I'm not a fan of grape jelly--the kind from the store that spreads about as nicely as stiff jello might.
But grape JAM, made of concord grapes from a local friend's garden. THAT is delicious.
My family has become accustomed to homemade jam. It's my own fault, really. I usually make enough jam to last us through the winter. But I dropped the ball last year, and my kids complained when all we had was store-bought raspberry jam. We ate a lot of peanut butter and honey last winter.
This year, I decided would be a good jam year.
Armed with a box of grapes from my friends back in Globe, I got to work. Grape jam takes a little more work than something like raspberry. But it is worth it.
Wash your jars, and place them on a cookie sheet in the oven on its lowest setting, to keep them warm. Put your lids in a small saucepan with water, and heat over low heat (it should be just on the verge of simmering). Place a cooling rack or a towel on the counter near your stove.
After washing the grapes, put them in a pot with a cup of water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes (if some of the skins slip off, don't stress, just throw the whole mess in--the skins provide the beautiful color so don't leave them out).
This next part is what separates the men (jam) from the boys (jelly). You'll want one of these babies:
It's my mom's heavy duty Champion juicer, and it has many uses (including grinding the wheat for the bread that I grew up on). I used it to squeeze all that grapey goodness out of my fruit, while removing the seeds...
So I'm left with a thick, wonderful slurry of grape puree. Not grape juice--that's what we'd use if we wanted jelly. But we're making jam, folks.
Combine 6 cups of grape puree with a box of Sure Jell (I use whatever type of pectin I have on hand, but I pay attention to the directions: measurements do vary).
Step 4: Bring to a rolling boil, then add 7 1/2 cups of sugar (this needs to be pre-measured in a separate bowl so it can be dumped in all at once).
Step 5: Bring to a rolling boil again, and boil for exactly 1 minute. (Sometimes I use an oven mitt; this stuff is super hot and can splatter)
Step 6: Take the pot off the heat, stirring for several seconds to ensure the jam doesn't scorch while the boiling subsides. Take your hot jars out of the oven, and place them on your cooling rack or towel. Ladle or pour the hot jam into the jars, leaving only 1/4 inch at the top (sometimes I break this rule, and skimp a little; it still works out fine).
Step 7: Wipe off the rims of the jars with a clean damp cloth to remove any jam that may have dribbled. Place the hot lids on the jars, and screw the rings on tightly. Flip the jars upside-down, and set a timer for 5 minutes. This will keep the rubber on the lids nice and hot, forming a seal (No, I don't do a water bath, and yes, the FDA would be shocked. But hey, what worked for my grandmother works for me.).
Step 8: After your 5 minutes are up, set your jars right side up, and allow them to cool undisturbed. Before long you'll hear random happy little popping sounds that will mean your lids are sealing.
This stuff is SO delicious. I've also made strawberry and raspberry jam, but I find myself reaching for the grape most often. I am finally converted to the almighty peanut butter and grape jam sandwich... but only if it's my homemade grape jam.
The kids are back in school, and I've been having trouble finding a groove during these endlessly hot summer days. Weeks go by in a blur. But there have been a few memorable highlights:
1 and 2: Ward pool party! This was officially the first time I have worn a swim suit in front of everyone at church. I was not super-comfortable, but I'm glad we went, because the kids had a blast. It was fun to have the whole swim park reserved just for us and our friends!
3: NES. Nintendo Entertainment System. As in, the one I played when I was a kid. We still have one that functions, and Mason chose to play it for his one-on-one time with Mommy this month. Super Mario Brothers, the original. I hadn't played it in YEARS, but it's funny how it all came back to me.
4 and 5: Before and after. I always wait too long in-between haircuts. I like to keep it short, especially during the summer. When it gets long enough to put in pig-tails, I say enough is enough. I had bid on and won a haircut from a friend in the ward at a Young Women fundraiser months ago, and put it to good use. It turned out to be one of my favorite haircuts ever.
6: Bree is getting more interested in helping out in the kitchen. And she's capable of more than just stirring now. Salsa-making was the perfect opportunity for her to practice her knife skills (especially because they were just getting thrown into the food processor anyway!).
7: I've been talking about wanting to start up a Cookie Day sort of group here for a while. Chad kept encouraging me, and I finally did it. I called it "Amateur Chef," since the show "Master Chef" was my chief inspiration. For our first meeting, I chose to make homemade ravioli. I had never made fresh pasta before, and I didn't have a pasta rolling machine, but we just went for it. It was delicious! We filled the ravioli with ricotta, parmesan, and fresh basil, and topped it with my quick and easy pantry marinara sauce. It was such a fun learning experience, and it felt good to have started something so worthwhile.
