An Intentional Year

Have you ever had an idea and felt like the next moment you turned around someone was copying you, even stealing your idea? You think of an outfit that would be cute to wear and the next place you go, you see several people wearing it. You think of a unique baby name that is just SO original, no one else would EVER think of using it and then you meet a parent who has a new baby and there you go – there’s your original, unique name. This happens to everyone. We are all influenced by social media, name brands, television and the list goes on. It’s not surprising that our new, original, unique idea is exactly inline with well… basically everyone else’s. Which is exactly why most of us are currently filling trash bags with unwanted clutter and clothes, organizing our kitchen utensil drawers and standing all of our shirts, which are folded in thirds, up on their sides in our drawers. Thanks Marie Kondo… 

I have this hunch that our new laundry folding technique isn’t the only thing we all currently have in common. We are all feeling similar struggles, we are all trucking through similar trenches and we are climbing similar hills. For weeks (months if I am being honest) I have had the idea for this post brewing in my mind, this post about the New Year. I have struggled to find the time to get the thoughts and ideas down on paper… err my computer screen, but at last, here I go. 

Oh, time… what a double edge sword you are. Time is truly a force that can’t be reckoned with. No matter the effort, you will never outrun time. When talking about my children and time, I have often said something along the lines of “I wish there was a pause button,” “I wish they would stop getting older” or “I wish I could freeze time, right where we are.” Although I honestly have those thoughts, the truth is, I could never actually push that “pause button”… if such button happened to exist. I want to turn the page on their lives, our lives, and see what the next adventure is. In the same moment, it pains me to think about never being able to turn the pages back. Once the pages are turned, they are just that. It makes me think of a that blog post was floating around on social media a few years ago about how we only get 18 summers with our children before they are “grown.” This post does an amazing job at making you feel inspired to make the most of your children’s summers. I was on fire the summer after I read it. I was squeezing in all kinds of activities, making a summer bucket list happen, and skipping all sort of chores around the house so I could try to soak up as much “summer time” with my kids. It was a fantastic summer but the days didn’t move any slower. The pages just kept turning and I would even go as far to argue, they turned even faster. The author, Rebecca Cooper, wasn’t telling us how to make our summers last longer, she was wise enough to know that was a waste of energy, her big push to us was to make the summers count. 

So back to my New Year’s Resolution… or idea… or maybe it’s a goal? No matter what we call it, my focus for 2019 is to live, especially parent, more intentionally, purposefully and connected and I believe the key to that is the way we use our free time. Just like Cooper’s “Eighteen Summers,” I’m not here to tell you how you can get more free time but I am here to point out a few ways we can make the most out of the free time we already have – how to make it really count. I know I am not the only one hoping for this in the New Year. I have come across several social media posts where people are describing these similar feelings and hoping for a more intentional 2019 as they set new life rules for themselves. They must also be feeling the lack of quality with their free time and the burden of technology that I feel at times. 

Oh the smartphone… don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone but I’m going to be honest, most days I think it might hurt me more than it helps me. I love how efficient it has made me. I pay bills faster, I respond to emails sooner and stay more connected with friends, all because of my iPhone. Im getting more things done but Im starting to wonder at what cost – what have I given up without even realizing it? I often have to “hide” my own phone from myself. Yes, you read that correctly. I put my phone on top of the fridge a few times a week in order to get my to-do list done. I feel like a child even admitting that but it is just necessary sometimes. If I don’t hide it, I find myself spending 10 minutes here and another 10 minutes there looking at useless internet junk. I know I am not the only one… what starts as an email check, leads to a weather report check, which leads to a Pinterest check, which leads to me deciding on a new house project (that I don’t need), that then leads me to figuring up the cost of that said house project and then… wait… I don’t think I actually ever responded to that work email… and the cycle continues. A few weeks ago, my husband and I turned a show on to watch and then while it played in the background, we both stared at our phones. Once I realized what we were doing, I couldn’t help but question how we spend some of our free time. 

A few mornings a week I take my son to preschool and then take my girls to their school, which starts about 30 minutes later. I try to get some productive things done during that small window of time. I drop off recyclables, I return library books or squeeze a quick car wash in. Most often, we still make it to their school about 15 minutes before the bell rings. Sometime before Christmas, it dawned on me that most days I was pulling into the drop-off line, putting the car in park and pulling out my phone. I cringe as I type this… I get 15 uninterrupted minutes in the car with my 3 sweet girls before they part from me for hours and I was spending it on the phone. AND even worse it was usually to look at social media, where the majority of people are posting pictures of their kids. I was not talking to my kids so I could look at pictures of other people’s kids. As of the New Year, I have been putting the phone down, even turning the radio off, and enjoying more “car conversation” with my kids. Don’t get me wrong, my kids and I talked plenty before but I certainly am not upset about even more uninterrupted time with them. When they are grown and have moved out from underneath my roof, I know I won’t be saying “Man, I wish I had pinned more stuff on Pinterest.” I do have a feeling I will remember some of these car conversations though. 

