Friday, October 25, 2013

New and improved winter gardening

At the end of each season, I do what most gardeners do.  I ask myself what worked, what didn't work, and what needs to be tweeked to fulfill it's purpose in a more efficient manner.  Last winter, I knew the cold frame was going to be in the "tweek" file.  While it worked wonders during the frosts.  It kept my winter greens happy and healthy.  When the winter snows came in December, it was obvious that the plastic sheet was not strong enough to hold the snow at the angle that it was at.  While the frame would have worked beautifully had I used old windows or other sturdy material, but that wasn't in the budget.

While at the Mother Earth News Fair this year, I managed to spend some time at the workshops (I couldn't last time we went due to having small children along for the ride.) One that I went to was about intensive gardening practices and how to extend the growing season and volume year round.  While many of the practices she espoused were ones I already did, it confirmed my thought that you need hoops in order to really do winter.

So this year I made a change.  I decided to make a mini-high tunnel.  I reused all the materials from my cold frame, and bought 5, 10' pieces of plastic 1" pipe.  I reused the plastic I had leftover from the last attempt, and I was ready to go.

I also decided that the amount of manure the chickens produce in a year is too precious for the deep fertilization that is needed for decomposition heat in a hot house/cold frame, I decided against digging a hole and putting in the precious manure.  I think my arms and back thank me too.

So here is my new and improved winter growing grounds.  I started a fall garden when I pulled the squash and using arugula, lettuce, broccoli, and chard will be added soon.  I also decided to use the rest of the squash bed for my garlic, which is that very dark composted area right next to my hoops.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Garlic Season

My husband and I went to the Mother Earth News festival this year in Seven Springs, PA.  I went with a few goals.  First, was to expand my garlic collection.  I also wanted to be able to listen to some of the presentations.  So, I was officially able to complete this simple list.

For the past seven years that we have lived at our current house, I have grown one type of garlic that originally was bought from a local farmer's market as eating garlic.  I thought that since it grew locally, it would grow in my garden, and I was right.  But last year was hard on garlic and I only got about 3 heads that were good for planting (where I usually plant about 10-15 heads...we really love garlic here.) I also got about a dozen that were more of a culinary quality, seeing as they were not quite as large or beautiful.  I found a stand at the fair from a garlic farm that is about an hour's drive from our home.  They carried about 20 varieties of garlic. While it was a little pricey, as seed garlic tends to be, it was beautiful looking garlic and they carried many difficult to find varieties.  I made a point to ask the grower what his favorite variety was and got that.  I also asked what the spiciest one was and got that.

I also asked one more question.  What did I do wrong that my garlic was abysmal last year.  They told me it wasn't my fault, that last year was a very bad garlic growing year since it was so wet.  They had a bad year and only grew about half of what they did other years and had complete crop failures for some of their varieties, only having enough for seed for this year.

So today was the typical fall planting day for garlic.  It all starts with well rotted compost full of chicken manure, leaves, and spring cleanup.  I lay down about 3 inches over the entire bed and then hoed it in so the soil was nice and loose and full of fertility.  Next I used my handy dandy stick to dig holes 6 inches apart and 3 inches deep.  I plant each variety in a block and labeled them using some lovely copper markers I got at a yard sale for 25 cents for a 5 pack.  Each large clove was taken from the head and planted roots down, pointy shoots up.

When all of them are planted, I cover each hole over carefully and then cover the entire bed with 3-4 inches of mulch.  This mulch is very important.  It suppresses any weeds that want to come up.  Garlic does not like to compete.  It also keeps the cloves where they were planted.  When frost comes, if the mulch is not there, you have much more heaving of the soil, which disrupts the plant growth.  It helps keep the soil a touch warmer and happier.  Lastly, the mulch decomposes over the 8-9 months that garlic stays in the ground.  This keeps the soil from getting too depleted during garlic's long stay in the ground.

Yes, garlic is a long term visitor in the garden, but most of the time is over winter when the garden space is not used.  Where garlic spends the winter, spring, and early summer, becomes a great place for a fall/winter garden the next year with just a touch of added compost and a little labor mixing in the rotting mulch.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Casting on...the girlfriend hat

In just a few days they are predicting snow.  SNOW.  Snow in October is nothing special in many parts of the country, but snow before Thanksgiving here is a special event.  And since C. has grown out of the hat I made for her two years ago, she needs a new one.  I looked through my stash (since I am a sucker for the singles bin of really nice yarn at the yarn store and tend to have lots of hat quantities of yarn laying around.) I found a nice teal color and a purple blue color for her to choose.  Of course she chose the purple.  She is a girly girl. I pulled out my handy dandy go to pattern (the boyfriend hat) and am adjusting for her little (non-man sized) head.  So instead of casting on 100, I am casting on 90 and going from there.

