Apricot Pineapple Jam

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This recipe is a newbie for me as I have never really worked with apricots much before.

At first I was planning to make a basic apricot jam, but then in my research discovered that some people combine it with pineapple.

I am so glad that I did, for this was a winner! In fact, it turned out so well that I plan to make another batch later today.

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The recipe was taken directly from Sure Jell’s website, seen here. The only variation I had from this was that I used the basic yellow box of Sure Jell, not the MCP box (which I’ve honestly never even seen before).

Here is a breakdown of how to make this:

3 C prepared apricots

1 can crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 C lemon juice

1 box pectin

1 tsp butter (to reduce foaming)

8 C sugar

Prepare jelly jars. Wash, pit, and then finely chop apricots (with peels on) until you have 3 cups of it. Place in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot, then add drained pineapple, lemon juice, and pectin. Heat until it comes to a rolling boil, stirring often. Add sugar and stir in, then bring to a boil once more, allowing it to boil about 4 minutes. Remove from heat. Skim off foam if desired.
Ladle into jelly jars, then place lids with bands on tightly. Process in a hot water bath about 10 minutes. Remove from water and let jars sit about 24 hours before removing bands.

Summer Boredom Buster Series: Ice Excavations

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Today’s idea is one to bust out on a hot day when the kids are bored or looking for something different to do.

By the way, have your kids been bored yet? We’ve had maybe two days where this was the case. I felt like we were not busy at all, then suddenly had WAY too much going on, now we’re headed off on vacation. Maybe I’ll find a happy medium come late July:)

Anyway, back to today’s little idea.

Ice excavations.

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The idea is super simple and easy.

Take a large container, fill it with water, and then add various toys to it.

Freeze for a number of hours until everything is solid.

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Give your kids some “excavation tools” and let them go at it. We used a variety of kitchen utensils.

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The goal is to excavate all of their toys out of the ice. They can also experiment with salt to see if that expedites things.

Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures from when everything was solid, but you get the idea.

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My little boys really enjoyed this, especially since I let them pick what toys they wanted to freeze, then did a separate container for each kid.

As you can see, army men were the prime choice for one of my guys, but they can put in about anything.

Well, that’s all I have for now. Hope you’re having an enjoyable summer!

Peanut Butter Monster Cookies

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We go through tons of peanut butter in our house. I am seriously considering buying those giant gallon-sized containers of it because it disappears so quickly. My main PB consumer is Daniel, our oldest son who just turned 13. He eats peanut butter on EVERYTHING, even really weird stuff that kind of grosses me out**. So, for his birthday I made these cookies in lieu of cake this year.

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Imagine your basic Monster cookies (which I love just a little too much) with Reeses Pieces instead of M & M’s.

Peanut butter cookie dough with chocolate and peanut butter pieces added in.

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Yup, it’s good stuff.

These got gobbled up pretty fast, so I guess they were well liked.  I may have had one actual baked cookie out of the batch, but I can testify that the cookie dough was awfully tasty.

Here’s the recipe for these guys:

2 cups flour

2 1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup softened butter

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup white sugar

2/3 cup brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup peanut butter chips

1/2 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup Reese’s Pieces

Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Chill dough for at least 1/2 hour. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes.

**Moms–Do not, I repeat Do NOT watch a 12 to 13 year old boy eat pretty much anything. You will quite possibly be disgusted and nauseated. Yes, make your kids great food and love them to bits, but be ready to turn away when they are ready to actually eat/inhale it. Consider yourself warned.

Summer Boredom Buster Series: Aqua Beads

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SO…we’re a full week into summer break and everyone is pretty much transitioned by now.

Even with everyone home with me 24/7, it has actually been sort of relaxing.

It has been a welcome change to not have to remember 20 bajillion end-of-the-school-year details every single day. Those last few weeks can be a bit of a doozy in that way and I chuckle at my 11 year old telling me one morning (as I was going through my mental and literal daily checklist), “Mom, I think you need a brain break when school is out.”

Yes, I kinda did, and I’m quite enjoying it too. I’m also enjoying not having to run around to so many activities as well.

