Thursday, May 31, 2012

DIY Mint Extract

I have a ton of mint! So I decided to try making mint extract (for cookies, naturally. mmmmm, cookies.)

I picked and washed the mint and plucked the leaves from the stems. I muddled the leaves by crushing them with my fingers and loosely packed them in a jar. I poured in 80 proof vodka and covered all the leaves, leaving none poking above the surface (it would rot and ruin it). I labelled it with the date in 30 days so I will know when it is done. I capped it and will try to remember to swirl it around every so often.  

In a month, I will strain out the leaves and hopefully have delicious mint extract to use in my baking. Stay tuned for the results in one month...

DIY Easy Dishwasher Soap

I had been using DIY dishwasher soap for a little while, but wasn't thrilled because I wasn't sure of borax on my dishes and because it was hard to get borax and super washing soda for a great price locally. Then I read this post by My Healthy Green Family on a borax free recipe. I was ecstatic! I tweaked the recipe and I am so pleased with the results! This new recipe is CHEAP, the ingredients are easy to find and it works crazy good. My dishwasher even became cleaner! I like to make my recipes as simple and inexpensive as I can, without compromising the end product's effectiveness. Some people like it a little fancier and might want to add essential oils or follow Free Range Mama's recipe for citrus vinegar. I use plain white vinegar in my rinse-aid compartment.  I advise finding out if you have hard water or not. A few years ago, I read my dishwasher's manual. I discovered that I needed to fill both of the soap compartments if my water was within some limits for how hard or soft it was. A call to my water dept. revealed that I did indeed have hard water. So, I double the citric acid to compensate. I also need 2 tablespoons per load. Here is my recipe:

1 cup Baking Soda
2/3 cup Citric Acid (use 1/3 cup if you don't have hard water)
1/2 cup salt

Simply mix them all together in an airtight container, and it is ready to use. Again, I need 2 tablespoons per load, but if your water is soft, maybe you need one.

The only drawback has been that after about a day, it seems to want to clump. I think that the next time I get something with a pack of desiccant in it,I will throw the pack in. For now, I use a fork to break it up, and after that initial clumping, it seems good. Also, please note that I used plain old baking soda and plain old salt. I ordered my citric acid online. Amazon has good prices, as does

     I encourage you to try this! I actually get excited when I open my dishwasher and see everything glistening. Happy to wash dishes? This stuff must be miraculous!

p.s.  I am on a DIY spree! I apologize for the abundance of DIY posts coming, but I find it really useful to save my recipes this way.

What's growin' on?

Well, planting season has started and everything here is getting going! This year, I've added more fruits and veggies. I like to fill my yard with edibles. It is truly a joy to appreciate the sights, smells and tastes of your garden. I was shocked to see our "Wolfie Tree" (each child had a tree planted in honor of their birth) has plums on it!!! Six years and suddenly we have plums! I even forgot it was a plum tree! Yeah for cool surprises! Let's check out what's growin' on at the Hoffmanhaus...

Baby Basil, awww, how sweet. 

My neighbor gave me strawberry and raspberry plants. It was 90 degrees that day, so we will see how they do and if their new home is sunny enough.

I scored some veggie plants for 25 cents each! They were bedraggled, but we will try some T.L.C. This little guy has a wee little cauliflower head growing. Will the chipmunks eat all the leaves off? Hmmmmm.

Rainbow chard and kale, pretty and tasty.

A colorful spot that the butterflies like, dianthus, snapdragons, marigolds.

I really needed a hose guide, but I wasn't paying for those cheap plastic ones ever again. I "planted" an empty olive oil bottle and it works great! The green glass is much prettier too. Did I mention it was free?! I added a pretty stone given to me by my Father-in-love and transplanted my chicks and hens around it. I love it!

Lantana, a new plant for me. Pink and yellow in the same flower! I swoon! The butterflies like it too. If it does well, it will be a new favorite and will get put in every year!

I have many lavenders and they are blooming like mad! Truly a favorite because they are beautiful in the summer, but I dry the flowers and enjoy them all winter too.

Lettuce, mesculin mix, arugula and some pepper plants. The salad is out of this world!