Ever since the Mommy Busy Pants became a mommy/auntie, she has called all of the girls, "the girlfriends."  There are quite a few girls in the family.  So in her honor, I have to change the name of this particular hat to "The Girlfriend Hat" since it's for my little gal pal.

For reading, I breezed through The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball.  It was one of those books I read in two evenings after the kiddos went to bed.  It's not one of the romanticized books of move to the farm...everything is fantastic type of books.  No, it's about dirt, blood, poverty, death, exhaustion, and community.  At it's core is a city girl who everyone thinks drank the kool-ade and has gone off the deep end and her farmer boyfriend/husband who has an amazing work ethic and ability to build community.  It's an engaging and quick read.

Linked to Ginny's knit along

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A hill of beans

Every Spring I pull out a drawer of my fridge which contains all of our seeds saved from previous gardens as well as some varieties that have been bought since they were interesting.

Every Fall, I restock the drawer as the harvest comes in, and dispose of seeds (via compost or the chickens) that the variety was disappointing, the harvest blighted, or the plant no longer wanted.  

This Spring/Fall cycle was no different this year.  In the late Winter, I began drooling over seed catalogs marking them for what I wanted to try out.  Maps were made, and overly extensive plans were made, and the drawer came out.  Big Rainbow, Polish Linguisa, Yellow Plum,  Provider, Zucchini, and Delicata, Rainbow, Winter Red, and Black Seeded Sampson all made their appearances.  Some were originally chosen by pictures, others by their names, some made their way via a farmer's market or friend.  However they got there, only the true favorites stay year after year.

One of the perennial favorites have always been Provider green beans.  They do just that, provide.  While others in my neighborhood think their Kentucky Wonder Poles are wonderful are missing out.  My one neighbor was proud of her Kentucky Beans.  She thought it was wonderful that she got some in her freezer and some for dinners.  She gave me a handful of her beans.  Tough, gone to seed, fibrous...this was all I could think when I tried one.  I hadn't the heart to tell her she'd picked too late.  Too often people go for size and not taste (think baseball bat zucchini when one should pick them at or before rolling pin size.)

I grow two crops of green beans each year.  The first one I pick 2-3 pickings off of them and then let them go to seed.  When I stop picking, I plant a second crop right next to the first.  This way, I have seed saving insurance.  Most likely, the second crop will come up, be harvested, fill the freezer and pantry, and be excellent as dry beans and seed, but always the first crop is primarily for seeds.  I select first the plants that have the earliest beans.  Then I select for bug resistance and tenacity through summer drought and rain forest conditions we have here (as it it won't rain for a month and a half and then it rains all day every day for a month.)  I select too for ones that won't stop blooming.  

Over the years I have also been able to figure out by looking at the seeds, which ones to keep for future generations.  The ones that are speckled are only good for eating as beans.  They grow plants that bugs love to devour.  The little brown seeds make stringy plants that shrivel up and are non-productive except as compost.  What I look for are plump purple seeds, which turn into plump maroon seeds when they are fully dry and ready for storage.

So now as I pick the end of my second crop of beans at their dry stage for seed and storage, I find that all two crops from a 20' row of beans add up to is a small hill of beans; a promise of baked beans and growth in the future.

Linked to Simple lives Thursday

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Knit along...with tea leaves

A long time ago, my in-laws gave me some birthday money...with a stipulation.  It was not to be spent on the kids, or paying bills, or anything practical.  It was for me and just me.  I think I spent the actual money on groceries or some other mundane living expense, but the idea of the birthday money still sat there.  And then I got an idea.  My favorite sweater, which had been demoted to house sweater, which may get demoted to "throw on to go care for the chickens" sweater is falling apart.  No matter what sweaters I may have in my closet, they are not as comfy and perfect as my favorite sweater.  I have decided to tackle making a sweater.
I have in the past made the shalom pattern for a sweater, but the one I made is sleeveless and I made it out of cheap wool, so cheap that the drape is all off and I think it cost me $4 to make.  I also have decided to never use yarn over button holes.  They just seem sloppy and lazy.  Instead I am going to go with these buttonholes from now on (in fact her videos are the only ones I will watch on matters of technique.)

I studied patterns on ravelry, and even got a reluctant husband to look at the ones I narrowed it down to. He claims they all look alike.  I had it down to Tea Leaves and the February Lady Sweater.  The more I read reviews and pattern changes, the more I realized that the February Lady Sweater only works with certain bust sizes, and would be a bit silly looking on me.

