Sharing the fun and creativity in my world and encouraging the same in yours.

COLLEGE YEARS AND BEYOND

Over the course of my lifetime, I have come to appreciate homemade food and have found I cannot tolerate processed mixes and foods and, quite frankly, I simply don’t like them. From what I remember, a lot of them tasted like cardboard and/or were quite flavorless. Dehydrated onions vs. freshly chopped onions sauteed in olive oil? No comparison. Fresh for me!

There’s another reason I cook from scratch: both my husband and my son have food allergies. Our son’s are more extensive than my husband’s so as a result, I am a detailed-reader of food labels, triple-checking before I buy anything. I even have to be careful about buying a turkey for Thanksgiving! Did you know some turkeys have milk/dairy in the “flavorful injections”? Who knew?

Luckily, I already knew the basics of preparing, cooking and baking, I simply had to discover substitutions and create my own variations! The most difficult part for me? Remembering to write down the amounts of certain items for the next time I make the dish.😀

WHAT ALLERGIES?

My husband is allergic to raw green peppers but can eat them when they are cooked. My son is allergic to raw celery but can eat it once cooked. Cooking apparently breaks down certain proteins and changes them in such a way that their bodies can handle the green pepper and celery just fine! Amazing, huh?

They both are allergic to most, if not all nuts; our son is allergic to all things dairy and eggs along with some fruits. My husband is allergic to most fruits but can eat apple pie since it’s cooked, but he can’t eat cherries at all. Bananas? No problem.

These are just some of the restrictions I’ve had to learn to cook around for more than 25 years, and thanks to my parents’ appreciation of fresh produce and homemade meals and my mother’s love of cooking, it’s been an easier challenge for me than most.

Did your parents cook from scratch too, and do you now? Or do you cook from scratch now because they didn’t while you were growing up? Does your family have any food restrictions which have helped you become a more creative cook?

Please feel free to share your story in the comments below, or if you’d like, start to comment and link to a blog post to finish your cooking story. I’d love to read them!🙂

Copyright 2013, 2014, 2015 – All rights reserved.

MOM’S APPLE PIE

My mom cooked almost everything from scratch. The first house we lived in had a good-sized garden and the second house had a barn and acres of farmland. This meant LOTS of fresh produce to eat, freeze, can, and cook with daily. Of course, on the occasion when she was pressed for time, she’d use a box of say, cake mix but always added an extra something to it to make it special. Other than that, she always preferred cooking and baking from scratch when possible.

One of our favorite baked goods was apple pie using Red Delicious and Winesap apples (half and half) from our own trees. Since Winesap apples are not available here in the south (something I am very upset about), I cannot seem to duplicate the flavor and texture of my mom’s apple pie.

Sometimes, though, a pre-made crust can come in handy. ;)

Homemade Apple Pie With Pre-made Crust

I find Granny Smith apples hold up well, though, and my son loves the slight tang of their flavor. The Red Delicious apples are usually too mealy and simply turn to mush by the time the Granny Smith apples are cooked so I simply removed them from the pie altogether. I remember making our own crusts half the time and the other half of the time, we used pre-made crust. Depending upon my mood, I use both as well.

Leftover Single Crust? Chop up apples, add a little sugar and cinnamon, and voila! Homemade Apple Turnovers.

Leftover Single Crust? Chop up apples, add a little sugar and cinnamon, fold over, and voila! Homemade Apple Turnovers.

COOKING FROM SCRATCH

As far as cooking from scratch goes, I cook from scratch now and have for about 25 years with rare exceptions. During my college years, I came to appreciate homemade food and have found my body is better for it.

Besides the many health benefits of cooking and baking from scratch (and incorporating as many organic items as money allows), I love the flavors of fresh produce. Dehydrated onions vs. freshly chopped onions sauteed in olive oil? No comparison. Fresh for me!

One other very important reason why I cook from scratch is food allergies. Both my husband and my son have food allergies.

Our son’s are more extensive than my husband’s so as a result, I am a detailed-reader of food labels, triple-checking before I buy anything. I even have to be careful about buying a turkey for Thanksgiving! Did you know some turkeys have milk/dairy in the “flavorful injections”? Who knew?

WHAT ALLERGIES SPECIFICALLY?

My husband is allergic to raw green peppers but can eat them when they are cooked. My son is allergic to raw celery but can eat it once cooked. Cooking apparently breaks down certain proteins and changes them in such a way that their bodies can handle the green pepper and celery just fine! Amazing, huh?

