Friday, January 31, 2014

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Morning Coffee and Thoughts of Spring

I had a quiet house this morning and a few minutes to sit alone and think while enjoying the first cup of coffee for the day. The main thought on my mind is this years garden. We have officially outgrown our current garden space and need to come up with a solution for how and where to plant all the wonderful things we have in mind. I approached my husband last night and let him know that it was time to start planning and as soon as opened my mouth he said, "I know and we are out of room". I told him I was thinking that we should add another large area to our garden and my wonderful husband said, "Sure, whatever you think is best. Come up with an idea and let me know what you need done". Yay free rein to what ever my mind can come up with. Unfortunately I am stumped. I want to try to keep some open space for the kids to play and I need space for all the flowers and shrubs that are planted to attract the bees. I have been researching permaculture principles and I am trying to incorporate these ideas within the yard. In other words I have a lot of ideas and very little space in my suburban backyard so now I am going to have to step out of my comfort zone and get creative.


While drinking my coffee I thought about where we could do the expansion and I think I have a few ideas. I have also been looking back at my garden journal to remind myself of the things that did not work out last year. The journal also helps me to plan the rotation for this year. I like to try to use companion planting so that there is less work form me to do protecting plants from insects. It also helps to know which plants compete against each other so that I don't set myself up for a season of struggling against nature. The process of setting up plans based on companion planting and using a three year rotation is kind of like making a seating chart for a wedding. Corn does not like tomatoes so don't put them too close while pole beans and corn literally embrace each other. Marigolds protect tomatoes and many other vegetables including pumpkins and potatoes. Just when you think you have everything all figured out you realize that one vegetable is still to close to another due to sheer size. I always have this problem with zucchini, my first instinct is to plant them close to each other forgetting how much space each plant needs. Zucchini plants get huge here about two feet in diameter so I have to keep that in mind. Thankfully I do a lot of my planning on paper because it is certainly easier to erase a plant on paper than to dig it up and move it later on.

Are you planning your gardens yet? Please let me know any new things that you are thinking of trying or things that you have tried before that have worked wonderfully as I need all the ideas I can get.

For the next couple of weeks I will be telling you more about each member of my family every Monday. Last Monday I introduced the family dog.

On Wednesdays I will be sharing what I am learning. It might be a new skill, recipe, home decorating idea, or family moment. I LOVE learning and am excited to share.

Friday will be a photo day that shows an inside look into what happened over the week.


Shared on The Homestead Barn Hop


Monday, January 27, 2014

Meet....

Today I would like to introduce you to one of my family members. She may indeed be the  most out going and vocal member of our family. She is cute, smart, and funny. Without further ado please meet:


This is our dog. Her real name is Stormy. Nicknames include: beagle breathe, puppers, Storms, punko, and whatever else falls out of my mouth on any given day. It's a wonder the dog has any sense of identity. It does not help that just the other day my daughter decided to start calling her  Beethoven after the notoriously bad St. Bernard featured in the movies. Have you ever owned a beagle or met a beagle? They really are special dogs. They are very energetic, she could run all day long. They are S-M-A-R-T. Half the time when she is getting in my nerves it is because she has out smarted me. "Stormy don't climb on the display table in front of the window". She listens well, she won't do it again for say the next 5 minutes but then she climbs on the tv stand, weasels behind the tv and then peeks her head up to the window. But hey she did not climb on the display table again. Yet. Technicalities Mom. 

So here is a bit of her biography. 
Age:2
Breed: Beagle/Devil Dog. No, I think she is beagle mixed with some sort of terrier possibly Parsons or Jack Russel? I never met a beagle who clear a five foot fence like this one can. 
Favorite foods: Bones, chicken, beef, bugs, whatever the kids are eating that she can steal. If it falls on the floor it's hers, in her mind. Last, if there is no other choice dog food will do.

Favorite Past times: Walks on the beach, hiking, mountain climbing, and rock climbing. She loves playing with kids and chasing rabbits, squirrels and birds. 





Dislikes: Being inside, winter, fences, leads, loud noise, closed doors and sad people. Every person she meets must be happy or else they get the wiggle butt and kisses. 

Goals in life: Her goals her simple love everyone, especially her own family. Find the warmest fluffiest spot around where she can curl up in a ball to take a nap, preferably next to her human where she can dream about spring and chasing rabbits and squirrels. 


