Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Making Christmas Presents--Jalapeno Jelly

I won't bore our few faithful readers with accounts of all the Christmas gifts I've tried to make, but this one is such a good illustration of why I must start months ahead of time to finish anything these days. Making Jalapeno Jelly seemed like such a straightforward process; if you'd like the bare bones recipe for normal people, see full tummies. If you'd like to see what this process is like with 3 young children, read on.... Remember, it only takes about 2o minutes "active time" to make this.

Rewind back to late May: I planted my garden. I got such a late start because of aforementioned toddlers, so, the salsa ingredients I planted failed to mature all at the same time. (Read that as: hundreds of jalapenos, few tomatoes, and no bell peppers....) So, I was stuck with tons of jalapenos and decided that everyone was getting jalapeno jelly for Christmas this year! Genius, right?

August: Didn't have time to actually make the jelly, so I chopped up all the peppers and froze them.

Fall: bought all supplies for jelly making (pectin, jars, etc.).

November: Realized in a panic that I was planning to take all Christmas gifts for hubby's side of the family with us to Thanksgiving since we might not see them at Christmas. Time for jelly making (and finishing other Christmas presents, making shortbread, etc.). So, the day for jelly making arrives. Here's my day:
  • Breakfast: while kids are eating, I retrieve all supplies from basement and other places. Pull peppers out of freezer. So far, so good. Oh--I fished out my big canning funnel from the kids' toy bin and gave it a good washing.
  • Mid-morning: wash all jars and lids. Set big canning pot and stock pot on stove.
  • Lunchtime: while kids are eating, I start jars sterilizing (takes FOREVER for water to boil in my big pot) and blend up peppers. Realize I'm 1/4 cup sugar short and SPRINT to neighbor's house with my key, purloin some sugar, sprint back (all in the rain), and make sure kids are still alive and well on planet Earth.
  • Naptime: Well, only 2 of the 3 kids was napping (long story). But, still, the odds are in my favor. So, we begin the actual 15-20 minute process by placing pepper/vinegar/sugar mixture in pot on stove and turn the burner on. This only has to come to a rolling boil and boil for a few minutes...
  • AS SOON AS I TURN THE BURNER ON: Twin A (the lucky one downstairs with me) has a dirty diaper. Might not be cause for immediate attention on a normal day, but this was the first one in a couple of days. Move pot of pepper mixture off burner and tend to diaper.
  • Wash hands and begin again. This time I make it to the point when I'm actually pouring the hot mixture into the hot jars and daughter starts screaming bloody murder (upstairs in her room). I screw hot bands on hot lids and hot jars (burning my fingers) and throw them all into the pot and race upstairs (scooping up Twin A). She'd gotten the mini blinds cord around her neck.... (sigh). Yes, it could have been bad, but this time it just scared her (and me). We spend some time comforting and snuggling and discussing why that's not a good idea to do EVER AGAIN. Then, we all three march back downstairs just in time to take jars out of water bath. Did I decide to do the needed second batch that same day? Nope... We'll save that adventure for an evening when kids are in bed and hubby is at home.
  • Verdict: 6 half-pints of beautiful and tasty jelly; 3 safe kids; 1 pooped mom.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Enjoying the Holidays

This year, I'm 100% committed to enjoying the holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving: my all-time favorite holiday. What could be better than a day with family and friends, gathered around the best meal of the year, and thanking the Lord together for his abundant blessings?!

But I digress. Here's what I'm vowing "publicly" to not do during this holiday season:

  • Complain about dealing with other holiday shoppers (we're big fans of amazon.com, usps.com, and other sorts of internet dealers!)
  • Complain about the weather (after all, that's partly why these holidays are so much fun--we get to snuggle up next to the fireplace!)
  • Complain about my waistline... ahem...
  • Complain about "all that I have to do"
  • Throw a big Christmas party that involves lots of work beforehand
  • Stress about getting the perfect gift
  • Plan lots of homemade gifts (I am working on a few that I've been working on... and they're almost done! No more after these are finished!)
  • Plan to decorate my house as if it was going to be pictured in Southern Living
  • Complain about traveling over the holidays
Here's what I'm vowing to do:
  • Enjoy teaching my 3-year-old more about the real meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • Enjoy giving gifts of all shapes and sizes to people of all shapes and sizes
  • Enjoy sending out our Christmas cards because it reminds me of all the many friends and family we have
  • Enjoy eating the luscious holiday treats... in moderation
  • Enjoy spending time with friends and families
  • Enjoy making sugar cookies with my daughter (and decorating them!)
  • Enjoy raking leaves and other fall-ish outdoor activities with my kids
  • Enjoy sitting before the fireplace with my husband (even though we'll be telling our kids "Don't touch" the whole time since they LOVE the fire screen...)
  • Thank the Lord for such wonderful reminders of his grace in our lives and Jesus's ultimate sacrifice on our behalf!
Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Top Five: Holiday Gifts for Teachers

Well, gift-giving time is fast approaching, so it's time to start throwing ideas out into the blog world! You might consider giving your child's teacher a gift this next week as a thanks to him or her for his or her hard work! Christmas gifts abound, but Thanksgiving gifts are quite rare. Just a thought! I wrote a little post a while back on great gifts for teachers that work any time of the year. Below are some new ones that seem particularly suited to the holidays (remember, in my five years of teaching middle and high school, I received many, many holiday gifts of various sorts...this list comes from experience! I also have my fair share of random trinkets, ornaments, candle holders, etc....).

  1. Gift Certificates for personal items: clothing stores and bookstores are the best!
  2. Gift Certificates for classroom items: many teachers buy items for their classrooms out of their own pockets. A gift certificate to someplace like Schoolbox would come in handy!
  3. Edible Goodies: I'd recommend you not wait until the last week of the semester to send in something edible. I once got so many edible gifts that I thew a Christmas party to use them all up--seriously! So, send some cookies in the first week of December or bake a loaf of banana bread or pumpkin chocolate chip muffins or scones this coming week for your child's teacher to enjoy over the Thanksgiving Break.
  4. A Meal for the Freezer! Seriously, folks, if I'd received this during a crunch week (or just ahead of a crunch week) when I was teaching, what a gift this would have been! If your child's teacher has children at home to feed, this would be a tremendous help. If your child's teacher is single or married with no kids, pack up a smaller portion. Comfort food always works: Chicken Pot Pie or Cheeseburger Meatloaf would be great options.
  5. Relaxation Rx: Gift certificate to a restaurant and movie tickets plus offer to babysit; gift certificate to Blockbuster plus some microwave popcorn and some hot chocolate mix; you get the idea!
Go thank those hard-working teachers!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Power Cooking

My friend Bridgette and I spoke at her MOPS group recently. (Check out Bridgette's great Favorite Things blog--she reviews all her favorite kid-related products, including her MOPS group!) We spoke about Power Cooking: cooking meals for your freezer, whether you spend an entire day cooking an entire month's worth of meals, or simply do a "daily double" here and there (doubling recipes here and there to keep a steadily rotating supply of meals in the freezer).

This is a great time of year to stash a few extra goodies away in your freezer. Comfort food (think chili, chicken pot pie, etc.) usually freezes well and is so welcome after a day out Christmas shopping or just in the midst of a busy holiday season. You can even freeze cookies and other desserts if you need to get a head start on holiday treats.

I'll try to get our MOPS handout up at full tummies soon, but if you're interested in Power Cooking, check out full tummies--it's loaded with freezer meal recipes, a great original post on cooking for your freezer that Carrie wrote (she used to work at one of those assemble-your-own-meals-for-your-freezer places and has lots of experience). Carrie contributed the Stuffed Braided Bread and Maple Honey Mustard Pork Chops recipes in particular. They're yummy!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Teabag: In Christ Alone

No matter what your feelings were over this last week...We sang this in Church this morning. One of my favorite hymns, or praise hymns (not in the Trinity Hymnal). I hope you can relish the words as I did. It says it all!

In Christ Alone: (1st and 4th stanzas)
In Christ alone my hope is found; He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground, firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all--Here in the love of Christ I stand.

No guilt in life, no fear in death--this is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand;
Till he returns or calls me home--here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Savoring a Cup of Tea: Praying for our Leaders

I must first confess that I do not pray for our political leaders or our nation like I should. It takes a big presidential election, a national tragedy, or something similar to drive me to my knees before the throne of God.

