Sunday, December 30, 2012

So Long Sweet Spot!

All of our cats and dogs have just come to us. Even though we have not searched for them, once they were here we have accepted them into our family. Each one uniquely fills a place in our home and hearts. One special family member who came several years ago was our beloved cat Spot!

He appeared on a Thursday, briefly, then again on Friday permanently! That particular Friday I was hosting a group of children at my home for a celebration. Amid the hubbub, Spot wondered around like he had always been here. He had chosen us as his family!

My husband, Mark, runs his business from home and Spot became his constant outdoor companion, As Mark sat in his "thinking" place on the outside swing, Spot was right there at his side. Spot greeted me every morning as I left for work and every evening when I returned. He went on long evening walks and monitored goat-feeding time. Although he visited in the house from time to time, he preferred to be outside in the middle of the action!

Spot disappeared near the end of last October. We posted signs all around the area and called everyone who lived close asking them to be on the lookout. Over the next week we walked though fields, searched brush and called for him up and down the road near our house. All was to no avail.

Every morning and evening I still look around expecting to see him wandering up. He has been a fixture at our home for so long; we miss him. I have delayed mourning but since it has been over two months, I guess I finally must accept that he is not coming back.

Even though he is only precious to our family, I felt a need to honor his life and memory here. I'm sure many of you have had a special pet and understand my feelings of loss.

Sweet Spot

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tasty Green Tomato Relish!

A freeze on November 15th is not unwelcome, unless you have a garden full of tomatoes! I heard the freeze forecasted, but could not make it home before dark, so I harvested by headlights. I ended up with 15 lbs. of green tomatoes, various peppers, tarragon, basil, and a small watermelon.


Unable to can the tomatoes until Thanksgiving break, I was surprised by how many turned red!

I was left with 13 lbs. of still-green tomatoes. Once they were washed, I started chopping up small batches in the food processor.

Each batch was added to a large bowl.

Next I chopped red and green bell peppers along with a few small jalapeƱos and Anaheim peppers from my garden and added them to the mix.

With streaming tears I managed to chop several onions to add to my bowl of green goodness!

The mixture was then packed into a colander to drain off the extra liquid.

Once the mixture was drained, spices were added and the mixture was put in a stock pot, brought to a boil and simmered for 5 minutes.

In the meantime, I had a deep pan filled with water with a folded dishtowel in the bottom. I used it to sterilize the jars and later used the same water in the water bath.

After the relish has simmered for 5 minutes, I removed it and spooned it into jars leaving a little space from the top, put the lids on and screwed the rings down until they were just snug.

Each batch was processed for 30 minutes.

Finally the jars were placed on a towel to cool. If a lid doesn't pop down, you can carefully remove the lid, wipe the lid and jar rim to make sure nothing is in the way of a good seal and reprocess, or just let the jar cool then store it in the refrigerator to enjoy right away!

All in all, the untimely freeze led to a yummy treat of green tomato relish serendipity!

Green Tomato Relish Recipe

24 large green tomatoes
3 red bell peppers, seeded
3 green bell peppers, seeded
12 large onions
3 tablespoons celery seed
3 tablespoons mustard sees
1 tablespoon salt
4 cups white sugar (the original recipe called for 5 cups)
2 cups cider vinegar

  1. In a food processor, coarsely grind tomatoes, bell peppers and onions. You will need to do this in small batches. Drain the mixture in a colander for 1 hour.
  2. In a non-aluminum stockpot, combine mixture, seasonings and vinegar. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes.
  3. Sterilize jars. Pack mixture leaving a small amount of air space at the top of the jar. Seal with lid and ring.
  4. Place filled jars on rack or towel in pot of hot water. Bring to boil and process for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove and place on a towel to cool. Lids should pop down if sealed properly.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


Some things just bother me! For years I have been frustrated by the amount of wax left after a candle burns down.

What a waste to throw it away, but what do you do with it? With a little expense (very little), effort, and supplies, you can easily create "new" candles from the old!

Buy: wick, metal wick holders, small containers with wide mouths (if you don't already have countless ones sitting around with the dregs of former candles in them!)

Gather: small pan with lid, double boiler or steamer, knife, scissors, wax paper (newspaper, etc.), and needle nose pliers (regular pliers will work, just not as easily).

Note: If you want to start from scratch, you can buy paraffin or beeswax, essential oils (for fragrance), and old crayons (for color) to use instead of spent candles.

If you are using an old candle container with a bit of wax left, put it in the steamer basket over the hot water with the lid on. After it has melted you can use a paper towel to wipe it out (if the color, fragrance or condition bother you) or just pull out the old wick and leave the wax in the bottom as a starter.

