September 30, 2016

End of September: The Colors of Autumn

If you're new here, I garden in Eastern Washington state, zone 5b.
We are definitely into fall now, with much cooler nights and days.
No frost yet!

Our house isn't the only thing that has changed color in the last 2 weeks.

The flowers and trees have also begun their yearly fall show.

Sedum in the back flowerbed has fully blossomed out now and is constantly covered with bees and flies.
The pink will turn a rusty red before all is said and done.

One of our newly planted staghorn sumacs on the back slope.
Such brilliant shades of red and orange!

My red-twig dogwood in the shade bed is also going out with a bang.

Just can't get enough of these 'Cheyenne Spirit' Echinacea.

'Little Lime' hydrangea turning deep pink, with yellow leaves.

Even the raspberry leaves are changing to yellow. 

Out front:

This peony has beautiful fall color--a surprise bonus!

Spent roses.

'Quick Fire' hydrangea
I love how the unopened blossoms are that deep purple color.

The snowball bush is just starting to turn.

This oakleaf hydrangea is more purple than red, as it doesn't get very much sun.

The vegetable garden (with ornamental plum tree):

We harvested the potatoes last week, and have just a few tomatoes still ripening.

Last but not least, I love the bright red in my strawberry patch every fall!

Are your leaves changing colors already?
It's time put on a sweater and sip some cider!

Stop over at The Patient Gardener for links to other End-of-Month Views (in the comments.)

September 29, 2016

Series Spotlight: Commander Toad, by Jane Yolen

We stumbled upon the Commander Toad books at the library a few years ago, and have checked them out several times since. They are written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bruce Degen.

They are Easy Readers, geared for readers transitioning from the simple easy reader books to full chapter books. Each book in the series is around 65 pages long, with an illustration and 2-4 sentences per page. I am still reading them out loud to my 1st grader, more for length than vocabulary, but my 3rd grader can zip through them on his own no problem.


Commander Toad: Captain of the spaceship Star Warts. Brave and bright, bright and brave. The hero of the fleet.

Mr Hop: Copilot and deep thinker. Code breaker.

Lieutenant Lily: Engine fixer and tinkerer. Also, the best shot with a ray gun.

Jake Skyjumper: Computer master and navigator.

Doc Peeper: Ship doctor. Wears a grass green wig.

Their mission? 
"To find planets. To explore galaxies. To bring a little bit of Earth out to the alien stars."

Together the intrepid crew handles the seen and the unforeseen, usually while cracking bad jokes and making atrocious puns. My kids think they're hilarious. There are many sly references to movies that you may have to explain as you read.

p.s. You don't have to be a Star Wars buff to enjoy these!


#1: Commander Toad in Space

Meet Commander Toad and his faithful crew! They discover a new planet that is only water. Upon landing, they have a very large monster named Deep Wader to contend with! Will they make it back to their beloved ship?

#2: Commander Toad and the Planet of the Grapes

When the Star Warts find a new planet, they have to go down and check it out, of course. Lieutenant Lily is allergic to something on the planet, but other than that it seems safe enough. That is...until little bunches of grape-like things pop up out of nowhere, and keep expanding. Commander Toad gets swallowed up by one completely! Who will rescue him from the grapes?

#3: Commander Toad and the Big Black Hole

We haven't read this one! Here's the Goodreads summary:

"Commander Toad and his crew on the Star Warts come across a black hole while leapfrogging across the galaxy. Something long, pink, and sticky grabs their spaceship and it isn't space gum--it's the tongue of an E. T. T - an Extra Terrestrial Toad! When all else fails, Commander Toad has to resort to a secret weapon from his past to save the ship from toad-al destruction."

#4: Commander Toad and the Dis-asteroid

Star Fleet sends the Star Warts on a special mission, in response to an SOS from an asteroid: "Beans swell. Beans bad." They arrive at the asteroid to find pigeons circling over endless water. There's a language barrier to overcome, but if anyone can do it, they can! They must get to the bottom of the bean problem--literally--so their weary pigeon friends will have a place to land.

