Sunday, May 29, 2011

Princess and the Wii

The 21st century princess has a Wii rather than a Pea!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

forgive me blog for neglecting you

I have been feeling guilty for neglecting my commitment to myself to blog at least once a week. I am so attached to my little "digital scrapbook" It's the place where I store all our family memories and here I am not documenting all the craziness going on around here. The post I have made are so short and choppy I will have to go back and rewrite them. So the reason it's been so crazy around here is we got an offer on our home. Actually we got the call from our agent while we were in Vegas for my birthday and probably in no condition to be working a deal! 

See I told ya, 

But in this market you gotta do what ya gotta do! So via telephone, text and the help of our awesome real-estate agent Laura we managed to get it done. By the time we landed back in Austin we had countered and settled on a price. If you have ever sold a house you know that is JUST THE START.

After the reality set in that I was going to be MOVING WITH A KID and had no idea where we were moving, other than out of suburbia, panic came in full force! We have decided to rent and take our time shopping. I thought no big deal there are 100's of great apartments & condos downtown. WRONG! Turns out almost every apartment & condo is between 94 & 97 % full. So my choice of floor plans and locations was limited. So I spent 3 weeks shopping for a place to rent. 

But the real work was going on back at the house. Turns out the buyer is a details kind of guy and after the inspection was done I hand my hands full of repairs. Keep in mind my house is only 3 years old and in fabulous condition (if you met or know Mr. T you know this is very true). So long story short I had to deal with Stucco repair, roof tile repair and some kitchen & bathroom stuff. (Also if you know Mr. T you know he is not a DYI guy so I was left holding that ball or in this case a caulk gun)

Now after over a month we have made it threw all the stages of selling a house and are waiting on closing. You know what that means? 
packing 2 adults, one toddler & 2 dogs
moving with children takes packing and planning to a whole new level

Our attic alone scared me. It looks like Ann Frank lives up there. I guess it was the only room Mr. T got to decorate so he really outdid himself up there. 
Here s 1/2 the attic moved to the garage 

The thought that I actually have enough stuff tho fill these boxes scars me! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DYI Strawberry Jam Party Favors

 So I have had several people ask how I made the party favors for Miss C's 3rd birthday party, Strawberry jam. So here is my first ever DYI and If I have to predict probable my last! I'm not much of a "homemaker". Where the heck did that term even come from?? 

How to Make Homemade Old-Fashioned
Strawberry Jam - Easily!
Making and canning your own strawberry jam is also quite easy. Just scroll down this page to see how to do it, in easy steps and completely illustrated. These directions work equally well for strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, boysenberry, dewberry, gooseberry, loganberry, marionberry, peach, plum, damson plum, tayberry, youngberry, etc.; by themselves or mixed berry jam. Any variations will be spelled out in the directions inside the pectin. 

Strawberries - preferably fresh, but frozen (without syrup) works, too. A batch requires
5 to 6 cups of crushed berries, so you'll need about 10 cups of raw whole strawberries.
-Pectin (it's a natural product, made from apples and available at grocery stores (season -
spring through late summer) and local "big box" stores. It usually goes for about $2.00 to
$2.50 per box. 
-Sugar - About 4.5 cups of dry, granulated (table) sugar. 

About eight 8oz jars minimum but usually I get twelve 8oz jars

Jar funnel ($2 at Target, other big box stores, and often grocery stores; and available
online - see this page) or order it as part of the kit with the jar grabber.
At least 1 large pot; I prefer 16 to 20 quart Teflon lined pots for easy cleanup.
Large spoons and ladles
1 Canner (a huge pot to sterilize the jars after filling (about $30 to $35 at mall kitchen
stores, sometimes at big box stores and grocery stores.).
 Ball jars (Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger, Safeway carry them, as do some big box
stores - about $7 per dozen 8 ounce jars including the lids and rings)
Lids - thin, flat, round metal lids with a gum binder that seals them against the top of the
jar. They may only be used once.
Rings - metal bands that secure the lids to the jars. They may be reused many times.