One day that we did have some errands to run we hit a Dollar Tree store to check out a couple of things.

While there, we saw these little bottles lined up and thankfully I stopped to really look at them. I remembered seeing something with these guys in a summer boredom playlist. A light bulb went off in my head and I promptly popped a bottle in my shopping basket.

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One of the best bucks I’ve ever spent, my friends.

They’re called aqua beads and they kept some kids occupied for long periods of time.

Heck, I couldn’t resist and was playing with them too.

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Fresh out of the jar they look like clear glass marbles. These I had poured into a greenish glass bowl, hence the light green hues. They are really very clear though.

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Though they look like glass, these little wonders are actually quite soft and squishy, but don’t easily break. Here’s what they look like in my hand, before being submerged in water.

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Now here’s what a bowl full of water + aqua beads looks like. They all but disappear in the water. If you look close you can see some roundish shapes. Pretty cool, eh?

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My budding scientist was beyond thrilled with our purchase. I asked him what they were made of. His answer? Hydro-something-super-polymer-something-something. Not sure if he made it up or not, but I nodded my head and acted like I knew just what he was talking about. (Remember, this is the kid who told me I needed a brain break before school ended. Really I may need a brain break after hearing his Super Scientist lingo, but it’s all good.)

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The little boys really enjoyed these too. Notice I threw a towel down under the bowl? Yup, I’m on top of things like that, ha ha. Never mind the fact that a couple hours later I stepped on a couple of wet squishy items in my bare feet.

Overall I would recommend getting these as maybe a rainy day activity or just a little something to add to a Mom’s summertime bag of tricks. They are great for sensory play, I would just use caution with really young kids as I would think they may be tempted to pop one into their mouth. And, as I said earlier, I have no idea what they’re really made of. (Ask Andrew though and he can tell you;)) I found them at the Dollar Tree in the crafty aisle with floral arrangement stuff.

Stay tuned for some more summertime kid activity ideas!

 

 

Parenting a Teen

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We hit a landmark moment in our household next week. Well, you can sort of say it is a landmark.

Next Tuesday we will be the official parents of a teenager.

Frightening, I know.

You can pray for us right now because I can say that when it comes to parenting a teen, I am completely out of my realm. Give me a baby, a toddler, or a preschooler and I would like to think that I know what I’m doing by now. Heck, give me an elementary aged child and I feel like I’ve hit my groove.

But give me a teenager to parent? And parent successfully? Lord help us.

I had a wake-up call one day a couple months ago when we sat down at the dinner table to pray. Normally we all hold hands, but my oldest usually doesn’t sit next to me. For some reason this particular day he did. The hand that reached out and grabbed mine did not belong to a little boy anymore. It most definitely belonged to a young man and I was shocked at how much that hand that I could once enclose in mine had grown.

Fast forward to a couple weeks later and my son was walking around the yard. I happened to catch a quick glimpse of him out the window as he passed by and for a second I thought his dad had gotten home from work early. I couldn’t help but be downright startled again at how much he had grown over the last 13 years.

Yes, that tiny baby that entered the world fighting six weeks too early quickly grew into a fussy little toddler.

While praising God for the gift of his life, we prayed for things like healthy growth and extra doses of patience on our part.

In a flash this little guy became a preschooler, a big brother to 4 additional siblings, then my first to go to kindergarten.

The miniature hand that I once cradled in mine I now held to walk to the bus every day. We now prayed for spiritual growth and things like safety while at school.

Soon enough he was joined by one sibling after another at that bus stop and was excelling in school. At the same time our Daniel, aptly named after the Old Testament Daniel, became quite a little missionary and made no bones about what he believed and Who he believed in.

That same little hand had grown and now held things like chapter books, pocket knives, and army men.

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Fast forward to now. My boy is now a man-child and I no longer have to look down to talk to him. He’s had a full year at middle school and absolutely loves it. The little boy voice that I was so familiar with now creaks and cracks with the changes of adolescence. He rarely ever holds my hand, but I do get some great bear hugs (when his peers aren’t looking, of course) on occasion.

