Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Skirt, a Seam Ripper, and Me

I'm back from the holidays, I think.  We'll see if I can actually get this post out with two bored kids in the house...

Didn't I say recently the sometimes I learn things the hard way?  I just did a quick Google search of my brain and I believe it was in reference to my bum pear sauce.  Still seething over that one.  Anyway, when I sew, I sometimes learn things the hard way, too, because I rarely use a traditional pattern and instead lean on my seam ripper and innate sense of spatial relations.  The first never fails me, which is good because the second sometimes does. 

I finally got Byron to take a couple photos of the skirt I made the week before Christmas.  As with anything, this was a learning experience, and though I regret that I don't have a downloadable pattern, I do have some tips if ever you should want to attempt to make your own. 

Again, here's the skirt I used as a "pattern."

And here's the skirt I ended up with.  Notice the homey decor and lack of plywood flooring in the background. This is my parents' house.

I had wanted the skirt to flare out at the sides, but it kind of dips in.  Ironing might help, but I haven't tried that yet.
When I use an existing skirt as a pattern, I usually trace the outline of the skirt on the wrong side of the fabric I've chosen for the outside of the skirt, leaving about 1/2" for seams on the sides and the bottom, and a bit more for where I'll flip down the fabric at the waist.  The first few times, I made an exact copy, which I highly recommend, even though you may feel less than creative.  With this skirt, I made a couple changes, such as making it a big longer and attempting the flare on the sides.  It also has a zipper on the side, like the original skirt.

Before, I've sewn the lining in with the skirt, but since I was using wool fabric for this skirt and poly for the lining material, I decided to sew the skirt and lining separately.  Since the lining will be slightly more fitted than the skirt, I highly recommend stitching the lining together first and seeing how that fits before slicing into your nice skirt fabric.  I did not do this with the gray skirt and spent many an hour seam-ripping because I made it too tight initially!

If you're a professional seamstress or close to it and are cringing right now, this amateur welcomes your comments.  Remember, this is just what has worked for me.  And like I said, not a pattern, but a bit of a framework, and a way to be creative and save money.  The idea of making our own clothes is nearly obsolete, but there's a satisfaction in being creative and choosing your own fabric to suit your taste and needs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gingerbread Cookies

Three batches of these so far and I still want more.  For those of you who have requested this recipe...Merry Christmas!  And for everyone else, I hope you enjoy!

Gingerbread Cookies
from Recipes from the Raleigh Tavern Bake Shop, Colonial Williamsburg, page unknown

1 cup sugar
2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup margarine, melted (I use butter)
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 cup unsulfered molasses
3/4 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
3/4 tsp. lemon extract (optional)
4 cups stoneground or unbleached flour, sifted (I use freshly milled hard or soft wheat and never bother sifting)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine first six (dry) ingredients, and add the liquids.  Add the flour one cup at a time, stirring constantly.  Dough should be stiff enough to handle; knead for smoother texture and add about 1/2 cup more flour or so, if necessary, to prevent sticking.  When smooth, roll out to 1/4" thick on a floured surface and cut into cookies using shapes or a round glass.  Bake on greased cookie sheets for 10-12 minutes.  Cookies are done if they spring back when lightly touched.

Makes 50-60

My notes:  These are wonderful thick, but if you like a thinner cookie, roll out to about 1/8" or so and bake for 8-9 minutes.  The cookies are delicious plain, but I dipped mine in melted white chocolate, placed them on wax paper, and immediately decorated with sprinkles.  If you do this, leave them on the wax paper to dry before storing.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Green Acres Weekend Update

It's 9:44 Monday morning, and I'm pushing these Weekend Updates later and later!  'Tis the season to be busy, so posts may be sporadic, but here's the past week, in photos, for the most part.

Baking, in various forms, took place all week.  Here are gingerbread cookies dipped in white chocolate.  I will post the recipe when I get a chance. (Update: CLICK HERE for the recipe!)

Renovations.  Byron had two snow days from school, but that didn't mean he didn't work!  Here is our hallway on Thursday...

...on Friday...

...and on Saturday.

When I walked downstairs on Sunday morning, the re-installed heart pine flooring made a big impression.  Quite different than walking down to plywood!  The next step will be to sand the floors down and apply a clear finish, but that probably won't happen until spring or summer.

The dining room, for Sunday's gathering with family.  No, you wouldn't see anything like this in a Pottery Barn magazine, but the room is de-cluttered (it was our storage room for months), our lovely chandelier installed, and the old chandelier with the exposed wires properly disposed of.  Despite the mismatched chairs, dishes, and plywood floors, no one cared and we had a wonderful time.

Monday's snow.

Thursday's snow.  Not the best photo, but it was freezing and my camera and I both preferred to stay indoors.
Another thing accomplished this week: I made a winter skirt!  And then I got a case of Mommy Brain and forgot to ask Byron to take pictures of me wearing it.  The process was fun and challenging and I learned quite a bit, which I will share with you in a later post. 

