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For The Birds #2

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I absolutely love bird watching.  I’ve created quite the bird habitat in my front yard and am able to enjoy several different bird species every day.  I love seeing my old friends who come and go with the change of the seasons, like the White Throated Sparrow, Pine Siskin, and the Dark Eyed Junco, but my favorite birds are those who never leave me.  I know every day of the year, no matter the season, I can step on my front porch and see a cute little Tufted Titmouse or a beautiful Cardinal.  They are always there sharing their lovely song and lively activity with me.  This post is for those faithful friends.

I recently got a DSLR camera, and I must say I can’t believe it took me so long to make the switch!  I am obsessed with it!  I may never use my point and shoot again!  Some of the first pictures I took with my new camera were of my beautiful birds (after taking pictures of my cute kiddos first, of course).  I was amazed by the change in picture quality.  I guess those extra megapixels really do make a huge difference.  And it doesn’t hurt that I have a nice zoom lens now, also.  So, without further ado, here are my first birding pics with my new camera…aren’t these guys lovely…see why I like bird watching so much?!?

 

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The lovely, blazing red, male Cardinal.  Perched on a pine in the middle of a snow storm.

 

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My very favorite bird of all!  The Tufted Titmouse…cute as a button.  You should see these crazy guys peck at a sunflower seed.  Hours of enjoyment!

Hope everyone has a wonderful day.  Try to get out and enjoy the birds for a minute…you’ll be glad you did!

Oh, Christmas Tree(s), Oh, Christmas Tree(s)

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I love Christmas!  Did I say that already?  I really, really do!

In my house, we don’t just put up one Christmas tree.  We put up one in almost every room!  Add those to the other decorations, and our house is just filled to the brim with Christmas.  No matter what room you are in, you’ll be sure to feel the Christmas spirit!

Here are my trees…this doesn’t include my outside trees!

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I have a teeny little tree in my kitchen.  My cousin made the cute little snow blocks.

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I have a big tree in the playroom trimmed with ornaments older than I am.  It’s been so nice to hand these down to my children.

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Our “Big Tree” in the Living Room is always, always, a live tree.  This tree is trimmed with ornaments from my childhood and my husband’s childhood, including our very first Christmas ornaments.  When we had children of our own, we were able to start buying them ornaments every year to place on the tree.  And, I always hang candy canes on my tree…a tradition I stole from my Uncle Randall.

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And you must have presents under the tree!

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There’s a tree in my son’s room with some ornaments from my childhood and new ones for each year of his life.  Gotta love the blue tree!

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And one in my daughter’s room with ornaments from my childhood and new ones for each year of her life.  And, of course, a pink tree for my little girl!

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There is even a tree in our Master Bedroom!

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Usually, I’m not a red light person, but I was given these red lantern lights that are really old and cool looking.  I have a thing for antiques!

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The book I use to sing carols with my kids is even older than the lights!  Circa 1940.

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I even put a tree in my laundry room.  Hey, you really need Christmas spirit when you are doing laundry!  Maybe I’ll just leave that one up all year!

And, since it is getting late in the day, and everyone will be turning in for a long winter’s nap soon, I’ll leave you with one last picture of my very favorite Christmas wreath…

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Long Time Gone

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Wow!  Has it really been that long since my last blog post?!?  Life in summer is so very busy with gardening and swimming and playing and housework and schooling and church and travel and treehouse building and…you get the idea!  Add my husband’s vasectomy reversal to the list, and things get all kinds of crazy!

Yes, we have two beautiful children who are 7 and 8, and we thought we were content with that, but God had other plans for us.  So, if it is his will, we will be adding to our happy little family of four.  Excited and nervous…are we crazy?!?

So, to make a long story short, I will be blogging, but there may be gaps in my posts.  I have so much to talk about…summer schooling stories, recipes to share, gardening tips to tell, and life events to gush about, but I can’t seem to find enough time in the day.  Stick with me, guys, I’ll work on those time management skills!

Hope you are enjoying your summer as much as I am!

Beans And Greens…A Country Staple

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I hope all of you enjoyed your Memorial Day weekend as much as I did.  It’s wonderful to spend time with family while honoring and remembering the ones who have served our country and died for our right to be free.  We live in such a great nation with so many freedoms we take for granted on a daily basis.  I am proud to be an American and so proud of all those who serve and have served our country, including many of my own family members.

