Monthly Archives: September 2008

Canning chili, pickling green tomatoes

Today I started my day off by thinking it would be a good day to do some canning.  Yes, the day before erev Rosh Hashana I know that sounds like a bad idea, but I had about nine pounds of fresh ground meat in the fridge, and rather than put it into the freezer, I figured I’d prepare a huge amount of chili and it would be all ready for a busy day.  So one child soaked five pounds of different beans, another cooked up the meat.  It was a really good idea, since I planned to do it first thing in the day, when I had nothing else planned and nowhere else to go – the glitch was that by noon, I ran out of steam and didn’t feel like dealing with it, all day long. 

The problem with starting a project like this is, you have to finish it, unless you have lots of available fridge space for a couple of days. Something that I have absolutely none of now, right before the holiday.  So at 10 pm, when I got my second wind, I started canning the chili (I had to go out for the evening or I would have started at 8 pm instead).  It takes 90 minutes to process the chili, and that doesn’t include the time preparing the jars, filling the jars, getting the canner up to pressure so you can begin the 90 minutes….so here I sit after midnight, waiting for it to finish.  One thing I’m very grateful for is that new weighted gauge I told you I bought.  This is my first time using it, and it makes a huge difference.  Usually with a pressure canner that has a dial gauge, you need to stay in the room where it is for the entire processing time, to keep an eye on the pressure so it stays steady.  If I go out of the kitchen, it’s only for a couple of minutes, and then I go right back to look at the gauge.  But with a weighted gauge, it makes a noise when it’s holding the pressure, so it’s based on sound, not sight.  That means I can be on the computer, out of direct view though still very close, and it’s safe.  What a pleasure!

While I was waiting, I’ve made up 4 half gallons and 2 quarts of pickled sour green tomatoes.  I told my kids earlier in the evening to pick all of the tomatoes that are green and we’ll do something with them.  That was an assignment they really, really enjoyed.  Usually we don’t have enough ripening all at once for them to be able to pick a lot at once.  Anyway, have you ever tasted pickled green tomatoes?  Yum, yum, yum.  I don’t care for vinegar pickles, or any pickled veggies for that matter (and yes, that includes all those things I made a couple of weeks ago).  But real sour pickles, or sour tomatoes – I can’t get enough!  Until now, I’ve only bought them once in a while, so if this is a successful experiment, it will be a really nice treat. 

These are going to be fermenting for the next few days, and then I’ll heat process most of them after that so that they won’t need to stay refrigerated.  Right now they’re lined up on the kitchen counter, looking very attractive.  The kids will enjoy seeing them when they wake up in the morning (which at this rate is going to be before I’ll be able to drag myself out of bed :)).


Today’s little miracle

Today it was pouring outside all day long!  Ever since I started gardening, I’m in tune with the weather in a different way than I used to be.  I now think more about if it’s good for my garden than if it’s convenient for me.  So usually when it rains, I think how glad I am that the watering is being done for me!

Our basement flooded a bit as a result of the heavy rains, though.  On Friday, I finally finished up organizing the entire basement (I told you I reorganized the storage room in the basement, and a bunch of stuff got shifted to the main area when I was cleaning up).  It was such a nice feeling to know that despite the inch of water in my house, nothing was left on the floor that could have been damaged – and before yesterday, there would have been plenty.  So I’m very grateful that all that really was affected was the pile of unwashed laundry on the laundry room floor.  And that’s not a very big deal, since it has to get washed anyway! :)

Have you noticed when you start looking, that you’ll find small miracles like this happening all the time?  Life is so good!


Day of living history

Yesterday I took all of the kids to a living history museum, where they were having a special all day program of hands-on activities, demonstrations, and crafts.  I told a friend who I first met a year and a half ago when shopping in PA that we’d be going, and invited her to join us with her family.  She was able to come, and it was really nice for all of us!  It definitely added to the fun for my kids to be able to spend the time with her children – we haven’t gotten together since December.

I often have a sense that our homeschooling ‘subjects’ come together with very little effort on my part.  I’m currently in the middle of reading Farmer Boy (from the Little House series) to my younger set of kids, ages 9 and down, which is set in the late 1800s.  Yesterday at the living history museum, we enjoyed a number of activities, one of which was a ride in a horse drawn wagon.  I asked the driver what kind of horses they were, and she told me they were Belgians, which we had just read about the day before in Farmer Boy!  It really makes history come alive to read about and then experience things that occur in the same time period (like the tour of the one room schoolhouse, the general store, carding and spinning their own wool).   Suddenly, it’s not just far away stories but it makes it all more up close and personal, and that’s what the study of history should be about.

