Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Gals Out Back

The chickens have made themselves at home in the backyard. We've gotten at least 3 eggs per days since they arrived which we find very impressive. They seem to have settled in quite quickly. Let me just say...the lay some pretty tasty eggs.

There hasn't been much Chicken Chasing PE happening since last week. So, I guess they've decided to stay. Really truly, they are living in a coop in our backyard. They run out of their coop and around the swing set. If I think about this too much is gets me a bit nervous. The line between red neck and urban farmer (smile) seems so thin at times...

The photos only show a tiny bit of the yard because, well, it is a mess right now. Rather embarrassing. We haven't done the after-winter-clean-up yet. The chickens and the young'uns don't mind however. Can you see the littlest farm hand's boots in the background near the sandbox?

This weekend the gals and their coop will be moved to the garden for a while from what Farmer Ron tells me. They can scratch around in there for a bit and eat all the little weeds and weed seeds. We're lazy gardeners!

Ah yes, I need your help because I know you are much smarter than I... I want an egg counter widget! It would be such fun to put some sort of a little counter widget thingy on my blog so that I can keep track of all the eggs we get. However, after spending more than I had to waste, looking for one online, I have come up empty. Any suggestions? The person who can find one will get a free Little Farm in the City omelet! Transportation is NOT included if you live a ways away.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Foamy Soap - My Love

I love foamy hand soap! Ellie, my 6 year old, loves foamy hand soap, too. We seriously get excited when we are in public restrooms and we push the button on the soap container and foamy soap comes squirting out. It makes us smile and giggle. There is just something fun and soothing about it. Maybe we're just a bit odd that way...

"Could we get foamy hand soap for home?", Elle Belle asked me one day. I told her I'd start looking. I found seemed a bit pricey, especially when I usually got our hand soap for free or pennies at Walgreens or CVS. I bought some lemon foamy soap at Bath and Body Works with a gift card I received. We were in heaven.

Then it ran out.

I tried filling the lemony foamy soap container with regular antibacterial soap from the big jug we had under the sink. The soap came out...sort-of, but it wasn't foamy at all. That was a dud idea.

I got to thinking about what the lemony foamy soap liquid looked like before we used it all. It was pretty watery.


I poured some of the regular soap I had put in out of the foamy soap container (about 3/4 of it) and filled it up with water. Shook it gently. Put the lid on and then...the moment of truth...foamy hand soap came squirting out. I called Ellie. She tried it. We laughed and giggled.

Here's the bonus - doing it this way will make the big jug of antibacterial soap that I got for about 50 cents from Walgreens last MUCH longer.

Foamy hand soap in our home and it will save some money. Oh my stars!
(The photo isn't foamy hand soap, but it sure is pretty. It is actually a shot of the Essential Lavendar Bar from Bug Stuff - a great little company that sells handmade soaps and such. Bug Stuff is run by one of the sweetest homeschooled gals you'll ever meet! I like using it in the shower.)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Only Five

Let me set the scene:

Sam's Club. Weekday afternoon. One Mom (or maybe a good looking teenage boy) pushing a big blue cart in which sits a bubbly little 2 year old blondie and a HUGE box of paper towels, 3 gallons of milk, 10 lbs of carrots and more. Walking along side the cart are two other handsome boys darting off this way and that for items their Mother requests. Skipping along the other side of the cart is a gal of about 6 who is singing and getting into other shopper's paths from time to time. The Mom would REALLY like to be sipping a cherry Coke, but she has given those up for Lent and, Lord willing longer, so she isn't.

Can you see it?

Here's what happens next.

The happy family will be waiting by the milk cooler for another fellow Sam's shopper to make her decision...skim or 1%? Hmmmm... As the shopper turns around, she notices the waiting family. "Wow!" she says, "You have your hands full! How many kids do you have?"

The Mom replies, "Only five." At this point the shopper opens her mouth to respond and then closes it and smiles. She might say, "Oh, that is great!" or something like that, but usually not.

Another scene.

A tall lithe woman, who might be nearing 40, but looks like she is only pushing 35, is waiting in a chair at the Dr. office. In the seats next to her, two little gals are quietly looking at magazines. (OK, let's be real. The 2 year is really walking around and talking to EVERYONE in the waiting area.) After having a long conversation with the 2 year old, a man a few seats over says to the woman, "She must keep you pretty busy, but I see that you have some help," and he points to the older girl.

Before the woman responds, the older sister pipes up, "We've got some more help at home!" The man looks at the woman and inquires how many children she has. "Only five," the woman replies. "Oh," he replies, "you do have help," and smiles. What else could he say?

This is how people respond to me (did you get that I was the tall, thin young looking Mom?) now when I tell them how many kids with which we've been blessed. It was not always this way. I've learned a few things over the years. The word ONLY is very powerful.

In the above scenes, if I would have responded to the questions by simply saying, "We have five children." Those people asking the questions would say something like, "Oh my goodness! How do you handle all of that? I could never have that many kids! Do you ever have any time to do anything for you? Did you mean to have that many? etc. etc. etc" These are all reactions I've gotten over the years. I love the last one especially - I had to hold my tongue because several rather racy retorts flashed through my brain when I heard it.

Using the word "only" in front of my reply ends all such comments. If I, the Mom, don't think five kids too many and can use the word "only" in describing their number, how could anyone else think differently? And we don't think five is too many, we can't imagine it any other way! Five children, five huge blessings from God.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Doing Our Job

The Triumphal Entry

Luke 19:28-40

After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you untying it? tell him, 'The Lord needs it.'

Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them "Why are you untying the colt?"

They replied, "The Lord needs it."

They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for the miracles they had seen:

"Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!"
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"
"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."

We can't let the rocks do our job!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Something for Nothing

Search & Win

This past Tuesday a package from Amazon arrived on our front porch. Always an exciting event! The particular package contained a CLEP study book for our oldest, Nathan. Not as exciting for him, but we're hoping he'll see the benefit in the future.

I've always loved getting deliveries from Amazon (or anywhere else for that matter). What fun to see the man in the blue (or brown) uniform drive up and deposit a brown cardboard parcel on our porch. Half of the time, he doesn't make it to the porch. Someone always runs out to meet him.

However, in the last two years getting packages from Amazon has become so much better. Why? Because most of the items arriving haven't cost us a cent! They've been free!

Have I found some magic Amazon fairy that grants me all my wishes? Nope. If that were the case, the gigantic 6 qt Kitchen Aid 600 Professional Mixer in kitchen pearl color would be sitting on my counter as I type. Not that I've looked at them...much.

No, I didn't find some magical wish granter. I found Swagbucks which is almost at good.

Swagbucks is a site, a toolbar, a miracle. I earn Swagbucks by doing my usual internet searching via Swagbucks. I don't earn Swagbucks on every search, but at least a couple times each day, I'll enter a search word like "dog puke upholstery cleaning" and up pops a box that says I've won 10 or 20 or even 50 Swagbucks.

These little beauties are kept in my Swagbucks account until I reach 450 Swagbucks. Then I go to the Swagstore and claim my $5.00 gift card. I save those babies up until I get at least $25.00 and then go shopping at I could go shopping before I get $25.00, but then I'd have to pay shipping. Who wants to do that?

I've also "bought" a few other things from the Swagstore - Starbucks gift cards, Barnes and Noble gift cards. The Big Guy and I have had a few cheap dates this way.

If you click on this link or on the Swagbucks icon on my sidebar, I'll get some extra Swagbucks in my account. Just so you know, I'd tell you about all of this even if I didn't though. I love helping people get free things!

