Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Springing...a little early

Being totally inspired by my city sister and her presence here and all of her goings on at home, I thought I might stop in and visit a spell.  And hopefully a bit more frequently.

Winter has amounted to very little in New England this year.  We have bare ground in February (very strange) and it is supposed to creep up to 50f sometime this week.  Unbelievable.  Well, all of the fair weather has us all going (cautiously) a little spring crazy.  We suspect that there will be a typical 3 foot snowstorm sometime in March but secretly hope that for whatever reason this year it will not come.

Robin's Egg blue keeps showing up in my life...first as the chosen color for my latest knit project.  A durable spring work sweater for me...yes me.  I rarely knit for myself.  But I was really feeling the need to wear this color, and to NOT wear my BROWN work sweater which pretty much is my uniform for all outdoor work in Spring and Fall.  I think my brown work sweater is about 12 years old and I got it as a hand me down...I love you brown sweater, but really?!  I have high hopes for this one...and I'll post some pics soon.  Strangely, or maybe not, I also went to the paint store to pick out a quart of exterior for our NEW front door (oh drafts be gone...and no more shoving plastic bags into the drafty cracks around the "antique" door with a screwdriver every night).  I laughed when I came home to discover that the color I picked pretty much matches my sweater.  I'll burn out on it eventually...maybe.

I have also sprung into action outside.  After years of growing veggies in our two 40X100 foot plots in the field, my needs have seemed to shift.  Where I have formerly practiced a very production based utilitarian sort of gardening/farming, I am craving now something a bit more scaled and beautiful in a different way.  Believe me, there is nothing more lovely in my mind than 600 row feet of dry beans crispy on the vine.  But for some reason, this year, I am also appreciating the value in a peaceful and intentional space and color and accessibility.  Those large plots will still be full of storage crops (potatoes, onions, carrots, canning tomatoes, butternut squash) and grains(oats this year) that do better in row planting and more space.
But what I consider our "consumable luxury" crops like lettuce, spinach, brassicas, slicing tomatoes, herbs and flowers, etc.  are going to make a new home right out my kitchen window and back door.  Oh the excitement, planning raised beds, edible landscape and human spaces that will turn this space into something so different.  Up to now it has contained:  weeds, firewood in various stages of processing, a chicken house, a wood drying structure, piles of scrap lumber...and other stuff commonly known in these parts as "culch".   Last weekend in a stream of glorious sunshine we put 8 hands together and turned the culchy yard into a totally beautiful blank slate.  My piles of drawings and seed lists and fantasies of munching on salad while sitting in the midst of living food and flowers and herbs are close I tell you...close to reality.

And not to neglect the indoors.  In a fit of spring organization I have once again vowed to attack the grocery budget with new vigor.  Like most folks we like food, and good food.  And so our food budget can creep away on us pretty easily.  However, when I keep it in check, I find we can still eat like we love to...just in a more organized and sensible way.  This week is "Week A" of my new meal planning and grocery listing method.  Already this week I cut my grocery expenditure by 100.00 as compared to last week.  Intrigued?!
Stay tuned.  I fully plan to share my weekly grocery/menu plans as I go.  And hopefully we can make a bit of a thing of it.

Well that's it.  A few seeds planted here, hopefully to spring into something beautiful and delicious and, yet still, useful.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Learning to build...

The kids have been busy with homeschool tasks...
Life skill tasks...
And life in general.

I wish I had learned more skills as a child.
I have always liked to create.

I love the thought of "I did it all by myself" as much as any 3 year old does.
My grandmother always focused this desire towards "girl" tasks...knitting, sewing, crafts...

But now I am wishing I knew more about other things...
hence why I am terrified of the chop saw...
...also known as my new best friend.

Hello, my name is citysister and I can't stop using the chopsaw...
It started as the quest for the perfect button.
I wanted one that was rustic looking.
I wanted one that was strong.
I wanted one that would be durable.
I wanted one that was one of a kind.

So I began to create.

and create some more

My next project is a chicken tiller.
I'm still in the planning stages but the thought goes like this.
The chickens are just lazing around their coop and yard.
I want to put them to work.
I am going to build a little box frame out of scrounged wood
 cover it in some scrounged wire
and place 2-3 chickens in it.

