Less is Still Best

It might be the middle of January, but sometimes it feels like spring here in Arkansas when the temperatures go from single digits one week up to the high-60s the next.  This past weekend, the spring-cleaning bug hit Tim pretty bad, so he used some of his weekend free time to condense more.

He loves the Pottery Barn style and is constantly on the lookout for ways to improve our home.  I had to laugh when I started thinking about what my bachelorette apartment looked like before we were married.  Never thought I was overly fufu-frilly, but compared to Tim’s style, my decorating was Wwwwaaaayyy too girly.  Porcelain dolls, dried flowers, vases, crocheted doilies, patchwork quilts, you name it!  When we moved from our first apartment in Cabot to our next apartment in Maumelle, we condensed A LOT.  I believe most of the things we purged from our new home were my belongings.  Haha!  Of course, I did convince him to relinquish his Ben-Hur shield that had been used as one of the original movie props.  Harsh of me, I know! 🙂  Figured if I could give up the porcelain dolls my mom and I had been collecting together since I was a girl, he could give up some of his “manly junk.”

We ended up with a style that has over the years continued to adapt to our lifestyle; however, it has remained with a more simplistic look.  This latest project was condensing books.  Aaaahhhh!!!  Tim and I both LOVE books, but with a small home, four small children, and a very dusty house, books just aren’t the perfect thing to fill precious space.

We had originally wanted to have matching bookshelves on either side of our cast iron stove but at the time could only find some cheap ones that fit the needed dimensions.  Instead of having the nice calming, organized effect we were hoping for, they instead were a constant eye-sore.  Always dusty from wood ash floating around and constantly all contents dumped onto the floor by little hands. Argh!  There are too many other important jobs for me to do during the day instead of organizing bookshelves again and AGAIN.

We got rid of one of the bookshelves and condensed all the books in our collection down to 1) ones we knew are no longer in print, 2) ones that we knew we wanted to use in our up-coming homeschooling years, 3) ones Tim uses in sermon preparation, 4) ones Tim just couldn’t let go of. 🙂

We shifted around the furniture and ended up with this…

This is the remaining black bookshelf. We removed the matching one of the other side of the stove.

The other side of the stove without the shelves and books.  We moved the chair out of the corner and made room for a much-needed toy basket to collect the stray toys every night. 🙂

The funky-looking curtains are only temporary during the winter months.  They are simply large pieces of flannel that we cover the windows and frames as soon as the sun sets to help keep the cold air from seeping in and the warm air from leaking out.  Did you know you lose 33% of your heat through your windows and frames?  We want to invest in some nice curtain rods and a nice material to make permanent curtains with.  Since I have the flannel, I can sew it onto the back of whatever material we purchase to make the nice insulated curtains.  Would be nice to have them for the summer as well to help cut down on the heat from the sun hitting the front of the house.  We are learning as we go!

The kiddos enjoy their new little space just for them, and again, cleanup is sooooo much easier!

My little music corner.  When the kids are older, I’ll be able to leave my music stand up on the other side of the piano along with my violin.  For now, everything must stay safely put away when not in use.  Stinks because I like to grab my violin to play a little bit when I have a few minutes.  In the past I found that I played more when my instrument was within quick grasp.  Right now it’s “out of sight, out of mind.” 😦

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Canning Homemade Tomato Soup

Got a call yesterday afternoon from my sister asking if I needed any more tomatoes for my canning.  Turns out the Fishnet Ministries located in Jacksonville had received a shipment of 80,000 pounds of Roma tomatoes and had no way of refrigerating them.  A call went out to churches and the general public asking for help boxing up the tomatoes and getting them to those who could use them.  Wow!  FREE tomatoes (as many as you want)!  After ending the call with my sister I immediately started calling around members of my church who I thought would be interested in doing some canning.

E likes to go around quoting, “You don’t work; you don’t eat!” a lot of times, and today just proved the statement to be a solid truth.  In order to benefit from the free tomatoes, we had to go help box them from 5-7 a.m.  Up at 3:45 a.m. I headed out the door shortly after 4 to be at the Fishnet Ministries’ warehouse.  My sister and two older nephews met me there and we all dove right in to help empty as many crates as possible.  It felt like I had gone back in time and  was up to work the 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift at McDonald’s like I did during my high school years and summer/winter breaks of college. Oh the memories…. Haha!

