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You're About to be Redirected to the New Home of Ground Control to Major Mom: 4/10/11 - 4/17/11

Thursday, April 14, 2011

MilSpouse Friday Fill-In #37

Doing this nice and early because the rest of my Thursday is pretty crazy!

1. With PCS moves happening every few years, do you take the time to paint and decorate your home? submitted by Life as Mrs. JPT

That would be YES!  When we own our house, we have always taken time to paint, not necessarily for the color, but more because we prefer higher quality paint on our walls to keep them clean.  At our last house in Nebraska, even though we had a rental, the paint was such poor quality (original homebuilder paint, I think) we got permission from the homeowner to paint several of the rooms with a higher quality paint, and also got permission from him to change some of the colors.

As for decorating, we keep it minimal.  No permanent stenciling or border paper.  We will make sure to hang items on our walls (the kids find it comforting, I know).

2. If you could live in any home on a television series, what would it be? submitted by Standing By Him

If you mean a home based on the house itself, the layout and the decorating, it would have to be any of the homes on Wisteria Lane on ABC's "Desperate Housewives".  Somehow they all look so beautiful.  I could never get my house looking that nice.  Which is how you know it's a TV show, right?  Lynette's semi-chaotic house is probably the closest to my own in terms of clutter.

3. What inspired you to start your blog?  submitted by Pink Combat Boots

My kids and my extended family.  Without having the grandparents nearby we heavily rely on the internet to share photos and videos of the boys.  I started my blogging -- the storytelling aspect -- on MySpace...WAY BACK before Facebook was presented to the masses.  My husband had a Facebook account because he was in Grad School in 2005-2008.  I started my Blogger blog in late 2007 so more than just MySpace friends could see the stories and pictures.  Most of the posts at the time were about the kids and some of the crafts and recipes we did.  Very little about the military life, since it wasn't quite so military when my husband was in grad school.

4. What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen on base? submitted by Adventures in Life

Most Air Force bases have a fire training area way over on the far side of the runway.  There's always this burned-out welded together fuselage that gets set on fire time and time again so the firefighters can train on them.  Here's an example of one at Cannon AFB, but if you do a Google Image Search on "air force base fire training plane" you'll see dozens of them at assorted AF bases.

Don't let this alarm you, it's a "training" aircraft fire at Dover AFB.  Most Air Force bases have a fire training fuselage tucked away somewhere on the base.  Photo courtesy of The Dover Post.
The burned out aircraft aren't very good looking and always looks rather shocking on an otherwise clean and professional looking base.

5. Which historical figure (politician, writer, artist, scientist, actor, etc…) would you like to have dinner with?  submitted by Army of Two

This is a toughie.  There are so many.  I think Abraham Lincoln would be towards the top of the list though.  Perhaps because it's on my mind, I've been thinking about how this man had to do something pretty amazing.  He had a mutiny on his hands on several fronts, and had to make some VERY difficult decisions and essentially succeeded in keeping this nation together.  And to top that off, remember that this was before the days of telephone or Internet.  So communication was low and slow.  Heck, this was even 15 years before the invention of electricity!  At least he had the telegraph, right?


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The American Civil War -- 150 Years Later...

My dear husband and me at the 135th anniversary Battle of Antietam Reenactment, September 1997.  Can you spot the one anachronism in the photo?  We joined about 35,000 fellow reenactors in the largest ever American Civil War reenactment to date.  Don't expect a 150th Anniversary Antietam -- no one stepped up to lead the planning efforts.
On April 12, 1861, 150 years ago today, the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, as the state militia attempted to take the fort from Federal troops.  While this "battle" itself didn't result in any casualties -- only two accidental deaths due to a Confederate cannon misfire and Union a 100-gun salute, the 2-day incident was the green flag for 4 years of intense fighting and strife that reshaped our nation.

