Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Yogurt Success

photo from Yellow Suitcase Studio.
My kids love yogurt. No, they really love yogurt. They will eat yogurt at every meal, and between every meal. Vivian and Nolan can kill a large container of it in one sitting. I hate to limit their intake of a good thing, but it must be done. Yogurt isn't cheap, and I also am not thrilled with the added sweeteners and thickeners in  commercial yogurt. In this house it is a treat, purchased only when on sale, and I have some good coupons.

I've tried several different time to make my own yogurt. The results were disappointing. Then I saw instructions for making Yogurt in a Crockpot at Yellow Suitcase Studio.  It was a simple procedure using only milk and yogurt. I figured I'd give yogurt making another try.

It turned out so well! The instructions said to strain it, but I found it thick enough to use without straining. I enjoyed the plain yogurt sweetened with a spoonful of local honey, but I wondered how the kids would react to eating plain yogurt. My worry was unfounded.

I made this yogurt Monday. It chilled in the fridge overnight, and less 36 hours later that crock pot of yogurt is gone. Nolan and Vivian were begging me to make more. Too bad I'm out of milk. Too bad we don't have a dairy animal right now...

Monday, February 27, 2012

Starting to Grow.

The mild winter and the early warm temperatures have me chomping at the bit to get in the garden, play in the dirt, and watch beautiful and delicious thing to emerge from it. My mouth is watering in anticipation of fresh, straight from the garden fruits and veggies.

We are almost to the early garden season, but in the meantime I am biding my time with some preseason growing.

This winter I experimented a little with growing in a hoop house. It was a very simple set up. Our existing raised beds are made from cinder block. We cut conduit to create an arch from one side of the bed to the other. Then covered it with heavy row covers. I'd call the experiment moderately successful.

One problem was I started too late. I didn't plant the beds until mid October. The plants were still tiny when the cold set in. Cool weather plants will survive the cold when protected, but they don't grow. If I had used plastic sheeting instead of the heavy row cover, the houses may have held enough heat for the plants to grow, especially considering the mild winter we had.

We didn't eat a thing out of them all winter, but the plants did survive. The above picture is the spinach. With the warmer temperatures recently, the plants have started to grow again. I also planted some leaf lettuce under the protection of the hoop house.

But the growing doesn't stop there.

I keep reading how you can regrow from the stumps of celery and lettuces. I decided to try it.

I cut the bottom off the celery and stuck it in a small bowl of water. Lo and behold, it grew! Funny thing though, no roots grew. So, I just stuck in some moist soil, and it kept on growing. I have a few of these going, and a couple head of lettuce too. We'll see what happens.

I finally got some seeds going too. I meant to start the herbs awhile back, but.... oh I have lots of excuses. But now, and yes, that is a bathtub you see, the herbs and some head lettuces have been started. If I plant any spring cabbage or broccoli, (I normally do better with those in the fall.) I will be buying plants. Next week, I'll get the tomato and pepper seeds going.

Spring and gardening season will be here soon enough. For now, I'll enjoying the planning, the anticipation, and a little preseason growing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Big Scary X

Homeschooling is full of surprises. Nolan is full of surprises. The combination of the two makes for some very interesting, and occasionally frustrating days in this house.

Today Nolan was working on math. We use Miquon. One of my favorite things about Miquon is that it uses all four math operations throughout the curriculum. Multiplication is introduced early on. It is introduced as natural  extension of addition. This makes it less intimidating. Well, unless of course you have older siblings. 

Nolan normally flies through his math. Today he flew through the first page, and then I heard him exclaim, "I'm done. I don't do those." Having no idea what he was talking about, I had him bring the book to me. He pointed to the X on the page.

Now, apparently, having older siblings around has introduced him to the idea that X in math is something big and scary. It could be the X in Kellen's algebra or the X in Lydia's multiplication. Nolan didn't have a clue what the X in his math meant. He just knew that X was something hard. Something that only his older siblings did, and something that he wanted no part of.

I tried to remain calm. I showed him that 3 X 2 simply meant 3 twos. I showed him how the previous page had him write out the addition problems, and the multiplication was simply a short cut. I showed him where to find the first answer, and sent him on his way.

A few minutes later he breaks down in tears exclaiming, "I don't do X. I don't know what X means.  X is hard. I don't know how." Glancing down at his workbook, I see he has filled in the first answer I showed him, and the second answer, which also is correct. The remaining blank questions are simply more of the same.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to hold onto my patience. X is not scary. X is easy. I showed you how to do it. You did it. You get it. Can we please just finish this without all the drama?!

Once he finally got back to work, it took him less than five minutes to finish, and they were all correct. "Of course. That was easy." he says.

