Monday, December 13, 2010

This Is Why I've Been An Absentee Blogger...

A friend and I have been baking our aprons off and earning a little extra cash.  It's been crazy and fun all at the same time.  I'll be back one of these days, I promise.  I miss blogging.

All those ideas are actually out of my head on paper because it seems like it might be a bit late for them this year...  :)

(The words "Little Farm Confections" above are a link, by the way...)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

18 Years Ago Today: An Anniversary Post

In January of 1992, The Big Guy asked me to share the rest of his life with him and, wisely, I said, "Are you serious?"  (Yes, that's an actual quote.)

Doesn't my Dad look handsome?
On November 28, 1992, my sweet Dad walked me down the aisle (even though they had never arm wrestled) to where The Big Guy was patiently waiting.  Little did the Big Guy know, this waiting for me was just a little taste of what his future would hold.  Sorry, Big Guy!
This is the man who was waiting for me...oh baby!
Earlier in the day, he had tried to get away.  Thankfully, his brothers and good friend Jim brought him back to his senses.  I still owe those guys now that I think about it...

Dad and I arrived at the end of the aisle where he kissed me and put my hand into the Big Guy's.

Where you trying to block his view, Dad?
No comments on what could quite possibly be the poufiest veil/head thingy in the history of weddings!

Before family and friends and, most importantly, God, I said these words:

I, Wendy, do take you, Ron, to be my husband, and I do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be your loving and faithful wife: in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live.

Miracles of miracles, he said those words to me, too!

We were married!

After a really great kiss, we happily walked back down the aisle and out into the world as husband and wife.

This is one of my favorite photos of all time!

Eighteen years ago, I said and meant every one of those words when I made that pledge.  Today, I'd do it all again without one single regret.  Not one.

The top of our wedding cake.

Thank you for choosing me all those years ago.  Thank you for taking me along in your adventures.  Thank you for warming up my side of the bed all those cold nights.  Thank you for loving me in a way that points me to the Father.

I can't imagine my life without you - because half of myself would be missing.

I love you Ron Jung,

Friday, November 26, 2010

Homemade Vanilla

No, she hasn't been in the vanilla.  She's just a bit odd.

Thrifty, but meaningful Christmas gift idea #1:  Homemade Vanilla Extract

Yummy and SO easy.

I actually shouldn't be posting this because I've given vanilla to friends and family as Christmas gifts and now they'll know that, even though it was a delicious and thoughtful gift which they loved, it really wasn't a whole lot of work on my part.

This Vanilla is not your usual grocery store variety of Pure Vanilla Extract and the only thing it shares in common with Imitation Vanilla Extract is the word "vanilla." (And the word "Extract" too, I guess, but it sounded so much better just having one word in common...)  By the way, did you know that "pure" vanilla extract sometimes has extra stuff like corn syrup in it?

No, the Vanilla I'm showing you how to make actually smells and tastes like vanilla.  It's just amazing!  You'll love what it does to your baking.

It is a useful gift, too.  Those who receive it, unless you give some to your college aged brother or something, will love using it to make those they love happy!  It's a gift which keeps on giving.  They won't ever have to dust it or decide if they should keep it or send it to the thrift store 5 years from now.  That's my kind of gift!

All you need to make Vanilla
 To top it all off, homemade vanilla is easy on the budget.  There are 2 ingredients in Homemade Vanilla Extract - vodka and vanilla beans. 

You don't need expensive vodka.  To be honest, I don't know if expensive vodka makes it taste better or not.  I've only used cheap vodka and have loved the results.  In fact, I've never actually paid for the vodka used in my vanilla.  Around the holidays, the liquor stores in our area all have vodka with manufacturer's rebates which make the vodka free!  A 1.75 litre bottle of vodka will make about 60 oz. of vanilla and costs less than $10.00 or $1.33 per 8 oz.  Pretty cheap!

I've now typed the word "vodka" 8 times in one paragraph.  Pretty sure this about 7 more times than I've ever typed that word before.  Don't tell my Grandma.  I'm not sure she'd understand.

Vanilla pods with ends cut off
I've bought all my vanilla beans off Ebay.  You can get anything on Ebay.  This year I bought 40 organic Madagascar vanilla beans for about 12 dollars including shipping.  They came from France, which was an added bonus because the Young'uns love seeing the French postage stamps.  From all I've read Madagascar beans are best for making extract, but if you want to do some research of your own, go for it.  Google is a good thing.  It takes 2 beans to make 8 oz. of vanilla.  So, the beans cost about 60 cents per 8 oz.
One word about vanilla...technically, you don't buy vanilla beans.  You buy vanilla pods.  They are long, thin, dark brown and wrinkly.  They should be a bit moist and flexible.  The vanilla beans are INSIDE of the pods.  If you cut open a pod, it is filled from top to bottom with very tiny little black dots - these are the seeds.  The seeds can be scraped out and used in your baking and cooking.  I like eating a little taste by itself.  I'm a sucker for vanilla anything!

Are you doing the math?  $1.33 (vodka) + .60 (vanilla beans) = $1.93 for 8 oz. of REAL Vanilla Extract.  This is a steal when compared to buying it in the store!