You might want to give Swagbucks a try...I mean you don't have to but wouldn't you love to get something for nothing?

Friday, March 26, 2010

To Clip or Not to Clip

This is a photo of my coupon box...yes, you read that correctly. I have a coupon BOX, not an envelope or a small accordion file thing. It's a box. The couponing all started innocently enough and look what it has come to...

I cannot tell you how geeky this makes me feel, but there it is. I'm actually a bit surprised that I posted it. I've been debating how much you all really need to know about me...all these dark secrets.

In previous posts, I mentioned that I've only been "seriously" couponing for about 18 months. Prior to that, I'd always been frugal - we've pretty much had a grocery budget since we were married (Thanks, Dad!). The budget wasn't huge, but it was always enough.

These days we have more mouths to feed or, to use a good farm analogy, we've got more mouths lining up at the trough. The budget is pretty much the same, maybe even a bit smaller than its been at times. Praise God - it is still always enough.

Couponing really helps. I've just had to learn how to do it and, let me say, it is a learned skill.

If you cut out the coupons from your newspaper this Sunday, grab the stack and head to the store on Monday and buy the food you have coupons for, you will NOT save money. You will more than likely spend lots more than you usually do and you will end up with a large majority of your cart full of junk.

If you make out a grocery list, after deciding what you'll eat that week, what you have on hand, what is listed on sale in the store ads and match those sales to coupons, you WILL save lots of money. It's more work, especially at the start, but personally I think it is worth it.

I don't use every coupon I come across because lots them are for items we'll never eat or use. It is NEVER a good deal to use a coupon on something that you don't need. Saving $1.00 off of a box of Super Sweetie Sticky Snacks that cost $4.00 will save you a buck, yes. But if you would never buy those things anyway, you just spent $3.00 to bring home a trip to the dentist.

I also don't use coupons to buy some items, even if I know they are cheaper with a coupon. There have been times when I could have purchased instant oatmeal for less than it costs me to make it from scratch. However, I like the list of ingredients on the back of the canister of whole oats (it reads--Ingredients: oats) much more than the long list on the back of the instant packets.

Last month, I came across an interesting article about couponing in the Wall Street Journal online. The author breaks down couponing into an hourly wage which is something I've thought about but never took the time to actually compute. Check out the link below.

I have to admit - reading it makes my big ole' oddball coupon box seem more like a treasure chest.

Doing the Math on Coupons by Brent Arends

By the way, my kids are cringing right now. The whole world has seen the box.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This Little Plot

The Big Guy has another great post at This Little Plot.

It's a good life, but sometimes it is a bit tiring to live with a man who thinks so deeply all the time. My brain is usually stuck in more of the addition, multiplication, "Go Dog Go," and wondering what is for dinner mode.

I'm thankful for the challenging thoughts he and He provides.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

PE on the Farm

How's this for a new take on PE for homeschoolers?

Chicken chasing!

We've had the gals for almost a week and they are not quite sure they want to stay in our backyard. Plus, they are 8 months old and can sort of fly. I mean they aren't going to flap their wings and join the geese flying northward overhead, but they can get from the ground to the top of our 4 ft. fence with no problem.

And if they can get to the top of the fence...

Thus, the new PE class here on the farm was born.

It is very entertaining to see the kids outside with their frog catching nets and sticks and whatnot, running around chasing chickens. It is an even better show to see Farmer Ron doing it.

Personally, I don't chase chickens if it can be helped. I'm the teacher. Someone has to watch the class and grade their performance.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Seeds in the Dirt

We are a long way from putting anything in the ground outside here. A big snow storm could still be part of our future. Sad, but its reality up here. We usually get plants and/or seeds into the garden around mid-May. Yes, we have to keep ourselves from coveting when we hear from all of you gardeners who have been eating tomatoes for weeks when we are just getting started. Garden envy is an ugly thing.

Despite these chilly thoughts, we still put seeds in dirt here this week! Sweet Pepper seeds went into potting soil and were put into a little plastic "greenhouse." They are currently sitting on a heating mat and residing in our basement.

These peppers are new for us this year. I saw them in the seed catalog and my mouth started watering. Farmer Ron is a good man and indulged me by adding them to our order. These peppers are a bit pickier than most of the things we grow. They need warm soil and a LONG growing season, thus the early start date and the heating mat. We'll see how it all turns out.

Every year we plant the basic, work horses of the garden - tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers, green peppers - but we also try a couple of new things. Surprisingly, lots of the yearly experiments have become favorites - eggplant, sugar snap peas, swiss chard, kale. The variety makes it all the more exciting! (Yes, I just used the word "exciting" while talking about gardening. I would not have believed that I could use those two words together in a sentence 20 years ago.)

So, now we wait for the seeds to do their thing and watch closely for their little green heads to pop up. Spring is here 'cause the seeds are in the dirt!

Sorry for the poor photo. Those are all of the seed packets that came in our order from Seed Savers. Aren't they pretty? Did I just use the words "pretty" and "seed packets" in the same two sentences....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Big Rocks Go in First

Deciding to actually homeschool was only the beginning of the decisions we had to make when we were getting started on this journey. This initial decision was, in many ways, the easiest. The next big task was coming up with what our homeschool was going to be like. What type of curriculum would we use? Would we all sit at desks? Would I get a little bell to ring if the kids started talking? Did I have to wear a denim jumper with appliqued apples on it (come on -you remember the old stereotype!)?

After lots more reading, talking and prayer, we came up with a list of what we wanted our kids (and our family) to "look" like when they were done with high school, a list of goals. We decided what was most important! The list contained things like godly character, self-directive learners, good communication skills, logical thinking and such. After we'd come up with the list, we started looking around for a philosophy of education and materials that would help make these things a reality.
Don't get all nervous about the philosophy of education stuff - every school has one. A school's philosophy of education asks and answers what is worthwhile and necessary to teach and what are the best ways to teach those things. These seem like huge thoughts and they are, but don't let them be overwhelming to you. Working through these things at the start of homeschooling (or anything for that matter) will reap you great benefits in the end.

Stephen Covey has a great story in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that I think of often. The gist of the story is this: A man was giving a speech to a group of people. He had a large jar on a table along with buckets of big rocks, pebbles and sand and a pitcher of water. First he asked the audience how many rocks they thought he could fit in the jar. He filled the jar to the rim with these rocks and asked the group if it was full. They all answered, "yes." He then poured the pebbles into the jar, shook it a bit and poured in some more. Now was it full? Nope. He poured sand in, shook the jar and poured in a bit more. Full now? Not yet! He poured in water from the pitcher.
What's the point? If the demonstrator hadn't put the big rocks in first, he never would have gotten them in.

Deciding what we wanted our kid's education to produce in them and our family were the big rocks. We needed to know what was most important to us or we would have been led off on all sorts of tangents as we tried to teach our children. Have you ever googled homeschooling and seen the thousands of great books, games, projects and computer games out there? It is amazing!

If we hadn't put the big rocks in first, we would have filled their jars with sand and pebbles which aren't necessarily bad things. But they aren't our big rocks! The kids may have ended up with lots of good skills, but not the ones we deemed excellent when we starting thinking about homeschooling.

When you are considering homeschooling or anything else - your relationship with your spouse, how you will organize your day, your family budget, your family - take some time to think about the big rocks. Get them in your jar first before the sand creeps in!

He Says Things So Much Better Than I

The Big Guy has another great post - this time reflecting on the parable of the Prodigal Son. Even if I would have thought of all this, he still says it better than I ever could.

