Sep 30, 2011

Food for Thought - Canning Green Beans

I’ve told you before, canning is in my blood. And that’s a good thing since my sweetie likes gardening and we can’t possibly use everything he grows.  Yesterday my kids brought in a couple of five gallon buckets full of green beans and we get that many about once a week. Even though the patch is nothing like my in-laws used to grow, it still helps a ton at the grocery store. I don’t believe I’ve ever bought a “can” of green beans.

Greens beans are my favorite thing to can because they are so easy. I get the kids to help me snap them and pull of the ends and then the whole process takes about an hour. My mom used to get beans from neighbors when they were tired of picking them and those beans were not the best. Once the bean inside gets big and bulgy and especially dry, just throw it away. And remember that if you find a string down the side of your bean, pull it off. These new string-less varieties aren’t perfect. Now start snapping and get on with it!

Canning Green Beans

Canning green beans is fun and easy! You start with fresh green beans and break off the ends. My kids tend to waste way more than I do. Then snap the beans into bite-sized pieces. I shoot for about an inch or so. You can leave them whole, but it is harder to get them in and out of the bottles.

When you have all of your beans prepared, wash them thoroughly.

Then place them into jars. We use quarts and we usually go through a jar and sometimes two at a single meal. Fill the jars with the broken beans. I use a canning funnel to keep them from spilling all over, but it’s not necessary.

You need a little salt. My mom used a teaspoon per quart, but we have cut that to half a teaspoon per quart. Then fill the jars with water to within half an inch of the top.

Now heat a small bowl full of water to sterilize your lids. This takes 2 ½ minutes in my microwave and then I just throw the lids into the hot water. While you are waiting for the water to boil, wipe the tops of the jars with a clean cloth. It’s unlikely that you will find anything, but even a few grains of salt can keep your jar from sealing.

Pull your lids from the boiling water and place them immediately on top of each jar. Add a ring and tighten. A general rule for canning is that fruits need a water bath or steamer, and vegetables need to be pressured in a pressure cooker. My sweetie bought this one for me about ten years ago. I love it because I can do 14 quarts in it instead of 7. It cost about $300.00 at the time, but it has been well worth the money since we do so much canning. If you decide to get a tall one, make sure it will fit under your microwave hood. When we first got this one, we had a different microwave and that was a problem.

For beans in Utah, we pressure quarts for 30 minutes at about 13 pounds pressure. Pints take about 25 minutes, but ask your County Extension group time and pressure for your area. Make sure your pressure cooker has a rack in the bottom, then fill it with about 4 or 5 inches of water. Put in your bottles. Lock your pressure cooker…tight! Mine has a little round weight that goes on top to regulate the pressure.

Don’t leave the room while you are using the pressure cooker! If the pressure gets too high, the bottles will break. And if it gets too low, the bottles don’t seal properly. When the timer rings, turn the canner off, but don’t touch it. It takes a while for the pressure to come down. When the canner is cool and the dial registers 0, you can open the canner up and take out the jars. Make sure they are all sealed down properly. Poke each lid in the center. If you hear that little popping sound, refrigerate that jar and use them within a couple of days. Like pears, I take off my rings and wash the jars in warm soapy water. Then write the year on the lid with a Sharpie. Beans keep just fine in a cool dry place for about 10 years.

Sep 29, 2011

My First Concert

If you are a country music fan, you are so jealous of Teach and Princess today. They blew all their money on tickets to the Taylor Swift concert! I’ve already asked them to write a guest blog together for Saturday, so you can come back then and get the latest on the actual concert. But it got me remembering way…way…way back when I attended my very first concert.

My sweetie won’t like this post because it shows what a nasty, insensitive, little flirt I was when I was a kid, but it seems a bit timely, so I will share it anyway. You all know I grew up in a small town. We didn’t get many opportunities to attend concerts unless we wanted to drive for a couple of hours into the city and there was no way my dad was going to allow that. 

