Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Means Strawberries!

My husband brought home a flat of these on Monday:

  Strawberries = SUMMER!

There is a small farm stand in Napa on the Silverado Trail. Every year my man brings home strawberries from this stand and every year I turn a bunch of those berries into this:

Strawberry Preserves

I spent a good portion of the day on Tuesday making strawberry preserves. There were so many berries in that flat that I ended up making two separate batches. This is a good thing since everyone in the family now expects strawberry preserves every summer :)  I ended up with about 29 half-pint jars. It's so good on buttered toast, mixed into plain yogurt or on ice cream.

In the past I've used the Barefoot Contessa's recipe (it's good - but I add pectin to it), but this year's recipe came from this book:

Putting Up by Stephen Palmer Dowdney. I do a lot of canning (including pressure canning) and I'm always on the lookout for interesting canning recipes. His recipe for strawberry preserves is delicious.
One comment that I'd like to make about this book is that he uses the hot-pack inversion method quite a bit. I have used this method and been successful with it, but I do prefer the hot water bath when I make jams or preserves. I trust the Ball canning methods and mostly stick to them. I'll use this book for recipes, but process them in the traditional way. I'm looking forward to trying his recipe for Sweet Potato Butter (which can be made into an easy pie!), Garden Vegetable Soup, Charleston Creole Sauce, and Pickled Asparagus.

Here's the Strawberry Preserves recipe from Putting Up (hopefully he won't mind me sharing it)

Strawberry Preserves:
10+ cups strawberries - tops removed, diced or quartered (next time I'll use around 12 cups)
1 Tbs butter
1/2 C fresh lemon juice
2 boxes powdered pectin (2/3C)
14 cups sugar (yes..14 cups!) divided into two batches of 7 cups each

Prep your jars.
Add all ingredients except for the sugar to a large pot. Bring to a boil. Once a boil is achieved, add one 7 cup batch of sugar. Bring it to a boil again until it can't be stirred down. Then add the second batch of 7 cups of sugar. Bring to another rolling boil and boil for 2-3 minutes testing for jell after two minutes. Once it passes the jell test, can it and process. As mentioned above, he uses the inversion method. I like the hot water bath method.

So yummy and worth the effort!

p.s. I did a little math on this. It cost roughly $1.40 per jar for me to make these preserves, so I think it was well worth it. I didn't include the cost of the jars because those can be reused. Although...they do disappear when I give canned goods away. 
Happy Day!

Who's a Bad Blogger??

Oh...I am! It's been way to long since I've made a post and I have no excuse other than that time flies! Well that...and I've been captivated by these two girls...

My neighbor's mom got two baby chick as Easter "play things" for her granddaughters. It was all good until the chicks got to be a little big and a little to much work. So, I adopted them.. :)

I love these girls! Two Buff Orpintons...and they are adorable and sweet...and oh so pretty. These gals are like Siamese twins. They are always together. They are around 14 weeks old now. Their favorite snacks are grapes and cheese!

The other day I went to let them out of the coop and I found them cuddled up like this:

Enjoying the morning sun.
Happy Day!

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Coop is Finally Done!! :))

And we LOVE IT!!

Well, it's almost done. we ran out of roofing nails, so the roof isn't quite finished. But who cares??

I've wanted chickens for years. And now I know that dreams do come true!! I'm adopting two 13 week-old hens from my neighbor's mom. She got caught up in the Easter chick thing, but now she's decided that they need a new home.

She named them Hansel & Gretel because she thought one was a boy. Now it will be Hanna & Gretel :) I can't wait to get my new loves.  But...we're off to Grand Rapids, MI to visit my daughter for the rest of this week. So, sometime next week the girls will move into their new home. I'll post some pics of the girls and the finished interior when I get back.

Have a great week!

Happy Day!

Monday, May 7, 2012

This is How We Roll...

Yes...there's the handy guy husband. With a coat hanger. Opening the car door!

We were at Lowe's getting more supplies for this:

Chicken Coop
We got out to the parking lot and loaded the supplies into our little Mitsubishi pick-up that has over 200,000 miles on it, I might add! I love that little truck. It just keeps going and going!

Anyway, I'm standing there waiting for him to unlock the door. I look over at him and he's looking at me. I'm like, "what?". Then it hit me. He had left the keys in the ignition!

Mike went inside and managed to get a coat hanger from someone and he did get the door open. I have to tell you though, you wouldn't believe the looks and comments we got from other people in that parking lot! You would have thought we were sporting Afros and corduroy super-bells or something. If I had a dollar for every time someone came by and said, "Wow! I haven't seen that in years!", and then laughed at us I'd have...,well, $5.00.  :)

Happy Day!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

It's Always Nice to Know Who You're Interacting With..