#5: Commander Toad and the Intergalactic Spy

Once again, the Star Warts has a special mission: they must go down to a planet and rescue Space Fleet's greatest spy: Agent 007 1/2, the famous Tip Toad, who also happens to be Commander Toad's cousin. Commander Toad is confident that he will recognize his cousin, no matter what disguise he has on, but when they land he is not so sure.

#6: Commander Toad and the Space Pirates

Another one we haven't read! Once again, I offer you a summary, thanks to Goodreads:

"It's been a long trip, and Commander Toad and the crew of the Star Warts are bored. They've played all the games and watched all the movies and read all the books on the ship. Suddenly the alarm goes off--pirates are coming aboard, led by Commander Salamander, Scourge of the Skies and Goon of the Galaxies. Is the crew going to have to play his favorite game--Hop the Plank?"

#7: Commander Toad and the Voyage Home

Commander Toad and his crew are ready to go back to Earth and spend some time at home, but when they type H-O-M-E into the navigation panel, Earth is not where they are sent. What is this planet of swirling water (and one green patch?) And what could be in that hole that the Commander just tripped and fell into?

* * * * * *

I'm happy that there are a few we haven't read yet! I'm going to see if our library has them, or will order them. Have you ever read these?  What other transitional Easy Reader series do you know about?

September 28, 2016

Last Week's Harvest + Digging Potatoes

The kids had a half-day of school last week, so we took the time to do some digging!

First, we harvested all the ripe tomatoes, and surprisingly, found a few more cucumbers and squash coming on. We had 3 scattered patches of carrots left--my daughter's, plus 2 in the family garden.
She dug up hers, and I did 1 of the 2 family patches.

We're still enjoying the veggies!

This week has gotten warmer again all of a sudden.
I may have to actually water the garden again this week!

I also harvested some seeds from my poppies in the cutting garden.

Poppy seed-head bouquet!

I love the poppy seed pods. They are beautiful in their own right.
They add some nice visual interest to flower arrangements, too.
These were each like little maracas--when I shook them I could hear the seeds rattling around inside.
I poured them out into a labelled envelope for growing next year.
I would love to have a whole big patch of poppies, of all different colors.
Wouldn't that be fabulous?
I also gathered some of the seed pods from the California poppies.
Saving seeds is fun and easy too!
Maybe I'll do a post on it sometime.

After that, I decided it was time to dig up the potatoes.
This is a lot of fun--in fact, potatoes are some of my favorite things to harvest.

All the above-ground parts of the vines were dead.
It looked like bare ground.

Look what was hiding under there, though!
[The kids have decided bare feet for potato harvest are mandatory.]
It's always so exciting to see those potatoes come up with the shovel!

I didn't get as many as I have some years, but there was still enough to eat for awhile, anyway.
Those teeny-tiny ones are extra good in the crockpot with a roast.
There are beets under the potatoes, as well. Not very many, not very big.

Slowly but surely, we're getting the garden cleared out!
It feels good.
Plus, after we were done harvesting the potatoes, my 4-year old got out his trucks and tractors and played in the dirt for 2 hours. Once things are planted, I don't let them step in the garden much at all--they have to stay on the blocks. I guess there's more than one reason to look forward to harvest!

What have you harvested lately?
Have you found any good dirt to play in?

September 27, 2016

Read Alikes: Moving Target and Blood Guard

As I read Moving Target a month ago, I kept having flashbacks to another middle grade novel I had read awhile back. I finally looked it up on Goodreads--it was Blood Guard, and I read it about a year and a half ago.

Here's what they have in common:

1--Normal kid gets snatched from school by strangely desperate, fast-driving parent. High-speed chase ensues with all kinds of world-rocking information given to kid at the same time.

2--Ancient orders or groups dedicated to protecting--or wiping out--a special object or group of people. Parents belonged to one of the orders.

3--Kids left on their own to deal with the bad guys, find the object/answers, and survive.

4--Action-packed plot with lots of fighting, daring escapes, and chases.

5--Main character picks up 2 side-kicks along the way; one boy and one girl. They each get along best with the friend of their same gender.

There may be even more similarities, but that's all I can remember at this point.  So, if your child has read one and liked it, give them the other! Best of all, both have at least one more book in the series to read after the first.

Moving Target, by Christina Diaz Gonzalez

3 stars: Fast-paced and exciting, with a few twists at the end.

