Thursday, October 15, 2020

Slowing Down

     

A break from cleaning

    With James growing and everyday tasks becoming more and more physically taxing, I am inevitably starting to slow down.  I can feel my energy levels dropping, and I'm no longer able to get things done at the rate I was going.  But I'm ok with this, for I am slowing down in other ways as well.

    Knowing that a unique, wonderful chapter of our lives is closing and a busy and exciting new one is about to begin, I am slowing down to soak in every last bit of our current season.  I know the marathon that is coming with a newborn, but instead of the urgency I felt in weeks past to get things done, I now feel the desire to simply relax and enjoy my time with my family.  I still have my to-do list, but it has been reevaluated and put in its place- it is no longer so important.

    Craving rest and time together, Colton and I decided one last trip to the beach was in order.  We went earlier in the year and were surprised by how much fun we had.  Living only an hour away, we had intended on going back throughout the summer, but then the beaches closed for a period of time and we just got busy with projects.  But Monday we decided we would make it happen!  I packed our lunches, chairs, and tent, and away we went.


"A bit of sea-bathing would set me up forever." ~ Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice 

    It was just what we all needed- a day of doing nothing but spending time together relaxing and playing, surrounded by the calming beauty of God's creation.  We had the beach mostly to ourselves with no one on either side of us for 50 feet, at least. 

    John could run and chase the seagulls, splash in the water, fly his kite, and dig in the sand to his little heart's content.  He and Colton searched for crabs, clams, and shells.  I like to think it was an unintentional homeschooling lesson for John as we watched the little creatures.


    
    Colton enjoyed a swim, which ended up being therapeutic as it brought down the swelling in his post-surgery knee.  He challenged me to a fun game of bocce ball, too.  I won't tell you who won. (Hint: it wasn't him. 😉)

    I set my chair at the water's edge, just close enough for the waves to wash over my feet.  It was the most relaxing thing.  I had brought a magazine with me, but I was too distracted by the beauty around me to enjoy it!


    It was such a lovely break from our busyness.  Sometimes, in the midst of all that is happening, we have to step back and realize how blessed we are.  Not to hurry on to the next thing, but to simply enjoy what we have right now.  Our day at the beach holds memories I will always treasure, and they are far more important than the things I didn't get done.  True, quality time with family always is.








Thursday, October 08, 2020

Pantry Clean-Out

     With the changing of seasons and cooler weather approaching, it seems many of us are giving our pantries extra attention.  Though our Texas winters are far from harsh, I do still like to be prepared, and with a baby on the way, I want to make sure my pantry is stocked and that my need to venture out is kept to a minimum.

     This year has brought so many surprises and uncertainties, and I think we have consequently seen the importance of having and keeping a well-stocked pantry!  This has been a practice of mine for several years now, and our pantry has seen us through job loss, periods of very little to no income, hurricanes, and most recently and unexpectedly, food shortages.  I personally don't think we have seen the end of it, so it is my aim to remain diligent about what I have stored.  Homemakers, this is one way you can truly bless and provide for your family in a tangible way!  

    Having these things in mind, I recently did a major pantry clean-out.  It took me several days to get it done, and I made several observations along the way.  I thought I would share here in the event it helps and encourages someone else.

    The first thing I did was take everything out of my pantry.  I vacuumed, wiped down the shelves, and mopped the floors.  I knew it was temporary, but seeing my pantry empty was a bit unnerving!  An empty pantry is what we want to avoid.


    

    Once the pantry itself was cleaned, I went about sorting through all the food.  I decided to go through everything in categories as I went about setting things back on the shelves.  For example, I went through dry baking goods, then moved onto canned vegetables, then canned fruits, teas etc.  

    All of my jars and cans were wiped down to remove any dust.  Things that were outdated were tossed out.  Now, I did keep some things that are past their "best by" date to an extent.  I am talking here about things that had been forgotten and were too far gone for me to feel comfortable eating or feeding to my family.  As I went, I made a list of things that are getting old and that need to be used up soon.

    I used a Sharpie to write expiration dates on the front of all my cans.  I learned this tip from my parents after snooping in their pantry!  (Anyone else like to snoop in people's pantries to see how they do things?)  By doing this, I am able to see what needs using first.  The items with the furthest dates get placed towards the back of the shelf, and the ones with the closest dates get placed up front.  This system has been working very well for me so far.  Now when we buy groceries, I immediately write the dates on the cans and am able to quickly place them on the shelves accordingly.  Everything should now be much easier to rotate.


    I repackaged many of my dry goods into glass jars.  This created so much space, as it eliminated a lot of bulky packaging.  Glass jars also keep bugs and critters out, keep food fresh longer, and allow you to see at a glance what and how much you have of something.  Colton and I invested in the half-gallon mason jars years ago, but any recycled glass jar will work just as well.  Here you can see my shelves of dry baking ingredients and cereals.  I used a Dymo labeler to label the fronts of my jars.



