Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A New Paige for an Old Year

Early this morning we welcomed Paige Gloria to our family. A healthy 6 lb 13 oz baby girl.

We all love her!


 So very blessed.


Thanks so much to all of you who wrote to say you were praying for a safe delivery of our baby.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Hog Butchering 2013

Amidst the carols, church services, and cookie baking - my family always butchers some hogs right before Christmas. It is a tradition that goes back long before I was born. And it has become a tradition here on this blog to share the day with you.

But if you don't like to view raw meat, or contemplate the origin of your bacon, please skip this post.

Saturday morning began early, long before dawn. We decided to spend the night at my parent's house so that Ed could help with the barn chores and the children could fulfill their desire to not miss one bit of the excitement. I think all our children were up soon after 4:00 a.m. Sheer craziness if you ask me, but they certainly didn't miss anything!

One of the first jobs is to get the water boiling in the kettles. Feeding the fire would be an all-day job.

A fire was also started in the scalding tank. The hogs are dipped into the hot water.

Then the hair is scraped off. This is one of those old-time traditions. Most butchers would skin the hog and not bother with scraping off the hair.

After the hog is cleaned and gutted, the halves are laid out on tables and the meat cutting begins.


With many hands, within a few hours, four hogs averaging 430 pounds apiece are turned into tables full of meat.


My dad trains in some of the younger generation to clean skins.


Adding wood to the fire to keep the kettles boiling is another good job for the cousins.

The meat scraps are combined with seasonings and ground for sausage.


We often buy casings for sausage, but this year, we cleaned
the intestines for casing.


Making sausage links.

Some of the meat is smoked in a smoker my brother made. Smoking for a few hours adds such great flavor to tenderloin, sausage, and pork chops.


A lull in the work is a good time to break for lunch.


The fat is boiled down to make lard and needs almost constant watching.


Nothing is wasted. Head meat and organ meat are also cooked.


These meats are used to make "puddin' meat".


Flour, cornmeal, and seasonings are combined with the broth to make pon haus (also known as scrapple depending upon where you live!)


My dad takes a break with a few grandsons.


Wrapping and vacuum packing the meat.


Pouring the pon haus into pans signals the end of another butcher day. Now only the clean-up needs to be completed. The bacon and hams are carried to the smokehouse.

We drift toward home with filthy dirty children, a trunk full of meat, weary bodies, and fun memories of working together.

Want to see more photos of past hog butchering day? Check out these links.
2012 Butchering
2011 Butchering
2010 Butchering

Monday, December 16, 2013


I'd never pick winter as my favorite season. I love the outdoors, the garden, and the sunshine. But there is something special about being holed up in a warm house watching the snow fly outside.


We have had far more snow than usual for December in this area. It is not often that we have a white Christmas.

The last weeks we have been enjoying some extra family time.


Baking cookies.


A day trip to a battlefield to coordinate with our school study of the Civil War.

Lots of messy art projects.

In between, the nesting urge has hit me hard. My energy level is not high these days but every day I'm trying to accomplish one extra project - even if it is something very small. Maybe making an extra casserole or two for the freezer, or a special cleaning project. I know that our baby can arrive without my filing cabinet organized or the stove scrubbed. But some of these projects I've put off for months or even years and I might as well take advantage of the unusual burst of motivation to hit some forgotten corners!

I've also spent a lot of time with my sewing machine. Sewing is one occupation that doesn't take too much energy yet produces results! Besides sewing some Christmas gifts and several dresses for my daughters, I've enjoyed some baby crafting.

I enjoy making a baby quilt for each of my children. I usually make a gender neutral baby quilt. But for our last baby (nearly five years ago) I made two quilts, one for a boy and one for a girl. Since the boy quilt has been in storage since then, I only had to make a girl quilt. This was such a fun project!


And here is the boy quilt.

And no, we don't know the gender of our baby. I love to be surprised. If you give me a birthday gift and tell me to wait a week to open it, I'll relish the build-up of anticipation. So I always love to wait until the birth to find out our babies gender. In fact, I like the surprise so much that I always am disappointed when friends tell me if they are having a boy or girl. Even if they don't want surprised, I feel cheated to not have the surprise myself!