It will be placed in the garden and moved at least once per day.
My thought is this.
The chickens will scratch for bugs, composted bits, green weeds that are starting to come up,
and all that jazz.
They will get rid of the bad stuff and in return
place some "fertilizer" in the garden.

Then after putting them back into their coop, I will move the chicken tiller to the next patch in the garden.

Thus, I will get my garden tilled without a tiller.

We have lots of new garden space this year so this will really help get the compost that was placed there in the fall all mixed in with the sub-cardboard layer and make sure the grass areas are killed.

Wish me luck...I hear old chopper calling and I got to get this new bit of equipment built.
Wish me luck and to come out with all 10 digits.

Linked to the Barn Hop

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I am a spoiled brat.

A little back story...
Back when our son was about 6 months old, we started looking to buy a house.
There had been a shooting around the corner.
I remember grabbing my little baby and hiding in the stairwell (okay a little dramatic, but those hormones make you do crazy things.)

We decided to move.

We saw a house that the price had just been reduced and we thought looked good.
We even got a home inspector.
He must have been in the seller's pocket, because he did the worst job on earth...didn't catch any of the real problems...just cracked electrical plates and little stuff...not the huge plumbing and roof line issues.

Well as time has gone on, the plumbing and roof have given us trouble here and there.
At one point a plumber looking at the lines in the bathroom showed us our pipes crumbling as he touched it with a screwdriver...Yes things were that bad.

Well, I saw our kitchen faucet leaking (yet again) and instead of shelling out $20 for the 3rd time (aka$60) I decided to just bite the bullet and buy a new faucet for the kitchen.
I cleared out below the sink and got to work.
I shut off the water.
I realized that the faucet lines were corroded to the water lines.
It would be impossible for me to fix it.
I went to turn the water back on...
No can do...when I attempted this, water squirted out everywhere.

I called the husband...I had wanted the new faucet to be a surprise.  
I called our plumber...he couldn't come until Friday.
It was Wednesday.
This is where I realize I am a spoiled brat.

Hauling water from the tub in a big bin for drinking water and dish rinsing...
Running upstairs each time I have to wash my hands...
Carrying pots and pans upstairs to wash in the bathtub...
Carefully filling the dishwasher for the moment that water was returned to it.
I am so fortunate.

I have clean water to drink inside my home.
I have pots and pans to clean.
I have food to cook in my pots and pans.
I can wash my hands.
I have hands to wash.
I have a dishwasher to hold the bulk of the dirty dishes.
I can call a plumber to fix my problem.

And the list can go on and on.

Isn't she lovely!
Why does it always take something going wrong to make me thankful?
What are you thankful for today?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Sweet Valentine...

It was St. Valentine's day.
(Sorry this post is a bit late.)
At most schools I have worked at, the younger kids do nothing to further their education on this day.
They pass out generic cards that their parents filled out for them, eat sugar, and get generally wound up.
Instead we did math and fine motor manipulation (measured, stirred, rolled, scooped, crimped...

and made homemade whole wheat poptarts.)

We worked on handwriting Valentines.
 We worked on fine motor control...

and patterning (C is working on AB patterns while W. is more into AABCCD type crazy patterns.)

We researched the saint behind the holiday.

While we don't typically make a big deal out of a Card Company Holiday
We do remember what sacrifice St. Valentine made.
In the name of love.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Teddy Berry's Gender Feud...A yarn along

We read.
I knit.
Ginny does both and I am sharing what we've been knitting around here...
Once upon a time...
My husband was a little boy who had a teddy bear named, may I add very creatively,
Teddy Bear (proper noun now so it must be capitalized.)
C. was at Grandma's house and decided that Teddy Bear was now hers.
And he had to go through a name change.
Teddy Bear is now known as Teddy Berry.
Teddy Bear was a boy according to the husband.
According to C. Teddy Berry is a girl.
And in order to prove it, SHE needed a headband.
I explained due to her ear's placement a nice necklace or shawl would work best.
She agreed, but she wanted a button.
A button that we made together
So I mustered all my knitting knowledge and made a necklace/shawl for Teddy Berry that had a button hole.
The yarn is from my shalom sweater and we made the button ourselves from a downed apple tree...
a chop saw (no children were involved in that part...) some sand paper...and some beeswax.
And child labor.
And I succeeded. 

