Saturday, September 27, 2014

How Many Cans Can a Canner Can?

Last weekend, k-ster and I drove about an hour away to pick apples.  We've been doing this for a few years, since I figured out how to can applesauce (and a few other things).  I never have enough jars to get me through the winter and around February, I'm always sad to open my last jar.

I use it in baking but I also like to just eat it in the winter when there aren't a lot of produce options.

The place we go isn't organic and this was clearly demonstrated as we noticed the white residue on the apples.  But, I used my theory that fresh and local, even with chemicals, is better than grown in China 4 months ago with chemicals, so we picked and picked.

And then I realized how much applesauce that meant I had to make.  And how much time that meant I would need to devote to canning.

We have this new outdoor propane burner and a huge pot that I bought in the summer for boiling lobsters for a party we had.  I had no idea just how awesome it would turn out to be for canning.

My favorite part looks like this.

I pretty much did the entire canning process outside and it was fantastic.  The mess doesn't matter.  I can use my awesome apple peeler and the juice and skins can fall out of the bag and it's outside, so I can just hose it when I'm done!

If I feel like throwing darts in the middle of it, I can!

This pot came with a fabulous insert that lets me put the jars in and then I can lower it into the water.  When they are done and I take them out, water can drip all over the patio and it doesn't matter!

Why the pot is so far from the table remains a mystery.  The burner connects to a regular propane tank, so I could easily just move it anywhere I wanted.  But, it made it fun to carry hot jars across the patio and not drop them. 

Who doesn't love that kind of challenge?

I've used the boiling water method this year instead of pressure canning.  You can't do that with everything, but with the jellies I made and the applesauce, I used it and everything sealed beautifully except for two jars.  Pressure canning makes me feel better because it's even safer, but it takes forever and the pressure cooker isn't as big as this pot that I used outside.

To speed up the process, I used two crock pots as well as cooking some on the stove.  The crockpots are great when I need to go somewhere but will have time later to can.  When I get back, the apples are totally cooked and then I can can them, while I also have some more apples cooking on the stove.

Many, many, many jars, 2 pies and 3 quarts of pie filling later, and I'm done.  I didn't can the pie filling because I didn't use sure jel (because it freaks me out) and everything I read says that cornstarch isn't safe to use in canning.  So I froze the quarts of pie filling.  I rarely make apple pie, so they will be a nice treat randomly during the winter.

I think this  year, I might actually have enough applesauce to make it right up to the glorious fresh fruits of late spring. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Being Thankful Other Than At Thanksgiving

The SITS girls offered a Back to Blogging Challenge this week to help those of us that fell completely off the blogging wagon hop back on just in time for the fun that is blogging about our real lives (because summer is never real life, is it?)

Today's challenge is to write about 10 things we are thankful for.  At first, I wasn't going to do it.  I am not a fan of things like that- wait that sounds weird.  I like being thankful, I am just not a fan of making a big deal out of what I am thankful for.

But, I thought it over and decided I can come up with a list of 10 things that won't be so syrupy you'll have to gag and perhaps you might actually find some humor in what I find to be thankful for.

Honestly, some of these things are based on the fact that I have pictures to go with them and I have a new thing  about not wanting to blog if I don't have a picture to include, as I explained here.

So, in no particular order, seriously, I am not more thankful for #1 than I am for #10, here they are.

 #1.  I'm thankful that I sat down and read about how to make blackberry jelly this summer when the blackberries were so plentiful, not picking them should have been illegal.  This led to me also finally figuring out how to do something with the bounty grapes we have every fall.  Now we have a bevy of jellies to use this winter and other than the sugar and time put into them, they cost me nothing!

#2.  I'm thankful that I've been fortunate enough to grow up in our family owned campground and still live there.  Even though I've been able to travel in my life, the world has come to my door every summer of my life and I've met some of the strangest and some of the most fun people in my own back yard.

 #3.  I'm thankful that while I may not look like a supermodel, my body has gotten me through nearly 4 decades without any major medical traumas.  And really, who wants to look like a supermodel?  I couldn't be bothered with that kind of pressure.  Supermodels aren't supposed to get sweaty and dirty and that's pretty much how I spend my summers.  I'd be kicked off the supermodel team on day 1.

