Wednesday, August 29

Upcoming Projects--They Never End!

Not much going on at the moment, but a lot coming in the future!  One very exciting development is that we got our new countertops.  I'll post pictures as we venture into the uncharted territory of trying to install them ourselves.  The hubs and I will attempt to replace the two small pieces around the stove, and my mom and stepdad will help us with the long section and plumbing in a few weeks.  Very exciting!
Cast iron pot
I mentioned a little cast-iron pot that I found at an antiques store while up in Michigan for the Fourth of July celebration a while back.  I love this little cauldron, and have been dying to find the time to make it pretty and like new again.  I even bought the Krylon months ago.  Now that the weather has cooled, I can attempt to remove the rust and give it a fresh coat of black paint, and then use it for decorating!  It's been sitting on the kitchen table since July, just waiting for its beauty appointment.
Recipe binder
With all of the reorganizing that I did a while ago in the kitchen, I decided to reorganize my favorite recipes into a new binder, which is taking longer than I expected, but the fact that I don't work on it every night might have something to do with that.  I'll eventually have all of my favorite, tried-and-true recipes in one convenient place, which will be a great help for meal planning.

New dress
I need to make a new dress for the McKinnis House programs.  I found a fabric that I absolutely fell in love with online at The Dressmaker's Shop, a great store for finding all sorts of reproduction fabrics.  I will alter the pattern that I designed to create my current dress, adding a few fancier elements to the dress, but still keeping it appropriate for the 1847 time period.  I think that is one of the things that I've really enjoyed about my volunteer time with this home--in-depth learning of how my ancestors lived.  I've picked up a lot, but there is still a lot I'd like to learn.
My new fabric--seems patriotic for a time of war!
My current dress--time to make a new one.  Pay no attention to the dog with human teeth on the door.

Cute little bottles!
I found these adorable little bottles at a garage sale a few weeks ago, and now I wish I had purchased all five or six that they had, instead of just a pair!  The are little pint bottles, which I'd never seen before, and I plan to use as little decorative bottles around the house.  They are from a local dairy that, as far as I can tell, closed up shop a long time ago.  Wouldn't it be neat to still have milkmen bring all of your dairy needs to your door?  I think it would be!

Christmas mantle cover
I am planning on making a mantle cover for our heater/fireplace in our living room this year.  I've already sketched out a design, now I just need to find the fabrics.  I plan to make it look like a patchwork quilt using squares of festive Christmas fabric.  I need something to cover the wood and protect the finish from all of the items that I like to set out for decorating, so darn, I guess I'll just have to be crafty. :)

New items for SFT
Speaking of crafty, have you stopped by The Sunflower Tree for fall decor?  I've added some cute little primitive pumpkins that are completely hand-sewn, and I'm making more.  I'd love for you to stop by!

Switch over to WordPress
And finally, I am likely going to be switching my blog over to WordPress sometime in the near future.  I've found Blogger quite easy to work with, but it's also plagued with small bugs and issues that have become increasingly frustrating over time.  So, after a lot of consideration, I've decided it's time to change.  If in the off chance that you have this blog bookmarked, you'll just need to change your bookmark, and I'll be sure to let you know once the WordPress blog is up and running.  I'll still post the link on Facebook for people to check out.  It'll have a more grown-up look, and in the long run, should be easier to manage.  Because I plan on doing this forever. Oh yes.

Owl Corner--Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl-photo from Wikipedia
The Great Horned owl lives all across the United States, in to Canada, and down through Mexico.  It can also be found in parts of South America!  It is a large species, and is well-known for the appearance of horns on its head, which actually are just tufts of feathers and do not aid in hearing whatsoever.  They prefer to prey on rabbits and hares, and are also known to include rodents, skunk, raccoons (!), many types of birds, including other owls (with the exception of the Snowy Owl), reptiles that range from snakes to small alligators, and have been known to carry away small dogs and cats.  That's quite a list, and it's not even half of what is listed!  They can carry prey that weighs two to three times their body weight.  When breeding, they will lay a clutch of 2-4 eggs, and will defend their nest with incredible aggressiveness, often continuing to attack the intruder until they die.  They tend to live a long time in the wild, up to thirteen years, and have been know to live thirty years in captivity.  This is by far the most common owl in North America, and everyone knows their call by the "whoooo-whooo" sound. 
Information comes from and