By the way...We are still on Harry Potter 4
I have a feeling it will be around for a few months.
It is very long.

The pattern went like this
Cast on 6 stitches.
K 3 rows
R4: k3 YO K3
R5: K2 k2tog K3
K all rows until it is long enough to go around the neck of a bear with about 1 inch overlap.
Bind off, weave in ends, sew on button.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Groceries on the thrift...

According to the USDA our family of 4 should, if we are thrifty, be spending about $495.60 (I used the data for a family with a 2-3yr old and a 4-5 yr old since my kiddos are lighter eaters than their same aged peers.)
If we were more liberal with our spending our cost could be up to $954.60...
What are you buying if your costs are that high? 
Even the almost $500.00 "thrifty" price is high to me.  
For our "average" family of 4 our grocery budget is about $300.00/month.
Yes, $200 less than the "average" thrifty family of 4 (or $2,400 less per year)
How can one do this eating healthy whole foods and as local/organic as our budget allows?

1. Spend $250 upfront for a year's supply of beef by buying a quarter of a steer and splitting it with a friend.
Buying straight from the farmer saves you money and helps carry on small family farms that chose to             treat their animals humanely and raise them on grass (they do supplement with grain and hay in the winter but for the most part it's pasture beef.)  Bottom line: I rather pay the farmer than a grocery store.  And at $2.79/pound for meat/butchering/wrapping it's a good deal.  After I had made the commitment to buy from this farmer, a friend from the homeschool co-op we belong to butchered her steer and I could have gotten beef from them for $2.50/lb...oh well I asked her to let me know next time and maybe I'll buy some of hers.

2. At the same farm I put in an order for 30 pasture raised antibiotic/hormone free the freezer they will go...I can make one 3.5lb chicken last about a week.  Whole chicken costs 2.19/lb.  Boneless skinless breast costs 3.79/lb...Buy the whole chicken and learn how to make the cuts you want.  It's worth it.  Most older cookbooks have mini lessons in this skill such as the Joy of Cooking.  Maybe someday (like this fall between when the garden is done and the snow flys) we'll do meat birds in the garden area at an additional discount to us.

Here's a pretty good youtube video on how to break down a's the one with the best explanations of how to do it...without watching a 10 min video...(there was a really good one from a cooking school, but it was really long!)

So for a total of $400 I have meat for the YEAR...(I also supplement with some pork products, but that's a rare treat...)  That breaks down to about $33/month for the budget.

3. In relation to the above...We use meat often as a side dish or as flavoring.  We get protein, but think about it...An average adult should have 4-6 oz of protein a day...And lots of it can be obtained from milk, cheese, eggs, etc...So if I roast a chicken for dinner, we'll eat chicken, starch, veggie dinner...but then the leftovers are used for salad toppers, sandwiches, mixed in with rice, etc...and then the bones are frozen until several are obtained and then they are boiled into broth...which is then used to make soups, stews, rice, potatoes etc...We also do have meat free nights where we have salad, beans, eggs, breakfast, pasta...

4. Bulk buying.  We used to spend about $300 a month at an organic warehouse type it's down to about $150 every other month ($75/month) once you get your stores up, it costs very little to maintain them.  We keep flour (rye, non-bleached white, and whole wheat), oats, popcorn, rice, cornmeal, raisins, and honey stocked as well as things like baking soda, soap and ingredients for homemade laundry soap...And they have sales too...that's when the real magic happens...

5. Maintaining a garden.  We spent less than $100 on our garden last year and grew, by August, 41 pounds of the end of October when we put the garden to bed the total was nearing 300 lbs.  At a price of $2.00/lb that is $600 lbs of food or a $500 "profit."  In other words, we don't spend much for veggies in the summer and fall.  Get to know your local garden center...mine gave me strawberry plants for free...tells me not to buy x this week because they're going on sale next breaking down the $100 to "monthly installments" gives us $8.33/month.