About 5 years ago, I bought 8 oz. amber colored glass bottles from the Sunburst Bottle Company.  I bought a few cases and gave Vanilla as gifts that year.  I also saved some of the bottles for myself and have reused them every year since.  The bottles cost about $1.75 each including shipping.  This seemed a bit steep for a bottle, but they looked great and made the gift!  Even with the bottle costs, each gift still cost under $4.00.

If your vanilla will be a gift for someone, make a cute or cool label (depending on if you lean towards the cute or cool side) to stick on your bottle.   I wish I still had a copy of the one I made on my computer.  I must say it was cool. I'm not real computer savvy.  So, you can make an awesome one, I'm sure.

Just making vanilla for you own personal use? You can make your vanilla in any old glass bottle you want.  An wine bottle or vinegar bottle that's been well cleaned will work!  Just make sure it has some sort of tight lid because there's some shaking involved.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2 vanilla beans per 8 oz. of extract you wish to make
vodka (there's that word again)

Beans in the bottle

Cut ends of vanilla so that they fit into your bottles.  I usually have to cut off about 1 inch of the beans.  Place 2 beans in each bottle.  Fill bottles to near the top with vodka.  Place on the lid and let it sit in a cool, dark place for at least 4 months.  6 months is better.  Try to give your bottles a shake every few weeks.  (I told you it was easy.)

I have read about people who cut their beans into small pieces before they put them in the bottles.  This might make the vanilla permeate the vodka a bit more.  I'm not sure.  I don't do it because you'd have to strain your extract before using it if you did it this way.  Otherwise, there would be lots of little black vanilla beans in your extract. 

I leave my pods in the bottle even after I start using it.  When the bottle is empty, I put the pods on the counter to dry out and then stick them in a bag in my freezer.  After I've collected several pods, I stick 4 in a bottle and add some more vodka.  This gives me one more bottle of Vanilla without buying more pods.  Two soakings seems to be about all each pods can take.

This was a very long post for such a simple idea... Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thrifty, but Meaningful, Chirstmas

I know it isn't actually Thanksgiving yet and the Christmas season has NOT begun despite what every retail establishment has been telling us for weeks.  However, over the past couple of weeks, I've been in some conversations with friends about Christmas and Christmas gifts and how it all goes around here on the Farm.

A few of the conversations went the way of "Christmas is so crazy with all the gifts and stuff and running and blah, blah, blah.  I'd love for it to be simpler so the true reason for the celebration isn't lost."  A couple of others were more along the lines of "How do you get gifts for others and your passel of kids without breaking the bank?"

I've opinions on those questions to fill several blog posts, but here's my short answer.

In order to keep Christmas about Christ and his gift, you and your spouse have to think and talk about it now.  It's not too late, even though all the stores have been proclaiming Christmas is here already for the past month. In your talking and thinking, you need to decide what the holiday will look like for your family.  Not your neighbor's family or your sister's family...just YOUR family.  Remember you have your OWN ruler.

When you've got that vision...stick with it!  If you decided to get one gift for each kid, get one gift and don't be tempted by all the great deals on other things your child would like, too.  If you decide five gifts works for your family, just get five, not ten.  Maybe it's one family gift and a few smaller gifts for each kiddo.  Or, gasp, one family gift and no individual gifts.  Just decide and stick to it.

We tend to lean towards the one larger, which is a very relative term, gift for each Young'un with a few smaller gifts thrown in for fun and good measure.  It is such a JOY to give good gifts to our children.  I love it!  However, the joy of the giving would be robbed for us if the gifts we gave threw our budget out of whack and put financial strain on our family.

As far as giving gifts to extended family and friends, things lean towards small, meaningful or unique and sometimes homemade.  Again, giving brings us joy and we try to make up with thoughtfulness what might be lacking in the cost of each gift.

My plan is to share some of our ideas with you in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned for the Thrifty, but Meaningful, Christmas

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Thankful, but Still Complaining...

'Tis the season of Thanksgiving and we're reminded we need to be/should be thankful every where we go.  From the big inflatable turkey in our neighbor's front lawn to the stacks of frozen birds at the store to my friends who are listing what they are thankful for on Facebook, giving thanks is all over.

This all is a good thing and I am happy to know the things for which others are thankful.  It helps to remind me to count my blessings as well. 

All in all, I like to think I'm a pretty thankful person in my everyday life.  Our path certainly hasn't been an easy one in the last couple of years, but God has provided and continues to do so in every way imaginable.  I'm thankful for His grace.  I know we are in His hands.  I KNOW all this.

I am thankful, but I still complain.  So, am I really thankful?

Our Cook & Book group is beginning to study a book called, "Calm My Anxious Heart" by Linda Dillow.  The book is about contentment and worry something most of us, women especially, struggle with from time to time.  I've only gotten through the first chapter and, let me just say it, "Ouch!"   This book is already hitting me where it hurts.
Only a few pages in, the author relates a story about an amazingly contented woman who, with her family, was a missionary to pygmies in Africa for over 52 years.  Their living conditions were primitive to say the least and the weather was hot.  The missionary told of having to take their thermometer inside on occasions because it was so hot it might explode and the thermometer went up to 120!  You get the picture.  Through it all this woman was known for her contented disposition and attitude in Christ.

This missionary woman kept a journal of her days in Africa and after she had died, her daughter found this journal.  In it, the daughter discovered her mother's recipe for contentment.  Her list was a great one!  However, I'm still stuck on the first ingredient in her recipe:

NEVER allow yourself to complain about anything - not even the weather.