My husband was home a few weeks ago on a Saturday, so he watched the kids as I took off on a grand adventure to a yarn store that sold just yarn (as in not a craft store with a cheap yarn corner.)  I then looked over their patterns and decided to stand by my decision to make the Tea Leaves pattern.  Seeing a store employee wearing the February Lady Sweater only cemented my decision.  Don't get me wrong, I really love the pattern, but it would not be a flattering look for me.

The other thing I love about a yarn store is that the employees all knit...all...the...time.  The employees know what they are talking about.  So when they recommend an extra skein because I have a long torso, I buy an extra skein.  I always have trouble with shirts being long enough so it makes sense.

 I have already made some decisions on how I am going to change it for my tastes.  First, I am going to do the one row buttonholes as I said above.  I am also going to make it long in the torso because that's what I need.  The button row is going to have buttons all the way down rather than just two since that is how my favorite sweater is made.  That way I have the option of only buttoning two, or all.  I am also contemplating putting the yoke pattern around the wrists and bottom of the sweater.  I am not quite sure if that's what I want to do yet.  If I do, I may put a ribbing pattern rather than a garter stitch around the wrists.  Since the pattern didn't specify a cast on, I decided to use a cable cast on to keep the neck smooth and flat (again the knitwitch has a great video on this.)

They had the Madeline Tosh yarn that the pattern is made for, but at $18/skein, that was not an option.   So I looked at other options.  One I really liked didn't have enough yarn in stock to complete the project and dye lot couldn't be guaranteed if they ordered more.  I then selected with the help of the knitting employee about 5 different colors.  She then started having people vote on the color I should use.  It's the kind of place with people always there willing to help out or give an opinion.  I bought, by consensus, Cascade 220 in nebula heather, and it is very pretty.  It is a base of a reddish purple with flecks of red and blue.

As for reading, I am currently reading a copy of Anne of Green Gables that Country Sister gave me many years ago.  My son found it in a bookshelf and decided it was time for me to read a really big book to him.

Linking to Ginny's Yarn Along

Friday, September 6, 2013

Pear picking

Normally every year about this time, we go apple picking and buy bushels of apples from a local farmer to make a year's supply of applesauce.  Applesauce was the wintertime fruit of choice when we didn't have fresh fruit from our own yard.  Now, with my crazy issues, I have to turn to another option.  Pears are much lower in acid and are a viable fruit option, but I have always hated pears due to their texture.  Now, since it is one of my few options for fruit, they are a must. I have noticed that when you don't eat fruit, bad things happen such as leg pain followed my general muscle and joint pain.  Not good. So I went to my favorite handy dandy website and found a new orchard listing that was close by and used integrated pest management and no chemicals.

Most local places around here have only apples in a carnival like atmosphere with lots of kids being semi supervised by moms on their phones with the perfect manicure that cannot be tarnished by apple picking and fancy boots that have heels and impractical for the hike to the apples, while doling out highly processed single serve organic junk food.  Not my scene.

This place was different.  I called ahead to confirm that they had pears for picking.  I spoke with the farmer who said they did, but didn't have apples yet.  I was fine with that and we made plans to be there around 11:00.  He said he'd keep an eye out for us.  Pulling in, the kids were in awe.  Acres of fruit trees filled a hill side down from the farm house.  We went to the rickety barn where the farmer was repairing some equipment.  He gave us some baskets and took us over to a pear tree he had set up for us to pick.  A tripod ladder was set up under a branch laden with rusty brown fruit.  He showed us the proper way to move the ladder for safety and then went back to his equipment.  The kids took turns climbing the tree, picking 6 pears and then sitting under the tree while the other took their turn.

W. would pick up a drop, find a nice section of it and start eating.  C. was determined to be the best pear picker and get the most perfect ones ever.  She was also trying to put the word "pear/pair/pare" as many times as possible in a sentence without being redundant (she came up with "I pick a pair of pears to pare in pairs.")  When the baskets were full, we trudged back up the hill and began the weighing and transfer to our bags process.

It was a fun process.  The farmer and I discussed processing methods, shelf ripening vs. tree ripening, varieties and when they will be available, the government, and how the farm came to be.  Apparently, his father was a farmer who had an off farm job.  The father passed away last year and he decided to buy the farm from his sisters, retire early, and become a full time farmer.  He said he was too busy to make it a tourist trap farm like many of the local farms, but if someone wanted to come and pick, that's fine...if they want him to pick for them, that's fine too. But it is a working farm, and he's glad to be there.

And what I will be doing with these pears (all 15 pounds this trip) will be another story for another day when the pairs of pears ripen on the shelf and I can pare them, in pairs.