I got my sister and I each a sign in December for our houses that says “Be Still.” It is to remind us to do just that – be still in the moments and soak them up. These days of young children and all the busyness that comes from that is what we wanted for so long. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in homework, work schedules, meals, bath time and bed time that you almost start to run on auto pilot. 2019 is a new start for taking each day in as it’s own page – this day, with all that it has to offer, will never come around again – surely we will miss something if we are staring at our phones. If we put down the phones, iPad, or screen of your choice and fill that time with something more meaningful, I think more quality free time will leave us with a sense of better balance. AND that’s just the start…

Tidying up our closets and getting rid of some of your junk (Thanks Marie!) is also a great start to having less “stuff” to distract your eyes and your mind. Clutter prevents my brain from settling down, which I know prevents me from enjoying family time. I am famous for saying “just a minute” for 20 minutes while the family waits on me to watch a movie. I have one of those brains that can’t relax and enjoy an activity if I see dishes in the sink, laundry that needs to be done, a rug that needs to be vacuumed… I am woking on letting some of those things go. The truth is there will always be laundry, there will always be dishes, there will always be something out of place and then there will always be some more laundry – there just seems to be so much laundry. I can’t prevent us from having dirty dishes and laundry that needs to be washed but I can get rid of toys we don’t play with, piles of old magazines, old decor I took down and never hung back up, books we read and don’t plan on reading again and don’t even get me started on DVDs. I have always loved the freeing feeling I get from donating our family’s unwanted/unneeded stuff. Continuing this, possibly simplifying the contents of my house even more, is certainly a must do. Reduce and let go in 2019 for more peaceful free time. 

Clean up your inbox. I’m famous for letting my inbox grow to an unmanageable number of emails. I certainly cannot respond to work or school emails in a timely fashion when they are hidden amongst 400 other emails. I am trying extra hard to check my inbox more frequently as well as actually deleting the read or unwanted emails. To take that a step further, I have recently taken the time to unsubscribe to emails. I have to do this a couple times a year, especially after christmas. When you order things online you often have to start with giving them your email address to set up an account and then you are on that retailer’s email list. After all the online christmas shopping I did, my inbox was way out of hand. Take a minute and scroll to the bottom of all those emails and click “unsubscribe.” DON”T WORRY you will not miss the advertisements! First of all, there is ALWAYS a sale going on. Secondly, do you really need more suggestions on things to buy? The answer is no – we are currently cleaning our closets out, not trying to add unnecessary stuff to them. Clean out your emails in 2019 so you can relax more when free time is presented. 

Read a book. I know this one sounds simple but the truth is it’s becoming something I do less and less. I read plenty – this week alone,  I have read about pesticides on our food, Costco and it’s declaration to stop selling Round Up, whether or not it’s fair that Adam Levine can perform a Super Bowl Half Time Show shirtless but a female can’t, which then lead to me reading about the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake “wardrobe malfunction” of 2004 and then I read a bunch about Sally Rides, the first American woman in space, while helping my daughter on a school project. Reading is not my issue, its just the lack of reading from an actual book. Reading a book, with it’s pages in yours hands and the lack of a bright light to stare at, just feels different. It’s relaxing in a way that reading on screen will never be. In my efforts to reduce our stuff and our budget, I rarely buy books and I have cancelled all my magazine subscriptions but now I find myself missing written text on pages. I believe a more relaxing end to the day, the kind that comes from reading a book, can lead to a better night’s sleep. A well rested night always makes me more patient and understanding with my family (and really anyone else!). Go the library, check out books, admire them on your nightstand and enjoy their content and raise the standard of your free time in 2019.

Don’t put off until tomorrow, what can be done today – easier said than done but oh so wise. I can easily put together a mental list of things I have been saying I am going to do for awhile now and yet, there those things are, still just ideas on a list. Heck this blog post alone has taken me 2 months to complete. I have pledged to make this New Year the year I quit procrastinating. In the month of December I said the phrase “I have always wanted to….” at least 3 different times and I was talking about 3 different ideas. Why not just do those things? I recently completed a project in my house that I started 4 years ago. The project was not hard and it wasn’t expensive. The next time I hear myself saying “I have always wanted to…” I am going to immediately move that item to the top of my to-do list. Checking things off my list that have been lingering around in my mind for awhile makes me feel like I deserve to sit around and enjoy free time with my family. Don’t put things off to the next day in 2019 or you may feel like you never have free time. 

Let’s write more in the New Year – the reasons why seem endless. I recently ran across some old notebooks from college. It was fun to thumb through them and read not only the notes that I had taken in class but also the doodles in the margins on my notebooks. One thing I was surprised about was my handwriting. It was by far neater than any grocery list I have recently scribbled – it made me really think about how much I currently write compared to the past. I am not sure about you but I just don’t do much pen on paper writing anymore. When my children were born, I went with journals that had just lined paper inside them instead of traditional baby books. It was an idea I stole from my mother-in-law and I love it. I love when my mother-in-law pulls out her journals for her boys (each child having their own journal) and reads parts of them to the family – I want that for my children too. The idea would certainly work better if I took the time to write in them far more than I have.

I only keep cards that have handwritten messages in them and I mean more than a sentence. What if we ditched cards all together and just did handwritten notes… don’t get me started on the price of a card. A handwritten note always means much more to the person receiving it. That amazing Facebook post for your child’s birthday – write that down in a card to them, same goes for that shout out to your significant other. In a world of digital, it will mean so much more for that special person in your life to have a tangible note written on paper to look back at in 20 years from now. Handwritten notes will become such a novelty compared the digital lives we all live. So whether it’s for better handwriting or to put more original thoughts and meaning on paper — lets start writing more in 2019 and add more meaning to your free time.

I can tell you right now I will still look at Instagram in the preschool carpool line as I wait alone to pick up my son. The next time I see a funny meme on Facebook, I will most likely repost it and tag my sister. I know for a fact, I will pin a dozen home projects on Pinterest this year (possibly this month) but I have set a goal to do all of these things a little less this year and not when I am in good company. I’m going to make an intentional effort to balance my smartphone time with plenty of face-to-face conversation with my family, hopefully read some new things, write some meaningful notes and it would be pretty amazing if I could do it all while my inbox is somewhat up to date.

