Woman-At-Arms

Glock

I have begun a brand new chapter in my life…the chapter of gun ownership.  I am surprised to be writing this post as I never would have thought I would shoot a gun let alone own one.  Let me give you a little background.

I have never been a fan of guns in the house as I thought they posed a huge safety issue.  I don’t have little one’s living with me anymore, but do occasionally have my grandchildren here so I was even more protective.  A few months ago, I was home alone and someone came to the door I did not know.  We have had a rash of burglaries in our area and even a home invasion not too far from me.  I was terrified.  This is not like me and for all I now the person on the other side may have been harmless.  But what if he hadn’t been…what if he had tried to get in?  What would I have done?

I talked to my husband and we decided we both needed to know how to fire a gun safely and how to handle a situation like this in the future.  We jumped on Youtube and watched endless videos on different revolvers and then went to a local gun range where I tried several of them out.  I liked the idea of a revolver so I could see when it was loaded and how many shots I had, but none really seemed right to me.  My husband was set on a semi-automatic Glock 42 pistol and I finally relented and tried it out.  I was a little bit scared of having a semi-automatic pistol but I absolutely loved it!  Little kick and better control sold me.  We purchased two Glock 42 pistols the following week and became members at the range.  I also joined the National Rifle Association and downloaded all kinds of materials on gun safety and shooting competitions.  Who knew you could do so much to sharpen your skills and have fun too!  And there is a Farm Girl Sisterhood badge to earn!  Woo hoo!

NRA

The next time on the range I earned my first pistol qualification – Pro-Marksman!  To earn this I had to shoot 10 nine inch paper plates with 5 shots each all within a half inch from the edge.  I shot 10 on each plate with almost all of them 1 1/2″ from the edge.

This is turning into a fun hobby, but also equipping us with a new sense of protection.  When the weather gets a little better we will be taking our Conceal and Carry class so we can get our permits to carry our firearms.  I am not sure I will actually carry it, but you never know and it is good to have the option.  I am not a hunter and don’t feel the need to shoot an animal, but being able to shoot is a very good skill to have.

This is just another example of stepping out of your comfort zone and tackling your fears.  You can do it too!  Try something totally out of the box for yourself and let me know how it turns out!  Gotta go…the shooting range is calling my name!

target

One of my targets from the first time I shot my new Glock 42.

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Canning Time is Here!

Salsa2014

The garden is producing and we have had some marvelous harvests this week.  The salsa garden gave us some huge tomatoes, jalapenos, onions and peppers.  We have had lots of green beans, egg plant, cucumbers and I think the cherry tomatoes exploded!  We have literally hundreds.

The strawberries, blueberries, apples, pears and plums have not fared so well.  This year we decided to try Neem oil as a more organic way to reduce the bugs and instead killed our blossoms, which therefore killed any chance of fruit.  Upon further research we discovered that you are not supposed to spray Neem oil when the trees are actually blossoming.  Uh Oh!  The strawberries did get one crop in before we did them in.  Oy!  Guess we will be visiting the local apple orchard for our apples this year.

With all the harvest laid out it was time to dig out the canning supplies and get going!  Yes you heard me right…Canning!  The lost art of preserving our vegetables in jars.  Time consuming, but oh so worth the efforts!  You will need some basic supplies: canning jars, rings and lids in various sizes, a large canning pot (with wire insert if you can), tongs to remove hot jars, a funnel with a large opening that will fit in small or large mouth jars, and hot pads and towels.  There are pressure canners, but if you are like me, I am afraid I would blow up my house.

canning supplies

I love to make homemade salsa and my kids love it even more.  In additional to my caramel, they each get two jars of salsa for Christmas every year.  They have already been asking me about it.

     Peppers2   Peppers 2014

I have two different recipes that I found that have always been a hit.  One is for mild Wonderful Salsa and one for Spicy Chunky Salsa.   You could use either of these and make it hotter or more mild just by the amount and variety of hot peppers you add.  I am a mild kinda girl so I keep that and the hot usually goes to everyone else.