The Problem of the Older Son

Lots to ponder and pray about.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sticky Situation

Muffins, granola, some cereal - you know that much about our breakfasts around the farm. Many mornings will also find us eating eggs or oatmeal (not together!).
Oatmeal is probably the cheapest breakfast food on the planet. Give your kids a couple "toppings" options and they'll think they are eating ice cream sundaes for breakfast. Ok, not really. I'll be honest, oatmeal, even the good steel cut stuff, is not the favorite breakfast food for my family, but they still eat it. Everyone has their favorite toppings. Sometimes I give options, other days not.

Here's what we put on our oatmeal:
butter, of course!
brown sugar
mini-chocolate chips
toasted nuts
fresh fruit, like strawberries or diced apples
"maple" syrup
whatever seems like it might taste yummy

You're probably wondering why the quotes around the maple syrup. Well, it isn't real maple syrup. It's my homemade version. Real maple syrup, while very delicious takes a big hunk out of the food budget. We use syrup for oatmeal, pancakes, waffles and french toast. A jug of syrup does not make it long with 7 people, 5 of whom are under 18, using it.

For a while, I bought the generic fake syrup from the grocery store, but the fact that high fructose corn syrup was the main ingredient just kept eating at me. We are not HFC purists; we still eat foods that contain it, but we do try to avoid it when we can. I started looking for options and found one which is much better for us (not as good as real maple syrup, I know), is EASY to make and tastes really great. My version also costs less than the fake syrup from the store. Bonus!

Homemade Syrup

1 c dark brown sugar (light works too, but dark tastes better)
1 c white sugar
1 c water
1 T butter
1 t vanilla

Put everything into a medium saucepan and stir over medium heat until dissolved. Bring to a boil for a minute or two. Turn the heat down to very low, just above simmer, and let it cook for about 20 minutes. Put a lid on the pot when the mixture has stopped boiling. Don't stick the lid on right when you turn the heat down - TRUST ME ON THIS! Your syrup will boil over and it is not fun to clean up burned sugar from the crevices of your stove top. I speak from experience unfortunately.

The syrup will thicken as it cooks.

After about 20 minutes, remove from heat and add butter and vanilla. That's it! You can use it right away or store it in the fridge. If I'm not using it right away, I let it cool and then pour it into a 1 quart canning jar and pop it into the fridge. When we need syrup for pancakes and such, I pour some into a small pitcher or glass measuring cup to warm it up and serve it.

I always double this recipe when I make it...we use lots of syrup. The double batch fits into a quart sized jar. I'd suggest only making a single batch to start to allow you to get the hang of it. If you cook it longer, the syrup will be thicker. However, if you don't use the syrup in a reasonable amount of time, it will start to crystallize a bit in the jar. Syrup that looks longer will crystallize faster. Real maple syrup does this, too. That's just part of being a sticky liquid whose main ingredients are sugar and water.

Happy Breakfast!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Shoplifting with Permission

Here in the Frozen Tundra, we are not blessed with one of those magical stores that allows customers to double their coupon values all day every day. I have heard of such places, but only in fairy tales. We do have a grocery store chain, Copps, that doubles 5 manufacturers coupons every Wednesday when you spend $25.00.

I've always been a deal shopper. I knew who had the best price for what item and what the best sale price was but it has only been in the past 18 months or so that I've given coupons a try. To be honest, it never seemed that coupons would save me any money.

I was wrong.

Even only getting 5 coupons doubled, if they are paired with items already on sale, will save you a LOT of money. Shopping at stores which don't double coupons, like Walgreens or CVS, will still save you money if you pair coupons with sales.

Here is my shopping trip to Copp's this past Wednesday. I filled my cart and had three separate transactions. Yes, I checked out three times. You are thinking I looked like a freak, but we've already established that whole thing and we're moving on.
Here is what I purchased:

13 lb. turkey
2 gallons of milk
10 lbs of apples
2 lbs of baby carrots
1 lb shredded cheese
12 boxes of cereal
4 bags of granola/nut clusters
2 bottles of salad dressing
2 jars of spaghetti sauce (to use in a pinch)
5 lb bag of flour
4 lb brown sugar
1 box frozen fruit thingys
2 dozen eggs
2 cake mixes (Ellie loves to make these for the guys)
4 deodorants

The total for all of this before sales and coupons would have been $127.56. I gave them $30.56 in cash to allow me to walk out of the store legally. But it gets better, they gave me a $3.25 coupon to use on milk and another $2.00 coupon to take off of my bill the next time I shop there. But wait...there's more...I put a rebate form for $5.00 in the mail today from buying the turkey.

So, I spent $30.56, but I have $10.25 coming back to me in coupons and rebates. If my math is right (and there is good chance it isn't), I spent $20.31 and saved 84% off of the regular retail price on this food.

Now, I would never pay regular prices at this store. If I didn't use coupons, I would only get a few items here every so often because they were on VERY good sales. Other stores in town, have better everyday prices. However, matching sales with coupons works!

We don't eat cereal everyday for breakfast here on the farm, even if I can get it really cheap. There are just better things to eat to start your day. Some days, cereal is the breakfast of choice though and it is great to know that we are eating it for pennies a bowl. If only we could get a cow...

We also don't have a terribly bad problem with body will take quite a while to go through that much deodorant. Plus, I have some more in the basement.

Why do I keep all this stuff? I only buy things when they get below a certain price - we stock up. So, when we're out of toothpaste, we go "shopping" from our stockpile. Additionally, purchasing things so cheaply allows us to donate a good deal of food and toiletries to local food pantries and shelters.

Double coupons have double benefits!

Here's a bit more to think about, it probably took me about 1 hr to get all of these deals together and matched up with coupons and the ads. It took an additional 2 hours max to do the shopping (I had the 3 littlest young'uns with me so that added a bit of time). If we round the numbers, I saved about $100 off the regular prices so I made about $33.00 per hour and paid no taxes on that hourly "wage."

That makes it all sound "doubly" good!

The Newest Farm Residents

They are here! After a few miscommunications with the chicken guy, the gals arrived yesterday morning. They went straight into the coop and seemed to be right at home.

Within 10 minutes of their arrival, our youngest four had each claimed and named a chicken. We now have ZZ (because she looks like a Zebra), Marshmallow, Mrs. Chicken and Uno living in our back yard. The kids know that eventually they'll end up in the freezer. They've seen Annie and Snickers, two of last year's ladies, in their chilly new home over the fridge.

They'll stay in their coop for a few days until they get used to the new place. Then we'll let them range around the back yard. We'll also move them into the garden some days so they can scrounge for some leftovers from last year and eat the weed seeds. Less weeding this year! While picking around the garden, they'll also lay down some great fertilizer.

Farmer Ron is very happy. The young'uns all seem to think everything is now right again on the farm. Life is good. Plus, we got four fresh eggs yesterday. Very good!

Friday, March 19, 2010

It's All in the Eye of the Beholder

It is road construction season here. Yes, that is an actual season in places where it snows and is very cold for major portions of the year. Consequently, one of the major roads in our area is torn up and has changed 4 lanes to 2. I will be avoiding this area at all costs for the entire "season."

However, I did take a drive down it this week. I had the three youngest riding along with me and, since I've been a Mom for 15 years now, I know that a good construction site is a pretty cool thing to look at. Besides, we knew what the before of that street looked like, we needed to see the during and so we can appreciate the after. The weather was warm so we had the Suburban windows rolled down and could view the construction close up and even get some dust in the car. It was all very exciting!