They both are allergic to most, if not all nuts; our son is allergic to all things dairy and eggs along with some fruits. My husband is allergic to most fruits but can eat apple pie since it’s cooked, but he can’t eat cherries at all. Bananas? No problem.

BEING CREATIVE IN COOKING

These are just some of the restrictions I’ve had to learn to cook around for more than 25 years and when I read this post to my husband just now, his reaction was, “Oh my God! That’s overwhelming!” I think he finally got a glimpse at the conversation that occurs in my mind when I’m grocery shopping and adapting recipes!😀

But, thanks to my parents’ appreciation of fresh produce and homemade meals and my mother’s lifetime love of cooking, baking, and experimenting, it’s been an easier challenge for me than most.

Thank you, Mom!

And because of my mom, I already knew the basics of preparing, cooking and baking from scratch; I simply had to discover substitutions and create my own variations. The most difficult part for me? Remembering to write down the amounts of certain items for the next time I make the dish, something my mom did very well. She wrote her reviews and adaptations into the cookbooks themselves.🙂

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Since it’s May and the month to celebrate your mother, did your mother have a favorite dish you’ve tried to replicate? Any success or adaptations?

Do you cook from scratch too? Did your parents?

Does your family have any food restrictions which have helped you become a more creative cook?

Please feel free to share your story in the comments below, or if you’d like, start to comment and link to a blog post to finish your cooking story. I’d love to read them!🙂

Copyright 2011, 2012, 2013 – All rights reserved.

I am an avid reader, not only of fiction but all sorts of non-fiction too. Self-help books are a special interest of mine as well: how-to and do-it-yourself books/magazines on home improvement, painting, gardening, organizing, decluttering, time management, self-care, self-discovery, and healthful eating.

Like this squirrel finally figuring out how to grab some bird seed from this hanging bird feeder, I’ve tried many ways of doing things to find out what works best for myself and my family. I am forever seeking ways to improve our lives as normal changes occur over time, so I love learning about new ideas, and solutions.

Take a lesson from the squirrels, never give up!
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Anything to help me reach my goals, make my life easier and happier, run more smoothly is all right by me. Even if it’s as simple as a new way to dust baseboards. Hint: put those single socks to good use (you know, the ones the dryer didn’t eat or the ones that have holes in them). Insert hand and swipe the wood, super easy/fast!😀

Or a bit more challenging like managing your time and figuring out if you’re a calendar person or day planner or an app person? I’m definitely a calendar person. I am a tactile person; I like the feel of a pen in my hand, stickers to peel and stick for reminders or after I’ve accomplished something that day. Makes for a pretty colorful wall-hanging at the end of the month!

One of the most useful tools I’ve discovered over the years is a timer. A timer works wonders for me on those days that I feel scattered or overwhelmed by all I have to do. I set the timer for 15 minutes so I can focus on one task at a time. I must say, it helps tremendously and I have found that many tasks (like unloading the dishwasher or loading it) take only 5-15 minutes.

I used to think it took a lot longer until I set my timer (especially loading it after dinner). Surprise! Leftovers put away, dishwasher loaded, counters cleaned, sink wiped in under 15 minutes! Without even racing, mind you!🙂

Second terrific use for a timer? A timer works great for children doing homework. I used it with my son when he was overwhelmed with the amount of homework he needed to do in elementary, middle and high school. He’d almost have a panic attack thinking about everything he had to get done; so much so, that he couldn’t decide which assignment to tackle first.

I would have him start with the most important or urgent assignment. He’d set his timer for 15 minutes (sometimes 30 minutes when he was older) and do it. At the end of that time, he could take a 5-10 minute break: go for a walk outside, get a glass of water, play a short card game with Mom. When the timer went off, he knew to set it for another stint of 15-30 minutes for homework. It really helped calm him down and allowed him to take his homework one step/assignment at a time.

And, if he had a tough piece of homework, I had him do the easy stuff first. That helps reduce the pressure and the dread of doing that tough assignment/topic. And, if he was having trouble with one assignment, when the timer went off, he could switch to an easy assignment. “You can always go back to it”, I told him. I believe he even uses the timer now that he’s in college when he needs to.

The third use for a timer helps with clean-up tasks with your children. Telling a child to “Go clean your room.” doesn’t help them break the task into manageable chunks. Use the timer to help you decide on the task you want them to complete.

Assign the task then set the timer. Tasks as simple as: fold, hang, and put away clothes; pick up and throw away all garbage; dust; or vacuum can more easily be assigned and completed using a timer. Usually, 5-15 minutes for each task is good. (Don’t set the timer for more than 30 minutes or an hour. Overwhelm sets in and nothing gets done.)