    Packaged snacks were also put into glass jars.  On the shelf above the snacks, you can see coffee and my system for sorting tea bags.  It is just an inexpensive set of plastic drawers from Walmart.  I have the drawers labeled by category.

   


    Above that, I have milk items (I'd like to stock a bit more) and my paper/packaging items.  The large cookie tin holds my paper plates.  Once I have an empty coffee can, I'll use it to store my coffee filters.  This is just a way to keep any potential pests out.




    Other shelves hold my dehydrated goods, canned vegetables, pasta, dry beans, and potatoes.  Pictured on the floor is vinegar in jugs, wheat in buckets, and not shown on the other end are jugs of distilled water.






   

    And here is my pantry all put back together!  It was a big job but well worth it.



      

    Over the years, my pantry has evolved based on the needs of our family.  I never expect it to stay the same, as I am always finding ways of improving my system.  One of the most important things that I have learned is to only stock the foods my family likes to eat.  I know that may seem like such an obvious thing, but sales and good bargains have tempted me many times to purchase things we ended up not caring for!  What looked like savings ended up being a waste.  

    When the food shortages hit earlier this year, I saw many people buying things they wouldn't normally buy out of necessity.  They needed food and it didn't matter what kind!  Think of how much better it would be to be stocked with familiar and comforting foods that you enjoy in a time of crisis.  It would not be such a shock to the system and routine.

    The way that I have built most of my stockpile is by shopping sales, using coupons, and checking the clearance section of stores.  Again, this only helps if you buy things you like and would normally eat, but if you know you'll use it before it goes bad, buy several, not just one when you find a deal.  I can't tell you how many cans in my pantry have a yellow clearance sticker on them!

    Normally I do a lot of stocking up around the Thanksgiving and Christmas sales.  This year I am taking a bit of a different approach with everything going on in the world.  I don't want to be dependent on sales or availability that simply may not be there this year!  I've been making a list of things I am running low on and I just buy a few cans here and there when I am out shopping.  This also builds up my supply without spending a fortune all at once.

    If you want to learn more about building a pantry, I highly recommend A Working Pantry, The Bluebirds are Nesting, and Strangers and Pilgrims on Earth blogs.  I have learned and continue to learn so much from these ladies!

    I hope you have enjoyed my pantry tour and gleaned some helpful ideas.  Do you keep a "deep" pantry?  What is your system? If you have any tips on keeping, stocking, or rotating your food supply, please share in the comments below!    








Monday, October 05, 2020

Cowboy Cookies

    


     With the arrival of autumn and cooler weather, I feel it is the perfect time to enjoy some baking.  Truth be told, I love to bake all year, but there is a particular coziness when the air is crisp outside and the kitchen is warmed by home-made goodness, filling the house with sweet, comforting aromas.

    Over the weekend, I baked a batch of cowboy cookies to share with friends.  I found the recipe in a cookbook, "Great Recipes from Texas", that I purchased at a garage sale.  While it was only my second time to make them, they were a huge hit!  Colton has declared them to be his absolute favorite cookie.  They have everything good in them-- chocolate chips, cinnamon, oats, coconut, and pecans.  I thought I would share the recipe with you here should you like to try them.

    First I must warn you that this recipe makes a LOT of cookies!  But I am of the opinion that one can never have too many cookies.  They are perfect for sharing or taking to gatherings, and although I have yet to try it (they always disappear before I get a chance), I'm sure they could be frozen for later.  I have never tried to halve this recipe, but I have frozen cookie dough with success, so that is an option too.  Expect about 8 dozen cookies from this recipe!



~Cowboy Cookies~

3 sticks butter (1 1/2 cup), softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
3 cups chocolate chips
3 cups oats
2 cups shredded coconut
2 cups chopped pecans

Cream together butter and sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla; beat.  In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Gradually add to sugar mixture, beating until well blended. Stir in remaining ingredients.  Bake at 350*F for 10-12 minutes.

Enjoy!





Saturday, September 26, 2020

Gentle Days

     We have been having some gentle days around our home lately.  Colton had knee surgery at the end of last week to correct damage from an old injury.  Everything went well, but his leg had to be in a brace all week with the doctor's orders to stay off his feet.  While he was going crazy with not being able to do anything, I was selfishly enjoying his time at home, taking care of him and delighting in watching him with John. With the weather turning cooler, we enjoyed many mornings and evenings outside simply relaxing.  Here is a photo taken right on the other side of our fence.  It is a little blurry because I had to zoom.


    A mother doe and her twin fawns have been coming out regularly to graze in the pasture.  They still have their spots...