Pineapple mint, apple mint and chocolate mint make their way in a sadly neglected patch. I hope to get it snazzier this year.

The mulberries are ready! The kids love to pick them. This year they are extra sweet!

We are losing some, but the larger peaches are hanging in there on Olivia's tree.

Some of the raspberries from my neighbor. Good neighbor's are wonderful!

I made two small rock gardens this year. this one has chicks and hens and portulaca. And hose guides :)

Rose Campion, I love to float these in water with some marigolds and Zinnia for a centerpiece. Neon pink!

I threw some of the berry plants into a pot. These had large berries on them! We will see how they do...

I added a second rain barrel this year! Next year, I hope to add a third possibly. I like that this one has a spigot on the barrel. On my original barrel, the turn off valve is at the end of the hose. Overzealous gardeners have been known to "accidentally" pull the hose off the barrel. That sucks.
I hope you are all growing something this year. Even a pot of chives will give you a thrill when you chop some into your meal and think, "I grew that." I love when kids come over and my boys invariably give them the "you can eat this!" tour. It really surprises kids that you can eat so much of my small yard. It makes me feel good to see my guys proud of all their plants.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Needles of Doom

Today I bring you a very special episode of Dairy Godmother. This episode teaches a lesson, and the life that lesson saves, might be your very own.  You see, today I suffered A.S.K.I.--A Serious Knitting Injury.
This story starts in my backyard...
     I wasn't feeling 100% today, so I thought I would do a little gentle, quiet knitting...
     Please note that I was using 4 needles, metal needles, with points on both ends, that is 8 shiny, angry fiercely sharp points. Very pointy. And strong. And many of them. Apparently with a taste for blood. My blood.
     I innocently knitted away on a pair of socks for myself (definitely NOT gonna be my "lucky" socks). Then something made me go to stand up from my comfortable seat in a low-slung lawn chair. I had my knitting in my lap and when I rocked forward I caused a rift in the space-time continuum and allowed some horrid knitting demon to enter my world... and rock it. I would like to say an epic battle ensued, but the battle was mostly one-sided. As I leaned forward, I heard one of the most disgusting sounds I ever heard and looked down in horror to see that a knitting needle had punctured my bare thigh and was sticking straight out of said thigh, all except the 3 inches or so actually in my thigh. Horrible. Horrible. Horrible. That sound I heard was it puncturing me. And now I have this friggin' needle in my leg. I sucked it up and grabbed the needle and yanked it out, completely and utterly disgusted and horrified. I managed to get inside and up to the bathroom and screamed for antibacterial ointment "Stat!" Then Jasmine came in and plunged a hypodermic needle directly into my heart and pumped me up with epinephrine. Or, she put a band-aid on it for me while a looping soundtrack of that horrible sound skipped over and over in my mind. Whatever.
     So, here is the weirdest part. It basically didn't bleed. And although it is sore, there was no excruciating pain. My tetanus shot is up to date. So I just went outside and discovered that my knitting had come undone!!!! I picked it up and got it back on my needles, correctly I might add (something I usually screw up). That is how I knit, baby.
     So upon doing some research regarding how many other people were stupid enough to do this, I found this story about a lady that took a knitting needle to the heart and lived! Of course, she was a children's librarian so she is pretty much f'ing magical. Still, a needle to the ventricle would do most mere mortals in. I am just glad the other end of my needle hit the underwire of my bra, possibly saving my life like having a sentimental cigarette case in your breast pocket can deflect a bullet fired from close range at your precious organ.
     So, what have we learned today? That knitters are totally badass because they become toughened  (insert photo of ninjas training by sticking their hands into hot coals) by frequent heartbreaking trials and tribulations, such as working for months on an ill-fitting sweater caused by pshawing the need to make a swatch gauge or children/animals/clumsy people causing their knitting to come unravelled in the midst of some tricky bit of knitting and purling.
     That it is NOT a good idea to stand up with your knitting in your lap. Put it in your knitting bag, hold it away from you, then stand. Got it.
     That A.S.K.I. can cause P.T.S.D. I am very fearful of my needles seeking me out now that they have tasted my blood. There must be a self-help group for people that have witnessed the horror of A.S.K.I.
                                      The horror, oh, the horror.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

I scream for ice cream!

