Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day!

Two free little girls twirling in a field.

I have never been able to think of the day as one of mourning; I have never
quite been able to feel that half-masted flags were appropriate on Decoration
Day. I have rather felt the flag should be at the peak because those
whose dying we commemorate rejoiced in seeing it where their valor placed
it. We honor them in a joyous, thankful, triumphant commemoration of what
they did. Benjamin Harrison

Memorial Day is the day set aside in the United States for the remembrance and honoring of those who have served in our military and have fallen while doing so. It began during the Civil War and was first called Decoration Day. In fact, our 90 year old neighbor still calls it such.

Knowing the younger kids were going to ask me about what Memorial Day is all about I did a quick google search and found the above quote. I thought it interesting because most of what I've ever heard or read of Memorial Day is about mourning and, to be sure, there is that in remembering the men and women who have died securing freedoms around the world. However, I do think, like Benjamin Harrison, that those who volunteer to protect liberty would want the day to be one of celebration also. Their deaths should not be remembered simply because of the loss they brought to us all. Their deaths should be remembered because of the great gifts - freedom, liberty and, ultimately, peace - brought to our country and the world.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Something to Think About...

Here's a post to get you thinking. It is along the same lines as what I've been pondering over the past several months and posted about when I wrote "My Ruler Isn't Your Ruler." Kendra, at Preschoolers and Peace, says things much better than I. We've always been in the "homeschooling isn't for everyone" camp which means that in some circles I just keep my mouth shut. However, these thoughts lap over into much more than whether or not we choose to homeschool our children.

Trails and the Answers for Very Messy Lives by Kendra Fletcher at Preschoolers and Peace

Kendra is the friend of Lisa, my best friend from high school (Lisa actually does exist it's just that no one in Wisconsin has ever met her). Consequently, I've been able to spend time with Kendra over the years. She is very wise and lots of fun to boot.

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Friday, May 28, 2010

School's Out!

Whew! It's done. The Jung Academy of...well, we don't actually have a school name. I've meant to make one up but just never got around to it.

Despite our lack of a name, we're still done with school for the year. As of today everyone has moved up a grade and we've now have an 11th, 8th, 5th and 2nd grader enrolled in our homeschool. Oh yes, plus the pre-pre-schooler who thinks she's 12. The teacher (that's me) called the school year. It feels good.

Lest you think we run a less-than-tight ship around here, I should tell you that the teacher cleared the end of school date with the school administrator. He's a great guy and very supportive of the teacher. Teacher in-service days and/or evenings with the administrator are awesome! (wink)

Sadly for my students, we won't be having a completely school free summer. Here at the Jung Academy of ...whatever...we continue to do "school light" over the traditional summer break. We tried a school free summer once many years back and we ended up with mad/frustrated students. The students were frustrated because they'd forgotten some of what they'd learned the previous spring and had to go BACK in their books.

Also, doing a bit of school in the summer cures the "I'm bored" thing which seems to creep in from time to time. It allows us to take Snow Days or Grandparent Visit Days or It's too Nice Outside to Do School Days or the ever popular Teacher Doesn't Feel Like Teaching Days from time to time during the regular school year. Doing a bit in the summer gives us some added flexibility. It's a good thing.

How about your homeschool? Do you do school in the summer? If you don't homeschool - do your kids do "school" stuff over their vacation?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Farm Report: A Reminder That We're Amateur Farmers

The bush beans are doing great!

Things are really sprouting here on The Little Farm! It's so exciting! We've has some very unseasonably warm and humid (big yuck!) weather here the past few days. The thermometer actually hit 90 degrees which is crazy for May. Heck - we've had whole calendar years where 90 was the high for the year. While this weather isn't so great for Farmer Ron and Young'uns (I don't mind it really), it is great weather for getting our garden off to a fast start. It seems everything grew a ton this week! So, we're being thankful for it and moving on without too much complaining.

The peas have grown about a foot in the past 5 days or so. That's Ellie doing some watering.

We've got about 75% of the garden planted - lettuces, swiss chard, spinach, peas, green beans, calypso beans, a few types of peppers, broccoli, eggplant and TOMATOES. We've also got some herbs planted in a flower bed near our back door (and close to the kitchen) and some pole beans planted in another flower bed in the back yard.