Cassie Aroyo is an American who goes to school in Rome, where her dad is an art history professor. One moment she thinks all she has to worry about is which teachers are giving her a hard time, when her dad hustles her off campus and begans telling her a fantastic, utterly unbelievable story--while dodging bullets and driving like a maniac.

There's a magical-sounding object "The Spear of Destiny," there are groups who have dedicated their lives to finding and controlling the Spear. Then there's Cassie herself--one of a very select group of people who were born with the birthmark meaning that they--she--will be able to control the future if she ever touches the Spear. Pretty heady stuff.

Before long, Dad is out of commission, and she must follow clues and find the Spear on her own. Well, actually, she has the help of a really good friend and this--other guy, too. She finds out all too soon that it's not safe to go home. Actually, nothing is really "safe" anymore. She must get the sword before the Hastati get her! Rescuing her Dad would be a good thing, too.

* * * * * *

This was enjoyable, even though I clearly not the target audience. Somewhat predictable, plot-wise, but not so much that it ruined the story for me. Lots of high-speed chasing, bullets and explosions, last-minute escapes, etc.

The sequel is actually supposed to come out TODAY (September 27!) So hey, if you hurry, you can read this one, order the sequel, and be completely satisfied by the end of the week! As far as I know, there are just the two.

Content: Action-related intensity, as mentioned above. Ages 10+.

(Finished reading August 24)

The Blood Guard, by Roy Carter

4 stars

Even after I brought this one home from the library, it took me awhile to pick it up. I'm just a little tired of the "kids fighting bad guys on their own" genre. It was a pleasant surprise.

The lead-in was great and brought me right along: boy going about his normal school life gets picked up by his Mom, who seems in a big hurry. Before he knows it, he is informed that 1) his dad is missing, presumed kidnapped, 2) his mom is leaving to find him, 3) their lives are in mortal danger! and 4) she is a member of an order called The Blood Guard (bet you didn't see that one coming, did you?) Also, 4a) his mom knows some crazy stunt-driving moves and can wield a cutlass like no-one he's ever seen before, and 5) trust no-one.

Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride!

Before he knows it Ronan's dodging bad guys (and yes, fighting them too), along with Greta, a girl from his old school, and Jack, who eats as much 4 or 5 people and also happens to be very good at defending them all.

Fast-paced, with plenty of sarcastic teen dialogue to lighten the mood. Okay, Mr. Roy, you won me over. Next please!

(The second in the series, The Glass Gauntlet, came out a year ago, with #3 supposed to be published sometime soon.)

Content: Fight scenes, chases, etc., but done age appropriately. For ages 10+.

(Reviewed on Goodreads, March 2015)

* * * * * *

Have you ever experienced this type of readers' deja vu?  There were obviously some significant differences as well, but I was amazed by the similarities I found once I started looking for them!

September 23, 2016

Going Green....Literally

Look at what happened at our house!
Or I guess I should say, look at what happened to our house.


The blue house is no more.
After a year or two of faded, peeling paint, we decided it was time to get this place painted!

Yes, I was very excited.
Plus, I really like the color I picked--so you know, that's always a plus.
My husband and I have the hardest time choosing paint colors. For real.
Sometimes this results in swabs of test colors on the wall for a few years.
Give or take a year.

So this time we did a tried-and-true method that has worked for all sorts of less-important choosing scenarios in our marriage-- one of us narrows down the options, then the other chooses.
(We generally do better with fewer options.)
This time he was the narrower and I was the chooser.



So he had it narrowed down to Storm Cloud with Alabaster trim, or Retreat with Creamy trim. Basically, dark blue or dark green, with whitish cream trim.

As you can see, I went with the darker green option.
My husband likes it too.

This was mostly done while we were out of town.
We joked with the kids that we might drive right by when we came home!

Also, today my mother-in-law asked how I liked my green house.
I said, "What do you mean? I don't have a greenhouse."
Ha ha! Always a gardener, I guess.
We laughed for awhile about that one.

* * * * *

Where are you at on the "choosing paint colors" spectrum?
(Yes, there totally is a spectrum!)
No problem? Or leave the old colors up rather than having to choose?
Tell me everything!