It's always nice to have a face to go with the voice, so to speak. So, here's who we are:

This is me and my VERY favorite person in the whole world! My baby girl Laurel. She's 22 now and has moved to Michigan with her boyfriend for a little while. I prefer to look at it as an extended visit. His parents are there, so they plan to be out there for about a year. I'm amazed that she she made it through a Michigan winter! We were at a wedding in this picture. That's Laurel's friend Beth on the right:

Laurel in a kind of artsy photo :) One of my favorites of her:

Here's me with my husband "Mr. Chicken Coop Builder Extraordinaire" (aka Mike) and my Mom on the left. We were at my Mom's for dinner. I have no idea why we left that chair in the middle of the picture like that, but oh well..

One more. This is me and Laurel acting a little goofy in San Francisco. We love the city:

Happy day!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Can't Believe it!

This quilt is actually finished and hung on the wall! I LOVE IT!!

In all of it's glory!

Sugar dish, jello mold and Granny's pot holders!

Hey! Let's cook something!

As I mentioned in my earlier post about this quilt, I learned a lot in the process. Here at the end, I learned to be very careful when using quilters chalk to mark the quilting lines. Why? Because it doesn't like to come off! There are tons of blue lines on this quilt. I'll continue to try to remove them, but note to self for the next time..come up with another method for marking those lines.
Happy Day

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's a Beautiful Saturday Morning...

It IS a beautiful Saturday morning here in the Napa Valley! The temperature was around 78 degrees  yesterday and I'm pretty sure we are in for more warm, summer like weather today. And that's ok by me.

As I sit here working at my computer I can smell the wonderfully fresh air through my open window. I can hear the birds chirping to each other.

Wait! - What's that sound? Oh yeah, it's the "whhooooshhh" of a hot air balloon! This is what I see from my office window on most clear days:

It love seeing those hot air balloons rise up in the morning sky.  :)
Happy Day!

Depth of Field in Photoshop

Anyone who looks at this blog can tell right away that I'm not a photographer. I wish I was, and I'm trying to make my photos easier on the eyes.

I've discovered the "Depth of Field" feature in guided editing option of  Photoshop Elements 10...and I LOVE it! It's a very easy way to highlight (or visually bring forward) the part of your image that you want people to see while blurring the rest of the image slightly.

After you open the image you want to work with, select "Guided" over on the right side of the screen under the "Edit" option. Depth of Field should be under the "Lens Effects" option.

After clicking onto the Depth of Field option, two choices will pop up. One is "Simple" while the other is "Custom". I find Custom much easier to work with for some reason. In the Custom choice, just click on the "Quick Selection Tool" little button thingy. This will allow you to select the part of your image that you don't want to blur out. After you've made your selection, click on "Add Blur" and the background of your image will magically blur! Hurray!!

The lovely flowers are on my pear tree. : )

Friday, April 20, 2012

Do You Have a Budget?

I've earned a living doing bookkeeping and accounting work for the past 20 or so years. Is that why I like budgeting? I'm not sure. But in any case, I've had a household budget for the past 6 years or so. Sometimes I stick to it and sometimes I don't.

I don't really believe in "unplanned" expenses. I know that sometimes things come up that we didn't really think about. the end of the day, if you own a car, you can be pretty sure that it's going to need repairs at some point. You can be pretty sure that the insurance will come due. It's the same thing with having a house. There will come a point when the hot water heater will stop working or the roof will spring a leak.

Why not just put a little money aside for these things each month? I have a checking account and a savings account that I use for day to day expenses. I save for these unplanned costs in my savings account. I keep track of how my savings account balance is allocated in an Excel spreadsheet. You could easily do this on a piece of ledger paper, or even lined paper. It doesn't matter really. What matters is socking some cash away each month for these types of things has KEPT ME OUT OF DEBT!!

Some of the things I save for every month are:
* Home Insurance
* Car Insurance
* Medical Expenses - I have Anthem Blue Cross with a $5K deductible, so this is a big one!
* Dental Expenses - I have NO dental insurance. My teeth look good, but they cost A LOT!
* Toner - If you have a color laser jet printer then you know what I mean. It's around $400.00 every time I  have to replace those toner cartridges because they all go at the same time.
* New Car - I LIKE paying CASH for a new car! I put money aside every month for the next one.
* Computer - I'll need a new one at some point
* Christmas - It's nice not to feel completely defeated and broke in January :)
* Car Repairs
* AAA - That bill comes in and it's around $150 for three me, my husband and my daughter.

