It’s that time of year where I become very nostalgic and introspective.
As much as I am sad that time seems to be flying by and the holidays go by just as quick, I always get a little giddy and anxious for the beginning of a new year.For me it is a time of reflection and renewal.
A time to pause and take count and regroup.A count of my blessing and accomplishments from the past year (count of the pounds I didn’t loose from my last resolution). It’s a time to wipe the slate clean and start over with new goals and ambitions. I have another 365 days to “get it right”.A whole year to accomplish my long list of projects to start or complete, to be a better person, to get healthy, to live intentionally.
What exactly is intentional living? It is knowing why you do what you do or don’t do what you don’t do. It’s about taking the time to evaluate what you are doing, taking advise and example from others and take from it what works for you so you can make an informed decisions. It’s about doing things that are important to me no matter how difficult it may be and intentionally not doing things that serve no greater purpose.
My husband and I have a tradition on New Years Day to get together and reflect on five areas of our life: Relationships (couple, family, friends), finances, personal growth and faith, health and projects. My list is long as usual, but I am refreshed and energized by the possibilities the new year has to offer; our first trip to Hawaii, my youngest graduation from college, the arrival of our 3rd grandchild, a mini Minnesota family reunion in July and all the wonderful unknowns that have yet to unfold.I love planning for the things that I know are coming but am equally excited to look back on December 31st to see what surprises this new year would have brought.
Wishing you a beautiful new year filled with promise, excitement and wonder. Happy New Year from my family to yours!
Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of summer with many of us having an “extra day off” from work. You may have celebrated by grilling and hitting the beach or lake as I did with extended family this weekend at the lake.
All our welcome!
My new flag wall hanging!
Flag afghan made by mother-in-law
Picnic table painted in flag design
Or you may have had a quiet rainy weekend watching movies, reading, or catching up on projects. But I couldn’t let this day go by without acknowledging the service of all the military on this Memorial Day especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Being the wife of a Marine for over 22 years (now retired) and having many friends and family who have also served, I’ve experienced first-hand the sacrifice and challenges both the service members and family members go every day. We can’t say thank them enough.
Finally got our flag pole in!
And since it is Memorial Day, I thought I would bring attention to a national memorial you might not be aware of and that is practically in my back yard. Just a short drive from Smith Mountain Lake and located at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Bedford, VA is the incredibly poignant National D-Day Memorial. Why Bedford and not Washington DC? Because Bedford suffered the greatest loss per capita during the D-Day invasion and was chosen to symbolize the loss all communities, large and small, realized on that day. Located on 88 acres, you can walk the grounds on your own but I highly recommend go on a guided tour to capture the true magnitude of the events on that day. It’s hard to describe the beauty and symbolism of the many pieces to this memorial, you just have to see it and do the tour. If you are ever in the area….make the time. You won’t be disappointed.
Living up to its name, April was a very rainy month…actually torrential! We did a lot of spring yard work and a few house projects but nothing that can’t wait until next month to talk about. Instead I want to talk about Trey.
Trey is my fifteen year old nephew. Trey will always be my fifteen year old nephew as he lost his battle with leukemia after a valiant eleven month fight. In witnessing his incredible determination and positive attitude, and the unwavering love and support of his family and friends, you can’t help but look at life a little differently. Following are some themes that resonated with me and I think worth mentioning.
Family Don’t pass an opportunity to spend time with family or to tell and show them how you feel. Tomorrow is not guaranteed. Reach out to someone who may need a hug or even a smile. Call and actually talk to family members or write a letter instead of a text. Be the spark that starts the fire when it comes to love and good instead of negativity and fights.
Time Is there something you’ve been wanting to do? Why wait?I’ve learned that no one is immune to sickness and loss. It can happen to anyone at anytime. No one is promised tomorrow or next year so if there is something you feel compelled to do….why not do it or make plans to. Live your life fearlessly and with purpose. Start a “Wish List” or “Life List” of things you have always wanted to do and see….and start doing them.
Forgiveness Let go of what happened in the past and don’t let it affect/infect your future. So much time and energy is wasted on holding onto grudges that keeps you stuck in the past. Learn from it and then let it go, forgive and move on. A weight will be lifted for you and allow you to live your life more fully and purposefully.
Faith The older I get the more I appreciate my faith and lean on it to get me through these seemingly senseless losses. My faith gives me the hope of seeing my loved ones again in heaven and I am comforted by the fact that they are happy and watching over us.
