Friday, September 30, 2011

Decorating Canning Jars On The Cheap

Last year was the first year I canned tomatoes and I was hooked. 

 I loved being able to grab a jar of organic tomatoes out of my pantry in mid-winter to make soups and chili.  What I didn't love was trying to scape the labels off of my jars when I was done.  You see, canning jars and their rings are reusable (Go green!).  Only the lids must be replaced.  The labels you can buy are handy to use but are a real pain to remove from the jars. 

This year, after canning tomatoes and relish,  I decided to try to come up with something different - something less sticky.

I cut up some of the abundant brown burlap left over from my daughter's wedding last fall and secured it with elastic hair bands I found at the dollar store. Then I simply printed out some labels on card stock and punched out a cute tag shape with a paper punch.  After punching a small hole in the top, I snipped from the top of the tag into the small hole and that allowed the tag to slip onto the hair band.

As I use the jars of tomatoes and relish, I can save the hair bands and burlap circles to use next year.  I already set up a basket in my utility room to collect them. 

I'm in the middle of organizing and making an inventory of my pantry right now, so I'll show pics when I'm done.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Wrensday: Unexpected Pop Of Color

I tend to choose neutral colors when I decorate.  I love colors, but prefer to live with a calmer backdrop. 

Case in point: my kitchen island and stool with only a red dish towel and bowl to add color.

Imagine my surprise when I found a bright green stool at a consignment shop and fell in love with it.

I left the store without it but couldn't stop thinking about how cheerful it was and what a great shape it had.

The next week, I had to go back and see if it was still there.  I had decided that if it was, it would be mine. 

It was and it is. 

I am loving the pop of color in my kitchen.  I don't have anything else in my home that matches it but it doesn't matter.  Every time I walk into the kitchen, it makes me smile.

Have you ever bought something unexpected for your home because you fell in love with it?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Monday Motivation: Keeping Your Car Organized

If your car is a mess, start at the beginning by reading Post #1, Post #2, and Post #3.

If your car is looking good, but you need help keeping it looking nice, then keep reading. . .

1.  Keep a trash bag in your car and FILL it. 

2.  Empty the trash bag every time you fill your car up with gasoline.

3.  Once a month, check over your car. 
     a.  check the tire pressure, windshield wiper fluid, oil, transmission fluid, and power steering fluid
     b.  check the paperwork in your car to make sure it is current - insurance, registration, and inspection
     c.  vacuum carpets and seats, wipe down dashboard and console, clean windows

4.  Remove extra items from your car whenever you arrive home.  Don't leave extra clothing, toys, or supplies in the car.   Doing so only welcomes more items to pile up.

5.  Keep containers in your cargo or trunk area to keep items from rolling around while driving.

One reader, Robin, had a great addition to last week's list of important items to keep in your car:

"Hi Kelly,

I think it is important to always keep some cash (paper dollars and change) in your car, not just in your purse. You could lose you purse or have it stolen, etc. Atm's may not always be available or the electricity could be out and places may only accept cash.

I also think it is smart to fill up when your car is at 1/2 tank. That way you always have enough gas to get where you're going."

Thanks, Robin.  Great ideas. 


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Spending Your Time

Here's a thought that's been rolling around in my head lately. . .

How much time does a certain activity take up in my life?

How much time do I spend:

on the computer?

watching TV?

praying for others?

talking on the phone?

reading my Bible?

helping others?



For the past several weeks I've been casually keeping track of how I've been spending my time.  Here are a few things I learned about myself.

I spend more time on the computer than in The Word.

I spend more time doing laundry than helping others.

I spend more time watching TV than praying. 

Hmmm. . . time for a change.

Can I challenge you to keep track of how you spend your time?  I must warn you  - it's a real eye opener.  Try it if you dare. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wrensday: Mushroom Parade

With all of the rain and moisture we've had lately, the mushrooms are really having a party.

I don't think I've ever seen such a variety of mushrooms in my yard before.

This one was huge.  It showed up overnight.

White ones with curled up edges.

Pretty red ones growing in clusters.

Large ones, so heavy that they tilt to the side.  I'm sure there's a frog under there somewhere!

These remind me of miniature bird baths.

I'm linking to:

Monday, September 19, 2011

Monday Motivation: 20 Important Items To Keep In Your Vehicle So You're Always Prepared

I'm on the road a lot. Between work, church, errands, and fun (shopping) I'm quite friendly with my car.  It's my "home away from home".

  I've found that it's important to have a number of items stored in the car in case of emergency, or just to make my life easier. 


1.  The most important item you can have with you in an emergency is your cell phone.  This is your connection to help.  Keep a charger in the car too.

2.  3 Hazard triangles (or flares)

3.  Jumper cables - Consumer reports recommends 6 gauge rating for most cars.

4.  Flashlight - check batteries every few months

5.  Rope and or bungee cords for securing items

6.  Duct tape

7.  Bottled water - keep a bottle in the trunk for your overheated car. Bring a fresh bottle with you each time you travel for drinking. 

8.  Blanket - I like my waterproof, heavy duty picnic blanket.  We can use it to keep dry, keep warm, or have a picnic.

9.  Rain poncho

10.  First aid kit

11.  Wrapped snacks like nuts, granola bars, dried fruit, peanut butter crackers etc.

12.  Tire pressure gauge

13.  Tissue, napkins, or paper towels (for clean up on isle two)

14.  Leatherman tool - It has scissors, screwdriver, tweezers, knife etc. all in one tool and folds up.

15.  Notepad and pen/pencil - For jotting down notes, ideas, or (God forbid) information regarding an accident.

16.  Windshield scraper

17.  Umbrella

18.  Make-up bag with hand lotion, mints, feminine products, brush/comb,chap stick, etc. for "just in case".

19.  GPS or map - If you're like me and can't find your way out of a paper bag.

20.  I've also used my AAA membership more than a few times.  They've unlocked my car for me, towed my car to a service station, and changed a flat tire.

 Because I always like to be prepared, I also keep my grocery shopping bags in the trunk and any coupons I might use in the glove compartment. 

Can you think of anything I've missed?   Please tell us about it in the comment section or shoot me an email and I'll include it in the list.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

How To Keep Your Slipcovers Looking Neat

If you are the proud owner of an ugly sofa, then you know how important slipcovers are.

Problem is, whenever you sit on your slipcover, it gets all catywhompus.  (Apparently spell check doesn't acknowledge catywhompus as a word, but I use it all the time, so it must be a word)

Well, thanks to one of my readers, Tiffany, I now have a solution.  Pool noodles!  Pick one up now while they're on summer clearance.

Tuck it in the crevice between the sofa back and the seat. The foam holds the fabric securely.

Because I'm short, I need pillows to help support my back while watching television.  I decided to use two bed pillow shams with bed pillows in them to brighten up the sofa, add some interest, and be handy to grab for comfortable sitting.  A red check pillow adds a punch of color and makes me happy.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that the pool noodle holds the slipcover in place through several sitting sessions.  Before this little trick, I was CONSTANTLY tucking the slipcover back in place.  Give it a try and let me know how it works for you. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wrensday: Those Marauding Chickens

Not only have the marauding chickens ventured too far into the neighbor's yard, they have tried to take over the back deck.  I took this picture from the safety of the dinning room. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pickled Green Tomatoes In The Fridge

I've still got green tomatoes hanging out at my house and I decided to make one of my Hubs favorite pickles. 

He came home from work one day with a recipe in his hand.  A co-worker had brought in these pickles and it was love at first bite.

The recipe is very easy to follow but it does have a lot of ingredients.

First, fill a large glass jar with sliced green tomatoes.  It try to cut all the pieces the same size. 

In a saucepan, mix 1 1/4 oz. (1 whole bottle) of pickling spice with 1 quart of water.  Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add 1 pint white vinegar, 1/2 cup kosher salt, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, 1tsp. dill weed, 6 hot cherry peppers - diced, and 1/2 tsp. cherry pepper seeds (optional).  Pour this mixture over your green tomatoes.

Screw on the lid and keep refrigerated.  Pickles are ready to eat after 3 weeks. 

Note:  If jug is not filled to 1/4 inch from top, add boiled water.

The original recipe was called Brodsky's Pickled Green Tomatoes.  It came from a website called  I wanted to link to their site and give them credit, but they have shut the site down due to a family death. 

I'm rewriting the recipe here for printing purposes.

Brodsky's Pickled Green Tomatoes
1 gallon jar
1 1/4 oz. pickling spice
1 pint white vinegar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. dill weed
6 hot cherry peppers, diced
1/2 tsp. cherry pepper seeds (optional)

1.  simmer pickling spice in 1 quart of water for 15 minutes.
2.  quarter firm green tomatoes to fill the jar.
3.  add all ingredients
4.  set in fridge for 3 weeks.

*if jug is not filled to 1/4 inch from top add boiled water to top off.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Monday Motivation: Organizing Your Vehicle's Paperwork

Need help decluttering your vehicle?  Read this post first.

Now that you've decluttered, you will want to organize your vehicle's paperwork so you can find it quickly.  If you are pulled over by a police officer or involved in an accident, you will need updated information. 

The most important information will be your vehicle registration, state inspection, and proof of insurance.  Your driver's license will also be necessary but it should be in your wallet or purse. 

One piece of paper you definitely don't want to have in your vehicle is the title.  If your car is ever stolen (God forbid) the thief can us that title to easily sell your vehicle.  Bummer.

These important papers can be kept in a small folder made to fit in the glove compartment.  Some vehicles come with a very nice leather or vinyl portfolio that holds the owner's manual.  It usually has a small pocket on the inside to hold the important papers. 

Other papers you might want to keep handy are:
    * Your mechanics name, phone number, and address
    * An accident form to help you get all the information you'll need for insurance purposes if you're in an accident.  Your insurance company may send you one with your insurance renewal. 

Other information that is helpful to have in the vehicle is a maintenance and repair record.  This is where you keep track of oil changes, brake work, repairs, new tires, etc.  I recommend you keep it in the car because you never know when you might break down and it's helpful to know immediately if your car parts are still under warranty (possibly saving you money).

A vehicle maintenance and repair record is also helpful when selling your car.  It can prove that you have taken good care of your vehicle. 

 If you use your car for business or volunteer work you can, in most cases, use your mileage for a tax deduction -  but you must keep track of the details.  Check with your tax person for their recommendations for keep track of everything.  I use a spreadsheet on a clipboard that I keep in my work bag.  I don't go to a job without my bag, so I know I always have it with me when I'm working.  At the end of the year, I add all of the work mileage together and give that total to my tax preparer.  Of course, I keep the spreadsheet with all of my tax records in case I am ever audited.

Two more important pieces of information that you will want to keep track of are your vehicle's VIN number and your license plate numbers.  I keep this information in my day planner and in a file in my home office.  It will be necessary if your car is stolen.  Embarrassingly, I've also checked the license plate info in my planner when I heard an announcement over a store's intercom that some lamebrain customer with license plate number ######  had left their car door open in the parking lot.  Yes, that was me.

So, what other important papers do you keep in your car?  Please share in the comment section or email me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Projects I've Been Working On

I've been working on a few projects during the past few weeks.  So far, these are the projects I actually finished. 

Here's a full size, adjustable utility apron.  I made it from an upcycled dress.

I love this fun evening bag.  Who says formal should be stuffy?  Formal should be fun!

I found this sweet little felt purse and had to do something to add personality to it.  I added vintage buttons from Oma's button box.  I think the maroon, gray, and brown buttons add a fun, Autumn touch.

I'm linking to:

sew many ways

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Wrensday: Late Summer Antics At The Wren

It never ceases to amaze me how many interesting things there are to see around Brown Wren Acres.

Butterflies all over the place!

Papa and grandson driving the lawn tractor around the yard, picking up sticks.

Hubs checking on the bee hives.  So far, so good. 

Goldfinches enjoying the sunflower seeds.

Chickens.   Well chickens getting into mischief.  It seems they have been visiting the neighbors and the neighbors don't enjoy the chickens as much as we do.  So, we'll be building a fence to keep them on the property. 

Yup, mischief makers, all of them.

Never a dull moment at Brown Wren Acres.

Linking to:

Yummy Green Tomato Relish

I've had a lot of green tomatoes to deal with, thanks to Hurricane Irene.  She blew the green tomatoes right off my plants.  I picked them up off the ground, brought them into the kitchen and got to work making a yummy green tomato relish.  I'm generally not a pickle or relish eater, but this is one relish I will eat.  In fact, during my third pregnancy (many moons ago), I craved it so much I ate it by the spoonful right out of the jar.  Weird, I know. 

The process is pretty simple:  Wash your tomatoes and  finely dice them.  You don't need to worry about taking the skin off.  You'll need 2 quarts of diced tomatoes.

Add 1/2 cup of salt to the bowl and let sit over night and then drain off the liquid.

The next morning, combine:  1/2 tsp. pepper, 1 tsp. dry mustard, 2 tsp. celery seed, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/4 tsp. ground cloves, 1/4 cup mustard seed, and 2 cups apple cider vinegar.  Bring to a boil.

Add 2 diced sweet red peppers, 2 cups chopped onions, the diced tomatoes, and 3 cups of sugar.  Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes.  

Pack into not, sterilized jars.  Seal and process for 20 minutes in a water bath.  Cool before storing.

Here's the recipe one more time:

2 qts. diced green tomatoes
1/2 cup salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. celery seed
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground allspice
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 cup mustard seed
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 sweet red peppers, diced
2 cups onion, diced
3 cups sugar

Salt the tomatoes and all them to stand overnight.  Drain well

Combine spices and vinegar in a kettle and bring to a boil.  Add peppers, tomatoes, onions, and sugar.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes.

Pack in hot, sterilized jars.  Seal and process for 20 minutes in a water bath.  Cool before storing.

Linking to:

Monday, September 5, 2011

Monday Motivation: Decluttering and Organizing Your Car

Has your vehicle become the latest site for an archaeological dig?

Are you missing some items and you suspect they could possibly be in your car but you're too afraid to look?

Is there a strange odor coming from somewhere in your car?

Do you always ride with friends because you're too afraid to sit in your own vehicle?

It's time.  It's time to declutter and organize your car.

1.  Grab a trash bag/can and some boxes/bins and take them out to your vehicle.

2.  Take everything out of the car, sorting as you go (see step #3).  Check every nook and cranny.  Remove items from the glove compartment and every other storage compartment.  Don't forget to check under the seats and the built-in ash trays.  Remove your children's car seats and booster seats.  Remove all items from the trunk/cargo area as well.

3.  Sort the items as you remove them.  Trash goes in the trash bag/can.  Items that must stay in the vehicle go in one bin/box.  Items that need to go somewhere else (house, another car, to another person) go in another bin/box.  Action items go into still another bin/box (library books to be returned, dry cleaning to be dropped off, DVDs to be returned, recycling to be recycled).

4.   Now that you have everything removed from the vehicle, it's time to clean.
      a.  vacuum seats and floor, including car mats
      b.  spot clean spots on seats and floor (here's what I use)
      c.  wipe down all surfaces (here's what I use)
      d.  clean windows (here's what I use)
      e.  treat surfaces with appropriate protectant (leather seats get a leather paste, vinyl dashboards get Armor All ) 

  OK.  It's time to put the car back together - except this time without all of the junk. 

1.  Place clean floor mats into the car

2.  Glove compartment:  Only keep items you'll need to access occasionally - frequently used items need to be closer to your arm's reach.  You'll want to have important papers (owner's manual, vehicle registration, auto club info., accident report form, notepad and pen, and insurance info) stored in the glove compartment.

3.  In an area closer to the driver, place the GPS, phone charger, gum, etc. for easy access while you're on the road.

4.  In the trunk/cargo area you'll want to have emergency supplies like a first aide kit and jumper cables.  Hopefully you'll never need them, but they'll be there when you need them.  We'll get into specifics in a future post.

Well, I hope this helps you get a start on decluttering and organizing your vehicle this week.  For the next three weeks we'll be going into more detail about organizing your vehicle.

Monday the 12th:  Vehicle paperwork
Monday the 19th:  Things you must have in your vehicle
Monday the 26th:  Car Maintenance and handy tips 

*this post contains affiliate links

Friday, September 2, 2011

How To Can Tomatoes

So, you've been growing tomatoes.

Lots of tomatoes.

What to do with them?

How about canning them?

To get started, you'll need a few things:

1.  A large cutting board - I like to use one with a "drip catcher" all around because the tomatoes are very juicy.  I also put a kitchen towel under the cutting board to catch any overflow.

2.  Jars (we'll talk about them next), jar lids, and bands. 

3.  A sharp knife

6.  Ladle

7.  Lemon juice and measuring spoon

8.  Small pan with simmering water to heat jar lids in.

I clean and sterilize my jars in my dishwasher.  When they're done washing, and before the go to the dry cycle, I put them on a cookie sheet in my oven and set it on 170 degrees.

I fill my large canning pot up with water (it's so big that I have to set it on the stove and fill it with pitchers full of water).  I set the heat to high right at the beginning because it takes awhile to bring that much water to a boil.

I also fill my large soup pot with water and bring it to a boil.  That pot serves two purposes as you'll see later. 

On a small back burner I have my small saucepan, set on low, holding my jar lids.  I usually only heat up 4-6 jar lids at a time. 

On to the sink prep:

In the large bowl on the left, I have ice water.  This is where the tomatoes go to cool before peeling.  In the right side of the sink sit two bowls.  One is for the peeled tomatoes and one is for the tomatoes peels (which will be emptied into the compost pile later)

Lastly, I'll need tomatoes.  I grow two heirloom varieties, specifically for canning.  One is called Marglobe and it is a round, firm tomato.  The other one is called Big Month because most of its harvest is ready during the month of August, ready for canning.

Now for the actual process:

I toss several tomatoes into the boiling water in the soup pot for 1-3 minutes.  This will cause the skins to burst and be easier to remove.  Canning tomatoes with their skins on leaves little chunks of tough skin in the mix - yuck.

When you notice the skins starting to split, lift the tomatoes out and put them into the ice water.  Let them chill for a minute or so (hot tomatoes are difficult to handle and will burn your fingers)  Ask me how I know!

After they have cooled slightly, take a small knife and peel the skin off.  I also cut the core out at the same time.  The two varieties of tomatoes I used this year were very easy to peel.  I'll definitely be ordering them again next year from Baker seeds.

You'll get a lot of juice in your bowl of tomatoes so you'll want to drain off most of that. 

I boil, cool, and peel all of my available tomatoes at one time so I can wash and use my soup pot again.

After washing out the pot, I start prepping the tomatoes.

I dice them and throw them into the pot.  I don't add anything else.

Put the pot on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil.  You want it to be heated through. 

While the tomato mixture is heating up, you'll want to get your jars out of the oven.  Use a pot holder because they'll be hot.

Put 1 Tbl. of lemon juice into each pint jar or 1 tsp. into each 1/2 pint jar to raise the acidity level.  Most old recipes omit this step but I like to err on the side of caution when it comes to bacteria.   You can also add citric acid powder instead of lemon juice.

Bring your pot over to the jars and carefully ladle some of the mixture into each jar.

Fill each jar to within 1/2 inch of the top.  You'll need to leave this extra head space for the canning process.  Wipe the rim of each jar with a damp paper towel to remove any tomato juice.  Then add the lid from the hot water (I use bamboo tongs) and finally gently screw on the ring.  You don't want to tighten the ring, just screw it on lightly.

Place your filled jars into the canner and lower the rack into the boiling water.  The water may stop boiling for a minute but should come back up to a boil quickly.  When the water is back up to a boil, put the cover on the canner and set your timer for 35 minutes. 

When the timer goes off, carefully remove the jars from the canner and place on a cooling rack.  Repeat with process until you've canned all of your peeled and chopped tomatoes.  If you don't have enough tomatoes to fill your last jar, just put them in the fridge and use within a few days.   It's not safe to can a partially filled jar. 

One of my favorite sounds is the "ping" you'll hear as your jars cool slightly.  When you hear that sound, you'll know that you have a good, safe seal on your jar.  Before storing your jars, make sure you press down on the center "button" on each jar lid.  It should be sunken in and not move when pressed.  If you can press the "button" down, then your jar is not sealed.  You can store it in the fridge and use it up or you can reprocess it for another 35 minutes.

 Every once in awhile, I'll get a defective lid and it simply will not seal.  The tomatoes are still good and I just refrigerate the jar and use the tomatoes within a few days.

*this post contains affiliate links