Straighten Out My Life

This was our door hanger at our hotel room in Las Vegas.

Straighten out my life? Yes, please.

We came home from our trip completely exhausted.

But the good news is that the burnt tomato smell in our house mostly dissipated in our absense.

Thanks for all of the well wishes.

Lots and LOTS of pictures coming soon.


Canning Explosion

What started out yesterday as a fun project with Adam . . . turned into a early-morning disaster at the Ballard house.

I was up late canning marinara sauce last night and left the last batch of jars in a water bath on the stove while I went to shower and get ready for bed.

But then instead of going back downstairs to turn off the stove, I forgot about them and went to sleep.

I woke up at 5:00 am to a bad smell of burnt smoke and immediately realized what had happened. I hurried Steve out of bed and we ran downstairs together. He went to grab a towel to remove the lid, and just as he turned his back, the pot exploded and shot shards of glass and scalding hot tomato sauce everywhere.

The smoke bellowed out of the pot and set off the smoke detectors, waking up all of the kids. I was standing clear across the kitchen, but still got burned and cut in a few places. I ran back upstairs, leaving a small trail from my bloody toe, to calm down the crying kids, while Steve frantically opened all the windows.

We hurried to get properly dressed, in case the police department showed up. (Our alarm is pretty loud. . . thankfully, they didn't come.)

I think we were both in a bit of shock at what had just happened. I should have taken a picture of the ceiling, which was mostly red, and probably needs to be repainted. And there were really pieces of glass everywhere.

We are completely amazed that Steve didn't get seriously injured; he certainly should have. All he ended up with was a couple of very small cuts and a few tiny pieces of glass in his neck and head.

We called Steve's mom, who is up early in the morning for work, and she and Richard came and rescued us. And I mean rescued us. They brought a bucket and rags and went right to work. Have I ever told you that I have the best in-laws in the world? Because I do.

Most of the mess has been cleaned up, but much of the burnt smell lingers. And since the microwave (which had tomato sauce on the inside of it) is broken, I guess it's time to call Mike.

We are very thankful that things weren't worse, and know that Steve was definitely protected. But, boy, do I wish I could rewind my life and do last night over again.

I'll try again next year.



When Steve came home from work last night, I was in the middle of canning marinara sauce. Eighteen quarts of the best marinara sauce ever. He told me I looked good in an apron. (He seems to like the green Blimpie's apron just fine, Rebecca :) And then he told me that even though I think my life is a wreck, I really do get a lot done.
"Look at everything you have already processed this year," he said, pointing to the dozens of canned jars and bags of dried fruit, still on the counter. "You have done most of it yourself, too. I only helped you with that one batch of jam." (At three in the morning, in case you were wondering.) "And," he added, "you haven't even broken down crying yet."
"What?!?" I asked, in surprise.
"You end up crying every year," he informed me. "You get overwhelmed, start crying, and I come to your rescue."
In my defense, I have been pregnant/sick/emotional/ornery/extremely sleep deprived during quite a few harvest seasons. And then there was that year when we found out Jasmine was pregnant that I cried for two weeks straight. I guess I am a bit of a crier?
And to his credit, he is the coolest husband in the world. He really does rescue me when I get in over my head, and he is also really good at finding ways to improve our harvesting techniques.
The harvest is in full swing at the Ballard house. There are boxes of fruit ripening in the garage. The kitchen floor is perpetually sticky. And there is a constant hum coming from the overworked dehydrator.
And, I guess that I have a new goal this year: no crying.
Harvesting has somehow escalated to the point that I actually had some anxiety about it this year. The bottom line is that there is a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time. And everyone else in the world thinks that life and its demands should continue as normal: school, PTA meetings, piano lessons, church activities, etc. When I was in college, it was easier. If I got too busy processing fruit, I would just drop a class to free up more time. There just isn't anything that I can easily "drop" these days.
The motives have changed too. It used to be more of an issue that I had no control and could not turn down free produce. Now it has evolved into a burden of knowing what our family needs to get us through to the next year. In addition to a larger family that eats more food, we have all developed discriminating tastes and just can't concede to eating certain store-bought products. It was not a happy day in the Ballard house when we ran out of raspberry-peach jam a few months ago.
That being said, I am at a good place right now. I have canned enough that if something were to happen that prevented me (and Steve) from processing anything else, I would be okay. Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of work to do. But the pressure has been alleviated enough that I can really enjoy the season.
So please enjoy these recipes, my favorites of the harvest.
Raspberry-Peach Jam
9 cups peaches, peeled
2 cups raspberries
9 cups sugar
2 large packages raspberry jello
Put peaches in blender and puree until smooth. Pour into large pot and add raspberries and sugar. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and add raspberry jello. Stir for a few minutes. Add to jars and process in water bath for 10 minutes. Makes about 8 pints.
Costco in Ogden still has the biggest, most amazing raspberries ever. Six six-ounce baskets for $8.99. They are so huge that we have been spraying whipped cream inside of them.
Basil Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
Mix in a blender or food processor. Can easily be frozen for later use in ice cube trays. To make more economical, substitute walnuts for pine nuts, which are ridiculously expensive right now. Serve on sandwiches or with pasta. Try adding grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella cheese, roasted pine nuts, and tomatoes.
The kids were very disappointed to find out that purple basil does not make pretty purple pesto, like we expected. Instead, it looks like this:
Vegetable Medley
3 cloves garlic
2 onions
1/2 cup olive oil
handful fresh basil, chopped
10-12 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
2 cups carrots
crookneck squash
green beans
any other fresh vegetable you happen to have (no potatoes)
(All done to taste and availability, so you can modify the quantities, as needed.)