Get Involved When we attended the Rainbow of Heroes Walk for bone marrow transplant the day after Trey’s funeral, it was never more evident how important marrow or organ donations are. To see the amount of people who are touched by this selfless act and how much they depend on it for survival and hope is amazing. If you can…help. http://join.bethematch.org/swab
As for me, I will try to live my life with purpose and will always keep Trey as my guiding beacon to keep me on track.
What’s not to love about February? It’s the reward of a short month after what seems like the longest month of the year. And right in the middle of the month is Valentine’s day which just happens to be my birthday. So yeah, I love February. It also gets me anxious and thinking about spring next month. This year it wasn’t hard to think about that because of the incredibly unseasonably warm weather. Even with it being a short month, I managed to squeeze in a few of home projects.
Potting Table Ok, I can’t take credit for this, but it was my idea and my wonderful husband made it happen. I love the idea of having a green thumb and I’m sure having this potting table will inspire me. I already see evidence of the bulbs I planted in December and January well on their way to blooms. With a lake house the focus tends to be on the back yard, the dock and the area around the water. We have such potential in our front yard and I wanted to be sure to utilize and enjoy that as well.
Master Bedroom Window Toppers Even though we have faux wood blinds on all our master bedroom windows, the sun shines through on a summer morning and on rare occasions our dogs actually allow us to sleep past 5 am. I was looking for something natural looking that didn’t look heavy or distracting. I decided on a mounted bleached drop cloth faux roman shade. I made my own burlap ties out of leftover burlap which saved me a ton on money. I needed fifteen yards and at $6 a yard for store-bought I knew I had to be creative and resourceful. I added a nonfunctional covered button strictly for the detail finish.
Master Bathroom Window Covering Originally we had some wicker style roll shades on our bathroom windows. But in order to maintain privacy we had to keep them down most of the day which then led to a very dark bathroom. I love the airy country feel of café curtains and these windows would work perfectly for that. It would allow us to let the light and view of our front yard in on the top half of the windows while still providing the privacy needed in a bathroom. I actually found the curtains ready-made at Homegoods, hemmed them to fit into the window casing and then folded, pressed and clipped the pleats to give me the finished look.
Pillow Bed This was a fun project I wanted to do to give my granddaughter the option to sleep on the floor if she needed to be in the same room as my daughter when she came to visit in February. I got a super deal on this fun animal print flannel from JoAnn’s and found the pattern on Pinterest.
Teepee Who doesn’t love a fort?This was such a fun project that my husband and I worked on together. I did the sewing and he took care of the hardware. It’s lightweight, easy to assemble and to take down. You can easily store it under a bed or in a closet. Addy slept in it a couple of nights during her visit. I see Addy and Ben having fun with this for some time to come.
I’m still finishing up my patio cushions. They are almost done but will slide the completed project into March. Other projects on my agenda include slipcovering a wing back chair at the lake and recovering the seat on a beautiful antique rocking chair I found.
We’ve shopped, baked, decorated, wrapped, cleaned, attended office parties, listened to holiday music, watched every Hallmark Christmas movie ever made, watched other favorites on Netflix, and pulled out old classics on DVD all to get into the holiday spirit.One of my favorite, get-you-in-the-mood movies, is “The Sound of Music”.It was on TV the other night and I watched most of it (until I fell asleep…. probably because of the list of things I mentioned above), with my youngest who is home from college.Well, here are a few of my favorite things this holiday season.
sunset at SML
my adorable grandkids
favorite song growing up reminded me of going to my grandparents
crocheted tree pillow
Nativity in our front yard
my vintage sign
quilt finished from great grandma Eisbrener
St. Andrew’s Cathedral in Roanoke VA
Christmas dinner of salmo and scalloped sweet potatoes
relaxing and watching a movie
homemade caramel rolls….a holiday tradition
taking the dogs for a walk
just a pretty wood pile adorned with a wreath
some of my favorite things
Polish dancer ornament from Poland
my sweet Addy just taking it all in
Scott & Christie with Godchild, Addy
Addy and Ben fascinated with the lights
Addy and Ben
great family and friends
my beautiful kids
my wonderful husband
I want to take a moment to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from my family to yours.
I found a treasure! Not in the literal sense but in a literary sense. I found all my journals from high school. Can I just say how much I love and truly appreciate everything my high school English teacher did for me? That is no small thing. I distinctly remember not particularly liking to read and write when in school. I was a good student, (Salutatorian, thank you very much), but always loved math more. I’m sorry to say that I dreaded going to English class, initially, but through Ms. J’s class (as we lovingly called her, Miss Janet Johnson in the proper sense), I actually started to look forward to it.
