Sunday, October 21, 2012

Pumpkin Farm

The pumpkin farm was even more fun than usual because we not only had our friends with us, but also our cousins!
The morning was cloudy and perfect for rain boots after the "gully washer" the night before. The hayride was lots of fun.
The G-man came with us last year and he remembered the place well. Not in school, or planning a wedding , or having a baby, Meg was able to join us for the first time! The pumpkins were especially cute this year. Each one was well shaped and adorable. We all got a free little pumpkin with our admission.
Everyone also got to eat an apple grown on the farm. These little apples didn't look like much but they certainly delivered when it came to taste.The kids noticed how tasty they were!
Great Country Farms has a lot of fun things for children to do. We spent about five hours there and the kids really enjoyed themselves. As the day went on, the sun came out making the view very pretty by lighting up the foliage. All of the school groups left by one-thirty pm and then we had the place almost to ourselves!
They really loved the Corn Crib which is a pavilion filled with loose corn kernels about 7 or 8 inches deep.
I sat in a lawn chair in the kernels and watched the kids play for at least a half an hour. None of us had any idea how dusty corn could be!  Their clothes were covered in a thick layer of fine, yellow dust.

The activities go on and on. We always luck out and get a good price to visit because we come with a group but there is so much to see and do here that in my opinion, full price would be worth it for a wonderful family outing.
Visiting the pumpkin farm is an October tradition for us. But as I write, I realize that this Agribusiness celebrates every season with the pick your own produce that each month has to offer. I will have to consider bringing the kids back to visit in other months because of all the great outdoor activities it has available which would be great fun at any time of year.

Confirmed in the Spirit

Sam made his Confirmation and chose the name Nicholas after his patron, St. Nicholas, whose feast day is in his birth month. Grandpa was his sponsor as a model of living the Faith.
Sam has been studying what it means to be Confirmed for the past year with quite a few of his school mates. At our children's Baptism, Larry and I chose for them to be Catholic. At a young person's Confirmation, that individual chooses to follow the Catholic Faith for himself.
Confirmation is administered by the Bishop. Our Bishop spoke directly to the young people and to the entire church as a shepherd and told them exactly what the Church teaches on marriage, violence, abortion and pornography. He continually emphasized that they would be emboldened by the Holy Spirit and strengthened by the grace of this sacrament to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the modern world out there "where it really counts". He minced no words but did so lovingly and took this one opportunity to reach this group of young people and their parents, family members and sponsors to be witnesses for Christ in all that they do. He had a teaching moment and he didn't squander it. You could hear a pin drop it was so quiet in the church as the congregation paid rapt attention. I was impressed and had a lot of respect for what he said and the manner in which he related to the youth.
 These seventy ninth graders are only half of our parish's Confirmation class. There were another seventy students at the second Confirmation Mass that afternoon. Let us all hope and pray that these Confimandi be Soldiers for Christ and do great things for God and the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit in which they are now all sealed.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Quick and Easy Dinner

It is always fun to try a new dinner idea and I had high hopes for this combination.
I picked up smoked sausage and a whole grain product, red beans and rice. This company has the most appealing packaging. On the back of the package they tell all about the fact that they make their own electricity at their farm. I was intrigued! Better yet, this frozen item was only fifty cents!
The sausage was cut up, browned in a skillet and then added to the red beans and rice which was all ready to go straight out of the package. i put it all into the crockpot. After heating for awhile, this meal wanted to get a little dry so I added a few cups of white grape juice which is so delicious. That moistened it well and gave a good flavor.
This would have been better if I hadn't doubled the recipe and used two of each product because one night was enough for this and the crockpot wasn't the best way to cook it as it dried out over time.


After much discussion and prayers for guidance, we have decided to put a heating and air conditioning system into our basement which will make the air fresher and less moist. The 95 degree temperatures for most of this summer did not bring much to the party as far as a comfortable basement is concerned. We've got a great team of workers who so far have been very competent and reliable. That is to me an answered prayer. They've got a solution and are implementing it steadily with skill.
Most of our water softener room has been demolished and will be rebuilt and rearranged.
 We lost a very nice clothes closet  in the process but the shelving units were removed in whole pieces.
Then a Dream Closet was built for our resident "clothes horse" in an old paper storage closet using the same shelves. The truth is that the carpenter built it with one rod in the usual spot but Natalie knew that wasn't going to be big enough, so Larry came home from work and rebuilt it with two rods that evening.
This should work very well. If only I could find a new place for all the stuff I used to keep in here! The trash can is starting to look really good for all that!
Meanwhile, the HVAC man is installing duct work into a completely finished basement. That takes skill which I am definitely seeing. He is snaking the flexible tubing through the ceiling to bring air to the other side of the basement from the main trunk line and putting in air returns as well.
After the ductwork was completed, the carpenters built the bulkhead, first they covered it with plywood to be sturdy and quiet, and then drywall. These gentlemen are great about showing up for work and work all day in a very pleasant and professional manner. Although I am sure that we will enjoy a warm fire in the woodstove on the weekends, it will be wonderful to be able to heat the basement this winter by adjusting the temperature on the new thermostat! 

