Strawberry Jam

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Strawberry picking with Grandma

It has been a while since I did a recipe and this one is too good not to share. I am overflowing with strawberries and what better way to make them last than some jam! As you know from my mom’s canning post we love things in mason jars. It really makes me sad when people use them for crafts because there is such good, fresh, homemade goodness that could be stuffed in there! This strawberry jam is one of my favorite things in the world come December and February. This batch I actually made from strawberries frozen from our adventures to Sweet Berry Farms this past spring. If you live in central Texas, run don’t walk either in the spring or the fall. We will definitely be back for their pumpkin patch, hayrides, and corn maze! But for now here is the jam.

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Seriously Sweet Berry Farms is terrific!

 

Ingredients:

4 cups strawberries

7 cups sugar

1 /3 cup fruit pectin

 

Method:

Prepare jars ahead of time in the same process as the tomatoes here.

First cook the berries over low heat and crush or puree them.

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Return to heat and mix berries and pectin, bring to a boil.

Add sugar and return to boil for 1 minute. Put jam in jars and wipe down edges. Give jars a water bath to create an air tight seal in the same way as the tomatoes, make sure you hear the seal pop.

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Store at room temperature until opened and then refrigerate. In the fridge the jam will last up to 6 months once opened and unopened it will last up to two years.

Happy Jamming! IMG_5578 -1

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Flowing Like Water

Balance is a dirty, ugly word these days. It seems that many of us are just ready to throw in the towel on the idea that we could find that point at which everything is in its correct proportions. Maybe life is more about juggling than balance. But the truth is I’m clumsy and the idea of juggling is horrifying and overwhelming to me. I won’t lie for years I lived unbalanced. From the food I ate to the words I spewed there was a lot of toxicity going on. Then I had image4my son. Many moms I’ve met talk about how their children change them but its more than that because regardless of if you have kids or not we are all constantly changing. But if change is the constant in nature then balance is always the goal. So why is finding or creating your own balance such a bad or scary thing?

It is scary because it takes work and not just for a day but for every single day. Just as we as women are constantly changing so is the balance of our lives. It takes consistency while also ongoing adjustment. This can be why it is so frustrating! Just when we have that elusive balance something changes! So why even try?  Try because it is worth it. When there is balance, even fleeting, it has a domino effect. Attempting to find balance affects every aspect of your life. From the food you eat, to the time you spend with your spouse, friends, and children, to your work and exercise.

For the last month I have served on instagram as a yoga ambassador for The Round Rock Yoga Room and it has really caused me to reflect on the metaphor yoga and other exercises like it can give for the balance we seek in our lives. This studio is focused on meeting you where you are on your journey and helping you go further. I always viewed yoga as a flowing and that you either came to with the ability to be flexible or you didn’t, but I was so wrong. Just like in life the balance in yoga isn’t natural or easy. It takes strength and control to power yogimage3a and to power ourselves. It takes conscious control to work toward balance and strength to power you to keep on going. Water is a gentle force but also one of the deadliest in the world; however, no matter what it always achieves balance. It flows with purpose and strength.

When I started my journey toward balance two years ago I never could’ve imagined all the amazing things that would come along with it. The changes it has made in my life are astounding. Not only does it impact my health but also my relationships. Even on the days I find myself out of whack I see the purpose for working towards balance again.

Like anything else you must first take one step which is always the hardest. Whether you begin today by paying attention to the food you eat, putting down the phone and relishing in making memories with your family or friends, meal planning, or working on something towards time management of your week I encourage you to take that first step toward balance and flow like water.

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Why I Used a Sleep Trainer

It seems an accepted truth that if you have a baby you won’t ever sleep well again. Except that it wasn’t a truth I knew could happen in my life. I knew I wanted children but I also knew that with my husband’s job he needed sleep. I also heard that all babies are different and some are just natural sleepers and some are not. Trying to be proactive I researched as many ideas as I could while pregnant and then I had a helpful friend step in. She told me how her baby had never slept a full night until she contacted a sleep trainer.