Optional stuff:

-Lid lifter (has a magnet to pick the lids out of the boiling water where you sterilize them.
($2 at big box stores or it comes in the kit at left)
Jar grabber (to pick up the hot jars)- Big box stores and grocery stores sometimes carry
them; and it is available online - see this page. It's a tremendously useful to put jars in the
canner and take the hot jars out (without scalding yourself!). The kit sold below has
everything you need, and at a pretty good price:

Strawberry Jam-making Directions
This example shows you how to make either Strawberry jam or Strawberry -
Raspberry - Blackberry Jam - also called Triple Berry Jam (my favorite, and
everyone I give a jar to, says it has become their favorite, too!) But you can use
this recipe to make any type of jam; where there is a difference, I will point it
out! The yield from this recipe is about 8 eight-ounce jars (which is the same as 4

Step 1 - Pick the berries! (or buy them already picked)
It's fun to go pick your own and you can obviously get better quality ones! 
As mentioned in the Ingredients section; you may use frozen berries (those without syrup
or added sugar); which is especially useful if you want to make some strawberry jam in
December to give away at Christmas!

How much fruit?
Strawberry Jam can ONLY be made in rather small batches - about 6 cups at a
time - like the directions on the pectin say, DO NOT increase the recipes or the
jam won't "set" (jell, thicken). (WHY? Alton Brown on the Food Channel says
pectin can overcook easily and lose its thickening properties. It is easier and
faster to get an even heat distribution in smaller batches. It takes about 8 cups
of raw, unprepared berries per batch. For triple berry jam, I use 4 cups of
mushed (slightly crushed) strawberries, 1 cup of raspberries and 1 cup of
blackberries. For strawberry-only jam; you’ll need 6 cups of mushed strawberries.

Step 2 - Wash the jars and lids
Now's a good time to get the jars ready, so you won't be rushed later. The dishwasher is fine
for the jars; especially if it has a "sterilize" cycle, the water bath processing will sterilize them as well as the contents! If you don't have a dishwasher with a sterilize cycle, you can wash the containers in hot, soapy water and rinse, then sterilize the jars by boiling them 10 minutes, and keep the jars in hot water until they are used.
NOTE: If unsterilized jars are used, the product should be processed for 5 more
minutes. However, since this additional processing can result in a poor set (runny
jam), it’s better to sterilize the jars. Put the lids into a pan of hot, but not quite boiling water (that's what the manufacturer's recommend) for 5 minutes, and use the magnetic "lid lifter wand" to pull them out. Leave the jars in the dishwasher on "heated dry" until you are ready to use them. Keeping them hot will prevent the jars from breaking when you fill them with the hot jam.

Step 3 -Wash and hull the fruit!
I'm sure you can figure out how to wash the fruit in plain cold water.
With strawberries you must remove the hulls. With other berries, just pick off any stems and leaves.

Step 4 - Crush the fruit
Then you just mush them up a bit - not completely crushed, but mostly. Most people seem to like large chunks of fruit but crushing them releases the natural pectin so it can thicken. You'll need about 6 cups, mushed up. If you want seedless jam, you may need to run the crushed berries through a food mill.  The Villaware has a selection of screens, including a fine screen that works on strawberries. The Foley stops blackberries seeds, but most raspberry and all strawberry seeds pass through. They cost between $25 to $60. I just used a potato masher but for some of the other fruits this is helpful.

This is a great time to include your little chef it's easy and fun
Step 5 - Measure out the sugar, honey or other sweetener.
You'll need 4 cups of sugar (or about the same of honey). You can make a strawberry
jam with no added sugar if you use the "No added sugar pectin" but honestly, the resultant jam just isn't as good. It tends to be darker, more runny and less flavorful. But using the no-added sugar pectin with a
reduced amount of sugar, about 4 cups instead of the usual 7 cups, works GREAT!
After measuring the sugar, set 1/4 cup aside to mix separately with the pectin in the next step.