Just goes to prove that even the best curriculum, even combined with loving instructions does not compare to the words of the older siblings. Ah, homeschooling.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sausage Balls - I'm just a little obsessed.

Sausage Balls from Scratch
We attend a lot of functions where everyone is asked to bring  snack type items to share. I love these kind of gatherings because you get to try a little of everyone's favorite things.

I was kind of in a rut for these functions. It seems that all I ever brought were sweet things. I like to bake, and normally have everything I need on hand for something deliciously sweet. If I'd remembered to get cream cheese and crackers, often times I'd also bring hot pepper jam. It was hard for me to come up with something savory I could take that didn't require me running to the store for an ingredient.

Then in December someone brought sausage balls to our band concert. Yum! I was so excited because sausage and cheese are something I almost always have on hand. I went searching for recipes. In my initial search, every recipe included baking mix. That is not something that I keep on hand.

So, I did a little asking, and a little digging, and I found a few recipes. It is no surprise that the recipes were sausage, cheese, and what would be a biscuit recipe without the liquid. That is just how I made them, using my favorite biscuit recipe. I think I've made them for every get together since (a new rut?) and a couple of times just for us to eat. (I have to perfect the recipe you know.)

From Scratch Sausage Balls
2 cups flour
1 TB sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 C lard (or butter)
2 lbs sausage (I like a 1/2 light hot and half mild. Use all mild though if you don't like it spicy.)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (or a little more.)

Mix dry ingredients. Blend in lard with a pastry blender until mixture is crumbly. Mix in sausage and cheese. You'll have to use your hands to get it mixed well.

Form into walnut sized balls and place in a single layer on a baking dish. Bake at 425 for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Enter A New Phase

Parenting is an ever evolving skill. I remember the physically exhausting days of having four little kids. Four kids who needed  me a lot. They needed me to tie their shoes, change their diapers, do their laundry, prepare their food, and feed them. I remember the stress and chaos of trying to herd four little kids through the grocery store while maintaining the mental capacity to bargain shop and stick to the budget. I remember the physical exhaustion of caring, providing, and supervising them.

I also remember of the words of those who had been there before me. They promised it was only a season in our lives. They promised that the diapers, the terrible twos, and the constant physical neediness of me would end. They said I would miss those days.

While I can't exactly say that I miss those days yet, I can say that those friends were right. Those physically demanding early days of parenting seem to be gone. Everyone can get themselves dressed. Everyone can feed themselves, and even make their own food to a certain extent. The older ones can help the younger ones.

They no longer have to go everywhere with me, but when they do go I don't have to try to push the cart and carry the baby. I don't have to worry about them knocking down the display shelves or hiding in the racks of clothes. There is no more dropping everything to run to the bathroom for the newly potty trained toddler. The kids can actually help in the store!

Those same wise friends also warned that the physical exhaustion would become mental exhaustion as the kids entered the teen and early adult years. They warned that there would be conflict and worry. They warned of walking the tight rope of protecting your kids while allowing them to become adults who make their own choices and take responsibility for them.

They are probably right. Those times are probably coming, but we are not there yet. We seem to be in a blessedly quiet and enjoyable stage of parenting. So far, the pre-teen and teen years have been mild and enjoyable. I plan to enjoy it while I can, and hang onto the hope that maybe, just maybe, we will get to enjoy years like this until they all reach adulthood.

I thoroughly enjoy these kids. They are such individuals, all full of personality and life. Sometimes, they make me want to pull out my hair, but more times they make me laugh. They make me proud. I love watching them grow and develop. They really are amazing.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Help For a Blogging Friend

A blogging friend, Hopeful,  is asking for a little help. Her partner, Amy,  has stage 4 melanoma. As you know, melanoma has been a personal issue for us. Through it Hopeful has been an encouragement to me sharing her experiences and journey. They have had to give up their home and their dreams of homesteading to be closer to the medical facilities that Amy needs.

Hopeful is rebuilding her business after the move, but you can imagine the huge emotional and financial stress. Right now they are living with friends. She is asking for a little help, a little boost to help them get settled in a place they can call their own.

You can read more of their story, and find out how to help at her blog, Lazy Dog Ranch.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Litte Seed Organization

This weather.... Oh My Goodness!  We've had beautiful and mostly sunny days with highs in the 50s. I have to keep pinching myself to remind me that it is only February. It is hard to remember it is truly winter, and the possibility of snow, ice, and cold is very, very real. After all, Punxsutawney Phil did predict another six weeks of winter yesterday. (I'm going with the local prediction of French Creek Freddy though. He says early spring.)