Shared on The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop

Friday, January 24, 2014

Dragging Along

A little homemade chicken broth. 

Man, is it cold outside. Lows in the teens with wind chills below zero have made their appearance and don't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. The 13 inches of snow we got this week won't be melting in this weather but the house is warm and we have enjoyed some downtime due to snow days. The chill in the air has me feeling like hibernating. The house no longer feels constrictive like it did a short time ago instead it now feels comfortable, safe, and warm. There is no where in the world I would rather be in this moment than on my couch curled up with two kids and a dog all vying for a larger piece of the blanket while my husband sit mere inches away with the whole love seat to himself. This cold weather also has me craving warm comfort foods such as chili and broccoli cheddar soup which were both on the menu this week.

Book marks that the kiddo made this week. 

When it comes to blogging I am feeling a little uninspired. There is nothing like staring at a blank page just waiting to have thoughts and ideas poured onto it to make the brain completely shut down. Thoughts fly through my head non-stop by wrangling them in to one cohesive thought is evading me right now. I am thinking about starting a short term blog schedule that would give me an outline to channel some thought but still give me a little lee way with what I write. I am going to try to have my final schedule ready by next week. Then I will do my best at maintaing the schedule until the activity in our home picks up as the seed planting time approaches and like falls back into the chaotic rhythm of feeling one step behind for months on end.

Shared on The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Passing on skills


The dogwood tree in  the start of the snow.

We are getting hit with more snow again today with estimates of 8-12 inches expected. Lots of time spent inside means that the kids are getting stir crazy. Yesterday we decided to open up the big kiddo's new sewing machine and give it a whirl. It was very cute to watch her approach this new skill as she was very apprehensive about how she would be able to handle the machine. At the same time she was very excited to see what she could do. We started the morning selecting a fabric that she really like to inspire her. She picked a really pretty blue paisley and we decided it would be great to make a cushion for her window seat, something she can make in the future.

New fabric

To start off we practice becoming familiar with the machine by going over the parts. She was pretty familiar with what the machine looks like from watching me work on projects over the years. Then she played with the machine for a minute figuring out how to plug it in and turn it on. Once she was set I handed her these printables that I found online. She quickly learned how to control the speed with the foot pedal, turn the page, lower the needle and back stitch. She became confident very quickly and was concentrating very hard on the task at hand.

Her first go with the machine. 


It was fun for me to sit back and let her figure it out on her own. She kept trying to figure out where exactly she wanted the foot pedal to sit so that she would feel comfortable. The perfectionist in her made her doubt her own ability for a minute but she continued to work through it. It is really fun to share these simple skills with her and watch as she goes through the steps of learning from apprehension, struggling and eventually success. At this point I am proud of her and if sewing turns out to be something that she does not enjoy at least she will have some basic skills that she can use throughout her life time.

Today we may try to thread the machine and sew on a scrap of fabric. I have a few small projects that should be fairly easy for her to complete while she continues to build her skills.



Shared on The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Chocolate and Apricot Biscotti



A week ago I had mentioned making biscotti at home for the family. So I decided that I would share the recipe here. A couple years ago my husband was given his grandmothers cookie jar. He has very vivid memories of his grandmother making her biscotti and filling the jar. Well, I had never made biscotti before and was surprised to find that he is not very fond of the original biscotti cookies so I went pouring over the internet looking for a recipe that would satisfy all members of the family. I found this recipe and decided to give it a try. It has chocolate for the kids, fruit for me, and no anise for dad. It was a pretty good cookie and goes great with tea or coffee. Not to mention it looks great in my husband's grandmothers cookie jar. 

Here's the recipe:


Ingredients
            3/4 cup butter, softened
             1-1/2 cups plus 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar, divided
             4 eggs
             3 teaspoons vanilla extract
             4 cups all-purpose flour
             3 teaspoons baking powder
             1/2 teaspoon salt
             1 cup finely chopped dried apricots
1 cup swirled semisweet and white chocolate chips

Directions
1.              In a large bowl, cream butter and 1-1/2 cups sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
2.              Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture. Stir in apricots and chocolate chips.
3.              Divide dough in half. On ungreased baking sheets, shape each portion into a 12-in. x 2-1/2-in. rectangle. Sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake at 325° for 30 minutes or until firm. Cool for 5 minutes.
4.              Transfer to a cutting board; cut diagonally with a serrated knife into 1/2-in. slices. Place cut side down on ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 6-8 minutes or until golden brown.
Remove to wire racks to cool. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 3 dozen.