While unpacking and purging through boxes as part of my decluttering and downsizing, I discovered a taped shut box that was marked “high school memorabilia”. I kept putting it in the back of a closet or on a shelf through the years to be opened at some later time when I had more time. I guess that was now. So I grabbed the journals for some good reading for our 4 1/2 hour trip to and from the lake this weekend. Boy did we have fun reminiscing. Here are some of the things I found.
I found the entry of the day after I met my future husband.
I found listings of my favorite songs, books and movies from different years.
I found the entry after attending a TEC (teens encounter Christ weekend).
I found an entry for the weekend of prom (with all the details of where we went and what we did…much of which we had totally forgot).
I found some original poetry (some of them pretty darn good).
I found I was sleep deprived from work, slept until noon and took naps. Hmmm.
I found silly classmate prophecies as a writing prompt.
I found insights of what I was like as a teenager in the 1970’s.
I discovered all the reasons I fell in love with Darryl and still do now.
I found snippets of my mom’s voice, like “you have a nice boyfriend, he worries about you in a storm”. (Oh, how I miss her!)
I found entries I wrote of hanging out with high school friends, some still with us, some not.
I loved the way Ms. J commented without judging and offered just enough advise to make you think and come up with my own solutions to life’s problems that seem so trivial now but were not back then.
I took a break from journal writing for several years after I graduated high school but took it back up in my thirty’s when I was presented with my grandpa Dostal’s published book of his journal writing. Before he died my aunt Lily took all his journals that he had kept from a young man to his later years and compiled them into a book about his life as a farmer. What a gift.
That was enough inspiration to get me started again. At any given time I have two or three journals that I have going. I have exercise journals, garden journals, home journals, personal journals and gratitude journals, and now an online blog/creative journal. It’s a great outlet for capturing ideas, documenting goals, remembering milestones, and sorting out your fears, hopes and dreams.
If I could find that teacher today, I would say, Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I can see now that there was a reason for all of that. I believe that because of her, today I love to write and find an enormous value in writing something about me and my life, not just for me but for those I love to hopefully read some day and get some insight into who I was. That I’m not really that different from them and that I was once a teenager just like them. I really do know where they are coming from and what they are going through. And just maybe, inspire them (or their children) to journal and write.
Nothing quite transports me back in time to the farm as a young girl in northern Minnesota as the canning season. I remember well the crates of peaches, plums, cherries, and pears that mom would bring home in hopes of canning jars of sauce. Between my five sisters and me though, there often wasn’t a crates worth of fruit left by the time she started the process. Tomatoes, on the other hand, was one of those vegetables (or is it a fruit?) that we had an ample and ongoing supply from our own garden. Mom would pick the bounty to can stewed tomatoes and tomato soup. A few years back my sister, Janelle, made copies of some of the recipes in mom’s recipe box, “Mom’s Homemade Tomato Soup” was one of them.
Feeling nostalgic, I decided to try my hand at canning and I have been making this soup ever since. I pretty much stayed with her recipe but did look up other recipes online to compare and came up with my own variation. I found out that this family recipe was actually quite popular and probably came from a Betty Crocker book. Oh well, I like to think of it as our family recipe, or maybe it’s the memories it invokes that make it so special. That and the fact that it tastes so good! I have had several family members ask about the soup recipe and have decided to document through this blog and lots of pictures my method and variation of making this family “heirloom” tomato soup.
What the heck is a peck? I think of a muscle in your body, and of course there is the song (I had to look this up but I am pretty sure mom must have known this song as I remember the phrase, “a bushel and a peck”). Here is a snippet of this goofy love song by Doris Day. It makes about as much sense as some of the songs today.
“I love you a bushel and a peck, A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck, A hug around the neck and a barrel and a heap, A barrel and a heap and I’m talkin’ in my sleep”
Ok, back to the recipe. According to her notes a peck is “a roaster full or so”. Don’t you just love the “pinch of this, and a dash of that” recipes? So, thanks to the internet, I discovered that a peck of tomatoes is 8 quarts. Again, how many tomatoes makes 8 quarts? Clearly after much thought, I decided to start with 10 large tomatoes for my recipe which is about half a batch of my mom’s original recipe and will make a good 8 pints (9 if you are lucky) thanks to the added tomato juice.
First, get your tomatoes. If you are lucky enough to have a garden with plenty of tomatoes, you are set. If not, farmer’s markets and roadside stands offer plenty of opportunity this time of year to pick some fresh out of the fields and gardens. Nothing smells or tastes so good as a homegrown tomato ripe for picking.