Abby, the 2 year old, yelled a variety of greetings at all of the construction workers all along the mile or more, even at stop lights. She got quite a few smiles when they could hear her over the back hoes. She can yell really loudly.

Zach, the 9 year old, kept up a running litany of the various machinery we passed and he knows his machines. He was also amazed at the large variety of concrete and metal pipes those workers are planning to put under the street. Zach is pretty sure that just a couple of those huge ones could make the best fort ever.

It was Ellie, the 6 year old, who had the best comment of the trip. She had been pretty quiet - just taking it all in. When suddenly she yelled, "Look! Look! There is an outhouse! Can you believe it? An outhouse in the middle of the street!"

Just struck me as funny...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Gardens are Great!

Around the Farm, we love a good garden and I don't just mean Farmer Ron and I in that "we." If you ask the young'uns, I think they would admit to having fond feelings for that piece of land.

Yes, the garden involves a good deal of work - getting the plots ready, planting, weeding (although with the way we garden, this is pretty minimal), harvesting and getting the harvest ready to store. It is some work, especially when you have a garden on the larger side of the scale and are trying to get a sizable portion of your yearly food from it. But it is really worth it!

A word of warning: I am going to try to convince you to take a stab at growing some food in this post and in others. Keep reading at your own risk!

You can get some great food from your garden. We ate LOTS of fresh veggies all summer and into the fall last year. In fact, I didn't really buy any fresh veggies except for carrots, onions and garlic. We all love going out to the garden and picking a snack when we're hungry. If we're all outside and we can't find Abby in the summer, she is always in the garden eating something. Thankfully, she knows which plants are the jalepenos.

Here's a list of what we canned or froze last year:

12 pints strawberry jam
1.5 gallons of whole strawberries
7 cups of rhubarb
10 cups of cherries
180 cups of shredded zucchini
36 cups of green beans
5 pints of dilly beans
14 quarts of dilly beans
140 cups of corn
12 cups of swiss chard
8 cups of kale
8 pints pizza sauce
7 quarts of Italian tomatoes
8 quarts of spaghetti sauce
18 quarts of diced tomatoes
5 quarts of tomato sauce
3 quarts of dried Roma tomatoes
20 quarts of apple sauce
21 quarts of apple pie filling
7 pints of jalapeno jelly
10 pints of green tomato salsa
1 gallon ziploc full of pesto cubes
1 gallon of ratitoulle, see here
1gallon bag of diced green bell peppers
1 quart bag of diced jaelpenos
Here is what we ate fresh all summer:
homemade salsa (I have dreams about this stuff!)
green beans
mixed greens - arugula, lettuces, spincach, etc.
egg plant
various herbs
sugar snap peas
swiss chard

You get the idea. Doesn't even some of that make your mouth water?
So, you need to do some gardening. You don't have to dig up your whole backyard. In fact, I think you are smart to start small your first year. Garden plants are quite pretty. Start by setting aside a portion of your already existing flower beds and use them to garden. Put in a few tomato plants. Grow beans up a trellis on the side of your garage. Sow some salad greens. Put herbs in pots. Put tomatoes in pots for that matter. You can get lots of produce from a few plants.
Fresh veggies taste great, but they taste excellent if you and your family have grown them on your own little farm.
What are you planting this year?
By the way, the photo is of our garden this past Monday. The snow is all gone now. The bike is just to show how good my kids do at putting away their things...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Chickens are Coming

Big News on the Farm!

Farmer Ron is getting some more "gals" tomorrow and everyone around the Farm is excited. OK, I admit it, I might be a bit less excited than everyone else. Farmer Ron really loves his chicken. Could I be jealous of the competition?

Instead of getting day old chicks like last year, we're getting 8 month old laying hens. The hope is that after a few weeks of getting used to their new digs, the ladies will be laying an egg a day.

We're sacrificing the cute and fluffy weeks of babies for the immediate gratification of eggs. The baby chicks we got last May were cute and it was fun to watch them grow, but we didn't start getting eggs until August. Besides, the teenage chicken weeks we rather awkward and we don't need to revisit that.

Where did Farmer Ron's gals from last year go you might ask. Well, after serving us well for four months, they our freezer.

Doing the Same Book Over and Over and Over

Books are part of going to school. They just go together like peanut butter and jelly or the Packers and bratwurst or The Big Guy and me. You can't imagine one without the other.

I admit that I am one of those strange people who loved getting my new school books each year, especially if they were new. The smell those new books had and the sound they made when you cracked them open, I just loved it. Please don't analyze this...I am sure there are deep issues there somewhere.

Books are part of homeschooling, too. However, instead of walking into a building and having your books handed to you, homeschoolers have to do some searching and, this hurts a bit, have to lay down some cash to get those books. Sometimes it is a lot of cash. It's still exciting! I love when a box of books arrives and, for the most part, so do the young'uns.

Here's the difference: you think about school books a bit differently when you are shelling out your own money for them.

We consider content, scope and sequence, age appropriateness and the like. Those are all huge considerations and I am sure there are several blogs posts there, but this post is about making those books last and last and last...for 5 children.

Some books are hardcover and made to be reused, especially those for older kids. Many of the books for the younger set are consumable. They do the math page -all 20 problems - and it is done. When the next kid needs that math book, you shell out another $25.00.

After seeing Nate, our oldest, rip through his first $25.00 math book, I started doing some math of my own. We only had the three boys at that point, but I could see every math level costing $75.00 and that was if the price stayed the same from year to year (not likely). Not to mention, the latin, handwriting, grammar and spelling workbooks looming in our future. This was a problem that needed a solution.

Page protectors to the rescue!

I took the workbook apart and put the pages inside of clear plastic page protectors. These pages went into a large three ring binder. When it was math time, we opened the "book" to the appropriate page, Nate took out a dry erase marker and did his thing. When the lesson was done, one quick wipe with a napkin or baby wipe - whatever was handy at the moment - and the page was ready to be done again in a couple of years. Problem solved!

As the kids have gotten older, we still put workbooks in page protectors. However, the writing instrument has changed. More advanced books require smaller writing and even thin dry erase markers are a bit clumsy.
Sharpie markers to the rescue!

Sharpie markers come off of page protectors with rubbing alcohol and a bit of elbow grease. It is a perfect job to do while watching TV. (Just ask the Big Guy.)

A box (or several) boxes of page protectors and three ring binders aren't free, but they do cost less than buying the same math book several times. Office supply stores often have great sales on both items. I've also found some brand new binders at the thrift store.

Even if you don't homeschool, this is a great way to take a puzzle book or a not-for-school-just-for-fun math book and make it last a bit longer. I've put some of the activity books we have for preschoolers in page protectors since they love to do the same thing again and again.

Right now you are seeing your precious shelf space overrun by gigantic three ring binders. I know how you think. If storage space is an issue, and really, when isn't it, just take the workbook pages out of the page protectors and put a rubber band around them until the next kid needs the book. Now you have a binder free and ready for whatever book is needed at the present time. Hmmmm....reusing page protectors and binders. Now you are saving even more money. What could you do with that extra cash?

I think I see a parent-teacher conference in your future...nice.

FYI - parent-teacher conference is homeschool slang for date night.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Another Blogger on the Farm

It seems to be catching around the farm...

The Big Guy has a blog ( and I have a blog. Now, Jake, our second son, has one, too!

Jake has a HUGE interest in fish and I am truly amazed at what he has learned all on his own. Being that I am not a pet person (don't throw things at me) and that fish are pets, I have not had one thing to do with any of this. He has researched online, read books, made phones calls, and bartered for items on craigslist. It has been amazing to watch 12 year old do such things.