Why is the word tomato bolded above, you ask? Well, remember all those heirloom tomato seeds we planted and had growing in our basement? When Farmer Ron put them in the garden, it seemed like they weren't going to make it. So, we bought more tomatoes when we were at Fleet Farm. Hold this thought.

The littlest Young'un helping with the watering. She loves those boots!

For those unfamiliar with Fleet Farm, aka "The Man's Mall", it is a staple store in Northern Wisconsin. It's a store like none I'd seen before moving here that's for sure. They sell everything from clothing to nuts and baking supplies to building materials to guns to shoes to garden supplies to small appliances to tires. Plus, you can pick up whatever you need for your farm animals everything from chicken feed to salt licks to, um, the necessary tools to change your boy calf to a steer...enough said. It's a pretty remarkable place and the people watching there is top notch, too. But back to those tomato plants...

The watering crew.

We picked up some tomato plants to replace the dying ones. However, it seems those little buggers weren't actually dying. Most of them are still alive and kicking. This is great, but a bit overwhelming, as it seems we may have about 35-38 tomato plants in the garden this year. I canned a ton of tomato products last year off of only 12 tomato plants. I see lots of steamy afternoons in my future later this year. I've got a goal to can enough tomato stuff to last the whole year. Time will tell. I have a feeling my will power may give out before our plants do.
Amateur Farmer Lesson #1 - wait to see if plants are really going to make it or not before going out and buying new ones

Now, remember that we let the Gals roam around the unplanted garden for a few weeks after they first arrived? The idea was to have them eat all the weed seeds and sprouts which would save us some work later. While the Gals were weeding for us, they'd also be laying down a bit of fertilizer, if you know what I mean. It seemed like a great plan, but we've hit a bit of a snag.

While they Gals were living in the garden, we threw some chicken scratch out for them every couple of days. Chicken scratch isn't their main feed, just a little treat of sorts. Anyway, it's made of different grains. If you are even a little bit of a scientist, you have figured out what our #2 lesson learned is already.

Yep, we were throwing unsprouted grains into our garden plots. This would not have been a problem if they Gals were not picky eaters. However, it appears they did not care for one of the grains in the scratch mix. These grain seeds have now sprouted and are creating a pretty green grassy haze in many of our garden plots. Sigh. It seemed like a good idea.

Can you see all the chicken scratch growing amongst the lettuce and beans?

Amateur Farmer Lesson #2 - throwing unsprouted grains into your dirt will give you plants which require weeding

Sharing these lessons is a bit embarrassing, but I thought you should know if only to encourage you in your "farming." Just when we think we know what we're doing, we receive a reminder (or two) that there is much to learn. Don't let the mistakes keep you from throwing some seeds/plants in the ground - just make sure those seeds/plants don't violate Lesson #2.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

200 Eggs

Just in case you didn't notice, I thought I'd point out that we've hit the 200 mark in the Egg Count. Actually, we hit 200 about 3 days ago or so. Our Gals have officially bestowed us with 214 little beauties since March 19th. For you mathy folk, that's 3.24 eggs per day.

The coop has been moved to the field area behind the garden. I believe Farmer Ron's plan is to move it around the field and our fruit trees for at least the next several weeks. We're not sure what these Gals will do to our garden so they may not be given free reign there like the Gals of 2009 were. We like our chickens, but if they tore up our garden it might just be the end of them. The Gals of 2009 - sounds kind-of like the title of a chicken pin-up calendar.

214 eggs sounds like a lot of eggs and it is. However, it still isn't enough to cover our eggs needs here on the Farm. I still get eggs at the grocery store just not nearly as many as before the Gals arrived.

Zach and Ellie, Young'uns #3 and #4, are pretty much the chicken keepers. Farmer Ron cares for them also. But those 2 kiddos do lots of the feeding, most of the egg collecting and all of the chicken chasing if we need it. Abby, the 2 year old, has even gotten into the chicken chasing. According to Zach and Ellie, Abby is getting "pretty good" at it. Not sure exactly what that means, but she sure is proud to tell me about it when she comes in from helping the big kids.

What are the gals eating these days? Lots of bugs and weeds from the field where they wander, some chicken feed from Fleet Farm and some of our veggie and fruit scraps, too. They must be liking the menu because they've fattened up since arriving on the Farm.