    The mother was watching me from the other side of the brush.  I kept my distance so as to not make her too nervous.

    Despite the slower pace of the week, I continued to whittle away at my to-do list.  More jars were washed and put away. 

    I also started working on the pile of ironing I have.  With the same idea to do a little at a time, I made good progress.  Setting a goal like ironing three garments a day will soon see the pile gone.  I even got some of John's shirts ironed right as they came out of the dryer.  His little pressed shirts make my heart happy.



    With the loft freshly cleaned, I have my motivation back to start crafting again.  I'd love to reopen my Etsy shop, but I know now is just not the season.  It will come soon enough.  Instead, I've been working on a little something for Baby James.  I'll be sure to share when it is finished.


    I even managed a trip to the thrift store.  Our local thrift store is such a gem.  I can't believe it took me nearly 7 years to discover it.  The volunteers are so sweet, and I have befriended many of the ladies there.  They are always so helpful and know some of the things I look out for.  Many of the jars I'm washing up came from them, for free!  Just because they knew I would use them.  And I have received texts from them letting me know they have gotten things in that I've wanted or needed.  My latest trip yielded lace placemats, a piece of embroidery, and a wooden Melissa and Doug puzzle.  Everything only set me back $6.



    The lace placemats look vintage.  They have some spots and yellowing, but I thought they were too pretty and inexpensive not to take a chance on cleaning them up.  There are 14 of them!  One of the ladies at the thrift store said to try Borax and vinegar.  If any of you know of ways to get stains out of old linens, please share!

    After the thrift store, we went to Tractor Supply (our local farm and ranch supply store) to buy some feed.  We always check the clearance section.  This time we found huge bags of mealworms for the chickens, marked down from $39.99 to $9.99, plus an extra 25% off of that.  I bought two bags and am kicking myself for not buying more!  They are "treats" but also very good for the chickens, especially with winter approaching.  John helped me feed some to the chickens.  He also insisted on carrying the bag to the shed for me, because, he said, it was too heavy for me.  What a gentleman.  No doubt he learned it from Colton.  Children pick up everything the parents do, so be mindful to teach them good things!




    We also found socks for Colton marked down, which was nice as we had just started talking about stocking up on essentials again.  When thinking in terms of preparedness, food always comes to mind first, but there are other essentials too.  I had specifically mentioned socks, and there they were!  These will be put away until needed.

"She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet."

 ~Proverbs 31:21

    Now that Colton's leg is out of the brace, the pace around our home will pick up again.  It was nice to slow things down (for me, not him, poor guy) for a little while.  Colton will be home for the next three weeks while he recovers, so we have several projects lined up.  Neither of us are in much shape to do too much, but we'll do what we can.  We laugh at ourselves for both hobbling around everywhere, a couple of old 29-year-olds, haha!

    I hope everyone has had a good week!  I'd love to hear from you in the comments.  What has been going on in your little corner of the world?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Catching Up

     These past several weeks have been full of deep-cleaning, organizing, and decluttering as I prepare for James's arrival in December.  The second trimester came with a welcome burst of energy that allowed me to tackle the housework I had fallen behind in, and while this last trimester has seen my energy levels drop somewhat, I still have that momentum.  I guess you could say I'm in nesting mode full-swing!  As my due date gets closer and closer, there is a sense of urgency that makes me feel that if I don't get things done now, they won't get done!

    This post might be a bit random as I share what I've done, but I hope it serves as an encouragement to show what can be accomplished little by little.  I admit my to-do list seemed overwhelming at first, but I took the advice of some seasoned homemakers to just "do the next thing".  I also had to remind myself that it's not the end of the world if I don't cross everything off of my list in time for the baby!  After all, homemaking and housekeeping are not a one and done thing.  That is part of the beauty and joy of it, to always have some little task that keeps our hands busy and our hearts happy, ways here and there to always bless our families, not to mention the satisfaction for ourselves when we get to see and enjoy all the fruits of our labor.  This list just helps me get it all down on paper and out of my head.

The top portion is Colton's list, the bottom is mine.
("De-grease John's toys and clothes" means clean off all of the baby balm he decided to coat everything in while I was in the shower.)

     My first ambitious project was to do a complete pantry clean-out.  It was silly for me to think I could get this done in a day.  I'm still working on it!  I emptied out the entire pantry to wipe down shelves, take inventory of what I have, and rotate stock.  I will save this for another post since there was so much involved, but here is a picture of my empty pantry.  I don't like to see it empty!  Thankfully, it is full again and all clean and organized.



     I almost have it like I want now, but having and keeping a well-stocked pantry means that it is ever-evolving and never quite finished.  I gave myself a break from the pantry once most of it got put back together and jumped to something else on my list.  I wouldn't normally do this, but with my list and for the season I am in, I am just going with bite-sized chunks of whatever I have the energy for.  It's ok to do this!  I still see progress, so even if I don't get the satisfaction of drawing that line through my list, I still know I've accomplished a lot.