When I heard that title in my head I envisioned a Captain Von Trapp styled woman coming in with a whistle who forced me to let my baby cry it out, something even pregnant I knew I couldn’t do, but I was so wrong.  She was not someone who wanted to take over my home and make it into a boot camp, or even someone who wanted me to transform my view on parenting. On the contrary, she was someone who had spent much of her life working with children and parents in America and Europe and believed that schedules and sleep led to healthy, happy children and well-rested homes. She had dedicated much of her career to helping children and families long term. I left my first meeting feeling empowered and confidant.

Sleep trainers offer a variety of services from helping you set up a schedule, to consultations, to actually staying at your house and helping train in a more hands on way. There isn’t a degree or certification so do your homework when looking at different trainers. I used the schedule and consultations from Babyzzzs. I knew what I needed from a schedule, based on my work schedule.  She set me up with not only an initial schedule personalized for the age I wished to start but also with a transition schedule from 8-12 weeks when the infant usually goes from eating every 3 hours to every 4 hours. Our son, who is anything but easy going, slept through the night by 6 weeks and even more so by 10 weeks. I also had additional phone and in person consultations as needed when, as with every child, our son changed, went through teething and growth spurts, and just grew.

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While every child is different and experiences different things, I think it is important as mothers that we know our options and services available to us. When I first got pregnant I never knew about this and I still find mothers when I mention her that have never heard of them. They are real and they can be wonderful!

Finding Faith in the Face of Fear

Fear is an ugly four letter word that seems to be enveloping our country.  We live in a judgemental, sexist, racist, and dangerous world. Period. Every one of us has judged someone and been judged. Every one knows someone who has been raped. Every one of us knows someone who has experienced racism or have ourselves. While you may not feel danger that fact that over 2000 people have been victim to gun violence THIS YEAR alone in Chicago makes that reality undeniable in this country.  Inequality is a sad fact of our country from races to gender to sexual preference and it is not okay. Regardless of your race or gender we truly all have so much to be fearful of.

But I have a confession to make, I have had fear as a companion who follows me wherever I go for a while. For a few years I tried to ignore it but inevitably it washes over you like the wave you didn’t see coming. Many of my friends are feeling that in the last few days and my heart goes out to you. What I know is that you have to find a way to deal with the fear.  Just like parenting there is no one way to deal with the fear. I choose to acknowledge, and make at least a truce with it.

This wave of fear has been magnified in the recent years with the media and specifically in regards to police officers. There are bad cops, don’t get me wrong. There are cops that abuse their power, cops that break the law, and cops that are racist. There are bad apples in every profession, yes, but not all professions require you take an oath or have a code of ethics. It is not and should not be for the faint of heart. We live in a world of instant gratification meaning that we want issues resolved instantly in the way in which we think is appropriate. It is not that we’re bad people but when something seems black & white it must be, and often we are impatient for all the facts.  The problem with the majority of these controversial cases in the media is that they end up with the officers being cleared and not just cleared but the majority are cleared by grand juries. This means that when the grand jury, composed of citizens of all races and genders from the community, hears all the evidence, they find the actions of the officers justifiable. But by then it’s too late. The court of public opinion has ruled the incident as murder by police, recently fueled only by racism. This then spawns outrage and police being murdered in “revenge”. Dallas was not the first and it will not be the last.

So how do I deal with the fear? How does it not make me curl into a ball and beg my husband to quit his job? How do I have open discussions when I know racism exists but know that the majority of Law Enforcement Officers aren’t racist and are trying to protect and serve?  Faith. It seems simple and naive but for me it is that clear. Fear and hate create no solutions to any problem. They either fuel the problem or create more problems. We all seem to know that violence never brings peace but somehow it still continues to happen. Faith gives hope in a positive direction and there is so much of it if we just look.

I have faith that God has a plan for our country. That we have seen darker days and that we always prevail. That we can overcome the insatiability and calmly listen and respect each other to find solutions.  I have faith in the friends and family who reached out to me and wrote honest and respectful messages, even if we don’t entirely agree.