These Gals are pretty Eggsellent. Sorry. Couldn't resist!

Making Yogurt

Yep, you read that correctly. I make yogurt. Why in the world would I do that you ask? I mean, really, this is taking the freakiness a bit too far.

There are several reasons for such freakiness: we think it tastes better (I can even eat it plain), it has no junk in it like store bought yogurt (just look at the side bar of the yogurt in your fridge), it means fewer plastic containers cluttering my cupboards and in the landfill, it works great as an oil substitute in baked goods, and, you knew it was coming, it cuts the cost of eating yogurt by more than half if you usually buy the big tubs of yogurt. If you typically buy those little containers, you'll save a bundle! Oh yes, did I mention it was easy?

The list of ingredients needed to make your own yogurt is small - just a gallon of whole milk and 1/2 c of plain whole milk yogurt. These ingredients will make 4 quarts of plain yogurt! A small single serve container of yogurt should be enough to get the 1/2 cup. After your first batch, you can just use some of the yogurt you've already made instead of buying more. Whole milk is currently running about $2.20 here in town so that breaks down to only 55 cents per quart of yogurt, plus a bit extra for your first container of yogurt.

Homemade Yogurt
makes 4 quarts

1 gallon whole milk - cannot be ultra-pasteurized milk, look at the label
1/2 c plain whole yogurt

4 quart sized canning jars or 4 quart sized glass jars (spaghetti sauce jars would work)
pot large enough to fit the above jars
a washcloth
candy thermometer - found at Target or Wal-Mart for a few bucks, not necessary though - keep reading
wooden spoon

Make sure you jars are very clean and dry - a trip through the dishwasher is great, but not necessary. Fill each jar to about 2 inches below the rim of the jar. I've filled them higher but always end up with milk all over the counter. Place the pot on the stove, lay the wash cloth on the bottom and set the jars on top of the cloth. Fill the pot with water to about 2 inches below the tops of the jars. I use a pitcher to fill the pot. Take your starter yogurt out of the fridge and let it warm on the counter.

Stick the thermometer in a jar of milk in your pot and hook it over the side. Heat the pot and jars until the temperature of the milk reaches 185 degrees. At this point, the milk will have a "skin" on it, just scrape it off and throw it out. Actually, if you don't have a thermometer you can still make yogurt - just look for the skin.

You can't harm (burn) the milk by heating it this way because the water acts as a buffer. I love this part! It means I can walk away from my pot and fold some laundry or clean a toilet or, let's be honest, check out facebook. The washcloth gives your jars a firm slip-proof base to rest upon. Also, if you have a cloth which smells a bit odd - using it to make yogurt will take the smell right out.

When the milk reaches 185 degrees, remove the jars from the water and put the lids on them. I put them on top of a dish towel on my counter. Now you want to cool the milk down to about 100 degrees. Actually, anywhere between 95 and 120 degrees is fine, but I like the thickness of the yogurt cooled to 100. No thermometer - just pick up the jar! If you can only hold it for a few seconds, it's still too hot.

How to cool your milk? You could leave it sitting on the counter, but it will take quite a while. You can put it in your fridge, but it will take a great deal of energy because it will make your fridge work pretty hard. Also, you won't be able to see your yogurt and might forget about it while you are folding that laundry. I usually add some water - not too cold, just verging on cool - to my sink and put the jars in there. After a little bit, I drain that and add cold water and sometimes even ice. Why not just use cold water right off the bat? Hot jars + cold water = cracked jars.

If you spend too long on facebook, I mean reading to your kids, and the milk gets too cool. Just reheat it again. It's only milk at this point. Don't you love fail proof recipes?

Next, gently stir 2 Tablespoons of starter yogurt into each jar. Yogurt is a living thing and you need to be nice to it so go gentle. Also, more using more yogurt at this point will NOT give you thicker yogurt. It will make it thinner because you'll be adding too many bacteria to the party.

Now it's time to incubate! Isn't that amazing? You are incubating milk and bacteria to turn that milk into something totally different and new. Not to mention sometime healthy and yummy. God made a good world! There are other methods for this portion of the recipe, but I like incubating my yogurt in the oven.

