Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Blessings

 This time of year, we are reminded of cooler weather, changing colors, darker evenings, and being able to spend more time together indoors...perhaps bringing us closer together. For just a moment, I hope you allow me to digress...I feel it's important so you know where I'm coming from when it comes to the 'holiday' of Halloween.

Growing up, we never celebrated any holidays, except 4th of July, Thanksgiving, Mother's and Father's day, and birthdays...due to what our religious beliefs were. But as I grew older, I began to understand more of the New Testament and the life and grace of Jesus and what a relationship with Him means. Since then, I've whole-heatedly accepted Christmas and Easter...but Halloween is still a holiday I don't truly/fully understand.

Growing up, Halloween was always a very intimate family night. We would always order a pizza, rent a movie, turn out all the lights and enjoy a night together...pure and simple. I loved it and I must admit, I miss that intimacy and simplicity...even though I enjoy handing out some candy! There is so much to be said about a family that can enjoy a night together; whether it be with a dinner and coloring, or a game, or a funny movie, or just talking and laughing...I think this world needs more of these moments!! But as I said, I digress.

I've never dressed up -  never felt the need - but I do enjoy handing out candy to children (and yes, adults too!!) on this night but I have been drawn to just what and how this 'holiday' came about. So I  began my investigation. Since I'm fairly new to this holiday, I decided to google it and find out more about the history behind this 'ghost, goblin, and witch'  connotation. This is what I discovered:

It originated as a Celtic Festival - Samhain - which marked their new year, November 1st. It was also a mark of the end of summer, harvest, and the darker colder weather of the winter months. Since the transition from light (summer) to dark (fall/winter) was associated with death, the Celts believed this was the time of year when the dead returned to earth; wreaking havoc amongst the local crops. They also believed it was also the time of year that was the easiest for priests to predict the future.

When it transitioned to the Americas in the mid-19th century, people began dressing up in costume and asking for food and money. This is what started our current trick-or-treating tradition (History Channel...check it out!)

As I consider myself new to this holiday, among others, and still unsure about how I truly feel about this day we choose to celebrate the 'darker' moments our world, I must admit that knowing the history makes a huge impact.

But as for this day, I can say this confidently: I believe in Jesus Christ. I know He came to save us if we just accept Him and acknowledge what He has done and continues to do for us!
Give to others; prophesy to others; display your happiness and contentedness, through Christ! Not only will this fulfill us as we move through our days, it will also spread His word on this day so associated to death and darkness.

How do you feel about halloween? What traditions do you partake in and hope to pass on...and why? I'd love to know how Halloween impacts you and your family! Share...we can all benefit!!
Be safe and enjoy the candy!!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Simplicity and Peace

As I sit here tonight, with both my dogs at my feet and my cat curled up purring on my lap, I had every intention of writing about preparing your soil for the winter months ahead. But as I stared at the computer screen I felt compelled to write more about the things weighing on my heart than what has been busying my hands lately. So this is where I'm at...and I hope it's encouraging!

Longing for Company
And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?
~Deuteronomy 10:12-13~
When was the last time I spoke to You from my heart? Some days bring trials, others bring joy. Today brings a mixture of both. I am thankful to have entered into Your presence because I was longing for Your company without even knowing it.
Is my day going as You planned? Am I missing something wonderful, important, divine? Help me embrace today's complexities, questions, and ordinary demands. Somehow just sitting here in Your presence is changing my outlook for the rest of today. Did You need to remind me that You were walking beside me? My pace has been so fast, sometimes even reckless, that I forgot how steady a moment can be. With just a brush of your spirit, my day has taken on the color of hope.
(This excerpt was taken from One-Minute Prayers for Women, my favorite devotional thus far!!)
I think this devotional stands beautifully on its own...and sums up my feelings superbly!
I hope you find this uplifting and encouraging as we enter into a busy work-week, whatever that may entail for you. I pray that it will help you where you are and guide you through the days ahead!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Display the Harvest


This is the first year I have ever attempted to grow corn. I diligently watched over my crop, weeded, watered and waited for my corn to ripen. And when it did, it was amazing! We even had enough to freeze and save for the cold winter months. But when the season ended, I was left with these beautiful corn stalks that were beginning to dry in the cold autumn nights and cool days. Unwilling to waste them or simply turn them into mulch or compost, I cut them away from their roots and decided to use them as a welcoming harvest decoration at the front of my house.

