Peaches, Again

Peaches 2017

Almost a year ago, I canned peaches. I explained that my family has come to expect peaches at Christmas. Maybe they’re being polite, or maybe there is something special about peaches canned at the peak of the season. (I hope it’s the latter.)

Saturday, I had a kid-free afternoon, so I made a run for it. I was determined to find the most perfect peaches and can them. I put a mess of jars in the dishwasher and set it to run while I was out. The first store had peaches that were too crunchy. They had good flavor and were priced right, but definitely were not ready for canning. I went to another store. Same thing, except they cost twice as much. I decided to go to the sprawling specialty grocery store about 20 miles down the interstate. Why not? I had the time!

I struck out again. So, I returned to the first store (isn’t this always the case?), and bought about 30 peaches. I’d let them sit on my counter until they were ready. Yesterday was the day.

Canning, if you’ve ever done it, is a production. You need to block off 5 to 6 hours. Once you start, you can’t set it aside and pick it up later. You need to wear good shoes and put on good music.

The first thing I did was fill my big pot (“corn pot” it’s called in my family as it’s perfect for boiling several ears at once) with water and start to heat it. Last year, my pot never seemed to boil. Lesson learned. Then, I heated a smaller, big pot of water so that I could blanch my peaches in order to remove the skin. Next, I put peaches into the boiling water for a bit and then dropped them into a bowl of ice water. As things tend to go, I didn’t have my peaches in the boiling water for long enough. About half the skin slipped off. The other half came off with the help of a peeler. (Another note to add to my recipe-instructions.)

Taking a quick bath.

I cut the peaches in half before peeling. Last year I wrote a note that doing this makes cutting them easier since the skin acts as a no-slip grip. Peeled peaches are slippery! I popped out the pits and cut the halves in half.

Pretty Peaches

Into pint jars went the peach quarters. This proved to be difficult. I used regular-mouth jars. My hands couldn’t fit far enough in to ensure proper peach position on the bottom. (Another note to add: try using wide-mouth jars.) Some of the quarters I cut into eighths so they would fit better and so that I could get more into each jar.

Onto the syrup. A lot of sugar and a lot of water and some “Fruit-Fresh” to help preserve the orange color. Up to this point, I was able to keep my kitchen fairly tidy. But, despite having a special canning funnel, ladling syrup into the jars is always a mess. The morning after, I found a sticky corner on my kitchen floor.

Finally, what it’s all about: canning! Boiling the jars! For 25-minute intervals (I had a few batches), I was able to clean up the kitchen and, yes, sit down and relax while I waited.

The best part is pulling the jars out and waiting, waiting, waiting to hear the unmistakable POP! of the lids sealing. I overfilled my jars. Juice oozed out of the jars onto the towels after I pulled them out. I processed 19 pint jars. One jar did not seal. I put it into my fridge. I think the other 18 are going to be okay, though.

I find that after I can, I tend to marvel at the jars.

In the middle of winter, there will be peaches that taste like summer. That’s worth driving around to 3 different stores. Worth waiting a few days. Worth the 6 hours of work in the kitchen.

The 2017 IKEA Catalog

I finally received the 2017 IKEA catalog. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I saw it pop up on my social media feed a month ago. One thing I did with last year’s catalog was peep at leafs. I have a thing for indoor plants. I don’t know why, but I seeing them in catalogs and those “home tour” pics.

Let’s take a look at the plants in IKEA’s latest catalog!

Even the cover has some nice greenery!

Monsteras are still so very hot. But this plant trend is evolving towards the single monstera leaf in a vase. Observe:

And, if you don’t want to care for your own monstera plant just to snip off leaves to achieve this trend, IKEA has this handy faux option:

It’s 31.5″ long. Maybe you want to get a bucket.

There are so many other plants:

And, still, more:

And, more:

This interior shot:


It doesn’t have any plants, but looking at it, I am reminded of my high school art classroom–the cement floor, the natural lighting, the cluttered organization. I didn’t take many art classes, but I was an aide for the art teacher my senior year. She had a couple of plants that I was tasked with watering every Friday. One was a jade plant. I faithfully watered it every week, because I was told to and I am inherently a rule follower. The leaves started to shrivel. (You’re not supposed to water them THAT often, unless they truly need it.) The teacher told me about the distress the plant was in. And, despite being counseled on my plant care, the jade still suffered. I think the teacher was annoyed.