#4.  I'm thankful that I have the space, desire and creativity to grow such great vegetables every summer.
#5.  I'm thankful that even though my riding sometimes looks like this, Jackson allows me to stick with it and do some pretty cool stuff with him.  And I'm glad that I gave the whole "show" thing a whirl this summer and won a couple of these with him!
 #6.  I'm thankful that I got to spend my 18th summer with Gwenstopher.  When she did a dance with death in the spring, I wasn't sure she'd make it to her favorite season but with a different food and thyroid pills, she's still plugging along.  I was sad that she didn't spend much time with me outside, her favorite thing to do, but she enjoyed some fabulous naps on the warm patio blocks and pretending to stalk a rabbit.  And yes, she's still kicking.

 #7.  I'm thankful that k-ster is as handy as he is.  It's nice to know when we want to do something that he knows how to do, we don't have to hire some fool that won't finish the job or will overcharge.

 #8.  I'm thankful that I can sew and make neat stuff for other people and that my sister and instagram got my butt in gear this summer and encouraged me to make some clothes for myself, which I hadn't done in a long time.
 #9.  I'm thankful that I was able to go to college and reaffirm that I was meant to teach.  If you've read my blog long enough, you might think that what and who exactly I should teach is still debatable.

#10.  And that I went to college far enough away to discover that I really wanted to come back because this place where we live is pretty rare.

 Linking here:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Favorite Fall Photo

Day 3 of the Back to Blogging with the SITS girls and I figured out why I haven't been so active on the blog.  Today's prompt is to write about your favorite fall photo.

I discovered that I don't have a lot of photos that really speak FALL to me and it was too dark to go out and take a picture as I was writing this.  I went back through the pictures I could find and I finally came up with one.

But my discovery is that using pictures in my blog is time consuming enough that I've stopped writing because I don't like to write without using a picture.  Taking pictures and then uploading them to the blog is far more time consuming than taking a picture with my ipad and posting on instagram (frenchymms, if you want to follow).

Blogger and the ipad don't get along so well, so I can't use my ipad to write a post.  That means I have to email my pictures from my ipad to my computer and then download them and then upload them to my blog.

And when I'm not feeling witty anyway, it's all just no fun.

But, I did find a picture that screams FALL, especially in New England.


Linking here:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Back To School Memory

Day 2 of the Back to Blogging Challenge and I really don't like the title:  back to school memory.

It's ironic that I'm a teacher because for 34 years, going back to school has actually been torture every.single.year.  I left off a few years because I think I enjoyed going to school until about 1st grade and then the realization that going back to school meant the end of summer and freedom (I understood summer freedom even back then!) hit me and it was trauma every year.

Because I'm one whose worries go right to the stomach and my nerves are what probably keep me from weighing 300 pounds, I used to have stomach aches and feel sick just about every year as it was time to go back to school until high school.

I don't remember being upset about going back to school once I got to high school or maybe by then, I expected it, so it didn't make an impact on me.

I really liked college, so though summer would end around August 19th for me, I remember liking going back to school, especially once I got there.  I didn't love being the first of all my friends to back every year, but in May, when I was the first one home, I was usually doing handsprings, so I was able to convince myself it was worth it.

Today, I still go back to school every September because of the career path I chose.  And I say September, but any teacher worth a grain of salt knows that we all go back in August, whether we physically enter our classrooms or we start thinking about what we will do, as we lie in our hammocks.

I could list a million no good memories of going back to school, but that wouldn't be any fun, so here is actually a fun memory I have of going back to college.  Twice.

When I was a freshman in college, I was amazed that on move in day, all these upper classmen were there to help and then we were shuttled off in pre-determined groups to be indoctrinated in all that is being away at school and living in a dorm.  The groups were like 8-10 people and we did a lot of stuff together the first few days.  Some was organized by the school and some just by our group leaders.

I loved it.  I liked that they forced us to get out and meet people right away and the activities were a blast.  A company came in and did all kinds of rah rah stuff that was fun and funny.

I think all colleges do this sort of stuff now, but in the early 90s, I think it was kind of a new concept.

When I was a sophomore, I was one of those upperclasssmen who went back to school a few days early to be one of those leaders.  I was paired up with a most unlikely partner (I think they were all boy/girl pairs so each gender would feel comfortable with the group) named Stuart.  It was pure irony because we had never given each other time of day, but he was dating a girl from my freshman hall, so I knew who he was.  The fact that we were paired was really weird but he was fun.

We planned out a few things to do with the freshmen and we bought them each a little plant and put it in their rooms (the leaders all did something like that to welcome the new students).  We met up with them when they arrived and went through all of the activities with them, took them out for picnics once or twice (just like ours had done) and relived the fun of that first week of school from our freshman year.