Feel free to think I'm weird.

But back to nesting projects...

This summer I found a whole bag full of baby yarn at a yard sale. I found a pattern for some adorable baby hats online. It has been at least ten years since I crocheted and it was a challenge to read a crochet pattern. I may not have done it correctly and these hats may not fit any baby, but they sure were fun!


When we were expecting our first baby, my sister-in-law gave us a tiny pair of baby shoes. I sat them on my bedside table and when I heaved myself out of bed on those multiple night trips to the bathroom, those little shoes were a reminder that it would all be worthwhile some day. So I sat these two tiny hats beside my bed to keep company with the name book.

Sitting on the couch in the evening with a ball of yarn was so relaxing, I might have to find another crochet project this winter.

Or maybe I'll just spend the rest of the winter cuddling a baby. Yes, I think that sounds better than crocheting!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Garden Chowder

A week or so ago, before our first snowfall, we finished our garden harvest for the year. Right now, in the fridge is the last of our carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. Only a meal or two and we will have to eat the vegetables that are stored in the freezer and basement shelves.

Our garden did well this year and Thanksgiving is a good time to remember how much good food God provided from the garden.

One recipe I've enjoyed with our fall veggies is Garden Chowder. I've seen this at various places online but I think I first tasted it at my friend Kim's home. I double this recipe since it is great the next day or even good frozen.  Serve with some garlic cheese biscuits!

Garden Chowder

 1/2 chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
1 cup each diced potato, cau­li­flower, carrot, and broc­coli
3 cups chicken broth
(or water with bouil­lon cubes)
1 tea­spoon salt
3 garlic cloves or 1-2 tsp of garlic powder
1/4 tea­spoon pepper
1/2 cup flour 
 2 cups milk
1 T pars­ley
1/4 tsp  paprika 
2 cups shred­ded ched­dar cheese 

Saute green pepper, onion and butter until tender in a large pot. Add veg­eta­bles, broth, salt, and pepper; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20 min­utes or until the veg­eta­bles are tender. Com­bine flour and milk until smooth; stir into pan. Allow to thicken at a low temperature. Add the pars­ley and paprika. Just before serv­ing, stir in the cheese until melted.

Monday, December 2, 2013

What Makes A Meaningful Christmas?

Several years ago, I gave a few ideas on making Christmas meaningful. I've been thinking about this topic the last few weeks. What really makes Christmas meaningful? Since each of us has different memories and backgrounds, our experiences at Christmas vary and what makes the season meaningful to me may have no impact on you.

For some, Christmas is a stressful time of too much to do and buy with too little time and money. For some Christmas is time spent with family. For others Christmas is the memories - the sights, smells, fragrance and sounds of Christmas' past. Maybe for some Christmas is a time of trying to forget hurts from the past. Or maybe it is striving to find Christmas joy that has been lacking other years.  Or maybe a comparison game to have as nice of Christmas as others around you.

I love Christmas and have fond memories of past Christmas seasons. But my goal each year is to minimize the stress and pressure that can be part of this season. I want my focus to be on Christ and His coming, both 2,000 years ago as a baby and His future coming.

What does this mean at a practical level for me? (And remember, it may be very different for you!)

1. Minimal decorating. Two nativity scenes, a couple snowmen, and a red candle or so and my decorating is completed. Very little to buy, store, replace, or clean.

2. Simple gift giving. We try to keep gift giving minimal, especially for our children. I enjoy shopping for a few special gifts, but the fact is that we don't truly need anything. A few things, purchased early before the seasonal rush, to show our love but spare us the stress of last minute shopping works for me!

3. Keep the December schedule reasonable. Sometimes that means saying "no" to fun events. Too many plans, with late nights and busy days, are especially hard on children, but adults too need a balanced schedule. After several years of getting sick right after Christmas, we have learned the importance of proper rest. This year, we have the excuse of an early January due date. We are not committing to be present at any late December/early January event. It feels freeing to have permission to say "We may not make it."