Turn you oven on to warm for a few minutes. Set your jars in the oven as close to the light as possible. Cover the jars with a towel. Turn off the oven and turn on the light. Let them sit over night or for at least 9 hours or so. I've gone anywhere between 8 and 10 hours and have gotten great yogurt. You'll just have to experiment a few times; you might want to go longer. At this point, your yogurt will still look a bit strange. It needs to cool before it'll look "normal." Really. Don't judge your yogurt at this point. It won't fare well.

Either stick the jars in the freezer for an hour or so or put them in your fridge. When you look at your creation after it cools, you might find some pale yellow liquid around the top. This is whey - a by product of the fermentation that just took place. It isn't anything to be alarmed about. Just pour it off or stir it back into your yogurt. Whey is actually good for you.

The last thing to do is take out 1/2 cup of your new yogurt, put it in a clean container and stick in the fridge. Now you are all ready to make more yogurt when your current batch runs out.

I've done some pretty wonky things while making my yogurt - like forgetting about it while cooling in the water or forgetting it in the freezer too long or forgetting it was incubating in the oven and starting to preheat said oven to make bread. Hmmmm...all of these have to do with forgetting...we've got issues here. Amazingly, the yogurt still turned out. It's very forgiving stuff.

It took me a few attempts to get yogurt just right, but even the failures weren't bad. If we didn't want to eat the botched tries, I just used the yogurt to replace some of the oil in muffins.

If your first attempts are less than perfect, keep trying! Soon you'll be filling your fridge and your stomach with yummy, healthy yogurt that is worth the extra effort.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Black Belts Go with Anything

That's a grown man flying through the air.

There were big doings here on the Little Farm this past Saturday. Well, the doings weren't actually ON the Farm, but they did involve Farm inhabitants. After five years of study and two hours of intense testing, our second son, Jake, earned his black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Needless to say, we are very proud!

One of the things The Big Guy and I try to help each of our children find is something that is "theirs." Something they love, a hobby for lack of a better word. We don't want their "thing" to be merely an activity to keep them busy. It is easy to sign your kids up for 7 million different activities, but they'll be so busy and scattered, they'll only scratch the surface of each. No, we want something they can dig into and learn.

We know this thing may not and probably won't be the same for each child and we're good with that although it sure would be easier to have a one-size-fits-all thing. We also aren't willing to sacrifice the life of our family for one child's thing - we've got limited resources of time and money which need to be spread out to all. It's no small task and the cause of much thought and many prayers.

When Jake was 7, we came upon Tae Kwon Do. It became his thing. For the first few years, he loved it. Tae Kwon Do was a perfect fit for our disciplined, justice loving guy. We loved the confidence - socially, emotionally and physically - he gained from it. The sport/martial art/whatever it is also reinforced things we were teaching him at home in many ways. After all , the Tenets of Tae Kwon Do are Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control and Indomitable Spirit. Who wouldn't want a son exhibiting these traits? We do and he does.

Jake rose quickly though the belt ranks - white, yellow, green, green with blue tip, blue, blue with brown tip, brown, brown with black tip. He did all this in about 3 years. And then he stalled.
There are several reasons for the stall - lazy/busy parents who wouldn't/couldn't get him to the extra practices, his interest waned a bit, the requirements were a lot for a 10 year old to handle - I'm not exactly sure. But there we were. He still liked going to class each week to see his friends, but the commitment to the actual thing wasn't there.

After year 4, he wanted to quit. He only had his black belt test left! He was so close! More prayers and thinking. The powers that be (the Big Guy and I) decided no quitting. He needed to finish. Jake wasn't thrilled at first, but he hung in there. The past three months, especially, he has worked very hard and with some difficult circumstances. And he did it! Not only did he do it, Jake really made it his own. The Big Guy and I asked often if he needed help with anything and were always told, "No. I've got it."

At his testing on Saturday, Jake performed forms (a series of offensive and defensive movements) for each of the past belts he has earned, sparred with black belts, demonstrated self-defense techniques, recited the entire history of Tae Kwon Do for a gym full of people (and did so like a polished public speaker) and threw/flipped/tackled a grown man much larger than he. It was such fun to watch! He didn't even seem nervous. Have I mentioned we were proud?