Now he has a blog to record all of his adventures! Check it out...I'll bet you learn something. I know I did.

A Frugal Reading List

It's already been established that I lean towards the cheap...I mean frugal...side of things. I admit it. Guilty as charged. I'm a tightwad hear me roar.

I'd like to think that it isn't some sort of crazy obsession with me. I don't save dryer lint to stuff pillows. I have tossed out tubes of toothpaste when I knew there was little bit left in the bottom. I have not put all of our electrical devices on sensors so that they shut off automatically when not in use for 2 minutes. We turn on our heat in the winter.

Instead, I think it's become a way of life. God has given us what we need and more, but I don't want to squander it. I try to be mindful of using these things that have been put under my care to their utmost. It's my "job."

I could go to the grocery store without a list and buy our food for the week and we would be fine. I could look at my son's pants, see his ankles showing and head straight for the mall to get some longer ones and the world wouldn't end. We still spend money! But here's what I've learned...

If I am mindful of our family's resources, do some planning and, yes, some extra work, those resources will go much much farther and we can use them to further bless our family and, more importantly, others. Our kids can take part in some activities that otherwise might be out of reach. We can go on vacations from time to time. We can entertain more people in our home. We can share more with others. We can give as we feel God calls us.

This place wasn't arrived at over night and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a struggle to stay here at times, but I feel confident it is where God has placed me (and our family).

We're trying to use what God has given us to his glory. It isn't just me; it's a team effort.

I've been asked for some suggestions of "frugaly" books. Here are some of my favorites:

The Miserly books by Jonnie McCoy are pretty basic and were the first books that got me started. The Tightwad Gazette is hardcore frugality. To be honest, I think many of the suggestions in this book are crazy, but others are very helpful if only to get your mind going. It is actually a fun read, but that just might be me.

A true tightwad would borrow all books about being frugal from the library, I suppose. Many of those books have gone on my library card and I've looked them over. But I have bought the books on this list and keep them on my shelf to loan out and also to reread from time to time just to remind myself what my goal truly is.

What's your goal for yourself and your family? I'd love to hear it!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Toothless Wonder

This is Ellie aka. Elle Belle. She's a spunky gal that Elle Belle. A couple of weeks ago, she lost 3 teeth in 2 days. We've got some rather graphic photos of what it looked like as the teeth were coming out, but I'll spare you those. But I thought I'd share this cute one. The toothless look is one of my personal favorites and it is gone so quickly!

Do You Know the Muffin Man?

Well, actually around here it is the Muffin Lady and she's me. Muffins are one of the hit breakfast items around here. We usually have them with some fruit or yogurt. The type of muffin varies. Most of the time it is based on whatever I've got in the freezer from the past summer like zucchini and pumpkin.

Banana is another big muffin base. If the ones on hand here start to head south before someone eats them, I just toss them - skin on- into the freezer. When I've got a big bunch (pun intended), it's time to have banana muffins. You can often find bananas that are past their prime in the reduced produce section of the grocery store. If you don't want to make the muffins when you get home, just throw in the fridge. On muffin making day, take the bananas out and put them in the sink or a bowl (you'll see why when you do it) to thaw. To use them, just squeeze them right into your mixing bowl. The kids love this part.

A word of caution: falling frozen bananas are a freezer hazard and can cause pain if they hit your toes.

On Saturday morning, I made about six or seven dozen muffins - chocolate zucchini and banana. We ate some for breakfast on Sunday morning. Some will be eaten as snacks this week. The others went into ziploc bags for future breakfasts. When muffins are on the menu, I take the bag out the night before. In the morning, I put the muffins in a muffin tin, cover with foil and warm at 350 degrees. They taste like they were just made! (You can warm them in a microwave, but we don't have one. Can you say freaks?)

In the summer, we shred any zucchini that we don't eat or give away measure four cups into ziploc sandwich bags and freeze it. When zucchini muffins are on the menu, I get it out of the deep freeze, let it thaw, squeeze all the water out and throw it in the batter.

Here's one of our favorite muffin recipes.

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins
makes about 20-24
2 c white sugar (I use about 1 1/2 c)
1 c vegetable oil (I use 1/2 c oil & 1/2 c plain yogurt)
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 t vanilla
2 c grated zucchini
3 c flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/4 t ground cardamom
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tins or use liners. In large bowl beat eggs. Beat in sugar and oil. Add vanilla, cocoa and zucchini. Stir well. Stir in baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices and flour. DON'T stir it lots. Stir until everything is just moistened. Your muffins will get all pointy on the top (I think my Home Ec teacher called these peaks and we lost points for it) and not be as tender if you mix the batter a bunch after the dry ingredients are added. Fill tins about 2/3 full and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Let them sit for a bit after you take them out of the oven and then dump them out. Once they are cooled, you can bag them for the freezer.

See how easy muffins are! You don't need a mix! You don't even need a crazy veggie or fruit. There are lots of great muffin recipes online - just google it. Try oatmeal muffins or honey whole wheat muffins, if you don't think those you love will like pumpkin...although they might surprise you. And if you make a whole bunch at a time, you'll have several meals and snacks at your fingertips.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ode to Pi Day

Today is the 13th of March. Happy Pi Day! 3/14...get it? 3.14...

In honor of the day, we'll be having homemade apple PI for dinner. (Sunday night dinners are a bit of a free for all around here.)
We've even written a short poem in honor of Pi.
Ode to Pi Day

Oh, three point one four
Sweet three point one four
You make math so easy
No longer a chore
For this we all love you
Dear three point one four.

Neglected Blessings

Here is a portion of one of the corporate prayers from church this morning:

we confess that we have failed to admit that we have sinned against You in
our thoughts, words and deeds. We have denied our faults to You, to our neighbors and even to ourselves. We have wandered away from Your will and rule; we have taken Your blessings for granted. For Jesus' sake forgive us, renew in us a desire to please You, and restore us to the path You would have us take in our life's

Different things strike me on different days. Do you see the part that got me today?

We were confessing the fact that we had taken for granted blessings in our lives given to us by God. We were saying "sorry" for not having hearts full of gratitude. Ouch.

I don't really need to confess that, do I?

While washing up the lunch dishes after church, I started feeling grumbly as everyone else had scattered and I was left to do the work alone...again. But wait, the fact that I was washing dishes meant that we had just eaten food and not gone hungry. The fact that I was washing seven plates and not just one meant that God had blessed me with a husband and five children. The fact that I was turning on the faucet to fill the sink meant that I have a home...with running water none the less. Such blessings and I was missing them all.

I have taken your blessings for granted.

I confess my sin Lord. Thank you for your grace and mercy.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Buy Soap, Make Money, Get Clean

Yep, it's true. This week I bought bar soap enough to last us for at least 4 months, probably longer. I also purchased a bottle of fancy body wash. The purchases were made at Target. Here's how it all worked:
2 - 8 packs of Olay bar soap
1 bottle of Olay body wash
Total - $16.50

less 1.00 coupon for bar soap
1.00 coupon for bar soap
2.00 coupon for body wash

Total - $12.50 spent out of pocket (plus tax)

Here's the kicker: I also received a $5.00 Target gift card that I can spend on
whatever I want. I'll probably put it towards another great Target deal. In
addition, I'll also be receiving a $15.00 rebate check from Olay in the mail.
Yep, you read that correctly! I spent $12.50 out of pocket, got a $5.00 gift card and will be getting a $15.00 check.