I experiment with different hot peppers each year to see if I can get it just right.  Last year I used jalapenos, serranos and chiles.   This year I tried jalapenos and habanero peppers.  Now I am a safety aficionado so I donned my rubber gloves and started chopping the jalapenos.  No sweat.  (pun intended)  Next the habaneros.  I have never used habanero peppers before and the minute I cut into one, the fumes immediately overtook me and I went into a horrible coughing, choking fit!  I dumped them into the food processor and chopped them up and threw them into the pot all the while thinking I had just encountered tear gas.  WOW!  Those puppies are strong!  Note to self…if ever using habanero peppers in the future, rent gas mask.

Salsa cooking

I chopped the remaining ingredients and with two pots of salsa cooking on the stove, I got my jars ready.  It is important to have clean, sterilized jars to put your salsa into.  I run mine through the dishwasher, but hot soapy water works too.  Next I bring water to a boil in my canning pot.  I add the empty jars and the lids and rings to the hot water.  I wait about five minutes and then pull out a jar and fill it with salsa.  I use pint jars for this.  I leave 1/4″ – 1/2″ head space (the space between the salsa and the top of the jar) and then wipe the ring around the jar clean with a damp cloth.  This is important because if you have any salsa or food on the jar ring the lid will not seal properly.  Then add the lid and screw on the jar ring.  Set aside until all your jars are full.  Then return the jars to the canning pot and let them boil for about 10 minutes.  I remove the jars and transfer to my table to cool.  Be sure to protect your table as these little guys are HOT!  Now listen for the awesome sound of the lids sealing.  It makes a popping noise.    “Every time a lid pops, a jar of salsa is born.”

Salsa 2 2014

Next I tackled the tomatoes.  The key here is to skin them with as little waste as possible.  I bring a large pot filled about halfway with water to a boil.  Then add tomatoes and let simmer for about 1-2 minutes or until the skin splits.  Now occasionally you have the stubborn tomato that refuses to split it’s skin.  For those tomatoes I just take my paring knife and pierce the skin and it then splits the rest of the way.  Immediately remove from the hot water and plunge into a sinkful of cold water.  The skins will practically fall off on their own.  (This is how I did the tomatoes for the salsa, but then I ran them through the food processor to grind them up smaller). I then cut up the tomatoes into chunks and add to a large stock pot and simmer for about 1/2 hour, stirring occasionally.  I do not add any other ingredients to mine, but you could add salt or seasonings to your taste.  They are now ready to ladle into your clean, hot jars and then into a water bath canning pot for about 10 minutes.  Tomatoes are very acidic and I have had people tell me as long as the jars seal you don’t even need to put them in the water bath.  I still do because I just want to be sure they are sealed and safe.

Tomatoes 2

Voila!  I got 9 pints of mild salsa, 9 pints of hot salsa and 8 quarts of tomatoes.  I love to make fun canning labels for my jars with the name and  date.  Be creative and have fun!

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A Knitter Is Born

Scarf 3

I have never knitted in my life so I figured this badge was a great one to take me way out of my comfort zone and tackle something brand new!  I am a quilter by nature so I would say I am somewhat creative and crafty.  But I am allergic to wool.  Yes that’s right…allergic but willing to learn to knit with what…you guessed it…wool yarn!  I can do this!

First thing to do is buy yarn and some knitting needles.  No sweat!  I head over to Michaels and walk back to the yarn section.  Uh Oh!  There are a million different kinds of yarn.  I knew I wanted to start out making a fluffy scarf so I walked up and down feeling every skein as I went until I found one that was very soft and pretty bulky.  Yarn…check!  Now needles.  A friend told me to get Size 13 so I found a set of those and they were purple, my favorite color.  Double Check!

My first volunteer teacher went back to college before our first lesson and I was left with yarn and needles, but no teacher.  Luckily, my friend and co-worker knits and was willing to teach me.  My first lesson went pretty good.  She taught me how to cast on and how to knit stitch.  I found out the yarn I bought was probably going to be a difficult choice for a beginner, but I had confidence I could do it!!

I left her house with about three rows of knitting on my needle and had casted on 14 stitches.  This is important information.

I went home and knitted up a storm.  My scarf grew longer and longer…and wider and wider.  About half way through I counted my stitches and was up to 20.  How in the world does that happen?!  Apparently I was increasing (wrapping the yarn around the needle before knitting the stitch).  See how much I have learned already!  I know how to accidentally increase!  Well the remainder of the scarf stayed at 20…Whew!

I signed up for a Craftsy course on knitting so I could watch over and over how to cast on, knit stitch, bind off and weave my ends in.  The scarf took about a week.  Not half bad for a newbie knitter!

