Saturday, July 31, 2010

God's pruning in our lives

In preparing for my Sunday School lesson this week, I needed to consider pruning -- the pruning of trees and bushes and how it compares to God's work of pruning in the lives of His people.

My first assignment was to consider what benefits pruning promotes in the growth of plants. I'm not a gardener at all, but I thought I knew the answer to this in general. I decided to look it up a little bit in the only gardening book I own: The Green Thumb Book of Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, by George Abraham. In the section on fruit and nut trees, I found a lot of information. I jotted down just a few notes.

Here's the one concerning the pruning of grapes: “There is no one thing so completely disastrous to your efforts to grow grapes as vines that have not been regularly and properly pruned.”

Of apple trees, the book suggests: “A tree thick with branches won’t let sun in ... and it may have so much weak wood that it bears a large percentage of small apples.”

Concerning currants, the book notes that all canes should be removed at the age when they become “weak and not fruitful”.

Of hazelnut trees, it’s said they should be pruned to stimulate new growth. And walnut trees should be pruned to force growth in a particular direction.

So, benefits of pruning include letting in light and air, promoting greater growth or growth in a desirable direction, and increased capacity for quality fruit-bearing. And, lack of pruning can be disastrous! I also noticed that the various pruning techniques -- obviously best left to an expert -- vary with the type of tree or bush. Some must be pruned heavily, others lightly.

My next assignment was to consider what benefits pruning promotes when it comes to spiritual growth.

It seems to me that spiritual pruning has many of the same benefits as with plants. Letting in light, removing diseased areas, promoting growth, and increasing fruit-bearing and the capacity to produce higher-quality fruit.

Jesus said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit He taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:1-2)

These verses tell us very simply of God’s pruning and purging plan and of the reason for it. Believer’s Bible Commentary explains, “The branch that bears fruit is the Christian who is growing more like the Lord Jesus. Even such vines need to be pruned or cleansed. Just as a real vine must be cleaned from insects, mildew, and fungus, so a Christian must be cleansed from worldly things that cling to him.”

Jesus went on to say, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without Me ye can do nothing. ... Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples." (John 15:5, 8)

Ruth Paxson, in her classic book Life on the Highest Plane, has a lot to say about fruit-bearing and pruning and purging. She points out especially verses 2 and 5 of John 15: “Surely there is progression in Christlikeness -- ‘not fruit’, ‘fruit’, ‘more fruit’, ‘much fruit’. Do these phrases not unveil before us the the possibilities and potentialities for Christlikeness open to every branch in the vine? Do they not also show us the positive progression ‘from glory to glory’ God expects to see in us? These expressions are descriptive. There is but one branch that fully satisfies the heart of the divine Husbandman.” That is seen in verse 8 -- that we bear much fruit.

Miss Paxson adds that God makes very clear the fruit which He expects to find on the branch -- the fruit of the Spirit. She notes, “The passion of the spiritual man is progress in things spiritual. He is not content with bearing ‘fruit’, no, not even with bearing ‘more fruit’; his heart is fixed upon the bearing of the ‘much fruit’ which alone glorifies the Father."

The classic devotional book Streams in the Desert gives a picture of what an unpruned vineyard might look like and makes a challenging application:

“A child of God was dazed by the variety of afflictions which seemed to make her their target. Walking past a vineyard in the rich autumnal glow she noticed the untrimmed appearance and the luxuriant wealth of leaves on the vines, that the ground was given over to a tangle of weeds and grass, and that the whole place looked utterly uncared for; and as she pondered, the Heavenly Gardener whispered so precious a message that she would fain pass it on:
“My dear child, are you wondering at the sequence of trials in your life? Behold that vineyard and learn of it. The gardener ceases to prune, to trim, to harrow, or to pluck the ripe fruit only when he expects nothing more from the vine during that season. It is left to itself, because the season of fruit is past and further effort for the present would yield no profit. Comparative uselessness is the condition of freedom from suffering. Do you then wish Me to cease pruning your life? Shall I leave you alone?’ And the comforted heart cried, ‘No!”

Are you living with difficulties today? Take heart! God has a purpose in it. It may just be that He is pruning your life in order to let in more light, remove diseased areas, promote spiritual growth, or increase your spiritual fruit-bearing. Hold steady as He wields the pruning knife, and look forward to the blessed result.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Another swiffer cover finished

Here is the most recent sewed swiffer cover I have made. I thought I would make two of each kind (crocheted, for dry mopping, and sewed, for wet mopping). I like the idea of having two so there is always a clean one ready when I need to mop. These are made using thin terry kitchen towels from Walmart.