8: Apparently Pokemon is still a thing. And it is crazy-popular at Bree and Mason's school. Mason would come home every day talking about Pokemon cards. And he'd occasionally bring home cards that his friends had given him. He was obsessed. It became a problem. The cards were becoming a major distraction at school, and he got colored down a few times for Pokemon-related issues. So we banned Pokemon. He was not allowed to have cards at school, and we made him give back the cards that he had brought home. He was pretty crushed. But he is nothing if not resourceful, and I started finding homemade Pokemon cards around the house. Complete with pictures, their names, and vital stats (weakness, powers, I don't know, etc.). Pretty adorable.
9 and 10: I've been trying to go running on days when I don't join my girlfriends at the park for workouts. On this particular Saturday, Mason was awake before me, and when I came downstairs dressed for a run, he asked if he could come with me. My first instinct was to say no. Running can be valuable alone time for me. But I ended up saying, "Yes, but you have to keep up. I'm not stopping for you." Mason has a track record for lagging behind on walks or hikes, but it is certainly not due to a lack of energy; it's usually because he's bored or lacks motivation. This time, he was alone with Mom, which is one of his favorite things ever, and we chatted a bit as we ran. He didn't lag at all. In fact, he could have easily outrun me.
11: Lincoln continues to surprise us with new words and signs that he has learned at school. (Recently we discovered that he had learned to identify several colors.) This picture was taken at church, when he started pointing to letters in a "Friend" magazine and naming them. I could not believe my ears. I then pointed to the letters, in a different order, and sure enough--he KNEW them. Amazing.
12: I LIVE in flip flops 8-9 months out of the year. And I am all about comfortable shoes. I have become completely addicted to Crocs flip flops. I can stand in them all day without my feet hurting. Crocs recently came out with a sequined version of my favorite style. When a sale came along, I jumped on it. Money well spent.
13: On August 5th, Chad had surgery on his left shoulder to repair a torn labrum. He's not sure how he injured it; a basketball game a few years ago is one possible culprit. And since then, it's bothered him off and on, and certain exercises had become increasingly painful. Under the knife he went. Luckily he had a ton of sick leave saved up, and we've been paying into short-term disability for years, so we have been able to cash in on that as well. He's been home and in a sling for three and a half weeks, and it's getting old. At least the surgery was on his non-dominant hand, but still...there are only so many things you can do with one arm. We were at Home Depot on this particular day, buying supplies for a future project...
14 and 15: We took the kids to Petco one day, just for fun. Chad's been itching to buy a bearded dragon for a while, and he's been looking around for the best prices on heat lamps, food, etc. But we spent most of this visit to Petco just looking at the animals. This particular parrot was awesome. I have a strict "No birds in my house ever, ever, ever" rule...but I have to say: that this little guy made pet birds a little more appealing. Lincoln parked himself in front of the glass, and this bird walked right over to him, and started playing with him...bobbing its head, waving its legs into the air, weaving from side to side. It stayed there as long as Lincoln did. Lincoln was in love. If the bird hadn't cost $600, I might have taken it home with us.
So I'm about half-way through with my 32 Thinks in my 32nd year...and I only have three months left if I want to finish them before my birthday marks the beginning of my 33rd year. It's been an interesting year, with plenty of ups and downs that have derailed my from my progress. I'm determined to do my best though.
Here's how the list is looking as of today:
Go hiking with the family
Go camping with the family
Family vacation to Washington state
Go on a date with Chad to somewhere new
Redecorate Bree's Barbie house with her (the plain white one she got from Santa two years ago)
Volunteer in Mason's kindergarten class
Organize a play-date just for Lincoln
Read the Book of Mormon (working on this one)
Make a Family Home Evening assignment board (so I'm not the only one giving the lessons)
Go to the temple at least 8 times (I've been twice so far...and almost made it two more times.)