Mostly that didn’t bother me too much until my favorite group announced that they were coming to Salt Lake City. The year was 1982. I was 17 years old and there was nothing I wanted to do more than to see Air Supply in concert! Tickets sold out rapidly and everybody who was anybody was going. Except me. I could have bought myself a ticket, but even if I did, I had no way of getting there.

Since I was currently between boyfriends, it seemed like a wise move to figure out which desperate guys had tickets and flirt shamelessly until I got an invitation. I finally settled on a guy friend who just happened to be the best friend of an ex-boyfriend. I was pretty sure I could convince him that he really wanted to take me to see the big show.

It took me about a week…ok…a little more than a week, and a little begging from one of my friends for his friend and we were set for a double date. Now I want to make it clear right from the beginning that these were NICE gentlemanly guys (a little geeky maybe) who were not expecting payback for their generosity. (And that’s a good thing, because they didn’t get any…)

They picked us up and we were joined by a third couple I didn’t know very well. The third guy was a student at BYU and we had dinner before the concert at his apartment. The guys tried so hard to impress us! They cooked steak and baked potatoes and corn on the cob. We were all dressed up in our concert finery and they couldn’t figure out why none of us would eat the corn. (Would you eat corn on the cob on a first date?)

When we were finished eating, we gathered up and headed for the concert. Honestly, I can’t remember much about the concert itself. I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it, but I think it would have been more fun if I hadn’t spent the whole time feeling so guilty.

I wish I could tell you that it was the beginning of something, but it wasn’t. It was the only date we ever went on and it pretty much ruined our friendship. Not one of my finer moments.

Did you ever take advantage of a friend? Please tell me that at seventeen I wasn’t the only one with a lot of growing up to do…

Sep 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, Crafty!

Princess helping with the baby food.
Happy Birthday to you! You live in a zoo! You look like a wait...wrong birthday. Although I'm pretty sure the zoo part is appropriate for my house.

Birthdays generally come in pairs at my house. Princess had her birthday on the 24th and today is Crafty’s birthday. She is 11 years old. As a general rule, 11 is one of my favorite ages. Not quite old enough to be an obnoxious teenager, but just right to be helpful and responsible. And that’s my Crafty. Unless it comes to rustling through my craft boxes. Then she loses all sense of right and wrong, leaving boxes open and tipped, glue guns plugged in, and various bits and pieces strewn across the floor. She is an amazing crafter and has been since she was small. She loves to create little creatures and clothes out of whatever she can find. The funny thing is that I have dozens of kits with instructions that she could use, but she prefers to use her imagination and come up with her own creations.

Happy First Birthday!
Daddy made a great horse!
I’ve shared her birth story with you before, and you can read about it here if you missed it. Crafty is our 8th child and we were a bit surprised when she turned out to be a girl. I’m not sure why other than we had done the two girls, boy thing so we were just assuming the same thing would happen with her. We weren’t disappointed; we just had to figure out another girl name. All of our girls are named with the same beginning letter and all of our boys are named with a different first same letter. We didn’t intend for that to happen, we just accidentally fell into it. When we wanted to deviate from that pattern after our oldest five, the kids revolted and said the new baby wouldn’t feel like they were part of the family. They even shed tears over it! So we started looking for another K name.

Crafty was the Poor Nameless Child until about two weeks before she was born. We simply could not come up with a name that met all the criteria. Then one day I stumbled across a name on the Internet and when I ran it by my sweetie, he actually liked it! We were sitting on the front porch at the time and then I said, “But what about a middle name?” He sighed and pointed to the red rose bush climbing the railings of the porch. “How about Rose?” he suggested. “Done!” I said enthusiastically.

Crafty has always been a ray of sunshine in our home. You can see from some of these pics that Princess and Prima Donna spoiled her rotten when she was little. And she was so anxious to become just like them. I’ve told you before that she is an amazing dancer. She loves all sorts of dance, from hip-hop to classical ballet. She will earn her pointe shoes this year and she can hardly wait!