I have faith that God has a plan for my husband and even if it isn’t to make it home, it matters. I do cry and I do have thoughts that if he wasn’t a cop maybe it wouldn’t be so hard or personal, but these are not thoughts that can solve anything. My message to my husband last night knowing he’d be putting on that uniform today was I love you, be safe, and do what you have to do. He swore and oath to fulfill a dream he had of being a cop and he is a great one. He sees the darkest most depraved and heartbreaking parts of society and goes out every day to do it again. I have faith that he makes a difference.

I have faith in the beautiful face of my innocent son. I fell apart yesterday and last night. I was on the phone with my husband and sister in law sobbing but today I didn’t shed a tear. It hit me this morning that our three year old doesn’t have any idea how dangerous his daddy’s job is or that his mixed race matters to anyone and I will do anything to preserve that innocence for him. One day it will matter, one day he will realize that being a cop is dangerous or that not being anything but completely white can work against you but not today.  I was pregnant when Sandy Hook happened and I immediately questioned how selfish a decision I had made by bringing a child into this world. But there has always been darkness, we just didn’t know about it as much. What if instead of using that knowledge to divide us further and cause more darkness we used it as a tool to make the world better?

 

What Independence Day is Really About and Why it Matters

 

As I have watched the news and coverage leading up to the Fourth of July over the last few years, I felt a frustration with our country. Let me be clear that I am a staunch supporter of our military and the amazingly courageous men and women who choose to be a part of it and their families. I see the positives it offers to so many and, as a student and teacher of history, the impact it has had on our nation in general. I think those currently serving and our veterans should be applauded every day and am happy that we honor them on Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. However, this year more than ever it is important for us to remember what the Independence Day is really about.

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Militia marching in Colonial Williamsburg

 

 

The Fourth of July is not about America’s military, although I admit it is neat to hear a canon in the 1812 Overture. Oh but Kim, it is about America’s freedoms that our military has made sure we keep repeatedly, and our fight for independence that our military won! It is just that no, it’s really not. While both of those things are true facts that have happened and things we should all be grateful for, the Independence Day is not about that. Granted without a military victory, made up of a very ragtag continental army trained by a Prussian and led by an amazing French strategist and an American hero who never truly had a standout victory and various part-time militias, we wouldn’t celebrate it like we do, that is still not what the holiday honors. If it were we would celebrate October 19 (last major battle of the Revolution) or September 3 (day Treaty of Paris was signed). I also truly don’t believe that this specific American hero would want it to be about the military because he understood the true focus. Remember, this is the same man (George Washington if you hadn’t figured that out) who disbanded the army as soon as the war was won and promptly attempted at least to retire from public life (even if that didn’t last). He is also the one who warned about political parties but I digress. Independence Day is not even about the freedoms later guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.

Independence Day is about a group of fifty six courageous men who committed treason. It is about men who dared to stand against the most powerful nation in the world because it was wrong and oppressive. Men who brazenly declared their leader a tyrant and asserted their obligation to rise up and remove him to the world. They recognized that it was a nation that was restricting their freedoms and that they had lost true representation to have their voices heard. It is about making a decision in which there was no turning back, either they gain independence or die. It is about men who dared to take a chance on a form of government only written and theorized about. A type of government that they had no example to go off of and that had never been fully attempted in the world.  A government that would never have survived had many of these same men not been able to swallow their pride just eleven years later, admit failure, and reorganize the nation through the Constitution. It is about their sacrifices and the choices they made.

Not all these men who signed the Declaration went on to live happy lives like Adams or Jefferson. Some went on to fight and die in the War for Independence, some had their houses and property destroyed by the British, and some were captured, tortured, and killed for their actions. Fourth of July should be a time in which we reflect on our nation’s history, making sure our nation today is something deserving of their risks.

We live in a country where more people can name characters in a TV show than can name the Bill of Rights or even the unalienable rights in the Declaration. Instead of the 1812 Overture why isn’t the Declaration read? Why isn’t it a day taken to remember the history of our nation rather than use military men and women to distract the rest of us from realizing what our country has become? Is it because as a country as a people we are so far from what our Founding Fathers hoped we would be? Is it because we wish to ignore that reality through distraction? Are fireworks and military pomp and circumstance a truly appropriate way to commemorate them?