This is the pattern I used:
Swiffer Cover. The pattern calls for terrycloth, but I decided to try using a kitchen towel instead and it worked very well. The first one I made had a coffee motif on the towel and the colors went really well with the swiffer. This one, as you see, has a grape and vineyard motif. It doesn't go quite as well color-wise, but is still attractive. On this one I used large vintage buttons in a wine color.

Here it is in place on the swiffer, button side up.

And here again, only now you can see the side that will be in contact with the floor when mopping.

I have used this and the only problem I see is that one really needs to wring it out before mopping rather than just dipping it in a bucket of cleaning solution and mopping away.  But that is easily done and not a huge problem.  Other than that I was very pleased with how it worked, and especially pleased with the $1 price tag!  I could have avoided even spending that by utilizing a used terry dish towel, but I thought the thinner, stiffer cheap ones would work better for this purpose -- wouldn't slide around so much.  That turned out to be true.

It makes mopping more fun to use something so decorative, and one gets to be frugal at the same time. It's a win-win!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A helpful apple hint!

In my newest issue of Taste of Home, I read an interesting hint about apples for snacks, kids' lunches, etc. The author suggested draining the pineapple juice from a can of pineapple (the kind packed in juice) and pouring it over sliced apples in a zip-top plastic bag. Shake the bag well to be sure all the apple slices have been coated with the pineapple juice. The author said that the apple slices would stay fresh and crisp for days in the fridge this way.

I just had to try this, as I had just opened a can of pineapple chunks, and I just happened to have 5 or 6 apples in the crisper drawer. I washed the apples -- 3 Granny Smiths and a couple of Fujis --well with fruit and veggie wash and cut each unpeeled apple into about eight chunks, not slices. As I cut them up I placed the apple chunks into a gallon-size zip-top freezer bag. It seemed to me that the freezer bag, being heavier, might stand up better to this task. Then I poured the pineapple juice over the apples, sealed the bag and shook it well to coat the apple chunks.

I was really pleased with how this worked. It was so nice to have apples all cut up and snack-ready. Mr. T also took a snack-size container of the apples in his lunch one day. And we used them as a meal accompaniment (in lieu of fruit salad) on another day. I had cut up the apples on a Wednesday and they were still in great shape on the following Monday. So I highly recommend this helpful idea! I do think that perhaps another time I would use a covered plastic container rather than the zip-top bag, just to make it easier to remove the apple chunks as needed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Double-Good Blueberry Pie

My dad's blueberry bushes have been producing so well this year! He is enjoying picking berries every day and sharing them with others. This weekend I made a favorite old blueberry pie recipe. I had forgotten how delicious it was -- definitely my favorite blueberry pie because one can really taste the fresh blueberries in it.


1 baked 9-inch pie shell
3/4 cup sugar
3 Tblsp. cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
1/4 cup water
1 quart fresh blueberries, divided use
1 Tblsp. butter
1 Tblsp. lemon juice
Whipped topping or whipped cream

Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large saucepan. Gradually add the water and stir in2 cups of the blueberries. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Continue to cook, stirring, for 1 minute or until mixture is thickened and clear. Remove from the heat and stir in butter and lemon juice. Allow mixture to cool.

When mixture has cooled, stir in the remaining 2 cups of raw fresh blueberries. Pour mixture into pie shell and spread evenly to fill shell. Chill the pie for several hours before serving. Top entire pie or each individual serving with whipped cream or whipped topping.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A picnic by the river!

Longtime readers will remember that Mr. T and I used to picnic by the river nearly every Wednesday evening in summer and fall on the way to church. Due to changes in our lives and Mr. T's work schedule, that just hasn't been possible for a long, long time.

Today Mr. T got home from work mid-morning due to weather-related problems at work. He proposed that we pick up some subs and chips, grab a couple bottles of water from the fridge and have a picnic by the river for lunch today! Of course, I was only too happy to go along with the idea. Rain was threatening, but it held off while we were eating. It was actually a more tranquil, leisurely picnic than those we used to have, because there were no time constraints. We could just take time and enjoy the quiet there by the river. What a blessing in the midst of a busy day! God is so good to give us these little surprises in our lives from time to time.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Handmade marshmallow giveaway at Heart and Home!