Oh. My.

I've been trying to pay attention to my words in the week since I read this.  Watching to see how many times I find myself complaining when I'm not even aware of it.  Checking to discover if complaints find their way into my words or thoughts and with what frequency.

It's not pretty.

I've found that, while I'm pretty good at saying "thank you" and expressing my thanks, I'm better at complaining.  Which has led me to my question above, "Am I really thankful?" If I am such a good complainer can I really be thankful?

No answers here...yet.

14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world 
 Phillipians 2:14 & 15

(Thanks for the book suggestion Sweet Lips or was it Sweet memory is failing.)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

JJ Heller - Back Home

Today I'm Thankful for This Song

I'm working late in the kitchen tonight and listening to my new favorite CD - Painted Red by JJ Heller.

Have you ever heard a song many times, but all of a sudden, the next time you listen to it something hits you.  The words speak to you in a different way...

It happened to me tonight.

This song, "Back Home," is one of those songs.  I listened to it three times in a row and kept wondering how JJ Heller got inside my thoughts and wrote them down in a song.

Did you catch the words of the first verse?

Don't let your heart, get used to sadness
Put your hope in what is true.
Don't let your eyes, get used to darkness
The light is coming soon.

What a good reminder and blessed encouragement! 

Thank you for carrying us Loving Father.

PS- If you like the song, the CD is in my Amazon store.  You can find it on the sidebar.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Forced Family Fun...and Fish

sardinesThe Big Guy announced Forced Family Fun again at dinner tonight.  It was met with the usual cheers and squeals from the younger set and a tad bit of eye rolling from the older guys.  Jake tried to lobby for Forced Family Fish Tank Cleaning Fun, but he was out voted.
What is Forced Family Fun? All the exciting details are here...

Instead of playing a "thinking" game, my creative husband told us we'd be playing the always fun Sardines together tonight.

The basics of Sardines is this: turn out the lights, send one person off to hide, send everyone else out to find said person.  Everytime one of the players finds the "hider," the finder has to hide with them.  Obviously, the more times the person is found, the more crowded it gets.  Eventually, everyone gets packed into the hiding space like...sardines.  This is Forced Family Fun at its best, lots of close contact and suppressed giggles.

So, we gathered everyone in the school room, gave the newly turned 3 year old a flashlight and turned out all the other lights in the house. 

Nate was the first to go off and hide.  Somehow, he wedged his 6'3" body into the very back of our deep closet behind the clothes, port-a-crib, summer shoes and suitcases.  It took forever for anyone to find him.  Zach was first.  The Big Guy came second. I came third. 

At this point, the Big Guy and I had a little fun of our own.  I mean we were in a dark closet and standing next to each with ONLY two kids present.  That's pretty much like a date these days.  But I digress...

Ellie found us all and then came Jake.  This is when we realized the littlest Young'un was wondering around the dark house all by herself.  She is not an easily scared gal and we'd given her a flashlight, but still it seemed like an experience which could leave a few emotional scars.  Then we heard her downstairs calling, "Mom!  Dad! Did you guys leave me or something?"  Oops!

Jake ran down to get her and let her "find" us in the closet.  She thought it was great fun and laughed her curly little head off.

Some forced fun last summer
We spent another half hour or so finding each other and then the Big Guy called the game.  All in all, the night was packed (Sorry.  I couldn't help it.) with fun and some laughs.  Forced or not, it was good.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tell Your Time - Just What I Needed

Lately it seems the prayer most often escaping my lips is "Lord, help find the time to get this all done!   Please!"  I look at all the people and things vying for a chunk of my time - all of which seem to be good, if not great - and have no clue how to make it all happen.

Something has to give.  Is sleep really that important?

Over the years, I've read several time management books, but with way things have been going lately, I needed another shot in the arm.  A BIG shot in the arm!

Enter Tell Your Time,  a short (20 minutes to read), to-the-point and right on book about breaking down your to do list into what really matters.  I'd forgotten that I really can decided what is non-negotiable in my life and in the life of our family!  It was so great to find a time management tool that is user friendly (worksheets included) and doesn't require hours to figure out and implement.

I can "tell" my time what to do and make it work for the joy of myself, my family and others - all to the glory of God!

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

And Now She is Three...

Today, the youngest Young'un turned three years old.  What fun! And whew!  Birthdays are work, but it's good work. 

Elaborate gifts are something which doesn't usually happens here on the Little Farm.  Mostly this is an economics thing -  5 kids x cost of elaborate birthday gifts = a big hole in the family budget.

We try to make each child's day special in other ways.  Afterall, it's not all about the gift when you get right down to it.

Young'uns here get to choose the menu for breakfast and dinner on their special day.  We also decorate the dining room where we eat these meals and we tend to linger over the meals a bit longer, too.  Oh yes, the birthday guy or gal also eats their meal off of the "You Are Special" plate.  If I forget this part, one of the kids remembers every time!  Apparently, the plate is a big deal.

At some point during the day usually during a meal, the Big Guy and I recount the "Day You Were Born" story.  Even though it is pretty much the say each year (the details don't change after all), they all love it!  I love hearing what the older kids have to add to the stories of the younger ones.  It's fun hearing their versions of when I went to the hospital and what they did while we were gone or what they thought when they first saw their new sibling. 