As I pulled up the dead stalks of corn, I picked out the most attractive and as many as I could use for decoration, put them aside and cut the stalks away from the roots (I mulched the roots and the rest of the unused stalks). I piled up my desired bunch and separated them into two piles...both with equal amounts of stalks and stalks of differing heights.

I purchased a spool of natural raffia at my local Dollar Tree store and decided it would be the perfect way to tie my bundle of corn stalks together and keep them together with the ever growing winds here in the high desert!  So with two bunches of corn stalks, about evenly divided, with differing heights, I bundled them together and tied them with a simple bow.

I then took each bundle and placed them into the planter boxes on either side of my garage door. I pressed each stalk slightly into the soil in each box so they wouldn't blow over or out of my planter box. I carefully tucked them around each light that is directly above each of the boxes. Voila! My decorations were complete!

As I gazed upon these simple decorations, I realized they brought a very nice sense of fall while still being somewhat 'sophisticated' in nature; they are fun and beautiful. When it gets dark outside and the house lights come on, the light that shows eerily through the corn fronds is the perfect fit for this time of year!


Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Gift of Vulnerability

 He Hears Me
This is the confidence we have in approaching God; that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.

~1 John 5:14~
Lord, thank You for hearing me. Your ears are open to the musings of my heart, the longings of my soul, and the questions of my mind. There is nobody else in my life who promises to hear every part of me. Even in my most insecure moments, I utter words I know will reach Your heart. I dwell on worries my friends would not take seriously. I have fears that, brought up in daily conversation, would sound unreasonable. Yet, You listen.
It is a gift to be vulnerable with the Creator. You are my Master, yet I can come to You with the simplest needs or concerns. As Your child, I seek Your will and Your response. As my Father, You listen.
(Excerpt taken from One-Minute Prayers for Women )
Society has thrust us towards normalcy and towards fearing vulnerability. While, as a defensive mechanism, a lack of vulnerability may prove useful. However, as we go through life and seek God, vulnerability is just what we need. We need to know that while the decisions are up to us, we have a Savior who longs for us to just surrender and come to Him. We have to let go and give what we have to the hands of Christ. We need to become vulnerable. At that point we can see God's plans for our life!


Have you had moments like this? What is your approach to life and it's sturggles?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Great Grape Escapade!

 The first year in our new home - almost three years ago - Cam and I made a list of plants, trees, and fruit we wanted to have in our garden. On the top of our list were grapes! We both LOVE them. I grew up with Concord (which we never eaten because they were too sour and seedy) and some sort of wine grape, and as an adult I love to buy a few extra when they go on sale and freeze them. They are a phenomenal treat in the summer or even in the winter with a warm cup of tea! But I digress. Cam and I knew grapes were definitely a fruit we wanted to invest our time and money into. We went to the nursery and purchased a green wine grape. The following year, still lacking a grape crop, we bought a concord grape. The following year, we harvested our first green green grape crop...they are phenomenal to eat raw, in fact, they were so good, I ended my evening with a belly ache! It was TOTALLY worth it though!!

Since our grape vines take two years to be able to harvest from, this was the year for our Concord. And to our surprise, we had an enormous amount of  them! They are slightly thick-skinned, sour, and seedy, so we weren't sure what to do with them. I thought of juice but Cam thought jam. Jam, being the easier of the two for me, I decided to use these beautiful grapes for grape jelly!

This easy project can be slightly messy and time consuming, but the end result is amazing! Use it at supper for jelly toast (Cam's favorite), tea time on scones (my very favorite), or breakfast toast, pancakes, sauces...the list is endless. While being so simplistic, it can be transformed into so many new things. I hope to explore some of them! Here is my 'grape jelly making' experience:

Having two baskets of grapes on my counter was such a beautiful and magnificent presence. I loved to look at them but hated the prospect of even one of those purple globes going to waste. So I removed them from the stems, rinsed them and placed them in a large sauce pot. Layer-by-layer I placed them in the pot, mashed them with my potato masher, and repeated this process until all my grapes were in the pot and mashed. I added about 1 c. of water to the pot and brought it to a boil.

 I boiled it for about 10 minutes and removed it from the heat. I passed it through a sieve, to remove skins and seeds, into a large bowl. I covered the bowl with foil and placed into the refrigerator to settle.