I don’t know much about raising teens, but I do know how to unconditionally love my child.

For all the areas I’m sure I will absolutely flounder on, there’s other things that I plan on (hopefully) doing okay at:

*Pray, pray, pray. Any child of any age needs covered in prayer and so do their parents! As my boy gets more independent and will be more and more exposed to the world at large, I just have to entrust him to God. I will never forget what another Mom said to me years ago when becoming anxious at the thought of her baby driving a car one day: “As much as we love our kids, we have to remember that God loves them even more.”

*Being available. Yes, I know there will be days that he doesn’t feel like talking much or wants to pull away from us. However, I think it is still important that they know you are THERE for them. At Daniel’s middle school orientation the principal said something that resonated with me. It was something like, “at this age you may think you are no longer needed, but this is the age when they need you more than ever.”

*Being firm. “Mom can be tough but she’s not mean.” This is an actual quote from my husband, talking to our kids just recently about us and discipline. There are SO many permissive parents out there, it makes me want to shake them!! Yes, I love my kids and want them to be “in this world but not of this world.” However, just because “everyone’s” parents let them do _____________ or have a ________________ doesn’t mean I will allow you to do it or have one! We haven’t had to encounter this much yet with our own kids, but I’m sure the day will come. Thankfully we have some like-minded parents in our community so we can hopefully back each other up.

*Not doing it alone. Thank the Good Lord we don’t have to do this parenting thing alone. I have a loving husband who is an amazing Dad. As our boys get older, he invests lots of time into taking them to do guy things and teach them some manly stuff that I would just make a mess of. We also have awesome parents who love to spend quality time with each of their grandchildren and reinforce what we believe. In addition, we have a solid church family, good teachers, and others who have invested in our kids’ lives. For that we are very blessed and grateful.

So, basically this may be a giant learning curve, but we have a firm foundation on which to rest in.

Please pray for us as we enter this all-new stage of parenting……and if you have any words of wisdom, please let me know!

Whole Wheat Hamburger Rolls

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We had a most beautiful Memorial Day here. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and we took full advantage of it.

For dinner we had a great campfire meal of burgers and cowboy beans, along with a couple of other things. Oh yeah, and some yummy s’mores to top them all off.

I had really, really missed burgers cooked right over the fire and hadn’t had any since last fall.

To take them to a whole new level, I decided to make my own rolls to accompany them.

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Oh.My.Goodness. They did not disappoint.

These are not hard or really too time-consuming to make and are really worth the extra effort.

Here’s the recipe I followed:

1 package yeast

1 C warm water

1/4 C + 1 TB sugar

2 TB melted butter

3 1/2 C wheat flour

1 1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

Mix together yeast, sugar, and water. Let sit for about 10 until it gets nice and bubbly. Add in the rest of the ingredients (except for egg!) and mix and knead really well. Place dough ball in oiled bowl and let rise in a warm location for about 1 hour. Divide into at least 8-10 pieces and form into roll shapes. (I rolled out the whole dough ball so it was pretty thick and just used the top of a cup to make circles.) Place on baking sheet and let these rise for another hour. Preheat oven to 375 F and brush top of rolls with egg wash. Bake for 12-16 minutes. Let cool and then slice in half before serving.

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When I make these again, I may be tempted to do a double batch and then freeze a portion of them for future meals. I would also like to use the same recipe and make hot dog buns as well.

Summer is almost here, so enjoy!

Once a Month Grocery Shopping: An Update

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Do you hear that giant sucking sound? Perhaps your house makes a strange noise like mine does. It comes from the vicinity of the fridge and pantry area. It is especially loud first thing in the morning and in the evening. It is the sound of food being consumed at a rather alarming rate by children whose appetites are growing exponentially. Groceries are disappearing at that same rate and a cupboard that is overflowing one day can be wiped out with only a trail of crumbs to tell the tale by the next.

This is one of those articles that I really should have written awhile ago. You see, I did a short, 2-part series almost a year and a half ago on how I do once a month grocery shopping. (You can see my original posts from October 2012 here and also here) Anyone who read them may have wondered if I was able to continue doing it, or if I’ve made any tweaks or changes to how I go about it. Today I hope to answer those questions for you.

