Favorite Fruit Popsicles

The first real waves of summer heat are upon us and it’s popsicle season again (not that my kids would object to popsicles in the dead of winter.)

I have been doing my best to keep the freezer stocked with homemade, real food popsicles. The kids love helping make them, and I love knowing their favorite summer snack is not pumped full of sugar and food coloring.

Here are a few of our favorite fruit-sweetened popsicles.

Fruit juice popsicles

One of my favorite garage sales finds of the season was a set of old-fashioned popsicle holders that are just like the ones I loved as a kid! Need popsicle molds? Amazon has a great selection!

Fruit juice popsicles

Fill popsicle holders with leftover fruit juice: apple, orange, grape, mixed, etc. Freeze and enjoy. (I can’t think of many simpler ways to get happy grins from my kiddos!)

Creamy fruit popsicles

Mix plain yogurt with freshly mashed strawberries OR orange juice concentrate. Sweeten lightly, if desired (I use agave nectar, but sugar or honey would work great too) Freeze and enjoy.

Fresh fruit popsicles

Aren’t these just amazing looking? Freeze fresh fruit in watermelon puree or fruit juice for a gorgeous and delicious summer treat! Usually I’m not that fancy though.

What are you favorite hot-weather snacks? 

 May be linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeHealthy 2Day ,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityFabulously Frugal & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]

Recipe: Homemade Lime Soda

When I was morning sick with Edmund, a friend recommended club soda to calm the nausea. It helped. For weeks, club soda was a regular staple at the dinner table. Even though it didn’t take the nausea away, it really helped take the edge off.

Then when three weeks of the stomach flu hit our home, we went through can after can of club soda.

Soda water has been used for centuries to calm nausea and it’s a staple in our pantry now.

Delicious homemade lime soda

Of course, it’s not just good for calming stomach complaints, it makes such delicious summer drinks.

My favorite is this refreshing lime soda that Joshua makes as a special treat for the kids (and me!) It’s made with freshly-squeezed limes and raw sugar or agave nectar and makes a delicious substitute to regular soda. Plus, it’s so easy to control the sweetness.

Homemade Lime Soda

Ingredients

  • Fresh limes (or lemons)
  • Agave nectar, liquid sugar in the raw, or homemade simple syrup
  • Club soda
  • Ice
  • Fresh mint, optional
Instructions
  1. Fill glasses with crushed ice.
  2. Fill glasses 3/4 full with club soda.
  3. Squeeze limes.
  4. Add lime juice and liquid sweetener to taste.
  5. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.
Looking for more refreshing summer drinks? Try kefir water. It’s not only tasty, it’s filled with probiotics.
[Thanks Brooke!]

Garden Musings

Despite visits from aphids, stink bugs, leaf hoppers, earwigs, slugs, cucumber beetles, and squash vine borers, last year we had our very first “successful” garden since getting married. (Not moving, living out of state and/or having serious medical issues all summer definitely helped!)

The snow has melted (at least the latest round), leaving the bare mulch-covered garden plots beckoning for me to come play in them. Months of severe winter cold have intensified my spring planting fever.

As I cozy up with seed catalogs, here are a few tips from one budding gardener to another.

Petunias-a lovely companion plant (photo credit)

Plant beautiful things, not just practical- a dear friend of mine and I were pouring over the Baker Creek seed magazine last spring while we day-dreamed about our gardens. Hers was going to be lovely, with dahlias and zinnias stealing the limelight and vegetables conveniently tucked in between them. My garden? It was going to be as practical as could be.

“Anna! Look at these beautiful flowers!” my friend said, “You CAN’T just plant vegetables! Make it beautiful, not just practical.”

I did. Sort of. I lined the garden with marigolds, petunias and zinnias (all of which are supposed to be highly beneficial for the vegetables in the garden, making them practical and beautiful choices.)

The flowers did more than just attract good bugs to fight the myriad of bad bugs attacking our garden though. Each time I looked down at the garden from my bedroom window, it was the brilliant yellow marigolds and soft pink petunias that made me want to pull out the gardening tools and play in the dirt. Beauty attracted me and encouraged me to care for the more practical things, like tomatoes or squash.