Although the recipe I am going to post has nothing to do with Memorial Day, I needed to take a moment to show thanks for those who have served and the freedoms we enjoy because of them.

Now, on to the delicious country dinner of beans and greens, which I’m quite certain any service man or woman would love!  This dinner is one of my favorites, right up at the top with meatloaf.  There is nothing like good ole country, stick to your ribs, beans and greens.  And no dinner of beans and greens would be complete without corn muffins to sop up the soup at the end of your meal.  I always dice up some onion to put in my beans, and for some reason, I always serve slices of cheddar cheese with beans.  And, for goodness sake, make sure you throw some of the ham hock in your dish of beans.  The whole combination of beans, greens, corn muffins, ham hock, onions, and cheese just seems to be perfect.  Hope you enjoy!

Beans and Greens…A Country Staple

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Pinto Beans

Ingredients:

1 pound dry pinto beans

1 ham hock

salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.  Place dry beans in a pot and cover with 6 to 8 cups of water.  (Make sure to check your beans for little rocks before you start cooking.)  Bring beans to a boil for 2 minutes and then remove from heat.  Allow them to soak for 1 hour.

2.  Now, you can either drain the water from the beans and rinse them, or not.  I know that every recipe I’ve ever read tells you to drain and rinse.  This soak and rinse method is supposed to make the beans cause less “uncomfortableness” after you eat them.  (You all know what I’m talking about!) I’ve never noticed any difference in soaked and rinsed beans and soaked and non-rinsed beans.  So, I just soak my beans to cut down on cook time, but do not rinse.  I think it takes away a lot of the flavor of the beans to rinse them, but the choice is up to you.

3.  Add the ham hock and salt and pepper to the pot.  Cook the beans low and slow, stirring often, for about 4 hours.  Always make sure the beans are covered with water, at least 2 inches above the beans.  Cooking the beans slowly, and on low heat, makes for a richer soup and keeps the beans from busting.

Collard Greens

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These greens came straight from our box garden.  There’s nothing like eating fresh greens and knowing what goes in them and where they came from.  Since I garden organically, I know that absolutely no pesticides touched my greens.  And they are so very yummy!

Ingredients:

1 bunch of fresh (or frozen) collard greens

2 cups water

4 Tbsp. butter

1 ham hock (from pinto beans)

1 Tbsp. sugar

salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

1.  Separate the stems from the leaves and throw the stems away.  Wash leaves in cold water.

2.  In a large skillet, combine water, butter, ham hock (just steal the one in your beans), sugar, and salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil and add the collard greens.  Simmer over medium heat for about 1 hour, or until tender.

Corn Muffins

Ingredients:

Shortening

1 large egg

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cups Buttermilk Self-Rising Corn Meal Mix

Directions:

1.  Heat oven to 450F.  Place 1 small spoonful of shortening (I use Crisco) in the bottom of 12 muffin cups.

2.  Stir eggs, milk, oil, and corn meal in a bowl until smooth.  Batter should be creamy and pourable, so if it’s too thick, just add a little more milk.

3.  Put the muffin pan in the oven for about 5 minutes, or until shortening is hot.  Fill cups about 2/3 full with the batter (I use an ice cream scoop to fill my muffin pans, makes less mess), and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown.

For The Birds: Rescue Mission

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Yesterday, while spending some time outside with my kiddos, we encountered a little bird acting very strangely.  It was trying to fly, but was unable to.  It was also unable to stand upright and kept falling backwards.  I was immediately concerned that this bird might have a broken wing or leg, but upon inspection of the wings and feet, I found that they seemed to be fine.  I am not a vet or an expert, but the bird seemed to be moving its wings without problems, and was able to grip with its claws and move its legs.  So why was this little bird unable to stand or fly?

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I put the bird, which I believe was a Wood Thrush, on a soft towel in a box with air holes.  The box was actually a Build-A-Bear box my son found for me to use.  So sweet of him to donate his box.  I called the Wildlife Rehabilitators who referred me to a vet in Charleston who cares for wild animals.  I drove over an hour to take this bird to the vet.  I had a bit of a let down when they just took the bird to the back without me.  I guess I thought I would get to go back to see what was wrong with it, even though it wasn’t really a pet.  I didn’t even get to say goodbye.  The receptionist couldn’t give me any information about what she thought might be wrong with this little bird and told me to call later when the vet had a chance to look at it.  The bird, if it could be healed, would be released from that location, not coming back home with me to be released where I found it.  So, I left, with no answers and no bird.