If you need help with your green thumb, IKEA even included tips and tricks:

IKEA tips and tricks for indoor plants.
IKEA tips and tricks for indoor plants.

This isn’t a plant, but I feel like this chair captures the tropical essence a lot of indoor plants have.

Is this going to look dated in a few years?

Oh, and proof that I’m not the only leaf-peeper out there, IKEA included this pic:

Painting terra cotta pots is my jam!

Take a pic, then put it on a shelf:

So good, the plants and the pots!

There you have it! Now I have the urge to buy a few more plants, paint some pots, and relish in the fresh and natural feeling plants bring to a space.

Tips & Tricks: Compost

Have you ever discovered a technique that makes you feel like a genius even though you didn’t create it? Or at least, once you start doing it and realize how much easier it makes your life, you ask yourself why you didn’t start doing it earlier? I have!

I know freezing your food scraps for composting isn’t anything new, but I started doing it this year and every time I put another banana peel or cucumber end or apple core into the grocery bag in my freezer, I feel like I’m somehow beating the system.

Banana peels! Eggshells! Cherries past their prime!

My compost bin is nothing fancy. The top is hard to get off. Although, raccoons figured it out, prompting me to keep a big ol’ rock on it. Worse, it’s at the bottom of what I call our “canyon,” which is at the back of our backyard.

You can sorta-kinda see the compost bin sitting there in the shadows at the edge of the woods.

This picture is deceiving. It’s a steep hill and such a pain to walk down just to deposit an apple core. Not too mention mosquitoes and the possibility of snakes (I’ve seen one before). I don’t like going down there. And, I’ve done the counter-top compost container to hold scraps. Blech. As if I need a pot of mold sitting on my counter.

I am a lazy composter. I don’t bother with making sure my ratios are right–adding enough “brown stuff.” And, I rarely turn it. I let Ricky Raccoon and his family do that. See, they chewed through a vent near the bottom and every time I add, they come along and scoop whatever their creepy little paws can out of it.

Raccoon Aftermath

I feel like I’m somewhat co-existing with these creatures. Because they get compost scraps, they don’t come up the canyon. (Although, we had a teen-aged raccoon in our garbage can twice this summer, prompting us to put a big ol’ rock on top of THAT.) They end up “mixing” my compost because when I make my journeys down the canyon, I’m always sure to use a shovel to scoop up all the debris they’ve scattered.

Anyway, because I’m now freezing my food scraps, I only head down to the bin once a week. Maybe every week and a half. It’s wonderful! Why didn’t I do this sooner?!

Motivation & Focus

My brain? Nope, it’s my motivation and ability to focus!

I’m sitting here at my desk without any paid writing to do (yet), wondering why I can’t convince myself to just start writing—all the fun, funny, cool things I think about writing when I’m on a walk, in the shower, or driving (with 2 hands on the wheel). You know, doing that thing I really, really want to do: write for myself. Trying to get published—a personal essay, maybe a short story.

Motivation is my weakness. I need the force of a deadline. A mission. The dangle of a paycheck carrot. Can it really be that difficult to sit down and get focused and churn out a something-anything project? Even my block of the month quilt sits a couple months behind schedule.

Let’s look at today. What have I done? I took my kids to their grandparents’ house for the day because today is one of my workdays. I came home and thumbed around on my phone for the 15 minutes that I always do. Then, I did, to my credit, finish my daughter’s pre-school registration paperwork and figured out when I can turn it in, which happens to not be today.

I cleaned out my email inbox. I took it from 873 unread emails to a respectable 366 unread emails. I couldn’t count how many read emails I deleted, but I’m almost positive it was a lot.

I replied to my brother’s email. That takes some time, because not only do I like to respond to what he has written, but I like to tell him some things that are happening in my life. Important things like how I can construe the light left on overnight in my basement as maybe, possibly, most likely a spirit or energy or life force or sign from the universe. Maybe.

Oh, I almost forgot that before I cleaned out my email inbox, I shredded documents. I’m kind of particular about just recycling a piece of junk mail that has my name and address. But, also, I like to shred confidential stuff. This ranges from copy I’ve printed out for clients (because sometimes I have to just touch it and write on it with a pencil) (and, yes, I do shred client work) to old bills. For some reason, I don’t want anyone who’s walking past my house on trash/recycle day to see how much we paid for water last month. And, sometimes the wind blows and the recycle bin has an open top.