Linked to Simple Lives Thursday

Monday, August 12, 2013

Why I was away...or Re-learning how to eat

(I've been going back and forth about sharing about a major change in my life, but have ultimately decided to share.  In the past few months, I have found it very helpful to read about other's experiences, and hope to maybe help someone else who is going through this as well.)

It all started March 4th.  Yes, I can clearly remember the day that my life changed.  I felt a bit off, but by night, my husband wanted to take me to the hospital.  I was in enough pain to think I may be one of those crazy people who didn't know they were pregnant (just to jump ahead...I have still have two children, so no that wasn't the "problem.")

I felt awful for about a week and eventually went to the doctor's office...long story short, I went to several doctors, had several misdiagnoses, a couple rounds of antibiotics, and spent a couple of months with just about every sign of the worst urinary tract infection on earth, but without bacteria.

During this, my husband went to Europe for 10 days for work.  I couldn't have done it without my in-laws. I spent the whole time on the couch...I couldn't even be in bed because of the position I had to maintain to be in to be semi-comfortable.  They took one child at a time so I could rest and still have someone to snuggle with, because sometimes, the best medicine for a Momma is to have a little one to snuggle.

Eventually, I got in with a physician assistant in the urology department...who sent me off for further testing and suggested I change my diet since she was leaning towards a diagnosis of Interstitial Cystitis, but had to rule out a bunch of other things first (as in cancer of about four different organs.)

So I looked up the diet...and folks it wasn't pretty.

No acid, caffeine, carbonation, artificial anything or preservatives...with the option of slowly phasing things in.

I am glad I am a person with canning experience because canning has taught me one I had a basic understanding of what has acid and what doesn't.  When they say no acid, what they really mean is basically no fruit...if you can can it in a hot water bath, it is unacceptable, as in tomatoes are not an option.  If it has vinegar or citric's a no-no...and anything's a no go...lactic acid.

As for the other things on the list...this rules out the ability to have coffee, tea, chocolate, water and milk kefir, yogurt, prepackaged foods (I have a few items that I still use without too many problems, but I do have to read ingredient lists very I just use them for convenience such as one brand of jarred pesto, some crackers, and that's about it.

She did however give me another piece of advice...if you are having a flair up (aka a bad day) have a vanilla milkshake.  And another piece of advice I have never heard from a medical professional...use all the whole fat dairy you can...whole milk, cheeses, cream sauces, and homemade ice cream...they all have the "milkshake effect."  They all help the bladder calm down (in fact country sister once told me her pediatrician's advice for bed wetting is to restrict dairy since it can calm it to the point where a child doesn't wake up to go.)

Lo and behold, the diet worked along with some other behavioral modifications (stress reduction, sleep, rest, and massive amounts of anti-inflammatory medication as needed.)  I have never been a person to take medication and avoid it whenever possible, but some days it is the only option.

I can play with my kids, cook dinner, take a hike, and spend time in the garden and taking care of the ladies of the coop. All those things that keep me sane, are possible again.

So from here on in, the recipes will change from my front...I have found some really wonderful and tricky ways to change the traditional to wonderfully different.  Spaghetti with roasted red pepper cream sauce with basil...pesto...homemade sausage anyone?  Or I could go completely nuts and mix them all up like I do for my pseudo lasagna!  Stay tuned...I'm going to be posting a series of Interstitial Cystitis friendly recipes!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The great curriculum round up

As you may have noticed, I've been gone for quite a little bit, I will catch up about that subject later but for now...

Every year I look over what worked, what didn't, and what needs to happen for the next year.  This year is the first that we are "officially" homeschooling.  In our state, a child doesn't have to be registered with the local school district until they are eight within the first two weeks of the district's cutoff date.  Since my husband and I both hold valid teaching certificates (5 degrees in education and 20 years experience between the two of us) we are able to file under our state's private tutor clause so our documentation in minimal and easy if you know people who are willing to share their filing information (Thanks Barb!)

When it comes to paperwork I'm about as bright as this guy...a dodo bird 

We started out in a very Charlotte Mason type manner, in which you teach using literature and nature.  As the kids got older we transitioned from that methodology to a more Classical manner in which uses literature as a base for science and history, but it has a bit more structure when it comes to other subjects.

We have been researching curriculum choices, consulting methodology books and decided our course of study and curriculum map for the year.  This then brings us to the mass curriculum purchase that happens each summer.

C. is a very inquisitive and curious little girl who is determined to do work. She is self motivated and often found working early in the morning among a stack of workbooks. This year she will be working on:

Saxon Math K and 1- she is almost done with the K so we will finish that up before beginning 1.