The pallets were stacked three high and filled almost every available aisle inside the warehouse.  On the outside, they were stacked four high and lined the outside walls.

We’re talking a LOT of tomatoes!!!  In the short amount of time we were able to help, our small group was able to unload 4 1/2 crates which were the size of small swimming pools.

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Here is just a portion of the boxes of tomatoes we loaded up in our vehicles to take home to either can ourselves or give to friends from church.  Can’t beat free food!!!

The timing of this blessing couldn’t have been better since my mom is here visiting for a few days and was able to walk me through my first batch of tomato soup.  Yippee! 🙂  Not that I couldn’t do it on my own with her written instructions, but it sure is nice for this auditory and visual learner to be able to do it along side her so I don’t make any mistakes.

What you will need to can a single batch of homemade tomato soup:

SUPPLIES

  • 3 stock pots (or 2 stock pots and several large soup pots)
  • Canner
  • Quart jars (approx. 14-15)
  • Canning lids
  • Canning rings/bands
  • Funnel
  • Ladel
  • Long spoon for stirring
  • Knife
  • Juicer (used my KitchenAid with juicer attachment)
  • Long whisk

INGREDIENTS

  • 26 pounds tomatoes (1/2 a bushel)
  • Whole  bunch of celery
  • 14 T. onion powder
  • 6 Bay Leaves
  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 1/4 C. salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pepper (more if you like your soup spicy)
  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 C. flour

Start by weighing your tomatoes to ensure you have the needed 1/2 bushel.  FYI, I looked it up online to find that a full bushel of tomatoes weighs 53 pounds.  Just thought you would want to know that little tidbit of info. 🙂  You’ll notice I’m not using a fancy kitchen scale – primarily because I don’t own one.  Instead a handy bathroom scale will suffice.

After you’ve weighed your tomatoes, place inside a clean sink and fill with water to give them a good wash.  Using a sharp knife, cut each one in half to ensure there are no bad spots then throw them into the stock pots (dividing the tomatoes between the two pots).

Wash your celery then divide into two sections.  Cut off the bottoms and the ends if they are bad.  Cut the celery into pieces no longer than the length from the tip of your index finger to the knuckle.  You don’t want them too big because they will get stuck inside your juicer.   Leaves and all get thrown into the pots.

Add three Bay Leaves to each pot (more if the leaves are small and broken).

Add 7 T. onion powder to each pot then cover and place on medium-high heat to cook.  As the tomatoes begin to cook down, you can begin mashing them to release the juices then turn up the heat.  Don’t increase the heat until you have enough juice otherwise the tomatoes will burn!

Check your pots and stir the contents every 15-20 minutes or so to ensure that nothing starts to burn at the bottom.  This part of the recipe takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R!!! 🙂  You’ll know it’s been cooked through when the celery is tender.  To help it cook faster, push all the pieces of celery under the liquid.

After the tomatoes have cooked down, scoop out a cup at a time and press down into your juicer.  It helps to use the mixer bowl to catch the soup in because the handle makes it easier to pour into the larger pot.  Don’t forget you are working with hot, hot stuff!

Pour the juice into the third stockpot or smaller pots/containers until all the tomatoes have gone through the juicer.  If you don’t have a third stockpot, wash out one that you finish emptying and pour the soup into it.  All the juice will fill one stockpot when you are done.

As soon as you finish juicing all the mixture, get your water canner on the stove to start heating.  Remember to have something on the bottom of the canner to prevent the jars from coming into direct contact with the metal.  I used the inside piece from my pressure canner, but you can use some butter knives, canning lids or canning rings.  Just anything that will elevate your jars.

Whisk in

  • 1/4 C. salt
  • 3/4 C. sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. pepper

and bring to a boil

The original recipe called for 2 sticks melted margarine mixed with 1 C. flour but this is what it turned into….BLAH!  Scratch that one!

Instead I used 2 sticks melted BUTTER and 1 C. flour and got this instead.  Success!  So if you think you can cheat and use the cheap ole’ margarine, DON’T. You will certainly regret ruining your batch of soup.