Shared on The Prairie Homestead Barn Hop


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Welcome Distractions

Now that  the holidays are long gone the winter has settled into it's holding pattern. The days are starting to get slighter longer again but the walls seem to be closing in. I was starting to feel the pressure until this arrived in the mail:


Yay! Time to think spring.

As if that wasn't enough then this happened:


20 lbs. of apple 5 cents per pound

For the past day I have been so busy that I haven't had time to focus on my cabin fever. Last night was one of those nights where my eye were closed before my head had a chance to hit the pillow. I love those kind of nights where the body is too tired from the day to allow the brain to ramble for the sake of keeping busy. I ended my day feeling satisfied with the dehydrating, applesauce making and canning that I experimented with. 

Ready to go.

I was given the dehydrator as a gift for Christmas and when our one of our local orchards decided to dump all of their extra inventory of apples for 5 cents a pound I could finally put it to use. Armed with over 20 lbs of apples I started by slicing them thinly, leaving the skin on some of them. The slices were then layered on the trays and the dehydrator was started. It took between 4 and 8 hours for the apples to dry depending on how thick the slices were. My slices were not so consistent so some of the thin ones were done long before the thicker ones.

All finished.
Applesauce was another fun adventure for the day. I have never made it before and was surprised at how simple the recipes are. A big pot, water, apples, heat and you end up with plain old applesauce. After the applesauce was prepared then it was on to canning it all up. I always get so nervous when canning. I feel pressure for everything to be just right. The kids have to be either out of the house or in bed so that I can concentrate otherwise I tend to forget to add ingredients. The rush to get the hot food into the hot jar and into the pot leaves me fumbling and muttering under my breath at my lack of coordination. This time however, I finally felt in control of the whole process. I am starting to get my own routine and rhythm going and I can finally see how some people can enjoy the activity of canning. Also, I have discovered canning in cooler weather is kind of nice in that it humidifies the air in our home which is bone dry at the moment and adds a little extra warmth that is appreciated. I have one last batch of applesauce to prepare today and then I might try my hand at apple butter.

Applesauce
What going on where you are? Are you suffering from cabin fever or are you find wonderful distractions to help make it through the coldest longest part of the season?

Shared here:
http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2014/01/homestead-barn-hop-142.html

Friday, January 10, 2014

Respect

Ok, please bear with me as I am going deep today. I first got the idea for this post following a conversation with my husband about the cost of ground beef. I was looking at changing our family over  to only purchasing free-range, grassed, organic beef. The cost for this product in our typical grocery store is $4.50/lb for ground beef while the conventional ground beef runs around $3.99 lb but we purchased it only when it was on sale $3.49/lb. For comparison sake the Co-op in our area offers local, farm fresh, free-range, grass fed ground beef for about $10.99/lb. My husband wanted to know why I was even thinking about this and considering paying more for a similar product. He never outright says no to something but he likes to make sure that solid reasoning is backing the decisions that we make with our money. We often converse with each other when changing things up to make sure that we are both on the same page. It's a respect thing in our marriage. So anyway back to beef and why. I read an article a few months back that likened food purchasing to voting. With each purchase we make we essentially vote that we agree with how the company is run and what their standards are. I want my money to show respect for the fact that my beef come from a living, breathing animal. I want that animal  to have a good life with good living conditions and I want it bad enough that I am willing to pay more for it. Currently we are using the grocery store version of the beef while we experiment with using less meat over all and tweaking our recipes to make purchasing a 1/2 cow worth the investment. A year ago our taco dinners would use a pound of ground beef for the four of us for two meals while tonights taco dinner will only use 1/2 lb. We'll get to the end goal eventually.

A Little More $ for Better Products

This thought has carried over into the foods that I make. The other day I was looking at one loaf of homemade bread that was left and starting to get harder that we like for sandwiches and such. I was absolutely not about the throw out the bread that took hours of my time to make from scratch. I respect my talents and time in bread making far too much to allow it to go to waste. So I spent some time cubing the bread and baking it to use as croutons or to throw into the food processor for bread crumbs. I feel satisfied each time I open the freezer and see the bread sitting in there ready to be used. It is so nice to feed myself and my family great foods made from scratch using quality ingredients without harsh additives and chemicals. Our bodies are thankful for finally being shown some respect. We adults are weighing less and feeling less tired. The kids are better behaved because they are not always half starved despite eating non-stop, they are now eating fresh foods that really nourish and satisfy their little bodies.