Also, how do you and your spouse/significant other make smaller joint decisions?
Any tips? :)

September 22, 2016

3rd Quarter Memoirs & Biographies

Without realizing it, my memoirs and biographies this quarter had a theme going on: escape from perilous situations. Um... how about we not psycho-analyze that!

What I can say is that each account I read has made me that much more thankful for my own life and circumstances. These strong women--they were all women--inspired me with their utter determination, their resilience, and their courage. They were utter realists--they had to be--and yet they didn't give up hope that something better was possible and even attainable.


Escape, by Carolyn Jessup

5 stars: I was riveted.

Carolyn Jessup was raised as a part of a polygamous family in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS) church, a break-off group from the mainstream Mormon church. She was taught that becoming a plural wife someday was a great privilege, reserved for God's most faithful, and that it would secure her eternal happiness.

She was married at age 18 to Merrill Jessop, as his 3rd wife. She didn't even know him at the time, but was soon to know more than she ever wanted. His first 3 wives and their older children--some of whom Carolyn attended high school with--were jealous and constantly keeping tabs on her (and later, on her children). She survived the abuse and the constant tension, even earning a bachelor's degree in elementary education.

As the years went on, she had 8 children with Merrill, and he married more women, all of whom added their own personalities to the toxic mix. A large part of her life revolved around keeping her children safe, but as she couldn't be with them all the time, they were all physically abused at one point or another. It took some time, but she came to realize that this situation was not normal and that she could expect more from life and from marriage. She became so miserable that she began looking for a way out.

It wasn't just her own situation that was spiraling downwards. Warren Jeffs had taken over leadership of the sect and began instituting increasingly tyrannical and abusive rules. For instance, all the public schools were shut down, so the children would be taught the "truth" at home. As one of the schoolteachers, Carolyn was devastated, and knew that most children would simply not receive any schooling any more. Jeffs also began taking younger and younger girls as plural wives. Carolyn's oldest daughter was around 12 years old and was said to be one Jeffs had his eye on. Carolyn could not let that happen.

She had become more and more disenchanted with her religion, despite how strongly she used to feel it was true. She knew leaving would probably mean she would go to hell. It was when she realized that hell couldn't be much worse than what she was already experiencing that she decided it was truly time.

However, she knew that the odds were against her. She refused to leave her children behind, and no FLDS woman had ever defected with her children, and managed to keep custody. At the time of her escape, she had a child who needed medical care almost around the clock and a newborn, in addition to her 6 older children. She also knew that as soon as Merrill heard of her attempt to leave, he would get a posse of men and bring them all back--by force, if necessary.

* * * * * *

As you probably already know, I am Mormon. Some of my ancestors practiced polygamy 150 years ago, and I would not be here today were it not for that. This book was fascinating to me on so many levels.

First and foremost, I was so impressed by Carolyn Jessup. Her determination, intelligence, and courage saved her children from a lifetime of brainwashing and abuse. Her frankness and perspective on all that was going on made it all come alive in my mind. I appreciated that she didn't paint herself above anyone else. She truly believed in what she had been taught for a long time; it was a collection of experiences here and there that finally broke those chains in her mind, and allowed her to free herself and her family. Then her work was not done, as they had to all survive on the outside.

Secondly, it was so interesting to read what her life was like. The FLDS church is quite secretive and doesn't allow much in the way of public interaction or discussion--except for what it spins itself. Jessup paints a vivid picture of what daily life was like in a large polygamous family, including a disastrous vacation to California at one point. She also gives an insiders view on Warren Jeffs and his leadership, and the growing climate of fear and distrust that accompanied his time in power.

Finally, it was super interesting to learn more about the FLDS religion itself. As a Mormon, we share common beginnings, but when the main body of the Mormon church stopped practicing polygamy back in the late 1800's, this group split off and continued on. So she would mention something about early church history that was familiar to me, but at times, her/their interpretation of some of those sayings or events was quite different than what I grew up with. The same thing with many of the doctrines she talked about--for instance, views on the afterlife. Many similarities, but also some key differences. Anyway, very thought-provoking.

Content: Frank discussion of sex--though not graphic, descriptions of abuse, some language.

(Finished reading July 18.)

