Friday, April 30, 2010

Swaggy Mega Swagbucks Day

Search & Win

I woke this morning, cuddled with a few kids, moved my homemade yogurt from the oven to the fridge (I'm going to post about making it SOON) and switched on the computer. Bam! I earned 3 Swagbucks for using their toolbar. I did a search for "book clubs scholastic" and BAM! I earned another 36 Swagbucks! Yep, it's Mega Swagbucks Day. I figured I should remind you.

Fridays are Mega Swagbuck Days! This means that you could earn 30 or 50 or 100 Swagbucks while doing your usual internet searching. How do you like that? Fridays just got even better!

Want to learn more about Swagbucks, go here or click on the Swagbucks icon in the sidebar. Signing up is a breeze and you'll be on your way to free stuff like Starbucks or Amazon gift cards.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Getting Snugly

Not sure if snugly is an actual word, but I'm going with it.

I like snugly feeling clothes and towels and sheets and blankets. All things fleece are my friends, too. I do NOT like static cling and, since we live in a place that gets a bit cold for six months of the year, static cling is a part of my life. Furthermore, static cling and fleece are an almost deadly combination.

I am not a scientist, but I do have a sister-in-law who is one, which makes me pretty qualified. Based on my scientific observations while doing laundry, I think the electrical sparks I see while pulling a fleece blanket out of the dryer could probably run my Kitchen Aid mixer for a couple of hours. They are huge!

Enter fabric softener...

In the past, Bounce dryer sheets were my weapon of choice in my attempts to get that cozy, soft feeling in our clothes and the electricity out. They worked pretty well. Then one of our do-gooder friends came over and saw me folding whites on the living room couch. He saw the wadded up dryer sheet sitting next to me and made comment on all that plastic going into the ground. life upset yet again.

From that point on, I felt a little twinge of guilt each time I ripped off another sheet (even though I started cutting the sheets in half to make it seem not as bad). I bought a jug of fabric softener. At this point, you can now ask, "What about the plastic in the jug?" Yeah, I know. I thought about that, too. I tried the fabric softener, but wow, if you use it according to the manufacturer's suggestion on the bottle, that stuff goes fast. Way too fast for my budget! However, I did like the snugly feel and smell better than the dryer sheets.

Here is my solution:

I made my own dryer "sheets" out of old washcloths! The jug of fabric softener had a little spigot on it. So, now I just take my reusable dryer sheet (aka old yucky washcloth), put a tiny squirt of softener on it and throw it in the dryer. Ta Da! Comfy, cozy wearables with no static and less plastic in the ground.

As an added bonus, (yes, you knew this was coming) my dryer sheets are cheaper! If you watch your sales and coupons, it is pretty easy to score fabric softener for nearly free. My current bottle has lasted me for about a year or so, which is pretty amazing considering the amount of laundry generated here on the farm.

Any brand of softener will work; it doesn't have to be Snuggle. Great name for fabric softener, but I would like to go on record now stating that the bear's voice drives me nuts!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Abe Lincoln - Life Coach Extraordinaire

If you look for the bad in people, you will surely find it.

Abraham Lincoln

I bought myself a bottle of iced tea at the grocery store today. It was an odd thing for me to do and I don't remember the last time, if ever, I have done it. When I opened the bottle, the quote above was written under the lid. I've loved all things Abe Lincoln ever since I took a semester course on the man in college. I loved that class. What an amazing man! God truly placed him in just the right position in history.

This evening, I thought of the quote as I was in a conversation with some other homeschooling Moms. Believe it or not, homeschool Moms often talk about their kids and, well, schooling. Of course, our discussions lean towards curriculum and academic subjects. However, it seems that just as often, we talk about character issues - kindness, diligence, patience, obedience, joyfulness, perseverance and the list goes on.

All parents, homeschooling or not, think on these things and whether or not such characteristics can be found in their children. They are hugely important! However, as a homechooling mom, I sometimes feel like my children's lack of these things, their imperfections...their constantly thrown in my face all day, every day.

I can't get away from it when they head off to school, because school is here. I know when they speak unkindly to a fellow classmate (it's their brother). I see when they don't put their best effort into a math assignment. I bear the brunt of a bad attitude or frustration over a required task. It can be wearing, to say the least.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid I let all of this color how I "see" my students. Instead of seeing the amazing, fun, loving, bright kids they are, I tend to focus on the areas that are less than. To put it bluntly, I see the bad more than the good. Ouch! That hurts to admit. Who wants a teacher, let alone a Mom, that sees you in this light all the time?

It ought not be so if I am trying to see my children through the eyes of Christ. This doesn't mean I should never be critical of my kids; it is my role as parent to teach and admonish them. My instruction and guidance, however, need to be tempered with love and grace. And love, as we know, covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8).

So, thanks Abe! Thanks for reminding me of the way I should be looking at my kids and my spouse and my family and my friends and all those who come across my path.

Two Meals in One

I spend lots of time in the kitchen, lots of time. With 5 kids (2 of whom are teenage boys) and 1 husband (aka The Big Guy), a limited dining out budget and no relatives in the area to have us over to eat from time to time, I make lots of food. Thankfully, I love cooking. I'd cook all day if I didn't have anything else I was needing to do. However, I have a few other things besides cooking vying for my time each day and there's the rub.

So, when I find a recipe that is delicious, easy, cheap AND a time saver, I do a happy dance. I've found one and, lucky you, I'm going to share it. With the recipe below, you'll do an afternoon of hands off cooking and have at least 2 meals to show for it. You'll have more meals, if those for whom you cook aren't teenage boys.

(Note: This recipe involves pork which I know is a sensitive subject with some folks. We don't eat lots of pork. It isn't the best meat in terms of health, but well, it tastes good and when it is on sale for .99 per lb, it is a DEAL!)