Finish what you start

Normally spring finds me dreaming of gardens and drawing and redrawing garden plans. As spring gives way to the heat of summer and bugs and heat battle for control of the garden, it’s harder to keep motivated.

Plan from the beginning to finish strong. Usually, at the end of season I let the garden debris sit for at least a month before tackling it. Sometimes it sits until springtime. This time I cleaned up the garden the day after our first hard frost. The experience was amazing. Every time I looked out the window on the nicely mulched beds it made me excited for spring to come again.

Dead-head your flowers

Much like in life, leaving a spent flower on the plant saps nutrients from going to form fresh flowers. I had no idea the difference that dead-heading flowers makes until this past year! Regularly snipping off the dead flowers kept the plants blooming beautifully all summer long. (If you’ve got littles, dead-heading is a great job for them to do supervised. They get to learn about gardening *and* use scissors. Total win.)

Surround yourself with experienced gardeners

Wise gardener friends, beautiful blogs like Deep Roots at Home, and inspiring books like “One Magic Square” (read my review here) make gardening an even more delightful experience.

Don’t Expect Perfection

Unless you have a really green thumb, use loads of pesticides and/or have a full-time gardener in your employ, don’t expect perfection. In One Magic Square, Lolo says to expect at least one crop to fail, others to do so-so and a few to do splendidly.

Even if you follow all the right steps, some years you just might not get calendula to grow. Even if you plant it four times. Supposedly it’s one of the hardiest fail-proof plants in the garden. Not my garden. At least not last year. Maybe this year I’ll have better success.

Plant Herbs

If you have time for nothing else, buy a few herbs and stick them in the ground. With the exception of calendula, the herbs I planted could hardly have been simpler to grow and it was so rewarding to step out and pick fresh parsley or basil to garnish a meal or add a few sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary to a sauce.

Track Your Harvest

When we harvested our first ripe cucumber, we marked a tally on an empty “Produce From Our Garden” list. As the garden grew and we brought in a basket bursting with produce, we’d make tallies on the sheet: five tomatoes, two cucumbers, two squash, etc.

Real gardeners feel free to laugh, but it was such a fun way to see just how the garden did. The only problem was that when we showed Joshua our list, he realized just how little of the produce lasted till dinner time for him to enjoy with us. (Really, I’m grateful the kids love vegetables, but they’d gladly eat a basketful of vegetables each day!)

Around the time Edmund joined our family we lost track, but the tally marks had already proved the garden a smashing success. (Not that there’s really such a thing as a failed garden.)

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityProverbs 31, & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]

 

DIY Homemade Vanilla Extract

Of all the DIY projects to try, homemade vanilla extract is among the easiest. It just takes two simple ingredients, but makes a rich, fragrant extract to use in your kitchen or give as a lovely gift.

Plus, your kitchen will smell simply delightful for hours and hours after you make it.

 

Make delicious homemade vanilla extract with just two simple ingredients!

Vanilla beans and alcohol= delicious pure vanilla extract

How to Make Homemade Vanilla Extract

There are a whopping two ingredients you’ll need for your homemade extract: vanilla beans and alcohol. Can’t get much simpler than that….you just have to choose what kind of beans and what kind of alcohol.

Vanilla beans: there are several kinds of vanilla beans, but Bourbon (also known as Madagascar) is the popular scent we’d all instantly recognize as vanilla and the type I bought. Then there’s two grades: A and B. Grade A beans have more oil and are considered better for cooking. However, the grade B beans are generally preferred for making extract.

[I ordered my vanilla beans here. You can also order certified organic and fair trade vanilla beans and cute glass jars from Mountain Rose Herbs]

Alcohol: vodka, bourbon, tequila…any should work fine (just don’t use inedible rubbing alcohol!) I made one batch with vodka and one with bourbon to experiment. The bourbon lends a fun bourbon-esqe flavor, but if you’re after the true vanilla flavor, vodka is the way to go.

 (Whew, how’s that for making a simple recipe a bit more complicated!)

For a strong vanilla extract, use 1/4 pound of beans (approx. 25 beans, but it can vary a lot) to 1 quart of alcohol.