I chose the breakfast menu this morning because Abby would have picked sandwiches.  Call me strange, I just have trouble with sandwiches at 7:30am.  We had chocolate chip pancakes.  She had one in the shape of a 3 with a candle in it.  She was completely enamored!

Abby's dinner choice dogs. 

"Do you want anything with the hot dogs?" I asked.

"No thank you.  Just hot dogs," she replied.

We had hot dogs with a few side dishes and she was very happy.

For the most part, everyone gets a birthday party each year between ages 4 and 10.  Their party is part of their gift for us.  Again, nothing elaborate, but still fun.  We've had army, Lego, tea party, spy, Star Wars and pirate parties.  We've had parties where guest spent the whole time cutting out and decorating (and eating) sugar cookies or making structures and weapons out of duct tape. The whole family gets into the planning and preparing.  It's good stuff and we do it at home.

Everyone gets to put in their 2 cents about the cake on their birthday also.  I've made the Millennium Falcon, a army battle which took place on a camo cake, a pirate ship complete with an island and about 25 lbs of cookie dough.

This year has been the year of the dog cake.  Ellie, our oldest daughter, turned 7 earlier this month.  She had an animal party and wanted a dog cake.  Apparently, this dog made an impression on Abby because when asked she wanted a dog cake too.  Ellie's cake was a brown beagle looking sort of thing.  Abby wanted a pink poodle.  Hmmmmm....

Here is the result.  She was very happy!

Not exactly a poodle...but she isn't too picky.

So, it was a good day.  When I tucked her in, Abby declared this the "best birthday I ever hadded."  She's only had 3 and I'm pretty sure she can't remember either one of her 2 other birthdays, but I'll still take it.  Abby Grace is ready to take on the next year.

I'm feeling a bit sad, however.  At some point today, I picked her up and she took my face between her hands as she does several times each day to give me a kiss on each cheek.  (There's a whole French thing going on here...we've no clue from whence it comes.  Odd.) 

When she grabben my face, I realized there's been a change in her hands.  They felt more like thing little kids hands and less like chubby toddler hands.  Sigh.  I've seen this happen four times already, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

The red thing in her hand is a pack of gum.  HER own pack of gum which she got for a gift.  She tried to go to sleep with it.

Welcome to 3 Abby Grace!  We can't wait to see God work in your life this year.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The 2010 Harvest is Done

 Tomatoes and Applesauce galore!

Isn't it amazing that what's in this photo turned into lots of what's in the photo above?

Whew!  It's all in.  The garden is cleaned out and put to sleep.  (OK, almost cleaned out.  We've still got some lettuces, kale and carrots which are still chugging away out there.) 

If you've read the Little Farm from time to time over this past spring and summer, you know it hasn't been the best year for growing things in our neck of the woods.  Lots of rain...lots and lots.  The Farm is also basically located on what used to be swamp which means it's one low lying piece of ground.  This is great in years which are dry, but not so good in years like the one we've just had.

Our harvests weren't as big this year, but we're thankful to our Provider for all we did get.  Thinking about it all makes me in the mood for Thanksgiving. 

Dilly beans, pie filling, various jellies and salsas and the cereal stockpile.

Here's what we've canned, frozen or otherwise stored in our basement:

20 pints strawberry jam
1 gallons of whole strawberries
80 cups of shredded zucchini
82 cups of green beans
15 quarts of dilly beans
30 cups of corn
8 cups of kale
15 quarts of salsa
10 quarts of Italian tomatoes
10 quarts of Mexican tomatoes
18 quarts of diced tomatoes
3 gallons of roasted tomatoes - frozen
2 gallons of whole tomatoes - frozen
30 quarts of tomato soup
35 quarts of apple sauce
22 quarts of apple pie filling
9 pints apple butter
48 cups sliced apples - frozen
3.5 quarts of pears
7 pints corn relish
5 pints tomatillo salsa
1 gallon ziploc full of cubes of pesto
1/2 gallon of fresh basil frozen in ice cubes
10 pounds of purple potatoes - they are really cool!

Here is what we ate fresh all summer:
peppers - not too many of these
fresh salsa (I have dreams about this stuff!)
green beans
mixed greens - arugula, lettuces, spinach, etc.
egg plant
various herbs
sugar snap peas
swiss chard -not much
rhubarb - not much

Please know we didn't actually grow ALL of the above.  The corn and apples were given to us and we bought about 2 1/2 bushels of tomatoes.  We did do all of the processing once these things got into our house.  Didn't want to mislead anyone...

Oh yes, one more thing I don't think I've mentioned.  We live in a home built in the 1870's, thus the basement with walls made from river stone.  When we initially looked at the house and saw the basement walls and the gigantic hand hewn beams which form the basement ceiling, I was a bit nervous.  After all, we were from California and this house wasn't screaming "Earthquake Proof" to me.  The Big Guy assured me this house would be standing for a LONG time and gently reminded me we weren't in CA anymore.

But back to what I was saying...  The basement is not the prettiest part of our house, but it does the job.  I'm really letting you all see the good, the bad and the UGLY now.  Maybe someday I'll post photos of The Closet of Chaos...maybe.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chickens on the Farm, A Drama in Three Parts, Part One

The Gals of 2009

This is our second year of having chickens here on the Farm.  We like them.  Not only do they provide us with yummy, healthy, non-contaminated (remember the big egg recall this summer) eggs, the Gals are also a source of entertainment and a chance for the Young'uns to learn a bit more responsibility and good work habits. All in all, chickens are a good deal.

