Monday, December 4, 2017

Watching the Children Play

     I'm waiting for my oldest daughter to finish band practice,  and while I wait,  I'm keeping an eye on my other two.  Watching them play with a group of children who are also waiting for older siblings. There are about a dozen of them playing on old playground equipment in the process of being dismantled.  It is fascinating watching them; clustering together,  then scattering apart, like starlings. They climb in and out of an old tube slide.  Rolling it with others inside. Constantly switching positions,  going in and out,  switching roles without visible communication,  like ants. It looks mildly dangerous,  but I fight off the maternal urge to go down and tell them to be careful.  I would only ruin the beauty of their play,  that strange tangled harmony of childhood. 
     A girl jumps out of the tube,  her hair reaching well below her waist,  flying around her like ribbons. She takes her turn with the other kids pushing,  while shrieks emerge from the children still inside. 
     They dismantle, move, assemble, and take apart again.  Their play is industrious and focused.  So much more fun like this, with the equipment on the ground and loose.  Much more fun than it was before when you could slide through the slide,  and everything stayed in its place.  

Monday, July 3, 2017


      Today I finally got to use my fermenting crock to make some pickles!  I got the crock last year, right after cucumber season was over, so this is my first batch of crock pickles. I actually got the crock after fermenting some cucumbers in a mason jar last year. I had always made pickles with vinegar, but after one taste of my fermented pickles, I knew this was the only way for me. The flavor is so much more intense, and they're sour without being sharp.
     I bought the crock so that I could make more at once, and make it easier. (No more having to "burp" the jars or skim off scum.) I have since made a couple of batches of sauerkraut, and they were wonderful! Fermenting is so easy, and the result is like nothing you can buy in a store.

     For the pickles, I used dill, garlic, and red pepper flakes to season them. Garlic and dill go together beautifully. The grape leaves are to keep the pickles crunchy. Like a natural pickle crisp.
     I picked small cucumbers because I was pickling them whole. If the cucumbers were bigger, I would slice them.

     I layered the cucumbers and the seasoning until the crock was nearly full, then put the grape leaves on top. I had just enough room for the weights. Now I wait!
      I leave the crock on my table while it's fermenting because I don't have anywhere else to put it. You're suppose to put it somewhere cool, but not refrigerator cold, after three days. In the summer, everywhere in my house is warm. Some rooms more so than others, but there is nowhere cool. It was fine for the kraut, so I think it will be fine for the pickles too.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Circle of Life

         Today I woke up, rounded up three of my chickens, and went to a friend's house to butcher chickens. We did three of mine, and about a dozen of hers. The last chicken I butchered took hours for just one chicken, so I had no idea how long this was going to take. I did know that I wasn't going to pluck this many chickens. I do not pluck well.
     My friend graciously does the actual killing, as that is one part that I am still too squeamish to do. One day I'll get there. We try to do it as humanely as possible, so that means sticking the chicken head down in a cone, and then slitting it's throat, so that it bleeds out very quickly. This is by far the worst part.  

     After the chicken is dead, I put it on the table and chop off its feet, and then the head. I have found that if you cut the neck close to the head, it will still be able to make a noise when air is pushed out through the voice box. This is creepy. It really startled me the first time it happened!

    Cutting off the head is hard. I do not look at the actual head as I am doing it, but just concentrate on the neck. Once the head is gone, then the connection I felt towards the living breathing animal is less, and it is now a hunk of meat that I can process without feeling sorry for it. This particular chicken's name was Buttercup. She was a pretty chicken that gave us good eggs, but unfortunately she and the other two Wyandottes, were relentless bullies that made life for all of our hens unbearable. I felt that the responsible thing to do was to kill them and use their meat, so that their lives were not wasted. 

     Back to the processing... Since plucking takes so long, we decided to skip that step, and just skin them. This was so much easier! We also just got the breast and leg quarters, since nearly all the meat are in these two cuts and it is easier to store this way. 
     When you butcher a hen, there are going to be egg yolks of different sizes in her. This is really cool, and shows just how amazing the egg making process is. We even found a few hard shelled eggs.

     In the past, Samuel has been very against any chickens being killed, but this time was different. I think it was because the Wyandottes were just so darn mean. The kids joked about how all of our other chickens were going to have a party when they realized the mean ones were gone for good. I think it's good that my children can joke and laugh about it, and chase each other around with chicken feet. I'm glad that they realize that chicken isn't manufactured. Every chicken you eat, whether it's chicken nuggets from McDonalds or the chicken you raised and butchered yourself, was once a living and breathing animal. The only difference is in the kind of life it had before that point.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Making Jam

     I went to the farmer's market on a whim the other day, and couldn't resist getting some strawberries.  I could care less for the strawberries you can get in the grocery store, as they tend to be more sour than anything, but once a year, when it's strawberry season, I get a big bucket from the farmer's market, and indulge in this once a year treat.  I made strawberry shortcake with tons of whipped cream the day we got the strawberries, and today I made jam.