Step 6 - Mix the berries with the pectin and cook to a full boil
Strawberries don't contain much natural pectin, so you need to add a package and a half of the boxed
pectin, or the jam will be pretty runny. Mix the dry pectin with about 1/4 cup of sugar and keep this
separate from the rest of the sugar. This helps to keep the pectin from clumping up and allows it to
mix better! Stir the pectin into the berries and put the mix in a big pot on the stove over medium to high heat (stir often enough to prevent burning). It should take about 5 to 10 minutes to get it to a full boil (the kind that can not be stirred away).

Why use pectin? You may run into grandmotherly types who sniff "I never used pectin!" at you. Well, sure, and their generation took a horse and buggy to work, died of smallpox and ate canned meat and green beans that tastes like wet newspapers. Old fashioned ways are not always better nor healthier. Pectin, which occurs naturally in fruit, is what makes the jam "set" or thicken (together with sugars and acids in the fruit). The pectin you buy is just natural apple pectin, more concentrated. Using pectin dramatically reduces the cooking time, which helps to preserve the vitamins and flavor of the fruit, and uses much less added sugar. But, hey, if you want to stand there and stir for hours, cooking the flavor
away, who am I to stop you! :) Having said that, there are some fruits that have naturally high amounts of pectin  and they simply don't need much or any padded pectin.

Notes about pectin: I usually add about 50% more pectin (just open another pack and add a little. At least make sure you have extra on hand incase you need to "remake" a batch. once it's boiling you won't have the option to run to the store if you run out and you need to thicken it up) or else the jam is runnier than I like. With a little practice, you'll find out exactly how much pectin to get the thickness you like. Another tip: as mentioned above, use the lower sugar or no-sugar pectin. You can add sugar to either and it cuts the amount of sugar you need from 7 cups per batch to 4 cups or less! And it tastes even better! On the other hand; I have never had success with the No-sugar pectin without adding ANY sugar. It always turned out runny and bland. You might want to try using the low sugar or no-sugar recipe with a mixture of sugar and Splenda; sugar and white grape juice, or just white grape juice - that will cut down the sugar, but still preserve the flavor. 
Is your jam too runny? Pectin enables you to turn out perfectly set jam every time. Made from natural apples, there are also low-sugar pectins that allow you to reduce the sugar you add by almost half!

Yes is is a messy DYI and FYI this picture is my to runny batch that I had to add more Pectin in.
Step 7 - Get the lids warming in hot (but not boiling) water
Lids: put the lids into a pan of hot water for at least several minutes; to soften up the gummed surface and clean the lids.

Step 8 - Add the remaining sugar and bring to a boil again for 1 minute
When the berry-pectin mix has reached a full boil, add
the rest of the sugar (about 4 cups of sugar per 6 cup
batch of berries) and then bring it back to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute... If you bring it back to a full boil fairly slowly (on medium heat rather than high) that will help reduce foaming.
Remove from the heat.

Step 9 - Skim any excessive foam
Foam... What is it? Just jam with a lot of air from the boiling. But it tastes more like, well, foam, that jam, so most people remove it. It is harmless, though. Some people add 1 teaspoon of butter or margarine to the mix in step 6 to reduce foaming, but food experts debate whether that may contribute to earlier spoilage, so I usually omit it and skim.
But save the skimmed foam! You can recover jam from it to use fresh!