I tend to be a very task-oriented person (as you might be able to tell).  I enjoy making lists and crossing things off as I accomplish each item.  That's not a bad thing; in fact, if there weren't task-oriented folks in the world, I highly doubt that anything would get done in any timely fashion!  The problem is that it's easy to get too wrapped up in getting things done and not focusing on what is more important--relationships.  The story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42 is a great example of task-oriented vs. people-oriented: "Now as they were traveling along, He [Jesus] entered a village; and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her."  I hate to admit it, but more times than not, I am Martha.  I struggle to not be focused on having a task to accomplish.  It feels good to accomplish something, but not nearly as good as it feels to have a real relationship with the Lord Himself, and all of those little tasks can really interfere with that relationship.

Saturday, August 25

Autumn in the Shop!

I'm definitely in the fall decorating mood lately.  I have been busy making some autumn-themed primitives for sale in my Etsy store, The Sunflower Tree.  I'll be making more of these little cuties, too!  Be sure to stop by!

Wednesday, August 22

Small Kitchen Spaces--Make It Work For You!

Again, on Friday, after working on the linen closet and making delicious goodies, I still had to work on the kitchen.  In my flurry of reorganizing and downsizing the kitchen, I seemed to acquire more space.  Amazing how that works!  I have accumulated so many kitchen things in the past eight years, and even though some of it sold in rummage sales of the past, I still have items that I can't bear to part with, either because they have sentimental value to me, or because I'm convinced that they will be used when we find our larger "forever" home.  So up in the cabinet they go, buried and inaccessible, until now.  Knowing that we will eventually be moving, I decided to pack up these items now, and save us the trouble when the time comes.  Plan ahead!  There are things that I used daily, and that is where I started with this project.  I attacked my spice cabinet, the cabinet over the stove.  I've never liked having the spices in that cabinet--I'm too short to see what all is up there.  My solution?  An idea from my mom, who keeps her spices right next to the stove.  I cleaned out three drawers in the bottom cabinets:
The towels that were in this drawer are now on the counter

One was full of extra decorative hand towels that I can get away with not having for a while, so those went to the packaway pile.  That gave me a whole extra drawer.  Now, I moved our "utility drawer" (most people call it a junk drawer, but we actually use the stuff in this drawer) over to the empty drawer by the doorway, making room for my aluminum foil, plastic baggies, wax paper and so on to be moved over one drawer, but still in close proximity to where I need it.  That still leaves me with an empty drawer.  Oh, so exciting...
I used drawer liner for the bottom of the drawer, but ran out of the tan color

I took all of my small spice jars down from above the stove.  I set them all out, and put like items together, and combined bottles that were half full or refilled the jars in my spice rack on the counter, and that eliminated a few bottles.  I began placing them in the drawer, keeping baking spices on one side and cooking spices on the other, and right next to the stove, which is so much more convenient and easy for me to see!  Now I know what I have, and I'll have a much easier time keeping an accurate inventory of what I need.  I love it now!  Thanks for a great idea, mom.  I kept the larger spice containers above the stove, but those are easy to see and easy enough to reach that it's not a problem.  I also cleaned out some things above the stove that I wasn't using, putting them in the packaway pile, which gave me some (*gasp*) empty space in the cabinet!  What now will I do with that?  I'm sure something will find its way up there.
Next, I moved on to the pantry.  Our pantry is really just a wardrobe that we bought at Lowe's and put together in the kitchen, but it works great for storing our food and other items.  Mostly, it just needed reorganizing, but there were some things that were either thrown away (expired, stale, what have you) or put in the packaway pile.  Below is a before and almost after picture:
But after rearranging everything to make it more accessible, I still wasn't done.  I had a few more ideas for two of the shelves in there, but was running out of time and energy and still had to work on dinner.  I put things on hold for the rest of the day.  For dinner, we had marinated pork chops, fresh green beans from the market, and this amazing twist on mashed potatoes that I found on The Pioneer Woman: Crash Hot Potatoes.  These are great, and a new favorite of hubby's.  You boil potatoes with the skins on, place them on an oiled baking sheet, smash them down with a potato masher (or if you don't have a masher, use something flat, like the bottom of a glass), coat them with olive oil, add kosher salt, pepper, herbs of your choice, and bake them at 450 for 25 minutes, or until they start to brown.  Then we added some shredded cheddar on top and baked them for five more minutes.  Oh, what a wonderful little potato!  A new favorite for both of us. Thank you, Ree Drummond, for your delicious recipes!  Be sure to check out her website and look for her show on the Food Network.

