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!!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Cleaning

     The organizing bug has hit me hard this summer.  It started with a homeschool moms meeting.  The lady's house that we met at was spotless; not just clean, but perfectly put together and coordinated. You couldn't even tell she homeschooled, or had kids for that matter! So I come home to my crowded little house, where no one would ever assume I wasn't a homeschooling mom, because all of our books and etc. is right there in the open as soon as you walk in the door.  Then there's all the other stuff here there and everywhere, because really and truly I am running out of space. So I started feeling a little discontented with my house.
     The second thing that happened was we got someone to come and look at our broken heat pump.  It turns out that a very expensive part is broken. We had the money to get it fixed, but unfortunately it's money that had been earmarked to pay for a new bathroom floor, since the current one is rotting away. I went from being discontented to very frustrated. It felt like everything in the house was getting worse and worse, and there wasn't anything I could do about it.
     That's when I had to stop and take a look at myself, and say, "What are you doing? Stop comparing and focusing on what you don't have, and think about what you do have, and what you can do."  First of all, I am way too eclectic to ever be perfectly coordinated, and I really don't want a bigger house. The size of our house is fine, it's just the amount of stuff filling it up that has gotten out of hand. I would like to have the bathroom floor fixed, but I can't do anything about that right now. What I can do right now is get rid of the extra stuff that is cluttering up the house, and making it seem crowded, and organize the stuff that I want to keep.
     I started with my bed room since it is hands down, the worst room in the house.  After buying shelves to store my fabric and other sewing paraphernalia, I managed to fill up five garbage bags of trash, as well as a huge box of stuff to donate to Good Will, from my bedroom alone!  I really am not a hoarder, and I do regularly go through my stuff, but this time I went though everything, including my file cabinet which had not been sorted through in years. It was bad.  I now feel sooo much less anxiety when I'm in my room.  Just getting everything clean and ordered has been huge, but now I want to get every thing looking pretty. But before I can do that, I need to tackle Anna's room.  Since I moved the twins out, her room has turned into a pack-rat's paradise.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Camping and Biking

    You know how you don't appreciate the things that are right in front of you?  I grew up just a few miles from the Virginia Creeper Trail, and never biked it.  I go back to visit several times a year, and never have thought to plan a biking trip, and probably never would have, if a friend of mine hadn't said, "We need to to bike the Creeper! Lets do it this spring."  Well, spring turned into summer, but last weekend we finally did bike the Creeper!  We had a blast, and I cannot believe it has taken me so long to do it.

     We camped out at my parents, up in what we call the "Hollow". My parents, not being natives to the area, refused to call it a "hollar" like everyone does.  We brought our "new to us" pop up camper, which I love more and more every time we camp.  Being able to sleep while camping is wonderful!
     My brother, David, was working on the house that he's building while we were up there.  He had a back hoe out, excavating what will be his cellar.  After we got back from camping, Samuel, lured by the sound of heavy equipment, went to go watch David work.  A couple of hours later, he comes back into camp and says, "Guess what, Mommy? Uncle David let me operate the back hoe." What!?  That turns out to have been his favorite part of the whole trip.  Even more fun than the front loader rides all the kids got.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Father's Day

     Yesterday we celebrated Father's Day and Midsummer's Night Eve with supper and marshmallows around the bonfire, and then a sun cake.  We also said goodbye to our chick, as a friend came and got them.  All in all, a pretty good day, and a good beginning for summer.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Canning Gift Labels

     With canning season nearly upon us, I made some gift labels to fit on top of jar lids. I love giving (and receiving!) home canned goodies, and I needed some cute labels to make them extra special.  I didn't make them season specific, because you never know when you'll need to have a quick gift to give. They are available free, for anyone to use. You can download a printable PDF here. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Mama Hen

     Our AC has not been working, and it has been so hot here the past few days!  Every thing seems to be shriveling in the heat, us included.  This evening, as I was sitting outside enjoying the relative cool, Anna came running up and said,"Mama, the chicks are out!" They have always had the ability to get out, but as of then, the mama hen had not seen fit to take them out.  Today was so hot though, that I think she had just had enough of being cooped up, and decided to take her babies on their first outing. She had them in the long grass behind the coop, and they followed along, never straying too far from her protection.
     She was always on the lookout for potential predators, and kept a continual dialogue between herself and her chicks, so that they would always hear where she was.