I recently read about an amazing, delicious-sounding giveaway at Heart and Home. The items being given away are fabulous handmade marshmallows from Softly Sweetly .

If, like me, you thought homemade marshmallows had to be just plain vanilla or possibly coconut, you will be amazed at the varieties offered at Softly Sweetly . You will definitely want to get in on this giveaway, which ends July 19. So head on over to Heart and Home and get in on the fun!

And maybe, like me, you will also be inspired to try making some homemade marshmallows ... just as soon as the heat breaks!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Tomato Soup Cake

Last week was my dad's 87th birthday. Rather than attempt any kind of a party, we took him out for a late lunch at his favorite seafood place. I wanted to make him a birthday cake, but knew that realistically he wouldn't be able to eat an entire cake.

Every year since I can remember, his traditional birthday cake has always been tomato soup cake with a vanilla butter frosting. When my mother was still able to bake, I didn't think much about what recipe she used. I thought it had been the one in a little community cake cookbook. And so, when I started making his cake, I sort of shuffled between that recipe and ones found on the internet, etc. Some years, a friend or granddaughter has made his cake.

This year I looked at the cake cookbook but the recipe just didn't seem right. Finally I decided to look in my old recipe box, which contains a lot of recipes I had copied before leaving home. Sure enough, way at the back of the cake section was the batter-spattered recipe for tomato soup cake:

And here's the back of the recipe:

I decided to make cupcakes, so that I could take him only a few on a plate, and also because the weather was so hot and cupcakes would take less time in the oven. The recipe would have fit into 12 cupcake tins, but I only used 11. I was referring to some old directions for baking cupcakes from cake recipes, and they said to make 10 or 11 cupcakes for a 9-inch pan's worth of batter. Next time I will make a dozen, as some of these overflowed their tops.

The cupcakes were really too soft and crumbly, I think because I followed the "cake flour substitute" formula which involves subtracting 2 Tblsp. flour from every cup of all-purpose flour. I also spooned the flour into the measuring cup, something I know one is supposed to do, but I usually just scoop the flour (except in yeast bread recipes) and it works out better for me. So next time I will scoop the flour and use the full 2 cups.

I frosted them with a vanilla butter frosting. Most people use a cream cheese frosting for tomato soup cake, but my mother always used just a basic butter frosting and my dad prefers that. The day was so warm that the frosting threatened to slide off. As soon as I added some candy sprinkles, I put the cupcakes in the fridge. That also helped with their soft crumbly texture.

My dad enjoyed his birthday cupcakes, and Mr. T took full advantage of the leftovers!

Bright spots in the wildflower garden

This time of year, the wildflower garden is mostly just ferns and foliage. The bright yellow primroses have just gone by. To brighten things up a bit this year I planted a few impatiens since they love shade. These have done well here, so I may add a few more.

Here is a bright red-orange impatiens.

And here is a pink double impatiens.

Here's a closeup of the double impatiens. I love how they look like little roses.

I also planted a sort of lavender-pink color, but didn't get a photo of that one. Maybe later!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A day in the mountains

Since Mr. T ended up having Monday, July 5, off from work, we decided to do something touristy and fun. The Cannon Mountain tramway is a neat attraction in Franconia Notch State Park. Tram cars take one to the top of Cannon Mountain. At the top there is a lodge with cafeteria, rest rooms, etc. and there is also an observation deck which one can hike to. Views can be seen into Canada if conditions are right. It was a special treat to have our son and two granddaughters accompanying us for this trip, as the girls had never been up the tramway before.

We took along a picnic -- sub sandwiches, potato chips, fresh cherries and toffee crackle cookies -- and found a nice shady picnic table to eat at before taking the tram up the mountain.

En route up the mountain, we could look back at this pretty lake.

It was a very hot day, and we were hoping things would be a bit cooler at the top of the mountain. It was about 70º up there, but felt warmer after we had hiked the Rim Trail

and then climbed the many steps to the top of the observation deck.

While up there, we observed a small plane towing a glider.

What an exciting moment it was when the plane released the glider to soar on its own!

Coming down, we met the other tram car. Always a neat moment as the cars rock and sway a bit, and one waves to the travelers in the other car.

Then it was home to spend the rest of the day in the swimming pool!