While that is melting, measure the depth of the jar and cut a piece of wick to reach from bottom to top. Use the pliers to attach the metal base and set this aside.

Once the wax has melted, remove the pot to the counter. Put down the wax paper and begin using the knife to pare off thin shavings of wax from the old candle (or pare the crayon and new wax into pieces if starting fresh).

Place the prepared wick in the container and fill around it with candle shavings. Press down as you fill, removing air. There will still be air pockets, so overfill as the wax will settle to a lower level once melted. Put the container and steamer back on the stove to melt.

Once the wax has melted, be sure the wick is still standing up straight and let the "new" candle cool.

If there was still some wick left on the old candle, it should now burn better since it will get more air circulation, so you might get two candles out of the deal!!

The red candles pared down. A new candle in the making!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Politically Correct!

In honor of our upcoming election, I wanted to share my favorite political story. It happened four years ago in my classroom.

Two of my students had similar personalities but were polar opposites when it came to political parties! Heated discussions like, "How could you support that candidate? He doesn't care about people!" and "Why would you want that person to be president? He just wants to take away our freedoms and our money!" Each day brought new arguments and angry responses. I was becoming weary of the debate!

Election Day finally came.... I was on pins and needles! Not only was I nervous about my own party winning, I was faced with the fact that when I got to school the next day there was going to be ONE upset student! When the results were in, the Democrats won and Obama was our new president. I didn't know what to expect!

I arrived at school ready for the showdown. No sooner had class started than the student who supported the winning candidate approached the other student's desk..... I stood nearby, waiting to intervene. The approaching student looked down at his "opponent" and said quite frankly, "Your candidate lost." I held my breath. There was silence. That same student then stuck out his hand and said, "I'll bet that makes you feel bad and I'm sorry about that!" Stunned silence! The boys shook hands and were seated. No argument, no explosion, it was over.

Those students became friends that year and are friends to this very day! They still have the same strong opinions, but they value each other! I think we could all learn a thing or two from these two students this election season!

Still friends four years later!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ode to the Lowly Chrysanthemum

I used to be a chrysanthemum snob! Chrysanthemums were "granny" flowers. I was much too sophisticated to notice them. I wanted beauties such as Bleeding Hearts and Azaleas! I spent time trying to amend my alkaline, North Texas soil to successfully grow these showy plants, only to find they would soon become scraggly and unattractive. I also tried my hand at roses. Time, money, and bleeding hands were soon more than I was willing to sacrifice.

Time passed. One of the gifts my students sometimes gave me was a pot of chrysanthemums. I would give the obligatory "ooh and ahh" over their blooming kindness, add water and set the pot in the window until it became overgrown and leggy. Then I would lug it home because I felt too guilty to just let it die. I would stick it in the ground somewhere, anywhere, out of the way.

As I watered my garden, I would occasionally remember these little afterthoughts and spray a drink their way. I slowly noticed that even though I neglected them, they would struggle back year after year!

When I put my official flower bed in along the front of my house, I dug up the various chrysanthemums that I had stuck here and there and planted them in the prepared bed. I nurtured them along with the garden-center plants I had purchased. The chrysanthemums became huge and showy, crowded with smiling blooms! Those glorious blooms stayed on literally for months! I fell in love with my chrysanthemums and they soon became my favorite flowers!

I lost several of my plant friends in a recent drought. It was sad; I had some for 5-8 years. I have slowly planted new friends. On my teacher gift list at school I proudly wrote “chrysanthemums”, hoping for more of these precious gifts that keep on giving!

Such a happy color!

One plant cascading over the wall!

Purple pretties!


Small and delicate!

One of my new friends!

Still blooming strong 5 years and one drought later!
Another new friend. Such a pretty color combination!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pickled Peppers!

The recent wonderful, marvelous, luscious, rain we have received has really boosted my garden production! If a frost holds off, we'll have a wonderful fall harvest! Today I gathered a basket full of mixed peppers to add to the ones I have already stored in the refrigerator!

I looked up a recipe online for pickled peppers. The one I found had measurements for a single jar at a time instead of a huge amount. I measured to see how many jars I would need by placing the raw peppers inside of the jars.

I then sterilized the jars while I gathered my ingredients: coriander, peppercorns, garlic, apple cider vinegar, honey and salt. (For the exact amounts, see the recipe below). I did a little math and adjusted for the amount of peppers I gathered. I put the pan of ingredients on the stove to prepare and drained the jars on a kitchen towel. The house filled with the aroma of peppers, vinegar and honey!