6. Canning...Freezing...Drying... Do it. What we don't eat fresh, gets processed.  It's February and I still have about 20 quarts of applesauce, 8 pints of corn, 2 pints of beets, 20 ears of corn, frozen tomatoes and green beans, blueberries, and apple pie filling.  Even if I don't grow it, I still can buy it in bulk and process it for much less (and better for you) than buying it from the store.  Again, getting to know your farmer gets you everywhere...I went to a farmer's market and the apple guy gave me a great deal on their apple seconds...I got a great deal on a bag of corn...I got a great deal on beef and chicken...

7. Maintain chickens.  Last year it cost just over $1 for a dozen eggs...cost of feed, straw, etc included.  If I factored in the cost of a new batch of chicks it would be slightly more...But when you factor in the cost of garden amendments that they supply (compost from manure and straw) and the free labor (scratching up the garden, tilling, pest control) their cost is negligible...and if you barter eggs...then it gets even better...

8. Shop the sales...It's not just for couponers...When a favorite product is on sale, I stock up.  When seed cataloges send coupons...Stock up.  We are attempting to put in trees this year so we won't have to buy as much fruit in the future.  We have a coupon for 50% off and $25 off.  We will use each separately in order to get the best deal.  But be careful...sometimes other places are cheaper (with good quality) without coupons and discounts.  Read reviews, shop around, and know prices.  And shopper loyalty cards pay off too...our feed store has one and now I have $10 in gift certificates.

9. A freezer is a must.  Ours is in the's cooler in the summer than our basement and barely needs any electric in the winter so it isn't constantly working hard to keep things cold.  We store the meat, frozen fruit and veggies, quarts of stock and large bulk bags of grain and bread that I stock up on.  Keeping it organized is a must.  When storing large amounts of meat I find it best to sort it into what one would use in a I usually try to keep grocery bags with a variety of products in it...for example a whole chicken, 1lb hamburger, and a roast...I keep an old milk crate on top of the freezer and when the fridge freezer looks low, I go shopping.  I go to the garage and get a mix bag out as well as any stock, bread, fruit or grain that I need.

So if I add up the basic costs it's about $116 which then gets supplemented at the regular grocery store for toiletries, toilet paper, coffee, cleaning (sponges etc...), milk, bread for sandwiches (we make some bread, but the husband prefers his sandwiches come on store bought whole wheat bread, a small concession...) and some other basics.  So I have a budget of about $184 for those items.  We also shop around for these items...The husband stops at Trader Joe's or the Co-op on the way home from work to pick up items that I know are cheaper there such as fresh fruit and canned tuna, and I'll go to the local chain for their sale items and other must haves...

So there you have it.  Some of my secrets.  
I am a cheep skate...I make Lincoln cry when I pinch him...but that's the way it is.  
So while I'll never be on some ultimate couponer show...
I do have my ways of saving.

And hey, I've linked this up to Real Food Wednesdays...
and Simple Lives Thursday

Friday, February 10, 2012

Breakfast...for my man...

Last night the husband went to the hospital to visit one of his employees.
Conveniently, it took him by his parents' house on his way home.
And he ate dinner there.
After I had already made dinner for him at our house.
So the final bit of our previous quarter of a steer went back in the refrigerator with a baked potato (green bean leftovers went in a separate container...)
But I was bound and determined to get him to eat it one way or another...
So for breakfast he's having...

Tortilla Espanola en Tortilla Mexicana

See...When I was in high school I went to Spain.
And what did they eat...
Seemingly at every meal...
Tortilla Espanola...Scrambled egg with potatoes with lots of olive oil...
They'd eat it cold, sliced up, on French bread slathered in mayo for school lunches...
They'd eat it hot at dinner at 10 pm...
They'd eat it as a snack when they got home from disco at 3 am...
With a the main dish...
But never at breakfast...
Maybe it was just the family I stayed with, but it seemed to be the PBJ of their society...
So here's my modified version to use up what was leftover...

Heat up the cast iron with some olive oil...
Thinly slice cold baked potatoes
Chop up the steak and place the steak and potatoes on the skillet.
Let them get nice and crispy.

Get one freshly layed but deformed egg.

Look at the color...