Monday, July 12, 2010

If you can't stand the heat...

Then make something cold for supper tonight! This is what I have prepared and waiting in the fridge:
I clipped this recipe from a Woman's Day Collector's Cookbook insert some years ago. I had it stuck in an old cookbook -- the sort with "magnetic" pages -- and hadn't thought of it in years. The recipe floated out of the cookbook one day as I paged through it. It's actually very good! I have made the salad several times now. One nice thing is that it uses very basic ingredients that most people will have on hand. I like to make the salad with mini penne pasta.

I'll trim the bowl with tomato slices and romaine leaves before serving.

And I am planning on baking a quick pan of focaccia bread -- only 12-15 minutes in the oven --to go alongside our salad!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A seashore-themed project

This week I had the inspiration to make something decorative for the downstairs bathroom. Last year, when we finished redoing it, we really needed something with a seashore theme to hang where a calendar had been. Well, that month our friends from Panama City, FL came to visit and they brought us a lovely calendar filled with artwork from their town and area -- the perfect thing for that space. It was one of those 18-month calendars, so has just run out the end of June. I've been racking my brain to decide what to do. There are some gorgeous paintings in that calendar so I thought about framing one, called Tide's Out. It shows children examining their finds on a beach. (I hate the idea of throwing such beautiful artwork away.)

There was an unused frame in the house, but it turned out to be an 11x14 frame and the picture is smaller. Here's what I decided to do. On the calendar page, this painting is superimposed on a background of watercolor paper that's painted a very light blue-gray and then has two vertical bands of two slightly darker blues on the right-hand side. I got out a piece of 11x14 watercolor paper and thought I would try and paint it the same way, then place the carefully cut out painting atop it.

In the end I decided to just stick with one color -- a pale aqua. My watercolor skills are well, shall we say, still developing. Or maybe undeveloped would be a better word. And I was working with a very old watercolor set that used to belong to my kids, and that color was nearly gone. The simpler background was definitely the right choice to make.

I cut out the picture, leaving its shadow in place, and placed it on the background using pop dots to give it some dimension. Down in one corner I glued on a few tiny sand dollars which we collected in Maine many years ago.

Here's the picture before hanging.

The frame (which had been a medium brown) was now painted a beachy pale tan color called Goose Feather and embellished with a few small shells -- beachcombing finds from years gone by.

And here it is hanging on the bathroom wall:

I'm so pleased with how this decorative picture turned out. It cost nothing, but gives us pleasure and brings back wonderful memories every time we look at it.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

A very special wildflower

Here is one of my very favorite summer wildflowers. This is Bee-Balm, or Oswego Tea. My trusty Summer & Fall Wildflowers of New England tells me that this plant is a member of the mint family and that "Bee-balm grows along stream banks and in moist meadows to a height of from two to four feet. It is a flower the humming birds seek."

And they do. The pictures cannot do this gorgeous flower justice. A friend gave me a plant years ago and now there are five. It seems to vary from year to year how many come up. The jewelweed tries to take over, but I don't allow that. Here are three of the plants.

And my very favorite photo, a close-up of this beautiful flower.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Teapot wall hanging

Many years ago, I made this cute teapot wall hanging from a kit. The kit was an applique FeltWorks design by Dimensions titled "Dear Friends Teapot". I see the kit has a 1995 copyright, so guess I must have made this about 15 years ago.

I saved the pattern because I thought perhaps I would make another teapot hanging one day.

But I didn't, until recently. I wanted to make one of these for a friend who loves all things to do with tea. I could re-use a few of the felt scraps from the original kit, but would need to buy more for the larger pattern pieces. Sadly, local stores no longer stock felt by the single piece or by color. I would have had to buy an assortment of colors, and none of the ones offered (earth tones or brights) were what I wanted. So I had to simply go with whatever colors I had on hand in my stash of felt. It took awhile, but I finally did pull together some colors I thought would work together.

Here's the result:

All of the buttons on this wall hanging are from my stash of vintage buttons. I think the pink and white ones may have come off a child's bathrobe.

I scrounged around in my craft room and even found some wire to use for the teapot handle!

I love the fact that this wall hanging was made completely of items I had on hand. I took this project along up north when we went on our getaway in May, and it was a perfect simple project to work on while sitting on the dock!