A family outing to Malley's for a little slice o'heaven...
Vlad got "puppy luv"!

Something new for Wolfie, the  "mickey malley" sundae!

fruit slice ninja


What did I get? The usual, of course. Peanut brittle supreme!! Soooo delish!

Nothing beats a Sundae on a Sunday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Easy Homemade Strawberry Lemonade Popsicles

     My son was a Popsicle addict. He needed some serious help, as that was all he truly wanted to eat. However, as his Mom, I really didn't want him to eat those store bought pops made with ingredients that in no way resemble food. How could I find him a healthier frozen confection that was reasonably priced and easily purchased? well, you D.I.Y.D.S. (Do It Your Dang Self). So, I bought the world's most awesome pop maker. Now, anyone that knows me, knows that this is a VERY pricey purchase for me. But, I have tried plastic pop makers before and hated them. I try not to buy plastic if I can help it. And this thing is built to last a lifetime. Plus, it works a treat. The boys call these "rocket pops" because they do look like 1950's toy rockets.
     I tried OJ and apple juice pops, but the kiddos just sucked the juice out and were left with a giant stick of ice, which, well, just sucked. So I made up a recipe that is better than store bought pops, but not the healthiest pop in the world either. They were a hit! Now, I am doing what I always do when we transition into a change in the way we eat... I slowly change the recipe to a healthier and healthier one until, at last, They are eating what I hoped they would. And better yet, they aren't complaining. I am so sick of complaining.
     Here is what you will need:

***A pop maker or mold. You can definitely make your own if you choose to. Personally, the stainless steel molds are awesome because they aren't connected, they have a stable holder, and the pops slide out of the mold with about 1-2 seconds of warm water over them. They also wash up like a dream.

*** Strawberries. I use about 6 frozen berries, unless I happen to have some fresh on hand. Frozen is great because you always have them in your freezer, they last and they are still a healthy and economical choice.

*** Lemonade. I make a batch of lemonade and then make a batch of pops before it is gone.

***Sugar. This is all about the transition. I started with adding about a Tablespoon per batch. This tricked the addict into thinking they were more like store bought. I have been slowly cutting down and hope to no longer add any additional sugar. Patience is a virtue in these delicate endeavors.

***Blender. Got to puree those berries!

     It helps if you can figure out how much liquid your pop molds will need, then you won't make too much and have to drink the leftovers all secretively before anyone else notices and wants you to share it.
     Put the berries in the blender and pour in the lemonade (again, you can be all smart and stuff and measure how much your pops hold, or do as I do and just cover the berries. You can add sugar if you need to....
Let it whip! I use the ice crush setting and get those berries really pureed. This will create a little foam on top.
Pour into the molds. I fill up to just about the top, because some of it will be foam and I don't want a tiny pop balanced on the end of the stick. If I created too much foam, I scoop it off before I pour and drink it, because I am willing to take one for the team like that. I'm a giver.

Now, you just have to wait for it to freeze. Oh, the waiting. I hate waiting as much as complaining, so I got smart and started making a surplus. I unmold them when they are frozen, wrap in plastic wrap and store them in a bag in the freezer (Yes, I do wash the wrap and bag and reuse them. I just can't help it. Can you think of something better to wrap them in that isn't plastic? I would be grateful to hear it. ) Then my molds are free to make another batch.

The kids love them! I think it is great that I know everything that has gone into them! I am looking forward to  trying these with limeade, I just need to get some limes. Raspberry lemonade pops might be next, as I have some raspberries in the freezer right now. Sometimes, I add a splash of OJ in place of some of the lemonade and that is delish too! Hope you enjoy these and better yet, enjoy sticking it to the man for making such delicious but completely unhealthy ice pops. We don't need their stinking ice cream novelties!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day

     I think I have celebrated 23 Mother's days in my career as a mama. It is always so wonderful to think back on how the path of motherhood has changed for me. I have so many happy mother's days to remember and this most recent one continued in this happy tradition. We spent the day with My In-Loves -- Mom, Dad, Wendy and Adam. We went to Pymatuning Deer Park, had a lovely picnic and then hit the linesville spillway for some carp feeding. On the way home we wandered off to a blue heron rookery that we saw a sign for. We also shared some icecream from a roadside stand. The weather was absolutely perfect--warm (not hot) and sunny. Good company, perfect weather and delicious food-- the Mother's day trifecta! Did I mention there was a building full of parakeets? You got to take a honey and seed stick in and have them swarm you! Yeah. Life. is. Good.