I seriously doubt Jake will take to wearing his actual black belt around in his everyday life; they just don't make the coolest fashion statement. Although with all it took to earn it, who would blame him? However, he will be wearing all the great lessons he's learned from the journey to earn that black belt. Actually, he's already been wearing them more and more as he's grown. These lessons are more precious than the black piece of cloth and they go with everything. Way to go, Jake!

Oh yes, guess who wants to keep studying and earn his second degree black belt?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Frivolous Friday - This Seems Eerily Familiar

Part of my growing up years were spent in the great state of South Dakota. I have nothing but wonderful memories of the place. The Big Guy and I have taken family vacations there with our brood. So, don't please don't think that by posting the above photo, I'm harboring some deep seated animosity towards the place and the people who call it home. I'm not.

It's just when I found this photo at Awkward Family Photos, I laughed so hard I cried. My kids came over to the computer because there were worried about me.
We lived in South Dakota during the late 70's and early 80's, right about when I thinking this gem of a photo was probably taken. How do I know this? First off, the sign says that Janklow was governor and I remember that he was in office when I took my school trip to the capital. Who says field trips don't influence kids? Second, I am pretty sure that my sisters and I had shorts like these, not to mention the glasses, that we proudly wore while living in South Dakota. There are so many things wrong with those shorts, I don't know where to begin. And, if you know either of my sisters, don't let them try to convince you they didn't wear them because I can provide photographic documentation.
It just made me laugh.
If you've got some time to kill or need a good laugh, you might what to check out the entire website.
For my CA readers - The Dad in this photo instantaneously brought to mind a resident of the state of California. The Big Guy and I both thought so. The first person who can guess who we thought of will win some great, yet to be determined prize.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Remembering 1609 Miller

I am very blessed to have one of my grandparents still living. Not only is my Grandma Berger (my Mom's Mom) still living, she is living an amazing life. In her early 80's, she walks (miles), rides her bike, and does water aerobics. When you visit Grandma, be prepared to gain about 5 lbs. each day of your visit as she will have cooked for days in preparation of your arrival. She volunteers all over town and, until just recently, cared for a whole house and did the yard work, too. When I think about her, I feel loved and cozy and, truth be told, a bit tired.

Did you catch the part about Grandma caring for a whole house until just recently?

Here's my current dilemma: my sweet Grandma is currently homeless.

Before you start to belittle my parents or aunts and uncles (or even me) for not providing for Grandma and leaving her to fend for herself on the streets, hear me out. She's not actually physically homeless. In fact, she just moved into a great condo in her town. Grandma is homeless in MY MIND.

For 47 years or so, my Grandma lived at 1609 Miller in a small town in south-eastern Minnesota, which means that is the only home in which I've known her. My memories of the place run deep and wide. Not only did I spend much time there as a child, but I've also been very blessed to have been able to share the place with MY children. Since 1995, my kids and I (the Big Guy came along too when he could make it) have been able to spend several nights each year at 1609 Miller.

When I learned Grandma was moving to a new place, I was so happy for her! The reasons for her to make the change were many and good; the decision a wise one. Her new home will be less work and make her life easier. There are no stairs in her new home so worries of falling are gone and she can, hopefully, enjoy her active life injury free for many years to come. Grandma is excited to have a home much "newer" in years than her old one. It comes complete with her very first dishwasher and her first attached garage! On top of it all, the way in which the whole transaction took place has God's hand written all over it.

I know all this and yet, thinking about the move puts a lump in my throat and floods my mind with remembrances. Here's a bit of what is filling my head:

-Grandma standing in the driveway waving good-bye and crying every time we left
-the sweet yeasty smell of the bread drawer in the kitchen
-the white stucco with green trim that would scratch your arm if you brushed against it
-the tire swing on the old apple tree
-hugging my Grandpa for the last time in the living room
-snacks on the picnic table
-the cool feel of the red painted floor in the basement
-sleeping in the same bed my Mom slept in when she was a girl
-the basement floor covered with carpet squares - perfect for playing jumping games
-playing Sorry at the kitchen table
-the way the living room ceiling looked like the bottom of a swimming pool
-the mail slot in the front door
-getting my first and only spanking from Grandma in her bedroom
-the piece of concrete in the driveway where Grandpa let me write my name
-the raspberry bushes and eating the raspberries
-playing croquet in the back yard
-the old barn near the alley that seemed so mysterious
-the alphabetized (I kid you not) spice shelf and the cleanest junk drawer you've ever seen
-sleeping in Grandma's bed and giggling together for part of the night
-the toy drawer in the hall
-the green laundry hamper outside the bathroom door
-wrestling on the living room floor with my uncles
-the crowded kitchen table when we were all eating together
-the yellow boot mug - milk just tasted great from that thing!
-opening my first wedding present in the living room

