Thursday Simple

It’s late on Thursday afternoon and I just put chicken in the oven. Because it’s late and the kids just want to play outside, it’s not the time for fancy. But then again, when is it ever? So chicken breasts, a schmere of cream cheese and salsa. The oven is on at 350 degrees and in a little over half an hour, supper will be waiting. Which is good because I’m craving a simple routine.

I realized this week, while I was sitting on the beach at Lake Erie watching the kids play that I’d run out of scheduled posts. And I honestly had the thought that I should whip out my phone and write something. No. See I feel like everything and everyone is over connected and I’m desiring a little bit of space from the interwebs. So instead of posting about my weekly workout schedule for Mighty Mommy Monday, I went and played in the water with the kids. On the drive home, I decided that I’d be shutting my computer off during the day, deleting Facebook from my phone and take a free-day from all the connections once a week. I’m kind of drastic when I make decisions.

And then, there was a meeting Tuesday morning that gave me more copy work than I realized was coming and the reality is that my computer can’t be turned off as much as I want. Yesterday, I spent my afternoon working on our homeschool year prep. I plan to start our school days on August 18th. I’ve got about 3 weeks to get organized and of course, yesterday I started to second guess my reading program plans. So instead of letting myself go all Type-A on my calendar, I slept on it. And called my mother-in-law in the morning. Wisdom, people, wisdom.

Looking forward at my calendar, I see that it’s gonna be full for the next several weeks… well into October, actually. I officially start training for the 1/2 marathon on Monday so no more will I be able to choose laundry over running. You laugh, but it’s true. When I’m procrastinating, my laundry skills are amazing. But here I am, one foot out the door of these preschool days, and looking ahead into life with no naps, homework and lots of opportunities to be busy.

The church we go to is currently undergoing a transition to a new senior pastor. In doing so, we’ve also transitioned to a new worship pastor and are currently transitioning to a new children’s pastor. During this transition, there have been a few changes, but none that really impacted our family directly. Last Sunday, our new senior pastor interrupted his sermon to talk about some of the structural changes coming to the church’s calendar. To be quite honest, I expected the calendar to grow.

Instead, it was announced that they were going to combine events, cut out extra days of programs and in general, work toward us being more close-knit and family based. I sat there, tears welling up in my eyes, so excited for the future. Why? My parents always were heavily involved in the churches we went to. Head usher, deacon board, worship coordinator, I was even the sundar school director as a high school sophomore in one church that we attended! Very involved and as a result, bitterly burnt out. As an adult, I’m super careful about where I spend my time volunteering. At this point, I feel my plate is full. I’m content with my involvement and Matt and I don’t see the need to add more.

Except that I wanted to add the Wednesday night services for the sake of our kids. Our church has an amazing children’s ministry, but I didn’t want to add another night of volunteering, or just drop the kids off and leave. For two years, I’ve bemoaned the absence of a Wednesday night program I felt like I could really sink my teeth into. The new pastors, though… they rearranged things so that the studies I wanted to attend during the week, but couldn’t justify the time for are now on Wednesday night. And we can finally attend, at our own pace and how it works for our family.

Like I said, I have lots of opportunities to be busy. But this is also a great time for me {and Matt} to work to teach our children about healthy boundaries and embracing a simple calendar. This isn’t to say that we haven’t always worked to keep it simple around here, it’s that with this new season in our own life, we have to once again sit down and assess how to keep it simple. I realized this afternoon what a blessing it has been to have a little boy with colic who grew up to be a little boy who doesn’t handle busy very well. In learning to take care of him, I’ve learned how to take care of myself! And in doing that, I’ve really learned to embrace simple and not feel guilty when I take of myself and my family. After all, isn’t that all that really matters?

Canned Tomatoes… the painless way!

Two years ago, I canned my first tomato.  I loved it and I could not control myself from ordering an entire bushel of tomatoes thinking it would be a piece of cake to whip through them by myself.  It was not.  From now on, I have vowed to never can tomatoes alone again.  It’s just too much to find yourself in the midst of 50-plus pounds of tomatoes on your first time out of the starting gate.  This year, I gathered some friends to have a canning party.  Our original participants didn’t all make it, so it was mainly Emily and I all day.  And by all day, I mean we managed to can 2.5 bushels of tomatoes, some peaches and a few pounds of green beans in a short 12 hour day.  I can hear you gasping out there at the mention of 12 hours, but I’d like to point out that the first time I canned tomatoes, it took me 12 hours, but I only made it through half a bushel.  So the adage “many hands make light work” stands true, especially when another friend stops in to clean a bushel or so of tomatoes for you.