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As soon as I got home, I called the vet’s office and was told that the bird had neurological issues and was euthanized.  No other answers, no other explanation.  I was very sad to hear this.  Such a beautiful bird that will never fly again.  I’m guessing this bird fell from its tree or flew into a window, as many birds do.  I know this isn’t the first time a bird has suffered from neurological issues, and I know putting it to sleep was more humane than allowing it to suffer and starve to death, but I still keep wondering if there was something more I could have done for it.

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So, today I am mourning for a wild bird that wasn’t even my pet, but was just in my care for one short day.  I’ll always remember the way it looked up at me with such curiosity and trust.  I hope it at least felt some safety and love for those last few hours of its life.  And I pray there is a heaven for animals so this beautiful little birdie can fly and be whole once again.

In The Garden

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I promised a garden post yesterday, but got a little sidetracked trying to rescue a little birdie. (More on this in a later post.)

So today, I am finally blogging about my garden.  I love time spent in my garden…  working in the soil with my hands, pulling weeds while I sing to my plants, and finally, eating all the yummy fruits, herbs, and veggies that grow.  My husband and kiddos also love working in the garden with me and enjoying the rewards for their labor.  I think there is something very therapeutic about working in the garden, whether you grow flowers or edibles, or both.  Everyone should have a garden!

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I have landscaped around my entire house with trees, shrubs, vines, perennials, and annuals.  I love walking out every day and seeing the beautiful growth and vibrant colors.  Since I also spend time bird watching, all these trees, shrubs, and flowers have provided a welcome haven for the little birdies and attract more of them for me to enjoy.

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For my edible garden, I decided to build garden boxes.  Much of the soil around our house is fill dirt or red clay, and even though I was able to amend the soil for my landscaping, I didn’t want to fight with it every year for my garden.  With my garden boxes, I’m able to till the dirt every spring with a hand rake without having to break my back.  It sure makes gardening more enjoyable!

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I have four garden boxes, and this provides more than enough food for my family to enjoy in the spring, summer, and fall, plus canned food for the winter.This is my greens box.  I grew collard greens, kale, romaine, and spinach this spring.  I just put down summer crisp lettuce seeds.  Must have greens all season!  I love my greens!

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I have chives, garlic, onion, and leeks in this box.  These are my cooking staples.  I cook with garlic and onion almost every day.  And chives have so many uses…even the blooms are edible, and pretty, too.

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I just put my tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers in the ground.  We’ve had a very cool spring, so I didn’t want to risk putting them in early and being hit with frost.  I have 6 different types of tomato plants including Better Boy, Roma, and Cherry tomatoes.  I plant red and green pepper, and slicing and pickling cucumber.  I always make sure to can plenty of crushed tomato to use in the winter, and lots and lots of pickles.  I love pickles!

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Although this garden box looks empty, there is a lot of work going on beneath the soil.  This box will be full of corn and beans soon.  I have 3 different varieties of corn, bush beans, and pole beans.  With boxes, you can plant the corn closer together, which helps with pollination, producing a better crop.  So even though I won’t have a large crop, those ears will be full and yummy.

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I also added a few garden pots this year for my herbs.  I have an Italian herb pot with Rosemary, Oregano, Italian Parsley, and Sweet Basil.  All the makings for any Italian dish.  I also have a pot for my Mexican meals.  I put Cilantro, Jalapeno Pepper, and a small container Tomato in this pot.  I see some yummy salsa in my future!

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I am also experimenting with carrots and squash in pots.  I found this idea on Pinterest, and decided to give it a try.  So far, they look good…we’ll see how it turns out.

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All these wonderful herbs and veggies will make for some very yummy food and some very yummy recipes for me to post on my blog!  Here is a sneak peek of my next blog post.  It’s gonna be a southern dinner you won’t want to miss.  This meal has cooked collard greens, and they are delicious.  Here is a picture of the greens just added to the skillet, wilting around a big chunk of ham hock.  Oh, they’re good!