These are a few. You get the idea. What I do is decide on how much I want to have saved for each expense, then work towards that. For example, my home insurance is around $1,500.00 per year and I know it's due in August. So each month I'm putting away $125.00 for this bill. If you are starting in January and the bill is due in August, then you need to put away more between January and August to "catch up". Make sense?

In May I'm planning to try paying cash for groceries. That's one area that I'm not good at. It's just so easy to overspend when I use my ATM card at the checkout. Groceries are one area that most of us aren't good with. I'm going to pretend it's a game and see how well I'm able to stick to my $350.00/month budget. Maybe I can get it lower. I'll keep you posted. Also, know that it's just me and my husband at home so $350.00 can work for us if I plan well and watch what's on sale. I know that for a family of four, that amount might seem crazy, but it works for us (for the most part).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It's Almost Done..

I can't believe it, but I'm so very close to finishing this quilt. I've been working on it FOREVER! Well, at least two years now. But that's only because I've worked on it for periods at a time, then put it aside for a few months when I was just to busy with other things to work on it. Then, out it came again. I decided that this last time would be the final time...and I meant it!

This is the first quilt I've ever made and I know it won't be the last. It's been SO much fun to work on. It's also been a learning experience for me. I've learned that I really love the applique and piecing process, but that I don't like the actual quilting. The quilting part for me is just boring. You can tell from the quilting on this quilt that I didn't love working on that part. It's a total mish-mash of random stitches as I tried to "get-er-done" so to speak. The final border is a cute, red and blue cherry fabric and the whole thing is just adorable, if I do say so myself. 

I wish I could take credit for the design, but I can't. This pattern is the design of an amazingly talented woman named Lori Holt. you can visit her here:

The adorable apron has vintage kitchen embroidery on the pocket. And you KNOW how I feel about that! : )

Can I get you some lemonade?

Or perhaps a slice of cherry pie?

(I really enjoyed the use of applique as well as embroidery techniques on this quilt!)

I'll just whip us up a little something in my mixer.

What can I say? Other than that I know exactly where this quilt will hand when it's finished. And I can't wait!!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

~ A Chicken Coop in the Making ~

I've wanted to have backyard chickens for years. The only thing that's held me back is the fact that it's illegal to keep chickens in the city where I live. For a small town in the Napa Valley, it turns out that we aren't as into "going green" as we like to say we are. 
I've decided to get chickens anyway. I'm getting two hens for my backyard. And that's that! I know that there are other people here in the neighborhood who keep chickens. My next door neighbor just got 4 baby chicks. They are SO darling!!

Once I saw hers I knew I had to get on the criminal bandwagon! It's just gotta be that way. I been researching coops on for a while now. I've also check out some locally and I've come to the conclusion that it would be best to build one. Thank God I have a handy husband! The man can build anything :)). I ordered some plans from a guy on E-bay and they are amazing! A detail of the coop is below:

This weekend we started work on the coop. We have the side frames done, as well as the front and back:

I have the perfect "under the radar" spot for the coop in the backyard. It will go right next to our shed, and will be hidden from view by an olive tree :) I can't wait to finish it and get the girls!

Have a wonderful day!

UPDATE: 4/23/12

This weekend was just beautiful. I'm a summer girl and let me tell you, I was delighted with the 80-90 degree weather on Saturday and Sunday. OK, it got a little hot on Sunday, but it sure was better than freezing.

Anyway, we were able to make some more progress on the chicken coop. This is the stage when a project get to be more satisfying. When you can actually start to see how it's going to look.

BTW, that piece of wood running across the roof trellis is just to make sure we lined them up properly. That piece will be removed.

I hope you had a great weekend :)
 P.S. Wouldn't you just kill to have this coop?

Ahhh ~Smile~

It's over here: This gal knows how to set her girls up in style!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

~A Photoshop Miracle~

I DO believe in miracles!

It is truly a miracle that I was able to create my own blog header using Photoshop Elements. I mean really! What ever happened to the days when they used to include an instruction manual with the software? Who knew that you have to be a computer wizzard in order to use this program? No one warned me. There should be a warning on the box.

I've used simple photo editing sofwares in the past, but I'm at a point were I'd like to be able to do more interesting things with my photos. You know, make them look a bit more professional, although a I am no where near a professional photographer. I'm sure you can tell!

Anyway, not to be boastfull here....but.....I did figure out enough Photoshop magic to creat the banner. All by myself. I couldn't be more proud! I have since purchased a book on Photoshop which should be helpful as I move along.

My hat is off to all of you who are able to transform your pitcures with this software. You have my utmost respect!!

Happy Day!