I love the color of home grown eggs...But I digress
Scramble it up...
Push the steak and eggs to the back of the skillet and cook the egg
(authentically, the egg would be poured over the potatoes)
Push the egg to the back of the skillet.
Place the Tortilla Mexicana (what, in America, is called a tortilla) on the skillet and warm it up a second.
Flip it onto a plate.
Put some cheese on the tortilla...
top with meat, potatoes, and egg, and more cheese.
The cheese acts as glue so it doesn't all wind up on the lap of the husband as he drives to work.

Wrap it up and hope he enjoys it...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Winter Chickens

It's been a while since I've discussed the girls (aka the chickens.)
At home school group last week I got into a discussion about chickens.
Some people have a few...or lots...or are taking the leap.
An ever popular part of the discussion is always:
"How do you take care of the water in winter?"
We have several methods that we personally use that do not involve electricity.
1. When locking up the chickens at night bring the container in in a bucket and let it defrost overnight.
Bring out fresh water in the morning when you go to let them out.
2. Boil water and pour it on top of the waterer (outside) and then fill with the leftover water and a bit of cool water.
3. If the night wasn't too far below freezing, their body heat will keep the coop warm and the water won't freeze.
No matter what we did, we always use warm water to fill their waterer in the winter.  The reason is this: it will take longer to freeze in the waterer if the day is cold thus supplying them with clean water for a longer period of time, and it will warm their bodies so they don't need to work as hard to keep themselves warm thus they won't eat as much feed as the would if they were drinking cold water and having to warm themselves with increased caloric intake.
And to increase that caloric intake...we give them lots of food scraps...
man do they love scraps...

Why don't we light our chickens in the winter?
Won't they stop laying?
1. Fire risk reduction. 
2. We don't have electricity out there...and we don't want the extension cords going way down there.
3. We let them have their natural cycles.  Naturally when weather is not compatible with raising chicks, chickens stop laying.  Makes sense right?  We let them have a break in the winter and they tend to lay very well for us for about 4 years...that's right FOUR years.  Chickens in commercial laying situations usually only get 1-2 years before becoming deep fried cuts of chicken stuff...
(let's not go down that road right now...)
Our chickens are well cared for and tend to have a long laying period of life due to the care they get and the breaks in laying we let them have.
(And by the way...we usually still get 1-3 eggs a day during the winter from a flock of 5 hens and 9 pullets.)

In the winter, I also take care to give them extra bedding material.  We use a deep litter method (works for us) and muck out the coop 2-3x/year.  Each week I put about one flake of straw on top of their floor.  It freshens up things. It keeps their little feet happy.  In the winter the deep littler gives them some drainage so the top layer is clean and dry.  
Drainage from what?
They track mud and snow in from their run.
They do defecate.
That all goes down into the lower layers of straw where it composts.
When you go to muck, you have semi-broken down compost on the bottom.
We have a door in the back of our coop that opens directly into our compost heap.
The straw and feces are then composted (it takes a short time because of the deep litter and the hot composting) and added to the garden.
And boy does it help things grow.

During the winter it is not too cold to let the girls out during the day 
(unless you live where it is below 0 degrees all the time.
Then you may have to come up with another plan...)
  They dig through the snow into the dirt and scratch around for bugs or scraps of food we threw in to their yard.
It keeps them stimulated so they don't peck at each other.
We also make sure that we lock them up at night.
Hungry animals can make a quick snack of a sleeping chicken.
And in winter those raccoons and possums can get very hungry.
When we didn't lock them up we had a massacre. 
Enough said on that topic.

So chickens in the big deal...just be prepared...use common sense...
and have fun.

This has been linked up to Simple Lives Thursday

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shalom...a yarn along...

In joining with the yarn along is true...
Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading.
So here it is...the beginnings of my Shalom Cardigan...

I was hoping to get some of it knitted when I was teaching knitting club last week (at our homeschool co-op)
but that didn't happen...fancy that... I was busy teaching...
As for reading, C. is really into the concept of Martha Speaks...
A talking dog...
Vocabulary that is beyond her years...
Those are some of her favorite things...
Did I mention she is starting to read books to me...yikes!
Sometimes she scares me.
As for W...
We are working on reading the whole Harry Potter series...
We are on number 4...The Goblet of Fire...
But I think this may be our last for a while...
They are getting a bit scary and I'm not sure if he is ready to hear anymore.
That's the nice thing about homeschool...
you get to decide what a kid is ready for or not...
C. ready for reading...
W. not ready for really scary parts...
It's our call and nobody else's.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A garden construction vocabulary lesson...

