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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Omg, I Got a Job

Student loans have been looming over me for some years now. I have not been able to find work in any field related to my degree or even as a graduate student. I deferred and deferred until I could defer those loans no more. Freaking out, I still applied for job after job. There was no hope in sight, and then one day I signed into Facebook. There was a position at my favorite store open. I applied and really figured I had no hope because I had no formal experience of any kind in a market/kitchen setting. 

I am utterly disappointed that I will not be working within school districts, libraries, archives or any other center for higher learning. Education, research, books; they have been my passion and motivation for so long. It is heart breaking to let go of a dream. I worked extremely hard to put myself to school but the state of our public school system here in Michigan is that there is no funding to put it simply. There are minimal schools with librarian/media tech positions at all. There are an overabundance of qualified teachers and school personnel without work. Education is not a priority in my State. Class sizes have swollen, students learn foreign languages from computer programs instead of instructors, disciplinary actions are more numerous and disgruntled voters are no longer supporting schools with mileages.  It is a sad state of affairs. Who knows, maybe I am the disgruntled one, as a parent, voter, and as one of the millions of college graduates without a job. 

Ahhh, but I got the job; I am assisting a Master Cheese Maker part time. It has been an awesome learning experience so far. I am excited to try out some new things. Working part time will allow me to pay off my student debt and as we all know, I love all things sustainable so learning about cheese, the different kinds, making it, preserving it, cutting it, all of the above, is a very cool thing to me.  

This past week of training and working 4 days in a row has been an eye opener. It has been a very long time since I was a working mother.  I came home nightly to a trashed house. The kids, the husband, the dogs, were all against me it seemed. The dogs tore into things and made messes. The Boys, they ate and ate and ate all the food in the house but did not bother to throw away their garbage. The Husband mostly slept, but to be fair, he does work the midnight shift so that part was normal, but in the moment it just felt wrong and like everyone was against me. I even dropped my Iphone and shattered the screen completely. It has just been a crazy way to start off this new adventure.

I have a new respect for working parents and I am unaware of how they keep their households functioning. I get home at 3pm or 4pm and instantly scoop up children to run them to football practice. No good meals were prepared or eaten. I fell into the mold of grab something quick and feed it to your kids that I have been so vehemently against. I don’t want to feed my children rushed meals on the go. I do not want to send my husband off to work with his only choice being a fast- food drive thru on his way out of town. Sacrificing our shared dinner family time at my house is not an option. That is not how I want to raise my kids or live our lives. So today, I went off to the grocery store. I was on a mission. I spent today, preparing the basic chopping and putting together of meals that I can throw together on a work evening and feed my family quickly but without sacrificing nutrition for convenience. My crock pot will get its work out on my work days, that is for sure. Spaghetti night will change to a work night and the sauce is already prepared waiting. I still need to put up more corn and veggies for the winter but my freezer is looking good so far.  Taco night, is also going to be a go to meal for us. It is easy to brown the meat and seasoning and set it aside in the freezer to just heat when ready. 

Wish me luck in keeping it all together. I have moments when it feels pretty overwhelming to be honest but someone has to pay back Uncle Sam for my education and that someone is me, so part time work and sacrificing some free time to prepare is hopefully what will get my family back on track. 

: )
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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Tree-Hugger Extrordinare

    “When the sun is warm but the breeze chilled with the end of summer, I mostly want to nap outside. Sleeping outside brings peace to my soul said the accidental tree-hugger that is me."
 – Shannon 

Hills of Kentucky 

My random Facebook status this afternoon left me feeling philosophical and thinking…could be a dangerous combination for sure... What is it about nature that talks to my soul? People are comfortable in their houses, their shelter, and their beds even, but for me, I am comfortable outside on a nice day. There is no place I would rather be.  This is not how I have always been. There was a time in my teenage years I would have said I was most comfortable at a shopping mall or driving back roads in my first car. Going even younger, I would have said I was most comfortable at home in my bedroom. My transformation to nature girl or more like nature appreciator happened mostly after I had my first son. 

Maybe it is the act of becoming a mother that brought me closer to nature, maybe it was just part of growing up, it’s hard to tell. I have always loved camping, hiking, horseback trail rides, and water, whether swimming or boating or just beach sitting. Outdoors was always about fun and doing things, being on the go. Now, outdoors is my solitude. It is where I like to be silent, to collect my thoughts. It is where I want to read a book or take a nap. I want to feel the sunshine on my skin and the breeze in my hair. I want to smell the fresh cut grass or that wonderful smell of wet after a nice rain. 

