When researching it, we found mixed reviews on how well things grow in the openings. These dwarf marigolds seem to be doing well.
As is the elfin thyme.
Some of the other stuff is not doing so well, or didn't come up at all, so I would say that it just depends on what you plant in them. I've heard of putting alpine strawberries in them and we may try that next year.

I will have to try and get a bit earlier start next year, especially on my peppers. One variety in particular has been especially slow growing and I wish I had started it much sooner. We also have one pepper and a patio tomato, along with some rosemary growing in pots on the deck.

"One of the most delightful things about a garden is the anticipation it provides." - W.E. Jones

I'm feeling that now. The patio tomato has several green tomatoes on it, some of them already getting big. Several more tomatoes have blooms and the zuchinni is just starting to form flowers. Yummm!! I can hardly wait!
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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Preparing a Hope Chest

Ri was never very interested in doing much about a hope chest...until Superman. Then she began to panic. Her older sister and one of her friends had been working on theirs awhile, but she had very little, and I do mean very little for hers. At the time she didn't even have a hope chest, she just kept her few things in a box, but once we got past the first few months of courting she began to get concerned that she would not have the things she would need once she got married. So we got busy, and she started asking for hope chest items for her birthday and Christmas. Occasionally she still has a little panic attack, but I've done my best to assure her everything will be fine. Between my mom, step-mom, and hubby and me (hubby doesn't actually do the shopping, he's more of a financial backer to our plans :D), she's amassed a rather decent supply of (mostly) kitchen items. My mother and I each got her  4 place settings of the nice dishes she wanted last Christmas, and, among other things, she also has a set of glasses, several pans, casserole dishes, and serving dishes, as well as numerous kitchen linens (she thinks it's a lot, but she'll learn), and plenty of the odds and ends, like spatulas, graters, serving spoons, etc. Thanks to my step-mother, she even has a real chest to put it all in now. For Christmas she passed on to Ri a very nice blanket chest she had, already partially filled with some of the wedgewood dishes Ri had always admired when at her and my father's house, and some everyday dishes. I have made a point of picking her up a few things once a month, or taking her to pick out a few things herself once a month. Plus, I've reminded her that she has a bridal shower to look forward to. Considering the fact that's she's already more than filled the chest and has started having to use the attic accesses to store her items, I'm sure she'll at least have all the basics covered by the time she gets married.

I've also been working on some other things for her hope chest. In times past, young girls worked on their hope chests for years, with mothers, sisters, grandmothers and friends helping to fill it with items they would make. I've read that sometimes the girls would work on quilt tops that would later be quilted by all the women in the community at a quilting bee once the girl became engaged., and at her shower friends and family would give her other linens they had made for her. Those chests were filled with items lovingly sewn for her and her future family. Today most of the items a young woman accumulates will have been purchased, but I wanted to try and capture just a bit of what was so common all those years ago. With that in mind I have been sewing things to add to her hope chest. I have several things finished and several more in mind. It all kind of started when I decided that I could better use some of my chaperone time actually making things Ri could one day use, so I started knitting washcloths during the time Superman would be over if I didn't have some other type of work I had to to at the time. Here are some of the things that I've made for her.

The wash cloths, from my favorite pattern. These work up pretty quickly.
I've already finished one more and have another started. I want to give her a dozen, so I'm almost there.
Nothing glamorous here. Just rags I made from scraps that were leftover from a hooded baby towel, but no new bride wants to use her nice, new kitchen towles and washcloths to clean up a really grubby mess. This is the second set I've made. Maybe her nice towels will stay that way for a little while.
Hanging towels for the kitchen. This is also the second set I've made. The other two were made from sunflower patterned towels and pot holders. I plan on making her a few potholders from the fabric I used for the top of these. I just need to order some Insul Brite. The local fabric store didn't have it.
I just finished these embroidered pillow cases this weekend. Ri saw the pre-printed cases in a fabric store in Gastonia and I just had to get it for her since the quilt I'm making her is a sunflower pattern. I promptly lost the instructions right after I copied down the list of floss colors I'd need from the store, so I just winged it. Since I was doing it on my own I decided to make the butterflies different on each one. I think I like it better that way. Superman says he sould have the one with the big blue butterfly and Ri can have the one where the large butterfly is pink. Ri told him it didn't matter because he wouldn't be sleeping on them anyway - they were just for looks, and only to be used when making the bed. He didn't get it.
I fully lined the interior so the embroidery threads wouldn't get pulled as much when taking it off and on. After that, I finished the edge with a yellow shell border.
I finally finshed cutting out all the wedges I'll need for the petals on Ri's quilt.
All 720, plus extra - just in case.
I've also started sewing them. There are a couple finished ones to the left.