Slowly add the flour/butter mixture to the soup whisking the entire time.  (Now I know why my mom was so happy we bought her an immersion blender for Christmas this past year. Wow!  Talk about an arm workout when using a whisk!)

Prepare 7 quart jars (need to be really hot – like straight from the steam setting on your dishwasher), lids (boiled inside a small saucepan), and canning rings/bands.  Fill each jar leaving a 1/2-inch head space, clean tops with a clean, damp cloth ensuring there is no food or cracks along the surface, then place a hot lid on top and tighten down with a band.  For more step-by-step instructions on the canning process, head over here.

Process in a hot water canner for 20 minutes then remove and let rest for 24 hours before removing bands and storing.  If the lid pops up after you press down on it, it means the jar didn’t seal properly so place inside your refrigerator to eat in the next couple of days.

Didn’t have quite enough to fill a whole quart jar, so that one will be Tim’s lunch for tomorrow. Perfect for a stormy day! 🙂

Final Price = $0.31/quart…. Wahoo!!!

Beginning of Summer on the Homestead

It’s been a while since I’ve updated you all on our progress here on the ole’ homestead so I thought I would dedicate today’s post to giving you a glimpse into the latest projects and plans we’ve got going on here in Kinnard-ville.

May

While most schools were getting ready to let out for the summer, it seemed like we were actually just beginning.  The plan was to start E in kindergarten this fall, but since he’s been showing a great interest in learning science and reading, we decided to go ahead and start early.  We’ve been staying very relaxed with the schooling schedule and have been speeding along or slowing down as E’s interest grows or diminishes.  If he ends up finishing all the curriculum by fall, we’ll just start him in first grade.  It’s been very nice being able to actually ENJOY doing school together instead of feeling like I’m pulling teeth to get him to do anything.  A and I like to get in on the schooling action too!  Most days when I’m working with E, the two little ones will be either pouring over the iPad working on alphabet or sorting games or sitting at the table coloring or doing puzzles.  When it comes to the iPad, I is turning a little pro!  I’ve even caught him talking (actually articulating specific words – clearly!) when he thought no one was around.  What a stinker!! :-/

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With the hot weather really starting to kick in and with the entire family being outside more to work together, Tim decided to purchase a small pool for the kids to play in while we got projects done around the yard and garden.  Memorial Day was the beginning of the pool fun.

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The end of May was exciting since we received our long-anticipated poultry order.  We ended up with 15 Pearl Keets and 16 Cherry Egger Chicks.  Somehow we were given an extra chick since our order was for only 15.  Not complaining!!  More eggs – yippee! 🙂

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June

Can’t believe June is already half over, but then again it’s been so busy it feels like an entire month has passed.  One of the bigger projects for Tim was taking apart and re-assembling the swing set given to us by a family member who moved to a new house.  The people who bought her house didn’t want the play set since they were bringing their own.  Okay!  This was truly an answered prayer since we had been talking for a while about needing to find a swing set for the kids.  Being a one-vehicle family meant that this summer we wouldn’t have the freedom to go to the park whenever we wanted.  It’s been WONDERFUL having the “park” in our very own yard! 🙂  With the leftover finances for home projects, we eventually would like put a new coating of stain on the entire structure.  I would love to do it now, but there are about a million other projects that take priority over a simple cosmetic fix.

The biggest project on my plate has been to keep the garden alive.  Might not sound like a big deal, but for me it is next to flying a spaceship to the moon.  I have NO green thumb!  In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s as black as black can be.

Tim has been the one to do all the planning and research.  Through all the planning process I watched and listened, but he was the one at the controls.  When he had to go back to working Fridays while his assistant left for maternity leave, it all of a sudden became my responsibility since Tim had no extra free time like before.  GULP!