And then, just like my own group from my freshman year, after that week was over, none of us ever got together again, including my Stuart and I.  I think we waved at each other a few times in passing, but that was it.

I can't even remember the names of single kid in our group.  I remember a few from my own group because I ran into a few of them off and on and some had really weird names that stuck.  But the group Stuart and I were in charge of?  I couldn't even tell you how many there were!

I didn't volunteer to do it again after that, I think because I didn't want to go back that early every summer, but it was fun to see it from both sides. 

Today, they've completely restructured life at my college and alll freshman live in these commons where there are like 40 of them and a housemaster or housefamily.  They have weekly meetings and it's like living in a sorority or fraternity house, without all of the smelly feet and booze.  They encircle you right from day one, but unlike my experience, that support network is around you for that whole year whether you want it or not. 

I'm not sure if I'd like that.  I suppose if the people were a lot of fun and we had a lot in common, I'd enjoy it, but I think about some of the people I knew in college and I think if I had been stuck with them for regular bonding, I might have lost my mind.  I kind of liked being mostly independent right from the get go!

Linking here:

What Fall Means Lately

I'm joining the SITS girls and their back to blogging challenge because I seem to be on a permanent blogging hiatus.  Hopefully, this will get me back on track!  Today, the prompt is the fall bucket list and a few years ago, this was one of my main priorities.  I had never been anywhere to pick apples, except the local Stop and Shop until a few years ago, and now that I'm a professional canner, I can lots of applesauce while the apples are still brand new.

You might have read this before,  but it's fun to repost and reread, right?

Thus, my master plan to go to an orchard and pick apples since it's September in New England and that's what I'm supposed to do.  Then I'm going to come home and make a million jars of applesauce.

On Sunday, k-ster, my sister e-ster and her crew all went apple picking.  According to her, it was only a half hour from her house.  And it was, plus about another half hour more.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but I pictured lots of rows of trees with people standing guard to make sure you didn't take more than your fair share or harm the trees.  I was pretty surprised when it was all independent and no one cared what you did as long as you didn't cross the yellow ropes.  Which people did anyway to sneak a few apples.

I wanted to know which types of apples I was picking, but there were no signs.  Just lots of red apples, red and green apples and greenish apples.  All kinds of sizes.

And this guy, picking some apples like he was a professional or something.  Height had its advantages, but I still got plenty even at my own 5'2.5" level.
When all was picked and bagged, k-ster and I had 42 pounds of apples.  A bushel is 48.  That's a lot of apples.   But, the recipes say it takes 21 pounds of apples to make 7 quarts of applesauce, so I don't think that's soooooo many.

And I made a pie already, so that's a couple of pounds less.  And I might just eat a few before I can get to canning them.

But here's the real reason I brought you here today:
I have no idea what this brand of apple peeler/corer is, but it's so cool!  I looked online and they all seemed to be between $14-$20, so I got the $14 one on  It took ruining one apple to figure it all out.
I had no idea that this little magic was going to happen.  I was shocked after the first apple went through and was like a slinky!  I just cut the stack in quarters and used them in my pie.
The peeler makes these cool stringy peels that most of the time were all one long string from one apple.

After the pie went in the oven, I had to see if I could also peel potatoes with this thing.  I have made mashed potatoes maybe 5 times in my life.  I just don't care about doing things with potatoes and don't buy them very often.  I mostly just make potato salad and I don't peel the potatoes.

I didn't get any pictures, but it peeled the potatoes just as nicely, so I made some mashed potatoes for supper.  K-ster was surprised.

Along with apples, the farm had lots of other produce growing, and of course, a pumpkin field.  You could just take one of their picked pumpkins, or you could go out in the field on the hay ride for $2.25 and "pick" one.  K-ster and I were not interested.

And yet, someone forked over the cash and off we went.  Since I had my very own homegrown pumpkin, I didn't need to buy one.  But this one right here bribed me with being able to pick my own corn when we got out in the field.

The kid driving the tractor wasn't sure about picking corn, and no one else was, and I didn't feel like getting arrested in the middle of a cornfield, so I skipped it.

Did I mention the VERY hot day that it was?  We've had a lot of rainy days and Sunday was supposed to be cloudy and rainy.  But then the sun came out.  And we were meeeeeeelting.

So, big plans for the weekend include a lot of applesauce being made and processed.  Maybe I'll be really good and get a batch going in the slowcooker and be ahead of myself.