That being said, it seems that the Holy Spirit has been hard at work convicting me of this during the last few days. Carrie posted an excellent post on Monday about praying for our nation and its leaders. A friend of mine and I committed to holding each other accountable for praying for our nation regularly; specifically, she's going to be praying for Supreme Court justices (that old ones won't retire and/or that new ones appointed will be conservative) and for issues related to protecting the unborn (abortion, stem cell research funding, etc.). She'll also be praying for our president-elect. To add to these two convicting points, our women's Bible study is currently studying Acts. What was our passage this week? Paul's (Saul's) Damascus Road experience. If Paul can be saved--he who was not only persecuting the early church, but zealously persecuting believers--than anyone can be turned around by the gospel. Paul not only was saved dramatically, but he went on to author (through the Holy Spirit) most of our New Testament. Clearly, my faith is weak. I hardly ever think of praying for the salvation of those leading our country; I hardly ever think of praying that the Lord will use them powerfully for the sake of the gospel, especially if their track record/stated beliefs are the to the contrary. Imagine what could happen if the Lord convicted whoever is our Commander in Chief and that man (or woman) went on to be the kind of zealous Christian Paul was! Hmmm.... Something to think about.

And then, the final convicting moment came last night when my husband handed me a list of ways to pray for President-Elect Barak Obama that he'd received at his book club. These are excellent and should be applied to any and every Commander in Chief! You can read them here (the thoughts/list were written by Presbyterian (PCA) pastor Ligon Duncan).

So, folks, let's pray for our country and its leaders!! By God's grace, anyone can become a force for the gospel, spreading its truth. By God's grace, anyone can be convicted of sin. By God's grace, our Supreme Court justices could become Christians. Our President and President-Elect could spread the truth of the gospel. Our nation could uphold the sanctity of life--human life that is made in the image of God. By God's grace, our freedoms to speak publicly of these very things could be upheld. So, add our nation and its leaders to your regular prayer list if you haven't already done so.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


If you didn't early vote or vote by absentee ballot, then today's the day!!! Please do not let this opportunity to make your voice heard pass you by. Your vote does matter and the principle of thing matters. Many countries in the world do not allow their citizens the privilege of voting for anything, much less for a major election like our presidential race. And think of how hard our "foremothers" worked to earn this privilege for us women! Cast that ballot, ladies. Don't take this for granted. You'll also be setting a great model of active citizenship for your young'un's. I remember my mom taking this seriously when I was growing up (she still takes it seriously and voted by absentee ballot because she would be out of town on the big day--yea, Mom!).

Monday, November 3, 2008

One Nation Under God

Well, I know everyone is on pins and needles. I also think every TV will be on tomorrow night. But ultimately, it comes down to a few things.

1. God's candidate will win. And no I am not talking about Obama or McCain...but the one God wants in office. We can't know and can't predict the future of our country. The ONLY thing we have to rely on is our trust that God always knows best.

2. Pray for our country. Have you ever considered that if your candidate didn't win...God might be teaching you a little more in faith and prayer. Pray for whoever is in office. I think many of us get lax in praying for our leaders when we think they are OK. But even good leaders can turn bad....or bad leaders can turn good.

3. Pray for your fellow countrymen. I am always amazed and how patriotism is getting less and less. And that doesn't mean you do or don't believe in war. It means you are proud of our country, its values and beliefs. I think our founding Fathers would be horrified. But we can teach our children what our country was founded on, and what it stands for.

4. Pray for your service to our country. We have the privilege to vote. We have the privilege of freedom. And we have a witness to others. Why do the French always act rude to us....maybe we act rude to them. What kind of image do we give off to our fellow Americans and to those from other countries?

So pray for our Nation Under God. And pray we will be a nation under God. The founders of this country went out on a limb....traveled miles of dangerous sea....all because they wanted the freedom to worship their God. I don't know many of us today that would do the same. But they had a strong belief and a passion for that belief, and a trust that God would protect them and see them through. And our country became one of the strongest in the world. With Thanksgiving approaching, we might could learn a little about faith from our founding fathers.