After the ingredients simmered for 5 minutes, I used tongs to arrange the peppers in the sterilized jars and then filled the jars with the liquid, spooning out the peppercorns, coriander and garlic evenly into each of the three jars.

I processed the pickled peppers in a water bath for 10 minutes then set them out on a towel to cool. I won't be eating these pickled pepper as I am a wimp! My husband is eagerly waiting a week for the flavors to meld before opening a jar. I look forward to his culinary review!

Pickled Jalapenos
By Anna Monette Roberts, YumSugar
5 whole jalapenos, stabbed 2-3 times with sharp paring knife 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar 1/2 cup filtered water 1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorn 1/2 teaspoon whole coriander 1 bay leaf 1 clove of garlic, pounded once 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon honey
To sterilize mason jar: In a very large pot, bring water to a boil. Submerge glass mason jar and lids and continue boiling for at least 12 minutes to sterilize. Use tongs to remove jar and lids, and place on a clean kitchen towel to dry. Keep large pot on the stove to process jar later. To make brine: In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for five minutes. To jar jalapenos: Using tongs, remove jalapenos from saucepan and place them into a clean, sterilized mason jar. Pour brine on top, leaving about 1/2 inch of space on top. Apply lid and screw metal band on firmly. To process jar: In the large pot of boiling water, lower jarred jalapenos, submerging jar in at least 2 inches of water. Process for 10 minutes. Use canning tongs to carefully remove hot jar, then set it in a cool, dark place. As jar cools, listen for lid to snap, signaling a proper seal. Wait four to five days before opening jar. (If jar does not seal correctly, then refrigerate once it cools to room temperature and use within two weeks.) Refrigerate upon opening. Discard opened jar of jalapenos after two weeks.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Tiny Timothy

Nearly all of our pets have just appeared! Timothy was no exception. As I pulled into our drive, I cranked up the radio so I could continue to listen to the talk show as I crossed the street to check our mailbox. I kept hearing a mewing sound that wasn't part of the radio jargon. I looked in the weeds near the road and there was a little gray kitten, yowling away! I reached for him and he backed away slightly before his curiosity overcame him and he came to me. As we drove down the driveway together there was lots of mewing and purring going on!

I knew Timothy was probably covered in fleas, so I asked Mark to bring the cat carrier to the car. We transported him to the bathroom and the bathing, meowing and scratching began! I managed to comb off at least 25 fleas before they subsided. We dried him and put a flea collar on. I treated our other two cats, Holly and Tad, just in case a few fleas were missed or had jumped ship on the way to the bathroom. We set up a "Timothy" area in the guest bathroom, complete with kitten food, water, a cat box, and a little basket with a blanket.

The vet gave Timothy various shots and a clean bill of health. He told us that Timothy is about 3 months old. We are happy about our newest family addition. Now if only Holly and Tad will share in our enthusiasm!


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Pajamas...not a garden story!

I wanted to write a story about pajamas. It is rather a random thought and since I can't devote an entire blog to random thoughts, I decided I'd just stick it here!

I'd been lusting after a particular pair of pajamas for quite some time. I was first beckoned by their cute colors, a quiet green and dark grey. Upon closer inspection I had noticed the exquisite softness and gentle drape. I LOVED these pajamas! I looked at the tags (they were priced separately, like you'd only want a top or bottom!) The top was $36 and the bottom $38... that's $74 before tax!! Who pays over $74 for pajamas? I moped away to shop more practically!

I returned to this store a couple of weeks later and made a beeline to visit my pajamas. I once again touched their softness, held them next to me and lauded their qualities: they even had a cap sleeve that would not cut into my shoulder and would keep my shoulder warm if by chance it happened to slip out from under the blanket! Plus, this time they were on sale: 20% off! I took out my calculator and subtracted 20% from $74....hmm that's $59! Who pays over $59 for pajamas? One last touch and loving glance and I sulked off.

About 3 weeks later I again entered the store armed with a $10 store coupon plus a coupon for 30% off. Would they still be on sale? Would my size still be available? I hurried to the Intimates Section to face my fate. They were still on sale..this time 40% off!!!! I fumbled with my calculator and made the calculations...40% off $74 is $44... minus $10 is $34... minus 30% is $23!!!!! I CAN pay $23 plus tax for my beautiful, perfect pajamas!!!! And I did!



My perfect pajamas!!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Surprise, Surprise!