Shores of Lake Superior
This love of outdoors and nature is what got me into gardening, the turning over the earth cultivating my little plot of soil and growing food. At first, I was content with just growing food that my family would eat as it ripened. No thoughts were given to trying to preserve my bounty. In time, I realized that grocery store foods just didn’t taste as good as the ones that I grew. That lead me down a road of wanting to know what was in the food that I was serving to my family.  I am lucky that my children have always been good eaters. They enjoy eating fresh fruits and veggies far more than processed foods. Well, aside from popsicles and ice cream, but we all have our vices don’t we? 

Hiking trails in Tennessee
From being the girl who liked to shop and eat greasy pizza from a Mall cafeteria I have become a wife and mother who is greatly concerned with food and its origins. Factory farming and the overabundance of GMO foods in our food chain concerns me. I am following the campaign to label GMO’s in California and I am rooting for the Proposition 37 to pass. I hope that California leads the way to sweeping legislation requiring GMO to be put on food labels throughout the Country. I hope the corporate greed and their greatness of wealth do not win in the battle to know what is in our foods.

To eat and to feed our families is such a basic need. It dates back to before the “Common Era” or recorded time but to the act of survival of the first species. Food is a necessity and this campaign is not asking for an outlaw to GMO foods, it is instead asking for labels to be put on foods so that consumers, the American people, can choose what is best for themselves and their families. This is a basic principle and I have a hard time seeing the other side of this argument. Why is it so harmful to label the foods? I do not get the backlash at wanting labels. They already have to label for calories and ingredients, this is just one more line on the label already in place.

In the end, I find myself today, an accidental tree-hugger, accidental activist, a completely on purpose gardener and nature love. Girl evolved… Girl involved...

Image from

To read more about this legislation, check out this site at
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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bread and Butter Pickles

One of the first things that I learned to preserve by canning was pickles. A friend and neighbor let me tag-a-long in her kitchen as her husband and she prepared their pickles. It was an awesome and unexpectedly easy process.  They made dill pickles and so I made dill pickles. I only liked dill pickles so what was I missing right? Well, as I have begun to eat more fruits and veggies and less processed foods store bought foods, I began to expand my horizons with different pickles. 

Bread and Butter Chips, they have become my new obsession. How have I lived 30 or so years and never had a bread and butter pickle?! I love them! However, I was not in love with the store bought varieties use of high fructose corn syrup, so I set out to make my own using cane sugar. 

My Goodies
First step though, was getting pickling cukes. My first year at this Village abode and I was taken by surprise that my garden was devoured by wild life. One day I had beautiful cucumber plants and the next day they were all gone. Just wiped out completely.  I am lucky to be in a small village that is surrounded by rural farming communities. I was off to my favorite local farm stand where I got to use my cool bushel basket that I bought at Tractor Supply, to hold all my goodies. It’s probably not an essential part of farm market shopping but it sure felt nice to me. 

After picking up a peck of pickle cucumbers. (Say that fast 5 times lol) I went home to wash them and then soak them in an ice water bath. I got out my jars, washed them up and sterilized them. I keep my jars in the oven at 175 degrees to stay warm once they have been boiled to sterilize. 

For this recipe I used:
2 cups of apple cider vinegar
2 cups of pickling white vinegar 5% acidity
3 cups of sugar
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½  teaspoon celery seeds
2 teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon of pickling spices
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (it’s optional but I love the little kick this gives the pickles)

To Prep the cucumbers, I slice them into as uniformed slices as possible. You do not want them too thin either or they will lose their crunch. I then soak the slices in ice cold water for 1 hour at least.  This is usually how long it takes to bring my water bath canner to a good full rolling boil. 

While soaking the cuckes, I, in a non-reactive pot,  bring to boil the vinegar and sugar. To this I add the spices and let boil for 10 minutes.