Then we're on to cranberry sauce because k-ster has access to as many free cranberries as I want he wants.

Linking here:

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Why Elementary School Is More Fun

We are officially BTS now and after such a gorgeous summer with very little humidity and day after day of awesome weather, we were welcomed back with 80+ degree days and humidity at about 500%.  Not a great combo in an old school with little air circulation and windows that only open a little bit.

I was soaked for 4 days.  Like being swatted all day with a sopping wet rag.

And for 2 of those days, I had to deal with kids who were also pretty damp.

It might have been my best back to school yet, despite the yucky weather!

And already, I'm reminded why 4th and 5th grade are much more fun than middle school:

1.  Kids actually got excited when I showed them my new toy that I made.  If they have a birthday when they have French, they tell me and I put this on their chair.  They already started calculating which day their birthday will fall on and expressed HUGE dismay if they realized they don't have French that day. 

Middle schoolers would have been like psssshhhhhhhhhhht whatEVER.  I'm never telling you when my birthday is!

2.  Kids enjoy sitting on the floor in front of you.  And they can keep their hands in their laps.  I'm getting some awesome foam tiles to sit on, thanks to but they were totally willing to sit on the bare floor.

Middle schoolers would not have sat on the floor, with or without foam mats.  Those who did would have been poking and tickling each other and God knows what else.

3.  A boy came up to me and asked me to put an elastic back in his hair.  He has new cornrows and one of the rubber bands fell out and I guess he assumed I could put it back in for him.  As I was doing my best attempt and rewrapping a cornrow, a kid asked "what are you doing?" and I replied "I'm doing his hair" like that was an every day thing.

Middle schoolers- ew I wouldn't even want a middle schooler that close to me, let alone touching the hair myself.

4.  We did a cooperative team building activity all morning and kids actually stood in circles, held hands and did what we asked.  They laughed, they cheered, they yelled, they had a blast.  And so did the adults.

Middle schoolers would have complained of cooties, sweaty palms, accused people of liking or not liking each other and there would have been NO cooperation.  I sweat a little imagining how frustrating that activity would have been with my previous middle school students!

5.  Kids actually ask for help, ask where teachers' rooms are and take directions from any adult within a 2 foot radius.

Middle schoolers pretend they know where they are going and end up in the wrong place but refuse to ask for help and then get mad when someone helps them anyway.

And the best reason to be where I am now?  They aren't self conscious and will blurt out whatever I tell them to say and not think too much about how silly they might sound or how they might look.  This might be the best reward for working with 9-11 year olds.

I don't know how I kept my sanity for the 17 years I taught middle school students.  I loved doing it, but if you asked me to do it again, I'm already starting to think I'd have to say no.....  Ask me if I'd like to go back when I'm knee deep in 4th graders who don't know how a 2 pocket folder works so they can write their names in the right place....

Linking here:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Long Sleeve Lady Skater Perfection

I said I was done sewing knits because I'd used every knit that was available at the fabric store, but here I am again.

Now I have to be done with knits because I don't need any more clothing!

I found this stretchy fabric and thought it might make a nice long sleeve version of the Lady Skater from kitschycoo and it might look a little bit fancier than just a regular knit because it has some texture.

It has a little bit of a lacy look to it.  I have to say that it's not the softest material on the inside, so I'm not sure how much I will end up wearing this.  It's very polyestery on the inside.

 The pattern for the Lady Skater came with several sleeve length options so I used the full sleeve length on this one.
I love the cuff at the bottom.  The sleeve was long enough without it, so I cut about an inch off before I added the cuff.

As I mentioned in this post, the  neckband just goes in so smoothly it's a luxury to make! 

She also has her act together when it comes to the sleeves.  They fit in beautifully and the ease is truly easy to deal with.  The edge of the shoulder is spot on and I like how the whole sleeve looks whether it's short or long.

I've discovered with all of my knit creations, I can't tell front from back quickly because there isn't a tag or zipper, so for easy reference, I sew in a little color at the back so I know!

Using my new friend, the twin stretch needle, the hem was a breeze and though you can see it from a distance, which I suspect means it tunneled more than it was supposed to, I like the overall look.
If kitschycoo would design other clothes, I am quite sure I would buy the patterns and make them because it is amazing to me how well the sizing matches real life and how easily it all comes together.

Again, I only used my serger for joining the dress and used my regular machine for topstitching only.  The seams are fabulous and there is a nice stretch from the serger.

I really need to stop because I have no room left in my closet!

Now, what exactly do you suppose was happening here: