Wednesday, July 23, 2014

(Almost Free) Summer-Flower Window Treatments

We live in a pretty woodsy area, for being city-dwellers. Our house is almost completely surrounded by trees so natural light is a MUST for me. We want the privacy of curtains, but we also want light and the beautiful views of the yard. The other issue I have with heavy curtains is the kid-factor. I don't want a toddler yanking them down or worse, getting injured. All that being said, I felt like contact paper privacy treatments would be a fun option!
They were quick (four panels finished in under an hour), and almost completely free except for the cost of the contact paper (under $4).
I started out by having the kids pick some flowers and leaves. We mostly used Zinnias, remember this post?, that we started in the spring indoors. Wow, those chilly days seem long gone now with everything blooming, green, and HOT!
Then I cut the contact paper to the relative-size that we'd need for the window and peeled the backing off. Just a sprinkling of flowers and leaves, and then I pressed the contact paper onto the surface I wanted to cover. Running a knife along the edges of the window I got a near perfect fit! It's a good idea to err on the side of too much contact paper, that way you can simply trim the edges.
I'm really looking forward to more experimenting with this method! It's easily changeable and will be fun to switch up in autumn to the beautiful warm colors of the falling leaves. Here are some pictures that will give you a better idea of 'how we did it.' (Is it weird that you get a picture of my bathroom? Sorry. Don't look too hard... I have a two and three year old. And a husband.)

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Nature Loom

While pulling weeds in the garden yesterday, I needed a hands on activity for the kids to do while I worked. We participated in a large scale nature-loom at the Wheaton Arts Ecofair this spring and I thought it would be neat to make our own, just a bit smaller. With a few sticks, some yarn, and a little imagination I sent the kids looking for objects that they could stick into our garden loom. They found feathers, flowers, some rainbow chard, dead leaves, and many other little treasures.
The end result of our own loom was pretty cool, and it gave me twenty minutes while Evie napped to do some yard work without interruption. You can definitely make this without a fence, but it gave me a convenient (and close-by) place to hang ours.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to Teach Your Toddler Almost Anything

I'll start with the most important thing:

1.) Make sure your toddler cares about what you're teaching them. 
You can either motivate them to care by engaging them in a fun craft, or better yet stick with a topic that naturally interests them. Bugs are a big theme in my house, so I'm always safe starting there and branching off.

2.) Here's the model I use almost every time we have "table time" together

  • Engaging Activity- I always start with something that's going to get them sitting at the table. I say something like "Okay! Everyone sit down! Craft Tiiiiime!" That's usually followed by cheers from the crowd. Its a real ego boost, considering I'm going to be grappling for their attention in just a few minutes. For this example, as you can see in the pictures, we created little dragon flies from Popsicle sticks and a clothespin. Pinterest is great for inspiration.

  • Books- I keep a well stocked bookshelf of varying topics. I can almost always find something on the shelf that relates to the topic for the day. If I can't, the library is wonderful and close. Again, for this example we read a few books on bugs, especially this one that the kids love.

  • Show- Sometimes, okay oftentimes, I find something on Netflix, Youtube, Amazon Prime, etc. Today we watched this BBC doc on Amazon Prime.

  • Drawing- Next I pull out either the markers, crayons, chalk boards or paint and we do something else hands on. Today we used chalk boards. This is where I tie in letters. I have them practice drawing the letter of the day- today it's 'D' for 'dragonfly.'

  • Alone time- Go outside, go to your room, play with the craft project we made (even if that means it gets destroyed). 

Trying to do anything like this with toddlers is going to be messy. So... embrace the mess. It's more work, but parenting is work. You can clean it up when you're done. Something else to note is that I almost NEVER plan out our activity for the day beforehand. I make it a goal to do at least one activity rotation according to my model every day. It keeps the sanity (and at times creates insanity. You're sort of rolling the dice here.)

Most importantly, if no ones having fun, it shouldn't be happening. Make it fun! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Refrigerator Pickles

Any other gardeners out there hear me when I tell you that I have excess produce anxiety?
Like, if there's a zucchini in the fridge that I have to throw away at the end of the week I become noticeably upset. Well this morning we went out and lo and behold- eight new cucumbers! Eight! We might use two per day. Then again... we just ran out of pickles. But I didn't plant pickling cucumbers. Could it work?
As I normally do, I Google-d it. Google has been my stand-in Grandmother relating to all things domestic. Grandma Google gives me lots of advice on baking, canning, growing, sewing etc etc. So- can I use a regular cucumber when making pickles? After a little research I found picking slicing cucumbers when they are small yields the best results in the pickle making department. And we go through a jar of pickles per week. (that's when I'm not pregnant, during pregnancy you can double that figure)
I kept running into the Duggar's recipe over and over, so I gave it a go. In case anyone wonders, you can pick up pickling spice at an Amish Market, or in the grocery store's spice section. 

The Duggar's Refrigerator Pickles

You can combine these same ingredients, and rather than boil, just let it sit for a few days. You will get pickles either way, but by boiling you will have your pickles just a few hours.