Step 10 - Testing for "jell" (thickness)
I keep a metal tablespoon sitting in a glass of ice water, then take a half spoonful of the
mix and let it cool to room temperature on the spoon. If it thickens up to the
consistency I like, then I know the jam is ready. If not, I mix in a little more pectin
(about 1/4 to 1/2 of another package) and bring it to a boil again for 1 minute.
Notes about "set" (thickening or jell): It takes 3 ingredients for jams and jellies to set: pectin, sugar and acidity. The amount of pectin that is naturally occurring in the fruit varies from one type of
fruit to another and by ripeness (counter intuitively, unripe contains more pectin).
It takes the right balance, and sufficient amounts of each of pectin, sugar and acidity to result in a firm jam or jelly. Lastly, it takes a brief period (1 minute) of a hard boil, to provide enough
heat to bring the three together. Generally speaking, if your jam doesn't firm up,
you were short in pectin, sugar or acidity or didn't get a hard boil. That's ok - you
can "remake' the jam

Step 11 - Optional: Let stand for 5 minutes and stir completely.
Why? Otherwise, the fruit will often float to the top of the jar. This isn't a
particular problem; you can always stir the jars later when you open them; but
some people get fussy about everything being "just so", so I've included this step!
Skipping this step won't affect the quality of the jam at all. I usually don't
bother. You’ll also notice that the less sugar you use, the more the fruit will float
(chemists will tell you it is due to the decreased density of the solution!)

Step 12 - Fill the jars and put the lid and rings on
Fill them to within .-inch of the top, wipe any spilled jam off the top, seat the lid and tighten
the ring around them. Then put them into the boiling water canner!
This is where the jar tongs come in really handy!

Step 13 - Process the jars in the boiling water bath
Keep the jars covered with at least 2 inches of water. Keep the water boiling. In general, boil them for 10 minutes, which is what SureJell (the makers of the pectin) recommend. I say "in general" because you have to process (boil) them longer at higher altitudes than sea level, or if you use larger jars, or if you did not sterilize the jars and lids right before using them. The directions inside every box of pectin will tell you exactly. The directions on the pectin tend to be pretty conservative. Clemson University says you
only need to process them for 5 minutes. I usually hedge my bets and start pulling them out after 5
minutes, and the last jars were probably in for 10. I rarely have a jar spoil, so it must work. But you don't
want to process them too long, or the jam will turn dark and get runny. See the chart below for altitude adjustment to processing times, if you are not in the sea level to 1,000ft above sea level range.
Note: Some people don't even boil the jars; they just ladle it hot into hot jars, put the lids and rings on and invert them, but putting the jars in the boiling water bath REALLY helps to reduce spoilage! To me, it makes little sense to put all the working into making the jam and then not to process the jars to be sure they don't spoil!
Recommended process time for jams in a boiling water canner.
Process Time at Altitudes of
Style of Pack Jar Size 0 - 1,000 ft 1,001 - 6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft Hot Half-pints or Pints 5 min 10 15

Step 14 - Remove and cool the jars - Done!
Lift the jars out of the water with your jar lifter tongs and let them cool without
touching or bumping them in a draft-free place (usually takes overnight) You can then
remove the rings if you like. Once the jars are cool, you can check that they are sealed verifying that the lid has been sucked down. Just press in the center, gently, with your finger. If it pops up and down
(often making a popping sound), it is not sealed. If you put the jar in the refrigerator right away, you can still use it. Some people replace the lid and reprocess the jar, then that's a bit iffy. If you heat the contents back up, re-jar them (with a new lid) and the full time in the canner, it's usually ok.
Once cooled, they're ready to store. I find they last up to 12 months. But after about 6 to 8 months, they get darker in color and start to get runny. They still are safe to eat, but the flavor and texture aren't as good. So eat them in the first 6 months after you prepare them! Another trick is to keep the uncooked berries or other fruit in the freezer and make and can the jam as needed, so it's always fresh.
When you let them cool you will hear a popping sound as the lids seal. 