Triumph, by Carolyn Jessup

4 stars: I had to know what happened next!

The continuing story of Carolyn's family, including her assistance with the raid on the Yearning for Zion compound, which her ex-husband Merrill was running at the time of the raid. With her knowledge of what it was probably like inside the compound, as well as the struggles the women and children inside would face, Carolyn was called upon to advise federal officers and social services workers. Despite their best efforts, there were far more children pulled out of the compound than the state was prepared to deal with, and most went back.

This is also the story of Carolyn's own children and how they all began to acclimatize to the outside world--except for her oldest daughter, who eventually went back to the FLDS life, and lived in the compound.

* * * * *

Once I read the first, I knew I would be reading this one as soon as I could get my hands on a copy. This one didn't have the same urgency and high-stakes as the first, but it was still compelling, especially the parts where she discusses the custody trials that went on after the raid, with all the money and marketing the FLDS church put forth to get public sympathy on their side. (It worked!)

It was great to get an update on her family and how well they've adjusted, for the most part. After reading the first, I felt like I knew them, and I really wanted the best for them after all they had been through.

(Finished reading July 29.)


The Girl With Seven Names: Escape from North Korea,
by Hyeonseo Lee

4 stars: A fascinating, heart-wrenching true story.

Lee grew up in North Korea, with constant propaganda, an atmosphere of fear and mistrust surrounding every movement, (anyone could turn in anyone else to the government for the slightest infraction of the rules), and a mother who knew how to work the system. Lee's mother had figured out just the right combination of bribery, flattery, and pulling rank in order to get what the family needed and even a few luxuries, like bananas or oranges.

They lived right on the border of China, with just a river between the two countries. Lee's mother imported Chinese goods and sold them on the black market in North Korea, and was very successful at it. Her father worked in the air force for most of her childhood, until he got a new job for a trading company. He fell under suspicion and was arrested by the secret police. After 2 weeks of not knowing where he was or what was happening to him, the family was finally notified that he was in the hospital and they could see him. He never recovered from those experiences and died about 2 months later.

In the mid-1990's, famine struck North Korea. Lee's family's was not as affected as most, as her mother's job with the local government bureau provided opportunities for extra food. Lee began awakening to the idea that her country was not the prosperous paradise that all the propaganda claimed it to be. As time went on, power cuts become more and more frequent and order was breaking down. Lee became more and more curious about life in China, just across the river from her home.

When she was 17, she crossed the river alone one night, against her mother's orders. She just wanted to look around--it was a last little rebellion, before she turned 18 and such things would come with heavy consequences. She thought if she could contact her father's relatives in Shenyang she could stay even longer than the few hours of her original plan--perhaps 4 or 5 days.

With the help of one of her mother's trading contacts, she was able to make it up to her aunt and uncle, who welcomed her. Her stay extended to a month. Then she received a phone call from her mother telling her it was too dangerous to come home. Little did she know that she would not return to North Korea for more than a decade--and then only in the greatest danger, in an effort to bring her mother and brother out.

* * * * * *

Unlike the other stories I read, Lee's escape from her country was not the climax. It wasn't even very well thought out or planned--she knew one of the guards that patrolled the river, and sweet-talked him into letting her cross one night over the frozen ice. She had told her mother that she was going over to a friend's house and would be back in a few hours.

However, once she realized that she would have to stay indefinitely, like these other women I read about, she began doing what she had to do to survive her situation. She barely spoke a word of Mandarin when she crossed, but she began learning the language to fit in. (The Chinese police were in league with North Korea and would often do round-ups, sending any suspicious persons back--usually to be dealt with by North Korea's secret police.)

She eventually learned Chinese and spoke it fluently enough to completely hide her identity and find work. She never could completely trust anyone enough to tell them her true name or where she came from. The few times she did, she had close brushes with deportation. She was finally able to make it to safety in South Korea, but then decided she must go back for her mother and brother.

This was an incredible story. I didn't know much at all about North Korea, other than newspaper articles about nuclear building programs and such. Lee's account of her childhood opened my eyes and brought it all to life.

Content: Includes some vivid descriptions of public executions, famine victims, prison conditions, and other intense situations. Recommended for older teens and adults.

(Finished reading August 17.)