I ordered a dvd from the library called Frontier House and my dh brought it home just the day before our outing to the museum.  I started watching it with the kids last night, and it is fascinating!  Wouldn’t you know, it’s about about the late 1800s and what life was like then?  The focus is on 3 modern day families who were chosen to ‘travel’ back in time and live as 1883 homesteaders.  Again, it all ties is so beautifully, with the book, the dvd, the museum, and the activities all highlighting and reinforcing one another. 


Buying a compost tumbler

Oooh, I’m so tired tonight.  What a busy day, and tomorrow will be busy, and the next day, and then next few days after that…..

One of the things I accomplished today that’s worthy of commenting on (to me, anyway!) is purchasing a used tumble composter for my garden.  I haven’t written much about our garden, even though I’ve loved it and it’s been a great experience.  I very much want to expand it significantly for next year so that it will provide a serious amount of vegetables for our family, and realize that part of why our crops weren’t as successful as I would have liked this year is that the soil wasn’t strong enough. 

I decided that I’m going to need to be able to make our own compost in the amounts that we need (I’m certainly not going to pay retail for that!), and that a compost tumbler would be a very useful addition.  The way it works is that it keeps the clippings or plant matter in a contained area where the heat can build up, and there’s a handle on the side that allows it to be turned for aeration.  After as little as a couple of weeks, you can have a large load of compost ready for use.  It’s pretty simple, but very effective.  Since I currently have an informal compost pile (that currently has sprouted a bunch of watermelon seeds), I know how inefficient and time consuming it can be to wait for it to break down otherwise.  They only problem is, they’re hugely expensive to buy new (well, I consider over $500 expensive), and I’ve only one time before seen one advertised used and it got snapped up right away.

Last night I was browsing Craig’s List and saw this composter, and immediately I wanted to buy it.  But it was too late to call, and a part of me really didn’t want to try to squeeze something else into a day that was already jam packed – especially since I could see the seller was located 45 minutes away, and I knew it would be a significant amount of time to get there.  But the other part of me knew I better take the opportunity when I had it because I would end up regretting not taking action later on.

So we went late this afternoon, directly from our homeschooling monthly gathering.   We took out the front passener bench before we left in order to make space for it, but when I saw it, I was concerned that it wasn’t going to quite make it.  And the seller was even more concerned than me, but it was obviously meant to be for us to get it, because it fit, with some creative finagling.  After $100 changed hands, we were off to home.

When I got home, my 7 and 9 year olds were so eager to take it out that while I was on the phone (which of course was ringing before I even got into the house), they took everything out themselves and set it all up.  I have no idea how they did it, because it’s really bulky and not too light.  They were clearly highly motivated, though.  I overheard them tell their siblings that they rolled the tumbler part most of the way, and only lifted it to get over the fence and then to put it in place.  They feel very accomplished, and they should.  In any case, now we have a very useful new addition to our yard, that is going to get a lot of use! 


My favorite homeschooling books

There are loads of homeschooling books out there, and different ones will speak to different people.  I’ve probably read most books on homeschooling that have been written, and they all have something of value.  Some I’ve found more thought provoking than others, some I didn’t care much for, some I thought were more inspiring.  It can be intimidating to look at all of those books, all of those approaches, so much information!  So I’ll share with you which books I’ve found most valuable in case you’d like to use it as a starting point, and note what areas that might be a concern. 

The Successful Family Homeschool Handbook – Raymond and Dorothy Moore – this is probably my favorite book.  It’s filled with loads of wisdom, but in an unassuming and condensed way and you could easily read it the first time and think it was nothing remarkable.  Written by the ‘grandparents’ of the homeschooling movement, the writing style is a little more formal than younger writers.  But they understand parents, they understand children, and they understand homeschooling.  One of the very few homeschooling books I’ve seen fit to purchase, and read and reread several times.  His points on social maturity are excellent.

Homeschooling the Early Years: Your complete guide to successfully homeschooling the 3 – 8 year old child, by Linda Dobson.  I recommend this to everyone with young kids, as a way to see how easy and natural it is to integrate learning activities for the young child into the day.  She’s written a number of other homeschooling books, and I’ve liked all of them. 