I’ve been doing all I can to keep the plants alive and to ensure that they are watered every day, weeded (as much as possible) and animals/children kept out.  It was a very big deal when I picked the first red tomato from the vine and used fresh basil I clipped from the plants I’ve been growing in my kitchen window to use in a pot of soup.  SUCCESS!  That day I pretty much felt like I could fit right into Little House on the Prairie. 🙂  I have a long way to go, but at least the plants that did die after the first attempt at planting have been replaced with a second planting that is actually thriving.  We’ve also planted carrots, lettuce and beans and have started planting our peach, apple and pear orchard.  It is yet to be seen if anything will come to fruition with those plants, but I would love for the opportunity to say to my friends and church family, “Harvest is ready!  Bring your buckets and come pick fruit for your families.”  It will be wonderful to have enough food growing on those trees to can applesauce, apple pie filling, sliced peaches and sliced pears to last the year.  What a cost saving!

Tomatoes

Basil

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Squash (smaller plants are from 2nd planting)

Strawberries (Given to us as a small planter from a friend’s garden – they’ve exploded!)

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Watermelon

Cucumbers

Blackberries

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One of the other big projects is to get the path finished with the concrete blocks.  Tim put down black paper to help kill the grass and filled in the low spots with pea gravel so it will be more level.

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Life goes on and we learn more and more about homesteading every day.  The kids are happy and growing and learning right along side us which makes the journey worth so much more.  I still sometimes miss living in the city close to the grocery stores and library as well as friends’ homes, but I am appreciating more and more what an amazing opportunity this is that God has allowed us.  Instead of looking at other homesteads I see online and comparing ours to those well-established places, I have to remind myself that things here are NOT perfect and we don’t have the resources to pour into all the projects we know we need and would like, but we are doing the best we can totally from scratch.  I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished so far!  Not too shabby for two city-dwellers!  Haha!

The biggest thing is watching how I interacts with the different animals.  The fact that he wants to go pet the dog or watch the chicks and keets out in their pen is so far from where he used to be with freezing up and screeching at the top of his lungs because of sensory overload and fear.  He likes to help take care of the animals on the homestead.  In the years to come, I’m sure he will be a tremendous help when we have a flock of goats or even a horse one day.2014-06-19 10.31.06

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Chef in Training

We took a break from the books the other day and focused on getting some things done inside the kitchen.  Since I had to finish making the wheat bread for lunch, E and I decided to make some cinnamon rolls.  He is doing so well being my helper in the kitchen, and I am thrilled watching him learn how to do things on his own more and more.  If nothing else, by the time he graduates from high school, he should be very comfortable working in a kitchen and will know his way around a stove. 🙂  At least he won’t have to fear starving if he marries a girl who doesn’t know how to cook.  Haha!

 

Lemon-filled Olive Oil Lanterns

After a recent conversation with Tim regarding our winter preparations, I started doing some research on inexpensive types of homemade candles or lamps.  Last year we had a horrible snow and ice storm dumping over a foot of snow on the roads and power lines.  Our property is at the end of the line, so any power outages means that we will be the last ones to have our power restored.  This all boils down to us needing to be more prepared for a long power outage.

While Tim works on solving the water and heating problems including installing some different insulation strategies and hand pump, I’m working on lighting and cooking.  Thankfully we have a wood-burning stove and some cast iron skillets so cooking won’t be too difficult. 🙂  The lighting was tricky because we are doing all of our updates on a tight budget.  Hense the idea of making my own candles.

Using what I already had inside the house along with some lemons given to me at church this past Sunday, I was able to spend just a few dollars on some very economical (and pretty) oil lanterns.  Yippee!

For this project you will need:

  • Olive or vegetable oil
  • Lantern wicks
  • Floral wire (or paper clip)
  • Container
  • Lid (optional)
  • Fruit or herb filler

Loosely twist your wire around the wick leaving a small portion at the top in order to light on fire.

Center your wick inside your container then bend the wire over the side to anchor it into place.  You can buy special oil lantern wicks specifically to use with converting canning jars into lanterns, but this way is WAY cheaper. 🙂

Next, slice your lemons to your desired thickness and place them inside your container arranging them in a way to cover the sides without taking up the bulk of room inside the container.  You want to fill it with as much oil as possible.

After you’ve arranged your lemon slices the way you want, carefully fill the container with your oil.  Not only are the lemons pretty but they also help scent the oil so it will give off a soft lemon fragrance the longer they soak in the oil.