And if I don't get a chance to post until after the holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

Isaiah 9:6

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Please Pass the Pear Sauce...Or Not

A couple weeks ago I opened my first can of pear sauce I'd made over the summer.  This was a monumental event.  After all, how many hours had I spent washing pears, slicing pears, boiling pears, sterilizing jars, wiping my brow, warning the kids to stay away from the hot canner, and finally to listening to the lids seal in satisfaction of time well spent?  Right now, I really don't want to think about it.

Don't get me wrong; the pear sauce was technically fine and void of the nasty white stuff I'd decided to study for my fourth grade science experiment.  Yes, in desperation for a topic, I did a science project on mold by placing slices of bread in various containers under diverse temperatures.  Looking back, I recoil in disgust and wonder why I didn't just build a volcano like every other kid.  Not sure what I was thinking.

But back to the pear sauce: bottom line, it just didn't taste very good.  Not even Charlie liked it, and he's not exactly parsimonious in his food choices.

The fresh pears were great, and we bought very little fruit all summer.  And cooked and fresh pears have been stellar in desserts and breakfast breads.  Even the pear butter and pear jelly turned out well.  But what to do with my (I don't even want to think about how many) jars and jars of pear sauce and sliced pears, all of which I'd expected to be our fruit through the winter?  I've come up with three options.

Option A: I've thought about doctoring up the sauce, but to tell you the truth, adding a bunch of sugar to something that is supposed to be healthy makes no sense.  The kids might love it, but what's the point?  I might as well feed them cookies for snacks instead.

Option B: Another, more viable option is to use it in breakfast bread.  I have a fool-proof recipe I'll have to post, and have been successful using pear sauce, applesauce, and mashed bananas as the fruit.  Only problem is we're going to be sick of it in a couple months.

Option C is to use it in desserts.  However, I don't have the time nor the inclination to make dessert every. single. day.  Not having been born with the speedy metabolism my husband and daughter have, I've always struggled with my weight.  I have to exercise, especially after having kids.  And (okay, I'm about to expose some of my vanity here) I've only recently come to terms with the fact that my body will never, ever be the same and I will never, ever be one of those people who can walk into a clothing store and look great in anything.  Which is probably why I wear the same clothes year after year!  And again, there's that sugar thing.

So the pears I was so excited about have disappointed, hands down, and today I coughed up money for another bushel of apples that I hope will last us a couple months.  I've come to terms with the fact that I'll have to do this next year and probably the year after.  But come what may, I am planting apple trees this spring: granny smith (early season) for eating and cooking, honeycrisp (mid-season) for sauce and eating, and pink lady (late season) for absolutely everything. 

And the pears?  I'll know better next year, and will be more conservative with how many I preserve.  Some things you just have to learn the hard way.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Green Acres Weekend Update

Sometimes I get on a little creative streak, usually when pressured by an upcoming event.  In this case, it's Christmas and my Type-A need for order while living in a house that's in semi-shambles.  For years I've been meaning to make our own Christmas stockings because our set is rather mix-and-match.  And every time I hit an after-Christmas sale, I think to myself, "Self, you could make that for less, even though it's 75% off." 

And so here are our Christmas stockings, which I made by using an old one for a template and looking at some photos online.  They're a bit plain, but will do until I figure out how I want to sew our names onto them.  I spent less than $10 to make all four, and for Byron's and Charlie's, I used green velour-ish fabric I already had.  The lining I also had on hand.  I kind of like "off" Christmas colors, but...

...mine and Akea's are fuscia.  I did a very non-Type-A thing and let her pick out the fabric, okay?  (Oh, and they're hanging on the wall because we don't have a mantle at the moment.)

I love this border I found!
The past couple years I've also gotten into making my own skirts because I hate wearing shorts in the summer; in fact, the only pair I like are some grunge-era army pants cut-offs that have been demoted to chores like painting and gardening.  Anyway, it's so much more creative and cheaper to find fun cotton prints on sale.  Problem is the skirts I've made are for weather that's slightly above the Arctic temperatures we've been having lately.  Since things are tight, I decided to search for some interesting wool or flannel fabric and make myself a couple winter skirts, too.

I think this was less than $3 per yard, on clearance.  It's some sort of British-style fabric.  I found this skirt on the Anthropologie website and will probably shoot for a similar style.

Here is a favorite skirt of mine that I'll use for a pattern for this fabric:

I fell in love with this a couple weeks ago and it finally went on sale this past week!  The new skirt will be a bit longer than the one I'm using as a template.
Besides my little creative spurt, the kids and I took a field trip with my sister-in-law, Dawn, and their cousins to the science museum (thanks, Dawn for the guest passes)!  Our chapter of Classical Conversations had a Christmas party complete with a rocket-launching contest.  Apparently our rocket was much admired for aesthetics, but let's just say form did not follow function.  Yup, it was a dud.