By this time I was pretty pooped.  I decided to put my reorganization on hold until Sunday afternoon, when I had some more free time.

Sunday afternoon, I attacked the kitchen.

It never knew what was coming.

I had a pile of packaway things, and still added more by going through another few cabinets and pulling more items out:
If you have given me any of the items you see in the packaway pile, please don't be offended.  I am keeping them, but I just don't have room right now for all of this in a functional kitchen.  Don't worry, it will be used again!

I also decided to go through my stash of cookbooks.  I love having them, but there are some that are used infrequently at most, and had to go away for a while.  I began packing my totes that I brought in from the garage, and in no time the first one was full.  I filled the second one about halfway with the remaining items. I had found my counter again, so I started on that.  These are before pics:

These are after pics:
I moved the coffee pot, which had lived on the counter for four years, to the shelf in the pantry with all of the coffee supplies.  It seemed like a good idea.  Then I moved my stand mixer, which had also lived on the counter for four years, to the shelf in the pantry with the cookbooks.  It seemed like a good idea.  Now I have lots of like items together, and I like that.  Then it was time to stop and get dinner started, thanks to my bread machine--we were having homemade pizza, so I had the bread machine mix up the dough as I continued to work.  So convenient!
This still looks cluttered, but it's not, and it's much more functional than it was
I then moved around some of the items on the counters, and put away my strainer in the space under the sink that I made a few days ago, and now it has a home when not in use (the space under our sink is tight because of the way they plumbed the sink.  It's really a pain to get under there, but I somehow made it work).  It looks so much better, and it is so much more user-friendly.  I have space on the counter to roll out doughs and crusts, and it doesn't look nearly as cluttered as it did.  Plus, when we go to install our counter tops, there will be much less to move beforehand!  It was truly a win-win, er, win-win-win situation.  It took some time, but was definitely worth it!
I know that every home is unique.  What works for us might not work for you.  But I'm hoping that this will at least inspire you to find ways to better use the small space that you might have!

Monday, August 20

Crock Pot Applesauce, Easy Carnation Fudge Recipe and Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

I was a busy bee on Friday.  I had been looking forward to Friday all week long, just because I had the day off.  I knew I wanted to start on my organization and de-cluttering of the house, I was expecting a package in the mail, and I felt like doing some dessert making.  How was I going to get all of that into one day??  Well, I can tell you that Friday definitely felt like I had been hard at work for 12 hours straight by the time I finally sat down to relax that night.  My feet and legs ached from standing for quite literally all day.  But that's okay, because I felt like I had gotten some things accomplished, which always makes me happy.  You can read about my start on organizing our linen closet here.  But right now, I'm going to share the recipes that I made for weekend sweets.  Here we go!

I began the cooking festivities with fresh apples and a Crock Pot.  I created a simple recipe for making applesauce in the Crock Pot, which I'll share here (there isn't really a recipe, so I'll just tell you what I did):
First, peel, core, and cube 3 lbs. of apples (you can use multiple kinds, just whatever is in your fridge).

Put all of the apples into the pot and add 1 C water.  Cook on high for an hour.
Add 1/4 C cinnamon (or whatever tastes good to you--I just happen to be a cinnamon fiend) and 1/4 C white sugar and reduce the heat to low.
Stir the pot occasionally, to prevent burning or sticking.  Cook on low for at least 6 hours, or until the sauce achieves your desired consistency.  Once it gets to the thickness you like, add more sugar and/or spices to your taste.  If you like chunky applesauce, then you're done!  Scoop the applesauce into a fridge-friendly bowl to cool and eventually refrigerate.  If you like smooth applesauce, use a stick blender or puree the mix in a food processor until smooth.  Then transfer to a fridge-friendly bowl, allow to cool for a few hours, and refrigerate.  Keep in the fridge, and it'll last a week or two (if you don't eat it all first!).