Follow the River, by James Alexander Thom

4 stars: An amazing true account of wilderness survival.

Mary Ingles was living in Draper's Meadows, Virginia with her husband Will and 2 young sons when the settlement was attacked by Shawnee Indians. It was 1755, during the French and Indian War, and their settlement was not the first or the last to be targeted. Mary was days from giving birth to a 3rd child when the attack happened. Her husband and brother-in-law were down in the fields, far enough away to escape the violence, but her mother and baby nephew were among the dead.

Mary, her two sons, her sister-in-law Bettie, and one other man were taken captive at the end of the raid. They were taken far upriver, to a Shawnee settlement along the O-y-O River. Mary's baby girl was born along the way. Somehow, despite the pain and terror of their circumstances, Mary managed to keep her wits about her enough to memorize landmarks along the trail.

After a few months living at the Shawnee settlement, she and another white captive woman--an older but strong Dutch woman named Ghetel--were sent with some braves and a few French traders to an enormous salt lick to boil brine for salt. Her boys had already been taken away from her and given to a Indian family to raise. She had to make the worst decision of her life: what to do with her 3-month old baby. She was planning to escape, but she knew her infant would never survive the journey.

In the end, she managed to convince Ghetel to come with her. The rest of the story is the harrowing journey back over several hundred miles on foot, in the late fall and early winter. Crossing ice cold streams and rivers, scavenging for food, and starving. As the journey continued, her already ragged dress disintegrated around her. She was naked and barefoot for the greater part of the time. Ghetel became as much a liability as a help, as she became crazy with hunger.

* * * * *

My first reaction as I finished this story was skeptical disbelief. I thought there was no way this really happened. How could someone walk hundreds of miles while starving, half-frozen, and naked? It just boggled my mind. I appreciated the author's note at the end. It was real, folks.

I thought perhaps he had taken some creative license in the narrative. I read some articles and what I could find about source materials online. As it was told from Mary's POV, he obviously had to come up with her inner thoughts and feelings, appearance, and personality--the sources didn't give him much to go on there--and he made up the dialogue, too. Other than that, all of the plot was taken from the original sources.

Mary's youngest son had written an account of his mother's story, and later on a great-grandson did some research and was able to name most of the locations she mentioned in her journey. Thom himself did extensive research on the Shawnee people, as well, which he used to flesh out events in the Shawnee settlement. He even did his best to recreate the journey himself, hiking and camping along the route she took.

Even with all that, I still am having a hard time wrapping my mind around it. She overcame the impossible.

Content: The massacre is vividly described, as are the tortures some of the prisoners were subjected to--running the gauntlet, death by fire, and so on. Mary at times remembers intimacy with her husband in short but graphic detail. For adults.

(Finished reading September 20.)

* * * * * *

I truly have much to be grateful for. These stories will stay with me for a long time. If you read any of these, let me know--I would love to have someone to discuss them with! In fact, I'm going to see if my book club wants to read one of them.

Perhaps this last quarter I can move on from the "escape" memoirs!

September 21, 2016

2 Jam Recipes to Use Up Your Pears

If you are blessed with a pear or plum tree in your yard, now might be about the time you start wondering what in the world you are going to do with them all!
Of course, each can be canned individually, and dried.
For a change of pace, why not try some jam?

I don't actually have a pear tree, but I do have friends who offered to let me come pick their pears for free! Woohoo! Another friend has a plum tree that is just loaded down with plums.
I picked some last week, but I am planning to go back again and get more.

If you can get free fruit, the jam tastes all the sweeter! :)

The recipes I used are both from the book:

175 Best Jams, Jellies, Marmalades, & Other Spreads,
by Linda J. Amendt

5 stars: So many yummy-sounding varieties. 

I've only tried a handful of the recipes in this book, but so far we have really liked them all! (Including the "Cherry Berry Syrup" that resulted when I tried to substitute powdered pectin for liquid in one of the recipes. I knew better.)

These are all full-sugar recipes. I would really like to find some low-sugar versions of several of these, but in the meantime, I am eager to try out more!

By the way, I found this book on my library's "Book Sale" shelves. It was $1.00.