The key is to adhere to the timer. When the timer goes off – make sure they STOP! Even if there are some clothes left out. STOP. Now set the timer for fun! 5-15 minutes of dancing, hoola-hooping, running outside, getting a drink of water. When the timer goes off again, they know it’s time to finish their task or carry out another one. Once again, set the timer for the task.

You *must* adhere to the timer, especially for young children. They (and you) can get into a real rhythm with no nagging involved. The timer tells them when to start and when to stop. They (and you) know exactly what they’re supposed to do and the timer helps them focus.

Try it! I hope it works as well for you as it has for me over the years.🙂

Have you tried using a timer? Has it helped you, your children? Or do you have another tool you use to help you or your children focus? I’d love to hear about them!

Copyright 2011, 2012, 2013 – All rights reserved.

Growing up, we always had a vegetable garden. In fact, my father at age 80, still plants one every year although on a smaller scale. When he started, we had an average family-sized garden. Then, when I was 10 years old, we moved to a house with two acres of land and the use of an adjacent barn and many more acres to garden…errr, farm.

To give you an idea of the size, I remember planting 350 tomato plants one year. In fact, we ended up using one huge tract of land with two smaller tracts and we had enough produce to have a roadside vegetable stand every summer with plenty leftover for canning and freezing. The money we earned from the stand helped pay for family vacations (camping with our pop-up trailer).

We had four apple trees in our front yard: one Rome, two Red Delicious and my favorite, a Winesap tree. There really is nothing like a Winesap/Red Delicious apple pie! We also had a huge Golden Delicious apple tree in the back that looked like a giant snowball when in bloom!

We had a raspberry patch, a small rhubarb patch, a pear tree, and a plum tree on our property. We tried planting new cherry trees but the birds always ate the darn things before we could pick them. In fact, someone once told us that’s how you tell they’re ripe – when the birds eat them! :D

These beautiful red Cherry Tomatoes came from a truly scrawny plant.

These beautiful red Cherry Tomatoes came from a truly scrawny plant.

Over the years, we planted rows upon rows of corn (Silver Queen was a favorite), tomatoes (red, yellow, cherry, and big ol’ juicy Jersey tomatoes) as well as green beans, green peppers, yellow banana peppers, onions, radishes, carrots, lettuce, asparagus (not too much success with these), strawberries, celery (rabbits loved the young growth, so I don’t think we ever got a chance to grow those fully), cucumbers, pumpkins, zucchini, squash…and more!

We hoed, planted, watered, weeded, and harvested the produce. My mother froze and mostly canned the food, making our own ketchup, chili sauce, raspberry jam, pickles, and such to have during the off-season. There really is nothing better than homemade, seedless raspberry jam but I have to tell you, it is time-consuming to make.

It has always been a dream of mine to have a vegetable garden, not necessarily the size from my childhood but enough to provide for my family and maybe some friends and/or neighbors. I have come to the conclusion that, with Florida’s sandy soil and our root-filled yard, it will have to be a raised vegetable garden. I’d also love a herb and flower garden. I’ve planned it for a while now and as soon as we can afford everything we need (squirrel and cat-proofing included), it will be a welcome and fruitful project!

So far, I have had to satisfy my gardening urges with experimenting with flowers in various locations in our yard and in window boxes, transplanting established shrubs, flowers around the yard, and taking down a lot of trees to make room for some sun. Little by little, I’m learning what works best in this soil, climate, and yard…and what doesn’t.

Have you had any success with raised beds? I’d love to hear about them!

Copyright 2012, 2013 – All rights reserved.

We never bought a costume when I was a child. As a result, I’ve always loved putting together costumes with items and clothing we already had at home.

To this day, I can remember this beautiful, full-length, paisley skirt that I wore quite a few times as a gypsy outfit (and sometimes just to play in). What it was originally purchased for, I haven’t a clue. All I had to do was add a white peasant blouse, big hoop earrings, perhaps a scarf around my head, a few bangles on my wrists, and voila!

Hey, it was in the 1970′s. What mom didn’t have a few extra bangles, a scarf and a pair of big hoop earrings that her daughter could borrow? :D

I loved that skirt. I would twirl around and then quickly sit down on the ground so the skirt would swirl and settle in a full circle around me. Golds, browns, creams, and orange surrounded me. I felt like a royal gypsy princess!

Other years, I’d grab my dad’s army cap and field jacket, a branch from our backyard, tie a red bandana filled w/pebbles or socks at the end of the branch and go trick-or-treating as a hobo (bum). Oh yes, and wipe some charcoal on my face for a’dirt’ effect. Didn’t cost a cent! As far as trick-or-treat bags go? I believe we always used pillow cases.