Yes! That is a huge porcupine!

Mother' day gift-- the boys pretended to be Ingalls-Wilder characters, proving they have learned a few things from me reading the Little house books to them!, Ah, sweet validation.


Wolf talked to the guy leading him the whole time, big surprise, right? He said his pony was named Popcorn  :)

Mad Budgie skills!

Feeding the carp at the Linesville spillway, or as the Hoffbros call it, "The BlackHole of Carp". They describe it as "Ultimate", which is their ultimate compliment!

Feeding the Oxen/cattle, whatever, I'm a city girl!)
(subscribers, click here to view the video above)

The proof that Mama Jo is the Budgie whisperer!
(click here to view another great video)

Friday, May 11, 2012

An Anniversary -- #12!

    Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the first time I ever saw my Husband. We met online, so our first date was also our first meeting. It was one of the best days of my life. A while back, I told Matt that it would be nice to write down our love story so that our children could read it when they were old enough to be falling in love themselves. So, Matt surprised me with his side of the story of our first magically delicious date! I'll share it with you:
     I am an idiot - a suitor’s tale:

Twelve years ago I arrived at Aladdin’s, a local Middle-Eastern restaurant, with a heady mixture of emotions.  I was anxious about finally meeting the girl I’d been conversing with for weeks, but I was feeling pretty good about the upcoming meeting.  These conversations had been quite wonderful and she really seemed to like the things I had to say, and she was very intriguing herself, having many interests and experiences that were both similar and extremely different from my own.  However, above all, I was acutely aware of the faux pas I had committed the day before, and which made me feel that there was a high degree of likelihood that my date would already think me an idiot before I even opened my mouth to say “Hello!”  

I had come to this same restaurant the previous day at the appointed time with most of these same emotions.  I had gotten there first, or so it seemed.  The waiter seated me, and after a period of time came over to take my order.  I informed her that I was still waiting for my guest to arrive.  I busied myself trying to get mentally prepared and to calm my nerves.

After a half an hour, I started to get worried.  I’ve always been someone who found fault with myself, and my first inclination was to believe that she had decided that it was not worth the effort to meet me after all.  Our previous conversations came to mind, though, and these thoughts disappeared.   Standing someone up just didn’t seem part of her character.  Still, where was she?

I made myself be patient, and waited a while longer.  Still no date.  Now I really started getting neurotic.  This was the year 2000, and many people still didn’t have cell phones - myself included.  I also didn’t have her number written down.  Typical me.  So, now I felt forced to borrow the restaurant’s desk phone, and, most embarrassingly, call my Mother and ask her to page through my thousands of emails looking for the proper phone number.

After what seemed an eternity, I had my date’s number and was disappointed to find that all I could get was her voicemail.  Grrr.  Why was this happening?  I left a message wondering where she was and if she was OK.  I hung up and waited a while longer.  Finally I left, feeling dejected and foolish.  

Nothing could have made me feel more foolish, though, as when she called me later that night with the news that I had come to meet her a day early!  She unnecessarily expressed how sorry she was for the situation, but nothing could stop the way my face burned with shame.  I was so anxious to meet her that I had apparently lost my sanity and thought the day was Wednesday when it was indeed just Tuesday.  To make matters worse, my best friend had also improperly confirmed the day of the week earlier in the day when I had been speaking with him.  Luckily, she seemed more amused rather than horrified, so I felt better a bit better.  Still, what a terrible way to kick off a first date before we had even gotten to the actual DATE!

So, making my way from the parking lot around the corner into the restaurant at the proper time on the proper day, my inner thoughts churned.  After all this, would she still be interested in me?  Would she possibly have any shred of respect or good will toward me?  Entering, I found her waiting right around a corner.  She was gorgeous, and broadly smiling!  She was even more attractive than I had seen in pictures, and was immediately felt relieved by the way she received me.  Dinner proceeded, and she admitted that she herself had been so nervous that she had already had a couple drinks.    