If we can implement these changes, we can create quality free time – whether you have hours of it or 20 minutes a day. I have a feeling if we focus on a healthy balance to it all, the connected feeling that we desire in the New Year will follow – So heres to an intentional year for us all…

Homemade Vanilla Extract

 

I’m making a batch of  homemade Vanilla Extract and it is the perfect time for you to try it too! I missed doing this late summer, early fall – which is the perfect time to make some for Christmas gifts. It was on my list but it just never happened. So here I am getting it done in January but I think I prefer this timing even more.

Homemade Vanilla Extract is super easy to make and delicous to bake with. When I buy vanilla extract I always pay a few extra dollars for REAL Vanilla Extract. It smells better, taste better and only has two natural ingredients in it. Imitation Vanilla Extract has a list of stuff in it including corn syrup and caramel coloring. Real Vanilla Extract is certainly more expensive, double the price, if not triple for some brands. A cheaper alternative is to make your own. It is not only cheaper but will give you bulk volume and makes for great gifts. You can pair it with some cookie cutters and a tea towel and you have an adorable gift.

To get started, gather your supplies. You will need whole vanilla beans, your alcohol of choice, and small bottles if you choose to divide your extract up – possibly for gifting. You can use almost any alcohol you choose for vanilla extract. Most people use Vodka because of it’s neutral flavor. I have tried both Vodka and Rum and I personally prefer the Rum. In addition to Vodka and Rum, I have read people use Bourbon or even Brandy, which I think would give your Vanilla Extract a unique flavor. It’s suggested that you use a 70 proof/ 35% alcohol to 80 proof/40% alcohol – no need to spring for top choice 🙂

Vanilla Beans are available in the the spice section your grocery store. They are usually sold in packs of one or two beans. The last time I checked my local grocery store for them (well over a year ago) they were $14 for 2 beans. You can find them cheaper online though. I have ordered them from Amazon before. Vanilla Beans come in grades. Grade A is what is used for cooking. Grade B works just fine for making Vanilla Extract. I lucked out this past summer at my local Lidl’s (You need to check them out if you have not yet!!!) when I discovered they had single vanilla beans (in glass vials) for $3 a bean!! I bought six of them for homemade Vanilla 🙂

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Note my BEAUTIFUL cutting board! They are handmade by a friend (Holt Wood Crafters) and are sold locally – feel free to ask me for details!

So, how many beans and how much alcohol do you need??? I’ve read several different suggested ratios of alcohol to vanilla bean for Homemade Vanilla Extract. I use about a cup of alcohol for every 3 beans (a combination of a few suggested ratios). My bottle of Rum was 375 ML (1.5 cup) so I used 4 and 1/2 beans. I saved the extra vanilla bean half in the nice glass vial it came in and will keep it for future use.

To prepare your beans to steep, cut them first in half and then lengthwise. Inside the beans you will find dark fine grit which is actually the seeds of the bean pod. The seeds are the tiny black specs you see in Vanilla Bean Ice Cream 🙂 You are going to add the split beans, gritty seeds and all, to your alcohol.

You can steep your beans in the bottle your alcohol comes in and then divide the extract into smaller bottles when it has reached its desired flavor OR you can divide your alcohol and beans up in the smaller bottles and then let them steep. Your vanilla will need to steep at least 2 months before you can use it. The longer you wait, the more flavor it has though. In the past I have divided my beans and alcohol up before steeping the beans. This time I decided to add the beans to my alcohol in the clear glass bottle it came it so I can monitor the color.

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Again, you can use the extract after waiting 2 months but the extract will continue to darken for much longer than that. I plan to monitor my extract in the clear bottle until the dark amber color I desire is reached. I gave the bottle a shake right after adding the beans and you can already see the rum taking on a darker hue.

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Once I am done with the steeping process, I will divide my extract amongst my smaller bottles. I got these cute 4 ounce brown glass bottles on Amazon – attach a cute label to them and you have the perfect bottle of vanilla to add to any gift.

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So even though I did not get homemade Vanilla Extract made in time for christmas this past year, the batch I just made can now steep until next christmas! Imagine the robust flavor and color it will have come December.

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Enjoy!

 

 

Fall Printables – Its not too late!

AfterlightImageWhere have the days gone? That is the thought I had when I flipped my calendar from October to November. Days have been filled with work, house projects, attending and hosting events, school volunteering & lots and lots of laundry… “Fall” already seems like it is about to slip and make room for Winter and it practically just got here. I have already started Christmas shopping and I have been telling my kids it will be here before we know it. The truth is, there is still some Fall season left – lets not dismiss Thanksgiving before it even arrives! As much as I hoped to have typed this post the first week of October, it just didn’t happen BUT it is not too late for Fall Decorations, especially if you are the one hosting Thanksgiving dinner! 

Printables are an easy, cheap, and quick way of decorating! I have lots of pumpkins and fall candles around my house currently but my first bit of decorating was putting up my fall printables. I have 4 frames in my living room that hold black & white pictures of my kids most of the year but during Fall & Christmas time, I switch them out for simple printables I have downloaded and printed myself. LITERALLY, I downloaded FREE art and printed them out on my home inkjet printer… and that’s it. I even used cheap printer paper. I have taken the time to print some on nice cardstock but most are on just plain copier paper – you really can’t get much easier. Grab some old frames, buy some cheap ones or swap some framed family photos out for a fun change this fall. I promise, it is not too late! 