Primary Phonics Book 3 and 4  with supplemental stories

Spelling Workout 1- I don't know where she gets her love of spelling

This year C. is also going to take ballet, tap, and possibly tae kwon do

W. is growing up fast! he is becoming a bit reluctant to do work that is not his idea he instead prefers to spend his time drawing cartoons and reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  He will be working on:

Saxon Math 3

Primary Phonics book 6- We're almost done with the series!

Spelling Workout 2

This year W. is also going to take tae kwon do and continue his therapies to help his body develop

And in case this list looks skimpy, we are doing the following subjects together:
Song School Latin- A very basic introduction to Latin
Science Explorer club (hopefully if it all works out!) and unit studies for Earth Science and Astronomy
The Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages
-supplemental books including Beowulf (any suggestions on a child's version?) Augustine, and Vikings

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Detox, continued!

So, after doing a week of the sugar detox, I have decided to stop and revisit the challenge once the baby is born.  My body kept getting weaker and weaker, and it wouldn't be smart for me to continue at this point.

Technically, I stopped on the 7th day.  Since then, I haven't noticed a significant increase in my energy level, or improvement with fatigue symptoms, so it is hard to tell if the problem is due to a pregnancy issue or the diet.  Either way, I am increasing my whole grains and natural sugar intake.  More of a Paleo approach with approved grains and fruit.

J, on the other hand, feels great!  He has stuck with it and is doing amazing!  A quote from his mouth directly... 

"It's really working for me and that is the only reason I am commited to it. I can't remember ever having this much energy and feeling full all the time. So far this is what I noticed (but I also added T25 and shakeology at the same time, so I am not sure which to give credit to)...
-I literally feel like my metabolism is making me hot all morning
-I get out of bed no problem and feel great consistently for over a week (this never happens)
-I can do a ton of work and not feel hungry
-I cut wood for 10 hours, working very hard and lifting a lot and I did not have the usual aches I get in my right elbow and one of my knees if I work half that time.  I did not take any medicine.
-I eat a ton of calories and fat and loose weight and I eat 5-6 times a day
-I love most of the foods on this diet and am happy to sacrifice the ones that are not allowed because I can eat a lot of what I like."

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Days 2-4 of Sugar Detox

Day one ended well!  We ate our chorizo taco lettuce boats and went to bed feeling satisfied.  Our energy levels were pretty good throughout the day.  No 10am snack search or 3pm sugar crash.  It felt great!  The one thing I really love about this "diet" is that I am never hungry.  The meals are satisfying and nourish my body with what it requires to help me truck through the day, which proves to be difficult at times.  Sitting down thinking about what I used to have and how literally, 20 minutes later, I would be looking for something else... this is definitely worth the crazy, irrational phase where I look for crazy things to snack on.  Things I wouldn't normally reach for... like bakers chocolate (the bitter stuff you make brownies with), raw spaghetti or prunes.  As long as they have a sugar content, I'd be satisfied!    

Day two was a different story.  I woke up fatigued!  J didn't, and I don't think our partners in crime did either.  The big difference between the 4 of us is that I am 4.5 months pregnant.  If you are exercising for 30+ minutes a day or are pregnant/nursing, you have to add a starch on the "approved" list to provide your body with the additional energy it requires.  I didn't do that yesterday because it didn't seem necessary.  Ding dong, I was wrong!!!  So today I have a nice helping of winter squash on my menu.  Thank goodness there was some sitting in my freezer.  None of that stuff made the grocery list for this weeks menu.  

Day three went better!  Having that squash really helped.  BUT, the sugar crazies hit.  I took the kids blueberry picking at the town park.  The blueberries looked so delicious.  As usual, the kids ate more than they picked.  On a typical blueberry picking outing, I would pop a few in my mouth from time to time.  This is a habit very hard to break.  I had to spit a few out after I realized even "good" sugar needs to be avoided during the detox.  I found myself repeating out loud... "It's just 3 weeks.  Then I can have fruit again!"  I brought the blueberries home, gave some to the kids to snack on and froze the rest for August 12th... the day after the 21st day of the detox!  Nope - I'm not counting!  ;)

Today is day four.  For the first time, I woke up feeling energized.  I was alert and ready for the day at 7am, but the kids weren't up yet so I just chilled out thinking about the day.  I am looking forward to the day and feel like I have energy to deal with the kids, mental capacity to hold a normal conversation, and power to truck through the harder days.  I feel amazing!

Protein!!!  Make sure you have a substantive breakfast with some real protein (meat, eggs, etc.).  Protein is your friend!  It will keep your body satisfied for a longer period of time because it is much harder for the body to digest.