Respecting my Time by Repurposing

Knowing the added health benefits I also take pride in our garden and growing our food. I have more respect for the simplicity of fresh vegetables. In the stores there are piles of food and it seems so easy to come by. There is a huge disconnect. Gardening has shown me that a simple tomato takes hours of time in watering, weeding and staking. A tomato does not appear from nowhere ready to eat in vast quantities. At the risk of sounding extremely weird I cherish my vegetables and preserve them because of how much of my time and effort they require. We have great farm stand near our home that prides itself on carrying as much fresh produce s they can grown within 60 miles of the store by local farmers. This little store lists the name of the grower and farm and its local providing a great connection to our food. We have been depending on this store for our produce since the winter garden was a total flop. It is so nice to know that John Doe from Everlasting Farms 20 miles away is receiving a fair price for the parsnips that I purchased this morning. I am proud to use my money to vote yes to his sustainable agriculture and while they are not federally considered organic I got to support his organic farming practices.

Supporting Local Farmers One Dollar at a Time.

That leads me to my last thoughts on the respect of food and people, my money. I have money in my pocket and it did not just appear there. I have yet to find a tree with leaves made of money. My money is symbolic to me. To earn that dollar I have to step out of my home and away from my family. The cost of that dollar includes someone else picking up my child from school and filling in for me to make sure that they are safe and secure until my husband gets home from work. Oh, the joys of working two different shifts. Yes, I do perform a job to earn that money and I feel that I am compensated fairly and I am grateful for that. At the end of the day I want my money to be spent proudly supporting those around me and showing my appreciation for the products I purchase. I also try to save as much of my money as I can as I hope to live on as little as possible so that one day we might be able to put a little more distance between ourselves and the madness of the modern world. A modern world where beef is an item rather than an animal, tomatoes are available 365 days a year, and I have no idea who manufactures my food.

My Ultimate Vote
Little by little living a simple life has lead me to see how complicated the simple things are and how little these common things are respected by those around me. There are so many things just taken for granted that require a lot of time and energy to do the right way. We are so far removed from this in our modern world and have lost respect for the craftsmanship in homemade products and have no idea the origins of the things that we ingest. I don't think that our decisions are the right ones for everyone but I wish that others could just stop for a moment and take a look around them and put some thought into the decisions that they make. Learn the repercussions of turning to superstores rather than local business and make educated decisions and maybe even talk it over with someone to see if solid reasoning can back up these decisions or if it's just done because everyone else is doing it.

Here is the original article I read:
http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/organic-food-local-food.aspx

Here is a blogger that I love who made her stand on the topic:
http://down---to---earth.blogspot.com/2013/01/every-time-we-shop-we-vote-with-our.html


Shared here:
http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2014/01/homestead-barn-hop-142.html

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Staying Warm and Yard Troubles

Yesterday was a very cold day here. When I left the house my car thermostat said the temperature was 5 degrees and the highest I saw it reach all day was 15. The only time I left the house was to drop a child off at school or to pick one up from school. I didn't think that 5 degrees would really feel that much colder than say 10 or twenty degrees, in my mind cold is cold. However, there is a big difference between 5 degrees and 15 degrees. During the middle of the day when we reached our high it definitely felt warmer than it had in the morning. The kids were more than happy to spend time hanging around inside and baking all afternoon. We made banana muffins and biscotti. I will have to share the recipe in another post. The dog was taking full advantage of my sympathy for her coldness. At one point I found the dog blocking one of the heat vents with her body and later I found her passed out on the couch with a pillow and blanket to keep her warm and comfy.

It's tough being a dog.

The rapid melting of our last snowfall followed by an immediate freeze has lead to the formation of a miniature ice rink in our back yard. The problem has bee there since we purchased the home and was made worse when we extended our driveway with rocks. Now anytime we get a heavy rain fall the low area fills and rises above the foundation of our shed and floods part of our garden. I am thinking that come spring we may need to install a dry well to facilitate drainage but I still need to research a little more.

The water was up above the wood on the right and flowing in the rocks.

This is the small garden the water floods several times a year.