    Abriel, who is normally my child least interested in helping me in the kitchen, came in after I had prepped the berries, apron on and wanting to help.

     A few years ago, when I first started canning, it was, "No one come within ten feet of the kitchen",  I've relaxed a bit since then, and realized that I won't give every one in my family food poisoning if the recipe isn't followed with surgical precision.  
     I was happy that Abriel wanted to help, as she has had a rough day, and a little extra Mommy time sure wouldn't hurt. She got kicked in the mouth by Samuel last night while they were romping around. It was bad enough to merit a visit to the Dr this morning. Her mouth is very swollen, and she even lost a tooth, A baby one, thank goodness!
     She squeezed lemons, stirred the jam pot, (She says stirring is her favorite part about cooking.) and fetched things for me.  I hope that my children will remember these lessons and moments when they are grown, and maybe making jam won't be stressful and intimidating for them, as it was for me.
    The finished result; nine jars of jam.  For some reason it separated a little, but I am sure it will still taste wonderful. 

Monday, May 22, 2017

First Camping Trip of the Year

      We usually go camping around Dave's birthday every year. The first couple of years we did, it was just coincidence that it coincided with his birthday, but now we plan it that way. This year we decided to branch out and go some where we hadn't been before. Roan Mountain State Park. We knew there might be some rain that weekend, but decided to go for it anyway.
       The park is beautiful; full of babbling brooks and rhododendrons, and everything was so green! We soon found out why. As soon as we had set up, it started to rain, and continued to rain until well into the evening. We found out that even if it wasn't raining a few miles away, as soon as you got into the park, the drizzling would start. Everything was saturated, but oh, so lush.

          All the rain would have been fine, if it wasn't for the pop up leaking. Rain started pouring in from the roof and the sides. We were all a little damp. Fortunately, my brother-in-law came to the rescue with zip tape (duct tape on steroids) and saved us from a second night of dripping.
       The next day was beautiful, and the kids discovered that this was the ideal habitat for red-spotted efts. They showed up at the camp site with their hands overflowing with the little orange salamanders.

     They were jarred long enough to observe them, then set free.

     The rest of the day was spent playing in the river, and taking Chestnut for short jaunts around the campground, until it was time to have supper and roast some smores over the camp fire. 


Monday, September 19, 2016

Cottage Cheese (Well sort of)

     I've been making all sorts of stuff to try out for my homesteading class.  It's an hour long class, so everything I do has to fit into that time frame.  I had wanted to do a lesson on cheese making, and when I ran across a 30 minute cottage cheese recipe on Pinterest, I thought, "Perfect!". I tested it out the night before, with less than ideal results. I'm sharing the steps I used to make it. Even though I didn't like the way the cottage cheese turned out, you can use the exact same method to make a  very good paneer, which is what we ended up making in class. (You really should not test things out at the 11th hour.)
     The first step is to heat your milk. I used a quart of whole milk. You want it to just reach the boiling point. The bubbles should start to rise up in the pan. Remove the milk from the heat and add lemon juice to curdle the milk. I added about 2 teaspoons. In the picture below, you can see the milk starting to curdle. Keep stirring until you can see the greenish whey separate from the curds.
      You then line a colander with a thin, loose weave cloth. Put a bowl or other container under the colander, to catch the whey. Pour the curdled milk into the cloth, and let it drain.
     For the cottage cheese, I let it drain until it was a thick, pudding-like consistency. For the paneer, the cloth was squeezed until all the whey had been pressed out.
      This was the end result for the cottage cheese. The taste was okay, but the consistency was more like a loose ricotta than cottage cheese. It had virtually no discernible curds.  I'm not sure if others have had success using this method, or if cottage cheese is just one of those things you can't rush.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Chicory Tea

     I am teaching a class at our Homeschool co-op, on homesteading skills. Each week I am focusing on a different traditional skill that can possibly be condensed into an hour long class. Last week we canned pickles, and this week we are foraging.
     I foraged a lot as a child, but not much as an adult.  I am trying to get back into it, though, and actually prepare dishes from foraged food.  I've made some tasty dandelion dishes this spring, and today I made chicory root tea for the first time. I was very impressed with the flavor; like nutty, rich black tea. I will be serving it during my lesson tomorrow.
      It was very easy to make. The hardest part was cleaning the dirt off the roots. I used a butter knife, and scraped them clean. The basal leaves of chicory look almost identical to dandelion, so I only pulled up plants that had flowers. Dandelion roots are edible too, but I wanted to know what I was getting.
     After cleaning the roots, I chopped them up and roasted them at 350 for about two hours. It looked like dried up bits of twigs when they were done. I did not grind it before making it into tea, but just put about a tablespoon into a tea ball, and poured 8 - 10 oz of boiling water on it, and let it steep. I drank it with cream and sugar, which is probably why it tasted so good.
     While roaming around outside, I couldn't help but notice the way the nectar gathering insects love my Autumn Joy. I have several of these plants in my yard, and each one is covered with bees and butterflies!