An excellent student, she loves school and she has tons of friends. She is the kind of girl who always wins the citizenship and friendship awards. She recently started playing the clarinet in the school band and she loves to sing. She has been a Girl Scout since she was born (not really, but it seems like it) and she loves to camp and sell cookies (as long as she doesn’t have to go to the door alone).

This is her second year working at a local preschool while she is off track and she is so excited to have a little money of her own. Little kids just follow her around. When she goes into the nursery at church, it is common for some random kid to take her hand and try to get her to join in the fun or read a story. Crafty is a risk-taker and always has been. When she went boating this summer, she was the first one out on the tube. She can walk on her hands and she can use a pair of stilts, two things I was never able to master. She can do the splits all three ways and she loves swimming and cycling. Crafty has a beautiful smile as you can see from this last pic. She makes our home a sunny, happy place. Happy Birthday, Crafty, I love you to pieces.

Sep 27, 2011

Eeeww de Toilet

Curly had a little lamb...
Not the real blue comb

I was “working” on my computer today…ok, I was blogging…when I heard the toilet flush. About 30 seconds later, Curly came in. “M..o..m?” he sort of whined. Distracted, I turned to reach for him and he placed a wet pair of underwear in my hand. I immediately dropped them to the floor as he said, “These fell in the toilet…”

Now how many kids do you know that drop something in the toilet and then fish it out? I only know one…

Most of mine drop something in and they holler for Mom to do the dirty work. I remember once when I was in high school, I was getting ready for a dance. I’m not exactly sure how the comb fell into the toilet since I have always been pretty good about shutting the lid, but the next thing I knew, my favorite large blue comb was sinking to the bottom. And I did exactly what you would expect. “Mom!” I yelled. Only she didn’t come. After a moment or two I tried again. I knew she was in the house, so I went to search for her.

When I finally found her, she was calmly folding laundry. “Can you come and get the comb out of the toilet?” I was pretty frantic by then. What if somebody used the facilities without seeing it? What if they flushed it? This was a disaster. Mom’s eyes were still on the TV show she was watching. “You can do it,” she responded. I was NOT happy about this turn of events. “Ewww!” Then she looked at me. “What are you going to do when you are the mom?” she asked. “I’m not coming over to take care of it for you. You just as well get used to it now.” Then she turned back to her show.

I stomped out of the den and back to the bathroom. Angry, I plunged my hand into that toilet water and retrieved my comb. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. I turned on the sink and ran the water straight hot. I scrubbed my hands and my comb with soap and soon everything was back to normal. (Now, I’m pretty sure I would have just thrown the comb in the trash, but that was not an option then. I wouldn’t have had the funds to replace it.)
picture credit

But that whole experience taught me a lesson. I didn’t need my mom always bailing me out of hard situations. If I was in hot water (or toilet water) because I had made bad choices (like leaving the toilet seat up), then I needed to just take care of myself. It was a bit of a turning point for me. In one single moment, I suddenly became much more independent and maybe a little more grown up and a lot more careful about always shutting the lid.

Sep 26, 2011

A Little Squishy

My son has to be the most tolerant man I know! I told you that yesterday was Princess’s 15th birthday. Because she had a party with her friends on Saturday, we waited to have a family party on Sunday. The Gym Rat had been looking for a reason to have the family over since he moved into his apartment last spring. So today was the day. We celebrated Princess’s birthday at his house.

His apartment is not very big. He shares it with two other guys and for them there is plenty of room. But bringing everyone together for a party was a little crowded. My sweetie and I were there and all twelve of our kids as well as one of Gym Rat’s roommates and Bossy’s family. That made a grand total of 19 people in an 8’ x 15’ room.

We had a nice dinner. The Gym Rat made bbq chicken and alfredo. We brought rolls and zucchini and cake and ice cream. Then we left the little kids watching a movie while the adults moved to the Gym Rat’s bedroom. We were hoping to have our final book club meeting on the book he chose, Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. It was a little squishy! But we managed to put nine people in one small bedroom. (Ten if you count Baby Doll!)

pic credit
The discussion got a little heated. Most of us liked the book, but there were a few nay-sayers. After a few minutes, Princess snuck out to watch the movie with the little kids. The meeting broke up shortly afterward and we all agreed it might be a good idea to start the next book. Grandpa got to choose this time (that means he agreed to pay for copies of the book for everyone…). He chose The Help. I’ve heard it’s really good!