Independence Day is about history, civics, and government. It is about understanding who those men were, why they did what they did, and why it changed not just our country but the world. To know why they felt they had no other choice but to overthrow their government. It is about what the basis of our nation requires of every citizen to ensure its continued greatness. Instead of dealing with the reality that we are ALL obligated to be informed of our rights and our Constitution as American citizens, we focus on those citizens who have chosen the responsibility of protecting our freedoms and country. Honestly, why all the fuss about rights or freedoms the majority of America doesn’t even take the time to learn? About a history that most learn once and forget. Is our accepted ignorance a respectful way to memorialize those men and all they did? Is it worth our military sacrifices?

Can you name 5 out of 6 of the characters from Friends? Can you name the 5 freedoms protected by the first amendment? Bonus: can you name the 6th Friend? What about naming any of the other 9 amendments in the Bill of Rights other than the 2nd?  Could you honestly say you would know without a shadow of a doubt if your rights actually were violated? This isn’t to make you feel bad, because the reality is that this is an easy fix!

Our reality though is that it matters more this year because we have arrived at an election year in which the majority of us don’t feel as though either of our options for president are a representation of who we are as a people. What can we do? Should we accept someone who seems to come from the generation of politicians who have granted our sacred rights to business and been bought out themselves or someone who seems to proudly plan to be a tyrant like the ones our Founding Fathers fought against? I have never voted in an election where I felt the need for a viable third party more than this year and had less hope for it but maybe this is a year for a change. Can we as a people make a cultural and generational change to actually make our government and individual rights a priority?  I hope so, I hope for my son that he can grow up in a world where what those fifty six men risked so much for is still worth something.

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He’s a History Teacher’s kid after all.

 

It’s Canning Season

 Written by my momma, Barbara Jackson
  Tomatoes have always been a part of my life. When I was a girl in south Louisiana my mom had a half acre garden that fed us summer and winter. One of her staples was fresh and canned tomatoes. As an adult I have always had a garden or knew where to get vegetables, mostly tomatoes.
   When I moved to central Texas I was exploring some of the small towns around where I lived and found a very interesting sign that really just sealed my fate because I have been happily enjoying tomatoes in my new home ever since. https://www.flickr.com/photos/texasbackroads/19848543624
   I read about these clubs and it was so amazing that my lovely tomatoes were such an important part of agricultural history. Since moving here almost 6 years ago I have been happily eating and canning tomatoes. I slice them, make cucumber and tomato salad, and of course toss them in green salads and pasta salads. But when you pop open those jars in the winter and make rich tomato soup, salsas, tomato sauces, chili, soups and stews, there is nothing that compares. And for the very best flavor make your own tomato paste. I could eat it with a spoon all by itself!
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Ingredients for Tomatoes
10lbs fresh large tomatoes
salt
ice water
Method:

Hot water bath for tomatoes and jellies. Heat water in cooker to boiling put clean jars in water for several minutes, remove from water. Pour boiling water over seals and let set.

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Prepare your assembly line because this goes quick! First blanch the tomatoes. To do this place them boiling water cook the tomatoes for two minutes. Immediately remove and submerge them in ice water. Then remove their peel and core and either cut up or just crush the tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Ideally you want three bowls here; one for ice water, one for the peels, and one for the tomatoes.

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My absolute most favorite hands in the world, my Momma’s.

Fill jars leaving about an inch of space and put in 1/4 tsp table salt (or 1/8 tsp kosher) per pint. Next wipe off rims, place seals on jars and secure rings. Put jars in water be sure water covers jars. Cover, bring to boil and allow to boil for 10 minutes for pints and 20 minutes for quarts.

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Happy Canning!

5 Women You Need in Your Tribe

Let me start by saying that I love the idea of having a tribe. It brings to mind historically Native American rituals of less focus on one’s self and much more of a communal mindset. It isn’t just about me, it’s about so much more than that. My sister once told me that during your darkest times you can discover those who really care if you just pay attention. These last months may not have been the darkest I will ever encounter but they definitely weren’t sunshine and rainbows. I was blessed to be able to have that advice to reflect on to discover and sometimes rediscover women who empowered me, comforted me, challenged me, and became my tribe. So if you’re in that stage of wondering “Do I have a tribe?” or “Do I need a tribe?” or “How do I get a tribe?” here are some essential women to include.