Traditionally, diced tomatoes should be peeled before they are canned.  I suppose that is really up to you, but if there is anything I hate, it’s finding a tomato skin curled up in my soup.  One year, I grilled my tomatoes and then peeled the skins.  It was torture, and the skins didn’t all come off.  The next year, I tried the blanching method.  Also a miserable experience.  This year, I peeled them with a serrated peeler.  That’s right.  I was sitting in a Pampered Chef party a few weeks ago, looking through their available gadets (and discovered an amazing corn zipper that could have really benefitted me somewhere, oh, 80 ears of corn ago) and saw this peeler.  Since I didn’t have one, I wrote it on my order sheet and planned to use it for peaches.  It was a dream-like experience with the peaches and at some point, I thought to read the package insert before I threw it away and was delighted to realize that a serrated peeler is perfect for tomatoes.  Since we were already going to be dealing with serious poundages of tomatoes, I didn’t figure it would hurt to at least try.  I have to say, that as I sat perched on a stool in the kitchen while Emily checked canning times and filled jars, I was completely content with my tomatoes and my peeler.  We have a great system in place for the years to come.

Canning diced tomatoes is best done with a pressure cooker since it only takes 35 minutes for pints and 40 minutes for quarts.  A water bath takes 85-90 minutes.  It’s not impossible, I’ve done it before, but since having tried it with a pressure cooker, I’m thinking I’ll be purchasing one for next year’s harvest.  Once you have your tomatoes peeled and diced to the size you’d like, the only thing left is to pour some hot tomato juice (either homemade or store bought) over them and start your canning!  Of course, you should first prep your jars, ring and lids.  For instructions on that, see my guest post at the Farmer’s Daughter on Tomato Sauce.
Fill your jars with tomatoes, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace.  Then pour in some of your hot tomato juice, filling to 1/4 inch headspace.  Add in 1 Tbsp. lemon juice for pints and 2 Tbsp. lemon juice for quarts.  Wipe your rims, and place the lids and rings on your jars.  Lower them into your pressure cooker and secure the lid.  Process at 11 pounds of pressure for the above listed time respective to the size jar you are using.  Turn off the burner and allow the pressure to drop naturally. If you have an electric stove, you’ll have to actually move the canner to a new burner since the coil stays hot for a long time.  You’ll know its safe to open the canner when the lock drops (check the canner instructions) and no steam escapes when the weight is tilted. This takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes. Remove your jars and set them aside to cool.

Really, the diced tomatoes are simple.  And to be quite honest, I was thrilled to find that from our day of hard work, I netted enough diced tomatoes to at least get me through the winter and into the spring without having to spend a dime!  Although considering that I canned tomatoes from someone else’s garden and the tomato plants in my own garden are heavy with their slowly ripening fruit, I may just wind up making it through until my next tomato harvest.

Progress

Does anyone else wake up in the morning and think to themselves that they need a new challenge for the day?  Anyone?  Today was one such day.  I woke up and decided that I was going to learn how to can peaches.  And so I did.  I straight to the market and bought 1/2 a bushel which probably won’t really be ripe until Sunday, so I also got a 1/2 peck of ripe ones to learn on.  I netted 6 pints and a lot of self worth.  It was easy as pie and I’m actually looking forward to canning the rest.  I know, pregnancy makes me weird.
This afternoon I then went to pick up my order of 2 bushels of tomatoes for the canning extravaganza tomorrow.  Emily and I plan to get as much canning as can done because the church is willing to let us use their industrial kitchen.  Pretty sweet, huh?  I’ll take photos as the day progresses, I can’t wait to share!

Of course, my excitement over the canning for tomorrow caused me to make a very foolish decision to start hot pepper jelly at 9pm.  I was unaware that it needs to sit overnight so there will be no gratification until the morning.  Bummer.  My recipe calls for 2.5 pounds of peppers, diced.  This task became depressing after about a pound or so, until I realized I could pulse the peppers in the food processor.  Since I have enough peppers to do at least another batch, I am a little less intimidated by the prospect now.  Now then, it is off to bed for me as I will have to finish the jelly in the morning before heading off to the tomatoes.  Sunday is reserved for peaches so that I have the bulk of things done before the week begins and we are back to the chaos that is our current life.