After 24 hours, I carefully strained it again (making sure to get most of the thick sediment out the juice) and measured it out.

I followed the directions on the pectin I purchased. I had one batch with Sure-Jell pectin and the next two were made with Sure-Jell Certo Liquid Pectin(No matter the pectin you choose, make sure to follow the directions provided by each specific brand. They all differ slightly and make a difference when it comes to the jam setting or not.)

After my straining, heating, boiling, combining, stirring, ladling, and letting sit, my grape jelly has finally come to an end. I heated my jars and lids, made the jelly, placed it into hot jars, securely screwed on their lids and rings, and set on a towel to cool and seal. This is how my momma always did it and how I've continued to do it. There are some recipes that call for the actual 'canning' of your jam/jellies; processing them for 10-15 min. But with a usually high sugar content, I've never 'canned' my jams/jellies and have never noticed a difference (but by-all-means follow the directions to be on the safe side!)

 After 33 half-pints I have successfully used ALL of my concord grapes I so fortunately harvested this fall! And tonight was the first night we tried out our seasonal makings! Cam wanted "jelly toast" with his supper so, with grape jelly in the fridge, this is what he created: white bread, toasted to the perfect crispiness, butter, and jelly.

Bread, butter, and home-made grape jelly...what could be better?
It was delectable! Even more so since we knew what was in it and how it was produced! I must say, any form of preserving has proven to be so extremely rewarding to me! It's encouraging to be able to reach down and grab hold or our roots and produce and save what we are so blessed with just as we have had to do for centuries! It's amazing and humbling.

Whatever you chose to do with your extra produce, be creative! Even if you don't really feel like your being too extravagant, whatever is practical and useful, and will be used all year long, is definitely worth your time! Especially if it comes from your garden!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

It's a Beautiful Life

 Tap into the Gift
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hears to God.
~ Colossians 3:16 ~

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Season of Change

My Painted Blanket
 My favorite season of the year is fall. I love winter, spring, and summer, but when it comes to fall, I'm a sucker for everything relating to this season! I love the smell of the trees with their falling leaves, the cool weather, the dried stalks of vegetation that seem to linger well into the winter months. I know I've said it before about my very pinnacle moment of fall, but I really need to add this to it...there is just a smell and feeling about autumn that captures me!

 My Purple Leafed Sand Cherry bush in my rose garden
Gooseberry after the first frost
This is the time when we allow ourselves a moment to relax and enjoy our garden; enjoy everything it has provided us with and we are now responsible for preserving, bringing in a few mementos of extreme beauty for us to enjoy indoors as well as outside; savoring the flavors of the exquisite fruits and vegetables available to us. I can only stand in awe at what I gaze upon! I'm truly amazed at the never-ceasing beauty my garden puts forth each season!

I tried my best at growing pumpkins, mostly for decoration, but still, a spare pumpkin is always nice to try to carve! Well, here it is...I'm not sure it's actually a pumpkin, hahahaha!

I planted a pumpkin...this looks like a yellow watermelon to me...
Other than pumpkins, I don't really have many strictly 'fall' crops. I have carrots & beets still in the ground; my Swiss Chard, Kale, and Spinach are all doing well. These few things give me hope for the winter. I know I will be blessed with the cold but fresh leafy vegetables of fall/winter, but I can rest assured that the work I put forth this summer won't be wasted!

'Virginia Creeper' berries as Autumn arrives
Enjoy your newly, and ever changing bushes, vines, and perennials! Also take a moment to enjoy each and every moment you spend in your garden. Remember, you put forth a lot of work all year deserve a moment to enjoy it now and see just what your garden has transformed to!

This is also the ideal time to start spring bulbs...if you want tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, croaceses, and any other spring bulb, now is the time to consider getting them into the ground. Come spring, you will be glad you planted them!

Enjoy and learn!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

First Times the Charm!