So here's what I've been up to this past week:

Pear Plum Jam

I used these yellow plums--I had a ton left over, as this recipe only calls for 1 cup.
Now I'm looking for more recipes for plums! :)

3 C. finely chopped cored peeled pears
1 C. crushed pitted peeled plums (I didn't actually peel mine)
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 package regular powdered fruit pectin
5 C. granulated sugar, divided

1. Prepare canning jars and lids and bring water in water bath canner to a boil.

2. In an 8-quart stainless steel stockpot, combine pears, plums, and lemon juice.

3. In a small bowl, combine pectin and 1/4 C of the sugar. Gradually stir into fruit.

4. Bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the remaining sugar. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.

5. Remove pot from heat and skim off any foam.
Let jam cool in the pot for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles.
Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp paper towel.
Center hot lids on jars and screw on bands until fingertip-tight.

7. Place jars in canner, making sure they are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Process 4 oz jars and 8 oz. jars for 10 minutes; process 1-pint jars for 15 minutes.
(I added 5 minutes to the suggested times to account for my altitude.)

8. Remove jars from canner and place on a wire rack or cloth towel. Let cool for 24 hours, then check seals. Wash and dry jars and store in a cool, dry, dark location.

Makes about six 8-oz (250 mL) jars.

I made 3x the recipe, and it made 2 dozen 4-oz jars, plus three 8-oz, plus 2 pints.
For what it's worth!
I was asked to do a demonstration at church, otherwise I would not have bothered with all those 4-oz jars! It takes a lot of extra time to fill them up and get the lids on.

Pineapple Pear Jam

2 C. finely chopped, cored, peeled Bartlett pears (about 2 lbs, or about 6 medium pears)
1 2/3 C. drained canned juice-packed crushed pineapple (don't use fresh--it won't set!)
1/4 C. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 box regular powdered fruit pectin (1.75 oz)
5 C. granulated sugar, divided

1. Prepare canning jars and lids and bring water in water bath canner to a boil.

2. In an 8-quart stainless steel stockpot, combine pears, pineapple, and lemon juice.

3. In a small bowl, combine pectin and 1/4 C of the sugar. Gradually stir into fruit.

4. Bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Gradually stir in the remaining sugar. Return to a full rolling boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 1 minute.

5. Remove pot from heat and skim off any foam.
Let jam cool in the pot for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Remove any air bubbles.
Wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp paper towel.
Center hot lids on jars and screw on bands until fingertip-tight.

7. Place jars in canner, making sure they are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Process 4 oz jars and 8 oz. jars for 10 minutes; process 1-pint jars for 15 minutes.

8. Remove jars from canner and place on a wire rack or cloth towel. Let cool for 24 hours, then check seals. Wash and dry jars and store in a cool, dry, dark location.

Makes six to seven 8-oz (250 mL) jars.

(This actually made 8 jars. I gave away 4 already.)

You may have noticed the instructions for these recipes are virtually identical.

* * * * * *
Other recipes I want to try: the entire marmalade section, Sunrise Jam (apricot, strawberry, pineapple), Strawberry Kiwi Jam, Pear Lime Jam, Peach Plum Jam...oh, I could keep going for quite some time!

So, do you have a low-sugar jam recipe book that I should get?

September 19, 2016

Tips for Ripening Green Tomatoes

Tomatoes are warm-weather plants. They like it hot! (As long as they get watered regularly.)
So when the temperatures start to dip, especially at night, their ability to ripen fruit slows way down. Every year there are many green tomatoes on the vine as the first frost approaches.
Frost will kill your plant completely and turn any fruit left on the vine to mush.
You don't want that!
So what can you do about it?

Encourage Faster Ripening Outside

Leave your green tomatoes on the vine as long as possible.
Sun-ripened is best--and easiest--if you can get it!
There are a few things you can to do to help the process along.

1.Snip or break off the tips of your vines.
I usually do this in August--about a month before the projected first frost date--but you can do it now if you still have a few weeks before frost. This stops the plant from growing any taller or putting on any more blossoms. Once it stops putting energy into new growth, the plant will direct energy towards ripening what is already on the vine.