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So, have I continued to do Once a Month grocery shopping?

Yes. Sorta. I still try to buy the bulk of what we use in one big trip. Usually I have a hugely overflowing cart and multiple things stuffed in the under portion of the cart as well. By the last aisle it takes a lot of muscle and good steering abilities to get that cart around a corner and down the home stretch. I buy a lot from a local bent and dent store and then some other things on my list on the way home at another store. This trip typically covers a lot of our basic staples that we use in a month. I thought I had a really good idea of what we go through as a family and was doing pretty darn well for a long time. However, I’m not sure what happened this past school year, but now I’m not so great at predicting amounts of things. Some of it I attribute to the fact that my kids are just growing like crazy and I now have several that eat just about like adults. The other thing that has changed is now my littlest guys are in school all day and I have to pack their lunches as well. I do try to cram as much as I can into that one trip and have one (and lately more like two) in-between trips to pick up what is missing or milk and produce. With summer veggies and fruits coming into season hopefully soon, that should remedy this just a tad bit. Of course then my kids will be here all day and the dynamics will be somewhat different for a couple months again.

What have I changed or need to change?

I haven’t changed the basics of how I go about planning for a grocery trip. I still need to get a grip on what we go through now that a year and a half has passed. Soon I will have one teenage boy in the house, 2 tweens, and 2 seven year olds that seem to be going through a growth spurt. Oh yeah, and my husband and myself. The amount I buy has obviously gone up and so have grocery prices! Holy schmoly! That’s one for another day, but we are definitely spending a bit more than we once did. Perhaps I need to do a running tally again of how many staples we consume in a month (check out where I did this before here). I think that would be really practical and helpful.

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Would I still recommend the once a month shopping?

Absolutely. I really believe that overall it really does save time and money. If you haven’t tried it yet, read my past articles on it and get a game plan in place. There is a learning curve involved and as I can testify to, family needs change with the years. Maybe try out a twice a month plan and go with that for starters.

Thanks for tuning in and if you try this, let me know how it works for you!

Spring 2014 in Pictures

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Since I haven’t been on here all that much, I figured I’d give a little peek into what we’ve been up to these days. For the last few years the April to mid-June time is always heaped full of extra activities. It seems as if every field trip, campout, concert, and various other things are squeezed into that time when the weather is getting nicer and before school ends. Oh yeah, and our family has a boatload of spring birthdays tucked in there as well as Easter and Mother’s Day.

Here’s a mini-synopsis of just some things going on in our family this Spring:

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One of my many joys has been to lead a women’s Bible study at our church. I very much felt led to do a study on Nehemiah by Kelly Minter. It is a GREAT study that I would highly recommend! I could do a whole big blog post just on what I learned through this series.

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One week I finally decided to paint my kitchen this pretty blue. I had had the same light green for something like ten years and was ready for a change. I really love it. The antique embroidery is something I found in a thrift store within a broken frame. I placed it in a newer frame and it looks pretty good with the blue walls.

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To update my newly painted kitchen I sewed up a new valance and a set of burlap panels with red and white gingham accents and ruffles. This photo is when I was getting some final touches ready to sew on. You can see the pins if you look closely.

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This is a precious picture from one of my kids’ birthdays. I have the privilege of having my daughter’s birthday the day right after mine. It is fun to celebrate them together every year!

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Due to wacky weather, our garden planting was very late this year as opposed to other years. We didn’t even bother planting peas as it got too late.

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This drawing by Joseph absolutely kills me. For Mother’s Day the first graders had little booklets they made up about their Moms. My little boys wrote all kinds of sweet exaggerations about me, but this picture is the most honest portrayal of my life. He drew little heart people getting off the school bus and immediately asking their Mom, “what’s for supper?”

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My oldest has a new found love for archery, so we we set up a target shooting area in the backyard. He loves to practice shooting when he gets home from school, which is an hour earlier than my elementary kids.