Amazingly, my kids also have these same experiences at 1609 Miller, with a few exceptions -the stucco and barn are no longer, no wedding gifts have been opened or spankings received (not that they weren't deserved), and they've never hugged my Grandpa. I love knowing each one of the young'uns have spent the night talking and giggling in bed with their Great-Grandma!

But back to the homelessness problem...

Grandma Berger is homeless in my mind. I can't "see" her in a different home. There is no place on which to hang my memories of her. Yet. There are no memories of her new home yet.

I'm so thankful for the "yet" because, God willing, soon my family and I will invade Grandma's new home, receive her tight fierce hugs, eat her delicious food, laugh as we "Sorry" each other and see her tears as she waves us good-bye in the driveway.

There are more memories to be made and Grandma will no longer be homeless, but 1609 Miller will always be dear because of the laughter, love and people I found within.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Happy Scribe = Happy Mom

Handwriting is a part of life and a part of homeschooling. Everyone needs to be able to write legibly to communitcate their thoughts to others. Yes, I know we write with our hands less and less as we use computers more and more. But I still say good handwriting is important and you won't convince me otherwise. Trust me on this. I've heard all the arguments against it from some boys I know quite well. They all had to practice their handwriting each day when younger and, when older, if I can't read it, it's done over.

I'm the Mom and that's how we roll.

All this having been said, it hasn't always been easy for me to get the whole handwriting thing together. To be sure, there are millions of great things a child can copy as they practice their handwriting - scripture, poetry, lines from great books. It's getting those great words into a form easily read and copied that is tough. Most youngsters can't see words written in a book and copy them onto another piece of paper very easily. For starters, some of the letters are made differently in say Times Roman font, than in the script in which your child is writing. Just look at the letter "a."

On top of finding the words to be written in the correct form, you've got to locate paper that has the correct sized lines on it. First graders can't do good writing on college lined notebook paper. It just won't work.

On top of all this, you've got to find a pencil that is actually somewhat sharp and still has some semblance of an eraser. Finding such a pencil in our house is a miracle somedays. Who am I kidding? Most days it is a miracle.

See what I mean about getting the whole handwriting thing together?

Enter Happy Scribe Copybooks! I love this company and their products!

The Happy Scribe has taken all the busy work out of handwriting and copywork for me. Each copybook has 20 different sayings or sentences in it, about a month's worth of work. The copybooks can be printed out in 3 different handwriting styles - Block Printing, D'Nealian Italics, or Cursive. Each page has the saying boldy printed across the top. The saying is also repeated in lighter text twice more down the page with blank lines in between. This is to encourage the child to trace over the words for additional practice as well as writing it on their own.

The subjects of the copybooks range from scripture to horses to wild flowers to Ancient Egypt to video games to military forces! You can have your child practice handwriting keyed to a subject they are currently studying or to a subject they just love. My third son really liked the military forces book and we found the Ancient Egypt book went perfectly with our history studies!

The books are available at the Happy Scribe website for download or you can purchase a CD. You can print off the whole book at once or just a few pages at a time. When you buy a book, you get all three handwriting styles! And since you've got them on your computer, they can be used over and over by multiple kids or over and over by just one little girl who LOVES to write.

You can buy the books separately or in a combo collection. Currently, they are selling all 35 books as a download for just $8.00! How crazy is that? Their site allows you to print off samples.

Head on over and save yourself a headache or two. Since using Happy Scribe copybooks, I've only had to worry about finding a pencil...

Will it Roast? - Carrots

It's time again to visit our veggie friends in the every popular series - Will It Roast? [Are you hearing the background music to some sort of variety show in your head right now? Because it is playing in mine.]

Today's veggie competitor is CARROTS!