 

 

I will say, most printables online are a bit too “cutesy”for my taste but there are some really nicely done ones available as well, you just have to hunt a little harder for them. Here is a list of fantastic fall printables – some I have framed and some I wish I had! 

Autumn Definition

Blue Pumpkin Printable

Fall Feather Printable

Jane Austen Fall Chalkboard Printable

Fall Leaf Sketch Printable

Chalkboard Thankful Printable

Orange Pumpkin Printable

Anne of Green Gables October Printable

Give Thanks Printable

Fall is Here Printable

 

Print. Display. Enjoy. Happy Fall!

 

Farmhouse Jam

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Summer is in full swing and I am loving it. Pool days, daylight until 9pm, suntans, garden veggies, way too much ice cream… I will take it all! A few weeks ago I made time for freezer jam, yet another one of my favorite summer chores. I found a good deal on strawberries, cleared time in my schedule and started searching the vast internet for the perfect recipe. I couldn’t find a recipe that encompassed all that I wanted so I made my own and the end product turned out pretty fabulous! I am excited to share with you my “Farmhouse Jam.” 

I have made freezer jam plenty of times and I have tried all sorts of recipes. I have made it with white sugar (lots of it). I have made it with just honey. I have made it with and without pectin, etc. All the results have turned out fine, good enough to eat but not great enough to repeat the recipe a following season. The recipe I followed for a “no white sugar added” jam was made from just strawberries, chia seeds and honey. THREE INGREDIENTS!!! how cool is that!? I am all about simple when it comes to cooking and eating. I aim for the least amount of ingredeints in a food item I buy/eat and I want them all the to be ingredients that I can read, pronounce and be able to walk into a grocery store and buy myself. (check out 100 Days of Real Food  or In Defense of Food  for more information on Real Food Eating) I want to keep my cooking and grocery store shopping as closely aligned with real food eating as possible. I believe our bodies perform at their best levels when fueled this way. The problem with the 3 ingredients, no white sugar added jam that I have made in the past is… my sweet children. They will eat it… but they aren’t crazy about it. Imagine kids eating jam… but none of them are smiling.

I have made traditional freezer jam, the kind most of you have likely made. The recipe comes on the back of most pectin boxes and can be easily found with a quick internet search. Lets be honest though, its usually a bit disgusting when you see just how much sugar is needed. I know this means store bought jam/jelly has more sugar in it than I most likely realize, which is fine. I am aiming for something better than store bought jam, something both my kids and I like and something easy. My recipe has encompassed all of those things. It uses strawberries, blueberries (this blend is my kid’s favorite), a small amount of pectin, chia seeds to help bind the rest of the jam together, a reduced amount of white sugar (compared to a traditional recipe), and a tiny bit of lemon juice – that’s it!

I am so glad to have come up with a jam that works for our family. The jam is sweet enough for everyone’s taste buds without being too sweet. The consistency is comparable to store bought jam and the chia seeds add several health benefits. The chia seeds are rich in fiber, full of antioxidants, full of vitamins and minerals and also add some protein to the jam which helps with belly’s feeling full – win, win! I feel good about my kids eating it daily on sandwiches or in plain yogurt and I enjoy it on top of pancakes – it is amazing! So, here we go!

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Farmhouse Jam

Ingredients:

  • 15 Cups of crushed Strawberries (I got an awesome deal on strawberries from Costco right when they came into season) 
  • 5 Cups of crushed fresh or frozen Blueberries (I used frozen blueberries from Costco because we keep them on hand for cereal/snaking)
  • 15 cups of your choice of granulated sugar (A traditional freezer jam recipe with 20 cups of crushed fruit would call for 45 CUPS OF SUGAR!!! Let that sink in for a minute…)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons of lemon juice 
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1 container of Ball Real Fruit Classic Pectin (5.4 ounces) AfterlightImage 3
  • Clean jars with matching lids (amount of jars will vary by size) 

1) Start with crushing your fruit – I used a blender to crush/pulse my fresh strawberries after washing and removing the stems/leaves. I stopped pulsing my blender when the strawberries looked pourable. I used a food processor to crush my frozen blueberries. Since my blueberries were frozen, using a food processor leaves them chunky instead of them becoming liquid mush. The chunks of blueberry go really nice with the thinner texture of the strawberries. 

2) Combine all fruit in a large bowl/pot/container, add 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and stir well. 

 

 

3) Combine 1 cup water with 5.4 container of pectin in a separate LARGE pot (not the one the fruit is in) and bring to a boil for 1 minute, stirring well enough to dissolve the pectin.

4) Reduce Heat and slowly add 15 cups of sugar, one cup at a time stirring well in-between cups. The sugar will start to dissolve but not all of it may completely dissolve – this is fine. Turn heat off and let sugar/pectin mixture cool a minute. Then add sugar/pectin mixture to fruit and stir well.

5) Add chia seeds and stir well once again until everything seems evenly mixed.

6) Ladle jam into clean jars leaving about a 1/2″ space at the top. You may use a funnel if you want but I chose not to. Occasionally a chunk of fruit will clog my funnel which just slows the process down, I just carefully ladle my jam into each jar. I have an assortment of jars – jelly size canning jars, store bought jelly jars I have saved, etc. You can use any clean jar with a matching lid for freezer jam. Since we aren’t canning (sealing) jars, you do not have to worry about using clean new lids. I know lots of people freeze jam/jelly in plastic containers to avoid the risk of jars breaking in the freezer but I prefer glass. Glass seems cleaner (nothing leaking into my jam), it is thicker so my jam seems better preserved and I have never had a glass break. Make sure you leave proper headspace to ensure no jars will break. Give your jars a nice wipe on the top edges to remove any spilled jam before screwing on the lids and then you are done! 