Then we pulled out the cake and ice cream. I had struggled with an idea for a cake topper for Princess. Fifteen is such a hard age to find something good, but I finally bought her a package of Lip Smackers lip gloss tubes (kind of like Chapstick). I stuck all 8 of them into the cake and them randomly placed 15 pink candles. We lit the cake and sang. Princess promptly blew out all the candles and then we pulled off the lip gloss and laid them on the counter. I cut the cake into nice little triangles and the kids fought over the ice cream flavors.

Twenty minutes later we were cleaning up and Princess washed the frosting from the lip gloss. As I gathered them up, I noticed that about half of them had melted into their caps from the heat of the candles! When we got home, we tried putting them in hot water to remelt them. That worked for a couple, but not all. So we put the last three into the microwave. After several short cycles in the microwave, they appeared to be mostly normal…until Princess pulled off a lid. The green one was full of tiny round bubbles. It kind of reminded me of being in the Gym Rat’s apartment today. A little squishy and different, but still good.

Sep 25, 2011

A Very Long Day

It’s been a very long day, but I need to talk to all of my wonderful bloggy friends before I put this day to rest. We buried my sweet grandma today. She lives a couple of hours away, so we had to be up and on the road early. There was a huge part of me that REALLY didn’t want to get out of bed this morning. I was not looking forward to facing the reality that she was gone. But we got up and dressed and out the door before 8:00 AM.

We got caught in construction and didn’t end up at the viewing until it had been going on for about 20 minutes. But it didn’t really matter…the family was all still there. We hugged and cried and laughed and then hugged some more. The service was beautiful. Teach got to lead the singing and all the great grandkids and great-great grandkids sang a couple of songs. I led those so that she could sing with the group. It was a pretty impressive group! Six of my seven siblings were there and all of their children. Plus various other cousins and relatives.

My Dad, my MIL, Gym Rat and Me
 After the kids sang I spoke for about 10 minutes. I wasn’t afraid at all since it was mostly family with a few scattered friends in the back. My oldest sister and two of my brothers and one nephew also spoke. It’s funny, we all had different memories of Grandma, but they were kind of all the same. It’s like we learned the same lessons from her but all in a different way. Does that make sense?

After the funeral we drove for another half an hour to the cemetery where Grandma's first husband was buried. There was a short ceremony there. The funeral directors were so good! My little boys and a couple of their cousins wanted to look down in the hole so I took them to the edge. When I told him that they were curious about the process, he explained all the chains and ropes and pulleys to them. He even told them where they stored the extra dirt and why. Then he gently led them all back away from the hole and they brought the casket in. Doesn’t my sweetie look good in black? He was by far the best looking pallbearer…no offense guys…

Then we all piled back in the van and drove half an hour back to the church for lunch. I met with cousins I hadn’t seen in 20 years. I don’t know why we all have to wait for a funeral to reconnect! After an hour of more hugging and visiting, we loaded back in the van. The Dog Walker had a Marching Band competition about an hour away and we had to have him there by 4:30. He joined his group about ten minutes before they took the field to perform.

We got home about an hour before Princess’s birthday party friends started to appear. I quickly threw together a couple of batches of cupcakes and some frosting. She had about 20 kids here until almost midnight, but it was just what the kids needed. Princess even let all the little kids join with her friends playing games and decorating cupcakes, eating ice cream cones and singing around the piano and then watching Phantom of the Opera.

And now I’m tired…I’m so glad tomorrow is Sunday and a day of rest. The Gym Rat is hosting Princess’s family birthday party at his house tomorrow, so I don’t really even have to cook. Other than three hours of church, tomorrow should be much easier. Thanks for being there for me!