Leftovers, whatever they may be, always seem to leave me in a quandary...they need to be used but I don't really want to eat the same thing several days in a row. I try to get my 'little grey cells' moving (I hope you all like Poirot ;-) and dive into my cookbooks and magazines for inspiration. Unfortunately, I often cut myself short on ideas and pass them over because they seem to be too difficult and time consuming.
This is where I found myself this weekend. Cam drew his deer tag this year, and the day we left for Kentucky, he actually got a beautiful 4-point buck! Friends of ours took on the task of preparing the meat to be packaged (Cam did all the labor except the actual butchering) for which we are EXTREMELY grateful!! This left us with the job of making room in our freezer for such a blessing!
I organized, cleared up, cleaned up, and made enough room for all of our venison. I did, however, have to take out a chicken. I baked him up for dinner with mashed potatoes, gravy, salad, and fresh Brussels sprouts and tomatoes; my comfort meal to go with the changing weather. But after one day, the two of us had only put a small dent into this chicken...lots of leftovers. I use it on sandwiches for lunch but for dinner, I wanted something new and exciting! So I perused my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry to see what I could muster up and couldn't talk myself out of making. This is the culinary creation I came up with:
Chicken & Butternut Squash Won tons with Pineapple-Sesame Dipping Sauce

 (I had purchased won ton wrappers at my local Grocery Outlet for $.50 which were in my fridge along with a small bag of squash puree I made last fall in my freezer, fresh pineapple with its juice in the fridge as well...never underestimate the power of a well stocked pantry and freezer!)
Won tons:
  • 1 pkg won ton wrappers
  • Butternut Squash puree
  • Cooked chicken
  • mozzarella cheese, if desired
Dipping Sauce:
  • 1/4c. chicken broth
  • 1/4c. soy sauce, reduced sodium
  • 1/4c. fresh pineapple juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated
  • 4 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • Healthy grind of black pepper
  • Red pepper flakes, as much as you like
 Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F.
Place won ton wrappers on a cutting board at a diagonal so the point is towards you. Place a small amount of squash puree on each wrapper on one side of the 'diamond', place a small amount of mozzarella on top of the squash (if desired), and top with a small amount of chicken. Fold the other half over the top to close and, with wet fingers, press the edges closed. Place the sealed won tons onto a greased cookie sheet. Give them a light dusting of olive oil or cooking spray and place into preheated oven. Bake for 8-10 min. or until golden brown and warm through.
While the won tons bake, place all 'Dipping Sauce' ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil until slightly reduced and the won tons are done.
Place won tons onto a platter and the dipping sauce into a dipping bowl.
If you want to dress it up, sprinkle the won tons with sesame seeds (toasted or not, up to you) and green onions.

This being the first time I've ever used won ton wrappers, I must say I was impressed! We are already thinking of new combinations for fillings for these wonderful, delicate squares of dough!

All of these ingredients are readily available in most grocery stores if you don't have them. I would encourage you to make sure your pantry is stocked enough, so much as you can, to accommodate your tastes and likes so you can base your meals on the things you like and have on hand. This not only makes us more creative, but saves us some money...which we can all use these days!!

I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!

Do you have any other ideas on fillings or what we should try next with our chicken? I still have half a bird left!!

Enjoy every day to the matter what it brings forth!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Back In the Game

Life has been a whirlwind lately! I was gone a week to go to Kentucky for a work conference with cam. It was educational, interesting, and fun but I was feeling very pressed about the critical harvest/preserving time for my garden & having to be gone during it. As I prayed for our trip, I began to feel a sense of peace...I was finally at ease.

Since we've returned, most of the stuff we put off was still right where we left it!

As I tried to get back into the swing of things I felt overwhelmed and was I going to be able to make it through the ever increasing 'to do' list. Simple:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
- James 1:2-4 -

This verse has given me the strength to continue on with less complaining & more willingness to work! Hard work is a disappearing trait unfortunately, so let's do our best to try our best in everything God has placed in our lives!


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Faith, Selflessness, & Harvest Blessings

My life has been somewhat chaotic as of late. Time to spend on the things I enjoy has been thrust aside so I can fulfill obligations & help others. I must not complain though; I'm so blessed to be able to help those who need me! One verse that has kept me going is this:
"Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people."
Colossians 3:23
It's hard to work happily, though, when you feel like you are just filling in for someone else's selfishness.

Lets be honest - humans are selfish by nature (at least, after these several weeks, I've known this to be true). But we don't have to be nor should we! To live as a servant of our God means we can rest assured he will provide, just not always in the way we want!

I'm not perfect by any means!! I even have moments where I doubt life moments will work themselves out and I struggle with completely trusting God to handle it. As hard as that is to admit, once I did, I have made a very much needed effort to work on my faith. And wow, what a difference I've noticed!