The Relaxed Home School, by Mary Hood, and there was a sequel which was also good.  I haven’t read this for five years, but enjoyed it very much when I read it.  I can’t remember the details of what I liked, but she was very down to earth and real, it made homeschooling seem very doable.  She classified herself as an ‘eclectic’ homeschooler, and that helped me realize that I didn’t have to define myself by one approach to homeschooling, which I was struggling to do.  I could continue to pick and choose and adapt for my needs and put it all together in the way that fit for us.  Since then I’ve referred to myself as an eclectic homeschooler, too.  :)  Mental note to self: borrow this from friend again to reread.   

The Three Rs, a series by Ruth Beechick – A Strong Start In Language, An Easy Start In Arithmetic, A Home Start In Reading.  These are more like booklets than books.  There are three in the series, one for math, one for language, one for writing, geared towards parents of the k – 3rd grader..  They’re excellent – brief, succint, with clear explanations of the developmental stages of children in the beginning and then practical suggestions for teaching various skills for the basics.  I was thrilled to aquilled to aquire these at a homeschooling curriculum sale for $1 each last year, since I’d seen Dr. Beechick’s work approach referred to in many books that I liked (but couldn’t find it at the library) and thought it would be a good fit for me.  It was. :)  

The Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola – a good explanation of the Charlotte Mason approach.  The author has a different approach and focus than I do, and her examples of her own kids tend to intimidate me because I put almost no effort into some areas that are important to her, but that’s a challenge in reading any homeschooling book.  You have to remember that everyone shines in something and no one shines in everything.  I think highly of the Charlotte Mason approach and particularly like the emphasis on quality literature, dictation, and copywork (though I don’t use dictation much), which is why I think reading about her approach is worthwhile, even though I didn’t unabashedly love this book.  A book for the Charlotte Mason approach that I enjoyed much more was The Whole Hearted Child, by Sally and Clay Clarkson.  However, this was written for Christian parents, which may be a plus or minus for some of you.  If you’re uncomfortable with that, then don’t read it.  I’m comfortable reading selectively; I just skip what I’m not interested in and stick with what applies to me. 

I’ve read a lot of books about the unschooling approach but can’t think of one that particularly stands out in my mind.  Many recommend John Holt’s books, but they didn’t thrill me.  The Teenage Liberation Handbook is  good for teenagers and parents of teenagers, to see what the possibilities are and realize that your kids aren’t limited to you being their teacher, and that they can direct their own education successfully.  I just met someone on Monday who told me his son requested to homeschool this year after reading the book.  It can be inspiring and an eye opener for people.  It has a liberal approach in general, which for some might be uncomfortable.

I hope that this provides a good starting point.  Please share in the comments section below if there’s a book you found especially helpful.


New family photo is now up!

I just added the new family photo to the ‘About Us’ page (look at top right of screen for link).  I was only able to add it as a thumbnail so it’s showing up pretty small – you’ll have to click on it once or twice to see it larger.

My goal in having a family photo is for everyone to have their eyes open and something like a smile on their face.  Forget about the toddler and baby looking at the camera when the picture is being taken!  It’s a lot of people to coordinate, and most of my kids aren’t happy with how they look in this picture.  But I told them that a family picture means it looks fine overall, and it can look nice even if each person doesn’t look their best.

So for any of you wondering what we look like, there we are!  The back row is dh, 12 yodd, me, 13.5 yodd, 15 yods, 2 yods.  Front row is: 6 yods, 1 yods, 9.5 yods, 7.5 yodd.  Now you can put faces to who I write about.  :)


Reorganizing storage area

It seems like there’s always another area of the house ready to be reorganized!  This time, it was our small storage room in the basement, and it was a very big project.

We were offered a number of metal utility shelving units that I thought would be perfect to better organize that small storage room.  Not only do I keep business supplies there, it’s also the area where I keep my food storage, canning jars, canned food, etc.  Because there are so many different kinds of things in there, keeping it organized is an ongoing effort.  (And someone in my family who will remain unnamed thinks that a legitimate way to clean the main area of the house is to make piles of things, and then dump them into that room. :(  It doesn’t make it easier to keep in order, I can tell you!)

When I saw these shelves, I thought how much easier it would make to keep everything in order, so we picked them up Thursday noon, and spent most of Thursday putting them back together.  (And the owner of the restaurant who was giving them to us insisted that my two boys and I come in for lunch, at her expense – ‘because they’re working so hard’.  I kind of laughed and told her that she has no idea how hard I work them, because this is nothing compared to a lot of what I ask them to do.  She told me she’d heard about other things they’ve done from my dh, and knows that’s true!  We did end up accepting her lunch offer and enjoyed it very much – but didn’t tell any of the other kids about it when we got home, since they would have felt bad they weren’t there.) 