Sep 24, 2011

Birthdays and Funerals

My girls are good sports. When my mom passed away five years ago, the family insisted that the only day we could have her funeral was on the Prima Donna’s birthday. At the time it was difficult for her to spend her birthday that way, but she loved her grandma and now she is kind of proud of the fact that they shared a special day together. Now it’s happening again. Today is my grandma’s funeral and it is also Princess’s 15th birthday.

Princess was born on a beautiful fall day. I was still somewhat in recovery mode from my knee surgery, and we were still pretty new in our neighborhood. But we didn’t live in a “normal” neighborhood. It was a tight-knit supportive, inclusive group. They gave me my first baby shower ever (Princess was #6). We had gotten rid of tons of things when we moved from our other house, so I needed everything! They were all so kind and generous. Princess became the best-dressed baby in the neighborhood, and she still loves pretty clothes.


She never loved nursing and she was my only child who refused to look at me when she ate. She gulped quickly for 5 minutes and then looked for her pacifier. Maybe that’s why she is still so petite and thin now. Size 0…really?! I didn’t even know they made clothes that small.

I’ve told you before that when she was 15 months old, she drowned in my bathtub on Christmas Eve. But after CPR and being life-flighted to Primary Children’s Hospital, she was revived and we are pretty sure she doesn’t have any brain damage (judge for yourself) although she is 15 now, so we will let you know. (Just kiddin’…mostly…)

She is happy and sweet and a loyal friend and sister. She loves animals and babies, dancing and church, but not necessarily in that order. She has discovered that boys are nice to have around and they like her too. I’ll let you know how the birthday party goes tonight. She has invited about 30 kids (boys and girls) and it was impossible to cancel even with the funeral.

She is a straight A student with all honors in every class. She worries constantly about having everything just right. I’m pretty sure she has never missed or forgotten an assignment in any class. Her dance teacher sends an extra copy of the music with her to their competitions just because she knows the Princess never forgets anything. She has had her pointe shoes for three years and she is now dancing long solos in their performances. Last fall she got her first real tutu. She was so excited! She also does an amazing job in jazz.

She loves to cook, but mostly sweet things, and like me, she HAS to have a recipe! She doesn't cut hair (anymore), and she loves Justin Bieber. If you bother to read that story, read the sequel here. It's even better.

She plays basketball and volleyball with me although I’m not sure she loves them. She plays the clarinet in her school’s top band and she was selected for that honor in 8th grade too. I know I’m making her sound like the perfect kid, and she is pretty close. Sometimes she doesn’t want to do her chores or clean her room, but she usually comes around quickly. All I have to do is threaten to take away her phone and I get the results I’m hoping for. Her phone is her lifeline to her friends and she has tons of them!

Princess is the person I always wanted to be when I was growing up. She seems to have everything together. She dances through life, literally and figuratively. I’m so proud to be her mom. I could use a dozen more just like her. Happy Birthday, Princess. Sorry you have to share your birthday with Grandma's funeral, but I know if anybody can make a sad situation better, it’s you! Love you lots!

Sep 23, 2011

Food for Thought - Chicken a la Creme

With so many people in our home, you can imagine that occasionally we have a difference of opinion. I know, hard to believe, but it happens. Princess is in the 9th grade and Prima Donna is in the 8th. At our middle school, it’s typical for any kid who doesn’t need extra reading help to take a foreign language in the 8th grade. Since we are a reading family, an extra language is a good choice.

Bossy took Spanish for a year. The Gym Rat took Spanish for a only a quarter and gave up, and then something happened. The Drama Queen wanted to diverge from the given path and sign up for French. Ever the supportive mom, I gave her the green light. Then a couple of years later I agreed to let Teach take French as well. The problem is, after two years of French each, neither one of them can speak or translate a simple sentence!

So when Princess came along and requested French, I decided the answer was “No.” Undeterred, she pleaded to her dad who seemed to understand that French is the language of dancers, blah blah blah, and suddenly Princess was conjugating French verbs in her spare time. But true to form, after a year, she can’t speak any French either.