Here's a good example:
As I said, it's been a hairy several weeks for me, as far as life is concerned. To top it all off, our weather has taken a drastic turn into below freezing temperatures, something I, and my garden, were completely unprepared for. As I went through my days, I worried about having enough time to pick my last crops and preserve them before the frost destroyed them. But my days kept getting filled with other things and unexpected expectations, and my garden sat idly, through frost & thaw, neglected.

As frustration set in, I was reminded of how we need to help others in their times of need (no matter how selfish we feel their reasonings may be) and to trust that God has a plan for us. And when I was able to see that, I noticed something about my precious, yet very frost bitten garden: while the plants are all dead from the frost, my actual produce was almost completely unscathed! So late Friday evening, with gloved hands, I hurriedly picked any last thing my garden had produced. After about two hours, I was completely amazed! I was a garage full of ripe tomatoes, three large boxes full of green tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, bell peppers, jalapeƱos, cabbage, and a very large box of winter squash!

I've been working diligently to preserve it all...and so far, so good! I am truly amazed at how much we have been blessed with, even after giving much of it to neighbors and giving much of my time to others. For me, this was a truly faith building experience!

While life is seldom easy for any of us, we must try to see the glass as half full. Learn to help those who truly need it and trust God to work it all out!


Monday, October 1, 2012

DIY'ers Look Out!

Today has been one of those days. You know the ones; you are snippy and short, but for unknown reasons, its hard to pinpoint what your problem is, exactly. That's where I've been today. Melancholy...grumpy and apathetic. A hard place to be on a gorgeous afternoon! So instead of allowing myself to succumb to these feelings, I made myself find something good in the day & allowed myself to just do whatever I found needed to be done. Amidst my drifting moments of work and relaxation, this is whatI found to do and I'm so excited to share it!!

 Creating a Side-Bar From an Old Bookshelf
When I get bored, I try to think of creative ways to get myself out of my self-made slump. Sometimes they're good and other times...lets just say sometimes my ideas are so atrocious that they should never be considered, ever! But every-so-often I come across an idea that, once implimented, is quite ingeniois. I had one of these ideas this weekend!
Yes, this is my embaarassingly cluttered cook-
book bookshelf
I have a book shelf in my breakfast nook which houses all my cookbooks and miscalaneous recipes I've collected throughout the years and unfortunately, it's just a cluttered mess!! I'm sick of looking at it everytime I sit down at my began my hunt for a way to aleviate this eye-sore. I considered hanging a simple curtain at the front but decided this wouldn't capture my 'style'...I wanted something that fit me and was practical. After spending a few moments perusing my house for something I could use to cover up my 'clutteredness' I remembered some window shutters I purchased on a whim at a local thrift store...and suddenly I had a solution! Use the shutters to enclose the bookcase, covering its very cluttered contents, but looking somewhat stylish (at least in my opinion :-) and practicle in the mean time!

 This was my solution! I found two, four-pannel window shutters at my local thrift store two months ago and bought them, both, for $4!! I was planning on trying to find a way to use them in my windows, but was unsure as to what their exact usage would be when I purchased them.(Honestley, I've had the shutters sitting idly in my living room until now. It's sometimes nice to be able to sit back and evaluate your needs before you jump into them, but remember, in order to do this, you MUST keep an eye our for 'useful' items at garage sales, thrift store, antique stores, or anywhere else you may find yourself. Pre-planning is crucial if you want to do someting on a whim...otherwise, knowing what you want and searching for it can work as well, it just may be a bit more expensive on your part.)
Once I had decided to use the shutters I had purchased on this project, I measured the heights and width to make sure to cut the shutters down to size. Once cut to the appropriate height, I had to separated one pannel from the second set of shutters. I then was presented with the fact that the shutters covered all but a 1 1/2" of the width of my shelf. Fortunately for me, I foud a piece of oak in our garage that would work perefectly for the job! I only had to attach the hinges and the apporpriate shutter heights, and I had a perfect solution to my clutter problem!
Once the shutters and oak piece were in place, it was easy to finish the job. I painted everyting to match, white, and let it dry. I'm extrememly proud to say I have created a beautiful side-board from a very neglected and cluttered bookshelf! And I didn't even have to worrry about our finances on this one!!
I hope this inspires you to keep a watchful eye on your local thrift store, garage sales, or antique markets! You never know what you might stumble upon ...especially when you least expect it!!