Quick Pickles Recipe:

4 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
8 teaspoons salt
8 teaspoons pickling spice (optional)
4 large cucumber, cut into 1/4-inch slices

Combine white vinegar, water, salt and pickling spice in a small saucepan. Heat to a boil.

Place cucumber in a clean, dry glass container just large enough to hold all the slices. Pour boiling brine over cucumber slices to cover completely. If all cucumbers are not submerged, add cold water to cover. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour. Pickles will keep for about 10 days (but around our house we can usually eat them in less than 10 minutes!).

Makes: 2 quarts

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Time I Entered a Blueberry Dessert Contest and...

Lost. There you have it. I lost. As in I didn't win.
But you know what? We had a super-fun afternoon at Mood's Blueberry Festival, I got an awesome t-shirt, and I'm still going to share my recipe for 'Blueberries and Cream Cupcakes,' even though it's not a prize winner. There you have it. :)

Jessica's Blueberries and Cream Cupcakes

for the cake:
3/4 Cup Butter, softened
2 Cups Sugar
2 Eggs
2 tsp Vanilla Extract
2 1/2 Cups Flour
2 1/2 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup milk, or half and half.

for the filling (also makes a wonderful pie filling):
4 cups blueberries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tbsp corn starch
pinch salt
1 tbsp lemon juice

for the icing:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
a dash of salt
2 tsp vanilla
7 cups confectioners sugar
1/4 cup half and half

1. For the cupcakes, combine butter and sugar in a stand mixer until light and fluffy. 
2. Add in eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla.
3. Combine dry ingredients and add to butter mixture, alternating with the milk.
4. Place into cupcake liners 3/4 full and bake for 16 minutes at 350 degrees.

5. For the filling, wash blueberries and place them in a large sauce pan over medium heat for 7-8 minutes, or until they soften and a liquid forms in the pan.
6. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients and add to the blueberry sauce, mixing well. Continue stirring over medium heat for two minutes until the filling is thickened. 
7. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice. Let cool.

8. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and icing sugar until well combined.
9. Add vanilla, salt, and half and half and beat until light and fluffy.
10. Fill cooled cupcakes with blueberry filling, and pipe icing on top.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

When Life Hands You Tomatoes...Preserving Tomatoes Part One

You make salsa. Obviously! This is Part One of a series I will use to show the various ways that I preserve tomatoes. 

I think the interest in canning, at least in the circles I'm in, has been increasing. People like having pretty jars of New Jersey produce sitting on their shelves for the winter and they're nice to give as gifts during the holidays for out of state family and friends. 

Usually people who have never canned before are apprehensive to begin, or afraid of messing it up and wasting the produce or getting someone sick. The truth is if you follow only a few simple steps it is pretty much foolproof, and it is possible to teach yourself with internet technology. I have had bumps along the way and learned the hard way at times, but the more I do the more I learn. I continue to learn every time I take on a new canning project. 

My favorite cheat trick that is wonderful for first timers are the preserve packets you can find in the grocery store. To mix up the batch of salsa I made today, I used this brand. Their product is consistent and comes with easy to follow instructions. I got mine at the end of the season last year at tractor supply, and they were 75% off! So be looking for those end of season sales. I guess using a mix packet isn't ideal for everyone, but with three small kids it makes it possible for me to preserve double what I would be able to other wise. Not much thinking or planning is required, which is perfect in my book :) 

Here's how I did it:

1. I started with about 12 pounds of plum tomatoes that were given to me, for free! Great start, since my tomatoes aren't ripe yet. Plus I didn't grow any plum so it will be a nice variation in flavor. I like salsa with plum tomatoes.
2. Start a couple large pots of water boiling, place tomatoes inside, and scald for three minutes. It may take longer, but just wait until you see the skins start to peel away from the rest of the tomato. 
3. Let them cool, and peel and core the tomatoes. Skins should slide right off. Discard the cores (compost, if you have a bin)
4. Place all the tomato flesh in one pot, and with a hand blender or a fork, mash to desired consistency. I like smooth style salsa, so I puree mine pretty well leaving a few larger chunks.
5. Put the pot on the stove and turn on medium high heat. Add seasoning packets and bring to a boil, simmering 10 minutes. (follow instructions on package for amounts to add per pound of tomatoes)
6. Prep your jars. I needed nine pint jars for about 12 pounds of tomatoes. To do this, you submerge them in very hot, almost boiling water, until the jar is very hot. Also submerge the lids and rings. A neat trick I used this time is to put all of my lids and rings in a colander before submerging them, that way you don't need to fish around the pot with tongs for the tiny lids.
7. Ladle the hot salsa into hot jars, and wipe the mouth of the jar to ensure it is clean and dry. Affix lids to jars and twist the ring until it is just tight (not overly tight).
8. Submerge in your canning pot and process (boil) for 40 minutes. 
9. Remove from pot and set the jars somewhere to cool. They shouldn't be disturbed for 24 hours. Jars will make a popping sounds, and you'll know they've sealed if you can push on the center of the lids and they don't move.

And of course, if anyone has questions you can call (if you're a friend), comment or email me. Or invite me over and we can preserve something together! It would be fun.

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