Many of you know this already, but Dave and I are Civil War reenactors.  Perhaps I'm more accurate if I said "My husband and I WERE Civil War reenactors," but I'm not ready to give it all up yet.  Let's just say we've taken an 8 1/2 year hiatus since we've had our two sons.  We did one reenactment in spring 2004 when Jacob was about 18 months old.  Just a day trip, where we usually do weekend encampments.  I enjoy sewing the costumes, and we both really enjoyed a unique way to enjoy a weekend of camping and camaraderie with fellow American history fans.  I don't know how many times the guys would be sitting around the campfire after a day of "battle", passing around a flask of moonshine, discussing not sport scores or the federal budget, but rather whose historians' interpretations of the battle diagrams of the skirmishes between Atlanta and Savannah are most accurate.

But with the war's 150th anniversary coming up, and my husband being stationed east of the Mississippi River these next 2 years (if not longer!), there's going to be plenty of opportunity to get back into the hobby, and we're excited about the prospect.  We've been hauling around about 200 lbs. of uniforms, hoop skirts, tents, leather goods, and a replica Springfield Model 1861 musket from home to home all these years.

We're even more excited about introducing our kids to the wonderful world of Civil War reenacting!  I have sewing patterns at the ready to make some handsome circa 1860s costumes for my boys.

I won't go into Civil War history here, but I would like to bring to your attention some of the commemorative reenactment events on the calendar over the next four years.  The first significant combat action, the First Battle of Manassas or Bull Run*, will be reenacted July 23-24, 2011 in Prince William County, Virginia (near Washington, D.C.).  Word on the street is that the current economic and political climate is contributing to a lower-key approach to the celebrations, with lectures and walking tours leading the list of commemorative activities, more so than the all-out reenactments.

*Many of these battles are known by two separate names.  The Union Army leans towards geographical features for names, such as Bull Run, the creek that ran through the battlefield.  The Confederates used the names of nearby towns and cities, such as Manassas.  You'll see other examples of this with Antietam Creek v. Sharpsburg (Maryland), Pittsburg Hills v. Shiloh (Tennessee), and Sabine Crossroads v. Mansfield (Louisiana).

12th Connecticut Volunteers at a reenactment in Narcoossee, Florida, Spring 2004.
I don't think the First Battle of Manassas will be on our summer travel itinerary this year, but we are looking at other 150th anniversary events during our two years on the Florida Panhandle that might fit our travel schedules.  Shiloh is definitely a finalist (late March 2012)!  It's easy to do web searches for smaller reenactments near you.  Websites such as the Camp Chase Gazette and Civil War Traveler have extensive information on reenactments, and the Civil War Traveler webpage even has special designators on the 150th anniversary events.  Here are some other key reenactments that will probably do something special for their 150th anniversaries:
Events are also being planned for western and even the Pacific theaters and the calendar links above can tell you more about that.

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Canning 101: Or "Jam Tomorrow, Jam Yesterday, But Never Ever Jam Today!"

* Name that tune!

Oh, never mind!  Here's the whole song, just for you!  This Carol Channing act sent my sister and me into a flurry of giggle when we were little.  Prepared to have it stuck in your head for a while, ha ha!

With all those strawberries I brought home on Monday, I had to get cracking to make some of the freshest strawberry jam EVER!  For the first time since 2007, I dug out my canning supplies.

"As if you don't do do canning?"

YES!  I remember my Mom doing it when I was a kid, and it turns out canning your own food is easy, inexpensive, and incredibly nutritious!  It's great knowing what's in your food!

I bought my hardware in summer 2001 when we grew so many tomatoes, I was able to preserve several jars of whole tomatoes, along with several jars of homemade pasta sauce.  I've used it off and on in Ohio, Florida (2002-2005) and North Carolina, but then the equipment sat dormant while we were in Nebraska.

How does canning work?

Like everything else I blog about, a little science/history lesson is in order.  According to the authority on everything, Wikipedia, home canning is the process of preserving foods by putting them in jars and heating them to kill organisms that might cause the food to spoil.  I mainly stick to the easy-to-preserve foods (strawberries and tomatoes), and I'm now comfortable enough with the process that I'd like to delve into the more challenging foods soon, such as corn and peppers.