I let my jam cool on the countertop for the rest of the day (several hours) to ensure that they are all room temperature before transferring to the fridge or freezer. The jam will take a little time to reach it’s full thickness. It was about 6-7 days before my jam was the consistency of store bought jam. Chia seeds can hold 12 times their weight in liquid but the process takes a few days. The jam is still delicious and useable during the first week. The jam can remain in the fridge for up to 3 weeks and in the freezer for up to a year… but at the rate we are eating ours, we will finish it in the next couple months!

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So, here are all the tiny details behind my Farmhouse Jam – just in case the recipe didn’t seem amazing enough already!

I added up the price of the fruit I used, the pectin, lemon juice, chai seeds and organic sugar and my total was $26 for my Farmhouse Jam recipe. You could reduce the price of your jam if you don’t use organic sugar. We don’t use sugar in our cooking often (so we spend a few extra dollars on organic sugar). We also feed our bees a sugar water mixture and organic sugar is what is recommended for that, so organic sugar is what we keep in our pantry. 

I used 26 jars that all varied in size. Some were 16 ounces (a jelly canning jar is 8 ounces). I estimated that if I had used all jelly size canning jars, I would have filled about 36 jelly jars. That means that a jar of my Farmhouse Jam cost about 72 cents to make and that is with organic sugar! You could reduce the price further or even buy organic fruit and keep your price at about $1 a jar for homemade, organic, reduced sugar, chia seed, jam!!! That is crazy! Not only is the cost amazing BUT each 8 ounces of jam has LESS than a 1/2 cup of added sugar in it! 

Hope you are inspired to try this new jam recipe or perhaps, try jam making for the first time! 

Enjoy! 

Let’s Grow Something – Two Garden Ideas From Mine To Yours & A Giveaway!!!

I got my garden in & it is growing well. I had a strange start to my garden this year. Winter seemed to drag on forever. I started seeds inside in late March. Starting seeds is always so excited. I love seeing them sprout and it gives me something to please my green thumb while the weather is still a little too cold outside. I moved my seedlings outside to my garden in April and then most got zapped by a late frost. I had saved about half of most of my seeds so I started over. I planted what was left directly into my garden boxes (direct sow). My lettuce was still good and I had covered my strawberries so my garden wasn’t completely bare but it was still a bummer to start over. Gardening is like that sometimes – weather is the unpredictable variable in the “experiment” of gardening. Even with the factors you can’t control, a vegetable garden is still simple to start. If you have not started a garden yet, it is not too late and I have a couple easy garden ideas for you!

If you feel like you know nothing about where to start, just know I was there once too! My dad would plant some pots with tomatoes and peppers when I was growing up but I don’t come from a family that had a big garden. My nanny kept a large garden but besides helping her snap beans, I didn’t pay much attention to it. After we got married, I got into our flower beds, a love I got from my dad for sure. After a few years of mastering flower beds, I started our first vegetable garden because it seemed like the next step. My garden tends to get bigger every year as I try new fruits and veggies. Sometimes I try things that go well and sometimes my new plants just go down as a learning experience.

A quick “garden” search on the internet will show you gardens in pots, raised beds and even large tilled garden plots. We have a fenced in area filled with an assortment of raised beds.

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Our family’s garden last summer. This years plants are not this big yet!

Raised beds can give you the space to do more than a few pots on the deck without all the tilling work of a garden plot. Once you fill your boxes with good soil you will occasionally need to replenish your boxes with additional soil, supplement with compost, etc. but you don’t have the soil run off like you do with a garden plot. I don’t even till my boxes. Tilling can actually break up healthy micro-bacteria in your garden dirt that are beneficial to your plants and tilling is hard work! I break up my dirt a little with a shovel, I mix in compost when needed (we make our own but you can buy it), I water the plants well and most of all, I spend time in my garden because you get out of your garden what you put in it. Time in the garden just feels good! Start small or start big BUT most of all just start it. Growing your own food gives you an amazing sense of accomplishment, the produce taste great (I ate AMAZING strawberries out of mine today!) and there have been lots of studies suggesting that people who work in the dirt with their hands are happier than people who don’t 🙂

Whether you are still thinking about starting a garden, just starting it now OR already have yours in, I have two fun garden ideas for you! First of all, I want to share with you about how I have more tomatoes than we need every year BUT I haven’t planted tomato plants in FOUR YEAR! It’s true! Four years ago my daughter’s school sold flowers and  vegetable plants for a fundraiser. We needed plants for our garden, the school was going to make some money – everybody won. I ordered tomato plants and a few other things. When I planted the tomatoes I noticed that they were an heirloom variety. At the time I did not think much about it. I planted the tomatoes, had a great crop, had several that fell off and rotted and I never thought about it again.

The following year when it was time to plant my garden I noticed that I had tons of tomato plants in my garden boxes and it has happened every year since. HOW COOL!!!??? Here is the scoop on the situation. Fruits & veggies naturally produce seeds that grow more of the same plant. People used to save the seeds from their crops to plant the following year. Seed saving really isn’t that difficult; I have done it a couple of times BUT unfortunately it doesn’t always work due to changes in the way current produce is grown.