Scarf 1

The Craftsy class also had several more projects, with a project list so I ordered some new yarn and needles for these.  A skein of wursted merino wool and a skein of Cascade 220 plus Size 7 and Size 9 needles.  I also purchased a knitting gauge and some darning needles.  My knitting supplies are growing!

Now being a quilter I couldn’t leave it at that.  One of the recommend supplies was a knitting bag.  Well no self respecting quilter can “buy” a knitting bag can she?  I made this adorable charm tote bag to carry all my new yarn and knitting goodies in.  I had to choose some bright spring colors after this long hard winter we are having!

Knitting Tote

Another thing I saw on a lot of websites was a knitting needle carrying case.  So I found a great pattern for a needle case that had an embroidered flower on the cover.  Score!  Embroidery and quilting to carry knitting supplies in.  Ok I am in deep here!!  But I gathered some cute country fabrics from my stash and whipped this adorable case up in no time.  Some of my fabrics even had bees on them!  Bee Awareness is important according to Mary Jane and I have to do my part!!

Knitting Needle Case Outside

Knitting Needle Case Inside

So I am three weeks in and have completed two scarves, one with lace (Hello Intermediate Level Badge) and made a tote bag and knitting needle case and am working on scarf three!  The keyhole scarf below required knit, purl, increase, decrease, bind off in the middle to create a keyhole, seaming and blocking.  Wow!  Don’t I sound like a knitter?

Scarf 2

Scarf2a

Scarf three is a seed stitch…knit, purl, knit, purl…oh my!  I am pretty sure this may qualify for Advanced level.  Woo Hoo!!  This one is keeping me very focused, because I need to count how many knits and how many purls.  No Downton Abbey watching while knitting this bad boy!  Or girl..she is purple after all!

I have knitted with my friend for over five hours and found a group of knitters that gather every Monday evening at a yarn store to knit together.  I have been there once so far and the group was very friendly!

I think I may like this new hobby and FYI my wool allergy has not flared up so far when handling the wool.  I also learned that using Alpaca yarn may help if I am going to wear the project next to my skin.

Ta Ta For now… I’m off to knit…or was that purl…

~ Stay Blessed

Mary Jo

Farmgirl #5559

Badge Mania

Starlings 02-06-2014

This week I finally organized all the badges I have been working on and applied for 10 badges!  Some I started back before Christmas and they took a month to complete, like the Beginner Gratitude badge and the Bustin Out! badge (try one new organic food each week for one month).  Others like the Beginning Scrap Book badge, the Quilting badge, the Bird badge and the Blogging badge I had been working on and just hadn’t had a minute to fill out and submit the applications.

Well Thursday evening I got them submitted!  And I have so many more in the works.  I am really enjoying all the different areas I am learning about.

I applied for all three levels of the Blogging badge and if you are here reading this you are on my latest blog project.  I also have a quilting blog on my website The Quilt Bear that you can explore HERE.  I also had a blog I started several years ago called My Life as an Umpire’s Girl that followed my adventures watching my husband as he umpired girl’s fast pitch softball games and boy’s baseball games.  I got away from posting on that one, but hope to pick it up again soon.

One of my favorite badges has been the Birds Beginner and Intermediate badges.  I found a great website that listed all the birds I could find in Northwest Ohio and the season’s I could expect to see them.  This was so helpful.  I started taking some pictures of the birds that came to my feeder and even identified a bird I had been trying to figure out for months…a Northern Mocking Bird.

Starlings 02-06-2014

Starlings enjoying some homemade wheat bread.

Female Cardinal

A female cardinal who refused to turn her head my way!

Birdies in the Snow

Doves and a junco enjoying some grub in the snow.

I also finished some quilting projects and applied for the beginner badge, which is weird for me, because I have been a quilter for many years.  But to challenge myself I decided to try to learn some new techniques and focus on strengthening my weak areas.  For the beginner badge I decided to expand my machine quilting skills and made two projects I quilted myself.  I usually send out the larger projects to a long-armer and quilt the smaller ones in the ditch.  This time I drew some intricate geometric designs on my quilt top with a Frixion Heat Erase marking pen and then quilted on the lines.  I also used quilting pins instead of spray basting which was a new experience for me.  I loved how they turned out and am going to try free motion next.