So when the Prima Donna came in with her request, I put my foot down.
And I lost.

And guess what!? Almost two months into French and the only word I’ve heard her use correctly is “oui.” Maybe that’s a word I need to learn…

Even though none of us have managed to like escargot, we do enjoy some French food. Our favorite is Chicken a la Crème. It's not your healthiest meal, but it's quick and easy. I double this recipe for my family. The crusty bread is absolutely required for dipping. I hope you love it!

Chicken á la Crème

¼ cup butter
1 ½ lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, tenderloins, or strips
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint heavy cream

-Melt half of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Season chicken with salt and pepper and sauté in butter until golden on all sides, about 10 minutes.  Make sure it is done in the middle.

-Add the remaining butter, reduce heat to medium and cook 5 more minutes.

-Pour the cream into the skillet and simmer gently for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened. 

Serve with cooked pasta and French bread.

Sep 22, 2011

A Spoonful of Sugar helps the Medicine go Down

I’m pretty sure I told you that Baby Doll has an ear infection. That’s another sure sign of fall. With all these kids, I rarely go a week in the winter without visiting the doctor for something or another. And Scout managed to get strep, so both girls are on antibiotics. It’s rather amazing to see the difference in their willingness to take their medicine. Baby Doll has no problem at all just chugging down whatever I give her. Maybe that’s because when she was tiny she had reflux, meaning syringes full of medicine every day.

Scout, on the other hand, hates medicine of any kind! I have finally convinced her that vitamin gummies are OK, but it took a while. The only way I can get her to swallow anything is to mask it with root beer or chocolate milk. And then I still have to threaten her with stuff I probably wouldn’t do (I can say that because she can’t really read yet). Like yesterday, even though I mixed her medicine into chocolate milk, she messed around for half an hour pretending to drink it. Finally it was time for her to leave for school. I told her that if she didn’t drink the entire cup by the time we got to the school, I wasn’t going to let her get out of the van. Three minutes later we pulled up in front of the school. She gave me a look and finally drained her cup.

She isn’t my only child with issues. I’m still not sure the Drama Queen (at age 22) can swallow a pill, and I know Prima Donna can’t. I have personally witnessed her chewing up an Ibuprofen caplet or spreading the powder from an antibiotic capsule over a tablespoon of applesauce.

But my very worst was Crafty. Even as a tiny girl, her gag reflex was so bad that any kind of medicine would just come right back up. (She even puked on the dentist once, but that's another story.) Mixing with root beer or chocolate milk didn’t help either (except that she now has a healthy hatred for chocolate milk!).

When she was three or four, she got a cold. It wasn’t long before that cold had settled in her ears. She was ornery and miserable, but refused Tylenol. I finally took her to the doctor and she confirmed a double ear infection, complete with antibiotics and numbing drops for her ears. Getting the Amoxicillin down her was brutal and even though we wedged the syringe between her teeth, she managed to gag until she brought it all back up. We were tired and frustrated, but we still hoped the numbing drops might help us get a little sleep.

My sweetie grabbed the cotton balls and the tiny bottle. As I tried to hold her in a semi-comfortable position, Crafty screamed and thrashed and pulled away. My sweetie broke the cotton ball and unscrewed the cap on the drops. As soon as he approached her ear with the bottle, sweet little Crafty started choking and gagging. Somehow she had it in her mind that she could force those drops back out of her ears…maybe we should have named HER the Drama Queen. PS I would love it if you have tips to share on how you get your kids to take the meds. I don’t think this problem is going to go away anytime soon!

PPS I guess I shouldn't have brought up the nasty phone call. It was from some random dad who also has a scout who just completed all the merit badges. He was angry with me because Nate's story is all over the web and his son's isn't. There are 153 confirmed cases of scouts who have all achieved this goal throughout the hundred years of scouting. Nate is the only one that I know of who is autistic. We are just hoping that he can inspire some of these kids with disabilities to work a little harder. In his words..."Stop slacking and get on with it!"