Drain the cucumbers. I then cold pack them into sterilized quart jars.  I then add the hot pickling liquid right to the jars. Process them in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. Let these cool and marinate for at least a day in the pickling liquid before you eat them. The waiting is the hardest part. I also prefer these cold so as they cool, I like to stick them into the fridge so that when the day waiting period is up, I can eat them.  This recipe usually makes 4 quarts of pickles.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Great Grape Jelly Experiment

I must confess, I am new to a lot of things when it comes to preserving my own foods. I have the Bell Blue Book of Canning and it is my preservation Bible, my go to source for canning knowledge, but I am new to many of the recipes. This Great Grape Jelly Experiment started when I made freezer jam for my family. I preserved a dozen and a half jars of strawberry, blackberry, and triple berry jams to keep in my freezer and use throughout the year. I was such a proud little homesteader with my fruits frozen or made into jam and then frozen.  I love to look at my freezer and see all the goodies I have worked to put up for the winter. However, after the first jar of blackberry jam had to be sampled, my family decided that they did not like the seeds in the jam. I didn’t notice them, I personally thought my jam was spectacular just like any mama does with her little prize possessions. My family, it turns out, likes seedless jellies more than jams. In fact, the chock full of high fructose corn syrup grape jelly is their favorite. So, I set out to make the men in my life happy and whip up some grape jelly.
Into the pages of the Bell Book to find grape jelly recipes, I found 2, one that used pectin and one that did not. Seem simple enough right? Ingredients needed 7 cups of Concord grape juice. Well, I can handle that. I headed right out to the store to find 100% Concord grape juice. I got out my trusty stainless steel pan and started mixing the juice, sugar and liquid pectin. I heated it to a boil…then I realized that I was supposed to actually juice grapes…Who would have thought? Well, I was too far into the recipe not to at least finish and try to see it this experiment would pan out. 

Jars going into the canner
The recipe in my Bell Bible said that the jelly needed to be processed in a waterbath canner for 10 minutes. I went ahead and filled my jars and processed the jelly. I listened for the telltale “pops” of the lids to show that the process was complete and that the jars sealed. They did, they popped. The excitement at my little experiment grew. I sooo out smarted those men in my life. I could totally make grape jelly. Nothing to it right? Well. . .  well the jelly did not really jell. . . at all. Instead, I had 4 pints of really sweet grape juice. I actually cannot imagine what it would taste like to just drink it with all the added sugar and pectin and all.  This non-jelling could be from using the juice, but I am beginning to suspect it was because I rushed the boil, heated it as fast as I could... There I go, fumbling through again. 
Water Bath is a going : )

Unable to accept defeat, I read up on the internet about jellies not jelling and decided to have another go at my grape jelly. I opened the sealed jars and returned them to my pot. I slowly brought the juice, sugar, pectin mixture to a boil like I would when making candy. Once the mix was boiling, it really started to smell like grape jelly. I knew it was going to work out this time. I continued this boil for 10 minutes. While the jelly was still hot, I ladled it into my waiting sterilized jars. Into the waterbath they went for another full ten minutes in the boiling canner. 

And . . . . as those jars came out and the “pop” sound of a successful seal was made…they began to really jell. Yay!!
Some of my jars cooling

So, lesson learned, when canning, follow the recipes to the “T”. Read thoroughly first, before assembling the things you need. Jelly can be made and preserved in a waterbath canner, it just needs to be done following tried and true recipes and utilizing a nice slow boil.  Some time may have been used up in my Great Grape Jelly experiment but it was valuable in the lessons learned.  I am glad to be able to make the products my family enjoys as much as possible.  I really do prefer to feed my family foods that are whole or minimally processed, even if that processing is done by me. The things that are put in foods these days are scary, from the factory farms, hormones, GMOs, antibiotics and lots of high fructose corn syrup, the list goes on, but it is scary not to know what goes into your food. You are what you eat right?
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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Who Am I?

Trunk Blanket and Camping Chair
Good morning folks, I am having one of those coffee, quiet house, rainy day inspired philosophical moments. Who am I? That is my question. I am Shannon. My interests include basket weaving, backyard chickens, gardening, preserving my harvest by canning and freezing. Cooking for my family is something that I enjoy. My husband is not always thrilled when I make him try new vegetables but I do it anyway. I'm a fixer. If there is something wrong or a task that needs done, I am your go to gal. I enjoy working through problems, it gives me a sense of triumph. I am a busy sports mom. You know, the one who wears the team colors and shouts "Go Team!!" at every opportunity...Yup that's me. I attend all the practices and games. I sit in the rain, snow and extreme heat. I carry "trunk blankets" in the trunk of my car. You never know when you may need one, either at baseball or football season. Those fold us chairs in a bag? I am a connoisseur of the camping/sport chair. 