Easy Pork Shoulder

From "Everyday Food," an amazing magazine put out by Martha Stewart

7 lb boneless pork shoulder

Yep, that's the whole list of ingredients for the basic recipe. I've used boneless and bone-in pork shoulder depending on what's on sale.

Preheat your oven to 450. Use a knife to score the fat (not the meat) in a diamond pattern. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place meat, fat side up, in roasting pan or Dutch oven with 1/2 c water. Roast until some of the fat has rendered - not the prettiest word. Basically, it means that some of the fat will have been cooked and turned into oil. Cutting the fat in a diamond pattern at the start, makes this happen faster. This should take about 45 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and turn your oven temp down to 350 degrees. Cover the pan tightly with foil (preferably some that has already served another use in your kitchen). Slide it back into the oven and cook until meat is very tender, about 4 hours. When the meat is cool enough to handle, remove whatever fat is left from the top of the roast. Get two forks and shred the meat. This stuff will be so tender you'll barely have to touch it and it'll start falling apart. Seriously.

Ta Da! You've got about 10 cups of yummy roasted pork to use as you please. I did this on Thursday of our garage sale with a 10 lb. roast. The recipe was exactly the same except that I cooked the meat for about 5 hours.

What do you do with your shredded meat?

Make BBQ pork sandwiches! Add your favorite BBQ sauce to some of the shredded meat in a pot and heat it up. Whip up some quick coleslaw - shred some cabbage, add some shredded carrot, 1 T cider vinegar, 1 T olive oil, some salt and pepper - and you've got a meal.

Make Pulled Pork Tacos! Put some olive oil in a pan, saute some onion, garlic and chipotle peppers (if you're feeling crazy) until tender this should take about 20 minutes. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Add pork and cook until heated. Serve in tortillas with whatever toppings float your boat - chopped avocados, fresh cilantro, salsa, cheese, sour cream. I'd suggest squeezing some lime juice onto the meat as it cooks and adding some black beans to the mix. Yum!

If you don't want to have pork twice in a week - you can use some and freeze the rest for 3 months or so. Just to give you an idea of what a 10 lb. roast can do, we had BBQ sandwiches one night and Pork Ragu (recipe to follow later) tonight. I used half of the shredded meat for each meal. We didn't have leftover BBQ pork - we were feeding an extra kid that night. We've got a little leftover ragu in the fridge from tonight's meal.

You could do this in your crock pot, but it won't get that amazing roasted flavor in your meat. Not that I have an opinion about which one is better or anything...

So, make some pork and pig out! Sorry, I couldn't resist. BONUS: If you live near a Copp's store, pork shoulder is on sale this week THROUGH TUESDAY ONLY for .99 per lb. Stock up!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Verse of the Week

I did it! Psalm 150 is in my arsenal, so to speak.

If your church follows the Church year (or if you do so on your own), you know that today was the Fourth Sunday of Easter or Christ the Shepherd Sunday. You've probably guessed that means the lectionary texts (see them here) have to do with Christ being our shepherd. This, of course, means that we are sheep.

In our discussions today, our six year old, Ellie, asked, "So, does that mean that sheep are special?" The Big Guy and I did our best to explain what an analogy was an how Christ was the Passover Lamb and also the shepherd. I think she got some of it.

Her question gave me some food for thought though. "Are sheep special?" The first thing that raced through my head when she asked her question was, "Sheep are actually really dumb." The actual animals are not the bright and we, in the whole analogy of Christ being our shepherd, well, we're not that bright either.

How many times have I doubted the Shepherd's care for me? How many times have I not followed him and gotten into trouble? I know he's the Good Shepherd, but I don't act on the knowledge. Hmmm...not too bright.

This week's Verse of the Week is Psalm 23 - such great words for those times when I start to wander away from my Lord, the Shepherd.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear
no evil,
For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
I feel like I'm cheating a bit, because I know these verses for the most part. I've helped the kids memorize them over the years. However, we could all use some brushing up on it so it'll be a family project.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ebates = Extra Cash

We don't do a ton of online shopping because, truth be told, we have yet to find an online thrift store and I find most store's clearance prices to be better than what I can online.

However, when I do shop online, I shop through Ebates, if at all possible.

Ebates is a great site that collects online coupons codes from MANY of different online retailers and puts them all together in one easy to use location. In addition to this, almost of all of the retailers who are affiliated Ebates will deposit a percentage of your purchase at their store into your Ebates account. Each quarter, Ebates will send you the balance of your account with them in a Big Fat Check (that's what they call them).

All you have to do is sign up with Ebates, find a store you need to shop at and click on it on the Ebates website. You'll see any coupons available and Ebates will redirect you to the store's site automatically. Ebates does the tracking of your purchase so they know how much to deposit into your account. You just have to enjoy whatever it was you purchased and wait for your Big Fat Check to arrive.

It's so easy! In the past year, our Big Fat Checks have totaled about $100.00. Not a ton of money, but we were glad to get it none the less. We've gone through Ebates to purchase plane tickets, clothes from Land's End, ink cartridges (the company gives us a 16% rebate on our purchase) and more.

Give Ebates a look and see what you think! If you're going to buy something online, you might as well get a rebate on it.

I almost forgot - Ebates will automatically give you $5.00 in your account when you sign up! Free money!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day the Little Farm Way

If you missed that yesterday was Earth Day, you must have spent the day locked in a dark closet. Did you noticed how Earth Day was all over everything - from TV ads, to the newspapers, to magazine covers. I even saw "ads" for Earth Day on grocery store shelves this week.

Without getting too political (that's the job of the Big Guy over here), let me say that Earth Day was not celebrated here on the Farm, at least not in the way that most people were celebrating. There are many "issues" wrapped in Earth Day that just don't quite jive with the way the thinking tends to lean here on the Farm. So, we skip it.

Don't get me wrong - we love our earth! We praise and thank God always and often for His creation. It is truly an amazing gift to be respected and studied and enjoyed! Because of this, we make a concerted effort to use the resources of the earth in ways that would be honoring to Him. We were put here to take care of the earth - to be stewards of it.

One of the ways we do this is by being mindful of what we do and do not throw away. The three "R's" are part of the thinking here - Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. We try not to buy things we don't need - including toys of which we have very few - and what we do buy is often from a thrift store. Conversely, when we don't need an item any longer, it heads off to the thrift store or into a rummage sale. We recycle lots - just ask our oldest son, Nate, who has to haul it all to the curb each week.

One of the areas in our home where I've found it easy to cut back on what we use is the kitchen. Please don't get weirded out here and, if you are a personal friend who eats here from time to time, please come back,...I've got something to admit. I reuse ziploc bags and foil and rarely use plastic wrap. I know - it isn't enough of an Earth Day event to get me on the Sierra Club's top 100 people list, but it is still a good thing.

The first time I ever saw anyone reuse a ziploc bag was when the Big Guy was in seminary. Our next door neighbors were preparing to head out on the mission field. I often saw the plastic bags turned inside out and stuck over other dishes while drying. To be honest, at first I thought it must be a missionary thing. You know, those people have to be very resourceful and all. (Big stereotype, I know.)

Over time, I got to thinking about it, gave it a try and realized, it just made sense. Why should I throw all the plastic in the trash when it could be use many more times? So, now after we've used a bag, I turn it inside out and throw it in the water as I wash the other dishes. They dry in the sink along with the other dishes and then folded and put into a drawer. I do NOT reuse bags that had raw meat of any sort in them.

I also reuse aluminum foil. This is really easy. We don't have a microwave here on the Farm so I reheat things like muffins and tortillas in the oven. I always have a couple pieces of foil folded in a drawer and ready to go. If a bit of food gets on these, I just wipe it with a damp cloth. I don't reuse foil that had raw meat on it or is really oily and dirty. You know what I mean.

Plastic wrap or saran wrap rarely makes an appearance in our home. I try to use bowls and such that have their own covers instead of wrapping plastic around the top. Sometimes I use foil instead. Other times, when I've a large item that needs covering like a pizza I've make ahead or a few loaves of bread, I wrap it in a CLEAN kitchen garbage bag.

Yes, I know - kitchen garbage bags are plastic. I've been through this in my mind several times. Here's my thinking - we don't use that many (to my mind) compared to the number of people we've got around here. I bought a box of 150 bags last July and we just had to get a new one in mid-March. Also, once I have used the bag to cover food, it goes under the sink and we reuse it in the trash.

So, there you go. Have I got you thinking about how you can celebrate Earth Day just a bit? Coincidentally, reusing all these items can save you a bunch of money.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Big Garage Sale in Progress

I wish you could have seen our garage, driveway and yard at 8am this morning!  It was packed to gills.  Seven families have brought over their "rummage" for the sale.

Now, just 3 hours later - I am flabbergasted at how much is gone.  Amazing!

We'll keep you posted on how it all ends up.  Rummage sales are always a tricky - sometimes it seems they are a bunch of work for $5.00 of profit and other times it is a bunch of work for $500.00.  I've held several sales here on the farm and we have done pretty well. 

It seems this current sale is off to a wonderful start...

No one has asked to buy the chickens, although they did take one lady by surprise when she looked in our back yard.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

100 Eggs!

We've done it! Well, I guess I should say THEY'VE done it. The Gals have laid over 100 eggs in just about a month. They moved in March 19th and got right to work. In addition to the eggs they've been giving us, they've done a great job eating a bunch of the weeds growing in our backyard. They've also been weeding and fertilizing our garden.

Their only downfall - they scratched up the peas we put into the garden. Despite Farmer Ron's best efforts at chicken proofing the pea patch, they had the pea seeds for lunch.

Meanwhile, we've been eating eggs with yolks the color of oranges. Yum!

You can keep up on the how hard the Gals have been working by watching The Egg Count on the sidebar.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Edible Landscaping

It probably seems that I have a big green thumb since the title of this blog has the word Farm in it and all. Well, here's a little secret between you and me - my thumb isn't very green at all. It's just that growing things actually isn't all that hard. God has been so generous to us!

I love to see colorful flowers all around the outside of our home. However, with very few exceptions, I NEVER plant annuals (plants that die each year and need to be replanted the next). If a plant or flower is going to make in the flower gardens here on the Farm, they've got to fend for themselves and come back year after year. First and foremost, I'm raising kids, not flowers. Little by little, our perennial (plants that come back year after year on their own) gardens have grown. It has been fun and satisfying to watch them take root and spread, especially since they're doing so on their own for the most part.

Thus far, the veggie and flower gardens have been two separate things. Farmer Ron has been in charge of the veggies (we do the planning together, he does the planting and tending, I do the preserving) and the flowers have been my domain. This year, I'm going to let some veggies into "my" gardens.

We're moving in the territory of Edible Landscaping. We are attempting to grow more of our own food on the Farm, which means we need to be smarter about how we work. Flowers are nice and all, but if I can get some food and while adding beauty to our home for the same amount of work, well, you can guess which way I'll be leaning.

Not sure how it is all going to play out, but here is the plan for now. We're going to try growing pole beans up the sides of our garage. There are already flower beds in this location. So, the flowers will grow in the front of the plots and beans will grow up the back. This will give us some more color and also add some green to a big gray wall. We'll be planting some pretty red pepper plants in big pots to place outside instead of geraniums or some such things. There will also be some herbs planted outside our back door - very close to the kitchen, so I can pop out and pick them while making dinner.

If you don't have a garden, incorporating some edible plants in amongst your flower beds is a great way to start growing some of your own food. Can you put a tomato or pepper plant in a pot on your deck instead of those petunias? Go out and walk around your yard. I'll bet you could find a few places you could plant some lettuce or swiss chard or beans!

As I said, my thumb is only very faintly pale green, so it's all an experiment. I encourage you to give it a try, too! Doesn't Edible Landscaping sound like delicious territory?
(I feel like I need to add this: I said above that growing things isn't that hard. What I mean is growing things on the scale that we do here on the Farm isn't that hard. Farmers who grow food for LOTS of people, the ones who earn their living farming - that's some hard work and I am very grateful to them! Also, the whole idea of growing things isn't hard - it's miraculous. Dig up some dirt, place a seed in the ground, give it some water and wait. The wonder that God works on that seed in the ground is amazing!)

Coupons, Coupons, Coupons

There's been an addition to the Little Farm in the City. Have you noticed? I am feeling very proud of myself. I figured out how to add a gadget from to my blog. This is a big accomplishment for Mrs. Not-Very-Good-with-Computers.

So, if you want to see what coupons are available before you plan your weekly shopping trips - you can just click on the sidebar gadget, find some you need and print away.

HINT- you can print out TWO of each coupon per computer. After you hit print the first time, wait a bit, then hit the back button on your computer. Next, hit the refresh button and you should get yourself another copy of each coupon.

Right now, there are some great General Mills cereal coupons available through the sidebar link that can be used at Copps this week. They have a great deal going - buy 6 boxes of General Mills cereal, get $10.00 taken off your order AND get coupons for a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. You can use coupons for the cereal to get even more taken off your bill. If you get your total (before coupons and discounts) over $25.00, you can get the value of 10 coupons ($1.00 or less) doubled!

I think I'm going to be able to get 6 boxes of cereal, 2 gallons of milk, 2 boxes of Fruit Chiller popsicles (coupons also available via the gadget), and 2 boxes of Reynolds foil for about $5.00 total. Plus, I'll get coupons for milk and eggs to use on my next trip.

That's what using coupons can do to your grocery total!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Verse of the Week

Well, it's going to be tougher than I thought. I didn't get Psalm 150 completely memorized. Not the best way to start our a new habit, but I'm just keeping it real.

The kids are always working on memorizing various Scripture, poetry and speeches for an Elocution class which met this past week. I listened to all of these to help them get ready and my brain was a bit muddled. (However, I do have a good handle on some verses in Colossians.) This whole sharing my brain with 5 other people is taking its toll.

So, I'm going to use this week to get MY memory work nailed down and then move on. You can see what I'll be working on again here.

I'll be posting about some of our favorite tools for memory work soon!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Saving Money in Green Bay

A homeschool friend of mine has a blog called Green Bay Savers (get it-sounds like that football team around here?) where she lists great deals in our area and beyond. I've been adding a few posts on the site also.

If you live in the area and are headed out the door today, you might want to check out the GB Savers post on getting some cheap chicken at Festival Foods. Meat is a harder item to score for really cheap but there are some coupons out there that make it about .60 lb when combined with a store coupon. The sale at Festival ends today.

I stocked up there this week!

Hint: The words Green Bay Savers above is a link. For some reason, I can't get the color of links changed to one that sticks out, so I bolded the text instead.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Left or Left

Teaching a child their left and right is hard for me. Not because it is technically challenging or requires some secret knowledge...well maybe it does require secret knowledge come to think of it.

No, teaching which way to go if you need to turn left for me is hard because I've always had a hard time distinguishing the two directions myself. North, south, east and west aren't issues in my brain, but to this day, left and right can stump me.

My second grade PE teacher in West Lafayette, Indiana is one of the heroes of my life. I clearly remember her always tanned face, salt and pepper hair, the whistle around her neck. Apparently, my struggle with directions was obvious in her class. She took me aside one day and gave me the key, the secret knowledge to the world of never getting lost and always knowing which hand to use during the Pledge of Allegiance.

She told me to hold out my two hands palms down, fingers and thumb extended. When I did so, she pointed out the fact that the pointer finger and thumb on my left hand formed the letter "L" and that the word Left began with "L."

The room got suddenly brighter, birds started singing, my life was changed.

I've used this piece of knowledge repeatedly in my life. It came in most handy while taking my driving test when I was 16. I practiced sticking up my "L" slyly so that the driving instructor wouldn't see me doing it if I needed a little directional guidance on my test.

Over the course of kids, I've used the "L" to teach my sons their left and right. It seems they didn't need much help with the concept however. They just instinctively knew which was which. My oldest daughter has been a different story. (Which leads me to believe that this might be a girl thing except that my sisters didn't have the same problem I did from what I remember.)

I taught her the "L" trick a long while ago, but it was apparent to me the other day that she hadn't gotten the concept. She was riding her bike with me as I walked and pushed the stroller. Needless to say, she was a bit faster than I and would come to the corners before me. I'd yell ahead which way I'd like her to turn to which she asked, "Which way is that?" Hmmmmm..."Don't you remember the "L" trick with your hands?" I asked when I had caught up to her.

She said, "Well, I tried that thing you showed me and I saw the "L," but my other hand didn't make an "R" so I figured it couldn't be working."

I laugh so hard I cried, but only after she was around the corner and on her way.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Big Guy's Blog

The Big Guy has had a some thought provoking posts on worship in the past few days. Below is a link to the first in the series, if you want to start at the beginning (which is a very good place to start...for any Sound of Music fans).

Here's the title of the post: Just About the Worst Worship Service Ever

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

My Ruler Isn't Your Ruler

The Big Guy and I have been blessed with five kids. We homeschool them. We have commitments with sports, music lessons, church activities, friends and more outside of our home. These children need to be fed and clothed. The place where we live needs care also. It's a full life.

I'm often asked by other woman, "How do you do all that?" This question is often accompanied by statements like these, "I could never do that" or "I feel like I can't keep up with my two kids" or something along those lines.

Here's my answer to all of the above: "I DON'T do it all! You haven't been called to be me."

Everyone compares themselves to others. It is human nature. But for some reason, us gals seem to do it all the time. We make ourselves miserable in the process. Trying to measure your life with someone else's ruler is a pretty sure fire to suck the joy right out of it!

Trust me - I've been there and done that.

I have a wonderful friend of many years who is just a bit ahead of me in the whole wife and mother thing. She is a couple of years older, married before me and had her first child just a bit before my oldest, Nate, was born. I love this woman and think she is amazing. Because of this, I watched what she does in her life. I firmly believe that God gave her to me as a friend to help me along in my journey with Him, my husband and my family.

However, somewhere along the way many years back, I started comparing what she did in her life with what I was doing in my life. I started using her ruler instead of mine to see how I measured up. It seemed I was coming up short. It made me frustrated, depressed and self-doubt started to creep in.

Thankfully, after not too long, I realized what I was doing. God has not called me to live her or anyone else's life. He has a plan for me that is mine alone. As long as I am striving to live that life and using that ruler (the one God has for me), it is all good.

It is a good and blessed thing that we gals have friends. God uses other women to teach and admonish us. We're supposed to encourage one another. It's a good thing to watch others and learn.

However, please leave my ruler in my junk door. You've got your own!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Happy Half Birthday!

Here on the farm, we celebrate 5 birthdays and 5 half birthdays each year. Would that be 10 birthdays or 7.5 birthdays total? I haven't figured out the math on that one...I just know it requires a lot of baking. Let me tell you how this craziness all began:

Somewhere around the time our oldest son was almost 6 months past his 5th birthday, he heard me tell someone he was almost 5 and 1/2. He was fascinated by this idea. Lots of discussion ensued. He came to think that 5 1/2 was an actual age and that the day he turned this new age was his Half Birthday.

We only had two kids back then and I wasn't really thinking about the consequences of my actions, but I made him a half birthday cake on the day he turned 5 1/2. I was such a rookie back then. It was a cold and dreary end-of-January day. The 2 boys were taking naps. Making a cake sounded like a great way to help perk things up a bit around the farm.

So, I whipped up a round cake with the yellow cake recipe in my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook. I turned it out onto a pretty plate and let it cool. I frosted the whole thing and then cut it in half, placing one half on top of the other.

What I ended up with looked like a layer cake that had been cut in half - a HALF birthday cake.

A tradition was born on that late January day.

Now we celebrate every child's half birthday. Nothing big and fancy, just a half birthday cake, a partially burned candle (a half candle...see the theme?) and our family singing half of the birthday song. No presents or decorations or guests, just the 7 of us celebrating one of the amazing and precious lives God has blessed our family with. The WHOLE tradition is a good thing.

The photo is of Ellie who recently celebrated her 6 1/2 birthday. You'll notice the cake is chocolate and a bit crumbly...not my usual Half Birthday cake. Ellie LOVES to bake cakes from mixes and she can do so all by herself, so I let her. It was a big step for me because I like things to look the way I like them to look, if you know what I mean. Sigh. I've come a long way...

Monday, April 12, 2010

We Love Cabbage

It's true. Here on the farm cabbage is one of our favorite veggies. I can honestly say I that I don't ever remember eating cabbage once when I was growing up. My Mom didn't use cabbage in meals that I can recall and the only other time I was around it was when it was in the form of coleslaw with lots of mayo.

That whole creamy coleslaw thing is not my cup of tea. The cabbage seems soggy and, well, I am not a big mayo salad person to begin with. Don't worry, if you love creamy coleslaw, I'll still eat with you at a picnic and you won't even have to worry about me asking for a bite of your slaw.

It wasn't until we'd been married for a bit and in our "lean" Seminary years, that I first cooked with cabbage. It is a really cheap veggie and it's good for you. Cheap and healthy - that has frugal food budget written all over it. I found a recipe for stir fried cabbage and carrots in The More with Less Cookbook, one of my all time favorite cookbooks. We loved it then and it's a family favorite now.

Since that first go around with cabbage, we've given it a try in all sorts of dishes - salads, soups, steamed, sauerkraut. (Although the sauerkraut experiment was a big stinky flop.) We love it raw! If a head of cabbage is left out unattended on the kitchen counter, the swarming hordes that are my children will devour it in a morning.

Tonight I tried preparing cabbage in a new way - roasting. Oh my goodness! It was amazingly tasty and so EASY. We scarfed down two heads of cabbage during dinner.

Here's how to make yourself a little piece of cabbage heaven:

Grease a baking sheet with olive oil. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Place a head of green cabbage bottom side down on a cutting board. Slice the cabbage as you'd slice a loaf of bread, placing the slices on the baking sheet. You want the slices about as thick as a slice of bread. Not Wonder Bread slices, but a good hearty yummy bread. Brush or spray the cabbage on the tray with olive oil - just give them a good oily sheen. You don't want them to be all greasy. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 40-45 minutes. You'll know they're done when the are soft. They'll also have some dark brownish parts. You want those- they are my favorite parts.

That's it! See - I wasn't lying when I said it was easy. The cabbage gets sweet and tender, but not mushy. It's just a wonder to behold and eat. And did I mention that it was easy and healthy and cheap?

Here's a little bit of information about why cabbage is so good for you and how to buy to it here.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Verse of the Week

I'm challenging myself to put more Scripture to memory. It's something I've been thinking about for a while, but never quite get around to actually doing. Isn't that sad? I've procrastinated memorizing the Holy Scriptures like I procrastinate doing the dishes or starting a load of laundry. Well, it's time to get off the couch...

I'm going to attempt to memorize at least a few verses each week. Part of my previous procrastination had to do with coming up with what I should be memorizing. I mean the Bible is a pretty big book, full of lots of verses, where should I start with my memorizing? Isn't it silly? I let the process of deciding what I should be doing get in the way of actually doing it like when I think I can't open our home to others because I don't have it all perfectly decorated and in order. Sigh...

That's all over now. I'm just going to do it.

I'll get my weekly verse(s) from one of the texts assigned to the current Sunday in the Revised Common Lectionary. The Lectionary is a list of readings/texts that are meant to be used in church services for every Sunday of the year. They follow the church year, ie. Easter, Pentecost, Advent, and so on. I didn't grow up in a church that followed the lectionary or did much with the church year. Did you know that Christmas doesn't actually start until Christmas Day and that it lasts for twelve days? The song "Twelve Days of Christmas" makes a lot more sense now. But I digress...

I've learned to appreciate all of this as I've gotten older and the Big Guy has worked on me.

So, this week I am going to memorize Psalm 150.
Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with stringand pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!

It is a bit scary to be throwing this "out there," but maybe having the world know my goal will keep me a bit more accountable.

I'd love some company in my challenge. So, what do you think? Are you up for memorizing a verse or more each week?

The link is to the Revised Common Lectionary site put out by Vanderbilt Divinity Library. It is a great resource. We are currently in Year C of the Lectionary which is divided into three years which means you'd hit most of the Bible over the course of those three years. You can find the texts for each week. Each week also has a great photo of some wonderful art that relates to one of the texts of the themes of the week. Give it a look!

Getting Paid to Shop

I love getting paid to go shopping! I mean, really, does it get any better than that?

This week I did some shopping at Copps (a local grocery store), Walgreens and Target. All told I spent about $31.00. However, those three envelopes in the photo contain rebate forms for some of the items I bought. In a few weeks, I'll be getting checks and a gift card back for $19.50! So, it's like I only spent $11.50!

At Copps (in two transactions and with double coupons on both):
2 tubs Pampers wipes
1 package Pampers diapers
2 package Luv's diapers
4 cans of frozen juice (We never get these! They are hidden. The apple juice is to make granola.)
9 lbs pork roast for some yummy dinners
2 gallons milk
3 boxes of pasta
7 cans of tomatoes (The ones I canned are all gone. This won't happen next year!)
A few other things I can't remember

At Target:
2 bottles of Seventh Generation dish soap
1 spray bottle of Seventh Generation cleaning spray

At Walgreens:
1 box "Mom" stuff, you know what I mean (that's what we call it around here)
3 2 packs of Pilot Frixion pens
1 big jar of peanuts (a staple snack around the farm)
2 bottles of dish soap

From my Copps shopping, I am getting back a $10.00 Mastercard card to spend wherever I'd like. This rebate is for buying $25.00 worth of Proctor and Gamble products in one purchase. My Target trip is earning me back a $5.00 check from a Seventh Generation rebate (I only spent about $4.75 there.) Walgreens was the best this week. I spent .58 for all those pens (after the sale price and coupon from Walgreens) and the rebate from them is going to be a $4.50 check.

You can do these rebates, too! I tried to find a link for the Proctor and Gamble rebate, but couldn't. I saw it online here and got the form for it in a tearpad at the store. Just check out the links and you can get paid to shop like me!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

I Almost Went Back to Bed

There is a saying, "Things happen in threes." I've no clue where it came from and I am not at ALL a superstitious person, but I'd be lying if I said that phrase didn't cross my mind this morning.

About 6am my little curly Blondie alarm clock went off with her usual "Hello! I'm awake. Come and get me!" (This is really what she says over and over and over.) I have yet to find the snooze button on this particular alarm clock. I grabbed the gal and we headed downstairs.

The first thing I noticed was that there seemed to be a strange kind of whitish reflection coming in through the windows. We looked outside and were greeted with this:

Yep, 5 or more inches of snow. It was beautiful to look at, I'll give you that, but it was SNOW. Just when the trees were budding and we've been thinking spring.

As we rounded the corner into the living room, this is what I saw next:

Apparently, the dog had some issues in the middle of the night. Have I told you how much I love our dog?

It was at this point that the above saying came into my head...and I almost went back to bed.

Not sure if I should have posted that 2nd photo. Truth be told, I have a hard time looking at it, but just thought you might want to walk in my shoes...

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Season of Rummage Sales

Rummage sale season is upon us here in the lands of snow and ice. I am not a hard core rummage saler. If I was really a frugal zealot like one of my favorite frugal books, The Tightwad Gazette (see here) describes, I'd live for this time of year. But I don't.

I'm not sure why. I frequent thrift stores on a regular basis, so I don't have any objection to buying used stuff. It might be the hours a true rummage saler has to keep. Those sales start pretty early on Saturday mornings and I have become a gal who likes to take it easy on a Saturday morning, if I can help it. Yeah, that's probably it. Thrift stores are open during hours when I am actually awake and functioning.

While I don't do much garage sale shopping, I do hold a sale of my own every couple of years. I am pretty ruthless about clutter around the farm - fodder for another post. We donate lots of items to a thrift store/food pantry in town, but when we need some extra cash a rummage sale is a great way to go. We're actually going to be having one at the end of the month.

But back to the point of this post...

SOMETIMES I do go shopping at garage sales. I go when I have some specific items that we need and I know that I can get them MUCH cheaper at a rummage sale than anywhere else, even a thrift store (which is why I have never earned my Frugal Zealot badge - I know where the cheapest prices are and I don't always shop there). The local newspaper and craigslist are my favorite places to scout out the sales. If I see one that is offering an item we need or it seems like they might have the item based on other items they're advertising, I'll give it a shot.

This year canning supplies are at the top of my list. I've gotten all of my canning equipment from rummage sales over the years. It wouldn't have broken the bank to go out and buy new items, but getting it all at rummage sales made the initial investment next to nothing. In the photo above are my beauties - the big processing pot with a jar rack in it, the funnel used to fill jars, some lids and seals, a few jars and the grabber thingy that takes the jars out of the hot water. These things, plus another big pot or two to cook up your tomatoes and such, are all you need to start canning.