All told purchasing my stockpile of soap earned me about $ 7.00 after tax and postage stamp. I love shopping!

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Littlest Farmhand

She's a cute little bugger alright. She's also the biggest handful with whom we've been blessed. And lest you think we don't wear cowboy hats around the you go!

Chaos Theory on the Farm

There are days around the farm when everything is all love, sweetness and peace. We all talk kindly, treat each other with love, pick up our own messes, do our work diligently, make delightfully clever jokes and laughter fills the air. I am pretty sure I have even have little birds and butterflies flitting around my head on those days as I skip around the house in my size 8 cotton flowered dress.

Yeah. Right.
I'll be honest. There are parts of some days when it seems like this around here - all goodness and light. Somedays just small parts, very, very small parts, but it is there. Well, except for the size 8 dress part that is never there. Sigh!

Most days it seems we are living on the edge of chaos. Just one small happening can put us over the edge and cause things to start spinning out of control. Chaos. In fact, when I started blogging a good friend suggested an appropriate title for my blog might be, "Little Farm on the Edge." Guess she's seen it a few times.

I've been thinking about what those chaos causing circumstances are and thought I'd share the list because while sad in some ways, they are funny in others. So here goes.

The List of Chaos

1. Me taking a phone call in the middle of school. 10 seconds and everyone scatters.
2. Me needing to use the restroom in the middle of school. See above.
3. The word candy.
4. The Big Guy coming home in the middle of school. Chaos causing, yes, but we love it!
5. One of the seven farm inhabitants waking up in a less than cheery mood.
6. Auggie, the dog, losing his lunch in the living room. Have I shared my love for our dog? (not)
7. Abby, the youngest farmhand, doing something really cute and/or crazy.
8. The words fart and burp and but*ocks. Sigh.
9. Any type of animal, person or vehicle that is just a bit out of the ordinary out in our field.
10. Someone touching someone else or someone else's stuff or thinking about touching it.
11. Physcial actions that correspond to #8.
12. The UPS man.

Why tell you all of this? I guess I am hoping to encourage you the next time things around your house are humming along swimmingly and then the phone rings at the same time the dog pukes while your youngest son makes a body function joke and one of your other kids yells "M & M's" at the same time the UPS guys pulls up with a big box you need to sign for. Be encouraged. Your house isn't the only one in chaos.

Take a deep breath. Laugh at the chaos. Ask for strength. Press on.

Brothers (and sisters), I do not consider myself yet to have taken
hold of it. But this one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for
which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
Phillipians 3:13-14

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Little Farm Museum of Art

I don't know about your house, but sometimes I feel as if we are drowning in artwork here on the Farm. Over the years, thousands of masterpieces have been created by our children. They draw while listening to me read; they draw while listening to books on tape; they draw in the tree fort; they draw because the mood just hits them. I shudder a bit to think of the hunk of forest that has been sacrificed for their creativity.

It took me a few years to come up with a way to honor the hard work and pride of my little Monet's. On one hand, I didn't want to crush their spirits when they found their hard work in the recycling bin and on the other hand, I was getting worried about whether or not we'd lose the couch, chairs or even one of the kids under a mountain of crayon and colored pencil drawings we'd amass by the time all of the kids had passed through the big drawing phase of their lives.

Part of the solution to this dilemma came with the creation of The Little Farm Museum of Art. We had a blank wall in the kitchen that needed something on it. A really big white wall that was calling out for some art. I'd looked for just the right picture or nick knack to fill the space, but everything I found was either...well...really tacky or really expensive.

That's when I realized I had LOTS of one of a kind pieces made by my favorite artists at my disposal for free! I bought 4 frames and painted them all to match each other and the room and filled them with some of the kid's and/or my favorite pieces of art. They look great on the wall. I love looking at them. The kids like having them there, too!

From time to time, one of our resident Van Gogh's will present me with a piece that they deem frame worthy and we'll put it up. Sometimes, one of their works strikes my fancy and up it goes. The collection is always changing so we're never bored with it.

My empty wall is filled. My budget is saved from expensive decorating. My kids know that I value their skills. As an added bonus, I think they've become more careful and selective in their work. After all, they never know when it might end up on the wall at the Museum!

By the way, the Little Farm Museum of Art has free admission. Feel free to stop by sometime.

My Wise Husband

The Big Guy also has a blog. Today he had a wise and convicting post. You should read it here! If you have some opinions on what he says, he'd love to "talk" about it with you.

Try Not to Forget

We try to always be memorizing something around the Farm - scripture, poetry, lyrics to hymns, lists of prepositions, where the dirty clothes go - it is all a possibility. I keep a 3 ring binder of the things different kids have memorized so that I can recycle it amongst the others. It is such fun to hear lots of our family reciting something in unision.

Memorizing scripture is, of course, important! However, we've found that hymns and even silly poems are great and fun ways to stretch our brains, too. Memorizing helps increase vocabulary and gives kids a greater understanding of how words fit together. Besides, think of all the useless stuff that gets put into littles ones brains all day. I have no scientific study to back me up, I like to think putting in good stuff helps to crowd out the bad.

It also keeps my old brain going. I'm amazed at what I've learned along with them.

I thought I'd share one of my favorite poems that our youngest kids memorize. Ellie is currently working on it.

Our Home

by Dorothy Brown Thompson

Our house is small -
The lawn and all
Can scarely hold the flowers,
Yet every bit,
The whole of it,
Is precious, for it's ours!

From door to door,
From roof to floor,
From wall to wall we love it;
We wouldn't change
For something strange
One shabby corner of it!

The space complete
In cubic feet
From cellar floor to rafter
Just measures right,
And not too tight,
For us, and friends and laughter!

I love this poem! Our house isn't shabby - well, we try keep it from being so. It isn't the nicest or largest house. However, it is "precious, for it's ours!" From the uneven walls to the floors upon which spills take off in odd directions, it is full of lovely memories of family and friends. Who knew when we came to look at it in 1998 that God had prepared it just for us and our family? We've sought to use it for His glory and our favorite times are when it is full of those we love, but I digresss...

Even if you don't have kids at home for school during the day or all your kids are grown, find something to memorize...and don't forget it!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Homeschooling Called on Account of City Workers

One of the things I've learned through the years is that I've got to be flexible when homeschooling. I've got plans, things to accomplish, math to be done, books to be read. There are, however, many different forces working each day to derail these plans.

Sometimes, we're derailed by an illness. We can still do some school when a child is sick, but it does takes a chunk out of the day. Other times, it is a totally exciting, very educational activity that pops up and makes me change things up. The first WARM, sunny day of spring is always a distraction and usually finds us calling all our friends and heading to a park with a picnic lunch. I admit that at times it is me that gets us off track. Me, the homeschool teacher, who has trouble summoning up the motivation and cheerful attitude to plow through the day. It isn't pretty, but it happens from time to time.

Today, I fear our school will be thrown all of kilter because of something totally different. Today the culprit is the 5 city water department employees, 2 backhoes and 1 dump truck parked in front of our house.

They are tearing up the street with all of the appropriate banging and pounding and rattling. My students are mesmerized, as you can see. I am pretty sure that I've lost them for much of the morning.
Maybe I'll just get a good book and read aloud to them while they look out the window. I've learned to be flexible...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Freaks Who Eat Homemade Granola

Yep, that is what we are! We even have one family member whose footwear of choice in the summer is the Birkenstock sandal. (FYI- I do own and regularly use a razor, lest you think we've gone too far.)