And though we're past Thanksgiving, several events this week have reminded me to remain thankful and steadfast in the midst of trials.  Included was an unexpected and totally selfless gift from friends, and Sunday's sermon at church was insanely apropos given that I'd been thinking about the following verse for the past couple weeks.  I'll leave it with you now; my wish is that it gives you the hope it gives me:

The Lord of Hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Psalm 46:11

Friday, December 10, 2010

Benedict Arnold Likes Red Shoes

I was thinking the other day that I haven't written much about homeschooling.  I've stuck a couple sentences about it in other posts, but this is my first post dedicated entirely to homeschooling.  Yup, I like to live life on the edge.  Anyway, I'm in my second year educating our kids at home, and besides it being a huge responsibility, it also prompts us to take advantage of educational opportunities anywhere from our backyard to places actually designed to be educational in the first place.

So following is my plug for Colonial Williamsburg.  And no, I'm not getting any freebies for it; we just love the place!  Actually, Byron's parents graciously blessed us with year passes a couple months ago, so we're thinking of going back soon to enjoy the holiday scene circa 1776.  During our visit there with my in-laws, we enjoyed re-enactments, house tours, learning from various artisans and shopkeepers, eating at a tavern, and a most amazing concert featuring the harpsichord.  And Byron's parents put us up in a colonial tavern.  Believe me, I'm not gloating here; we just really, really appreciated their generosity because we wouldn't normally treat ourselves to anything like this...and at the moment it's out of our budget.

Anyway, Williamsburg has some sweet deals for homeschoolers.  They host two homeschool weeks yearly: one in the spring and one in the fall.  The tickets are comparatively dirt cheap, too.  Upcoming dates for 2011 are:

Spring Homeschooler Experience: February 26-March 5, 2011
Fall Homeschooler Experience: September 10-25, 2011

Unfortunately, when the homeschool kids' dad is a teacher, it's tough to take days off to take advantage of the special weeks.  But if you go at any other time, you can still get discounted tickets.  Just bring proof of belonging to a homeschool organization (I had to run back to the car to get mine, but at least I'd brought it).  And public school teachers get discounts, too!  Byron didn't have his ID with him, but they were able to find him on the staff listing on his high school's website.  Click here to go to a link for homeschoolers.

Here are a few photos of what we enjoyed:

One of the first events we attended was the reading of the Declaration of Independence.  Several actors shared in the reading, which made it quite captivating.

A bit of Revolutionary City.  Here Benedict Arnold threatens the revolutionaries, but he did complement Akea on her red shoes.  Not that that suddenly makes him an admirable historical figure.

Some photos I took on the tour of the Peyton Randolf House...

Old school brooms.

Can you tell I like rusticity??

Akea and Charlie with Grandma and Granddaddy
In addition, we visited the Governor's Palace and ate way too many ginger cakes.  I'm sure I'm leaving something out, but we really did have a fun, educational journey back in time, and got to spend a couple days with Byron's parents, who we don't see very often because they live a few thousand miles away.  If you have the opportunity, Colonial Williamsburg is a pretty unique place to visit!

Where do you like to go as a family?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

YouTube University and Jedi Knight Tricks for Chickens

Update: Blatant typos have been corrected.  Thanks, Editor Byron.

We love YouTube.  It's the education we never had.  Despite two masters degrees. 

I mentioned earlier our five "spent" laying hens we got for a buck each, so we could cut our teeth on raising chickens and hope for an egg or two.  Byron made a portable chicken tractor and with the Siberian temperatures we've been having we felt that they were too exposed out in the middle of a field.  They tended to huddle in their little portable coop, only coming out to eat, jerk their heads around warily, eat, poop, hide under a tree, get spooked, and waddle back into their humble abode. So we were thinking that this whole "pastured chickens" idea isn't exactly something that happens in the winter, especially because it sometimes snows, which renders grass - er - inaccessible.

YouTube to the rescue!  Byron spent some quality time on YouTube watching some videos people had taken of Joel Salatin speaking, and he definitely knows his chickens (I'm not sure if this is what Byron watched specifically, but click here to watch Joel Salatin talking about pastured chickens.  Parts 2, 3, and 4 should be on the right).  At his farm, Polyface, they put the laying hens in hoop houses for the winter (think greenhouse sort of structure) because pasturing them is impractical at this time of year. Any droppings on the grass will either evaporate or leech into the groundwater when it rains, and since the microbes in the soil are dormant right now, the soil isn't benefiting either. With that in mind, Byron and I moved a little structure that had been covering the kids' toys and set it up against the side of the woodshed. Byron then stapled heavy plastic on both sides to provide more of a wind break, and we moved the portable coop next to it. My parents had some chicken wire they weren't using, so we used that to make a little yard for them.
The taller building is our woodshed and provided a wall for the structure on the left.  The bikes and toys will be taking up residence in the barn.