I encourage you to give rummage sale shopping a try - just make a list of what you need before you head out the door. Just a warning; It's easy to get sucked into buying that amazingly cool set of dishes because they are practically giving them away or that gigantic box of legos because your kids will LOVE you or that life size bust of Elvis because, well, if you find one of those at a rummage sale you HAVE to buy it. Something like that will definitely come in handy some day.

I'll be on the look out for canning jars, rings and seals this year to hold what will hopefully be a bumper crop here on the farm so don't take them all if you get there before I do, ok? Leave some for the lazy gal, please.

Oh yes, and I was serious about the Elvis thing. Think of what you could do with that!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Chore Chart, My Friend

If you walk into our kitchen, besides the dishes in the sink and the crumbs on the floor that the dog has rejected, you'd see the front of our fridge is full of charts. We've got a daily schedule, a weekly meal chart and the chore chart, which I have cleverly named the "How Can I Help Chart." It just sounds more fun, don't you think?

The chart is really just a table that I made on the computer. Down the side are the days of the week and across the top are kids' names. You get the privilege of your name on the chart when you're about four here on the farm. It sounds crazy but all of the kids who've turned four here get excited when their name is put on the chart.

Everyone has at least one job on the chart for each day of the week, except for Sundays, of course. Sundays are Sabbath. This doesn't mean that each child only has to do their one designated job each day - we're not that nice of parents. All of the kids are expected to keep their rooms moderately picked up, help take care of animals and do whatever work might come up during the day. Often times, I'll look around our main floor and see that a gigantic stuff bomb has exploded. I'll grab everyone and we'll have things put back to rights in less than 10 minutes. Work that like is just part of being in our family.

The How Can I Help Chart lists jobs that we need done to help keep this place running on all cylinders and keep the Health Department at bay - like bathroom cleaning and getting toilet paper into bathrooms and emptying trash cans. As our kids multiplied, I soon realized that I'd need their help to keep a semi-clean and happy home. I also quickly saw that it was going to take WAY more mental energy than I had to come up with chores that needed to be done each day. Thus, the chore chart was born.

I started the chart by keeping a list of things I did or that I asked the kids to do over the course of a few weeks. Once I had that list, I asked myself how often a specific task needed to be done and what age child could be taught to complete it. I wrote the jobs in pencil into a hand drawn table and we had our first chore chart.

I only had 2 kids who were on the chart at that time, but it was a lifesaver! Now, I never had to think about whether there was toilet paper in the bathrooms (or get stranded in the bathroom trying to get a 4 year old to bring me some toilet paper). I knew that every Wednesday, it was Jake's (who was 4) job to put toilet paper in each bathroom. One more thing I could cross off my mental list which is huge, because the older I get and the more kids we have, my mental capabilities seem to be decreasing exponentially.
The chart changes from time to time - usually about twice a year as seasons change or kids get older or it seems a change would make things run a bit smoother. That's the beauty of the whole thing. I can see a need arise, make a simple change and then let it go. It's on the chart and off my mind.

I've looked at elaborate chore chart systems that can be purchased, but to be honest, they just seemed like more work to me. More to keep track of. Like I'd spend more time keeping up with the system than it was worth. So we've kept it simple all these years.

Here's the other side of the whole thing...they probably can't see it now, but the chore chart is good for my kids. Yes, they are learning responsibilty and what it takes to run a home, both great lessons, but there is more.

Remember when I said that my four year olds get excited when they get a line on the chart? They really do (the big guys would probably deny this). I think they get excited because they are proud that they are now considered "big" and needed and able to serve others. Everyone has a part to play in our family; we're all on the same team. Yes, cleaning the kitchen floor isn't a whole bunch of fun, but learning the value of your service to others is...well...priceless.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What to Do with All That Ham

If you are like most people, you probably ate some ham with your Easter celebration dinner. If you did, chances are you have some leftover ham. We did and we do. I am so happy

I love cooking one meal and then using part of that meal to make another meal. It always feels like cheating a bit because part of the work is already done. Yesterday when I was putting away the part of our ham that wasn't devoured, my mind was already going...split pea soup, navy bean soup, quiche, pocket sandwich thingys or something else.

By putting ham away, I mean that I cut it all off the bone, diced it up a bit and put it into a ziploc bag. It will sit in the fridge for a couple of days until I use it. I'll probably get more than one meal from it all.

Last night when I sat down to plan our meals for the week, I decided to go with something else...Linguine with Ham and Mushrooms. (Actually, I should just call it Linguine with Ham and Veggies because I am the only mushroom lover here and I never but them in.) This is a favorite around here and I rarely make it because, well, we don't have ham that much.

Looking at what I've put into the bag in our fridge, I think I'll double the recipe and freeze one portion for another meal. Oh my, it'll be like cheating twice from that one ham. Doing some planning pays off big dividends in meal planning!

So, just in case you are like most people and you've got some extra ham around this week, here's the recipe for Linguine with Ham and Veggies.

Linguine with Ham and Veggies

1 lb package of linguine or some sort of pasta, we use whatever we've got on hand
2 T butter or oil
2 T flour
1/2 t salt
1 12 oz can of evaporated milk, I've used regular milk before, you've just got to work with the amounts a bit
1 1/3 c water
chicken bouillon for the water, 1 cube
4 c ham
1/2 c Romano or Parmesan cheese
veggies - any of the following, mix them up if you like:
2 sliced green peppers
a few huge handfuls of spinach
fresh or canned mushrooms
fresh or frozen peas

Decide on your veggies. If you are using fresh ones, put a bit of oil in a sauce pan and saute the veggies until they are just tender. Start cooking your pasta. Dump the veggies in a bowl and set aside. Melt the butter in the veggie pan, add the flour and salt. Stir until thick and add milk, water and chicken bouillon. Cook this over medium heat until it starts to thicken. You'll need to stir while it is cooking so it doesn't scorch.