A new task that spawned from my shredding was calling up AAA and requesting that they take my address off their mailing list. I sat there with 4 envelopes of the same offer—about half were for me, the other half for my husband. Have you seen their direct mail? It kind of makes me want to gag with all the fakey handwritten “notes.” But, you know what? The representative I talked to when I selected the number for membership questions was so polite! He completely understood my request. He didn’t try pushing anything—even in a passive-aggressive way (“But then we can’t send you our very best offers! You’re missing out!”). He just asked for my address, told me he removed it, and then explained that if any offers were already in the mail, I’d obviously still receive them. Funny, because since he was so polite and helpful, I’m wondering if I maybe SHOULD buy some type of service from AAA. Just joking. Maybe.

I read a piece in the last issue of Real Simple that I’ve been wanting to read. And, to get to that issue, I had to tidy up a stack of this and that, which was at least 2” thick. I’d be more specific about the stack like, “a pile on my desk” or “clutter on my counter,” but the reality is, it was in my office sitting on a plastic crate positioned on its side. Oh, like on the floor, you’re probably thinking. That’s cool, like a crate shelf. Well, no. Not really, because actually the crate is sitting on top of a small plastic bin of fabric.

I’m pretty sure in that bin is a plain white t-shirt that I have plans to sew a patterned chest pocket onto. It’s going to be really low-key chic—perhaps Nina Garcia or Kate Spade would take note. The pocket fabric is this groovy yellow paisley. White t-shirt—pop—yellow pocket! My husband still hasn’t noticed his almost-new white tee missing! Although, he might after he reads this!

See? I have plenty on my to-do list and my want-to-do list, but instead I’m tidying up mysterious piles of paper and whatnot, talking to customer service reps, and thinking about how I should buy more white t-shirts for my husband…and maybe myself because this whole contrasting frocket (front pocket, people) thing could really take off and I’ll need more. Once I get the first one sewn on, that is.

Don’t worry, keeping you up to date is on my list.

Birthday Cake

My son turns 2 years old today. Two on the second! A golden birthday! He was born unexpectedly early–while we were out of town on an annual family weekend trip. So, for his first birthday, we returned. Because I didn’t have access to my kitchen, we simply ordered a cake from a nearby grocery store.

One of the joys of having kids is celebrating their birthdays. Not only does it feel like a personal victory (We kept this baby alive! I gave birth to a living creature! This kid, under our guidance, is growing into an amazing human!), but it’s fun to see their faces light up when those near and dear to them gather around and look right at them, usually singing the birthday song.

But then there’s cake. Out of all the cakes–wedding, retirement, get well, engagement, promotion, farewell–birthday, literally takes the cake. Maybe the addition of candles does the trick. Maybe it’s because it’s only eaten once a year (per person, of course), but also consumed as often as once a year!

A couple months in advance, I asked my 3-year old for creative direction when it came to her brother’s birthday cake. “A fish!” she exclaimed, connecting the dots that in this past year, he has shown a fondness for fish–one of his first words and interests.

So I made this:

Fish Birthday Cake

It’s not exactly what I had envisioned. All my cakes look better in my head than on the platter. At one point, I cursed the cake for being so crumbly after I had cut it and shaped it. Midway, I thought I was going to have to scrap the entire thing and literally start from scratch–this cake was made from a mix and I had only bought one box, so starting over would have meant pulling out a recipe and flour and sugar and eggs.

Alas, it came together in an okay-ish manner. As my older sister pointed out via Facebook, it’s all about the target audience: a 2-year old. And, true to that, when I presented my son with the cake, he didn’t make mention of the design, but pointed and simply said, “Cut it! Cut a piece!” He is 2.

I’ve made my daughter 3 cakes. Her first was the face of Bumble, the Abominable Snow Monster from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I don’t have a picture of that. But, here’s her second:

Elmo & Animal Crackers

At the time she was digging Elmo and animal crackers. That Elmo is a spoon that I found online (Elmo is the handle).

Her third cake was a “crown” per her request:

Bejeweled Crown Cake

I bought a special candy mold to make those gems. I let her help me put those gold ball sprinkles on top. They were really hard and had a kinda gross flavor, but I like the way they look. And, maybe having her help me was more special than the actual cake itself.

My hope is that my kids remember these cakes with the filter of childhood magic that tints even the most mundane points of life–that their memory of these cakes will be better than the actual cake. Because for me, the joy of celebrating my kids is much more better than any cake could ever be.