Someone asked me if these kits were still available. I did a little research and (at least as of a few months ago) there were some of these listed on eBay. So if you are interested in making a teapot wall hanging of your own, do an internet search and see what you can find!

A few of our wildflowers

Back when some of these flowers were in bloom, I didn't have a lot of time to post about them. But I do want to share these photos even after the fact. It was a wonderful spring for wildflowers up here. The snow left early and didn't return, and the temperatures were much warmer than usual. So the spring wildflowers bloomed early and prolifically. And the summer ones have been doing the same!

The false lily-of-the-valley were like a carpet on the forest floor this spring; here is a close-up of one in the wildflower garden.

The real lily-of-the-valley did well this year too. Many years ago I had transplanted them from my mother's garden to different places around the yard. Though they are not wild flowers, the place they have done the best is in the wildflower garden. I apologize for the blurry photo but I sort of like its misty look.

The false Solomon's Seal spread a little bit this year. I have only seen one plant here before; this year there were several.

The Fringed Polygala was a surprise this year! We transplanted these sweet little flowers to the wildflower garden at least 15 years ago. They were plants Grampa T. had found in the woods and brought here for Carrie to transplant. To my knowledge they have never bloomed in the intervening years. This year they did!

Aren't they so cute? I think they look like tiny airplanes, propeller and all.

These forget-me-nots are everywhere in the woods of far northern New Hampshire. Wish we had some here!

We took this photo of bluets on our trip up north, too. These were blooming in the grassy area next to the town beach.

The meadow cranesbill was across the street, by our mailbox.

Here is what really nurtured my interest in wildflowers at a very young age. I received these books "from the tooth fairy" rather than money, in exchange for two "very fine teeth" back in 1957.

These irises were in bloom a few weeks ago. These were given me by a friend many years ago and I believe they are the wild "blue flag" variety. They badly need dividing at this point.

Lastly, in the wildflower department, here are the primroses, planted years ago in the wildflower garden and having spread everywhere over the years. They add a welcome touch of color in summer, since most of the flowers in this garden are spring-blooming ones.

Hope you have enjoyed this look at some of our New England wildflowers!

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A different baked bean recipe

With summer events and entertaining in full swing, it's always nice to have an easy recipe one can bring along to share at cookouts, picnics, etc. Here is a new favorite recipe of ours.

Baked Beans

1 lb. dried great northern beans
Bacon fat (or use oil)
Small amount of bacon bits or leftover cooked bacon, crumbled
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp minced garlic
2/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup barbecue sauce
1 c. water
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. coarsely ground pepper

Soak beans overnight. In the morning drain and rinse beans, discarding liquid. Place beans in Dutch oven and add 6 cups water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour or until beans are almost tender.

In the Dutch oven, melt a tablespoon or so of bacon fat, or use the same amount of oil. Saute the chopped onion in this until tender; add the garlic and cook 1 minute longer. Stir in all of the remaining ingredients and place in an ungreased 3-quart casserole dish. Cover and bake at 300º for several hours or until beans are tender and reach desired consistency, Stir every 30-60 minutes and add water as needed.

This is a major revision of a recipe called New England Baked Beans from Taste of Home. To my mind, these are not New England-y at all, since true New England baked beans would not contain ketchup or garlic, nor would they ordinarily start with great northern beans. But these beans are very delicious! My 9-year-old granddaughter, a real bean aficionado, loves these. I just took a large batch of these to a church cookout and there were only a few left over.

I had been looking for a slightly different baked bean recipe, as we have them every Saturday night, and a little variety is always good. I tweaked this somewhat before even trying it, since I couldn't stand the thought of 1-1/2 cups brown sugar, 1/3 cup molasses, and 2 cups of ketchup (which contains sugar also). This recipe was described as being "slightly sweet" which is certainly an understatement. When I first tried the recipe I did use the full amount of ketchup and cut the brown sugar to 1/2 cup and kept the molasses the same. This quickly changed, the next time to 1 cup ketchup and 1 cup water, with the 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1/3 cup molasses. Then I had to be away on a Saturday morning and my son made the beans. He changed the ketchup component to 2/3 cup ketchup and 1/3 cup raspberry chipotle barbecue sauce. He forgot the molasses, which is probably just as well. Since then, I've been making the beans with the proportions given here in the recipe.

At this point, I'm alternating between this recipe and my regular baked bean recipe. We enjoy them both!