I've been asked what we eat for breakfast - the answer is long and varied and I promise I'll bore you with the details one of these days. Homemade granola is on the breakfast menu for sure. Not only is it pretty cheap to make, but it has good sugar in it. No high fructose corn syrup to be found. It also fills up the crew for much longer than cereal from a box. The only bummer is that there aren't any prizes in the granola container...hmmm...that gives me a fun idea!

Homemade Granola

3/4 c brown sugar
1/3 c vegetable oil
1/3 c honey
5 c oatmeal (I like the old fashioned oats best. The instant oats don't seem to work very well.)
1/2 c dry milk (no worries if you don't have this)
1 t cinnamon
pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugar, oil and honey in saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. In large bowl, combine all other ingredients. Pour the hot mixture over the dry and stir well. Spread onto rimmed baking sheets (non rimmed ones will work too but you'll probably spill some...well at least I know I would). Bake for 10 minutes until lightly browning. Let the granola cool on the pan for a few minutes and then scrap into a bowl or container.

A few notes:
-you can add dried fruit after the granola has cooled
-you can add sunflower seeds or other nuts to the dry ingredients
-you add 1/4 c or more of ground flax or wheat germ to the dry ingredients
-I usually replace half of the vegetable oil with apple juice to reduce the fat
-a large canister of oats had 15 cups in it. I usually use 2 canisters of oats and multiply the other ingredients x 6.
-this is great over yogurt or you can use it as a quick topping for apple crisp, too.
-if you let the granola sit on the pan too long while cooling it is going to take some muscle power to get it off of've been warned!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Some Bread for Your Butter

I love baking and, coincidentally, my family loves eating. It works well. We have soup and bread at least once a week. Last Monday, I shared one of our favorite soup recipes here. Lots of requests for a bread recipe followed, so here goes...

I found this book, Artsian Bread in Five Minutes a Day, last summer and LOVE it. (I know it sounds like I buy cookbooks all the time. Really, I only have a small shelf of them and most of them I've had for years. Those I have I love and use often!) Prior to this find, I'd had a standard french bread recipe that we all loved. Now we've got a new favorite and it is REALLY easy! Hang with me, it seems a bit complicated, but it isn't! And you'll be rewarded with bread that looks like those fancy $5.00 loaves at the store.

Just a warning - I am not an exact cook. So, if you are a precise kind-of cook, this might frustrate you.

Here is what you need:

a plastic lidded bucket - like an ice cream pail

3 c warm water (just above room temperature)

1 1/2 T yeast (I get mine from Sam's Club 2lbs at a time.)

1 T kosher salt

6 1/2 c all purpose flour (use unbleached if you can get it - it is healthier for you and works the same as bleached)

a wooden spoon

some cornmeal for the cutting board

a cutting board

a pizza stone

a metal pan - broiler pans work best

a spatula

Pour the water into the bucket. Add yeast and stir. It won't all dissolve, but try to get most of it.

Add in the salt and stir. As you can see, I don't measure it anymore. Measure it a few times with a spoon and dump it into your hand so you can see what it looks like...less dishes to wash!

Add the flour and stir until you don't see any dry spots of flour. You should get a wet and sticky dough. If it is watery, add some more flour a little bit at a time. If it seems dry, sprinkle in some water and stir. You'll have to play around with this some. It is amazing how different brands of flour can vary. You DO NOT need to knead the dough (I think that is a great sentence).

Put the lid on the bucket but don't seal it all the way. Let is sit on your counter for 2 hours. It should rise up to the top of the lid. If it doesn't, you might want to dump it and start over. Luckily, you'll only be throwing out much less than a buck's worth of ingredients. Making your own bread is cheap!
Next, put the bucket in the fridge until you want to make bread. It can sit in your fridge for up to two weeks. The longer it sits,the easier it will be work with and the more of a sour dough taste it will have.
On bread making day, take out your cutting board and sprinkle it with cornmeal.

When you want bread, take out the bucket and sprinkle some flour over the top of the dough. Reach in and cut off hunk of the bread about the size of a grapefruit. If you do it this size, you'll get three loaves out of your bucket. I usually grab bigger hunks and make two loaves.

Stretch the top of the dough to the bottom, turn it a quarter turn and stretch it again. Repeat for a few times around. The top of the ball will look smooth, the bottom will be a mess. That is just fine. If you want your loaf less round and more "loafy," roll it between your hands for a bit. If it is sticky - get some flour on your hands.

Let the dough rest for 20 minutes on the cutting board.

Set your oven to 450 degrees. Put one oven rack on the top rung and the other just below the middle rung. Put the metal pan on the top rack and the pizza stone on the other. Wait 20 minutes.

Sprinkle a bit more flour over the bread and take a knife and make a few slashes across the top of the bread. You can make an "x" or parallel slashes - whatever fits your mood. Sometimes, in the hub bub around here I totally forget this step and it turns out just fine. No one seems to notice the added little touches but me...they just want to eat.

Get 1 c hot water ready. Slide dough from cutting board to pizza stone. You'll probably need a spatula to help with this. Pour the hot water into the metal pan. Let the bread cook for about 30 minutes. The crust gets very crispy and chewy and a bit dark because of the water which makes steam in the oven.

Take out the bread and let it cool on the counter. Listen closely - after a minute or two you'll hear an amazing thing! The crust on your bread will start to crackle. It really crackles. I love that sound; it is just so happy!

It is going to smell great and you'll want to cut into it after about 10 minutes. You can and we do, but it is very hard to cut when it is really warm. Letting it cool for at least an hour is best. This bread freezes very well.

If this doesn't make sense...ask away!

Be ready for your husband (or wife??) and kids to shower dozens of hugs and kisses on you because they are going to LOVE this bread! Just thought I should warn you.
I'd love to hear if you give this a try! The book has lots of great recipes for different types of bread all built around these same basic ideas. They are amazing! I'll be posting about those I'm trying.

Butter Me Up

Good deals make me happy because they allow me to keep our grocery budget in check and use what God has given us wisely. So, if I find a good deal, I'll pass it along.

This one is for folks who live around a Kwik Trip store.

Until the end of March, Kwik Trip is selling a lb. of butter for only $1.49! That is about .50 per pound cheaper than I've seen elsewhere in the past few months.

So stock up now! Butter freezes just fine. If your family uses 5 lbs. of butter a month, you'll be saving $2.50 which doesn't seem like much but it adds up!

While you are there...check out the milk in a bag. I know it sounds crazy, but they sell milk in half gallon bags. A half gallon of skim is currently .99 per bag or $1.98 per gallon. This is a great price! Also, if you buy milk there. ask for a milk punch card. For every half gallon you buy, you'll get a punch. 20 punches equals $1.00 off your next milk purchase. This means you're getting .05 off every half gallon you buy. You'll need to pick up one of their free milk pitchers for your milk while you are there also.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gifts on the Cheap...I Mean Frugal

Tonight The Big Guy and I stopped at Menards (a Home Depot-like store here in the mid-west) because we wanted to pick up a birthday gift. We were on a date...don't you always go to the hardware store on a date? We bought a great 20 inch hand saw and MADE $7.45! Yep, we made money buying a gift.

Here's how:

The saw cost $10.55 with tax. I had a $8.00 merchandise credit or rebate from a previous deal. When we applied the credit, we paid $2.55 for the saw. However, the saw was a rebate item and we'll be getting another merchandise credit for $10.00. So, we made $7.45! There is a little bit of paperwork involved, but it is worth it.