Two chickens ventured out to explore.  We swore we wouldn't name them, but have given them very utilitarian names in order to identify who's who.  These are Big Dummy and Skinny Chicken.  I'll explain Big Dummy in another post.  I know you can't wait.

Facing the new structure.  We hung their food and water underneath it, so now they have to go under there.  Byron also stapled plastic on the right side.  The wind has been merciless here!
We hope they use the new structure as a place to congregate and gossip about us. Byron created carbonous bedding of wood shavings, leaves, and old hay that will make for some NICE compost in the spring when they're back on pasture. In the meantime, if the chickens insist on staying cramped in their little portable coop all day, we may evict them for the winter and work on enclosing the new structure a bit more so they can have more space.

And the Jedi Knight tricks?  Byron read somewhere that if you put golf balls in the nesting boxes, it will stimulate egg production.  Now, it may be that these old girls wouldn't produce an egg if we placed the struttin'-est of struttin' roosters amongst them, but I thought I'd give it a try.  And every time I go out to feed them, I wave my hand in front of the coop and say, "You will produce eggs.  You will produce eggs" in my most mesmerizing voice.  Because I have mad acting skills...or not.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Green Acres Weekend Update

This past week was a bit of "one of those weeks" type of weeks.  But I refuse to give you, Dear Reader, the  "not only is the cup half empty, it also has a huge crack in it so what's the point of even trying to pour water into it anymore?" version.  So for your edification, here is the "cup-half-full" version of my week:

1. My kids had colds, but when they get them, rarely do they turn into something more serious.  This time around was a good testament to that.
2. Injured Chicken finally came out of the coop after a couple days.  She looks a little ruffled and I think she's been demoted to the bottom of the pecking order, but at least Byron doesn't have to "take care of her," if you know what I mean.
3. We had some car trouble on Tuesday night, which meant either a very late dinner or wait!  What about that Carabbas gift card we got for Thanksgiving?  Perfect!  Anyway, my dad literally spent the entire day on Wednesday helping me get our car towed to a car fixer-upper place and then carting me and the kids around on our various errands.  He also bought us food and me one of those fun, seasonal lattes at Starbucks.  I stare at those every year about this time but can never bring myself to cough up the $4 for one.  Can I just say he is a huge blessing?  He also spent the whole afternoon on Friday helping me do some maintenance on the minivan.  I SO hope I don't flake out and forget what he taught me; my dad has mad car skills and in high school I should have put down all those books I used to read on the Arthurian legends for about ten seconds and paid attention.  Especially since back then my brain was still somewhat functional.
4. In other news, we've been learning from our chickens, despite the rather blank stares we get every time we go out to feed them, look at them, or squawk back at them.  Not to mention that Byron paid a little visit to YouTube University to learn a bit more about being an official Chicken Wrangler (am I using that term correctly?  I have no idea but I like how it sounds).  Anyway, look for a post this week on some changes we've made, as well as lots of photos! 
5. I attempted to make a sourdough starter and sourdough bread.  Let's just say this isn't San Francisco (apparently famous for sourdough) and I need some practice.  Share a good whole wheat sourdough recipe if you have one!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Hank's Cookies

Cookie recipes abound this time of year, but this is a special one because it was created by a family member!  Byron's Aunt Dottie made these cookies for her husband, Hank, when he was going through a rough time with cancer and really couldn't stomach many other foods.  To our family, that makes this recipe priceless...and it's very flexible in that you can add your choice of nuts, dried fruits (I'd like to try apricot), and chocolate-esque chips.

Hank's Cookies
1 stick butter, softened at room temperature
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. half n’ half or milk
1+ cup good quality peanut butter; I prefer organic
1 cup flour
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 cup dried cranberries (I didn't have any on hand so had to omit)
1 cup rolled oats
Optional: about 1 cup each of nuts or chocolate chips (I added chocolate chips)

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.  Whip butter and sugars together, then beat in eggs, vanilla, and milk.  Add in peanut butter and beat together.  In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and add to wet ingredients.  Mix in dried cranberries, oats, and optional ingredients.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto buttered cookie sheet and bake for 10 – 15 minutes (depends on your oven but check them at 10 minutes first). Cool on racks.  Makes about three dozen cookies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Have Yourself an (Inexpensive) Christmas

We're constantly cutting costs around here.  But around the holidays, it can be difficult to resist the screams of "BUY! BUY! BUY!" from ads in the newspaper, online, and even through e-mails.  I've gotten fairly good at ignoring the hype.  For instance, when I got an e-mail promising me free shipping instantly if I spend $100 or more, I instantly trashed the file.  $100 on what?  Kitchen gadgets and sheets I don't need?  No, thanks!

So in a very Scrooge-like spirit toward marketing gurus and the various wares they hawk, here are a few inexpensive gift ideas this Christmas:

1. I found a recipe for homemade Christmas ornaments here.  These would be fun to make with kids, and since grandparents like anything little hands make, why not make it part of a Christmas basket full of other artwork and goodies?  And that basket?  Go buy one for 25 cents at the thrift store and paint it, should the spirit move you.