Monday, August 1, 2016

Anna's Room (After)

      I've been so busy, I haven't had a chance to blog any, but I thought I would post some after pictures of Anna's room, since I showed the chaos that was the "before".
      Here is her new "art wall". It gives her a room a personal touch, and a place to showcase her talent.
     Her new shelves I built at the foot of her bed.  She was is desperate need of bookshelves and something to take up the extra space in her built-in bed.  I also repainted the entire room, put in crown molding, and rehung her closet doors. (This was taken before I put the doors in.)
    One of her closets; nearly empty now!  
The other closet, nice and airy.

     I still need to make a desk for her room, hang a light next to her bed, and touch up the pant in the closets, but already things look so much nicer.  I think it will help her allergies, too, having all the clutter cleared out.

My Homeschool Planner

     As part of getting my house organized, I've also been working on getting my homeschool organized for this coming year.  I've always kept school records in a very loose informal way, but this year I wanted to have everything in one place, and easy to access and look back on.  I started looking for homeschool planners that would meet my needs, but didn't really find anything that recorded information the way I do.  Or they were ugly, and since I will be looking at it a lot during the year, I wanted something I enjoyed looking at.  So I decided to make my own, and I couldn't be more pleased with it!
     It has everything I need, and nothing I don't.  Making it was a fun experience, and I definitely want to make another one for next year.  For those who are interested in making their own planner too, this is basically how I did it. (If you don't have time to make your own, I am sharing the pages I've made with you.)
    Starting with the cover, I went outside, found a couple of my favorite flowers, and painted them, keeping a space in the middle for the text.  I then scanned the painting onto my computer, and printed it off on card-stock. The text is a separate document that I printed out over the picture.  This took a few tries to get it right.  I then laminated it and another blank piece of card-stock for the back cover.
     The first pages in my planner are attendance keeping charts for all of my children. It seems silly to keep attendance for a homeschool, but the state I live in requires it.  I don't have copies of this to download, but you could easily make your own. Next I have student schedules.  This helps the kids and I keep track of what needs to be done each day.
     Most of my planner is taken up with a calendar and weekly planning pages.  For the calendar, I printed one off from my computer's Works program.  I printed out as many copies of the weekly planing pages as I do school. In hind sight, I wish I had went ahead and printed out 52. I use these to keep a journal of our year, and the calendar is used for planning ahead. I printed out double sided whenever I could, while still preserving the layout I wanted. To do this, you will need 24 lb. paper, as 20 lb. paper is too transparent.

      The rest of the planner has grade record sheets, a place to record what curriculum we are using this year, reading logs, craft ideas, field trip recorder, and my History book schedule, as I make up my own curriculum, and then tend to forget what I had planned.
      After I got everything printed up and arranged the way I wanted it, I went to Office Depot, and had it spiral bound for about 3 bucks. Not bad for a customized planner.
     Here are the PDF links for most of the pages I made for my planner.  The cover is in two parts; the text and the picture. The text will need to be printed out first, then placed in the printer again, and the picture printed out over the text.  Of course, you could also make your own title, and print that over my picture, or vice versa.  Feel free to make it your own.  The only stipulation I have, is that you do not sell it.  Good things should be free!  Enjoy.
cover text
cover picture
weekly planning pages
Student Schedule
Book log
Christmas crafts
history crafts
field trips
grade record keeper

Friday, July 15, 2016

Anna's Room (Before)

     Anna's room has been long over-due for a organizational re haul plus makeover.  Since I moved the twins out of her room, I have pretty much let her be in complete charge of keeping her room clean and organized.  I figured since what I was trying to teach her about keeping her things tidy was clearly having no effect, maybe if I let her work out her own system, she would find her groove.  Not so much.

     She had managed to fill every available crack and cranny with stuff. No rhyme or reason to it; just pack, pack, pack.  I think some people are naturally good at keeping things organized, and some aren't.  Anna is one of those who isn't.  Oh well, you can't be good at everything.
     I have spent the past two weeks, not only taming the chaos in her room, but also building shelves, putting up crown moulding, painting, installing closet doors, hanging curtains, and hanging pictures.  Her room only lacks a few finishing touches until it is completely redone,  It already looks sooo much better, I can't wait until it is finished!!