Low Impact Birthday

 

This past weekend, we celebrated my baby’s first birthday.  His first birthday.  I haven’t any idea where the time went and how it got there without warning me, but it would seem that we are no longer counting his age in detailed weeks and days, but general months and before I know it, he’ll be referred to as a toddler.  Ugh.  Part of me was thrilled to be throwing a party since we haven’t really entertained since Liam was born and if there’s anything I like to do, it’s feed people.  But then, the other side of me was saddened by his growing up and the stunning reality that since I take birthdays very seriously, we are going to be doing this every year for multiple children (hopefully) and this singular event has the very possibility of ruining my comfortable low-impact lifestyle.  What to do?  Here is an outline of each step I made to insure that we had as low an impact party as possible without breaking the bank or putting a damper on the fun.  I’ll be posting recipes this week as well for the food. 
Paper Products:
The planning for this party began way back in the early spring when I started attending other birthday parties and taking notes.  The biggest waste that I saw and wanted to eliminate was the issue of cups, plates and forks.  The options can be overwhelming and for a brief moment, I was lured towards the disposable just because I wasn’t sure what to do.  I don’t know if this happens to everyone, or if the marketing gods smelled my wavering mindset, but about a month ago, I was sent a catalog for paper supplies for birthdays.  They featured just about every character known to man or personalized designs.  At first, I did consider using their products until I realized that for one party, I was going to spend roughly 85 dollars on paper supplies alone for one party!  I passed it along to another mom.  In the end however, I wasn’t able to come up with a cute invite solution that was both memorable and effective, so we wound up doing photo invites to the party since we had invested in a photo shoot and wanted to share. 
I started searching around town and found plates and cups that were themselves recyclable.  They are pretty, and will fulfill a variety of uses.  I bought 3 dozen of each.  Wandering around a party supply store a few weeks ago, I happened upon biodegradable forks
They are supposed to meld into your compost pile in 1 year, so I buried one.  I hope I don’t find it next summer.  I do have beautiful dinner plates that I use when entertaining, but given that we were celebrating a child’s birthday with lots of children, I didn’t want to take a chance that I would have a broken plate in the midst of the celebration.  The plates and cups I bought are dishwasher safe, so they have been cleaned and put away for another time.  I had meant to make more cloth napkins, but didn’t get them done in time, so we used some of these as they were all our grocery had to to offer.  Hardly any were used, so I guess I’ll have them for a long time.  Clean up was a snap, because as I already mentioned, the plates were dishwasher safe and I just put a basket under the table for guest to dump their used dishes, napkins, cups and forks.

Let’s Eat!
Food is another big deal for me.  I wanted to create a menu for my guests that truly reflected our food passions and utilized the resources around us.  We served sloppy joes made with local ground beef, a broccoli cauliflower salad with local produce, bacon and cheese, a fruit salad with seasonal items and I made the cupcakes.  The only “bad” thing in the cupcakes (all 60 of them) were the conventional marshmallows I used to make the fondant.  Not too shabby considering that even the chocolate was fair trade!  I asked my mother-in-law and sister-in-law to help me with the salads and sloppy joes so that I didn’t wind up getting overwhelmed.  In the end, I overestimated how much beef I was going to need and consequently have had sloppy joes for the last 3 lunches.  For drinks, we made lemonade (from concentrate) and had water.  No one went hungry and my in-laws were praised thoroughly for their contributions to the meal!

Decorations:
This was the biggest undertaking of the whole party for me.  When I was growing up, my mother made banners for each of us kids announcing our birthday and hung them on the front door.  After much thought, I decided that I would do the same for my kids.  So I set out to make a banner that I swore I had seen online.  I never found the pattern, but my MIL and SIL were very helpful in the process, brainstorming, cutting fabric and trying different stitches.  I was thrilled to see that we were able to take a pile of fabric and turn it into a beautiful decoration that will last for years to come.  The added bonus was that everything wound up color coordinating between the banner and my tableware.  My aunt came bearing balloons after I had set up for the party, but for future reference, I’m not a fan.  They kept blowing into the pear tree and popping, causing everyone’s heart to stop in panic.  Balloons are not the most practical thing for my backyard. 

Gifts:
People know us well.  Most of the gifts Liam received were wooden or puzzles.  He did, however get a few trucks that were made of recycled plastics and are super cool!  They were mostly presented in gift bags that had been recycled from other events.  I saved them all and smoothed out the tissue paper.  Waste not, want not.  In the future, once Liam is old enough to choose, we may wind up doing a benefit party where we ask people to not bring gifts but to make a donation to a charity.  I’d love for Liam to learn to give back at a young age.  I made all of Liam’s thank yous from card stock and a printed dump truck.   They are not fancy, but they also didn’t require tons of fossil fuels to produce them en masse.  I have a stash of card stock that I plan to let Liam decorate as he gets older to make his own thank yous.  

I felt like the party was a huge success, not only for Liam’s sake, but also in the sense that we didn’t betray who we are just for the sake of a theme or being trendy or doing what’s easy.  I’m glad that I was able to find solutions that will last for years and that in the end, it really wasn’t that much extra trouble.  My parents spent a great deal of time when we were younger planning birthdays and holidays.  I know we never used paper products because I was always doing dishes after each party.  But that experience stuck with me.  Here I am, 20 years later wondering how I can make an investment that will last for as long as I want so that we can spend the time focusing on the birthday boy (or girl) and not filling our landfills with more junk.