As I grew older, I put together costumes in college for Halloween Dances and/or Masquerade Dances. Sometimes bits of them were borrowed from roommates. Occasionally, my mom would send me something she picked up at a yard sale. One time she sent a bright pink flapper dress that had black fringe on it! That was a fun costume! Luckily, I already had black high heels and a long pearl necklace to add to it.

This Storm Trooper costume was good for a few years of trick-or-treating!

Years later, I became a mom. That opened up a whole new world of playing dress-up with my son and realizing there weren’t a lot of dress-up, fun clothes for boys in the world. So I pulled out my sewing machine (I’m not a seamstress but I can sew fairly well, just don’t ask me to put in zippers or elastic), bought some fabric, hunted in thrift stores or yard sales, and pulled from my clothing, my husband’s, and my son’s clothing to create various costumes for school projects, Halloween, or just for fun.

Have any other mothers run into this shortage of boys’ costumes for playing dress-up and Halloween? What great DIY costumes have you put together? I’d love to hear about them.🙂

Copyright 2012, 2013 – All rights reserved.

Laundry

I had a battle today–with a bleach bottle.

I rarely use bleach, in fact, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I used it at all. My son came home from college with our white towels and well, they weren’t white and smelled awful! There really was/is no place for him to hang his towels so they dry, he says. They get put into his hamper damp and that does not bode well for the towels nor any of his other clothes. I had to use bleach.

Plus, now that my husband is doing work on older homes (both small and large renovations), he’s getting filthy!! Especially his socks and any white t-shirts he may wear on-site. I miss the years he worked in new construction. ~sigh~

Anyway, I battled the bleach bottle…and lost.😦

I swear I saw stars while cleaning this wound.

After I gingerly washed my hands, I carefully laid the flap of skin back over the top wound to re-seal and heal itself. (Oops, sorry, TMI?) The nice red welts below that are blisters which will, hopefully, re-absorb into my palm without breaking open.

How Did This Happen?

Trying to open the bleach bottle, that’s how, you know, the darn “Press Down and Turn” cap? Well, I did and it didn’t. I hadn’t noticed what I’d done to my hand until I gave up and stormed off into the kitchen.

My Solution?

My husband came home from an errand and I waved “hello” with my bandaged hand.

“What did you DO?”

I showed him. “Ewww. Ouch.”

I told him of my dilemma fully versing him in my attempts to open the bleach bottle: at first gently pushing and turning the cap as instructed, and when that didn’t work, I used my full weight on it again and again and again. Grrrr…..

“You want me to open it?”

“Sure.” He proceeded to go out and, of course, opened the darn bleach bottle on his first try. I took a deep breath and squinted my eyes.

“I did that!! I tried doing it gently and lightly at first!!!! It didn’t work!!”

“I believe you! I believe you.” He closed it and opened it again.

“It’s not fair and it’s not funny!”

He walked away chuckling while I carefully started the white load then squealed with pain when I had to wash my hands afterwards. Hours later, I have to laugh too.

This whole thing reminded me of an hysterical Carol Burnett skit where she plays a woman who comes home from grocery shopping and proceeds to try to open up various items: cheese, jars, milk cartons, all to no avail. Click on her name above to watch it. Me?

I’m letting my husband grill tonight. I’m not going anywhere near the kitchen. The laundry was enough for me today.🙂 Oh, and at some point, I’ll thank him for opening that bottle of bleach for me.

Have you ever felt like you’re in a Carol Burnett shtick?

Copyright 2012 – All rights reserved.

I was washing dishes one afternoon last week and saw this in our backyard:

Extreme focus…on bird or squirrel?

We would prefer the cats out of our yard because my son and husband are allergic (our son even more so–hives from fur, dander, saliva), plus the darn things like to use any bare area/spot in the lawn as their own kitty litter box, especially the areas right next to our house. Ugh. Curse this sandy soil in Florida!!

What was amusing, however, was where this cat decided to lie down in our yard. See that pole in front of him? This is what it belongs to:

Lying in wait for birds.

Yup, that’s right. He was lying in wait for birds under our “new” homemade bird feeder stand. By the time we got the camera, he shifted his focus onto us. By the way, my husband made that steel baffle because the squirrels were climbing up the metal pole (it’s one used for plants) and jumping onto the bird feeders!

This cat isn’t interested in the bird seed. He wants to jump up and catch any one of the many bluejays, doves, wrens, and cardinals that visit our bird feeders. Little stinker!

Do you have any unexpected visitors to your backyard?

Copyright 2012 – All rights reserved.