When foods have a pH of lower than 4.6, you can effectively kill the microorganisms by simply boiling the food at 212 degrees F for a specified period of time.  This is why preserving tomatoes, berries, and pickles is so easy.  And the hardware is inexpensive.

On the other hand, if you're interested in preserving meats or low acid vegetables (such as corn and non-pickled peppers), you need to boil the food at a HIGHER temperature than is possible by simply boiling.  Perhaps you're wondering, "How is this possible?"  Easy: you need a pressure cooker!  A pressure cooker, which allows the air pressure inside the vessel to increase as you heat it, the boiling point of the liquid can increase over 250 degrees F!  WOW, how cool is that?  Now, you can boil the canned foods at a high enough temperature to kill even the Clostridium botulinum spores, which can't live in temperatures higher than 240 degrees!

As I'll discuss in the next section, venturing into the pressure canning world involves a more lofty investment in a quality pressure cooker, large enough to hold the jars.

What kind of equipment do I need?  And how much will this cost me?

If nothing else right now, get this book!  Or at least a version of this book, since it's constantly being updated.  This is the one I have from 1999.  It offers easy guidance on what equipment you need, along with dozens of canning recipes -- not just for the minimally prepared foods, but also for salsas, sauces, and assorted flavors of pickles.

The rest of the supplies can easily be found at your local Walmart.  Look in the kitchenwares section...sometimes it'll be moved to a "seasonal" section when the tomatoes and other veggies are in full harvest.  You might or might not see the supplies at other discount department stores -- in this area it's been hit or miss at my local Target (they had salsa jars, which was cool, but that was it).

This is a "canner".'s just a really big pot.  If you have a large soup pot, it will do the same thing for you: hold boiling water.

This "canner" includes a nifty rack that helps you easily lift all the jars out of the pot at once.  This will hold seven jars.
I also got this "accessory pack".  Over the years, I've come to only use the tongs and the funnel.  And honestly, I don't even use the tongs all the time.  But the funnel is a lifesaver -- and can be purchased separately for just $1-2!

$6.97 at your local discount department store.

My 11-year-old accessory set.
Jars, Lids and Bands.  For me this is the only recurring expense with canning...this is because I give away so many of my jams.  I lean towards the "quilted jelly jars", which are half-pint (8 oz.) sizes, for jams and jellies.  You can get a dozen for about $9-10 at your local discount department store.  For my tomato products I look for the "wide mouth" quart-sized jars.  They take special lids and bands, but aren't that hard to find.

Some terminology.  The "lid" is the solid round disc with the rubber gasket on the bottom.  The "band" is the threaded ring that really is only needed to hold the lid in place until it's been vacuum sealed.  Some folks will remove the band before storage, but I prefer to keep it with the jar, helps to hold the unsealed lid on the jar when you're storing it in the fridge.

Know that if you keep your jars, you can reuse them with the bands, and you simply need to buy new lids for $1-2 per dozen.

These lids have a special rubberized gasket that will form the seal on your jars.  They can only be used once, but the jars and bands can be used multiple times.
And finally, you'll need the fruits or vegetables you're planning to preserve.  If you're making jam or jelly, you'll want to buy some pectin, which is also found with the canning supplies at your local discount department store.  Pectin is a type of polysaccharide found in plants.  This is the ingredient that gels together jams and jellies, and is also found in natural intestinal remedies, such as fiber laxatives and stool softeners.

So let's tally up the expenses for canning your own food:
  1. "Canner" or other large pot: $20
  2. Accessories: $7
  3. Jars, Lids, Bands: $10 per dozen
  4. Pectin: $1-2 per recipe's worth
  5. The cost of whatever food you're planning to preserve.
I'd say that for about $50 of up front cost, the cost of my family going out to dinner at Outback Steakhouse, you could lay the foundation for preserving foods with little-to-no chemicals.
OR: You could just hit this "Easy Button" here, which will hook you up for less than $45!

Canning 101: Classic Strawberry Jam

So imagine tapping into some fresh fruit or vegetables that were preserved a mere SIX hours after picking them off the plant!  And that you know EXACTLY what's in the jar.