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Flowers In Bloom

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I love this time of year when everything turns so green and lush.  All the flowers are blooming, so full of color and life.  My garden is full of yummy greens, and I am waiting ever so patiently for that first ripe tomato to grow on the vine.  The sun is shining warm and bright.  I spend the whole day outside with my kiddos just soaking up the rays.  This time of year makes me feel more alive.   Here are some pictures of just a few of my spring blooms.  I hope they bring you as much joy as they bring me.

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Have an absolutely beautiful day!

Spring Is Here!

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Finally, spring is making its way to Mingo County!  I have been patiently waiting to see my spring bulbs bloom and to get out in my garden and plant my spring crops.  Well, maybe I haven’t been all that patient.

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I was so excited when my daffodils and hyacinths started pushing their way through the ground, but the weather still felt so very wintry.  Unfortunately, the deer ate all of my tulip bulbs…every single one…silly deer!  My iris bulbs are sprouting, and soon I will be rewarded with their beautiful blooms.  I can’t wait!

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This week, my daffodils and hyacinths finally bloomed, and how very gorgeous they are!  It’s no wonder my favorite flowers are spring bulbs, and of course hydrangea, but I’ll have to wait a while yet for those to bloom.

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And, even more exciting than watching the flowers bloom in my yard is being able to get in my garden and plant my spring crop.  I love getting in my garden boxes, tilling the soil, and planting my own vegetables.  There is nothing better than eating fresh food from your own garden!  I already have some yummy chives popping up.  I use no fertilizer or pesticides on my plants, so I know what I eat is actually good for me.

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I am a barefoot and bare hands gardener.  I have tried to wear shoes and gloves when I garden, but I just can’t do it.  I love the feel of the dirt on my feet and under my nails.   I love the work that goes into tending my garden…I don’t even mind pulling the weeds.  I love the reward of fresh fruits and veggies, and lovely flowers, for all the work.  I just love being out in nature and being able to enjoy the rebirth and growth of spring and summer.  Bring on the warmth!

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Crushed Tomatoes

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Before I even start telling you the process for canning tomatoes, I’ll just let you know that canning can be very fun and rewarding, but it can also be very time-consuming and messy.  I love canning because I can eat from my garden all year long.  My husband and I get in the kitchen together and make a big mess and have a lot of fun with it.  I hope you’ll have fun with it, too!

Supplies:  You can find most of these in the canning section at Wal-Mart

Boiling-water canner

Canning jars (you’ll use quart jars for this recipe)

Jar lifter (these look like tongs)

Canning funnel

Magnetic wands (these are super handy)

Nonmetallic spatula

Preparing canner, jars, and lids:

1.  Clean jars, lids, and bands in hot, soapy water.  Rinse well and drain.

2.  Heat the jars in a rack in the bottom of a boiling-water canner.  Add water to the jars and canner until the jars are about 2/3 full.  Cover the canner and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Do not boil.

3.  Set bands aside.  They don’t require heating.  Place lids in small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat.  Do not boil.

4.  Prepare the recipe.

Recipe for Crushed Tomatoes:

Ingredients:

Tomatoes (about 3 lbs. per quart)

Bottled lemon juice

Salt

Directions:

1.  In small batches, put tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute or until skins start to crack.  Immediately put them in cold water and slip off the skins.  Remove cores and any bruises.

2.  Quarter enough tomatoes to measure 2 cups.  Put them in a large stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil of med-high heat.  Use a potato masher to crush the tomatoes.  Gently boil and stir to prevent scorching.  Quarter more tomatoes and add to the saucepan.  You don’t need to crush the rest of the tomatoes, they will soften as the cook.  Continue to cook until all tomatoes are added, then boil gently for 5 minutes.

3.  Add 2 Tbsp. lemon juice and 1 tsp. salt to each quart jar before packing with tomatoes.

4.  Pack hot tomatoes in jars with a 1/2 inch headspace at top of jar.  Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until it is fingertip-tight.

5.  Place jars in canner.  Make sure they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process quart jars for 45 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars and cool for 24 hours.

6.  Remove screw bands and press down on center of each lid.  Sealed lids will be concave and won’t move when pressed.  If a jar did not seal properly, store in the fridge and use within a few days.

7.  Label all jars with date and title, and store them in a cool, dry place.  For best quality, use them within 1 year.

For The Birds

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This little beauty shows up in my yard from time to time, usually in the spring. Today, as I was looking out my kitchen window, I see my little Northern Flicker pecking around in my front yard. Does this mean spring is on the way? Man, I sure hope so!

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