Married twenty-five years to my wonderful husband and best friend. We have 3 "home-grown" kids and 1 hand-picked by God from Africa. Our life is blessed. We are a close knit family with strong Christian beliefs. Come along with us on our journey…you might have a great laugh or two.
To celebrate our new found freedom, we decorated us a big ol' batch of sugar cookies. And of course, what's a little par-tay without friends. Our oldest daughter invited some of her best friends over and they had a blast. Unfortunately our oldest son was at swimming and missed out on all the fun, but don't you worry I think he enjoyed the finished product even more.
Sugar cookies and a winter break…what more could a whole bunch of hard-working kids ever want.
Our sugar cookie recipe is very easy and very tasty, with or without the icing. Leave all that store bought stuff where it belongs….in the store. It's way cheaper and so much better for you because all of the ingredients have names you can actually pronounce. Have fun and celebrate your freedom!
Sugar cookies (recipe credit: from the book Homemade)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and butter, and beat until the mixture is well creamed. Add the eggs and vanilla, and beat until mixture is smooth.
2. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking soda, and cream of tartar. Add the flour mixture to the cream mixture, and beat until all the ingredients are well blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until the dough is chilled, about 30 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, set out 2 or more baking sheets, and lightly four a work surface.
4. Turn out the dough onto the prepared work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 1/4 inch thickness. Using cookie cutters dipped in flour, cut out as many cookies as possible. Carefully transfer the cookies to the baking sheets. Collect the dough scraps, reroll, and cut out additional cookies until there is no more dough left.
5. Bake until the cookies are just lightly browned on the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.
6. Prepare the frosting: In a medium bowl, combine the ingredients and beat until creamy. Add a little additional milk as needed to reach the desired consistency. Spread the frosting over the cooled cookies and sprinkle with colored sugar.
This week is finals week for my two oldest children.
Do you remember finals?
Big ol' fat UGH.
I hated finals. The cramming, the studying, the reviewing. It made no sense to me. Even now. Let's just take everything that you should have learned all throughout the year and squeeze it into one really long, really hard test and see how you do. Ooo, ooo, and then we'll make it 110% of your grade, how's that sound.
Okay not really.
On top of everything, it stresses the kids out so very much. Or at least my kids. So I'm trying to keep it low key this week. Quiet. And positive.
Of course, you can only say "you can do it!" or "keep up the good work" or "yeah for you" so many times.
Then I just can't help myself and interject some creative ones in there.
Things like, "Here's some hot chocolate sweetie, some marshmallows were spilling over but don't you worry I licked them off for ya", or "I put your underwear outside to dry, let me know when you need them so they can thaw a little before you put them on".
Just to see that they're not brain dead yet. Good to check ya know.
For now, we're counting down the days until Friday. The glorious, golden dawn of the start of Christmas vacation. We're gonna chunk those books for a week or two, decorate us some sugar cookies and relax.
Tonight we fed over 50 teenage boys dinner. Oh, and did I mention that they were swimmers. All. Of. Them. Coming right off a practice. That's like having a dinner party for 50 ravenous lions. Oh, and you better had fixed a hippo, an elephant and possibly a hyena for dessert. If you know what's good for you.
Man, these boys can eat.
And eat some more.
Basically what I'm saying is that I cooked food all…day….long. Here's what you need to feed a crew like that. 70 bottles of water, 4 gallons of chocolate milk, 1 gallon of white milk, 6 loaves of french bread, 2 red velvet cakes, 1 gallon of ice cream, 60 cupcakes, 3 big ol' bowls of fruit salad, 2 lasagnas, and 2 big ol' honkin' (think big and go bigger) pans of penne rustica pasta (it's the recipe from Macaroni Grill - love that place).
I did have some help with most of the items served. Thank the heavens above for that one. I only had to fixed the 2 big penne rustica pasta dishes. But I will tell you that I made pasta for a solid hour today. That's right, made.
Ever tried homemade pasta?
Oh, you are missing out. Trust me, there is HUGE difference in taste. And the best news is that homemade pasta is incredibly easy to make. Unless you are trying to feed an army. Well, then not so much.
Homemade pasta is basically eggs, flour and water. For our family size of 6, our pasta recipe is 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups of flour, dash of salt and a little bit of water. Done. Ain't nothin' too it. I will tell you that I do have all the pasta attachments for my kitchen aid so it makes my job very easy. My husband has given them to me over the years and I love them. I've even got an attachment that can make those curly ones, and spirally ones. Love it!
The boys loved the homemade pasta. Weren't nothin' left.
So go on out there…. throw out those dried up, boxed, broken up, who knows what's in them, store bought noodles and venture out and make ya some of the homemade kind. Trust me, if you do….be prepared. You will never go back.
It was about 7:30 at night when my smallest little one and I went outside. We walked down the driveway and looked left and then right. The neighborhood was all lit up. Beautiful. Sparkly.
Then we turned around and looked back at our house. Ugh… Black. Pitch black. Okay, technically it was lit up by the street light but something about Christmas by the light of the streetlamp is just not the same tingly, sparkly kind of thing. So we got to work.
Now, I came from south where….how shall I say this. We do things a bit differently. Sometimes conventional methods just don't cut it and you have to get….hmmm, creative.
Enter…the fling method.
Now, I'm gonna mention that my partner in crime that evening was about 3 1/2 feet tall and really I only gave him one job and one job only. I told him that if I fell off the ladder to go in and get his brother (who by the way got out of this job playing the homework card). My little one then proceeded to tell me that 911 would be better. I agreed. And then he asked me which numbers to push to call 911. Not feeling good here, people.
Up the ladder. Down the ladder. Round and round the tree we went. Until…
It was time for the fling method.
Not familiar with this?
Well, it's simple really. When you get to top of your ladder and cannot reach anymore of your tree, reach your arm way back and fling the rest of the lights onto the tree.
The lights are done. And that my friends is perfect. Perfect because your job is done. You didn't fall off and now your house is all lit up. Ahhh, I love me some creative Christmas lights.
Seriously. That seemed to me to be the fastest holiday on the planet. Could I have a redo, please? It's such a wonderful holiday to eat and eat and then go and eat some more. Totally not good for you, but my kind of holiday for sure. I love me some good eatin'.
Now….comes the aftermath. The bazillion loads of laundry. The suitcases and bags in the middle of the floor. The van with a peculiar kind of smell (definitely need to find that one). The grocery store that is about to go bankrupt since I haven't picked up my milk order yet. And finally….
If that wasn't enough?
The Christmas decorations have emerged from the depths of the basement begging to be hung, lit up, taped up (oh yes we do…), and precariously placed all throughout the house. Have mercy….this place is a disaster zone.
On my list of things to make today is yogurt, marshmallows, mayonnaise, bread and figure something out for dinner this evening. Probably chicken pot pie. Whew….
We traveled all day yesterday to arrive late at my mother and father-in-laws farm. Thanksgiving on the farm. Could think of no better way to spend this holiday.
My husband's parents live on 180 acres basically in the middle of farm country. I love it here. I was with my father-in-law the day he bought the farm at auction. I was so nervous for him, but he looked so calm. He knew what he was doing. He had a vision for his family.
They worked for years at fixing up the old farmhouse which they lived in for several years. After that he began building their dream home in the perfect spot on the farm...with his own two hands. It is impressive. Beautiful. Peaceful. A wonderful place to come for the holidays.
This year we are so thankful to have this moment. Just a moment....to stop all of our busyness and rest. To look across the table and say thanks for all the blessings in this life God has given to us. To be thankful that my husband's parents had this vision and that we are a part of it.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner, I am sure that you have been inundated with turkey recipes. They are everywhere. You can fry it, roast it, bake it, boil it...on, and on and on the list goes. But what about AFTER you cook it. What do you do then?
Most people simply throw that bad boy in the trash when they are done. But what if I told you that you can make the most wonderful broth with it. It's so easy and incredibly healthy for you and better yet, it takes only just a few ingredients.
First, don't throw away the turkey after you have cooked it and peeled the turkey all off of it.
Even if you don't want to cook anything else on Thanksgiving, you can throw that bad boy into the freezer and cook it at your convenience. Even better, right? Plus, your house is gonna smell W.O.N.D.E.R.F.U.L. Oh yeah.
Okay so here goes, place the turkey into a big ol' stock pot. Don't get too picky here. Just pick the biggest pot ya got. Next, fill the pot with water until the bird is completely covered. Again, this is not rocket science...it's just water. Trust me, you can't mess this one up.
Place two onions quartered in with the bones as well as 3 or 4 carrots cut in half. Next, put about 2 or 3 celery sticks cut in half into the pot. (I really just put in whatever I have in the fridge. Sometimes I've got celery sometimes I don't...it's okay, really).
Now comes the seasonings. Put 1/4 cup parsley into the water as well as about 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
Crank that baby up to a boil and then simmer it for at least a couple of hours or all day if you would like. You are getting out all of those wonderful vitamins and minerals from those bones. So much better for you than those in a box at the supermarket. After a couple of hours, place a strainer over a big bowl and strain out the bones and veggies.
And viola!....you've got yourself some turkey broth.
When it's cooled, you can freeze it to use later in soups, stews, rice...anything really that calls for chicken broth. I usually freeze mine in 4 cup bags in the freezer and just thaw when needed. It's so good and better for you and your family.
So go on out there and let's use up every last inch of that bird and provide your family with many more meals. Trust me, you will not be disappointed...
It came in the mail yesterday. It's my birthday, Christmas, Mother's day, May day, Easter until I die present. Still....
I love it!
My last kitchen aid mixer was a 6 quart size (you can see it in the pictures in another post). I loved it. I just happened to love the fire out of it....twice. We replaced the gears and motors once and then just recently I could tell the gears were damaged again. I was only able to mix liquid with it....not good. So I decided we needed to "pull out the big guns" and go for the commercial grade 7 quart mixer. Surely I couldn't break something that is designed for high usage in restaurants, right?
So I begged, pleaded, smiled ever so sweetly, to my husband and told him that we could not go one more day on this planet without this mixer. Okay, not true. But I was trying...
Now you have to understand that I don't use a mixer like a normal human being would. I use my mixer for EVERYTHING. I don't buy breads anymore. I make them all. In the mixer. I don't buy desserts, cookies, pie, anything sweet. I make them all. In the mixer. I don't buy butter anymore. I make it. In the mixer. I could go on and on.
Basically I cook 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. All.Year. Long. We do not eat out (except when traveling). I would rather save the money, eat at home and take great family vacations. Plus, I can really control the quality of food my family eats.
So you can see how I jumped with joy at my new toy. Already today I'm making sourdough hamburger buns to go with our BBQ chicken for tonight. Love it!
And thanks to my wonderful hubby... love you the most!
That boy is mine. Actually he's just on loan from the Lord above, but still I'm gonna claim that one. He was the first of my children to steal my heart. He is pestery, ornery, moves to the beat of his own little drum and just the sweetest child. But he is mine....and I will fight to the end of the earth for him.
And fighting is what we are doing.
My son started homeschooling when he was in second grade. We pulled him from the public school system in order to get the medical treatment he needed for a neurological issue. We fought for him. For a year and a half, we saw a boatload of medical specialists out of Iowa city. We fought for him.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago, our son started expressing an interest in getting back into the classroom. Could he handle it? We worried. It's been a long time. But we decided that it was a good decision to allow him to try a couple of classes at the high school here in town last year. To test the waters. To pray.
He loved it.
So this year we allowed him to go full time to high school. To learn. To be surrounded by friends. To be happy. Still we prayed.
However, since he was coming into the school a little later he was lacking some of the credits in order to graduate. We knew they would not accept anything "parent taught". That we could understand. So in order to make up the credits we enrolled him in some Johns Hopkins online high school courses. They are a highly respected university program which is fully accredited. This way he could take the courses in his spare time, weekends, summertime and even on holidays. He could make up the credits in a way that would not overwhelm him.
The school district refused to accept the credits.
Denied. A. Diploma.
They would like him to repeat courses that he has already taken years ago. To go backwards in life. He only has two more years left. There is not enough time to complete the credits in order for him to graduate. So we are fighting again for our son.
Denied. A. Diploma.
If you would have asked me as we sat in so many doctor's offices that our son would be able to, much less, want to walk across the stage and get a diploma, I'm not sure I would have believed it. He is a straight A student and super smart. But this is something he just doesn't understand. Neither do we. How can a school district pledge so valiantly to give each child every opportunity they can to graduate, yet....not our child? How can a school district not hear the plea from a child who stands there and asks them to "treat him just like any other student and allow him to graduate"?
Denied. A. Diploma.
We have appealed to as far up as the school board. But still. We are fighting. Fighting again for our son. Fighting for something that he wants and should be given. Fighting.
Please do not tell me that he doesn't need a diploma to get into college. Every school official has told us that one. As homeschoolers, we already knew that. But this is what our son wants. To experience this. And why oh why, should he not be able to.
Denied. A. Diploma.
So it is hard for us right now to figure out what to do. Do you continue to send your son to a school for the next two years that in the end will give you nothing except a "see ya" and a swift kick out the door? Or do you move your entire family away to another school district with a new school, new friends, new swim team, uproot them all? Why should we have to leave an area that we love?
As the days here are getting colder and colder, there is one thing in our house that we are HUGE fans of....hot chocolate. Love. Love. Love it!
There is nuttin' better.
Of course with hot chocolate comes the glorious, beautiful, full of tasty goodness thing we call mar-chellos. My oldest use to call it that when he was itty-bitty-witty little thing. Weird one, he is. He also used to call toothpaste peesh-posh...come to think about it, there is a lot a don't understand about that teenager right now, so I'm not even going to try and explain the whole marshmallow thing.
So....let's talk marshmallows. Homemade marshmallows. If you have never had any you need to rush out right now and put this on your bucket list. You are in for an extremely awesome yummy gooey goodness treat.
Okay, you might be saying to yourself, why would I make me something that they sell at the store in perfect little squares. First and foremost, store bought marshmallows have some ingredients in them that I certainly can't pronounce - that cannot be good. Second, they are extremely cheap to make and have just a few ingredients. Our goal is to cut out as many processed, store bought things out of our house, but I'm certainly NOT giving up these babies. So homemade is the way to go.
So without further adieu...I give you homemade marshmallows. (Recipe credit: Alton Brown)
3 packages unflavored gelatin
1 cup ice cold water, divided
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.
In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 or 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches the temperature, immediately remove from the heat.
Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping.
While the mixture is whipping prepare the pan as follows. Combine the confectioner's sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9 inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.
When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.
It is at this point that you will inevitably have a helper come and find their way into your kitchen to "help" you clean the bowl. Don't worry...it's natural.
After the allotted amount of drying time, turn the marshmallows out onto the cutting board (or counter...it was late and I was getting lazy) and cut into 1 inch squares using a pizza wheel cutter dusted with the confectioners' sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.
Yes...this can be a bit of a messy recipe. However, I've done it so many times that I know how to contain the mess. So you see...practice makes perfect, right? So don't let the mess turn you away. And if you really think about it, life's messy sometimes and you're doing okay with that one aren't ya? So let's get on out there and make us up a big ol' batch of homemade mar-chellos.
This morning I went to the grocery store to pick up our milk order. Yes, you read that right...a milk order. I could do an entire post on just ordering 14 gallons of milk a week, which I should tell you come in half gallon glass bottles. So in theory I'm really bringing home 28 half gallon glass bottles which brings on some wickedly funny looks...but alas, I'll save that one for another day. Trust me, you'd like it....
Anyway. I was at the grocery and it just so happens that our local butcher is in the back. So I bee-bopped myself on down there and looked him straight in the eye and here's how our conversation went...
"Hi, how can I help you?"
"Well, I was hoping that I could order me up some fat."
"Umm, yeah, I think that's what it's called. You know, the stuff you cut off all the meat you put in the windows here."
"You want the fat? Not the meat."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Do you mind if I ask you what you're going to do with it?"
"Well, I'm going to cook it and then eat it."
"Okay, maybe I should have used the word render instead of cook. But still, I'm going to eat it."
(giggling slightly) "Is this in English?"
Tallow, people. It's called tallow. I'm going to try my hand at making it.
Tallow is basically the same thing as lard, only it comes from a cow instead of a pig. It's what they call an "old-fashioned" fat, which is a healthy alternative to vegetable shortenings and canola oil. There are a lot of excellent properties that tallow contains which your body actually needs. And it is so much easier for you to process this "natural fat" than that ol' yucky hydrogenated stuff.
So bring on the freaky looks, bring on the recipe (tallow recipe here), and let's get to ordering up some fat, please....
I have an idea. Let's play a game. It's called LIFE. Do you remember the game LIFE?
Well, this game is about life...my life to be exact. Now, it's going to get a little complicated, so be sure and follow along. In every game, you have a cast of characters. Here they are...
Thing three, thing four, thing five and thing six...
Everybody ready? Let's play...
Bam! Right out the chute, a disaster card is drawn....Thing one leaves on a business trip, leaving thing two in charge of everything (don, don, donnnn...cue evil music playing). This. will. not. end. well.
And thus it begins....
4:50 (that's in the AM people)...Thing two must take thing three to the pool for morning practice
7:15 Thing two must pick up thing three from practice
8:25 Thing two must take thing six to preschool
9:00 Thing two must take thing three to the high school for his classes (detour card is drawn)
9:10 Thing two realizes that she is missing something for dinner and stops by the grocery (back into the game)
9:35 Thing two teaches thing five her classes for school
11:15 Thing two must pick up thing six from preschool (another detour card drawn)
11:45 Thing two fixes thing four, five and six lunch (back into the game - halfway through, right?....or maybe not)
1:00 Thing two teaches thing five more school
2:30 Thing two picks up thing three from high school
3:10 Thing two takes thing three back to the pool for his second practice of the day
4:00 Thing two fixes dinner
5:30 Thing two picks up thing three from the pool (detour card drawn - wishing to quit the game now)
6:00 Thing two feeds thing three, four, five and six (...still not done)
6:45 Thing two takes thing four and thing five to the pool for their practice
7:25 Thing two take thing three to guitar lessons
8:15 Thing two drops thing three off at the house to go to bed (...please, please, I want to go to bed...make the game stop)
8:45 Thing two picks up thing four and thing five from the pool
9:50 Thing two puts thing four, five and six to bed (....is it over?....please)
10:20 Thing two crashes onto the bed
(...and remembers that it begins again tomorrow) ....hurry home thing one ....need a little help
"I think I'm going to try and make me some cheese next....", I said at the dinner table that night.
You could have heard a pin drop, but only for a second and then came the....
"Mom, seriously, why would you want to do that?"
"Doesn't the grocery sell cheese?"
"You don't possibly have time for that too?"
Hmmm, sounds like a challenge to me....and so it began.
Sure, the only cheese I've ever made before is cottage cheese. (on a side note...cottage cheese is terribly easy to make...google it, try it....you will love it. But that's beside the point).
Okay, onto my cheese quest. Where was I?? Oh yes, I was about to conquer the cheese world. Surely, I could make this stuff. It's made out of milk, right? And that my friend, I happen to have A LOT of. (We drink over a gallon a day)
Well with any great accomplishment, one must start with a plan. It was 2:15 at my house, dinner was at 6:30 and I had just made pizza dough and pizza sauce. I needed that cheese and super fast. So what do other adventurers do in their time of great need....they go to google.
Come to find out, mozzarella cheese is extremely easy to make so as long as you have just a few key ingredients. One: a digital thermometer. Two: vegetable rennet. Three: citric acid powder. And four: kosher salt. Oh, and of course, the obvious.....milk.
In my state obtaining raw milk is illegal. However, everything I researched was that making mozzarella from raw milk produces the best results. Hmmm, dilemmas, dilemmas...I needed to find milk that was the least processed I could find. So this was it....
This is some super good milk
By now, it's really late and pizza awaits no one....so here goes, mozzarella in a nutshell.
Pour milk into pot...check!
Make sure you watch the temp closely....check!
Pour some of this and a little of that and stir....
Okay, I know, I know. But where's the recipe, how do you do it? Well, I just don't feel qualified - yet - to post my own recipe. Ya know, being that this was the first time and all. But I will provide the link to the recipe I used. Mozzarella cheese recipe
Seriously people, it took really no time at all and the taste was fabulous. Even my husband could tell a difference in the quality of taste of the cheese. So go on out there, get yourself some good ol' milk and make up a batch of fresh mozzarella...you will love it!
Me, personally...I definitely see a cow in our future.
With fall finally here, we have begun the much needed "hunkerin' down" process for the coming of winter. The outside chores are done, leaves raked and composted, and the garden has finally been put to bed. Our garage has been cleaned out and the snow blower started and placed in the front...which to those who live where it's warm and have no idea what I'm talking about...means don't put it in the back of the garage so that when 16 inches of snow finally show up you don't have to move 5 bikes, 2 lawn mowers, 3 big wheels, 2 scooters and a mountain of balls, bats and various jump ropes. You...will...not...be...happy. I'm just saying (not that I would know)....
Today, I heard the squeals of delight when this awful white stuff showed back up at our house. To be honest, the first several snow showers are incredibly beautiful....but, it's just, come April when this white stuff won't leave it really does a number on one's patience.
Speaking of hunkerin' down, the girls and I are venturing out and trying our hand at quilting. I had purchased the supplies several years ago and we thought it would be a good project for those cold winter days. Right now, we are planning our pattern and cutting out the strips to sew. I sew a lot of dresses for the girls and various other projects but have never done a quilt...this should be very interesting. Plus, it gives the girls a much needed lesson in an art form that is slowing dying off.
Our other biggie during the colder days are puzzles. We do a boatload of them. This one we just finished last week and just today started a (what else??) snow puzzle. The kids picked that one out...ugh!
So what do you do to pass the time in the winter months?
It's all about football right now in our house. My husband L.O.V.E.S. all kinds of sports and football is one of the top ones on his list. He and our little girl have some type of fantasy football team thingy they are playing (obviously I'm very knowledgeable in the football area...just ask me anything, really) and they are loving every minute of it.
The other day they took off in the green space behind our house to throw the football around and the dog and I crashed their little par-taah to snap these shots....
...and yes, there was dancing
...and tackling (it happens, ya know)
Ooo,whee...ain't I lucky ducky to get to spend the rest of my life with this one