      She showed them where to find food by pecking at the ground and making a particular sound. When she felt that they had enough outside time she led them back into the coop. One little chick wasn't following close enough, and didn't see how they went in.  It wanted to go through the wire to get to it's mama, and started panicking when it realized it couldn't get in that way. Anna caught it, and set it at the doorway, where it immediately ran to it's mama. You could almost see its relief.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

We Have Chicks!

    A couple of months ago, one of our hens went broody.  We tried to discourage her by removing the eggs and forcing her to leave the nest box, but she was not having it.  So I relented, and got some eggs from a friend who has a rooster.  (Nothing was going to be hatching out of our eggs, no matter how long she sat.)  Twenty days later, we had our first chick. A little brown, chipmunk striped, ball of fluff.
    Day 21, the little yellow one hatched, then on day 22, we had another stripy one.  Early Monday morning, on day 23, I went out to check on the chicks, and saw a dead little chick outside of the nest box. It's shell was next to it, and it had evidently fallen out of the nest box while hatching, and died from exposure.  But then, as I bent down for a closer look, I saw a little breath; a few seconds later, another one.  I quickly got Anna, (she is much better at dealing with crazy broody chickens than I am) and she put it under the mama's wing.  She was sure it was dead, but I knew I saw it breathe, and sure enough, several hours later we saw it stick it's little head out from underneath it's mama, alive and well!

   It has adorable little spots on it, as if its specially marked. We did have one other chick hatch on Monday, but it was not formed right, and didn't make it.  Which made me doubly glad that this little chick survived.
     The mama hen has been an excellent mother.  She wouldn't leave her eggs for anything, and now she protects and cares for her little chicks with extreme devotion.  We do not need four more chicks, though, and so we will be giving these away soon.  I would let them stay longer, if we had a better set-up, but what we have now is very temporary, and wont work for much longer.
     The low gate discourages the other hens from getting in their space, but there really isn't enough space.  I am glad to have had this experience, and will definitely let a mama hen do all the work in raising chicks, next time I need to expand our flock.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


     We finally have snow!  After an unusually mild winter, it has turned cold and snowy.  The kids are ecstatic, and I have to admit that I am happy about it too.  The endless rain and mud was getting me a little down.
     Yesterday, we had what the kids call "snowman snow"; wet and sticky. They built a snowman, went sledding, and had snowball fights, until Samuel started dropping giant snowballs off the deck onto Abriel and Anna. They came in soaked and crying, and had to have a warm bath. 

     Today, after the snow we received last night, everything was powdery, cold, and crunchy.   The snowman's face had been obliterated.  Samuel and Abriel tried to spruce it up, but found that even the hat was frozen to it.

      They decided that today was a good snow ice-cream day, so Anna made a big batch after she had tended to the chickens.

    I am trying to ignore the fact that snow ice-cream is just dirty ice crystals.  I just hope she was really careful about where she got the snow. There's a lot of chicken poo around, hidden by the snow.  Hazards of free-range chickens.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Little Moomins

      I've been doing a little post Christmas crafting, now that I no longer have project deadlines looming over me.  I decided to make something that I've been wanting to for awhile; something just for fun.
     I loved the Moomintroll books as a teen, and still love reading them occasionally. I've always wanting to make little dolls of the characters.  There is something so endearing about them. I never could figure out how to make them, until I discovered needle felting,but it's only been recently that I felt my skill level was up to doing anything more than birds and mushrooms.
     So, here are my three favorite moomins, Moomintroll, Snufkin, and Little My.  Little My has always been my favorite, despite her naughtiness.
      Moomintroll is the only one who is completely needle felted. For the other two, I used a combination of techniques.  Other than the felted heads, they are made very similar to Sally Mavor's wee folk.
      Snufkins hands were particularly challenging.  I would have liked to have made Little My's the same, but it wouldn't have worked out, with her being so small. 
      It was a fun little project, but I'm not sure what I'll use them for. Maybe I'll attach strings to their heads, and use them as ornaments.