Quilts - Beginner Level

This week I am going to learn how to knit.  I have a friend who is going to teach me some basics so I can make a scarf.  I need it in all this snow!  I am excited to try this since I have never knitted anything in my life.  I bought my yarn and knitting needles and can’t wait to see how it all works!

What are you working on?  I would love to hear your adventures!  Post a comment and let me know your favorite badge!

~Stay blessed,

Mary Jo  – Farmgirl #5559

Baking Homemade Wheat Bread

Kneading 4

I have long been a wonderful baker of bread…quick breads that is.  Banana, zucchini…you name it…anything without yeast!   But I have always been intimidated by baking homemade yeast breads.  I have dabbled with limited good results, but nothing  in the major accomplishment department.

Last night I made a great recipe I found online for a 100% whole wheat sandwich bread.  Thank you FreeRangeMama!  I loved that this post had lots of pictures so I could see if I was doing it right.   The recipe actually called for 4 loaves to be made at once, but with just three of us at home I thought that was a little excessive, even though it said it froze well.  And I didn’t have enough flour to make four loaves.  Decision made!  Two loaves it is!

I gathered my ingredients and dove in.  (My measurements are cut in half from the original to make just two loaves.)

6 cups whole wheat flour (divided in two)

3/4 cup seeds (optional) (ie. hemp, chia, flax, sunflower, sesame, etc.)  I used about 1/4 cup chia seeds

2 1/4 tsp. yeast

1/4 cup liquid honey plus 1/2 TBSP

3 TBSP butter, melted, at room temperature

1 tsp. salt

Water (see below for amounts)

The first thing you do is soak your flour and seeds for 30 minutes up to 2 hours.

Mix 3 cups of flour with 2 1/2 c warm water.  Add your seeds and cover with a damp towel. The recipe says your mixture should not be watery, just mix enough so there is no dry flour.  This was pretty easy, although I think mine may have needed a little more flour.

Starter

Next you start your Sponge (half hour before starting)

In 1/4 cup of warm water, gently mix 2 1/4 tsp yeast and 1 TBS honey, until just mixed.  Set Aside. Do not over-mix.  Sponge should be visibly active : bubbles forming before adding to recipe.  So this is where I got scared…YEAST, bubbles??

Here is mine:

Sponge 1

Just started…AND…nothing happening.  This is where I feared I had killed the yeast.  Patience is not my strong point.  But if you WAIT a few minutes, look what starts to happen.

Sponge 2

And if you wait a little longer:  IT’S ALIVE!!!

Sponge 3

Ok I have a sponge and I have soaked my flour and seeds.  Time to get mixing and kneading.

Add the sponge mixture, melted butter, honey and salt to the flour mixture and mix in remaining flour.  Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead for 15 minutes or until dough is pliable, but not dry.  This is the fun part.  Take out all your frustrations of the day on that dough!

Kneading 1

Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth.  Let rise for 2 hours or until double.  I used butter to grease my bowl and then RISE baby! RISE!

Stage 1 Rise

So now I have two hours to kill so I decided to make Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.  Yum!  I even used half whole wheat flour and half white flour.  Trying to be healthy you know!

Cookies

So two hours later my dough is double.  Isn’t it pretty?

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Turn out onto lightly floured surface and punch down.  Knead for about 2 minutes.  Then divide the dough into two loaves and knead each loaf.  Roll with a rolling pin and then roll up into a loaf shape.  Place in greased loaf pans (again I used butter), cover with damp towel and let rise for another two hours.  Time to eat some of the Oatmeal Raisin cookies with a large glass of milk!

Kneading 2

Shaped

Ready to rise

Ready to bake

I think mine could have went a little longer, but I had already let it rise 2 1/2 hours and Downton Abbey was coming on soon.  A girl does have priorities.

I popped them in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes and voila!  Look at these beauties.  Not bad for a first attempt!  I did brush the tops with a little melted butter to keep them soft.

Done! Cooling

Enjoy

I took this piece in to enjoy while watching my show!  Yummy!

Click here to go to the original post I found this recipe on and let me know how your bread turns out.

~Stay blessed,

Mary Jo

Farmgirl Sister #5559

Farm Girl Christmas

Farm Girl Christmas

I have the most awesome hubbie!  He completely surprised me with the entire collection of Mary Jane’s books for Christmas!  AND…a farm girl official charm necklace!  I am ready to get reading!  Now when the glamper in me really comes out and we have a small travel trailer sitting in the driveway…we may have trouble!