Last year, we got day old chicks in late April/ early May.  The four little babies were cute (yes, I am saying this about an animal) and lived out their first week or so in a Rubbermaid tub on a table in our dining room.  Ellie took to carrying her chick around in her sweatshirt pocket which is not something I'd recommend.  Young chicks apparently don't like such treatment and we had to find a replacement chick for the one which Ellie loved a bit too much.  We had lots of visitors (young kids), all curious and wanting to hold our new Farm residents.  It was such fun to watch them!

Totally amazed!

When they got a bit bigger, the chickens moved into the basement where they stayed for about 3 weeks.  They seemed to like their little blue swimming pool home.  We hung a heat lamp over them to make sure they stayed warm enough.  During this time, pretty much every visitor to our home made the trip to our scary basement to see how much the Gals had grown.

While the chickens were going from newborns to adolescents (in just a few weeks), Farmer Ron was building them a swanky chicken tractor.  He spent a good deal of time looking around the Internet at different types of coops.  Ours ended up being a bit of a few different coops he liked all rolled into one. 

A bit older here.  See the more adult feathers on their wings?

FYI- Farmer Ron is not the handiest of men; he just doesn't roll that way.  A man can't be good at everything, after all!  However, he did a great job on the coop!  I was proud of him and the Gals seemed to approve when they moved in around mid-June.

Our poultry residents spent their first couple of weeks out in the real world in our back yard.  They'd poke around the yard during the day and head into their coop at night.  We had to put boards around the bottom of our fence because those things can squeeze through some pretty small spaces!  It was amazing to see how many fewer weeds our yard had while they were back there.  Also, the grass in the spots where their coop sat (chicken tractors are designed to be moved) grew like crazy.  The grass in those places was a deep, dark pretty green and completely weed free!  Just a little chicken bonus...

When they were a bit larger and young adultish, the Gals moved out to the field next to our house.  We put their coop next to the gate in our garden and made a yard of sorts for them out of chicken wire.  They liked poking around their yard and the garden.  I wondered if they would damage the garden plants and was happy to find they left most of it alone.  We lost a few tomatoes and some kale, but in exchange we got some good fertilizer and had fewer bugs and weeds.  Good trade!

It was around this time we realized 2 of the "Gals" should actually be called the "Guys."  This wasn't good.  First, it is legal to have hens in the city limits, NOT roosters.  Second, as any good biology student knows, boys don't lay eggs.  We wanted some eggs.  Thankfully, our Chicken Lady (as we called her) was very gracious and allowed us to make an exchange.

Chicken Lover

All this time, Ellie and Farmer Ron were falling more and more in love with the Gals.  They both spent time sitting on the ground next to the coop just watching them walk around pecking at the dirt.  It even got to the point, that when Farmer Ron walked into an area where the chickens were roaming, they all ran to him and followed him around.  He had his own little clucking harem!

Also during this time we were waiting...and waiting...and waiting.  For eggs.

Being the rookies that we were, we hadn't been too picky out the breed of chickens we got.  Nor did we realize different breeds take different amounts of time to start laying eggs.  Our chickens took their own sweet time and it was late August before we saw our first eggs.  It was a big day here on the Farm, we even took a photo!

Once they started laying, the Gals got busy and we had four eggs each day for about 3 1/2 months.  It was great!  The eggs were various shade of brown and eggs and had deep dark yellow/orange yolks on the inside.  We'd never seen scrambled eggs that color before!

The chickens were the stars of the Farm - the kids enjoyed showing them off, neighbors and passer-bys stopped to see if they were really seeing what they thought they were seeing in the middle of town, young visitors loved opening up the coop to check for eggs and Farmer Ron had his Gals.

We were all full of chicken love...but a cold wind was starting to blow...stay tuned.

Rubbermaid house with heat lamp. Don't tell my Mom we kept this in the dining room...please.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

What I Didn't Do Today

It's the end of the day and things have quieted down here on the Farm.  In fact, the house is blissfully quiet right now as I'm the only one awake.  Now is the time when I putz around tying up loose ends from the previous hours and laying out new ends in an attempt to prepare the coming hours. 

As I putter around, I usually find myself mentally taking stock of my day; going over my to-do list and making notes on what did and didn't get accomplished.  The days when I see I've made checks next to everything on my agenda are very few and far between during this season of my life.  I'm OK with this.  I've gotten over seeing my worth in those check marks.