At this point, you've made the sauce and have a decision to make. If you're good with the thickness of the sauce, move on. If you like a thicker sauce, mix a couple of tablespoons of cold water and an equal amount of flour in a cup until it is smooth. Add this to the pot and stir for a bit. It should make your sauce thicker.

Somewhere in here, your pasta should be done. Drain it and set aside.

Add the veggies and ham to the pot and cook until all is warm. You can either add the cheese to the sauce now or wait and sprinkle it over the top of your final product. It like it in the sauce and on top. I like cheese.

If you are going to freeze this - stop now! Let it cool and put it into a gallon ziploc bag. Ziploc bags are great for freezing sauces because they lay flat and you can fit LOTS in your freezer. Don't freeze the pasta - cooked and thawed pasta should not be eaten by anyone in my opinion. Ugh. Just don't make the pasta until the day you want to eat the sauce.

You can serve this two ways - either mix the pasta and sauce together in a pot or serve the sauce over your plated pasta like spaghetti.

There aren't a great deal of herbs or spices in this dish. I haven't found any that I just love in it. However, I usually mince a few cloves garlic and saute it with the veggies. Garlic tastes great in pretty much everything and I am in LOVE with the smell of sauteing garlic. Pure bliss! Some white wine added to the sauce is also really delicious.

Again, you get the idea. As usual, I haven't ever made this dish the same way twice. That's part of the fun of cooking!

How are you "hamming" it up with your leftover?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted

This is an amazing hymn about the most amazing event. Read the words first a few times and then listen to it.

Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted
by Thomas Hardy

Stricken, smitten and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
'Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, 'tis He, 'tis He!
'Tis the long expected prophet.
David's Son, yet David's Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
'Tis a true and faithful Word.

Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.

Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.

Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall every be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.

See the words and download a midi file of the instrumentals of the hymn if you want to sing along here.

Listen to the song being sung here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Forced Family Fun

Forced Family Fun. Yep, you read that right. We force our family to have fun --together! We are that mean and unreasonable. Shocking, isn't it?

Forced Family Fun isn't a regularly scheduled thing - sometimes it is planned, sometimes it is spontaneous. The Big Guy and/or I will decide that all the Farm inhabitants (except the dog and chickens) need some time together to laugh and just be. You know those days when everyone seems just a bit out of sorts and a tad bit grumpy? Those are perfect days to force your family to have fun!

It probably sounds odd saying that we need time together. I mean we homeschool for pete's sake. The kids and I are together A LOT! Thankfully, the Big Guy is around lots, too. The 7 of us eat almost every meal together actually. That's some together time.

Forced Family Fun is a different type of together. Let me explain...

On any given night, Big Guy will announce at dinner that we'll be having Forced Family Fun at, say 7 pm. All of the kids start clapping and laughing joyfully. (Not. The older guys will maybe roll their eyes just the tiniest bit because some part of their plans for the night just put off for a while. The younger kids DO get excited.) We'll get dinner cleaned up and then at 7 pm gather in the living room. Once there, the plans for Forced Fun are announced. The Fun is often a game or a book, sometimes a board or card game, but more often than not we play charades.

How's that for some Forced Family Fun? Charades!

Truth be told it is a great game to play in a family. Lots of other games are very age specific. Take Candy Land (PLEASE take it from my home!). The 6 year old would love to play Candy Land, but the older boys would rather sort socks or turn compost or, well, you get the idea. Everyone in our family can act from the littlest on up the line. What kid doesn't like to act?

Usually, the Big Guy writes down a bunch of books, movies, characters, animals, "things," people, even sayings that can be acted out and hands them out as we go along. Sometimes, the older kids make up their own. I give the Big Guy his assignments. We've taught them the basics of the game like how to indicate that the thing to be guessed has two words in it. Sometimes we get very fancy and break it down into syllables. Yes, we're crazy around here. It doesn't take long before we are all laughing and yelling and enjoying the gift of each other.

What does Forced Family Fun accomplish? I just told you... "It doesn't take long before we are all laughing and yelling and enjoying the gift of each other."

Providence Tutorials

Really great things, when discussed by little men, can usually make such men grow big.


The Big Guy has started a great new thing for homeschoolers in the Green Bay area! Homeschool moms you are going to love how this will help you in teaching your older kids.

Check this out...

Providence Tutorials -

He is an amazing teacher and loves great books and Scripture. The quote above is from his website.


Things are sprouting around Little Farm in the City! It's so exciting! Spring is here. Hope is abounding, especially during this Holy Week.

We've got our little mini-greenhouse going in the basement. Ok, that sentence makes it sound a bit more elaborate than it actually is... We've got a card table set up in the basement under a grow light. On the table are three trays of dirt with seeds planted in each little compartment of the trays. One of the trays has Tollies Sweet Peppers which we planted over a week ago. We've already got 4-5 pepper plants poking their little green heads out. The other trays are full of Listada de Gandia, Amish Paste, Sheboygan, Wisconsin 55, and Gold Medal.

Farmer Ron also rigged up some great looking frames for a couple of our garden plots. These are new to us this year. He used PVC pipe and screws. They will be covered with plastic by the weekend. I think they look like little covered wagon tops. Very cute! The idea is to leave them up for a couple of weeks or so to get the ground underneath nice and warm and unfrozen (yes, only 5 or so inches down we've got frozen ground still). Doing this means we can plant a few things like sugar snap peas and salad greens SOON! Fresh veggies here we come.

(Please remind me of my excitement now this coming September when I am sure you'll find me writing post about how tired I am of canning all these fresh veggies!)