If the ground wasn't so wet, you'd have to tie me up to keep me from digging in the dirt in my gardens. I have spring garden fever, but a glance at my seeds, revealed that I really am not ready for the coming season.

This was the sorry state of my seed storage. Sad to say this has been my "system" for several years. Lunch bags were labeled with the types of seeds they contained and then were thrown in the box. This did keep all the different types of vegetables together, but made it difficult to find the bag I was looking for, and virtually impossible to see what variety and quantity I had in each bag. A little organization, and a better system was needed desperately.

Nine times out of ten when something needs done around here you'll find me looking for a way to make do with what we have on hand instead of running to the store to buy some product that is supposed to help me organize or make my life easier. That is how we roll. This morning I found a perfect container for the job. In a former life this box contained VHS tapes. It is about the size of a shoe box.

Then I took some old manilla folders and cut them to fit in the box. I notched out the tops in different positions for labeling

The seed packets then were filed away. They are roughly organized in the order they are planted, but I can see I'll probably be changing that. I never get cole crops in for the spring. Maybe this will be the year?

The corn seeds did not fit in this box. So, I took a shoe box for them and used the remaining space in the box for things that are handy to have when I'm working with seeds. There are a bunch of plastic knives that have been saved when all the spoons and forks from a mixed pack have been used. These make handy seedling markers when I start seeds indoors, and decent markers for outside rows. There is a permanent marker in the box too.

Once all the seeds were nicely organized, I sat down with the Baker Creek Catalog and got to work. It was so easy to check what I actually have on hand while flipping through the catalog. It was also easy to see what was missing in my box. Did you see that there are no peas? Oh the horror!

I got my order together, printed it out, and stuck it in the shoe box. I am horrible at keeping track of what variety of vegetable I've planted. I'm hoping keep the years' orders with the seeds will help. I can even keep a few notes on there as to what I liked and didn't like.

Ok, I am organized. My seed order is placed. Now, I am ready for the season. Bring it!

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Deep In Thought.

Sunrise on the Farm.
I'm still here despite my lack of posting. There really hasn't been much to talk about. Oh we're busy, plenty busy, but this time of year is relatively quiet. We've dug back into a regular routine for school, and we've been busy with field trips and homeschool activities. Around the farm,  though,  it has been pretty basic maintence. No big projects. No births. Pretty much feeding, and cleaning up after that feed has been processed.

It is a time when I do a lot of thinking, and make a lot of plans in my head that are well beyond what we could ever get done. I am good at the thinking, the planning, and I can get a lot done, but what I am not good at is being realistic about the hours in the day versus my commitments and responsibilities.

I've been thinking about the garden:
We are losing our largest garden spot this year. It is at the neighbors. True, we have 100 acres, space should not be a problem right? Acreage isn't a problem. Land that is flat enough to garden is a problem, and land that is cleared on our acreage is almost non existent. Clearing of any space isn't going to happen for this season. This has caused me to think hard about where, what, and how we will grow vegetables this year.

I've got the itch to get started. Soon, very soon.

I've been thinking about the farm:
Tim's work schedule is about to change. It is going to mean more time away from home for him. We aren't keeping up on the farm now. I wonder if it wouldn't be better to turn away from some of our more heavy labor farm activities, and look at things that would be easier for the kids and I to maintain. I'm thinking about bees, maple syrup, fruits, expanding on the poultry, a high tunnel for veggies, and mushrooms.

There are a list of projects we need to complete. A list of fixes that need to be done. Projects in the house we never quite get to, and projects I'd like to work on for the upcoming season. My head is spinning with lists and ideas. 

I've been thinking about our away from home activities:
I'm too busy, way too busy. I know it, and it shows in the things that don't get done (or done well) around here. I struggle to cut things out. I'd love to cut out working away from home. I am to the point of cutting back on that, and that is wonderful news. Cutting other things is hard.

Things that aren't as important to me are very important to the kids, and I'm a sucker for all the great looking field trips and educational opportunities that come across my path. It is a blessing that we have so many wonderful things for homeschoolers here, but it makes it hard to say no. I can't (and don't) do them all, but we do too many of them for sure.

Then there are other activities. Church activities, d-i-y classes I want to take, and the possible start up of a new local foods market that I have found myself involved with. I'm excited for these things. I see a lot of value in them, but where do you draw the line? I want to do it all.

This struggle is nothing new to us. Seems Tim and I have gone through this cycle our entire marriage. We get mind numbingly busy, and then we cut back drastically. Slowly we add one activity and then another until we are over booked again. At least I can say that the cycles have gotten longer.

Even when it is quiet here, it is busy, and when it is quieter, that is when my mind seems to race 100 miles an hour.