Eating carrots raw is always good. What is better than a crunchy carrot? I try to have some in the fridge peeled, cut up and ready to munch at all times here on the Farm. They are a budget friendly, healthy snack. Young'un - "I'm hungry!" Me - "Grab some carrots.

We go through pounds of carrots each week around here, yet you will rarely find any of those "baby" carrots in our fridge. There are a few reasons for this. First, they seem pretty hit or miss to me on flavor while the big ones taste great all the time. Second, it just seems odd - baby carrots. They aren't really babies you know. If you've ever planted carrots and then picked one when it was only a baby, you know baby carrots are only about 1/4 of an inch thick. Nope, the baby carrots in the store are impostors. Third, they are so much more expensive than just peeling and cutting your own. I've read in several places that doing this extra step computes to about a $50.00 per hour wage. Yep, I am pretty sure I can cut some carrots for 50 bucks.

But I digress...

We eat carrots raw, but how about cooking them?  Not one person here on the Farm will eat them boiled. Nope. Not too tasty. The Young'uns will eat steamed carrots - a bit of butter makes them even better. Guess what our favorite way to eat carrots cooked is? [More corny music here.]

Did you guess roasted? You are so smart!

As with the other posts on roasting, let me say Roast Carrots are easy and delicious! The recipe is basically the same, too. (Are you seeing themes here? Veggies + high heat + oil = yumminess.)

Roasted Carrots
Carrots - whatever amount will feed your crew
Olive Oil - a few tablespoons at least
Salt and Pepper
Garlic - crushed or sliced and optional
Peel carrots and cut them into whatever shape floats your boat - rounds or sticks. Just remember that the smaller the pieces, the quicker they'll cook. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil (not a necessity, but clean up in much easier). If you are making a ton of carrots, you might want to use two sheets. Spread the carrots on the sheet, drizzle with oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the optional garlic now, if you'd like. Give the whole thing a quick stir and slide it in the oven. About 20-30 minute later, depending on the size of your carrots and the amount of crunchy dark parts you like, they'll be ready to devour.

And that's what your eaters will do - devour them!

By the way, you can totally make this with baby carrots. They don't like the high oven temperatures and might cry a bit, but they'll cook up just fine. And if using baby carrots is the deciding factor in whether or not you give Roast Carrots try - by all means - use the babies!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Deal of the Week

I did a bit of shopping this week, not any huge-fill-up-the-entire cart kind-of trips. Just needed to fill in a few holes in the fridge and I also took advantage of a couple of deals. What can I say? I am a sucker for cheap diapers.

Most of the food I bought came from Aldi and Sam's Club. Aldi doesn't usually have any sales - their prices are always just low. Every so often however, they have an item or two reduced. I didn't score any reductions there this week. Just bought staples like butter and apples and tortilla chips (Did I just call chips a staple?) As Sam's I found a few great reduced items, yummy gnocchi for only $2.18 per three pack and spiral sliced ham for $1.50 per lb. I bought enough gnocchi to last through the summer (6 boxes) and the ham will feed us at least 3 meals.

The really good deals came from CVS this week! Here's what I got:

2 packs of Huggies
2 boxes of "Mom stuff"
10 cans of tuna
2 tubes of Crest
1 pack of Mentos gum
1 bottle of garlic powder
2 deodorants

The total for all of this before coupons was $46.82. After coupons and Extra Care Bucks (CVS coupons), I paid $13.45. But wait...there's more! I used a $10.00 prepaid Visa card I received in the mail this week from a rebate I had sent I only spent $3.45 of my own cash. I also received a total of $11.00 in Extra Care Bucks to spend in the future. They paid me $7.15 cents to shop at their store! It was a good week.

The Young'uns were quick on the unloading the car and putting groceries away this week, so I didn't get a photo. Maybe next time.

By the way, should I be worried that every time I come into the house with grocery bags, my 2 year old climbs up next to the kitchen table where I usually set things to take a photo and says, "Take my picture too!" Hmmmm....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Frivolous Friday: A Tribute to Moms in Song!