Let your wick soak up the oil for at least 15 minutes before you attempt to light it.

The great thing about these little lamps is that they can burn smoke-free for many, many hours.  If the oil starts to get low, just refill.  Also, you can continue to reuse the container and just add a new wick.

Stay tuned for my candle-making experiment!  I’m going to attempt to make some medicinal candles using Eucalyptus Oil and Tea Tree Oil and possibly a bug repellant peppermint candle.  We’ll see…. 🙂

Oh the Difference Blinds Make!

This past week my extra home project has been to finish all the downstairs windows and baseboards with caulking and painting.  It never fails that every time Tim sees the trim painted, he remarks on how thankful he is that he went with the better quality paint instead of trying to save an extra buck and go the cheap route.  It really does make a difference!  We went with the oil-based paint instead of the latex and spent a little extra on the brand that has less fumes and the brushes can be cleaned with simple soap and water.

At first we were going to order all the blinds through Wayfair.com, but by the time we had saved the extra money to check out, the price for all the blinds had increased dramatically.  I don’t know if at the time I put everything in the “cart” it was a special sale, but the new total went way above our budgeted amount.  Instead I started digging around online until I found a site that offered the custom faux wood blinds at a very reasonable price plus free shipping.  It turned out that there was an extra 30% off promo code that expired that very night that could be stacked on top of the sale price.  Apparently the show “Extreme Home Makeover” orders from this company a lot.  In the end we were able to order blinds for the entire house (which was adding four more blinds from our original Wayfair order) and we still came out over a $100 less.  Yippee!!!  It really does pay to do your research. 🙂

It took less than a week for all the blinds to be custom cut and shipped to our house.  Talk about an exciting day when the UPS man knocked on the door bearing those wonderful big boxes!

So here are the before and after pictures of what the downstairs looks like after installing the blinds.

BEFORE

AFTER

BEFORE

AFTER

BEFORE

AFTER

(Don’t mind the missing curtain!  Just waiting to get my sewing machine and sewing box out of storage in order to finish making a matching one for this window.  All in good time. :-))

We still have a little bit of baseboard left to finish then it’s just a matter of installing all the crown molding in every room, encasing the support beams and painting, then installing the tile around the bathtub.  Those are the big projects left for the downstairs.  Can’t believe the list of downstairs projects has shrunk to just those last few items!  Praise the Lord!!  Just extremely proud of all Tim’s hard work. 🙂

Things will look even more homey once we collect a few more of our things from storage.  The goal is to bring home all of our books, living room vases/decorations and all my canning supplies along with the remainder of kitchen items.

Kitchen and Bathroom – Before & After

We are quickly approaching our 2-month mark for living out at the new house and little by little things are really starting to come together.  I still have no idea where Tim gets all his energy and drive from!  He is still working full-time at the law firm (plus bringing paperwork home to work on in the evenings), filling the pulpit more at church, keeping up with his TDK Webwork business, and still being the wonderful husband and father to his family while continuing to fix all the things around the house. Phew!  I get tired just thinking about all the work he does!  Haha!  I’m trying to keep up with him as best I can, but my diabetes and this pregnancy kind of feel like the life has been drained out of me at times.  Makes me even more thankful that my dad and Uncle Ron could come down and help Tim with some of the bigger projects like getting the tankless hot water heater installed and all the downstairs’ woodwork finished.

I hope these pictures can give you a little glimpse into Tim’s productivity.  This weekend promises to be very busy yet productive since we will be tackling the upstairs to get the bedrooms and stairwell finished as quickly as possible. 

Kitchen Pictures

Before

After

Bathroom Pictures

Before

After – still need to put up the white tile around the shower.

Before

After

Have to admit that the $25 Craigslist sink and vanity we found turned out nice with a fresh coat of paint and some new hardware.  It’s crazy to think that was all we had to pay for all the cabinets inside the bathroom!  The tall cabinets on the opposite side of the sink were free because we re-used them from the remodeling project we did at our previous house we sold.  Just updated them with a coat of white paint.  We even repurposed a wall mirror we had in our bedroom to use as the vanity mirror.  One of the small details to finish will be installing a faucet to match the hardware.