Saute garlic and onions in olive oil. Add tomatoes and let simmer for as long as you can. Then add basil and all of the other fresh vegetables you have, chopped or sliced as you like them. Salt and pepper to taste. Does not can well, but is great frozen.
Fresh Marinara Sauce

1/2 bushel tomatoes, peeled and chopped
7-8 chopped onions
6-7 GREEN PEPPERS, chopped (After making this recipe with 6-7 green onions for years, I found out the recipe had been posted incorrectly!)
12(+) 6 oz. cans of tomato paste

5 Tbsp. oregano
1 1/2 cups fresh basil, chopped
3/4 cup oil
4 packages dry spaghetti mix
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup salt
6 cups water
Simmer for 1 hour stirring a lot, so as not to burn the bottom. Place in clean, sterilized quart jars and place in a hot waterbath for 40 mins. for quart jars.
This year, we used my new Norpro Sauce Master for the tomatoes, so we didn't have to do any blanching, coring, or chopping. I also added 20 cans of tomato paste instead of 12, like the recipe says.


Craft Day Recap: Dioramas and Ojos de Dios

For Craft Day last week, Lucy wanted to make dioramas. (Only Lucy would pick dioramas, right?) Rachel wanted to make Mexican/Indian "Ojos de Dios" out of yarn. They assured me that they could gather all of the supplies for the crafts all by themselves. And they did.

Lucy's diorama was a horse/pond scene. Gracie made a television showing a girl jump-roping in the sun. Jake, who sometimes isn't very impressed with our crafts, thoroughly enjoyed making his very-detailed Indian scene diorama.

The older girls made quite a few "Ojos de Dios", or "Eyes of God". The Huichol Indians of Mexico and the Aymara Indians of Bolivia weave yard on a simple frame of crossed sticks to make this design called "Ojo de Dios" or "Eye of God". Originally, "God's Eyes" were made to be placed on an altar so that the gods could watch over the praying people and protect them. They are commonly sold in markets in Mexico, reminding people that God looks down with love on people everywhere.

Oh, I almost forgot. Adam made a diorama too. All by himself.

Craft Day Recap: Kool-Aid Tie Dying

Step 1: Find a really cool friend* and invite yourself over for Craft Day.

*I met my tie-dying friend, Audrey, at YW Camp when I was 12 years old. We almost got sent home. . . but that's another story.

Step 2: Pick out lots of colorful flavors of Kool-Aid.

Step 3: Soak silk capes in a large bowl of hot water, mixed with some vinegar for about 30 minutes.

Step 4: Mix 2 cups water, 3/4 cup vinegar, and 3 packets of unsweetened Kool-Aid in the color of your choice in a quart-sized canning jar. (Yellow requires 5 packets.)

Step 5: Add silk capes (or scarves) and mix around with a knife.

Step 6: Cover with plastic wrap and microwave for 3 minutes, let sit for 3 minutes. Remove plastic wrap, stir with knife,
and microwave for 3 minutes again. Let sit for 3 minutes, and repeat stirring/microwaving process for a third (and final)
time. (The silk should have absorbed the color from the liquid, so the liquid will appear mostly clear.)

Step 7: When cool, remove from jars, wring out excess liquid, and hang to dry.

Step 8: Have a picnic to pass the time.

Step 9: Take down the capes and rinse in cold water. Rehang capes to dry.

Step 10: Sing songs about Jesus on the guitar, play with friends, and learn how old you are to pass more time.

Step 11: Try to be patient.

Step 12: Take down the capes and let the playing begin!

Step 13: If you get tired, lie down and take a little break.

Step 14: Continue playing until the sun goes down.

Craft Day Recap: Pickleball

Don't know what pickleball is?

Get with the program.

It's America's Fastest Growing Sport.

At least, that's what the sign said.

I can't wait to compete in Ogden's first pickleball tournament. And, given that most pickleball players are usually about sixty years old, I probably have a decent chance of winning.



Girl Colors

Me: Adam asked me today if he uses girl colors if he will turn into a girl.

Steve: You told him yes, right?

Me: No! I told him NO.

I am curious to know what our kids would be like if Steve were a stay-at-home dad. I'm not sure he would survive. And unfortunately, he's not competitive enough to take that on as a challenge.