2. Do any canning this year?  Jams, jellies, apple butter and the like are always popular gifts.  If you didn't make any, check out a local farm or country store for such items.  Dress up the jar with a pretty, scrap piece of fabric and some ribbon from your stash or in the remnant pile at the fabric store.

3. I've gotten Gifts in a Jar before and love them!  What a handy way to bake something when you need it for a last-minute party or (as in my family's case) craving.  Click here for ideas galore, or click here for Three-Way Hot Cocoa Mix, which will last the recipient for much of the season...especially if you double it.

4. For the kids, I try to go for quality over quantity.  A friend of mine once said she was going to try to stick with three gifts per child, representative of the three gifts the Wise Men brought Jesus.  I limit fad toys, such as the latest Disney Princess and whatnot, and try to buy gifts that will stimulate their creativity.  This includes classic building toys (e.g., Legos and Tinker Toys), costumes (post-Halloween sales are helpful here), craft supplies (good stocking stuffers, especially if you go through as many crayons as we do), books on CD, and classic books I can read to them now but that they'll be able to read in a few years.  The Little House on the Prairie series and Chronicles of Narnia are good examples. 

5.  Finally, Byron and I forgo buying each other gifts.  The past couple years, we've gotten each other something small with the kids, so that they have the opportunity to give and not just receive.  If there's something "big" that is teetering on our family's want/need line, we'll try to find a good deal around the holidays.  In years past, our MP3 player and portable DVD player (purchased primarily for survival purposes on a very long flight with the kids), have fallen into this category.

Three Ways Hot Cocoa Mix

adapted from the American Institute for Cancer Research

1 c instant nonfat dry milk powder
1 c sugar
1/2 c cocoa powder
1/4 c dried egg whites (I've made it without)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground black pepper (optional)

In a mixing bowl, vigorously whisk together the first nine ingredients, making sure all the tiny clumps are broken up.  Spoon into a jar and seal tightly.

If using as a gift, one recipe should fit into a pint jar, with a little extra left over.  Double the recipe to use a quart jar.  Cover lid with a scrap of decorative fabric and ribbon.  Or purchase a seasonal tin from a craft store.  In any case, be sure to copy and paste the serving options below.  You can print it onto card stock, hole-punch, and tie it onto the ribbon.  If you're feeling really festive, include a couple cinnamon sticks with the jar.

Three Ways Hot Cocoa Mix serving options:
1. For hot chocolate, place 1-2 tsp of the mix in a mug and gradually stir in hot milk.  Add a cinnamon stick as a stirrer, if desired, or 2-3 drops on vanilla extract, or 1 drop almond extract.  Top with whipped cream, if desired.
2. For hot mocha, mix 1/4 tsp instant espresso into hot chocolate.
3. For chai, brew black tea in a cup or mug of hot milk.  Remove the tea bag and stir in 1-2 tsp of the mix.  Add a cinnamon stick as a stirrer, if desired.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

And So It Begins...

Finally, we have chickens!  This may not seem like a big deal to all those experienced chicken wranglers (or whatever they call you, er, us) out there, but we're excited that we're going to be cutting our teeth a bit on one of the most basic farm animals.  Typically, people don't get chickens on the brink of winter, but when we were at Walnut Hill last Friday helping process meat birds and stewing hens, Byron spontaneously asked Jeff if we could buy a few of the (live) older Barred Rock hens.  He was happy to oblige, for $1 each!  He told us we might get a couple eggs out of them per week, though when moved, chickens need several days to assimilate to their new environment (not to mention sunlight...which is why fewer eggs are available from local farms in the winter).  But our main motive in getting them is to get some experience caring for chickens, and these Barred Rock hens are older and hardy, which is a good place for us to start.

We thought six would be a good number, but after much leaping, net-throwing, and other chicken-catching tactics, most of them managed to escape the tall man in the blood-splattered orange fleece (AKA Byron) and we ended up taking home five, plus a bag of feed which offered no protestations to being tossed into our minivan.  When we got home, we set them up in the woodshed and sketched out a design for a small, portable coop using our lawn mower trailer as a base and scraps of wood we had on hand (some from a defunct loft bed our friend Jason gave us - thanks, Jason)!  We like it when people unload their wood scraps here.

The "chicken house" will be removable, in case we need to use the trailer.  If it proves to be problematic, we'll try to find another used trailer or some sort of bed with wheels.

Byron spent most of his weekend on this project!

Roof and some sheathing.

A peek inside...we found a broken rake and used the handle for the roosts (that's how chickens like to sleep).  We're using five-gallon buckets as easily removable nesting boxes.

The area with chicken wire will let some light through.

The back door, which covers the removable back of the trailer.  This will give us access to the nesting boxes and to cleaning out the coop.