Here's why:

Having 5 children, 9 nieces and nephews and 2 god daughters (not to mention my children's friends) means that we give lots of gifts each year. I love coming up with gifts they, hopefully, enjoy. However, because we do our best to live within our means, I don't have a great deal to spend on gifts. What I can't spend in money, I try to make up for in creativity and thoughtfulness. Hopefully, none of the above gift receivers read this and protest. I may come up short at times, but it isn't for lack of trying.

One of my favorite things to give our kids are gifts they can use both now and later. (My friend, Lisa, my creative Mom hero, gave me this great idea years ago.) Starting at age four, we give each of our sons a tool and each of our daughters a kitchen "tool." I use the quotes because some people don't consider them tools - they're wrong!

So, when our first son turned four, he received a REAL toolbox - the kind that men walk out of Home Depot with. It was a load for him to carry but he loved it. He also got a tape measure that year. The next year he got a hammer and some nails. The following year he was the recipient of a saw. And so on...

When our first daughter turned four, she received a Rubbermaid container and some rubber spatulas and wooden spoons. The next year we have her measuring cups and spoons. You get the idea.

The purpose of these gifts are two-fold. First of all, they give our kids a chance to do some real work while they are young. They learn useful skills and have fun doing it. These gifts also give The Big Guy and I the opportunity to spend time teaching them to use these gifts. Second, when our kids leave home, they will hopefully have a box of tools they can use to take care of themselves and their families.

I appreciate these gifts for a number of reasons. They don't cost an arm and a leg and keep us within our gift budget. I love seeing what my children can do with their tools. They are very proud! These gifts don't clutter our home with toys that make noise, have lots of small pieces or get lost over time. I also don't have to spend lots of time thinking about what to get them - it's all planned out for 14 years.

We do get our kids another gift to go along with the tools, but they really do like the tools.

I like the thought of one of my sons reaching into his toolbox when he is 25 and taking out the hammer we bought for him. The thought of one of our daughters using her tools to make a great meal for those she loves makes me happy. We pray they can use these simple gifts to bless others!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Couples Therapy

This is one of my favorite video clips! It makes The Big Guy and I laugh every time. To be honest, part of what makes it so funny for me is watching Ron squirm while Tim Hawkins is singing. Ron can't stand awkward situations and if a man actually said these things to his would be awkward.

So, this is Couple's Therapy because laughter is the best medicine!

Enjoy more of Tim Hawkin's video clips here. "Cletus Take the Reel" and "A Homeschool Family" are some of our favorites. Just click the Video tab.

Eating Summer

Several nights ago, I unearthed a gallon Ziploc full of frozen ratatouille in our deep freeze. Something else was on the menu for dinner that night, but it was set aside. I really needed to eat that ratatouille.

Until a couple of years ago, ratatouille was unknown to me. Yes, we'd seen the movie and while I loved it and how it portrayed the power and beauty of food, it didn't give me a hankering to give the actual dish a try.

My first taste came on Labor Day. We'd brought a big bag of tomatoes, zucchini and eggplant from our garden to church the day before and the next day a huge pot of ratatouille showed up, via our friends Stephanie and Joe, at our doorstep (along with a little black golden doodle puppy but that is another story). We had the dish for dinner. All I can say is, "Heaven!" It is truly amazing what a bunch of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onions, garlic and spices can become with some work and patience.

Ever since that day, ratatouille is the food of summer when the ingredients are plentiful, cheap, fresh and can be found right out the back door. It says "Summer" to me. The other night I needed to eat some summer. It was wonderful even after it had been frozen all these months.

And it got me thinking...

I think I needed to eat that food because somewhere in my brain the coming of summer and spring mean hope. Hope for long days, the color green, brownish kids and WARMTH. It seems I am not alone in my wanting for hope - just listen to the talk around you or on Facebook - everyone seems to be wanting spring to come. We all need some hope.

Hope is a powerful thing and it has pulled many people through troubled and dangerous times. I think of the stories I've read of prisoners of war, people suffering through cancer, those grieving a loved one and, recently, a man the Big Guy and I knew in college, Dan Wolley. Even little kids have hope. The hope of a sucker after her nap got little Abby through the first nap without her nuk.

Of course, hope can be placed in many different things - parents, big payout, a season, a quarterback, a generation. Unfortunately, not one of these things are completely reliable places to bestow hope. It might just snow in the middle of May.

God is the only place in which we can hope and be sure. 100% sure. For a number of reasons, the past several months have been hard around the homestead. Really, really hard. Life was a bit muddled at first, but we had the hope of Christ. All is not yet settled, but hope is there. Whether or not there is snow on the ground, we KNOW that Easter is coming! Praise God!

Psalms 39:7
"But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we[a]have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Are You Putting Cheese in the Toilet?

Cleaning the homestead takes up part of my day, but not as much as some people think. I've spent some time going around the house, thinking of chores for every room and delegating them to a capable child. I've got 4 chore ready children. If everyone does at least one chore a day; it really adds up. And, oh yes, I've made up a chore chart. (I love charts!) I've cleverly titled it the "How Can I Help?" chart so that my kids won't think they are actually working.

There were a few obstacles to overcome when I first started having kids do chores.

The first obstacle was internal. I had to get over the fact that, well, it just wasn't going to get done exactly as I would have liked it done. In my mind, I had some pretty high standards (my grandmother alphabetizes her spices and deep freeze and you should see my Mom's house). Amazingly, this hurdle wasn't that hard to jump. Apparently, the farther down the family tree you fall, the easier it is to lower your standards. Poor Ellie and Abby! Actually, I needed the help and knew it couldn't do it all by myself. Besides, if I squint my eyes in just the right way, I can't see the dirt...too much.

The second obstacle was the initial time investment. Not one my kids were born with the innate ability to empty the trash or make a bed or clean a bathroom. They've all had to be taught and taught again and reminded one more time. "No, you don't wipe the counter with the same rag you just used to clean around the bottom of the toilet." It has taken time, but it has been paid back to me a hundred fold. Just ask me the last time I cleaned the kitchen floor!

The final obstacle were the actual products they were going to be using to clean. After I saw Nathan, our oldest, spray Windex at the front of the refrigerator and all that spray bounce back in his face, I knew that wasn't going to work. I didn't want my kids cleaning with things that could injure them. So, I started looking around for safer cleaners. After ogling at lots of pricey and lovely sounding organic, bio-degradable, herbal based bottles online, I had a revelation.

Baking soda, water and vinegar!

Just look it up online - these things are amazing! The book that got me started with these is Talking Dirty with the Queen of Clean. Great book!

Plus, they can't hurt a kid. I mean, really, we eat them all the time. We've even done a school project with them when we reenacted the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii, complete with little paper house and trees in our sandbox.

To top it all off - they work great and they are CHEAP! I buy gallon jugs of white vinegar at the grocery store and 5lb bags of baking soda at Sam's Club. Get yourself a good spray bottle and an empty Parmesan cheese shaker and you are good to go.

We use vinegar and water in a spray bottle to clean counters, the outside of the toilet, mirrors, walls, appliances, and sometimes floors. The baking soda is used just like scouring powder (aka. Comet) in toilets, bathtubs and sinks. It even does a bang up job taking grease off of stove tops and cleaning stainless steel sinks.

So, grab yourself a few kids, some supplies from your pantry and get the party started.

(Disclaimer: From time to time, I do clean the toilet with some bleach. It just has to be done. Also, my oldest son does the kitchen floor and he uses a product called "Jungle Jake." Some chemicals, yes, but he can drive a car so I figure he'll be careful.)