To be honest, much of the rest of the night is still a bit of a blur.  I spent the evening really in the moment with her, and so only small details remain.  I was enjoying her company, and she mine.  She was beautiful, witty, and insightful.  I loved how she had come dressed in an earthy skirt and white cap-sleeved t-shirt.  Her less-than-formal manner put me at ease and made me able to be myself in her presence.  

We finished dinner, and she suggested that we go hit some golf balls.  Wow!  How down-to-earth can you get?  I’m no golfer, but we had a great time with it.  I couldn’t believe it when she wanted to go pick up something she had left at work.  I must really have been giving her some good vibes for her to trust me that much!  Maybe we had both temporarily lost our minds for these two days.  I was truly amazed at this girl.  I couldn’t believe that I - of all people - was hitting it off with someone like this.  I had never had such a wonderful time on a date in all my life before.

Eventually, the evening had to come to a close as she needed to get home.  We made our way back to the restaurant where her car was still parked.  We were saying our goodbyes, and feeling like I needed to be a gentleman and not be too forward, I gave her a kiss on the cheek.  An exclamation of “Aw, come on!” from her led to a good deal more from then on out.  Twelve years later, and ten of these married, I still think of those two days as one of the most amazing times in my life.  I still have my wonderful girl, and still feel incredibly lucky that my error has turned from a collossal blunder into an amusing “How did you first meet” anecdote that I hope to joyfully pass on to my grandchildren some day.    

To Shannon, thank you for your kindness, love, and trust.  It’s always been more than I deserve!  I love you, my sweetie!  

Isn't he a sweetheart? He even remembered what I wore! I will treasure this forever...

7th anniversary (2)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Spring-ish week!

RIght now, I am...
 feeling worn down by a couple weeks of crazy behavior courtesy of the offspring. When they act nasty, then yes, they are the offspring. or spawn. Just kidding! Sort of.

Subscribers may not see the above video, but can click here to see it.

thinking summery stuff, like adding porches on my house and other crazy projects that can't possibly happen, but fill my mind while I do mundane things like pull weeds or yell, "put your clothes back on!" for the millionth time (to Vlad the exhibitionist, of course).

My new gnome, Claude. He completes me.

appreciatingsharing the finer points of itsy-bitsy spider with my Granddaughter. And her very chubby thighs. And her super cute bangs. And her budding art skillz.
In a sweet hat, crocheted by my talented sister, Robyn.

Look at that art! She even painted her fingernails, must have been watching Mama!

 anticipating a sweet new baby, a first Niece for me.

reminding myself of everything as I can't seem to organize my thoughts, actions or household lately.

what the weather will be like for Mother's day. We have a really fun day planned, weather permitting. Another Hoffman adventure!
Some sneak peeks at what we might do!

 hoping to keep getting some hiking in every week. It is not only great exercise, but provides a sense of peace to be surrounded by trees, rocks, water and of course, dirt.
Wolf and Grandpa Jay in the Cuyahoga Valley, at the Blue Hen Falls Trail.

ready for some great salads! I put in mixed lettuces, mesculin mix, arugala, kale and swiss chard.I can't wait!

on peaches! We finally settled on our Olivia tree--each child in our family has had a tree planted for them. Olivia's tree is a cresthaven peach tree. It is loaded with peaches, but is so tiny, I don't know what will happen this year. This adds to our cherries, mulberries and juneberries, quite a mini-orchard!
See! Peaches, teeny tiny peaches!

 the new purse I knitted for wearing when we are out and all I need is my phone and keys. It is my first attempt at cable knitting.

 wanting more of the strawberry syrup I made last night! We had it on wholewheat pancakes for dinner and it was soooooooo good. This morning, Wolf and I enjoyed it mixed in with our homemade plain yogurt and it was perfect! I will definitely make this more often, trying other fruits too. 

Hope you are having a fun, yet peaceful (oh, those boys!),week in your neck of the woods!

(This blog is inspired by my favorite blog, SouleMama!)