Then, I moved on to the chocolate stage of the day.  I started with making a candy that I usually only make around Christmas, but hubby was jonesin' for some chocolate, which is rare, but being the good little wife I am, I had to accommodate his craving.  I whipped up a batch of Carnation Chocolate Fudge (they call it fudge, but I don't think it would technically qualify as a fudge--it's more like a soft chocolate candy).  You begin with 2 TBSP butter (do not use margarine!), 1 1/2 C white sugar, 2/3 C evaporated milk, and 1/4 tsp salt:

Turn the heat on medium to bring the mixture to a simmer.  Stir the contents occasionally to make sure that everything is combined.  As soon as the mixture comes to a simmer, set the timer for five minutes.  This is very important.  Any longer, and you end up with a dry, crumbly chocolate.
When the five minutes is up, turn off the burner and remove from the heat.  Add 1 tsp. of vanilla, and mix well.  Then add 1 1/2 C of semi-sweet chocolate chips and 2 C mini marshmallows, and stir until everything is combined and smooth:
Now, line an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with foil:

And pour the chocolate mixture into the pan.  Tap the pan against the counter to settle the chocolate and pop air bubbles that might be inside.  Allow the pan to cool at room temperature until the mixture stops steaming, then place plastic wrap over the top of the chocolate to keep fridge odors from penetrating the candy.  Refrigerate for at least two hours, or overnight (overnight is best).  When you go to cut the fudge, use a long sharp knife, and wipe the blade with a wet towel between each cut to get clean cuts.  Super easy and really tasty recipe!

To see the recipe, click here.

The final dessert I made was all for me, although hubby has eaten some too.  This is the peanut-butter-and-chocolate-is-my-favoritest-ever-combo dessert.  Introducing: crunchy chocolate peanut butter bars.  I actually came across this recipe on Pinterest, and it intrigued me.  And after I made it the first time, I vowed to never forget it, and make it every chance that I got.  PMS is a great reason to make it.  But first, a little prep work.  Line an 8"x 8" pan with foil, then butter the foil and set this aside (I only had a brownie pan available, but that worked just fine).
Then, the recipe calls for an addition of crushed graham crackers, and I always enjoy this part.  Take five whole graham crackers and place them in a resealable baggie.  Begin the graham cracker carnage: I used the flat side of a meat mallet for crushing my crackers.  This is a good time to release any tension and frustration that you might be feeling at the moment: "Why" smash "doesn't" smash "anyone" smash "ever" smash "read" smash "my" smash "blog" smash, or something like that.

Now, let's commence with the making of the goodness.  You begin with a stick of butter.  Sounds good already, right?

Once melted, remove the butter from the heat.  Then add 1 3/4 C powdered sugar and stir until the mixture is smooth.

Now, add in the peanut butter and the crushed graham crackers and stir that until well combined.
Spread the peanut butter mixture into the buttered pan and set this aside for a moment.  Now, in the same pot that you made the peanut butter mix, melt another 1/4 C of butter.  Once melted, add 1/2 C of chocolate chips (I used semi sweet) and stir until almost melted.
Remove from heat to prevent burning, and stir to melt the rest of the way.  Spread this chocolate over the peanut butter and refrigerate for at least a half an hour before cutting (I prefer longer, though).  Store these in the fridge in an airtight container or wrapped in foil.  To see the original post and the website where I found this incredible recipe, click here: The Brown Eyed Baker.
Owl Corner
Photo from National Geographic
Today I'll tell you about the Spotted Owl.   This neat guy is usually found in forests along the West Coast and areas of the southwest United States, including stretching into Mexico.  They have been at the center of the discord between loggers and tree huggers in the Pacific Northwest.  They range in size from around 16" tall to 19" tall, with an impressive wingspan of between 40"-50".  Females are usually slightly larger than males.  The females will lay a clutch of between 2 and 4 eggs in nests found 60'-100' up in trees.  The baby owls are born pure white, and develop their brownish color and spots as they grow.  These owls live in old-growth forests--forests that are at least 200 years old.  Rarely are they found in newer forest areas.  They tend to prey on small mammals and rodents, such as flying squirrels, rabbits and wood rats.  They have also been found to have a long lifespan, up to 17 years.  These owls are considered threatened because of the loss of habitat.

