December

I can’t believe it’s already December. I love this time of year, but, honestly I could do without all the holidays making what little we have of fall and winter fly by. Meanwhile stinking, hot summer lasts from mid-April to Halloween with no big holidays to break it up. 

Anyway, unlike most years where I’m busy with random chaos and crafting until I realize Christmas is a week away and I still haven’t decorated, I got out our little Charlie Brown tree yesterday and let the boys decorate it. I stayed in the next room folding laundry so I wouldn’t be tempted to micromanage. 

Because that pretty much sums it up. They did a good job, though, and since they did it, I’m less likely to keep rearranging ornaments to get everything just right.

The lighting in that room is terrible. You can make out the toddler-height holes starting to develop while the top of the tree is looking a little crowded. I predict that by Christmas, the bottom of the tree up to about 3.5 feet off the ground will be bare except for lights.

If you look closely, you’ll see some painted pinecone decorations. When Finn was little, I got a huge batch of pinecones and spray painted them red, white and silver. Then I tied jute twine loops on them for hooks. That way, I didn’t have to worry about broken glass if he took them off the tree. He really didn’t bother with them much, though. As you can see, I’ve since gotten braver with ornaments, as have my children.

Have a wonderful weekend, and if you’d like to stay up to date on sales and new items in my Etsy shop, please sign up for my newsletter using the box to the right or at the bottom if you’re mobile. Thanks!

Fruit and Nuts

We have eleven pecan trees, so along with the leaves, pecans cover our yard this time of year. We already had about ten pounds collected just from our front yard, so this weekend we took them to the farmer’s market to have them cracked. Even though we still have to separate the shell from the meat, it’s so much faster than doing it all by hand that it is totally worth it. 

Cracked pecans

While we were there, Thadd discovered a big box full of bruised apples for five dollars, so I bought those, too. Thanks to my apple peeler-slicer-corer contraption, I was able to quickly get them ready to freeze for later. Here’s a similar apple peeler to the one I use:

Johnny Apple Peeler by VICTORIO VKP1010, Cast Iron, Suction Base

Some of the apples went straight to the stove with cinnamon and sugar to have as a sweet side and baked oatmeal topping.

Apples!

I’m looking for more recipes to use the apples and pecans that aren’t overly sugary. So far, I’ve found a recipe for apple cider vinegar that makes use of the saved peels. 

In the meantime, I made my favorite pecan dessert that is the opposite of not sugary: pecan pralines. (That’s puh-cahn prah-leans, y’all.) They are dangerously easy, especially when you have a ton of pecans on hand and the rest of the ingredients are kitchen staples. 

Pecan Pralines
Still too hot…

Here’s the recipe I use:

Pecan Pralines

3/4 cup each of brown sugar and granulated sugar

1/2 cup of milk

1 cup of pecans

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Combine the sugars and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until it reaches the soft ball stage. (That’s when you can put a drop in cold water and it holds together in a ball shape but flattens on your finger when you take it out of the water.) I stir it pretty constantly and check it when it starts to look a little thicker.

Once it is at the soft ball stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and pecans until it’s well mixed. Drop the mixture by the spoonful onto waxed paper. If it gets too hard to spoon out, warm it back up for a bit on the stove. It’s best to have the waxed paper ready and work quickly, though. That way you don’t risk burning it and the resulting sadness.  

Resist the temptation to try the yumminess immediately and let it cool. Seriously, let it cool. Hot melty sugar burns! The pralines will be more frosty opaque than glossy and easy to peel off the waxed paper when they are ready. 

I usually get about sixteen pralines from one batch, but it will vary depending on how big you make them.

Enjoy!

Grocery Shopping with Children

If you have ever gone grocery shopping with young children, then you know what a treat it is to go shopping alone. On a recent shopping day, the whole family went to Aldi. Even with Chris there as backup, that trip resulted in my giving Instacart* a try. (Actual conversation with Instacart delivery guy: Him: Have a good day! Me: It’s a great day! I didn’t have to take my three kids shopping!!!!)

Beckett shopping
One of my little hooligans.

Aldi is awesome, but there’s always a few things I can’t get there, so on the way home we stopped at Kroger. Chris stayed in the car with the hooligans while I ran in to get the last few things we needed.

In the store, I occasionally ended up on the same aisle as a father with his three lovely daughters. I’m guessing they were all around elementary school age. What caught my attention about this family, was the fact that the father was experiencing his own version of the Aldi trip I had just survived. I never know if a smile or kind word in such situations will be seen as sincere or smug in such situations, so I politely ignored the chaos to finish my shopping.

At the checkout line, who should end up behind me, but the father and the three young ladies. If he was put there to remind me that all parents have those kinds of days, then I appreciate the reminder, but torturing another human being really was not necessary.

I continued with my plan of polite indifference to the humorous to everyone but the father scene that was taking place behind me. I’m pretty sure I failed to not smile when I heard such phrases as, “What have you done to the tortillias? Don’t put your mouth on that!”and the exasperated, “What is wrong with you?!?!???”

Hopefully it has been long enough that, should the father see and recognize this, he will be able to find the humor that is totally lacking when you are in the moment. Regardless, you have my empathy for that and every other similar shopping trip, as that is usually me. Also, Instacart* delivers to your door, if you need some time to recover.