Slice the vanilla beans down the center, leaving them attached at the end if you think it looks pretty.

Place in clean glass jar. Cover completely with alcohol. Screw the lid on tightly and store for one to six months in a cool dark place stirring regularly (daily…or weekly…or whenever you happen to remember.)

Label and date, at least if you tend to forget exactly what and when you bottled as quickly as I do.

Start using when the extract smells vanilla-y enough to you. As you use the vanilla, you can add more alcohol. The vanilla won’t be as strong, but I kept reusing the vanilla beans we were given till they lost most of their potency.

Once they’re satisfactorily extracted don’t throw them away! Turn the beans into vanilla sugar.

Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeWalking RedeemedGrace Simplicity, & Proverbs 31

 [Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]

Pain Free: Works for Me

A few months ago my neck was so stiff I could scarcely move it. I tried not to wince when one of the kids gave me a hug. Holding baby Edmund hurt. Moving hurt, but so did laying down. I woke up in the night in pain and tossed and turned for ages trying to find the least painful position. The pain was so intense that I felt nauseous.

I’m not sure what caused the neck pain. Maybe it was flare-up from a fender bender I was in several years ago. Maybe it was falling forward down the stairs when I was pregnant and landing with a thud on my left hand. Maybe it was simply from carrying a cute chubby baby around for hours each day.

Whatever the cause, the symptoms went from occasional tenseness to sharp pain and stiffness that flared up and then lingered for days. I felt eighty, not twenty-eight.

I went to the chiropractor, took warm baths in epsom salts, and rested with cold packs. The relief was temporary. Pain medicine barely took the edge off.

Then I remembered a book that a good friend had recommended: Pain Free. I’d ordered Pain Free for Women* months ago, but let it sit on the shelf untouched until the pain simply got unbearable.

I turned to the first page and started reading. At first I was skeptical, but as I kept reading, the case Pete Egoscue made grew more and more convincing. Unlike our ancestors, he argued, most of us lead sedentary lives. What little movement we do get is often repetitive. Even many of our sports and exercises only work small groups of muscles.

After spending countless hours pouring over school books or hunched over computers, our posture is compromised and our core musculoskeletal structures are highly taxed. That, Egoscue claims, leads to chronic pain and other problems.

The solution, he says, is simple. Instead of masking the symptoms, we need to correct the underlying problems with our alignment.

It seemed too simple. How could lying on my back with my knees bent over a chair and my arms stretched out help my neck? But like Naaman’s servants urged him, “If he’d asked you to do something hard, wouldn’t you have done it in order to be healed?” Of course.

The results astounded me.

After doing the neck exercises from Pain Free just once, I could move my neck and the pain was almost 100% gone.  That night I slept soundly and woke up feeling incredibly refreshed.

Egoscue recommends doing the exercises daily and not listening to music or audio. Just do the exercises and listen to your body’s signals.

I haven’t always been able to fit 20-30 minutes of quiet exercises into the day, but whenever I can it has been time well spent!

Not only am I pain free, after regular struggles with insomnia, now when I go to bed I fall asleep almost instantly. When I get woken up in the night, I don’t lay there for hours wishing for sleep, I just go back to sleep. After over a decade of not being able to wear mascara or put my hair up without getting a headache, I’ve done both. My poor posture has improved dramatically. Plus, it forces me to “be still” for a few minutes in the midst of a noisy world.

Needless to say, I’m stoked at the amazing results I’ve had. Although Egoscue claims that our spine and hips, which are incredibly designed to bear our weight without pain, are the result of lucky evolution, I think it’s just one more reason to praise and worship our Creator.

Each of our bodies are different, but if you’re in chronic pain, I’d  highly recommended trying out Pain Free.

(Aneysa and Abigail, my very hearty thanks for your recommendations!)

 Linked up at Mama MomentsGrowing HomeEncourage One AnotherHealthy 2DayFrugal Days, Sustainable Ways,Works for MeWalking RedeemedGraced SimplicityProverbs 31Natural Living, & Simple Lives

[Full disclosure: links to some products in this post are my referral links.]

*Pain Free deals with specific areas of pain, while Pain Free for Women deals more with overall women’s maintenance.