Another peek inside...Byron put a ramp up to the roosts and one down to the nesting boxes.

Byron and Charlie working on the front door.

A couple of the chickens exploring their new digs...

The upright board to the left is a windbreak, but Byron ended up making a bigger one.

They're not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but I think they're getting the idea that this is where they're going to live!
So far this week, the chickens are assimilating pretty well.  For the moment, we are not fencing them in, but letting them roam freely during the day and shutting them in at night.  They've loved the rain we've had today and yesterday, and seem to be getting a bit more comfortable.  We realize they're a bit more susceptible to predators this way (we already had one little incident that left a chicken injured, and she has yet to emerge from the coop today, which has me concerned), but we're hesitant to jump the gun and spend money on fencing that may or may not work.  We're researching electric feather netting, which is easy to move and has been effective for the folks at Walnut Hill.  Being able to move the chickens to fresh grass is important to keeping them healthy, since they tend to congregate around the coop much of the time and will quickly wear out available greens, as well as the bugs that reside there.

And when we get our first egg, you'll be the first to know!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent Calendar Sans CANDY??!!

Well, not quite.  But for the past couple years, I've been looking for a reusable Advent calendar that I could fill with whatever I wanted, be it candy or redeemable coupons for kid-size salads at dinnertime, seasonable veggies, etc.  You know, because I'm a fun mom like that.

So last year I got an unnatural urge to hit a post-Christmas sale and came out of it with this:

Pretty cool, I think, and so do the kids.  This will be our first year using it, and as I was racking my muddled brain for WHAT to fill it with, a friend of mine suggested using scripture...specifically, Biblical prophecy of the birth of Christ.  Of course, that led to a Google search, and I found a site called  It's a couple years old, but the webpage on advent calendars can be found here, and if you scroll down, she has two links to Advent verse chain links for a 23-day Advent.  (You can fill the extra days with candy.  Or redeemable coupons for plain yogurt).  I'm thinking of printing these out on some red and green paper and making the actual chain link so we can add a bit of Christmas cheer to these plain, white, to-be-painted-someday walls.  And I'm excited that the kids will get to see the amazing accuracy with which the Old Testament prophets told of our coming Savior!

And the redeemable coupons for healthy food?  I'm kidding...I think.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Green Acres Weekend Update

What a whirlwind break this has been for the homeschoolers and the public schooler!  Here's a rundown of all the sustainable (or not) things we did this week.  And Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday: Breadmaking "class" for my sister-in-law, Dawn, and a friend, Katey.  They came over for the morning and in between guiding them through making two loaves of sandwich bread, a hearth loaf, and a batch of dinner rolls, we policed seven kids and made several runs out to the back fence row to make sure my niece, Ellie, wasn't snacking on any of the foliage.  The day was beautiful, fun, and the bread turned out well!  And I hope it was a good learning experience for Katey and refresher course for Dawn.

Tuesday: School, milk run, ballet, Byron almost shot a deer but it ran into the woods.  We ate some killer venison pun; I'll have to post the recipe for the marinade.  Akea came down with a nasty cold.

Wednesday: Byron's break from school began with a mad dash to Other House (almost a two-hour drive) to retrieve Christmas stuff and other stuff and to rake leaves.  Nice chat with our neighbors, Doug and Jenn.  We miss them.  And Lord, all I want for Christmas is a CONTRACT and a CLOSING DATE!!!

Thursday: Thanksgiving at my parents' house.  Very relaxed...we ate, Byron snoozed on the couch, my parents played with the kids, and I worked on some online Christmas gifts.  I think there was a football game on. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for a relaxing time!

Friday: Click here to see what we did on Black Friday!

Saturday: I put up the Christmas tree, retrieved the cat from stalking the new chickens, retrieved the cat from stalking the Christmas tree, Byron spent all day building a movable chicken house, and I used my (no so) mad geometry skills.  That's right, put that architecture degree to work, girl!  But Byron came up with all the really good ideas.  Lots of photos to come!

And today (Sunday):  We'll see, but we really need to work on that "day of rest" thing...

Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday Gets a Whole New Meaning...

Well.  I did some shopping today, sort of.  When I got up, I ordered some Christmas gifts online, including a couple audio CDs from Greathall Productions, a company owned by children's storyteller Jim Weiss.  Check it out if you like classic tales re-told by one of the most talented storytellers of our time.  Anyway, later in the morning we all packed into the car...but we weren't exactly headed to the mall, thank God.

This past summer, Byron and I contacted a farmer in the area who raises pastured poultry, and we somehow ended up as part of a chicken-butchering assembly line.  Said farmer, Jeff Adams of Walnut Hill Farm, called Byron a few days ago to see if we'd like to come help butcher chickens on Black Friday.  Oh, how apropos!  This time, however, he wasn't going to only butcher meat birds (chickens raised only for meat); he also had eighteen "spent" egg-laying hens whose time was up, too.