4. Focus on giving. I want the bulk of our activities at Christmas on things that are a blessing to others. Focusing on myself is a sure recipe for stress. I have found that by putting priority on those events that focus on others, my spirit is renewed by giving. One annual event I do with our children is to make handmade Christmas cards and take them to a nursing home and sing carols. Looking into the faces of lonely sick people helps me count my own blessings. Try it and see if it is true for you!

5. Plan ahead. This is true every year, but this year it may be even more important. I've been looking at our calendar and trying to make preparations in advance. Shopping completely exhausts me these days. Several weeks ago, I did some extra grocery shopping to hold us through a few extra weeks. Since I knew I would be doing extra baking over the holidays, I stocked up on basic baking supplies. I also picked up extra household items, such as toilet paper. I will need to do some grocery shopping in December, but the list should be shorter, and probably things that my husband could pick up on the way home from work.

But clearing a schedule and planning ahead are only half the equation. We can fill the time we save with useless activity that does little to bring our focus on Jesus Christ. Here is a few things I plan to do this month with my children to focus on the Lord.

1. Read the Christmas story from Luke 2.

2. Sing Christmas carols. Light a candle and turn off the lights and sing softly.

3. Gather the bathrobes and act out the Christmas story with your children.

4. Bake cookies, and share them with someone who blessed you this year.

5. Use a plastic nativity scene to help your children retell the Christmas story.

6. Learn the story behind some of the famous Christmas carols.

7. Sing carols to some shut-ins.

8. Listen to  Handel's Messiah. Look up the Scriptures that the songs were written from. This year we plan to use this Advent series with our family.

9. Read a favorite Christmas book. (Last year I listed our favorites for children, more for children, older children, and adults.)

10. Find ways to serve others who have less than us. Many ministries have special Christmas projects. My children have enjoyed assembling school packs for children.

These are just a few ideas. There are lots of Christmas ideas online - more than a person can ever do in one month. But I loved Shari's Advent of Quiet for sane ideas this month. Or maybe this just shows that I'm in the nesting mode! Anything with "quiet" and "home" just sounds good to me.

What are ways that you plan to keep December focused on Christ?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving

I wonder how many other cooks are stirring up good smells in their kitchen this morning in preparation for tomorrow?

This is the first year we have held a Thanksgiving meal at our house. Last year we were in North Carolina for Thanksgiving. A couple of my brothers have plans with their wives' family but usually my parents invite whoever does not have plans, to share Thanksgiving at their house. Since I have eight siblings, even if a few are missing, there is still enough for a table full.

This year Ed and I decided to host the meal here. My mom and sisters are bringing all the cold food which only leaves me with the hot food. With my energy level these days, I knew I could not hold a kitchen marathon. But with a little planning, I thought it would be very doable.

The first decision I made was to NOT look for any new recipes. I love to try new things, but that takes time - and then brings stress while wondering if the new recipe will turn out. There is a reason some of my mom's recipes are classics. I would stick with the recipes I have made dozens of times before.

On Monday I cleaned out my fridge. My goal was to make one recipe each day. Monday it was stuffing, Tuesday I made the mashed potatoes, and today I'll put together the green bean casserole. They will await in the fridge.

I began thawing the turkey on Monday. Tonight (Wednesday) I'll rub the turkey with a curry rub and begin the slow roasting overnight. I'll pull the turkey out of the oven about an hour before we eat to give time for the stuffing and green beans in the oven. The mashed potatoes will heat in the crock-pot. The only tasks for Thanksgiving Day will be to set the table, carve the turkey, and make the gravy.

If others were not bringing the dessert, I would have chosen something like pumpkin roll that I could have made and frozen last week. Or at least frozen the pie crusts ahead of time.

You probably already have your recipes planned, but if you want to check out mine, here is some links to my mom's classic Thanksgiving recipes.