Update the RS email directory
Know all the sisters in my ward by name (I know so many names, but I cannot always match them to a face yet) (working on it...it's been more difficult since my calling has changed to Stake RS Secretary)
Repair my living room curtains
Display family photos in the house
Make a chalkboard message wall in the kitchen
Decorate with a thrift store find
Furnish the loft with more light
Reupholster the couch in the loft (one of its arms used to be just threadbare...now there are chunks of foam missing)
Make bread pudding like the kind served at Famous Dave's
Make a tablecloth for the kitchen table
Sew or refashion an article of clothing
Do 20 real pushups with good form
Stay at or under my goal weight for a month
Read 52 books (I'm on book #29)
Read a biography (currently reading one)
Read War and Peace (I only got about a fifth of the way through...I think I might give up on this one)
First off, I though I'd share a common sight in our home. Mason playing Mario Brothers on the Wii. He literally cannot sit still while he plays. He wants me to play with him, which I occasionally do, until I get tired of him blocking my view. Bouncing, hopping, and the occasional pee-pee dance. And on this particular day, he should have worn a belt.
Other recent random bits:
1: Cherry Cheesecake Cupcakes for my dad's birthday. I haven't been making cupcakes as much as I used to, so when I make a flavor we haven't had in forever, they taste extra delicious.
2: We stayed with my parents for a couple days to celebrate my dad's birthday. These two can often be seen nodding off, and catching them doing it in tandem was a precious sight.
3: My parents kept our kids at their house so Chad and I could have several days alone together. I look forward to these private staycations all year. We spent one night of our together time at the Elders' Quorum sponsored dance. The theme was "Dancing Through Time," so we dressed up with a little 50's flair and had a complete blast.
4: We took advantage of our kid-free time to hit a couple thrift stores. I scored these patent leather Steve Maddens for $8. They make me happy.
5: My dad sent me this photo of him and Bree picking saguaro cactus fruit. She is always the adventurer, insisting that Papa wake her early in the morning to go hiking and searching for treasures in the desert.
6: I remember when I was a kid, if I had a loose tooth, I'd wiggle it constantly so it would fall out as soon as possible. Our kids are the opposite. They baby their loose teeth so they hang on FOREVER. I don't know how they stand to have those danglers in their mouth.
7: We love The Lego Movie around here. When I saw this creation in the loft one day, I asked Mason what it was. "Bree made it. It's President Business's daughter."
8: I finally opened a shop on Etsy.com to sell the nursing covers I make. It's been exciting to see several orders come in, even though most of them have been from people I know. I love packaging stuff up and dropping it in the mail.
9: Lincoln met his new preschool teacher the week before class started. She could not get over how adorable and cuddly he is. He was mostly just excited to see his classroom, play with his toys, and say hi to a few familiar faces from last year.
10 and 11: Lincoln doesn't sleep soundly. He is tired from noon until bedtime. We know he moves around a lot when he sleeps, and he often sleeps on his chest with his knees tucked underneath him, which could be a sign that he's having trouble getting enough air. Hoping to get some answers, we signed up for a sleep study. I said a lot of prayers the week leading up to it, because I knew it would be a struggle. After checking in at 8pm, we started the long process of hooking up all the leads. I lost count of how many there were. Some on his legs to monitor his movement. Some around his chest and belly to monitor breathing. A pulse oximeter on his toe. And about a dozen all over his head. Then the nasal cannula. He finally fell asleep at 10pm, and I crashed on a mat next to his bed. He "slept" through the night, though many times the techs had to come in to reattach leads because he moved around so much. My sleep was disturbed each time, and I had to help hold Lincoln still when his nasal cannula had come off, because Lincoln was thrashing in his sleep while the tech was trying to tape it back on. They finally woke us at 5:30 in the morning, which is when I snapped this picture of Lincoln. It does not adequately capture all the wires. He wasn't happy when all the tape got ripped off, but he was glad to be free of the leads, and get out of that building. What an awful night. But my prayers had been answered; Lincoln made it through. And the sunrise that morning on our way home was glorious.
12: Homemade meatball marinara pizza. I often make pizza with leftovers (usually BBQ chicken pizza, and sometimes taco pizza), but I'd never before tried it with leftover meatballs. So delicious.
Lincoln attended one quarter of preschool this spring, so when he returned this week, he was a seasoned veteran. Despite being a head shorter than all the other kids.
He walked through those gates, took his teacher by the hand, and waved goodbye to me only after his teacher reminded him to. No hesitation, no apprehension, totally nonchalant. So tiny, yet so grown-up, especially with his new glasses. He absolutely loves being a big kid. Even though he adores his mothering big sister, and his boisterous big brother, he relishes being out of their shadows.