Before we could put them into the storage room, I had to take out every single thing that was in that area.  The mess in my basement was horrendous for a couple of days, with everything piled everywhere, until we got the new shelving in and starting putting stuff on it.  Now the basement is still a mess, but it’s a regular sized mess, and I hope to get it all finished in the next day.  The storage room looks great – the walls are lined with these freestanding metal shelving units, so now I can use the space from the ceiling to the floor. 

I love being organized!


Six year old resistant to writing

>>I really hesitate to ask you this, but I was just about to ask you how much handwriting practice you have your 6-year-old do. Now I’ve just read this, and it sounds like you require a similar amount to what I’m doing, but I’m questioning it. We aren’t doing English handwriting as a separate subject. My 6-year-old does 2 lines in her Hebrew ksiva book (the number of letters depends on the line, usually between 6-10 letters per line). Then she has one workbook that requires answers in English (not full sentences, a couple words or a phrase to answer). She usually does a page of that. In any case, she FIGHTS it. Sometimes I will sit right next to her and “coach” her through it, but even then it is a struggle. She knows she has to do it in order to do other “fun” things (also educational, but things she likes more) or play. Still, it can get stretched out for hours. I am starting to feel like I am torturing her. I want to have fun and relaxed times, like you write about. I really feel she could get it all done in less that 30-45 minutes if she was actually doing it. I am interested to hear what you think of this. Please be gentle, it took guts for me to ask you this question. Thanks!<<

What kind of things my kids do at this age has shifted over the years.  That’s not because my beliefs have changed very much, but because the dynamics of my kids has changed.  Practically speaking, what that means for me is that the younger kids now do much more than the older kids did at their age, because they see their older siblings doing academic work and request to do it, too.  It’s become to them the ‘right’ way to do it, because they look up to their siblings.  (My two year old was crying yesterday because he didn’t have a math book, lol!)  But I do strongly support a ‘better late than early’ philosophy, as well as a child led approach to a large degree in the younger years. 

I didn’t formally institute any writing for my older kids until 8, but I think what matters more than the age of the child in any particular area is their readiness and receptiveness.  A child who isn’t ready isn’t going to learn, or to borrow a phrase, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  

But then it’s the hard mental balance, of feeling like there are things we want them to learn now, because we feel it’s important, and respecting where our child is coming from, and the challenge is that often those two things conflict.  I try to stay away from the school mindset that says certain skills have to be learned at certain grades, and focus more on my long term goal.  That’s a hard thing for most of us to let go of, because we were educated like that and still have that internalized view of learning as being on a time frame.  My long term view is by the time they are 18, I want them to be able to read, write, compute, on a reasonably high level.

When I think of it like this, it takes the urgency away to insist on something right now and helps me take a step back and look at what will help me reach the long term goal of academic accomplishment, along with the short term goal of raising a child who enjoys learning, and having a relaxed home environment. 

So that’s my general position for our family.  For you specifically, I would ask a few questions.  Why is it important to you that she do this at this point?  Why does she dislike it so much – is the workbook boring, is writing physically difficult for her, etc?  I don’t think what you’re asking of her is unreasonable, but 30 – 45 minutes of writing for a six year old can seem like a lot to them, and I’d shift to about ten minutes or less each, for English and Hebrew (that’s the about the time spent by my 6 year old).  Do you think she’d still feel frustrated by that amount?  Follow her cue, and see what she enjoys. 

There are lots of ways to incorporate writing into a daily schedule except for a formal workbook, and in another year, she’ll be maturationally much more able to write.  Remember that writing is a physical skill, not a mental skill, and the ability to do it well depends very much on small motor coordination.  When my kids balk in this way, I usually take it as a sign that I should back off, focus on doing more fun stuff with them, and reassess. 

This time of year is filled with holiday preparations, and getting her actively involved with that can be a good natural way to back away from the writing without making an announcement to her about it.  ‘Oh, we have so much to do for the holidays, let’s put our time into that right now’.  Go bake something, do a craft project – things you probably are already doing, just shift your focus to make that the main thing.

Another thought comes to mind – is she your oldest? Because if so, a trait common to oldest children is perfectionism.  They put a lot of pressure on themselves internally, and often balk at doing anything when they feel they can’t be successful in the way they want.  If that might be a factor for her, it would be helpful to give her a clear message that whatever they are doing is enough, that you love her just as she is.  Because perfectionists have this idea that they aren’t lovable unless they perform to a certain standard, and as loving as a parent may already be, perfectionists need to hear this a lot more to counter their own mental thoughts that are running through their minds all the time.