I am a sucker for animals. Really, I love them. It probably comes down to the fact that I believe they all need me. lol My kids even get on board with that..."See that stray dog mom, it needs you" ... And it does. They all need me. lol I should come to grips with the fact that I like to be needed. I live in a household of all boys...except my animals are all girls...well except for Buster Brown the cat and he doesn't really like me as much as tolerates me. I call all of my animals "My Girls." When going for a walk, I say "Come on My Girls" and my dogs follow me about. My chickens are "My Ladies". They are some busy hens and in my mind they all have English accents. It's my mind, so they can have those. lol

What else screams Shannon? Reading! Reading and writing but I love reading. I know, I posted a while back about my son and his struggles with reading and how much I love to read. A secret confession of mine is that while everyone knows I love to read, I also am really getting into writing. I always thought that I was a reader, I love books, but not the writing of books. . .  Secret confession..I like the writing. I would love to write a novel. Who wouldn't right? I don't even know if I could start one. I always wonder how authors can tell if a thought is their original or if it is something they read many many years ago and their brain just recycled it. Crazy? I don't know. I can not count the number of books I have read. I put away at least 3 to 4 books a week. I do not watch tv or movies really for that matter. Im a book girl. I like them all.

Go Blue!
In college I majored in US History. My favorite class was an English Lit class...go figure right? Well actually it was technically an English class but it was on Early American Lit. The class was all about the early documents, letters, poems, pamphlets, that were coming out of the Colonies. I got to read Ben Franklin and Thomas Paine as well as Ann Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley. This class taught me so much more than what was going on in America at the time. The professor was very into close reading. A technique, that at first, I thought was really just baloney. But, as the class went on and we discussed these works in depth, I began to see the real beauty of language. Why authors choose certain words, colors, settings, all of it and how they tell a story even deeper than the face value of the writing. A story is a story, but a good story can be made a great story by the language that is used. I'm a nerd aren't I? lol

So this morning, before I wake up my kids to start a busy day of baseball tryouts, I have come to the conclusion that Shannon=human. I am human. I have interest and concerns. I have strengths and weaknesses. I am a self proclaimed country girl and nerd all at the same time, its just who I am. I preserve food and talk to my chickens. I wear a lot of sports hoodies and I know when a pitcher bocks. I will yell "False start" at football games before a ref can blow his whistle, well I yell from the stand, cant distract the players you know... I read, a lot,  and I am not hip to the game when it comes to tv shows and movies.
 Well this is me in a nut shell and I am ok with that.

: )

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Crock Pot Camping

This past week, my mother, my children, my brother’s children and I headed to a local state park for some camping and family time.  The baseball season had come to an end, the weather was beautiful and we had a full week before the chaos of football practice began. Who needs any other excuse to get outside and back to nature with family?

Well, back to nature with family for this week really meant, sleeping in a rustic cabin at the local state park. There was a roof over our heads, but no running water or indoor plumbing to be seen. There were however, showers and bathrooms spaced ever so intermittently around the campground.  Being, the county girl who has become accustomed to village life that I am, I grabbed my coffee maker and my crock pot. With these things, I can do anything. Right? Well, at least I was going to be caffeinated while I tried. 

I also saw this as an opportunity to try out some great pinterest ideas for campfire cooking. One I had my eye on for quite some time involved bananas.  This recipe inspiration “pin” came from  .  We took our bananas and split them in the middle. Into that we added chocolate chips, peanut butter and mini marshmallows.  We then wrapped them up and placed them on the grill over the hot coals from dinner. These little boats roasted up in about 5 minutes. They were spectacular! I mean, just really fabulous…have I said how awesome these were? Because they were. The bananas were perfectly warmed and caramelizing from the heat. The chocolate and peanut butter is just an awesome combination as it is but then with the marshmallow goodness melted all through… just bliss I tell you, pure perfectly wonderful bliss. 

Since I was on a role after those banana boats, the next night, we roasted marshmallows with the kids and what summer night campfire is complete without s’mores? To our s’mores, I spread peanut butter on the graham crackers, then added the chocolate bars and let the kids add their own roasted marshmallows. These were also wonderful. I am pretty certain if I learned anything this past week it is that peanut butter makes everything spectacular.