Grammy On Duty

This grandma has been busy with the privilege and responsibility of babysitting quite a bit recently!
We dressed Handsome up for the weather and he really enjoyed this swing which I can't be positive but I am pretty sure his Daddy also rode in as a kid!
He really enjoyed it and relaxed so much that he fell asleep and took an outdoor nap which I covered him up for.
Meanwhile, inside the playhouse, these little ladies were dressed up for the prairie!
It was nice for me to be outside in the pretty fall weather with the kids.
Due to work schedules, I was able to be a Grammy delivery service and one day went to watch the kids at their house.
It was a very busy week but satisfying in that I was grateful to be useful to my children and grandchildren in their time of need which is what a family does. By taking care of these little people I actually get to know them better and develop a bond with them that I hope will last for a lifetime!   

Hay Wagon

Life is pretty good thanks to the fun the kids are having in this new hay wagon trailer! Grandpa is letting us use it and now that the guys have built sides onto it, we will have to buy it from him!
This little wagon is perfect for taking the family around for a ride. We are excited to buy a few bales of hay to spread around the floor of it for some fall rides for the kids. Sam wants to use it for a Halloween Trail Ride and take his guests around to some decorated spooky spots. We foresee this as being a new way for the cousins to have some fun together on Thanksgiving!

Holy Cross Abbey

Our homeschool group went on a field trip to Holy Cross Abbey. We were invited to join the monks in their chapel and were able to observe them sing their afternoon prayers. Their voices were very beautiful and it was very peaceful.
After their prayers, one of these Trappist monks talked to our group for almost an hour about the history of the monastic life. The children were excellent during this time as we sat in church pews and they and their parents enjoyed the history lesson in the extreme. He mentioned individuals like St.Francis of Assisi, St. Benedict and the person that I found the most interesting, St. Bernard. He asserted that St. Bernard is said to be THE most influential person of the 12th century because of his personal gifts as an individual. His "Charism" (his spiritual self, his personality, virtues, and his way of expressing himself) was so persuasive that when 30 of his friends and family tried to dissuade him from becoming a monk, he actually talked them into joining him and they did! Our host also told us about the daily life of a monk and the work they do which they call "Opus Dei", the Work of God.
This Abbey supports it self by making fruit cakes which they ship all over the world. They have made 12,000 this season!
 I found out that Trappist monks is another way to say Cistercian monks.
We were invited to tour the mansion on the property which was an original building from when this group of monks bought the land. It is furnished simply but tastefully in older pieces of furniture.
This Madonna and Child with doors that close reminded Miss J. of a similar picture we had in our hallway.

Isn't this a great depiction of the split country during the Civil War? The battle of cool Spring took place on this property on July 18, 1864 and these bullets were found here.
We visited the Gift Shop and the children enjoyed playing with a mother cat and her two week old kittens. The monks sell many books of a spiritual nature as well as the flavored honeys they make from their own hives. There are also jellies and special mustards made by other monasteries that help them to be self-sustaining.
This monastery has begun a new way to bring in an income and that is their new " natural" cemetery.
One can buy a plot here beforehand, or at the time of need, and be buried in a natural way if desired. That is, without a vault or coffin, in just a cloth shroud like people used to be buried before funerals became big business. They also offered a place to have cremated remains buried. As I understand it, Catholics are allowed to be cremated after death but the remains should be buried, not kept around the house, to show proper respect for the body of the deceased. That being said, I was surprised to read that they also offered a place along the river where ashes could be scattered. I am not sure why. I didn't think that option qualified as being "buried". Perhaps I am wrong.
Although I really liked the "natural burial" idea, sans casket, my kids thought it was gross. If I do prefer it, I will have to be clear about it! Even still, it wasn't cheap!
We enjoyed our time at the monastery learning about that vocation which is very different from our busy modern life.  