**DISCLAIMER** I did not include your mother for a few reasons. While I could not get through a day let alone a week without the mother figures in my life the reality is that it is not always our choice if our mother is there. But I also implore you to embrace your mother, grandmother, aunt, etc if you are blessed with them in your life.

The Work Bestie

Wait! Before you write this off as only a blog for working women let me explain because this if for everyone. Whether you work out of the home, from home, or your work is the home you need a work friend. You need someone who does what you do because regardless of the type, all work brings stresses that your spouse may not understand. This person can go have lunch with you, happy hours, and just vent together. They can also be a positive aspect on those rough days that we all have.

The Mom Friend

All moms need another mom friend. There are pros and cons to all types. If you have a mom friend whose children are older than they have a ton of experience and advice to share. If you have one whose children are younger, than you can help and share with them. If you have one with the same age well then chances are you can vent and struggle and celebrate together. It just all rocks. Hell if you can, have them all!

The Non-Mom Friend

Equally important is the friend with no kids. The friend who on certain days you live vicariously through (one of mine toured Europe last year for an entire month…). She not only keeps you in touch with the person you are outside of your kids but she keeps you grounded. As moms we, understandably, sometimes get bogged down in diapers, feedings, potty training, dance recitals, sports, etc. All our interests are these little people we are trying to keep alive. Guess what? As hard as it sometimes is to accept there is a whole world out there that doesn’t care that your kid had a blow out. This is the friend who reminds you of that but still loves you enough to listen to that story.

The Relative Friend

Even if you are an only child you surely have a cousin, in law, etc who is a female relative. This woman can become such an important part of yours and your children’s lives. There is a special bond that they have with your child and you. Sometimes these take more work than others because after all they are the one we don’t choose but they can also be some of the most rewarding. They understand how crazy your parents or family can be and how much of a brat you can be, and vice a versa, and still love you.

The Out of Town Friend 

If I was writing this ten years ago this one might be a stretch but in our age of technology and social media now it can be much more feasible. This friend could be someone you’ve known for a long time and never lost touch with, someone you reconnected with, or even someone you met through a different outlet. They are not directly in your circle or town so their view on many issues is completely fresh and different. They offer perspectives that enhance so much about your life and parenting. Hold onto them!

 

Keep in mind you could have a ton of each of these or only a few but our lives as women and mothers are enhanced by them all. It doesn’t just take a village to raise a child it takes a village to live a life, embrace it!

Dear Sister

To the New Law Enforcement Wife on your first Law Enforcement Memorial Day,

You may be a newlywed all in a glow or a veteran wife whose spouse has just become a member of the Law Enforcement in some capacity; either way you are a new Law Enforcement Officer Wife or LEOW.  Your spouse may have been an officer for nearly a year or fresh out of the academy.  Maybe you don’t even know what today is because it is not well publicized by any means.  Today is a special day to those in Law Enforcement and their families.  Today we remember the fallen.  In 1962 President Kennedy declared May 15 as National Law Enforcement Memorial Day and the week in which it falls National Police Week.

In our world as LEOWs you become aware quickly that this life is not for the fainthearted.  There is no way to sugar coat it, becoming a Law Enforcement family will highlight the good and the bad about your relationship because you are pushed to the extremes.  There is a reason that Law Enforcement has one of the highest divorce rates as a career.  But there is also a reason you chose them.  There will be hard times but I promise you they will be worth it.  It takes a special person to choose this life and they also chose you in return, remember that. There is a reason that you kiss them before each shift knowing full well they may never return. If you haven’t dealt with that possibility today may thrust it in your face and that is okay.  Today we are faced with the worst reality of our spouses’ profession; those who didn’t make it home.