I think making items for a bride to include in her house will make setting up her own home all the more special for her. I want Ri to look at these later and know how much I love her and want the best for her and her family.

*Oh - I nearly forgot to mention that she has a sweet friend that she met through blogging that surprised her with several things, both for the kitchen and for her sewing supplies, along with a beautiful little handmade table runner. It was a wonderful gift.*
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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Just call me a slacker.

Well I haven't really been slacking off in general. I've been very busy, too busy even for crock pot cooking. Actually, just too busy to go grocery shopping, which is pretty necessary even for crock pot cooking. Also, there were several evenings (including last night) where at least half of us weren't home. This makes a difference because I buy meat in bulk and separate it into packages with at least enough to feed 7, more often with enough to feed 9. It's just a waste to make all that food when only 4 people are there.

All that being said - there's no crock pot recipe this week either. But I do promise to have one next week. I'll be using the slow cooker to help with food for our summer birthday party.

But, I have a consolation gift - of sorts. One of the things that kept me hopping this week was wedding plans (yes, they have a tenative date of next June - I may have said that before, but I can't remember), more specifically, shopping for Ri's wedding dress. Ri's best friend, and maid of honor spent almost a week with us and we used part of that time for dress shopping and other wedding plans. My procrastination prone family thinks we're a little nuts, but I plan on making this as stress free as possible by taking everything slow and easy, a little at a time, and with plenty of time for corrections if things go wrong, and they always do. So what's the consolation gift you ask? Well, Lys took pictures of most of the dresses Ri tried on and they posted a couple of them to a new photography blog they just opened. If you go check out December Roses you can get a peak of Ri in two of the dresses - not the one she picked of course, not even one of the ones in the final running (can't give Superman any glimpses), but a couple of them that she liked. The bridal dress photos are the last two in the post. Just so you don't think you're crazy, yes, the jacket and dress in the second photo are different colors. They didn't have an ivory jacket in stock to try on.
So go see my baby trying on wedding dresses, and for the record, no, I didn't cry. I didn't even sniffle. Buttoning up the hundreds of buttons on the back of the first one she tried on would have rid me of that desire had it ever been there to begin with. Thankfully, the one she picked has a zipper.
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Homemade Croutons

Okay - so it isn't Saturday, and this wasn't cooked in a crock pot, but it is a recipe, and one my family and assorted friends love.
I know I told you about the vultures devouring my homemade bread, and how I was concerned about having enough left to make croutons. My concerns were well founded. I did have to make another four loaves of bread before I could make croutons, but I finally managed to get some set aside for a day or two so it would dry a bit before I started. That's what you need; day old bread, or preferably bread that's two days old. I'll give you the standard size recipe, but as you'll probably be able to tell from the pictures, my batch was more than double the standard recipe. Have no fear - I will actually give you measured amounts for this recipe. Wohoo!!

8 slices homemade bread          4Tbls. parmesan cheese
5Tbls. olive oil (I mix mine 3Tbls oil to 2Tbls melted butter)
1/2tsp. onion salt                       1/2tsp. celery salt
1/2tsp. garlic powder                 1/2tsp. oregano
1/2tsp. parsley 

I managed to save a loaf and a half to use for croutons. My bread is made from Kamut so it almost looks like white bread. Given the number of people who typically eat at my house, making croutons (or most anything else) in small quantities is just a waste of time. The oil looks weird because I melted the butter first and then poured in the olive oil, but didn't think to stir it before the picture.
Cube your bread and put it in a large mixing bowl.
Then mix together the rest of the dry ingredients.
Drizzle the oil and butter mixture on the bread, a little at a time, stirring between additions to coat the bread evenly.
You should try pouring and taking a photo sometime - it's interesting.
All of the bread should be fairly evenly coated.
Next, add the dry ingredients the in the same manner, adding a bit at a time, stirring in between additions.
Spread the croutons in a single layer on a sheet pan and bake at 300 degrees, stirring often to promote even browning.
They're done when they are lightly browned and crispy.
I cooked mine in 15 minute increments, stirring in between until they started browning, then I checked every 5 minutes until they were done to my liking. I think I think they cooked about 50 minutes.

My family eats them on soups as well as salads, and for the occasional snack.
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