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Let’s say a prayer that the screen top of this jar does NOT come off. If it does and these egg sacs decide to burst forth with 1,000′s of baby praying mantises, we are in deep trouble. These pods were all found last fall and kept in a jar in our garage all winter. We are waiting for them to hatch soon!

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Last but certainly not least, it is refreshing to see my green grass and flowerbeds filled with color once again. I have lots and lots of purple irises and they are finally blooming. It is beautiful.

Wild Violet Jelly

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This is a little gem from my archives, posted over two years ago!

For some reason this is probably one of my favorites. I’m not sure why, it just is.

I was reminded of it a couple weeks ago when my kids were reminiscing about how I made them pick all of those little purple flowers out of our yard. Then they asked if we could make it again sometime.

Why not? We have a gazillion of these in our yard and pretty much any other grassy area right now. (I’m actually doing a similar experiment with dandelions at the moment. Can’t wait to see the results, I’ll let you know if it turns out.)

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Is this not a beautiful sight?

Seriously, this may be the prettiest jelly I’ve ever made.

What gives it that gorgeous color? Wild violets, straight out of my backyard.

As my little guys have now named it, “flower jelly.”

I stumbled across the recipe for it on another blog and had to at least try it once.

Luckily I had lots of helpers to pick the violets for me.

This is Andrew, my 3rd grader. He was by far the most diligent of my little pickers and also helped to separate all the blooms and stems. The kids were all pretty into helping though. So, if you have any crazy little projects like this, I would be glad to hire them out! Just kidding. Sorta. (They’re also great corn huskers and pea/lima bean shellers.)

Anyway, after they had bunches of violets picked, this is the recipe I used to make the jelly:

2-3 Cups Violets

Juice of 1 Lemon

2 1/2 C Boiling Water

3 1/2 C Sugar

1 Package Sure Jell

Pick flowers and separate the blooms from the stems. In a jar, place the blooms and pour the 2 1/2 C boiling water over them. This will help to make an infuson. Allow to infuse until the water color is a dark blue/purple. (I even pushed the blooms around to help with this.)

Once you are satisfied with the color (it doesn’t take very long), strain and add the lemon juice to the liquid. I wish I had taken a picture of this step, for this is when it changes into such a brilliant color! Pour all liquid into a heavy pan and turn on high heat. Add the package of Sure Jell. Bring to a rolling boil and add in the sugar. Bring to a boil again, allow to boil for @1 minute, them remove from heat. Pour into jelly jars and process for 5 minutes. Allow to set for 24 hours. Enjoy!

Oh, I almost forgot to mention the taste. If you are not too weirded out by eating “flower jelly,” it really does taste fine. I have to admit that I was a little nervous–was it going to actually taste good? Or gross? (Almost all of my jelly-making experience has been with berry-based ones.) Well, we tried some with our Easter breakfast and the closest thing I can compare it to is a light grape-y flavor. Nothing strong, just a light, pleasant flavor.

Wouldn’t this make a pretty little gift as well?

Hmmm….I may have to send my little workers out with their baskets to pick me another batch.

A Simple Teacher Appreciation Gift

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Teacher Appreciation week is coming up soon at our school. There are oodles of really cute little teacher gift ideas out there, so here’s one that I just put together for our school’s staff.

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I started out with a plan just to do a few for my own kids’ teachers, but as you may know I can get a teensy bit carried away when I make things. I’m making 5, why not just go ahead and do 45, right? (Yes, I realize not everyone thinks that way and may think I’m insane. It’s okay if you do;))

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As you can see, I used Extra brand gum in several flavors and just made my own little printable tag glued onto colored cardstock. I then used double-sided tape to adhere the gum pack onto the cardstock.

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Here’s another take on the same basic idea using mint gum. You could also use this with any minty type of product. Clearly I was in a bright sunny mood when I made these as I may have overly used the eye-popping yellow cardstock. Oh well, it looks Springy!

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Well, there you have it. Nothing fancy or over the top. Just a simple, inexpensive, and quick idea to show your kid’s teachers that their work doesn’t go unnoticed or unappreciated.

Thanks to all teachers, you are awesome!