    Sorting through baby clothes was another thing on my list.  I still have some clothes from when John was a baby, plus some new things for James that I have either thrifted or been gifted.  I got all of these washed up and sorted by size.  I labeled them and put them away in the attic for when the time gets closer to use them.




    This led me to do something that I hadn't written down but that desperately needed to be done, and that is clean up the loft!  The door to the attic is in the loft, so a lot of times things that either go in the attic or need to come out just get set up there and it becomes a catch-all.  It is also where all of my craft supplies are, and that can quickly get messy if I have projects out.  It was in a dire state.  After plugging away little by little, I finally got it all done!  And now the attic is organized too!

    Here is the embarrassing "before" photo...


    And here it is all cleaned up...



     In the midst of all this, I started on another project.  We have a shelf in our utility room that I was using to hold my jars, most of them thrifted and still unwashed.  I ran out of room on that shelf a long time ago!  I decided I would relocate the jars to the top kitchen cabinets, so I am in the process of getting them all washed and sanitized for that.  It will be much more practical for me to have them at the ready in the kitchen should I need them.  I have too many to wash all in a day, so I am just doing several a day and chiseling away at the pile.

The shelf, with several jars already removed.

    To the aforementioned shelf in the utility room, I moved all of our extra bathroom toiletries, first aid, and kitchen supplies.  When things go on sale that I know we use regularly, I buy several, not just one!  This is an investment up front that saves money in the long run, as it means I never have to pay full price.  I previously had these supplies in a closet in the utility room (you can see a glimpse of it to the right in the photo above), which held everything well, but it was hard to search for things, as the closet is deep and things tended to get buried.  Now everything can be seen at a glance, and I can easily tell what we are getting low on.  Colton and I have enough shampoo and Q-tips for the next five years, I think!  But I can see that we really need dish soap...



    I've also been washing up some fabric from the thrift store.  I'd be embarrassed to tell you how long ago I bought this.  It was during a bag sale so that tells you it was pre-covid!  It has been sitting in the laundry room in the same bag I bought it in.  Now it is all washed and put away.  As a side note, I bought all this fabric for $2 total!  How could one pass that up?



    We got some free food-grade buckets from the grocery store bakery.  I washed them up and now they are ready to hold the bulk wheat that we bought.  We currently have the wheat in the freezer to kill any critters that might hatch out.



    I was also able to add some freeze dried onions to my pantry.  This had been on my list and only ended up taking about an hour to process.  We had a great harvest of onions this past spring, and my parents offered to freeze dry some for me!  They processed ten pounds sliced.  I crushed some and ground the rest and sealed them in jars.  Some of the jars will be for long-term storage (freeze-dried foods will last for decades if stored properly) so I added oxygen absorbers to them.  Now I have a good supply of onions in the pantry.


     It has been so helpful to review this past month and see all that I was able to accomplish.  I hope it has served as some inspiration if you have some bigger projects that you need to get done.  I would love to hear about them in the comments!  I'd also love to know your method for getting things done and how you stay motivated!  

Saturday, August 01, 2020

An Unexpected Blessing

  This week, just as Colton and I had mapped out what we were going to do on his days off, he called me from work and said, "Change of plans!"  That phrase always makes me uneasy, but this time it was a happy surprise.  Someone had donated a piano to our church and we needed to go out of town to pick it up!  And, since Colton and I have started taking a turn hosting church services at our house (we attend a home church), our pastor agreed to let us bring the piano home so that I could learn to play.  This has been a dream of mine for a long time!




  It is absolutely beautiful.  From what I have found, it was built sometime in the 1940's.




  I couldn't believe it came with a gorgeous piano bench, as well!  It could not be any more perfect.  Just look at the needlework...




  Colton's grandfather said the piano player at his church used to give lessons, and he is going to inquire Sunday as to whether she still does.  I certainly hope so!  If not, I'll be searching YouTube.  If anyone knows of any good resources, please let me know in the comments!

  






 

Friday, July 24, 2020

Baby News!



It's a BOY!!!

    Colton and I are so happy that God is blessing us with another son and that John will have a little brother.  We are still amazed and sometimes we will say to each other, "I can't believe we are having another baby!"  There is nothing quite like bringing a child into the world and having its precious life entrusted to us by God.  There is also nothing quite like hearing a baby's heartbeat in the womb or seeing it move around on an ultrasound screen, not to mention the little kicks I have been feeling!  It is already a life, he is already a person, a living soul.  His name is James Everett and we can't wait to meet him.

"For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb.  I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.  My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them."
 ~Psalm 139:13-16