Stuffed Shells for All

My friend, Allison, and I worked together to serve dinner for our Youth Group's monthly combined meeting for our high school and middle school students. The free dinner right after the evening Mass makes it very easy for the kids to stay for the youth group. The kids really enjoy being served dinner and eating with their friends at church. Parents rotate the duty and provide the meal. Allison and I take our turn one month per year. Working together is MUCH more fun and we enjoyed it. We planned for 65 youth and 10 parents and that estimate was right on. We bought jumbo stuffed shells from a local wholesale food service provider.
We picked up 8 large jars of sauce on sale, from my favorite grocery store.
Eight loaves of garlic bread, mozarella cheese, 2 large bags of salad and dressing were the main meal which we cooked in large foil pans at church. I forgot to photograph the supersonic sized sheet cake which was probably 32 inches x 24 inches long that was also bought on sale and tasted great. Another Mom helped us in the kitchen for the evening and she became oriented as to how to do this dinner  (you can serve whatever you want to cook) .

After dinner, while we cleaned up the dishes, the Youth Group team did fun ice breakers with the kids and presented their message. At the end of the evening, we were able to divide the leftovers up for another meal at home for each of our families. I really enjoy doing this kind of service work because I have experience in cooking big meals and it makes me happy to see other people enjoying my food!

Band Chicken Dinner

We ordered BBQ chicken dinners from the Band Boosters  to support one of their big fund raisers. Each dinner was prepared "To-Go" and that chicken smelled mighty delicious while cooking on the grill!  Sam's Band Director, above, was very involved at every step of the way, and seemed to be working harder than everybody!
Pick-up was all afternoon, so I went up in the middle of a busy afternoon to retrieve our dinners.
Each dinner consisted of a half-chicken grilled with a special BBQ sauce, potatoe salad, green beans and a dinner roll. This was being sold for seven dollars per dinner with five dollars of the tickets we bought  going into Sam's personal band account. That seemed like a deal. Each band student is responsible for a certain amount of expenses that are incurred throughout the year for food while traveling, etc.
The chicken was very well cooked and there was so much served that it really made two meals.
That evening, I went up to take my scheduled turn volunteering  to help with the clean-up. To my surprise, I was only needed for 30 minutes because they were organized and had enough help to have finished early. I was very grateful to be able to come home much earlier than expected!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Vegetable Beef Soup

I am so glad that the weather is cooling down because one of my favorite things to make is homemade vegetable beef soup.
I splurged on a really nice piece of beef with lots of meat and quite a bit of fat. Stew beef all cut up also works well for this but it is quite lean and you need some fat for flavor. That is why in my opinion, venison is not good in soup although it is fine for other dishes. I put some olive oil in the bottom of my really big soup pot and heated the beef up at high heat to sear it and give it a brown coating.
I pulled the meat out, covered it and set it on a plate and then sauteed chopped onion in the beef drippings. To this I then added the whole big piece of beef and two cartons of beef broth. I had also purchased three rib bones and added those to the pot. Beef soup bones are great to  simmer the meat with. They add flavor and nutrition but they are hard to find at the store. That is why I tried the rib bones. After simmering, I took the meat off these bones, added it to the pot and threw them out. The meat was just covered with liquid ( add water to cover the meat if needed) and then simmered for over an hour.
The meat was cooked by now but I didn't want to cut it up and dry it out so I took it out, covered it up again and cut up all these vegetables- potatoes, carrots, celery and zucchini. This is how much I used of each. You can use as much or as little as you want to.
This is the zucchini all cut up. This stuff is delicious in soup. By then the meat had cooled some so I cut it all up into small pieces for soup. I took the gristle off but I didn't skim the soup because there really wasn't excess fat- just the right amount.
Cabbage is fantastic in soup or in anything!
If I had planned ahead, I would have soaked dried beans (any kind) the night before to cook and throw in, but I didn't think of it and used a large can of black beans. I often will mix a couple of cans of different beans. I like a wide variety of different vegetables and beans.
I also used this cool product that cost only fifty cents- Black barley. I think it was seeing this package and buying it that gave me such a strong hankering for soup in the first place!
At this point, I added the large can of vegetable juice which is generic V-8. That makes the broth really good. Water can be added at any time if you need it.
Other ingredients added were corn and whole tomatoes, frozen in this case, but canned are fine. Lima beans are GREAT in soup but not green beans. If I have leftover rice, I throw that in.
Salt and pepper are what you need and also chili powder, Italian seasoning  and a little sugar!

This recipe made enough to feed a soup kitchen so I immediately froze two large containers of it for another day. After serving it the first night in the big pot, I put it into the crockpot the next day to cook on low and be ready for lunch and or dinner. Serve with crackers and enjoy!