1 large sweet onion diced (approx. 2 cups)
1/2 bunch celery diced (approx. 1 cup)
10 large tomatoes
64 oz. container tomato juice (all natural)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons salt
3/4 cup flour
Gather your supplies and make sure they are in good shape. You will need a canner, metal jar rack, jar tongs, blender, jars, lids, seals and funnel.
Preparation is key in this recipe. I found it is easier and less stressful to prepare the different parts before you start so you don’t forget something. One year I forgot to add the sugar. It still turned out good so you probably could leave it out if you like, but I love the slightly sweet and savory flavor it adds to the recipe. So, chop your onions and celery, measure out your salt, sugar and flour, set up your blender, straining area, put your lids in a small kettle of water, fill your canner with hot water.
One more note: several recipes, including mom’s, calls for you to strain your tomatoes through a Victorio strainer (or similar). I do this just to get the juice. But after a few years, I decided it was such a waste to throw out the lovely onions and celery and tomato chucks. So, I decided to try and puree them with some tomato juice and add it back into the strained juice. It gives it a bit more texture, though still smooth and awesome flavor. If you are stuck on a ultimate creamy soup, then by all means throw out the remnants once you strain all the lovely juice out, every last drop.
Ok, now I’m ready to start. Inspect your pint jars and discard any that may have chips on the rims. Wash with soap and water, rinse well and fill with very hot water until ready to fill.
In a large stock pot, add the chopped celery, onion and about a ¼ cup of water. Sauté a few minutes.
Submerge tomatoes in a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes. Remove and place into a cold bath. The peelings should slide right off. This step is essential if you plan to incorporate the strained tomatoes back into the soup. Cut out the stem area of the tomato and roughly cut up the tomatoes. I like to squish them with my hand when I am done with peeling and dicing all the tomatoes to get the juicing started. But that’s just me. Canning can be very therapeutic.
Fill your canner with water. There should be enough water to cover the jars when submerged. I found the first “lip” from the top is about right.
Add the chopped tomatoes to the onion mixture in the stock pot along with ½ of the tomato juice. Cook for 30 minutes so the tomatoes are falling apart and tender.
While the tomatoes are cooking, get your thickening ready. Soften the unsalted butter in the microwave. Mix in the flour and salt and stir until very smooth. Add some cold tomato juice and whisk until you have a fairly loose roux. You don’t want it to be too thick so that it clumps up when you add it later to the tomato mixture.
Strain the tomato mixture in small batches through a sieve to retrieve most of the juice. Add the juice back to the stock pot.In small batches take the leftover strained contents of onion, celery and tomato to a blender. Add a small amount of tomato juice and puree. Pour into stock pot. Continue this process until all the contents are done.Return the stockpot and add the sugar. Heat through.
Slowly add the tomato butter roux, whisking as you go to achieve a smooth soup texture.
Cook until hot but do not boil. Boil the lids in a small kettle briefly to prepare them for the for the jars. I like to replace the water in the jars one last time with hot water just to be sure the jars are kept hot. Pour the soup mixture into the empty prepared jars to within ½ inch from the top of the jar. Tap the jar gently to remove any air bubbles. Wipe off the rims of the jars with a wet paper towel to remove any remnants. Place a prepared lid on top and tighten gently. When the water in the canner is ready to boil, place the jars in the canner, lower, and cover. Let it come to a gentle boil for about 25 minutes.
Remove the jars using the jar tongs and place on a towel on the counter, allowing them to cool for about 12 hours. If the jars have sealed properly, they will “pop”.
Can I tell you there is nothing more gratifying that hearing that “pop” of the lid sealing the deal. On the flip side, there is nothing more terrifying if you don’t hear it. Sometimes it quick and they pop within minutes of being removed from the water, sometimes it could take several hours.
Finally, be sure to label your newly canned soup. Soup should be used within a year and should be stored in a cool dark pantry or cupboard. I like to mark the date of canning and what it is.
I tend to give quite a bit of this away as gifts, so this year I did something extra special to dress up someone’s pantry.
To serve, simply mix the contents of the jar with equal amount of milk and ½ teaspoon of baking soda per pint which helps to prevent curdling of the milk due to the natural acidity of the tomatoes. It can foam up a bit at first but will settle down and be creamy and yummy. I’m sure my mom served this with cooked macaroni to make it stretch further, after all, feeding 6 girls can be a stretch. In any case, it is fabulous and a wonderful treat. I personally like to sprinkle a bit of crushed red pepper for a bit of a bite.
Creamy soup with macaroni
My preference: with crushed red pepper
I hope in some way I have inspired you to try canning or to try an old family recipe. Do you have a favorite family recipe that you have revisited and recreated?