Egg-laying hens, such as the Barred Rock variety that Jeff has, produce well for about two years, though they can live up to six years.  They're hardy and rather gentle, but when they're too old to lay eggs anymore, farmers have to decide whether they're going to become pets or profits.  Jeff - as would any farmer - chose profits, and graciously offered them to us for $3/bird.  Not per pound, per bird.  And the reason they're less expensive than younger chickens raised for meat is because they're a bit less versatile in the kitchen and have to be slow-cooked in a crock pot (we've heard they're delicious, too).  But that's not why we went; we value the education we get at Walnut Hill Farm, grisly though it is.

On this visit, I took some non-grisly photos of the butchering process, but if you have a weak stomach, you can click here to read my post on how to have a very cheap Disney Princess party.  Or, if you have no cause to throw a Disney Princess party for yourself or anyone else anytime soon, you can click here to see what was hiding under our dining room for almost 150 years.

Still with me?  Great.  This is how pastured poultry is humanely butchered, minus the act itself.

Byron holds a Barred Rock hen before placing her in a "killing cone."  It was truly a Black Friday for 59 chickens: 18 "spent" Barred Rock hens and 41 Rhode Island Red "meat" birds.

The "killing cones."  A chicken is placed in a cone, its head removed (some farmers sever arteries in the neck without removing the head), and then the next bird is loaded. 

Chickens go from the killing cones into the scalder, which is set up on an automatic timer.  This process loosens the feathers.

No more old-fashioned plucking!  Jeff places a chicken from the scalder into the plucker.

The plucker spins as water washes the loosened feathers away.

Seconds later, the chickens look more like something you'd eat!

The eviscerating table, like all the processing equipment, is made of stainless steel.  You can see the chill tank in the background.

Yup, that's me.  I'm the eviscerating girl.  After going through the plucker, the feet, oil gland on the tail, and the "insides" of the chickens have to be removed.  The chicken is then placed in the chill tank.
I should mention here that Jeff's equipment is top-of-the-line stuff that for his scale, is necessary.  He sells his chickens and a variety of other meats at farmers markets and even has a store at his farm that he opens on weekends.  For the small family farm, however, all the equipment isn't really necessary.  When we raise our own chickens for meat, we'll look into building our own small-scale equipment or possibly renting Jeff's for a day.  And of course, I'll post plenty of information on anything we build!

Wait!  Is this a LIVING Barred Rock hen???  Why yes, it is, and it's in our backyard, along with four of its closest friends!  Stay tuned to hear more about our Black Friday...
Update: Want info on Walnut Hill Farm?  If you know me personally, you can leave a comment and I'll e-mail you.  If you're visiting my site, I am thrilled you're here and am working on setting up contact information!  Thanks for being patient!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Got a Blog? Get FREE Holiday Cards from Shutterfly!

Thanks to Varunner at Two Bears Farm and the Three Cubs for giving me a heads up on this one!  Shutterfly is offering 50 free Christmas cards to anyone who blogs about this fantastic offer!  So if you have a blog, consider jumping on this deal and getting a head start on the holiday craziness.  I had planned on just mailing out store-bought cards this time around, but I'm thinking those are going to collect dust for another year.  All you have to pay is shipping and handling, and signing up takes like two minutes.  Interested yet?  Good!  Click here to sign up.

In the past, I've banded together with my three sisters-in-law to make wall calendars for the grandparents through Shutterfly, and we've always been beyond pleased with the product.  This year, they have new desktop calendars, which you can check out here.  And at the moment they're 30% off!  (Attention Grandparents: I know you want one this year, too!)

Anyway, I've always thought about doing photo Christmas cards and am excited that I'll actually be sending some out this year.  Any friends who have been following this blog don't really need a Christmas letter anyway.  As for designs, choosing one will be the hardest part because there are 803 of them!  I like this one for a photo collage.  This card would look great with a single black and white photo, this one would look great with a sepia tone photo to set off the blue, and I love the simplicity of this card.  Choosing from these designs may be the toughest decision I have to make for Christmas purchases this year!

P.S.: These cards are sustainably forested, and I like that!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Green Acres Weekend Update

I really can't remember what we did this week.  I know it was the last week our chapter of Classical Conversations met until January, when we'll be up for another 12 weeks of making our children memorize things like the pronoun order, the associative law in math, and the various leaders of World War II.  To songs, of course.  Or if there is no song, I get to make up things like cheerleading chants to grammar facts, which is okay because I teach all girls, but a little ironic since I'm the anti-cheerleader.  Wait, wait, wait!  I have nothing against cheerleaders; my best friend was a cheerleader!  I'm just so dreadfully not into things like football and doing cartwheels in front of people (mainly because I'm comically horrid at it) that I can't believe I came up with the idea in the first place.  But the girls love it.