Preparation!!!  Preparation is key.  If you are short on time during the week, try to cook things on the weekend.  One thing I tend to do is cook 2-3 days worth of meat at once.  I'll cook a bunch of chicken thighs and that will be my go to breakfast, snack or lunch.  Meal planning is also quite helpful.  If you plan out your meals during the week, you are less likely to goof up.  As Jillian Michaels says, "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

That's it for today folks!!!  Have a wonderful day! 

Monday, July 22, 2013

21 Day Suger Detox

I know it's been a while, but I'm back!!!  You're excited, aren't you?  It has been 6 months, but who is counting?  

So, as I return to the blog world, I am going to be sharing the journey J and I (and a few others) will be going through over the next 21 days.  What kind of journey?  We have signed up to do a 3 week sugar detox.  That means no pasta, potatoes, most fruit, bread and pretty much anything that comes in plastic wrap down the yummy junk food isle.  Essentially, it is the Paleo diet with full fat dairy squeezed in.  The point is to rid yourself of the sugar and carb cravings.  I was a little skeptical, but after reading the manual (with some recipes included), the science of it made total sense.  The person that wrote it also wrote "Practical Paleo", a Paleo cookbook with menus geared towards specific ailments (thyroid, autoimmune, cancer recovery, heart disease, etc).  If you'd like more info on the detox, check out this link.  

Anyhow, today is the first day.  Monday might not be the best day to start something like this, but we set a goal and we are sticking with it!  Well, we have every intention of sticking to it anyhow.  We decided to check in once a day, but that has proven to be quite difficult.  As the day went on, support was needed.  Right about now, I feel like raiding my pantry and eating a tub of peanut butter with sprinkled chocolate chips on top!  And heck... why  not throw in some leftover pasta too!  BUT, as tempting as that seems, I am forcing myself to keep the goal in mind and think about of how awesome I will feel in just a week or so. 

Today's menu: 
Crustless Quiche
Mustard glazed chicken thighs and Greek yogurt with a green tipped banana (one of the only fruits allowed)
Chorizo taco lettuce boats

I need to find another option for breakfast.  The quiche made me pukey.  Lunch was perfect though, and I am REALLY looking forward to dinner.  

Stay tuned... I have a feeling it's going to get harder before it gets better!  :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mason jar breakfast

The magic bullet is such a wonderful phenomenon, right?  Who wouldn't be interested in homemade salsa in seconds, or a smoothie you can just blend and take with you in a flash?  You dirty less dishes and get the same end result.  The whole thing seemed genius, but I didn't want to buy it when I had a perfectly good blender in my cupboard.  That's all it really is... a glorified and more convenient blender.

After browsing through Pinterest one day, I saw that someone used a small mouth mason jar with their blender bottom to create their own Magic Bullet!  Genius!  It seemed too good to be true, so I decided to try it.  The article came from one of Martha Stewart's magazines, so if it didn't work, she'd be hearing from me and a lot of other people.  It had to be true! 

Another scientific experiment. 

Who's the genius now?  Well played Martha, well played! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Independence is great!

Independence is great!

Teaching your own kids to be independent seems like it should be an easy thing to do, right?  Just make them do what they are capable of and they will be positive influences on society in the future (with fingers crossed, of course)!

Yeah right!  What if they "don't want to", or they "can't find" it???  What then?  You have a deadline to be out the door by 7:30 if you want to make the bus by 7:37.  It's 7:29 and she doesn't have her jacket, boots, hat or gloves on.  This is the point where I would typically throw my hands up and say "we'll deal with this another day."  I can't do that anymore.  She's in kindergarten and pitches fits when she can't find things and that tells me we've been doing too much for her.  So, I said (not out loud but in my head) "NOT TODAY!"  I went in the basement with the other two all geared up, got them in their car seats and opened up our garage door.  She knows what that sounds like, so I was convinced it would put a little speed in her step.  Not so much! To make a long story a little shorter, we ended up missing the bus and were 5 minutes late for school.  My little rule follower was marked tardy.  She was so embarrassed. 

I really wish doing things in a timely fashion wasn't so hard for her.  She is such a wonderful kid with so many amazing qualities.  But if I want to shape her into an independent kid, little pushes are necessary, but she makes going against the grain seem like she's the victim in a horror film!  I hate that for her.

While she isn't the fastest kid out there, she is very independent when it comes to reading and writing.  I know I take that for granted most days.  We didn't have to sit down with her and help with words, or finger spacing, or following with her finger.  We started with a Learn to Read series by The Starfall Team when she was 4.5 and she picked it up quickly.  She went to kindergarten, and her vocabulary increased even more.  She is a bright kid.  She reads stories to her brother and sister at night and writes her own thank-you notes.  This year, she even wrote her own letter to santa.  It's quite amazing actually. 