Information from and The Owl Pages.

My husband and I started a new Bible Study this weekend.  It is about finding joy in the Lord, and we had an interesting discussion about the differences between happiness and joy.  It seems to us that happiness is more of a temporary feeling or emotion, whereas joy is a deep contentment that does not go away or fade over time.  The study used Matthew 5:3-12 as a great basis for finding true joy in all that the Lord does:
Blessed are the poor in spirit [humble], for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you."  In order to find true peace in the Lord, we must become the person that He wants us to be, by slowly changing us through our life experiences.  We must trust in all that the Lord does in our lives, even when we perceive it to be a bad thing.  No parent wants their children to be sad or to suffer, so why do we think that God wants that for us?  No, He doesn't want that!  He just has to use those times to mold us into the person that He wants us to be!  In that we can and should find a deep joy and contentment in all that the Lord does.  It just won't always be easy.

Sunday, August 19

Organization...Less is More!

Well, I started on my reorganizing Friday.  I feel like I accomplished something!  I worked on the linen closet in the bathroom, and rearranged our kitchen pantry and some of the drawers in the kitchen.  I threw away things that I hadn't used, which enabled me to find places for all of the items that I decided to keep.  That would be my main tip here--go through your closets before you start to organize.  Get rid of things that you haven't used in a while...I always have "I didn't know I had that!" moments when I start cleaning.  A good rule for me is how long it's not been used: if it hasn't been used or needed in the last six months, unless it's holiday decor that goes out once a year, then it's not worth keeping.  Set it aside for a garage sale or pitch it.  You'll be happy you did, because after a few weeks, you won't remember that you ever had it anyway!  This is the approach I took.
Dun-dun-dun...the linen closet of doom
Our bathroom linen closet gets messy.  It's our  main storage space in our bathroom for not only our towels, but also any and all personal toiletries and bathroom-related items.  Oftentimes, I just put things on the shelves when unpacking my groceries from the store, and they usually don't end up next to other similar items.  I try to reorganize it every so often so that I can take a proper inventory of what we have and what we need, but it becomes difficult when I can't see what I have.  So, I purchased four baskets at Meijer for $4.50 each.  They were just white rigid plastic, with tall sides and flat bottoms.  I set each basket out on the floor and began pulling items out of the linen closet.  I placed similar items in the same basket, and threw away items that were either never used or expired. I was able to successfully fill (but not overfill) all four baskets, and now have a great system for being able to tell what I have and what I need.  I also used a small tub that I had to throw all of my loose cleaning supplies and bottles in for the floor/bottom shelf.  I successfully reorganized my closet and spent under $20, and am happy with the result!  Now, instead of knocking over a bottle of mouthwash to get to the cold medicine, all I need to do is pull out the basket with all of our medicines and first aid supplies, and then put it back.  Easy peasy!  It looks a lot better, too.  I just need to label the bins so that hubby can find whatever he might need.
First shelf: pthb.  Before picture.  I'm so ashamed.
More than half of what was on the first shelf fit in this bin.  I did this for both shelves and all of the items in the closet.
Second shelf.  Needs help.  Again, ashamed.
First shelf--after reorganizing.  I left a few things out that I use at least once a day.
Second shelf.  I was able to fit two bins on each shelf and still have room for extra items.
Bottom/floor space.  I keep my cleaning supplies in here, but had extra that didn't fit in the caddy.  I used a tub that I already had to put all of the extra bottles and supplies in , and then pushed it to the back to make room for the TP.
And voila!  Linen closet reorganization complete!
I hope this helps you and gives you a few ideas if you are trying to reorganize.  I also started working on my kitchen, reorganizing and packing away items that I don't use regularly.  I will go into that in another post soon to come!