Today was a normal day; it was busy and fun and loud and full of the following:

-three loads of laundry washed and folded
-3 meals planned
-2 meals cooked (The Big Guy made the dinner I'd planned - this is better than flowers!)
-washed dishes 2 times
-2 math lessons taught
-1 spelling lesson taught
-2 books read aloud
-2 writing lessons taught
-explained some Spanish and Latin
-figured out how parent/teacher conferences work at the high school
-went shopping for a couple last minute birthday party supplies
-got 2 school books coil bound at Office Max
-went grocery shopping -2 stores
-took Ellie to Target because her birthday gift card was burning a hole in her pocket and "her" boots were on sale
-took Jake and Zach to Tae Kwon Do
-picked up Nate from basketball
-watched half of Jake's football game
-gave orders to the Young'uns
-picked up lots of odds and ends around the house
-watched a fashion/singing show by Abby and Ellie
-delivered a cake and gift for a new sweet baby and her family
-worked at my "work from home" job for a while
-made the cake part of Ellie's birthday cake
-dropped off and picked up Nate from his calculus class
-had some conversations with the Young'uns about the miners in Chile, slums in India and our lonely alcoholic neighbor
-dressed a 2 year old (three times)
-kept working at potty training a 2 year old (see above)
-sorted the mail
-washed Lip Smacker off of 12 Webkinz (compliments of the 2 year old)
-sewed the nose and mouth back onto a Webkinz (Yes, her again.  Thankfully, she has a gracious older sister.)
-sent and replied to some emails
-spent a few minutes (really truly) on Facebook
-laughed a bit with a couple of friends and my family

There is more, but I won't bore you with things like brushing my teeth and making my bed, etc.  You get the idea.  None of this is put down here to make you think, "Wow.  She got a ton done today" and I am not "tooting my own horn" (as my Grandma would say).  Lots was done today and MANY things were left unchecked on my list. 

However, it's not the lack of "all done" marks on my physical or mental checklist which gives me pause tonight. 

A little earlier this evening while scraping butter into a mixing bowl, I realized something very important which has gone undone today.  I've cooked and cleaned and taught and shopped and even talked with my kids, but I'm not sure if I hugged all of them and looked them in the eye today. 

In fact, I'm pretty sure I haven't.  This brings tears to my eyes.

I have these five amazing creations of God, living and growing in my house all within arm's reach.  But I failed to reach out and touch them all as I rushed around to make sure they were clean and fed and in the right place at the right time. 

I guess what I'm trying to say is this:  I "touched" their lives physically, but I think I might have failed to touch their hearts.

Guess what's going to be at the top of my list tomorrow?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Papa Ron's

We eat lots of pizza here on the Farm...lots and lots of pizza.  I can't say all of this pizza is made by my two little big hands, but 99% of it is.  (In fact, we actually had a pizza delivered to our house for only like the 2nd time in our lives just 2 short weeks ago.  It arrived at 12:15 am.  Long story, but let's just say that the things people will do to keep from losing their frequent flier miles is amazing.  Sheesh!)

Homemade pizza is great on so many levels - it's delicious, it's easy to make, it's cheap, it's a great way to use up stuff you've got hiding in your fridge.  You can even use it to sneak some crazy veggies into your kiddo's bodies.  Not that I've ever done that before...

My crust recipe is just your basic french bread recipe - 3 cups flour, 1 cup water, 2 tsp yeast, 1 T salt, 1 T oil.  I can tell you more about that later.

What I'm excited to share is that I think I've finally found it - The Sauce!  I've been searching for a sauce recipe for years.  The sauce is important.  The sauce is the border zone between the crispy, chewy crust and the ooey, gooey cheese.  You don't want it too sweet or salty.  It shouldn't be watery.  There should be some spice to it, but not too much.  It's a tough thing to find, but find it I did.  We've had The Sauce twice now and there have been rave reviews by all.  Yeah!

As a bonus, (you knew this was coming), this sauce is healthy since there aren't any "funny" ingredients and it's cheap.  I "sixed" this recipe (what is it called when you multiply a recipe times 6 anyway?) and got enough sauce for 18 big pizzas.  I think the huge batch cost less than $6.00 which comes out to a sauce cost of only .33 per pizza.  Say that 10 times fast, "sauce cost."

In honor of my Big Guy...

Papa Ron's Pizza Sauce
makes enough for 2-3 pizzas depending on how saucy you are

16 oz can of tomato sauce
6 oz can of tomato paste
2 t sugar
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t salt
2 T olive oil

Put all of this in a pot and simmer until the flavors mix.  Wham!  You're done.

You might want to add a bit more seasoning depending on your tastes.  A small shake of crushed red pepper would be yummy if you don't have little ones eating that pizza.

After the sauce cooled, I put 2 cups of it into ziploc sandwich bags and froze them.  Now making pizza for dinner is even easier!  Next time, I'll probably only put 1 1/2 cups in each baggie.  I used one bag tonight on 2 pizzas and had enough to sauce up a 3rd.

Happy Eating!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Farm Report: It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times

In a "normal" year, those posts you see here wouldn't be visible underneath all the green.

That pretty much sums our garden up this year.  We started with a bang - great warm weather, decent rain - everything took and off.  There were vision of us being buried under mountains of tomatoes and chard dancing in our heads.  When what to our wondering eyes should appear, but lots of big, dark, black thunderclouds.  They filled us with dread. 

Sorry, my poetic side just kind-of took off right there.

June and July proved to be wet, wet, wet.  Good for plants for the most part, just not our garden which sits VERY low.

This is not to say things are all lost on the Little Farm.  Take a glance at "Harvest Count" on the sidebar.  We have been eating well and will continue to do so as the days grow colder.  Some of the new things we tried this year have also turned out great.  Then there is the simple fact that gardens, even if they don't bury you in beans every year, are pretty to look and are just good things to have around.

Here's some photos of how things have looked around here in the past few weeks.

The kale is just starting to grow well.  The swiss chard grew tall, but the leaves were full of brown yucky dots.