 When she wants to be, she's very independent.  For now, we'll focus on the small victories!  Like the fact that she can tie her shoes!  :)

I love my little pumpkin pants! 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Thin shells

As you know, the New Hampshire Ladies are laying now, but one of our ladies has been laying very thin-shelled eggs.  So thin, that when she lays them, they often get cracked on their way out, or as the hen steps out of the roosting bin to mingle with her friends.  

We have tried putting crushed oyster shells in there and have been doing that every other day for about two weeks.  Should we do this more often?  Does that even work?  

What have you all done to help with issues like this?  

Granted, they are fairly young hens.  From what I hear, thin shells are fairly common to new layers.  

What are your thoughts? 

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Country Craftsman

When I was little I fell in love...with chasing my Aunt Ginny's sheep.

I don't know what kind they were, or even if they had fleece (vs. hair sheep which are typically meat sheep.) I loved the woolly smell and their speed, their graceful leaps as they fled the terror that I was.

I also loved "using" my grandmother's spinning wheel.  Much like "loving" sheep..."using" the spinning wheel was more of an abuse on the poor Saxon reproduction my grandmother used "The Country Craftsman."

After much research, I found that they were made by J. Rooney in Littleton Massachusetts.  He researched Saxon spinning wheels after getting home from WWII and began reproducing new wheels based upon ones he saw while in England that were made in the 1500's and 1600's.  He then passed his company to his apprentice.  Once his apprentice retired, the company closed.  My grandmother's is a J. Rooney signed model which apparently makes quite a difference when you go to look for parts.

And recently, I finally found someone who could talk me through the issues it had so it could be fixed to it's former glory...and as a bonus got to "play" in a more mature fashion with an Ashford Traditional...And I made a whole ball of yarn!

So out will come the Old English wood cleaner...and out will come some of my special wood polish.  The company went defunct upon the retirement of it's woodworker, so I ordered a new bobbin from the one and only place that makes reproductions.  In February, it may take a journey back to it's former home to get a tune-up and some further help.  But as the lady who I found that talked me through the wheel's rehab schedule said..."She's a gorgeous old dame, but she sure could use a dermatologist and good hug.  Not too bad for a lady nearing her 50's."

So now I start the process,a thorough cleaning, polishing (I hear the Country Craftsman are very thirsty ladies) and woodworking.  I have set up a corner of my living room for once she starts holding a drive band a bit better and wait until she's going gangbusters yet again.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Stacking wood

This is such a fun time of year for so many reasons.  The kids love the fresh snow fall.  Throwing themselves in it, making snow angels and of course sledding!!  It brings so much joy to their little lives.

It's also, believe it or not, time to start thinking about next years firewood!  J likes to get it green, chainsaw it to the length we prefer, then split and stack it himself.  It needs to be stacked for a good 12 months to ensure it's dry enough to burn efficiently.  We didn't get our wood until May last year, and it's still a little bit damp.  This year, J wants to get a head start on things.  Besides, it's great busy work for him in the winter when he needs to get outdoors and do... well... manly things!  That, and it's much less expensive to do it this way.  You could spend about $250 for one cord of "seasoned" firewood (dried and ready to burn) and pick it up yourself (add $$ if you want it delivered), or you can order about 8 cord of green wood for about $750.  That will save us $1250!  Granted, he has to do all the labor himself, but he actually enjoys this kind of work, so yes sir, I think we'll take it!  We are also lucky enough to share custody of a wood splitter, so if J does all of his chopping this winter, he won't have to worry about it being available to him come Spring, when everyone else wants it.

Stacking wood has started to become one of my favorite things to witness in the winter.  All three kids like helping daddy out with the stacking, but only one of them stays out until the job is done!  That's our big guy.  #3!  He loves doing things just like daddy!
My two boys stacking wood and having fun together makes my heart so warm!  #3 is finally at an age where he is mobile in puffy vests, jackets and pants.  The cold annoys him, but he tolerates it and has fun.  Last year, he would go out and "help" daddy, but it was more like him standing next to a piece of wood and grunt while daddy did all the work.  This year, he actually picks it up...
 and tosses it in!
My big boy is growing up.  J says the stacking doesn't take as long now.  Watch out little guy... daddy might make you do it all on your own next year! 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Peanut butter

I recently got a food processor.  It's something I've been putting off for a long time.  They are expensive, some are large (and heavy) and take up a lot of counter/cabinet space, and other than chop nuts, fruits and vegetables into really small pieces, what else can they do?  The more cooking I did, the more I realize how helpful it would be in my kitchen.  So, I caved and bought one.