Back when the industrial revolution took off, mass food production picked up and the seed industry changed drastically. In order to maximize the consistency of produce grown, commercial growers started to grow just a few varieties of each crop. The varieties selected were ones that could withstand drought, wind, cross-country shipping etc. If a crop didn’t have a variety that could withstand all the needed conditions, well… then one could be created. Hybrid plants are plants that have been created when breeders intentionally cross-pollinate plants in order to produce an offspring that has the best traits of the two parent plants. You can take a tomato plant that produces well even in a drought and cross-pollinate it with a plant that produces tomatoes that do well sitting in a truck for days and then you have the perfect commercially grown tomato for the industries needs. Sounds awesome, and in some ways it is. The science behind hybrid plants is why our grocery stores are able to stay stocked and why people in our country have plenty of food available without everyone growing a personal garden. I am not knocking it one bit but creating hybrid plants prevents people from seed saving. Gardeners who use hybrid seeds must purchase new seeds every year (the seed company keeps you as a customer) because the seeds from hybrid plants are most often sterile, do not produce plants true to the parent plants and IF the seeds are able to produce a plant, they will most often result in a weak, unhealthy plant.

So take the information and decide what’s right for you. I am not growing produce for more than my own family’s needs, I am not shipping any of my produce and I certainly LOVE the idea of buying seeds ONCE and having them for life! Not only can heirloom plants/seeds save you a little money but they can save you a little work too. I can pick a few of my heirloom tomatoes and save the seeds from them (think about how many seeds are in a tomato!?) or I can let nature do the work for me. NOW I’m saving time, effort & money. A few tomatoes spilt, fall off the vine etc., they naturally dry out, the seeds go into your soil and they germinate in the spring and sprout ALL ON THEIR OWN AT THE RIGHT TIME!! Mind blown! If you do not manually save some seeds, you do risk your seeds not coming back for a number of reasons. I do not spray any pesticides in my garden, I do not till any of my beds and I have TONS of tomato plants year after year! If you are interested in seed saving there is TONS of information & how-to directions linked here.

Below you can see a picture I took of one of my raised beds that has new tomato plants coming up mixed in with weeds that I need to pull 🙂 I zoomed in on a cluster of about 8 new tomato plants coming up all on their own. I will select the plants I want to keep, move them to their desire location and pull the weeds left.

 

 

Tip for growing volunteer tomato plants (plants that come up on their own) – I can detect a baby tomato plant fairly easy by its leaves shortly after it pops up. If you are ever unsure if your plant is a weed or a possible tomato plant, give the leaves a little rub and then smell your hand. Tomato plants have a distinct smell that’s much stronger than most weeds. Once you do this a couple of times,  you will easily be able to detect a tomato plant by smell.

I’m excited about everything in my garden but I’m really excited about growing my own shower luffas! I grew them last year and they did so well that they practically took over my garden – seriously the vines were everywhere. Natural shower luffas (or loofahs), just like the ones you see for sale at spas, come from a gourd and you can grow them. I harvested about 30 luffa gourds last year, although I really butchered the drying of the luffas. I have studied up on the processes and I’m giving it a second shot! My luffa seedings have just started popping up! I have place large climbing cages around my seedings. They are large vines that need some climbing space. If you decide to grow some provide them with a cage, trellis, fence etc. to climb.

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Photo Credit – Burpee.com

Grab your luffa seeds and lets grow some together! We can all help each other master the harvesting processes. A link to buying seeds is here. You can find others available online also. I chose to link Burpee’s seeds because I have used their reliable company before (I am in no way sponsored by or affiliated with Burpee).

And now… I HAVE A GIVEAWAY!!!

Hope you are feeling a tiny bit inspired to start a garden, try some new things in your garden or just get outside and grow something! Share this post on your Facebook page, follow Three Oaks Farm by subscribing via email so you never miss a post, follow Three Oaks Farm @ThreeOaksFarmBlog on Instagram, AND like the Three Oaks Farm Facebook Page so you can be entered into a giveaway! If you name is drawn and you are local, I have 10 heirloom tomato plants for you so you can have tomatoes forever!! If you are not local and your name is chosen, I have Orn Luffa Gourd Seeds to send your way – you will need to supply me with your address once notified. Complete all 4 steps NOW or by Tuesday, May 22nd for your chance to win!

Happy Gardening!

 

 

I decided to tear my pantry apart…

My kids were on their fourth … maybe fifth snow day in a row this winter and I decided to tear my pantry apart. I love a good snow day just as much as my kids do. I love that a snow days means there are no school lunches to pack, no rushed breakfasts, no school outfit arguements and most of all we get the day together. I LOVE having my kids home with me. Yes, the kids fight… and yell… and even cry but when we are all home together I feel like I have all the pieces to my puzzle and that feels good. My kids had several snow days this winter. We enjoyed every one of them but after a few days of us all at home, I was getting the itch for a project. It drives my husband crazy but I thrive on having a “productive” day. IT IS NOT HEALTHY AT ALL, but I usually measure how great of a day I personally have by how much work I get done that day – I’m working on changing this but as of right now, this is how it works for me. SO in January we had been cooped up in the house for a few days just the kids and I, my husband Matthew was back at work, and that is when I decided to tear out our pantry…

THE Farmhouse’s current kitchen cabinets were made in the 60’s by my husband’s grandfather and a local man that made cabinets in the county at the time (I know he told us the man’s name at one point but I honestly can’t remember it) I do remember Matthew’s grandfather said the man had a cabinet shop and he helped the man complete the cabinets. I found this old picture of THE Farmhouse Kitchen from when we first moved in – notice the large bushes growing in front of the windows. This is how most of the downstairs windows were.