Our chapter is really taking off and we haven’t even had our first meeting yet!  We are up to 8 members and an article in the local newspaper just came out yesterday.  Cant wait to see how this goes!    I was able to get 7 binders almost for free using my Office Max and Staples points and two ladies donated lots of scrapbooking supplies.  I am going to copy the inserts and let them assemble their own binders.  I think it is a great way to open our meeting and get them earning a scrapbooking badge!

Today is Christmas and I hope it finds you and your family safe, happy and blessed!  We have a little snow which always makes it feel a little more festive.  Enjoy your family and as always Stay Blessed!

Welcome

~Mary Jo

Farmgirl Sister #5559

Homemade Christmas

I love homemade Christmas gifts.  For some reason they just seem so much more thoughtful.  Don’t get me wrong, I still have a list of things that I would like that are “store bought” (are you listening honey?) but I do enjoy making and receiving gifts that someone put their own time and talents into.   Every year finds me stitching up tea towels, table toppers, small quilts, etc. and I have been canning extra jam and salsa to give away.  But my one homemade stand by gift is my caramel.  An old friend shared her recipe with me years ago and it makes the most delicious, melt in your mouth caramel I have ever tasted!  I always make a bag for all my friends, family members and neighbors and have on occasion overheard…”I wonder if Mary Jo is making her caramel again this year?”  What a compliment.

Caramel Making

In the past I have been hesitant to “give up” the recipe.  This is not like me as I will share just about anything else.  But this was different.  After all, I am the one who makes the caramel and if everyone knew how it was made, it wouldn’t be as special.

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About two Christmas’ ago a friend from church asked for the recipe.  I compromised with her and told her I would give her the recipe if she came over and made it with me so she could see how it was done and we could share some girl time in the kitchen.  It was so much fun.  But that was it…no one else had the recipe.

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I wish this was my recipe box, isn’t it cool?

Well this year my mindset is a little different.  Here’s why.  Today I was making caramel corn.  A little different recipe but still very good.  After a few batches, I thought to myself, “Why not make a batch of my famous homemade caramel so it can cool in between caramel corn batches?”  I went to my handy dandy recipe box to get my caramel recipe, which has been written on the same piece of scratch pad stationery for the last 10 or so years.  But…IT WAS GONE!  I searched the box 3 times and no recipe.  I searched the entire shelf of cookbooks…no recipe!  Panic set in.  I sorta knew the recipe, but didn’t “KNOW” the recipe.  Why should I memorize it when it has been written on the same piece of paper forever and I only make it once a year.

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Then I remembered I had given the recipe to my friend at church!  I called and she read it back to me and we both had a laugh about my “secret” recipe being lost.  I thought about what I would have done if I hadn’t shared that recipe.  I would have been sunk.  Sharing and loving one another is what we are made to do.  This verse instantly came to my mind…”For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son,  that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16  Wow!  If God can share His Son I think I can share a silly caramel recipe.

So here it is for anyone who would like to make and enjoy it and if I ever lose the recipe again, I will be sure to call you too!

Homemade Caramel

4 sticks butter (salted or unsalted)

2 – 2 pound bags of brown sugar (I use light)

2 cups light Karo syrup

2 cans Sweetened Condensed Milk

2T vanilla

Melt butter and brown sugar in a non-stick large pot over med-high heat.  Add Karo syrup and sweetened condensed milk.  Bring to boil stirring constantly.  Boil for about 8-10 minutes stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Pour into a large baking dish lined with parchment paper…not wax paper.  Ask me how I know :/  Cool for several hours or overnight.  Cut into desired size pieces and roll in wax paper and twist the ends.  I usually pull the whole batch out of the pan and cut it right on the parchment paper with a cutting mat underneath.  The caramel is soft and melts in your mouth.  Get creative…I have added pecans and drizzled chocolate over the top and had turtles.  I have put apples on sticks and dipped in the still warm caramel and rolled in chopped peanuts for amazing caramel apples.  Make it your own!

Caramel Cutting

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Here’s hoping you have a truly blessed Christmas and a joyous New Year!

~Stay Blessed

Mary Jo Boyd

Farm Girl Sister #5559