Purple sage is a staple landscaping plant in the dry Texas climate. Its beautiful purple flowers bloom against green foliage that varies from a light gray-green, to a deep, dark green. I joined in this Texas tradition by planting my own purple sage about 3 years ago. It had grown into a nice, welcoming bush at the junction of our circle drive.

Early this spring I started to notice that one of the sections of my purple sage had curling leaves that were beginning to wither. I decided that I must have neglected to water it enough. They are very drought tolerant, but I guess any plant has its limit! I began to give it a little water every day, but the curling leaves continued to creep along until the whole plant was covered in curled up, crispy leaves.

I still held out a little hope that my purple sage would come back from the roots, so I postponed cutting it down. After a while it became clear that my bush was no more. I was perplexed by these events, but had no clue as to their origin. I cleared away the branches and decided to not plant another purple sage in that location.

Recently while I was working in the house, my husband called me to come outside for a surprise. Our oldest daughter had come by to visit. As she walked through the yard she noticed a small plant that looked familiar. She bent down and saw that it was a purple sage! Not the same purple sage, but a new one that must have been spread by seeds (do they spread by seeds?). It was a couple of feet away from the location of the former bush.

I was so surprised and excited! Thank you, Lord, for these little surprises to brighten my days!

New plant is in the lower left, stump from old plant is in the upper right.

Nice little surprise!

Sunday, September 16, 2012


On Thursday, Sept. 13th, a nice shower started around 11am. Rain continued throughout the day. I was trying to finish up at school so I could leave to go home when my daughter (also a teacher) called and told me hurry up so I could get home before the roads started flooding! I threw my things together and headed for the door. It was raining pretty hard by that time so I made a dash for the car.

My daughter called again and told me that the usual way home was blocked off and she was turning around to go in a different direction. She soon called back to say that the alternate route was also blocked! We had to drive 10 miles north, cut across 5 miles and then loop back to our house. During the drive I was listening to the radio to hear which roads were flooding out. There was no news of flooding whatsoever! What usually takes 25 minutes turned into an hour of driving through pounding rain and water on across the road. When I got home my husband told me the rain gauge had long ago topped out at 6 inches!

I went the alternate way to work the next day and roads were cleared by the time I headed home. I stopped by a country feed store near our home to pick up goat feed. The owner told me that she had a 36 inch rain gauge and that we had gotten 9 inches of rain the day before!! She also told me that she had called in for news of the flooding and the surprised screener asked, "What flooding? Where are you?"

It turns out that a very small cell had slowly moved across a tiny area, dropping extensive rain. The surrounding area only recieved 1/2 to 1 inch!! Until reports started pouring in, no one else knew about the flooding out in our neck of the woods!

Saturday we drove around to look at the damage. Several fences were down and new creeks were carved into the countryside. We drove to the local boat lauch that had been dried up for a couple of years due to the drought. A wall of water had come through, twisting some of the ladders leading down to the boat docks and actually carrying several boat docks downstream!

This area is considered the flash flash flood capital of the United States for a reason!

Marina floating down Sandy Creek area of Lake Travis

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Winding Down

As summer wanes, the constant heat and dryness have taken a toll on much of my garden. To make matters worse, I switched to an evening watering schedule now that the school year has resumed. By the time the sun is low enough to make watering tolerable, the plants look wilted and thirsty.

I have been taking out plants, or parts of plants, and adding them to the compost pile as they start to wither. I find that I am sad to take the plants out! I have a relationship with them! I feel they have been faithful to produce and I should keep taking care of them until they die naturally! The rational part of me knows this is absurd and I am slowly removing the ones that are spent.

I just can't seem to pull up the watermelon vine. We have had several small but wonderful watermelon moments. I tend to baby it along with extra water and plant food. To just jerk it from the ground doesn't feel right! So I keep telling myself that some winters arrive late in Texas and there may yet be something to harvest.

The few plants I have cleared out have been lovingly chopped up and laid to rest in the compost pile. There they will while away the winter, being slowly consumed by bacteria and bugs. I will be able to greet them again next spring as a few molecules will live on in next year's garden!

Wilted tomato vines still have tomatoes!

Friday, August 31, 2012

August Rain Totals

During summer break, I often go to my neighbor's house once a week for "Girls Time". On August 13th, we sat in the sweltering heat in her breezeway. The temperature suddenly dropped, the breeze kicked up, and a surprising little lightening storm swept in! It was wonderful! The drops were hitting so hard that they formed a little mist that blew against my arms, legs and even my face. It was delicious! The total rainfall from this gem of a storm was 4/10ths of an inch!