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THE Farmhouse’s cabinets are great – they are plain, simple and wooden which I feel like makes them timeless, classic cabinets. Inside the cabinets, all the sections connect, meaning there are no dividers on the inside. All the cabinets (and their contents) run together on the inside, this is the only thing about the cabinets I can’t stand. The lack of dividers creates a bit of a mess inside, things sort of shift around, especially in the pantry section.

The pantry was three large doors (far right of the above picture) that all opened in the same direction (unlike a set of french doors). Above the main pantry space was another 3 smaller doors that worked the same way. The pantry was also pretty deep. The arrangement of the pantry often resulted in lost or overlooked items. I had been wanting to redo it for some time and the the fourth snow day in a row just seemed like the right time to start, so I grabbed a hammer and a small saw and started!

My husband got home when I had half the pantry torn out. We currently had a couple other projects half done so to keep him calm about me starting ANOTHER project, I told him the pantry project was all on me… even though I really didn’t know what I was doing yet. It took me about a week to tear all the existing doors and shelves out of the pantry. During this time, we were living with all our food/pantry items in laundry baskets in the kitchen… The situation was driving me crazy, driving the kids crazy and I know it was driving my husband crazy even though he never said anything about it.

Once I got the entire pantry area removed, I gave it all a coat of bright white paint. When we moved into THE Farmhouse, all the cabinets, trim and ceilings were painted a creamy off white color. I spent the first year we lived here painting all of it white. I never painted  the back of the pantry (as you can see in pictures). To finally put a nice coat of white paint on the the pantry felt good.

At this point, I finally asked my husband for some help. I explained what I envisioned for shelving. My husband helped with the measuring, did the cutting and we started putting the shelves in – the fun part! I decided on three selves at the bottom that are the full width of the pantry space. Above the full width shelves, we did shelves that were only half the width of the space going all the way up to the ceiling. I figured out the distance I wanted my shelves spaced. We measured cereal boxes! No joke – one of the things I really wanted was to have cereal boxes that could fit upright – we had to lay them on their side in our old pantry.

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For the shelves we used 2×12 yellow pine boards. The three bottom shelves (the ones full width are 2 boards). The boards are nailed into place resting on 1×2 inch wooden brackets nailed to the sides of the pantry. As it’s going together, the new pantry space is starting to look like a hutch, or piece of furniture built in to my cabinets and that is what I like the most about it!

When the shelves were done, I sanded them and stained them in a medium shade. I went with a stain we already had – Minwax Early American. We used this color on a built-in bench we have in our house and I really liked that it matched THE Farmhouse’s original stairs so I decided to use it again on the pantry. After the stain dried, I lightly sanded any rough patches one more time and then I decided I would wax the new shelves. I LOVE wood wax or waxing paste – I used this one.  Wood Wax protects wood from moisture, it’s quicker than applying a polyurethane coat (the dry time is a fraction of the time) and it gives your finish product a dry looking finish that I really like. Wood Wax or Finishing Paste is not recommended for areas with heavy traffic but it’s perfect for projects like my pantry shelves.

To complete the look of the pantry we mounted glass doors on the front. We had a set of glass french doors that came from a house Matthew had done some work on years ago. We were able to cut them down to fit the pantry opening. My favorite part was that we were able to do an inset mount (flush mount) on the doors so it gives the pantry a clean built-in look. The doors were slightly shorter than the pantry space so we had to mount a header board at the top. I actually like the look the board at the top gives the pantry. The pantry truly looks like a hutch that was built in to our kitchen and was always there.

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I can finally easily see and get to all of our pantry items. I have plenty of space for all our food as well as other pantry items (table cloths, crock pot, food scale, party dishes etc). I have baskets at the bottom for potatoes, granola bars, school lunch items, paper plates etc. Eventually I might get larger matching glass jars for all my baking items. We are now finding a new place for our trash can (we are going to do a pull out one in another location), I need to caulk the top board we added, give it another coat of paint and we are working on mounting a board at the bottom to take the kick plate out of all the kitchen cabinets. I am very pleased with the way we re-did the space and made it more functional. Another project is checked off our list for updating THE Farmhouse!

CHECK OUT THE SIDE BY SIDE BEFORE & AFTER!!!

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Budgets, Meal Planning & TWO Quick Dinner Recipes

2018 is going to be our year for BIG things – if I say it out loud then it helps me make it happen. We have set some big goals. We came up with a new budget for the year. We are working hard to pay some things off. We are working hard to rent/sell a house. We are going to work hard on some Farmhouse projects… and the list goes on. Most of the goals we have set rest on the idea of us sticking to our budget. Without the budget, the rest of the goals just fall flat. The main way we are going to make our budget work (and stick to it) is by gaining control of our grocery bill, our largest monthly expense. This is something I have worked really hard on for a while now and we are slowly making progress. I could do a whole post on budgeting (I most likely will) but for right now the biggest tip I have  is MEAL PLANNING. If you have a “number” you are trying to keep your monthly grocery expense under, I am not sure that can be done without meal planning. In addition to that, meal planning just keeps my life more organized and who would pass that up?

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March’s Menu planning… and some Cycle Routine writing thrown in there.