He had a shirt on when we went in, I promise.

*Neither Instacart or Aldi offered any compensation for this post. After that particular Aldi trip, though, Aldi should consider offering me free Instacart delivery so I no longer have to bring my children into their store. 

A Tale of Two Days

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about it here yet, but we’ve been homeschooling for almost a year and a half. At this time, I plan basic independent study based lessons and I check in as needed to help and make sure tasks are being completed. This works pretty well with Thaddeus requiring lots of attention still and allows the older boys to have more control over their education.

Most days this works really well. Others, though, like yesterday make me question my sanity. Thaddeus constantly took his diaper off all morning in spite of my attempts to keep it on him. I tried to turn it into potty training, but he preferred the floor to the toilet. Thank goodness he took an early nap and forgot about streaking afterwards.
Since it was obviously going to be a thorough cleaning day, I washed the couch cover. This left the worn cushions exposed for a while, which led to Beckett picking at them constantly. He accompanied his furniture destruction with complaints about how much schoolwork he had and how hard it was and he didn’t want to do it. To put things in perspective, on the days he does his work without complaining, it takes about 30-45 minutes for him to finish. 

Finn’s contribution to the chaos was complaining about his math work and everything Beckett did or looked like he might do. By the time Chris got home, I was DONE. 

Today, though, is different. Today I wake up at seven thirty, feeling guilty I wasn’t up to see Chris off to work. Thadd woke up at the same time, so there’s no quiet moment before having to keep the T-Rex from becoming T-Wrecks. 

I get out of bed to find both older boys up and working on school work together. Finn lists off what he’s done, what he has left to do and his plan for completing it. Then he offers to make breakfast and lunch for himself and his brothers. That way I’m don’t have to cook food I still can’t comfortably chew.

Beckett has completed everything he can do on his own and is ready to read with me. He reads the first book to Thadd and I on his own, then helps me read the book he usually refuses to help with because it’s too hard. 

Today I can think about nature walks and impromptu lessons about why we designate today as the first day of fall instead of worrying that I’m killing my kids’ love of learning or not doing enough or that I will have to keep them on separate sides of the house just to maintain my sanity. 

I’m not sure why today is different. I hope it isn’t just a reaction to yesterday. Either way, I’ll take it.

Thrifty Knitting Machine – Singer Silver Reed LK-140

A couple of years ago, I really wanted a knitting machine. I like yarn and the thought of making pretty things with yarn has always appealed to me. I started teaching myself to knit and crochet while I was pregnant with Finn. He is eleven now, and it takes me two days of work to make a single dishcloth. So, a knitting machine seemed like a good compromise to speed things up a bit. They are kind of hard to come by, though, especially a well made machine. Besides, I knew nothing about how a knitting machine works, so I got my embroidery machine instead.

Fast forward to two Sundays ago. The family and I were having fun thrift shopping for some office furniture. (That could also read as, “Chris and I were dragging the kids around to thrift stores, with much protesting on their part.”) The first Goodwill store we went to didn’t have much in the way of office furniture. They did have lots of bins out full of miscellaneous stuff that I really wasn’t interested in digging through, until I happened to notice this long rectangular box poking up out of one bin.

That’s the one. It for is a Singer LK-140, made by Silver Reed. It is a plastic bed hobby machine, but a durable hobby machine. I’ve since learned that, except for having ten fewer needles, it is identical to the newer LK-150 knitting machine. That means parts are easy to come by.

The box was so well taped, and it had a good weight to it, so I decided not to even open it before buying it. I figured I probably wouldn’t even know what may have been missing. Also, let’s zoom in on the price tag:

Back when I was actively looking for a knitting machine, I would have thought getting one for $80 on eBay was a fairly good deal. At $5.49, it was worth it even if it was only good for parts.

When I finally opened it at home, I did notice a few parts were missing, but only the table clamps, manual and transfer tools. I found a free manual online, and the other two items are easily and inexpensively replaced. They also aren’t essential, so I have played with it a bit.

I did need to replace the sponge strip. That’s pretty standard for an older machine. Luckily on this machine, foam weatherstripping works great as an inexpensive replacement. I also needed to clean the needles, because they were covered with gunk from the old sponge strip. With that, I was able to set it up and play.

There is definitely a learning curve, but it is fun. I have noticed, though, that you can still tell it is my own handiwork.

See the dropped stitch. It’s like my signature. The best part, though, is it only took me a minute or two to make that swatch, as opposed to a day or two. A little more practice, and I might be able to make two or three dishcloths a day without dropped stitches, or a scarf with a few holes. Seriously, though, it is fun, and I look forward to coming up with new projects and products to make.

As for office furniture, I felt bad that I got a new toy but we hadn’t found the thing we really needed, so I did a quick craigslist search. There just happened to be a desk posted locally in the free section.

Excuse the mess. That photo was taken while everything was getting tossed around with moving in the desk. There is a trim piece that needs to be put in place on the top. Overall, it is in good shape. More importantly, it provides us with the two main things we needed for the office: more desk space and shelving. Best of all, it was free!