Home school is often a group effort.
And we all have to use our skills in order to make things happen.
For example...if you want to learn about sunlight, plants, photosynthesis, evaporation and condensation, shapes and numbers, composting and can build a cold box.
First you have to scrounge for what you have.  
In our case it was inspired by an old storm window that we don't use anymore (and a burning desire to grow some greens RIGHT NOW.)
So we scrounged our scrap wood pile and found some boards that were similar sizes.
And then W. had to use his skills to discern if the two storm windows were CONGRUENT (vocabulary word this week.)
Then he measured their LENGTH and WIDTH and also measured the DIAGONAL (also vocab words) to get a third measurement.
C. informed us that the window was a rectangle and told us the numbers (two-zero for twenty etc.)
W. drew the BLUEPRINT.
And then the building commenced.
I did the saw work (raise your hand if the idea of me with a chop saw scares you
...yes all hands should be up.)
I also did the screw gun work. 
(Again, if you are a good student, your hand should be up for fear...)
W. measured my box...yup 20 inches long...48 inches wide...52 inch diagonal...just as it should be.
We all dug in the big garden for some soil...and added a little compost...and some potting soil from a poinsettia...
We wondered why the soil was ice on the top of the garden...and why the worms were below the ice layer in the workable zone...
We smooshed up the ice chunks and mixed all of the soil components...
The soil was very moist so we didn't add water...but we did put on the top...
And then waited as the sun warmed up the box...making the water in the soil EVAPORATE...and CONDENSATE on the glass...and talked about the water cycle.  
After that, it was time to plant some lettuce...
And when it comes up...we will be ready to talk about other math and science terms.
Who says you need a fancy science curriculum...This lesson cost us FREE dollars...
Cost us negative dollars since it will eventually feed us...
and the lesson doesn't stop there.
If you noticed, our box doesn't have a tilted top yet. 
We are going to add vertically in the next week or two as our plants need more room, but cutting boards on a DIAGONAL...well, we need someone else to do that one...
(Hey husband if you are reading may be foreseeing your future...hopefully with thumbs...
Don't worry, I'm trained in first aid...)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

My own nook...

I have been neglectful of this space...
And it is partially my sister's fault...
My dear Country sister used to have a couch in her very large kitchen.  It was so cozy and since all the generations of our family have always wound up gravitating to the kitchen, it was extra comfy.  
Times changed and her family's needs changed.  The couch is gone and they now have a "proper" grown up living room and a proper dining room as well.
Recently, my husband's aunt got rid of her old living room set and now we have a "new" living room set (THANKS! it's perfect) What to do with the old furniture?  Our old couch was in very sad repair...very sad repair once we saw what it looked like under the slip cover we put on 2 years ago.  Torn, stained, and smelling like spit's been sent away to where the good couches go.  
The loveseat that came in the set with it (second hand from the husband's grandmother...the only new furniture we've ever bought was a small kitchen table.)  was in pretty good condition (as long as it had a slip cover on it.)
  So, we were going to put it down in the basement "kids' clubhouse"
...but it went in the kitchen on it's way down...
and hasn't left.

It makes my cozy little kitchen nook.  I spend lots of my time in there, cooking, cleaning, feeding, and teaching...
why not also make it a place to hang out, read a newspaper, drink coffee, or fold laundry?   
Then to sweeten the deal, we also were given a bookshelf from the aforementioned aunt.  It was perfect for C's room, so C's bookcase came downstairs to become my cookbook shelf (I have a few...and my parents just dropped off a bunch of others from my grandmother including one where Mrs. Calvin Coolidge is "first lady of the land.") as well as an area for the kids to put the novels that we are reading right now together.  They can get their favorites and snuggle on the couch.
Saturday mornings, coffee on the little couch while breakfast is made.
Late evening conversations after the kids are asleep.
Anyone who knows me knows I am far from being an interior decorator, but this space...
it's perfectly designed for us.
(By the way...ever try taking pictures when the dog insists on being in each one...
He truly is the world's weirdest dog.)