Okay, let's see.  Last Sunday, we joined the church we've been attending since moving back to this area, and I went to a caregroup meeting later that week.  We really love the people there because they love God and genuinely care for one another.  Like if I had a new baby next week (which would be physically impossible...bear with me and no, I'm not pregnant), they'd bring meals.  I know several of them have been agreeing with us in prayer that Other House would sell soon.  And almost two years ago, when my dad had to have emergency open-heart surgery, the pastor came to the hospital to pray with and encourage us.  And I think that's pretty cool.

I've also been thinking about this blog, and what I need to be writing about as we head into winter sans garden (for obvious reasons) and sans animals.  One friend suggested I do some product reviews of grain mills and things of that nature that may be of interest to the home cook/baker.  I've touched on this a little bit here, but like the idea of giving it more attention.  I also want to write about the little things we do to conserve water and energy around the house.  For instance, did you know there's such a thing as "phantom electricity?"  That means when you leave something plugged in, it still uses a bit of electricity, even if it's not running.  So we unplug small appliances in the kitchen, specifically, and things like CD players when we're not using them.

To everyone's relief, Byron has stayed away from saws and pear trees this week, but I will be writing about pruning fruit trees in a coming post.

Oh!  I took some fall photos of the kids, and will post those soon.  We do this every year and use them as Christmas gifts for the family because I never did like studio shots very much.  In fact, I have a few ideas for fun, homemade or locally made Christmas gifts.  Update: click here for inexpensive gift ideas!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Pumkin Chocolate Chip Cookies Are the Best Cookies Ever!

I don’t know what it is about pumpkin and chocolate. The combination is possibly one of my favorites in all of cookie-dom, that imaginary kingdom that reigns over the holidays. And pumpkin and chocolate are the Romeo and Juliet of ingredients...they love each other irrevocably and after you taste these, you'll understand that they just can't survive without each other.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from

1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil (I use applesauce; see my notes)
1 egg
2 cups flour (freshly milled works fine!)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (see notes)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (see notes)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Combine pumpkin, sugar, vegetable oil, and egg. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, ground cinnamon, and salt. Dissolve the baking soda with the milk and stir in. Add flour mixture to pumpkin mixture and mix well.
2. Add vanilla, chocolate chips and nuts.
3. Drop by spoonful on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for approximately 10 minutes or until lightly brown and firm (see notes). Makes two dozen.

1.I've always used applesauce in this recipe to cut down on fat content, and it works beautifully.  My friend, Jenn, tried making them both ways, and said that when made with oil, they're a bit more crispy, and when made with applesauce, they're more cake-like.
2. I love chocolate, but have never used two cups' worth.  I usually use about a cup.
3. I had more success baking these for 10-12 minutes at 365 degrees.  Odd number, I know, but so far it's worked in two stoves. 
4.  I like to add a pinch of nutmeg and cloves
5.  Since this recipe only makes a measely two dozen, I recommend doubling it.  Or tripling it.  Two dozen last about twenty-four hours around here.
6. You can store these in the fridge, if you wish.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Green Acres Weekend Update

Okay, so I sort of like this weekend update thing.  Again, not sure how consistent I'll be yet (it is Monday morning, after all), and I still am going to write some more detailed posts, but it gives a bit of structure to the blog.  And it's nice to have some structure these days!

The most important event of the week was this:

All I want for Christmas are my two front teeth!

I also spent my evenings mudding the drywall in the parlor instead of folding the four+ loads of laundry I did last Monday.  I actually sort of enjoyed applying the joint compound, but I can honestly say I HATE sanding it down...and I've always had a hard time with detail work, which probably partially accounts for my love of set design because the audience simply can't see any tiny imperfections!  And despite wearing a mask and goggles, the dust somehow still sneaks into your digestive system! 

I applied three coats to the walls, but a seam on the ceiling required four because the old drywall and new didn't match perfectly.  I also found that it's important to apply thin layers as opposed to thick, because the joint compound tends to crack otherwise.  This Youtube video was helpful (I told you I went to Youtube University)!

Aunt Dottie, this is the best picture Byron got of me.  I promise!

We also worked on pruning the pear tree, which hasn't been touched in about twenty years.  I'll do a longer post on this process, but you can see from the photo that the upper portion of the tree (which is about 40' high) still needs some work.  And just imagine the lower part as "hairy" as the rest of it.

I did most of the pruning, and Byron helped me saw off a dead branch that I couldn't reach.  It was braided with two others and a little tricky to remove, as proved by this:
A very handy and very nasty saw!  Byron probably should have gotten a stitch or two on one of the puncture-like wounds, but he likes to be his own doctor.  Did I mention he's a history teacher???
I also squeezed in a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip cookies!  Byron and Charlie went down to Other House on Thursday to rake leaves and make sure everything was in order, so I wanted to make a treat for them for sacrificing their day.  Update: the recipe is posted here!
Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are The Best Cookies Ever!

And click here for homemade granola!