Easy Roast Turkey
Curry Turkey Rub
Green Bean Supreme
Sweet Potato Casserole
Pumpkin Pie

And here is the make-ahead mashed potatoes that I made yesterday.

Refrigerator Mashed Potatoes

5 lb potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 oz. cream cheese
1 cup sour cream
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
garlic powder and onion powder if desired

Cook potatoes until tender. Drain, mash, and add warm milk until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and combine well. Cool and cover. Refrigerate and use within two weeks. Or seal tightly and freeze. To reheat, bake for 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees or in crock-pot for several hours.

I'd love to hear what you plan for Thanksgiving - especially how you reduce the last minute stress!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

(Ugly) Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

My dad always said that ugly cookies tasted the best.

And these pumpkin cookies may fit that category. They certainly can't be described as cute -  but then, maybe looks are not everything.

My sister gave me this recipe for soft moist pumpkin cookies and my children (and me) are loving them. This makes a large batch - great to stock the freezer. We actually think they taste best straight out of the freezer.

The (Ugly) Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie

3 cups mashed pumpkin
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cup oil
3 eggs
6 cups flour (I used half whole wheat.)
2 T baking powder
2 T cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 T. baking soda
3 tsp vanilla
3-4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped walnuts (optional)

Combine pumpkin, sugar, oil, and egg well. Mix in all other ingredients. Bake at 350 degrees for 9 minutes.

Friday, November 15, 2013

How to Sew a Cape Dress - Sewing the Dress Together

I always consider cutting out the dress pieces as the worse part. After it is cut out, all the decision making of what size, style is done. To me, the sewing is the fun part as the dress emerges from a pile of fabric.

First I sew up the darts (if using) in the bodice and cape.


Then I sew the bodice front and back together at the shoulder seams and do the same with the cape front and back. I like to hem the sides of the cape at this point.

Next I sew the bodice and the cape together at the neckline. I don't use any facings, which makes assembling so much easier. But sewing the cape and bodice together does take some different thinking. Typically when sewing, the fabric pieces are put together with the right sides of the fabric together so that when the seam is turned, all the seams will be inside.

But when sewing a bodice and cape together, place the right side of the cape against the wrong side of the bodice. When the seam is turned, the raw edge will be between the bodice and cape and will be hidden in the neckline.

Next I trim and clip the seam allowance at the neckline to allow it to turn smoothly, and stitch the seam allowance down against the bodice. This makes a smooth neckline with no visible stitching on the cape.


 Using a basting stitch, I baste the cape to the bodice at the waistline and in the back where the zipper will be inserted.


Sometimes I have had trouble with my cape gaping. I have found that if I pull the corner of the cape just slightly into the waistline, it helps with the gaps.


Next I finish the sleeves, stitching up the arm seam and finishing the cuffs however I chose for this dress. You can wait until the sleeves are sewn into the dress to finish them but I find it much easier to work with the sleeve before it is attached to the dress. On this dress, I made a simple pleated cuff.

Next I stitch the side seams of the bodice and insert the sleeves. I like to stitch my sleeves with double seams (just stitching twice around the arm hole) since sleeves tend to be a stress point that I have to mend often if not reinforced.

It is beginning to look like a dress! Almost done!

Next I sew the side seams of the skirt, inserting pockets if desired. Prepare the skirt to be attached to the bodice, with pleats, gathers, or however.


 For this skirt, since I wasn't using a skirt pattern, I pinned the skirt to the bodice at the side seam and center back and front. Then I measured even pleats in the front and back to pull in the fullness of the fabric.

After I was satisfied with the way the pleats looked, I stitched the skirt to the bodice. This is another spot I like to double stitch to avoid mending it later.

Next I insert the zipper. I like to use invisible zippers because then if my stitches are wocky, no one can see it.

Hem the skirt and it is all done!

And the final result.

Just in case you are curious...this photo was taken months ago. Right now I could never zip up this dress.

This is what I'm looking like today at 32 weeks!

How To Sew a Cape Dress
Part One - Finding a Pattern
Part Two - Cutting Out the Dress


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