Snuggies were meant for campfires
All this dessert and I have yet to tell you about my brilliant idea to bring a crock pot camping. We have a couple of outlets to use at our site. We brought along a surge protector strip and used this to give ourselves a couple extra outlets to plug things in. That is brilliant in its own right, but the crock pot really does take the cake. In the crock pot we made mac and cheese one day. Just set it on low and let the noodles, milk and cheese, blend together while we were off enjoying the lake. On another day, that crock pot warmed chicken and veggies. It was a great holder of hot dogs too, kept them warm and ready to go as soon as the last munchkin came out of the water to eat. We never did get a chance to try out the crock pot for breakfast foods. It’s a must try on our next trip, but even in spite of not trying out the breakfast options, the crock pot has for sure found its way into the essential pile when I am packing for camping. 

Enjoy : )
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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fear Not : )

It feels like I haven't blogged in forever. Fear not dear friends I have been camping with my family for a few days. I have tried lots of fun pinterest ideas for cooking over a campfire and I even brought along my trusty crock pot. Tonight we had Mac & Cheese that cooked while we enjoyed the lake. Can't beat that huh? It's been a fun break before football starts. Why yes, baseball did just end technically but we are also into tryout season for next baseball season. What's a busy mom to do? Well so far, when in doubt, get back to nature. . . On another note, please, follow me on Twitter @VillageGirlBlog
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Thursday, August 2, 2012


Little did I know four years ago when I gave up buying tomatoes out of season that I would stumble upon a movement for seasonal, local, fresh food.  Mostly, I gave them up because as often as I tried, always hoping the next tomato would be better than the last, they just never were. Store bought tomatoes in Michigan during a January freeze are just not good. There were no name or grassroots movement that I was aware of, it was just the basic fact. The tomatoes may have all been uniform in size and a nice bright red on the outside, but the insides were colorless and lacking in flavor. 

I began to garden and grow my own tomatoes. I started with Burpee seeds and planted “Beefsteak” and “Early Janes” along with a few cherry and grape tomato plants. There is nothing better than a sun warmed tomato fresh from the garden. There’s no need to even salt them.  These seedling tomatoes did me well and got me on the path of gardening and preserving my harvest. 

Eventually we moved to another town, where there was a road side stand every spring where a local lady sold her fruit and veggie plants already started. When her purple umbrella covered stand opened I knew it was time to get my garden started. I compost throughout the year and plant into the rich earth those pretty little plants that I always counted on to grow big and strong, laden with my bounty. 

This year, I have a friend who moved out of her forested childhood home to a nice sunny farm not too far from where I call home. She ordered heirloom seeds for all types of fruits and veggies. She diligently set up shop and started her seeds indoors before sowing them into the ground after the last frost. Today, I lucked out and got to try one of those heirloom tomatoes. This tomato was a Krim, I don’t remember if it was the red of black variety but it was a Krim of some sort.  It was delicious. Really, just plain wonderful with a little salt and pepper it, in my opinion should be considered a culinary masterpiece. 

Heirloom tomatoes are not your grocery store variety. They are not all uniformed red or globe shaped. They come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Their appearance may even be off putting to us who have been indoctrinated into believing that tomatoes should all be the red orbs that we often see in stores. Someone may glance at the wide variety of colors and shapes and think something went wrong with these fruits. I encourage everyone to just try it. Try a bite of a tomato that is not your everyday variety that you are used too. The flavors are so worth it. These are the way tomatoes are supposed to taste.

Once you have branched out away from grocery store tomatoes it is hard to ever go back. You start to order sandwiches at shops without tomato, not because you don’t like them but because they are those flavorless store bought variety.  Then you stop buying them out of season because really those mealy uniformed orbs just don’t cut it. Eventually you find that you need to start a container garden to grow a plant or two. That’s how it all started for me. Now, I prefer to grow my own but when I need more than I have room to grow, I shop from my local farmers markets. The food is so much better on so many levels. I believe it has broken down less nutrition wise from not traveling miles and miles in trucks or planes, it is less likely to be genetically modified in a laboratory and also the food just tastes better. 

So, this year, the harvests are coming in and nature’s bounty is all around us. Take the time to sample foods from your local farmers markets, try one of the “odd” looking tomatoes with names like San Marzano, Brandywine red, Gardeners Delight, Cherokee purple, Black Krim, Green Zebra, Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Chocolate Cherry,  or Three Sisters  and enjoy the wonderful flavors that await you. 

Enjoy : )

ps... I am so bummed I forgot to take a picture of my friends awesome tomatoes! *Face to Palm
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