Over dinner one night, we started looking at the recipe book it came with and quickly picked out two things we wanted to try making.  The first was banana "ice cream" made with frozen bananas, vanilla and coconut milk.  It was good, but the kids weren't fooled!

The second thing to make was peanut butter (guess who picked that one out?)!  We couldn't do this one right away because we didn't have peanuts on hand.  Once we got the peanuts, I decided to make a scientific experiment out of it.  Well... as complicated of a science experiment that I could handle anyway!  

You see, one of the places we go food shopping has a peanut grinder where you can make your own peanut butter.  Our little two year old thinks it is the most amazing thing out there, aside from his toy dump truck and Lightning McQueen underpants.  Whenever we pull up to the store, he starts with "Mommy, we need peeta-butter??" 

I corralled the kids and explained that we were going to make peanut butter out of peanuts.  You should have seen his face when we turned this:

 into this:

It took some time (about 2 minutes), but they all watched in amazement!  Watching something like that change right in front of them was so much fun!  We don't always have peanuts on hand, but we always have walnuts and almonds.  Homemade walnut/almond butter anyone? 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Hot times in winter

Last fall, I built a hot house out of straw, manure, compost, plastic and pipe.  Now I am reaping the rewards.  I know I am not the only one who craves something fresh and green in the winter.

This morning it was barely above freezing, but with the solar window, I thought that it would be warm enough in the hotbox for the tissues in the chard to be enough above freezing for harvest (thus giving me crisp greens, not frozen soft greens.)  And I was right.

Knife and bag in hand, I made my way to the garden and began cutting the bigger leaves of chard, making sure to leave 1-2 small leaves on each plant for growth and photosynthesis.  This time of year you can clearly see why it is called silverbeet in other parts of the world; large beet like roots were sticking out of the ground.

I ended up with just about a pound of chard after trimming off the larger stems and what is more, I have lots of greens to satisfy that need for green.  Sure, I could go to the store and buy chard ($3 for a bunch of conventional at a local grocery so maybe $10 for a pound of organic rainbow chard) but I like the idea that I am able to do this myself.

I am already in the planning stages for the garden...I think I am going to start some seeds in the house here soon and move the transplants out to the hot house as soon as possible.  Primarily, I will be putting hardy greens out now, but come late February when the sun starts becoming a bit more reliable, maybe some peas and carrots...I can't wait.

Linked to simple lives thursday

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter Chickens Revisited

(Last year I wrote a post about keeping chickens in the winter.  It was chosen as a spotlighted post for Simple Lives Thursday and has continued to be a pinterest and blog hit.  I have decided to update some of the info.)

We still do all the things we mentioned water, let them play outside, lock them up well, and deep litter.  We have though added a few things to the mix.

1. Water.
If you want your chickens to lay in the winter they need water.  We find that while the hot water works well, they enjoy going out and eating snow once it has frozen.  They get hot water once a day and if they dawdle  or get thirsty later, they have the choice of eating snow.

2.  Light.
We still do not light our chickens in the winter, but in a connection to #1, I have heard of people who do light their chickens in the winter say that putting the light near the water keeps the water from freezing (as long as you use a bulb that is hot, not a florescent light.)

3. Extra food
We have developed a relationship with a local bar/restaurant.  The chef saves salads that didn't sell, veggies that don't look good, veggie scraps from food prep, pasta past it's prime, and other assorted "stuff" that the chickens like.  The chef is great about putting it in a bucket for us and we just go and pick it up.  The owner is happy because it keeps it out of her dumpster, thus saving her money, the chef likes to see food used, and we get free scraps so it's a win-win-win situation.

We also cut their layer rations with corn the guy at the feed store grows on his farm.  He saves non-gmo corn seeds from year to year and sells corn for deer/birds/animal use at the store.  It's less than layer rations, helps with the cost of feed, helps the chickens have extra calories, and keeps money local with local small farmers...another winning situation.

4. Deep Litter.
This year we put most of our leaves in the coop.  They were nice and dry.  There was a total of about 4 feet of leaves in depth at the height of fall.  Now we have about 6 inches.  They are still dry, fluffy, and really seem to keep the place nice and odorless.  I think soon we'll have to start adding straw, but for now, we are not going to until they need a little more.  The chickens have shredded all the leaves and I think this will be some FAST cooking compost.  When we add scraps, we've been adding them to the inside of the coop.  I have already found some of the scraps decomposing nicely in the bottom of the coop.  I've been looking for the article, but a few months ago, I saw an article about a commercial compost operation that was using chickens to turn, de-seed, and debug compost...if I eventually find it, I'll link to it.

So there you go.  I hope this is a help to anyone new or looking for new ideas about keeping ladies in the yard during the winter!

linked to simple lives thursday