The tomato vines never made it up to the tops of the posts like we'd planned.  It was our first time trying to grow "walls" of tomatoes.  I liked the idea.  We'll try it again next year and pray for less rain.

Heirloom sweet peppers. These are delicious! None of our peppers have blossomed for weeks, but in the past few days I've noticed lots of little buds. Yeah!

Listrada de Gandia.  That's some pretty eggplant!

This is Farmer Ron's favorite plot this year.  From near to far: nasturtiums (for color and salads), Thai basil, Italian basil (on left), eggplant (on right), tomatoes.  The kids love to freak their friends out by walking in the garden and eating the nasturtium flowers.

Tomatoes, bush green beans (back left) and soy beans (back right).  The soy beans are one of Farmer Ron's experiments this year.  They growing great.   Now, I just need to figure out what to do with them.

Remember my infatuation with edible landscaping?  Here's what we got in year one.  I love the pole beans climbing the side of the garage.  So pretty and they've produced well to boot.  The littlest Young'un has eaten tons of snacks off these vines when she's taking a break from the sandbox.  They'll be more edible landscaping around the Little Farm next year for sure!

We've just planted some more lettuce, kale, peas, swiss chard, bush and pole beans.  Some of them will produce yet this year.  Then beans may be a bit of a stretch, but hey, we're "farmers."  We like to gamble now and then.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Canning Applesauce

Last Fall some sweet friends gave us a bunch of apples from their trees.  In addition to the apples, she also loaned me the use of her Victorio Food Strainer.  Oh my!  I loved the apples but the Victorio was a revelation.  I was hooked from my first spin of the handle.  Canning is already fun, but the Victorio makes it even funner (I know that isn't a word...I just like it.)  And, yes, I just said that canning is fun.  My sisters are laughing right now.

This year, I saved up my Swagbucks (I love Swagbucks) and used them to buy my very own Victorio Food Strainer from Amazon.  My very own...sigh.  When the box arrived, the kids just got out of my way...they knew I was so excited to get at that thing.  The Victorio my friend lent me was 20 years old and in great shape.  It was good to see the new strainer I took from the box looked exactly the same - no new parts made out of plastic as most things seem to be these days.  I'm hoping to use this thing for the next 30 years!

We broke the Victorio in by making 45 qt of delicious, pink, no-sugar added applesauce.  Yum!

These are the apples we started with on the back porch.  Please ignore the messy shelves of shoes and miscellaneous football equipment.   Another sweet friend allowed us to come help her get apples at her parent's house.  We ended up with 2 laundry baskets and 3 grocery sacks full!  I forgot to take a photo right at the beginning - thus the front basket is already empty.

Apples, well, part of them, washed and quartered.  No peeling or coring needed because the Victorio does it for me.  From here, these apples are put into a big pot on the stove with about an inch of water in the bottom and cooked until they are a bit mushy.

Here's the Victorio hooked onto our kitchen table.  The big white funnel on the top is where the apples are put.  The handle is on the right side. The applesauce comes down the funnel and through a fine metal sieve which is surrounded by the white thing you see above.  The sauce slides down the white thing and into the big bowl in front.  The silver/white looking cone on the left side is where all of the peels and seeds get pushed out the end of the sieve.  They fall into the small silver bowl I put there.  Clear as mud?

The cooked apples get dumped into the bit hopper on the top of the Victorio.  The red thingy is for pushing the apples down into the hole at the bottom of the funnel so a big corkscrew can push them along through the sieve.  Just in case it isn't clear, turning the handle turns the corkscrew.

The applesauce sliding down into the bowl.  Isn't it a pretty color?  Leaving the skins on while it cooks and goes through the strainer gives it the color.

This is the leftovers coming out the end of the strainer.  Isn't it so cool?  I think I love what's in this bowl almost as much as the applesauce.  It's so much faster to skip the coring and peeling parts.  When this bowl gets full, one of the Young'uns will run it out to the compost pile.

Canned Applesauce!
What a blessing!

Did I mention the Victorio is amazing with tomatoes as well?  If I can get my hands on a bunch of tomatoes (ours are looking a bit sad), I'll be making as much tomatoe sauce and soup as I can can.  (Just a little canning humor. Ha.)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Canning the Bounty

It's been a busy several days around the Little Farm.  Busy in a good way, but busy just the same.  In the past week or so, I've spent about 20 hours in the kitchen canning everything in sight.  Well, maybe not everything in sight, but it sure seemed like it.  These have been some late nights, but I'm thankful to have the work to do and know it will mean good things for our family in the months to come.  Praise God!

Here's what I've been up to:
-45 qt of applesauce canned or frozen (mostly canned)
-48 c of apple slices frozen
-22 qt of apple pie filling canned
-9 pt of apple butter made and frozen
-30 c of green beans frozen
-8 qt of dilly beans
-15 qt of salsa
-30 c of corn frozen

See what I mean?  If you were a fruit or veggie around my kitchen, you went into a canning jar or a ziploc bag last week.

All this time in the kitchen meant lots of time for thinking which means I've got several blog posts rolling around in my head.  Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Over 400 Eggs! (and none of them have been recalled)

In the past week or so, we went over the 400 mark on the Egg Count!  Today, the gals officially gave us egg number 426.  426 eggs translates to about 35 dozen eggs from 4 chickens since the end of March.