For as long as I can remember, I have planned seven dinners and gone grocery shopping once a week. New for 2018, I am planning our meals a month at a time and it has already made a huge difference. It takes me only 5 minutes, maybe 10 minutes if I’m on Pinterest awhile. Now that I have “monthly meal planned” for a few months (I just filled in March’s Menu yesterday) I have learned a few things. When I meal plan for the month, instead of the week, I can see the bigger picture. The menu flows, staggers and stays interesting. There are several meals we have in heavy rotation – tired and true recipes we all enjoy. I fill those meals in FIRST on my monthly menu, skipping about a week before filling that same meal in again. “Salmon & Veggies” is one of our most go-to meals. I make sure it’s on the calendar about every 5-7 days. I just keep filling in the days with our regular go-to meals: spaghetti, steak & veggies etc.

Wednesday is always our busy night. I teach a 6pm Cycle class on Wednesdays, my kids had basketball practice on Wednesdays, and as soon as basketball ended one of my kids started staying after school on Wednesdays for another activity. For whatever reasons, it  just seems to stay our crazy evening. We are often eating at 7pm on Wednesday nights. I like to rotate the same 2 easiest dinners on our busiest night. Those recipes are Easy Chicken Tacos and Grilled Cheese & Tomato Bisque. (Recipes at the bottom!!!)

Once I fill my Wednesdays in, I am usually left with a spot or two a week to fill in. I add some meatless meals because they tend to be cheaper meals, most people consume more animal protein than needed and it also helps mix things up. Blueberry pancakes, Quiche and homemade pizza are meatless meals our whole family enjoys.

I normally always end up with one random spot left so I fill it with a new recipe we have never tried (thank you Pinterest!). I normally seem to always have a recipe I have pinned that we have never actually tried so I use this as a chance to try those recipes. This helps keep things interesting and we might find a meal that becomes a new favorite. If you decide to try a new recipe, try to select once that has ingredients you either already have or already need to buy for another recipe. You can easily ruin a grocery budget trying new recipes with unusual ingredients that you may never need again.

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March Menu completed. I would have used neater handwriting if I had known I was going to end of taking a picture of it.

The meal calendar stays on the fridge for everyone to see and we try really hard to not make any substitutions on meals. There has been several times I have called home at dinner time and Matthew says “I started cooking fish for dinner, it’s what was on the calendar…” If you are on the way home late, hungry, tired and you hear your spouse say that… talk about an amen moment!!! The kids also enjoy glancing at the Monthly Menu and saying things like “3 more nights and it is Homemade Pizza night!” – which is just adorable! When you start changing your meals around mid-week, you are setting your self up for needing to go to the store for something you do not have in the pantry. Once the meals are planned and you have shopped, do not make changes. 

Once a week I go shopping (we occasionally have that break out mid-week shopping trip for a couple of things). I do my shopping once a week at Costco. Yes, I go to Costco once a week! We are a family of six… do you know how much fruit, granola bars, veggies & laundry detergent we go through!? I try to go straight to a smaller grocery store right after Costco (Kroger, Foodlion, etc.) to grab my list of things that Costco doesn’t have – my flour that Costco doesn’t carry, certain produce, etc.) I make my grocery list based on the Meal Calendar and I stick to it! I only need to buy the ingredients for the meals that week but I often grab a lot of stuff for the entire month my first week shopping. A Costco 3 pack of spaghetti sauce will be used for all the spaghetti dinners in a month. A salmon fillet big enough to cut into 4 pieces for the freezer will do for the month, etc. I find my “weekly grocery shopping/monthly meal planning” plan simple and something I easily make a weekly habit.

I photocopied all the sheets from a calendar before they had been written on and use them for my Monthly Menus but you can download a blank calendar here!

NOW for my two Easy Wednesday meals – both are Whole/Clean Meals. I know everyone has their own way of eating – Whole Food eating became our family’s way of eating 6 years ago (detailed post on that coming). The main idea behind our food lifestyle came from a blog I stumbled upon when trying to get healthier and lose some baby weight after our third child was born. 100 Days Of Real Food Blog has become very popular and I can not say enough good stuff about it! If you have never checked it out before, it is certainly worth a glance! The Tomato Bisque recipe I use comes from that blog. It is a family favorite paired with grilled cheeses for dunking. I can prepare the soup in 20 minutes (it simmers for up to 30 minutes) before I teach class and we can enjoy it when we get home with quick grilled cheese sandwiches (on whole wheat bread with white cheddar cheese). We just had this soup last night, I should have taken a picture. It sure was delicious!!!

100 Days of Real Food – Tomato Bisque Recipe

Our second go-to Wednesday Meal is Easy Chicken Tacos. I came up with this recipe last year and it has been a life saver! It is one of those great crockpot meals where you just dump everything in. 

Easy Crockpot Chicken Tacos 

Ingredients:

  • 2 large chicken breast
  • 1 can of drained black beans (I buy whatever brand has only beans, water & salt on the ingredients list)
  • 2-3 tablespoon of your favorite taco seasoning – I make my own using this recipe. Store bought taco seasoning is loaded with junk – read the list of ingredients next time you’re in the store. If you can not pronounce something in it, why would you want to eat it?
  • 8 ounces of your favorite salsa – I can my own

-Layer the ingredients in your crockpot (in the order they are listed) and cook on high for 4 hours (longer if set on low so if can cook while you are gone for the day). Once done, stir/chop everything together. When you stir it, the chicken will start to shred on its own but a few larger chunks may need to be chopped/shredded with a spoon or knife. 

We enjoy this on large lettuce leaves as a wrap (roman lettuce) or with corn chips. There is salsa in the recipe but you can top it with more salsa, sour cream, cheese, avocado and any other of your favorite taco toppings.

Enjoy!