Lil Chef C! She loves how messy this is
FYI if you have a spill wipe it up immediately. If it cools it hardens like a sucker to what ever surface it lands on

Summary - Cost of Making Homemade Strawberry Jam -
makes 8 jars, 8 oz each**

$20.55 total
or about $2.56 per jar
(if you already have the jars, and just need new lids: $1.82 per
* pectin use varies - blackberry jam needs very little, raspberry a little more, strawberry the
** - This assumes you already have the pots, pans, ladles, and reusable equipment. Note that you can reuse the jars! Many products are sold in jars that will take the lids and rings for canning. For example, Classico Spaghetti sauce is in quart sized jars that work with Ball and Kerr lids and rings- some authorities do not recommend these, saying they are more prone to break, and while I have found that is true of mayonnaise jars, I have found the Classico spaghetti jars to be pretty sturdy.

I use two labels when I am giving them as party favors or gifts. The top label says " Thank you for attending____ 3rd birthday" or "Merry Christmas from the collins" I also prefer to have have office max print them for me. regular sticker paper does not do well if it gets wet and most people put jelly in the fridge after opening so the condensation will cause pealing and water spots. Office max has glossy sticker paper and their printer does brighter colors than a home printer. Also it cost around $2 for both sets of labels, about 24 stickers, and saves the pain in the ass of me having to aline my printer and all that jazz! So I just change the wording on my templet and email it over to them and pick it up later that day. 
But the labels can totally be done at home and still look great! 


Top it off with a cute bow to accent your party theme. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

What I want for mothers day

I want to be your Super Mom. 

I want to be the Momma who finds the perfect balance
between being your parent
and being your friend.

I want to be the Momma who says yes
when you ask me to go outside and  do flips,
or to build sand castles with you at the beach,
or get my hair wet at the pool,
or Ooo and Ahhh over your latest magic trick.

I want to be the Momma who throws the ball around in the backyard,
sings into a wooden spoon with the radio blasting,
and uses fun voices when I read your favorite books.

I want to be the Momma whose not afraid to make messes,
get my hands dirty,
or create a bit of chaos
all in the name of having fun with my little guy.

Then when you grow up and tell childhood stories to your own little family,
I hope that you will have fond memories
of my after school chewy chocolate chip cookies & "bear" milk,
my willingness to share my shoe collection,
and the fridge I made sure was always overflowing with your artwork.
to encourage you but not turn into a stage mom.
I know how much the little things make a difference.

Miss C showing me the mother day gift she made me!
a ring holder 

Miss C's Cowgirl Party

This year Miss C had a cowgirl themed party out on my families ranch at my parents house. I really wanted to scale the party down from the usual 50 or 60 guest (120 for her 1st)...I'm nuts about parties! and have mostly just family and close friends. Miss C still has living great grandparents and great great parents. I wanted to host at least one birthday back home to share with these family members before Miss C starts having parties with her friends and does not want us old fart adults around!
A million thanks to my friend Jennifer Jennifer Willard photography who photographed the party for me. I's awesome to have all these great pictures! I actually got to enjoy the party, talk to the guest and play with Miss C with out the camera in my hands. How lucky am I to have a fabulous photographer for a friend!
See the full album HERE

My baby sister Kyra 
God Mama Hollywood with Miss C & Me

Pica, Miss C & Nana with Jackie O
Ganny, Miss C & Pop
Miss C's Great-Great-Great Grandmother
My Grandma Miss C's Greadt Grandma
 The years are flying by, it will soon be time to work on a 4th birthday. 
Hummm I''m thinking a snow skiing party! 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

swimming update

Swimming is really coming along, Miss C can "swim" underwater for 5 seconds! So far I am very pleased with Emlers Swim School

The key to my heart


How sweet was my friend Melissa to get me these super cute flip flops for my birthday!
Now Melissa can you teach my husband that shoes are the key to my heart? He does not seem to be getting my hints! 

The Easter bunny came

Easter 2011
University of Texas Golf Club

Thats a big Easter Bunny

Let the Hunt Begin!

Scoping out the goodies

J and laffy taffy, maybe a dangerous combo!

Jumping for Joy

They just love to chase each other and Bevo is a huge attraction for these two

Receiving a sweet gift from J