2. Cover or protect at night.
Once night temperatures dip below 50 degrees F, tomato plants will benefit from some kind of light cover at night--an old sheet works well.
To be honest, I haven't ever done it, but I've got friends who swear by it for extending the season.
The cover holds in the heat of the day, which helps your fruit to ripen more quickly.
Do as I say, not as I do! :)

Ripening Tomatoes Inside the House

[Last tomato harvest of the year, circa 2012.]

Okay, so say you're expecting a frost any day now.
Go ahead and pick every tomato on your vines--ripe, green or in-between.
 (Unless you're using method #2, below. In that case, pull up the whole plants.)

Since we don't want any of those precious tomatoes to go to waste, let's talk about ripening them inside the house. You've got a couple of options.

1. The Lazy Way
This is the method I've used the most often. :)

Put all the tomatoes on a tray in a single layer (if you don't have very many), or in a cardboard box if you have a lot. Leave them in your kitchen out of direct sunlight. Every couple of days, go through and pick out and throw away the rotten ones. Use the rest as they get ripe.
It works, though you will probably lose at least 1/3 of your tomatoes to mold.

To get them to ripen more quickly, you can put them in a brown paper bag (close the top).
The bag will trap the ethylene gas that all fruit gives off as it ripens, speeding up the process.
You could also put an apple in the bag with them for the same reason.

2. Whole vine
This way requires space in a cool, dark place--like a garage or basement--with enough room to hang up your vines. Yep. You hang up the entire vine upside down.
The tomatoes will continue to ripen and you can pick them off as you need.
This one can get quite messy, as leaves and such will fall off the vine as it dries.
You may want to put newspapers or a small tarp underneath.

I tried this once, but our garage is not very big, and we are constantly in and out of there.
Having a vine hanging was a real hassle and got in the way.
Maybe if we had a corner where it could hang undisturbed....

3. Wrap 'em up
Okay, this one is definitely the most time intensive.
You wrap each tomato individually in newspaper, then put them in a box or on shelves in a single layer, again in a cool dark place. Check them regularly, throwing out rotten ones.
Once they start to turn red, bring them up into the warmth and light of the kitchen (but again, not in direct sunlight) to let them ripen the rest of the way.

I have never done it this way, because first of all--who has that much newspaper?
We don't get a paper newspaper anymore.
(My kids would probably say, "What's a newspaper?")
Also, I know that I would not be consistent with checking them regularly--out of sight, out of mind. Plus, wouldn't you have to unwrap each one--at least partially--to check it?
Then you would need to re-wrap the ones not ready.
I can't see myself taking the time to do that every few days.

So if you try this way, let me know how it goes!
Was it as much work as it seems like it would be?

* * * * * * *

Have you tried any other method for ripening green tomatoes?

Good luck! Hope this helps!

September 15, 2016

September Bloom Day

Hello, and welcome!
I garden in Eastern Washington state, USA.

Right as the new month started, so did the fall weather!
It has been much cooler lately--cold enough for sweatshirts in the mornings and evenings.

Let's start off with a tomato picture, just for fun.

The vegetable garden is about done.
I haven't seen any more squash or cucumbers growing.
The tomatoes are hanging on, slowly ripening in this cooler weather.
I still have a few outliers that need digging--carrots, potatoes, beets.

I did cut 60 stems of cosmos from my cutting garden to make bouquets with last week.
That was fun! (Follow the link to see the finished arrangements.)

All's quiet in the shade bed and the raspberry patch, so they don't get a picture this month.

'Abraham Darby' English rose, with sedum
In the back flowerbed, the sedum are just coming into their early pink bloom color.
They are covered with bees at all times.
A rose here and there, perhaps some late-blooming penstemon, and that's about all for that bed.

'William Shakespeare' English rose
Out front we have the same hardy plants that were blooming 2 weeks ago, still at it!
Echinacea, salvia, mums, and roses.

Oh, we can't forget the guillardia here on the end, nor the catmint (below).

East-side terrace still has the butterfly bushes blooming, as well.
I just discovered that these blooms smell divine!
I had no idea!
I was out here weeding them the other day when I first caught a whiff.
It almost made weeding a pleasant experience!

So, not much new this time around!
Although a big change is in the works with the house.

Here's a hint:

For more beautiful gardens go over to May Dreams Gardens.

What's making your garden cheerful these days?