The tan shed we built ourselves unfortunately the water covers the foundation sometimes.

The house was pretty warm thanks to our heater, although I found myself longing for the warmth of a fire. Maybe next year we will have a wood burning stove if I can find a place to put one. The draft blockers that I made in the fall have been very handy in keeping the cold out and the heat in. I think I may need to make more for the doors in the basement to keep the areas without heat from chilling the areas with heat. Better yet since Grandma gifted my 8 year old with a sewing machine maybe I'll let her  whip them up herself since they are a pretty easy project she could learn with. 

Homemade draft blocker.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Weather again and a party

The weekend is now over and what an exciting weekend we had. We had a birthday party here for my girls 8th birthday. The weather had us on our toes with freezing rain this morning we were not sure if many would be able to make it but it all worked out. We had a "retro" party. I say retro because we did activities that were popular when I was a kid rather than host a three ring circus like most people do these days. We spent the afternoon playing whisper down the lane, freeze tag, bingo and having a scavenger hunt. The girls decorated their own cupcakes and had lunch together while little guy enjoyed jumping in on the fun where he could. It was a good old-fashioned fun kind of day and the girls had a good time. Afterwards my husband and I felt great about bucking the trend and doing a home party rather than a huge event at some center with way overpriced activities. The birthday girl could not have been happier with her day.

Oh I forgot to mention that for the actual day of her 8th birthday I set a goal to not be a weepy mess. Yeah, I failed. After making about half way through the day I found myself sitting at a red light thinking back and a tear or two did fall (okay a couple minutes worth of tears fell). This will remain a secret between us because after today's party she thinks I am a pretty awesome mom no need to cloud that image right now.

The cold weather has my pitiful mutt whining until I put a sweater on her. This is normal right?

The freezing rain we had this morning was another addition to the series of weather that makes it seem like mother nature is bent on letting everyone know she's mad about something. All over the country the weather has been colder and more disruptive than it has been in years. Last week we were faced with another bout of snow and got about 5 inches. Over the next 24 hours we will experience the lowest temps in 20 years. The difference between the high and low temperature for tomorrow is expected to be 40 degrees. BRRR! Tomorrow sounds like a good day to spend the day in the kitchen then curl up under a blanket in the evening and try to finish the baby blanket I am crocheting. Unfortunately, between school and the kids once a week after school activity we will be spending the better part of the day getting from here to there and home again. Mondays are the worst, here's to looking forward to Tuesday morning. Stay warm where ever you happen to live. Let me know how you are dealing with these frigid temperatures and frequent snowfalls.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year! I am happy to have made it through another year and I am excited for all of the possibilities of the new year. This is a busy time of the year for our family as we celebrate back to back birthdays. Tomorrow is my beautiful girl's eighth birthday. It makes me sad that she is getting older and she is less "my child" everyday. She is becoming her own person and over time it becomes more and more apparent in her personality and interests. As a mom I want her to be a little baby forever where I can keep her safe but I also enjoy watching as bit by bit she comes into her own. Every once in a while I get glimpses of what she will be like in the coming years. I have been enjoying watching the impact she has on others around her as she build relationships outside of our family. She is always the one making her friends laugh with her antics. Her coaches comment on how she is hardworking, persistent, and dedicated yet she is always one to be a total goof if given a minute to do so. I am proud to be her mom and when she gives me a hug there are days I never want to let go. All of these feelings and she is only turning eight in ten more years I am going to be a wreck. So with all that said I would like to share my goals for the next year with you. Goal number one is to not to turn into a weepy mess every time I look  at my big girl tomorrow. It's going to be hard.

So here are my goals in nice list form for 2014

Personal Goals
-No weepy messes on kids birthdays

-Wake up earlier
-Go to bed earlier
-Seriously look for land

-Continue building relationships with friends, family and neighbors
-Depend more on locally sourced items
-Continue with career advancement



Yard and Garden
-Learn to pressure can
-Enlarge the garden yet again
-Plant some fruit trees
-Try more heirloom seeds
-Build the kids a look out
-Finish the trim on our shed that we built
-Close the gaps in our fence

Home
-Declutter the house
-Install a wood stove
-Refinish the hardwood floors

I know there is a lot more I hope to accomplish this year but I think this is a good list to start with. If you are making goals for yourself I wish you the best in succeeding. I also want to wish everyone happiness, health and love in the new year.