On August 18th, another sweet rain started up while I was at school setting up my room. I was hoping that it was also falling on my garden at home. Turns out we collected 2/10ths of an inch in the rain gauge. Later that night, another happy shower deposited 2/10ths of an inch more!

Other than that, we only had some teasing thunder in the distance, but I won't complain. 8/10ths of an inch of rain is good for August in Texas!

This picture was actually taken earlier this summer, but it looks nice here!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Way They Should Go...

It seems as if the watermelon vines grow 5 inches at night! Daily I check to make sure they are inside the garden fence so they won't be eaten by critters. The next day I have to tuck more vines in to keep them safe.

Recently as I was watering, weeding, and picking, I thought about the watermelon vines.  I have to constantly redirect their growth and point them in the right direction to safe places where I won't step on them and there is room for their fruit. The watermelon vines reminded me of children, they constantly want to go their own way and we constantly have to redirect them. We encourage our children and correct them, showing them the way they should go to stay safe and follow God. Often they try to stray away and, like the vine growing through the fence, we have to go after them and bring them back to where they are safe!

Even as adults we feel the "right" to do our own thing and make our own choices! Those choices come with consequences as God tries to poke us back through the fence and in the direction He wants us, His children, to grow. Instead of stamping our foot in rebellion, maybe we should thank Him for His love and correction, leading us to where we are safe in Him!

"Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Proverbs 22:6

Watermelon vine trying to escape!
I need to get busy poking this one back inside!
I must have missed this one several days!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Grape Juice 101!

When I moved to this area 11 years ago, my neighbor taught me how to make grape juice from the local wild grapes. We have an abundance of them draped through the trees. Although they are a favorite of the deer and the birds, there is more than enough to go around.

Making grape juice isn't at all hard. The hardest part is climbing the ladder in the heat to collect the grapes. Once that is done, the rest is a piece of cake!

To make homemade grape juice, follow these easy steps!

1. Gather two large and one small pot, a cup and a half cup measuring cups, a bag of sugar, a canning rack or cup towel (this keeps the jars from bouncing on the bottom of the pan and breaking), quart jars, new lids, screw-on rings for the lids, a jar lifter, and tongs.

2. Sterilize the jars by filling them with water and placing them on a cup towel (or canning rack) in a big pot of water. They need to be completely submerged. At the same time set another large pot of water on and heat to a boil. Put some water in the small pot and submerge the lids to soften the rubber. They do not need to boil. While all of this heating is going on, wash and stem the grapes.

3. Use the jar lifter to carefully pour the water from the jars and set them on a towel on your counter. Fill each jar with 1 cup of stemmed grapes, 1/2 - 1 cup of sugar (I prefer 1/2 cup), and fill them to 1/2 inch from the top with the hot water that was in the second pan. Use the tongs to take a lid from the small pot. Put the lid on top and screw the ring over it until it is just snug but not too tight.
(You can be sterilizing a second batch of jars while you are filling these jars!)

4. After that batch of jars is filled, remove some of the water from the original pan with the towel in the bottom. Submerge the filled jars in the hot water and return them to the stove for a 15 minute water bath (bring the water back to a boil, lower the heat to a slow boil). At the end of 15 minutes, remove the filled jars from the water bath with the jar lifter, setting them on the towel that is on the counter top. As they cool they will begin to seal with a "pop". When they have sealed you can tighten the rings if you want.

5. After the jars are cool, place them in a cool, dry place to store for at least a month. If any jar does not seal, place it in the refrigerator after it cools. You can drink it after a few days, but it will taste weaker than the stored jars.

6. To serve, strain the juice. I strain mine directly over a glass of ice!! It is a beautiful pink-purple color and the best grape juice I've ever tasted!

Wild Texas Grapes

Grapes hang in bunches under the leaves.

Gather bunches of grapes using snippers.

Rinse and drain the grapes.

Pull the grapes off their stems. (If you have sensitive skin you may want to used latex gloves!)

Put a large pot of water on to boil. Put the lids in a smaller pot to heat.

Put a cup towel or canning rack in the bottom of your largest pan to use when you sterilize
 the jars and process the juice in a water bath.

Fill and submerge the jars. Bring the water to a boil to sterilize them.

Several pans of water heating on the stove.

Use the jar lifter to remove and empty the jars. Set them on a cup towel to fill.

Put grapes and sugar in each jar. Fill to within 1/2 inch from the top with near-boiling water.
Put the filled jars in the large pan and process in a water bath.

Clean up is so easy!

As the jars sit on the shelf the grape juice will evenly mix.