You won’t find it on calendars or in the news but today is about those men and women who paid the ultimate price to protect and serve the communities they swore an oath to. In our culture it is hard to stand up for their memory.  We live in a world where every officer is viewed as corrupt even if the statistics prove that perception wrong time and time again.  One in which presidential candidates call all cops racist even though so many are minorities themselves.  One where there are those pushing for laws that would require officers to register their private information for public knowledge as though by choosing to protect your community you are also giving up your constitutional rights as a citizen.

In spite of these realities courageous men and women stand up every day and take the oath to protect and serve. On your first Law Enforcement Memorial Day I hope you take a moment to think of those brothers and sisters in blue who paid that price and their families left behind.  This National Police Week I encourage you to find something to do to show your spouse and maybe even their shift how much we support them.  In our world there will surely be days in which they feel that we are the only ones who do, so never stop.

Sincerely,

A fellow LEOW

How My Son Made Me a Superhero

I teach US History for a day job.   We encounter many heroes in our class but what makes a person a hero or a superhero?  Is it a fancy suit, or a radioactive spider?  It seems if we really look at the superheroes it is their ability to assess a situation and relentlessly and courageously confront it.  There are true superheroes in our world from soldiers to law enforcement to girls shot for going to school.  But we all in our lives have times of conflict for one reason or another and all face opportunities to become superheroes in some capacity. 935679_642949243804_59478358_n

My father, and I’m sure countless before and since him, always told me that God often gives you what He knows you need not always what you expect.  I expected a perfect baby girl when I first got pregnant.  I got an imperfect baby boy.  We knew once he was born with a condition known as unilateral microtia-atresia that we would have hurdles to face for him as his parents and with him as well. His condition affects his hearing and how one ear did not fully form in the womb. We are not done with our battles but we are a step closer.

A little less than a year ago we scheduled his major reconstructive surgery.  This is the surgery that will give him the outer construction of an ear.  About eight months ago I began what I thought would be a battle with our insurance that became much more.  I knew going in that it wouldn’t be easy but I had no idea how tough it would be.  I tried to prepare myself, I started eating healthier, exercising more often, planning work ahead of time, and even distancing myself  from relationships that weren’t positive. But none of that fully prepared me.  Time and time again I would get denied, and time and time again I would send mountains of explanations why their specialists weren’t the same as the surgeon we chose or studies of why it was important to have his surgery at a specific age and with an experienced surgeon, knowing nothing I sent was even glanced at. I had days when I felt so defeated I had to take a minute in the car before I walked in to keep from falling apart, nights that I spent hours talking to God, and months when prayer candles were constantly lit. There were days when people were mean or dramatic and it didn’t even get to me because I already felt like I was walking around with an elephant sitting my heart. But no matter what I kept going because I knew my son was worth it.

It is not new news that the health insurance system in our country is broken.  Not only does universal healthcare seem to not be a viable option but our current system is not even set up to be a true market system because the consumer has no information, choice, or is in any way empowered to make decisions.  It has been baffling to me that had this issue been involving my car I would have had a claims adjuster who I knew and who was assigned to me but because it was my child that was not the case.  After months of frustration, defeat, and perseverance (more like stubbornness) I got a phone call.  A phone call from a woman who said said she wanted to help me and who actually listened to my case.  A week and a half later she called to tell me we won and his surgery would be covered.  I still can’t believe it’s over, I made her repeat herself to the point that she asked if the connection was bad.  The damn skeptic in me still thinks they are going to send me a letter saying PSYCHE! (fingers crossed they won’t) I feel like I’m going to burst from happiness and relief.  Our little joy boy doesn’t have any idea of the war we’ve fought.  He knows one month from today he is going to have surgery and thinks since he isn’t sick that after he’ll be a superhero.  He doesn’t know that just by having him in our lives he made us superheroes because now we are strong enough to face any fight.

What We Choose to Share Defines Us

This quote has stuck with me lately. I found it one day  and it has just been weighing on my heart. I love getting to share fun recipes with you all but there is so much more I want to share. I want to share about my journey as a mother, my job in education, my life as a cop wife, and even our travels! While I will still focus mainly on recipes, from here on out The Hill Country Woman will be about all the aspects of being a woman not just food! This will help me to ensure that I can post more frequently and to open up and connect more!

Here we go!!