This is pretty good considering the unexplained Strike and the Tragedy we had earlier this summer which caused a bit of an interruption in egg production.  Also, Marshmallow stopped laying in mid-June which is a shame since she laid almost ostrich-sized eggs.  OK, they weren't that big, but they were huge enough to make me feel a tiny bit bad for her each day.  I thought for sure Farmer Ron would put Marshmallow on the (chopping) block instead of letting her free load, but then he is a big 'ol softie when it comes to his gals, chicken and human alike.  So for lots of this time, we've only had three hens laying.

We paid $8.00 for each of the gals.  If a cheap dozen of regular old eggs costs about $1.00 per dozen, we've covered the cost of each bird with a bit of change to spare thus far.  We haven't keep exact count of the feed expenses, but I think it's around $25.00.  So, we've got a bit to go before we come out even on the costs of the chickens in 2010.  If we normally bought free range and/or organic eggs, we would have seen our money back a long time ago as those eggs cost at least $2.00 per dozen.

However, we won't be calling it quits with the gals (aka. moving them from their coop to the deep freeze in the basement) until sometime in November or December (or whenever Farmer Ron and the Young'uns get tired of taking care of chickens in the cold).  This means we could get pretty close to coming out at least even when all is said and done this year.

Even if we don't come out exactly on the plus side of things, I still feel good about the chickens especially in light of all the chicken hub-bub in the news.  Since our eggs come from chickens we can see out our dining room window, I'm not at all worried about the Young'uns getting sick from eating one. Peace of mind is worth lots more than a few dollars.

Plus, I'm not sure how to put a price tag on the conversations the gals have opened up with neighbors or the pride and amazement of young visitors to the Farm when they find an egg in the coop all by themselves.  And then there's the sheer entertainment of watching the chicken chasing...that's definitely priceless.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Providence Tutorials - for Homeschoolers in the GB area

The Big Guy is, far and away, one of the best teachers I've ever heard and learned from.  This year, he's started Providence Tutorials for homeschool students in our area.  So far, four different tutorials are being offered for middle and high school students - Introduction to Literature, Jr/Sr Seminar (on wisdom this year) and a Great Books program with two different options offered this year.

Check them out and spread the word!

Go here to find out all about it!

Please forgive the self-promotion...we'll go back to regular blog posts now.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fruit Fly Trap - Cheap and Chemical Free!

Our homemade fruit fly trap. 
 Isn't it gross?  Can you see all those little buggers in there?
At least they aren't in my kitchen anymore!

I hesitated posting this because I'm basically admitting we've got bugs all over the kitchen here on the Little Farm.  It makes me seem like a pretty poor housekeeper...but here it is anyway.

We've got fruit flies.  In a pretty big way.  Ugh.  I hate these things. 

Every so often throughout the year, it seems we get a few fruit flies here and there, but not in August.  In August, when the weather is warm and we've got garden produce all over the kitchen and back porch, the things just seem to swarm.  Especially, when I've been out of town for a few days and one of the sons who was left behind, cuts off half of a banana and leaves the other sitting on the counter.  Um...not good anytime during the year, but fruit fly season it means a fruit fly convention.

A couple of years ago in August, while I was elbow deep in canning tomatoes, the fruit flies were driving me crazy.  I actually had a couple of kids come into the kitchen and try to swat them.  FYI- this doesn't work at all, but it is fun to watch.

When swatting didn't work, I turned to my good friend Google.  A quick search for "fruit fly traps" turned up my solution.  I didn't want something which used chemicals since the trap was going to obviously be in the kitchen around food and Young'uns.  Thankfully, the trap I found was chemical free, cheap and I could make it myself.  Music to my frugal, do-it-yourself ears.

So, just in case you've got a few of these little things driving you to distraction at your house, here's how to make your very own Fruit Fly Trap.

This photo was taken before we put some apple into the jar.
The shot above has the apple pieces.

Materials Needed:
-glass or jar of some sort
-sheet of paper (I used some from the recylcing)
-apple cider vinegar
-piece of fruit - apple or banana work best

What to Do:
Pour about an inch of vinegar into your glass or jar.  Place a couple of pieces of fruit in also.  Make your sheet of paper into a funnel and tape it in place.  Making the funnel is the hardest part of this whole deal.  You want the bottom opening to be large enough for a fly to crawl into, but small enough that it's hard for them to figure out how to fly back out.  The top of the funnel needs to be large enough to rest on the top rim of the glass and keep the bottom of the funnel about an inch or so above the vinegar and fruit in the glass.  Make sense?

Don't feel bad if it takes you a whole lot of attempts at making the funnel.  I've been there.  If you get really frustrated at making it.  Just call in one of your sons and they'll whip out a funnel that fits the glass perfectly in about 10 seconds. 

Once the funnel is made, set it into the glass and put the whole thing on your counter or wherever the flies congregate the most.  Let it set for a few hours and then be amazed!  Your jar will be full of the little pests.  It's exciting and gross all at once.  My kids always like to look at them.

Obviously, to get rid of the flies in your glass you don't want to take out the funnel in the house.  We take it outside - far far away from the back door - and pull out the funnel.  (Word to the wise - make sure you are VERY specific in these instructions if you let one of your kids take the glass outside to release the flies.  I know this from experience.)  The vinegar, fruit and funnel can be used several times.

Happy Hunting!