In this case, I know that this strawberry jam has only strawberries, sugar and pectin.  Of course, this recipe I'm going to demonstrate has 7 cups of sugar in the 9 half-pints of jam, so it's definitely NOT a low-calorie food.  I'm only attesting that it's nice to know exactly what's in the jar.

(Two days later I made jam with half the sugar -- which required a different kind of pectin that promotes more gelling -- but I haven't tasted it).

So here we go.  Let's start with our stash of strawberries.

No...wait.  Start with the canner pot, make sure it's filled up about 2/3 full with water and get it boiling.  It's a large pot and you won't want to wait for that water to boil once the jars are ready to process.
Back to the berries.  Crush the berries. I have a potato masher with which I can do this.  Looks like serious strawberry carnage here, doesn't it?

Put the pot on high heat and bring to a boil. If you're using traditional pectin, just put in the contents of the box with the sugar called for in the recipe. In this recipe, it's asking for SEVEN cups of sugar (oofta!). If you're using "low sugar" or "sugar free" pectin, read the instructions about the possible additional ingredients to be added at this point.

Allow this to boil vigorously for the amount of time in the instructions. In this case, we boiled for about 5 minutes, and this allowed the pectin to gel. You might want to use this time to get your ladle, funnel, clean jars, bands and lids ready near the pot.

You need to work quickly at this point. Fill each jar with the jam to within 1/4-1/2" of the top of the jar. DO NOT FILL TO THE VERY TOP! You need the space to account for possible expansion of the jam while you're boiling the jars, as explained in this link.

Make sure the top edge is clean, then place a lid on top.

Follow it with a band, which doesn't need to be closed super-tightly. Just tight enough that the lid won't slide off. That tightness will loosen up while you're processing the jars.

Now it's time to get the jars into the canner, whose water should be boiling already.  I use a rack that makes it easy to lower/raise up to 7 jars.

After the requisite number of minutes of boiling (15 minutes in the case of the strawberry jam), pull out the jars and let them dry off/cool on a towel. Listen for the pop -- that's the sound of the lid "imploding". You want to hear this pop once for each of the jars you have, it's the proof that a vacuum seal was indeed formed and your jams are good to go for up to 12 months in the cupboard!

If you don't hear the pop, and there's still a flexing of the lid when you press down on it, then your jam isn't sealed. In most cases, you can simply re-boil the jar again and try for that seal. If that doesn't work, then pop it in the fridge where it'll last you 7-10 days.

The finished product. Some might suggest you cool the jars upside-down, to help the berries distribute better throughout the jar. I didn't do that here, so the berries sorta drifted up towards the top.

Recipes claim that you should let the jars sit for 24 hours before using, but I don't see why. Warm jam on some toast (in this case, potato bread toast)! YUM!

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Because I Wanted That Bottle Opener! Gulf Coast Half Marathon 2011

My Double Bridge Run success back in February inspired me to sign up for this half-marathon.

I forced myself to do a deliberate training program. Starting right after the early February Double Bridge Run, I ran 2-3 x "short runs" of 3-5 miles each per week, plus 1 x "long run" approximately every week. Sometimes our family's schedules make things a bit crazy, so that long run was about every 8-10 days instead of once a week, but it worked out well. My longest "long" training run was just under 13 miles and after dealing with that one, in mid-70s sunshine on the beach, I felt I was ready!

We were doing some Cub Scout camping in the town of Defuniak Springs, about 70 miles northeast of here, this past weekend. I left Dave and the kids at the campsite Saturday night, drove home and got a very good night's sleep beforehand.

As is the case in most Florida warm-season races, the start time was 7am so I had to leave the house before 6am for the 30 minute drive to Pensacola Beach.

The sun was just rising as I was coming across the Pensacola Beach causeway, and you can see the low stratus clouds pouring onshore from the gulf. This is what it was like for the whole run! The clouds were great, but the 100% humidity still made it uncomfortable.

I want to show off this runner's bib. I didn't really pay much mind to the part of the registration about what I wanted my bib to say for a name. I never had a custom bib before. I wish I had put "Major Mom".

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