Please ask for clarification if there’s something I didn’t address.


Canning without sugar

When I first began reading about canning, I wanted to fully understand the science of safe food preservation, and read several books before I started doing any canning at all.  When I perused the various recipes in every single category, I was dismayed to find that most recipes that were canned in a water bath (ie, didn’t require pressure canning) were full of sugar. Fruits all were covered with a sugar syrup, relishes were filled with sugar, and jams were jam packed (no pun intended) with sugar. 

That usually wouldn’t be a problem for me, because I’m comfortable adapting recipes to fit my needs.  But every book warned about how absolutely forbidden it is to change even a little detail of a recipe, as it might render it unsafe.  That put me off, so I regretfully looked at all the pretty pictures of the relishes and put it out of my mind, because I wasn’t willing to tamper with food safety or my family’s health.

As I was reading yet another book on canning recently, one sentence jumped out at me – that the crucial proportions to maintain are the vinegar/water balance, and that if you did change a recipe, this was the area to be very vigilant about keeping exactly as written.  This made a lot of sense to me, since the concern is about botulism and scientists have determined the right balanced for pickled foods that will prevent bacteria from growing.  Until this point, I was unsure if there was a need for sugar or not.  I knew it was possible to can without sugar, because I read a book on canning without sugar.  But I didn’t know how to safely make the adjustments myself, and after unsuccessfully making the tomato jam from that book, I wasn’t willing to risk more of my time and food supplies with uncertain experiments.   

So, today I used either apple juice concentrate or pineapple juice concentrate in place of sugar in all the recipes but three – for the chutneys I used a combination of mostly sugar with a small addition of concentrate, and the sweet and sour carrots called for honey, which I left as is.  I slightly increased the vinegar content to compensate for the additional liquid in the concentrate, keeping in mind the guidelines of the minimum amount of vinegar necessary per half pint for safety’s sake. 

Since dh, one daughter, and myself don’t eat any sugar, we’ll be able to enjoy these things with the rest of our family now.  All those filled jars on the counter are looking very appetizing (my kids counted them and told me there are 62), so it’s especially nice to know we’ll be able to have them, too!


Canning chutneys, relishes, and pickles

Now I need to tell you about what has happened to all that fruit so far that wasn’t wrapped up individually.

I was out yesterday with my daughter for an eye doctor appointment, then took the younger kids to their nature program; this morning I had an appointment and needed to do some veggie shopping.  In spite of that, I’ve managed to do a nice amount of canning.  Here’s the latest:

  • pickled pears – 13 quarts, 8 1/2 pints
  • pickled apples – 7 quarts, 2 1/2 pints
  • zucchini relish – 3 quarts, 3 pints, 2 1/2 pints
  • dilled green beans – 4 pints
  • Japanese pickled radish – 3 pints, 3 1/2 pints
  • Asian carrots – 2 quarts
  • apple chutney – 5 pints, 4 1/2 pints
  • pear chutney – 8 pints, 3  1/2 pints
  • sweet and sour carrots – 6 quarts

I have another pot of veggies sitting overnight for another large batch of zucchini relish (the recipe requires the overnight sitting).  It’s very pretty – it’s a mix of zucchini, onions, carrots, and red and green peppers, with a tumeric vinegar dressing.  I’ll do a batch of those tomorrow.  My kids tasted some this morning when I was filling the jars and really loved it, so I know it will get used.

I’ve never made chutney before, and the mixture of ingredients is really interesting.  The apple chutney has: apples, red bell peppers, raisins, lemons, ginger, garlic, and then the seasonings.  The pear chutney has: oranges, pears, tomatoes, onions, ginger, and garlic.  They both call for spices that I never use (like coriander and mustard seeds), but I have them in my kitchen cabinet so it was gratifying to finally use them.  Chutneys are supposed to be nice accompaniments to meat dishes.

I like being able to do a lot at one time and then draw on my efforts later on.  I’m making all of these with the thought that they’ll be nice side dishes for holiday and Shabbos (Sabbath) meals for weeks to come.  I’m making the half pint size jars for gifts; I’m planning to give my in laws and mother a basket of assorted gourmet foods for Chanuka.  I also want to give something now to the people who let me pick the fruit from their trees, to show my appreciation, and I’ll put some others to the side for gifts for my husband’s coworkers when the winter holiday season rolls around.