I've been a bit absent in the blogosphere the past week or so. Life has just caught up to me a bit - planning athletic banquets, extra hours at Tae Kwon Do so Jake can get ready for his black belt test, 4 kids playing soccer - you get the idea. It's wearing me out and sleep has been determined more important than the blog. Sorry. I've missed it. Thoughts have been swirling around my mind, but I haven't had the chance to get them out through my fingers. I digress...

This video is great! We watched it as family on Mother's Day and I laughed 'til I cried. The kids kept looking at me. Not sure if they were concerned about the crying or just amazed that someone had written a song about me...


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The First Harvest!

The harvesting has begun on the Little Farm and we only have about 10% of the garden planted! Yep, I went out and cut rhubarb today. It's washed and waiting for me transform into muffins or crisp or dice it and stick in the freezer to help feed us next winter. Truth be told, we harvest rhubarb all summer and most of this first rhubarb never makes it to the freezer.

The photo above looks a bit odd. I meant to take it earlier in the day, but today just got away from me and I had to take it after the sun was going down. Rhubarb is not meant to be photographed with flash!

Rhubarb is always the first thing we get out of our garden. A good piece of rhubarb crisp is a sure sign of spring. That fresh, tart taste is just blissful! The Young'uns love to dip a stalk in sugar and crunch away. Add some sweet strawberries to your rhubarb and you've got the makings of a pie to die for! Isn't it amazing that God planned it all out to have rhubarb and strawberries ready at the same time?

The best part of growing rhubarb is that, really, you don't have to do anything to it, except harvest it. Once you put that plant in the ground, it just takes off. In fact, after a few years, you'll need to split it up and move some to another spot in your garden or give it away to another rhubarb lover. It just keeps producing! We've given away parts of our rhubarb plants to at least 15 people over the years. Want some rhubarb - start asking around. Someone will be able to divide their plant and give some to you. They'll probably be happy to get a bit of their garden back.

The only part of the rhubarb plant to be eaten are the ruby red and green stalks. Do NOT eat the leaves. They contain some mildly poisonous substances. We do throw the leaves in our compost pile, however.

Interesting Little Farm Fact: In the "First Four Years" by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Laura talks about forgetting to add sugar to a pie she was making for threshers at her home. The pie was made from pie plant. Guess what pie plant is? Rhubarb! That would be one sour pie!

Photos of what this first rhubarb turns into will be coming! Yeah Spring!
(An aside...please read the "The Little House" books to your kids! They will love them! We've read them aloud twice so far over the years. Such great language, history, family examples and more in each book. My boys enjoyed them all - especially "Farmer Boy".)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Good Gooey Cake

My Young'uns

I was treated like a queen on Mother's Day - lots of hugs (even from my big guys), good food (which I didn't make or clean up), some flowers and homemade cards, and 2 hours of me laying on my back reading a good book. It was nice!

Two of the young'uns made me one of my favorite, completely bad for you, chocolaty, gooey, cream cheesy dessert. I only make this cake every few years, but when I do...oh my! It's so good. Sunday it was extra good because Jake and Ellie handled the whole thing. All I did was eat!

I know I've shared recipes for basically healthy foods so far, but well, sometimes you just gotta eat cake!

St. Louie Gooey Cake

Mix with spoon in bowl:
1 chocolate cake mix
2 eggs
1 stick of melted butter
(Don't follow the cake mix directions. Just use the mix in the box with the eggs and butter.)

Mix in another bowl (you might want to use a mixer for this part:
80z of cream cheese-softened
2 eggs
a bag of powdered sugar

Spread chocolate in 9x13 pan. This stuff is thick and it is sometimes easier to just wet your fingers a bit and spread it that way. Pour cream cheese mixture on top and spread to cover. Bake for 30-35 minutes in a preheated 325 degree oven. It should get pretty brown around the edges and the middle should be set- sort of.

And there you have it, Good Gooey Cake that even a kid can make!

Verse of the Week

This is going to be harder than I thought...

I am sad to say, my poor brain is failing.  Psalm 150, which I had memorized a few weeks ago, seems to have large gaps it in now.  Sigh.

So, this will AGAIN be a review week for the Verse of the Week.  Going for quality, not quantity here on the Little Farm.

If you are interested in reading through the texts from this past Sunday, you can do so here.  We're still in the season of Easter.  Did you know that Easter lasted for longer than just one Sunday?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Deal of the Week - Contentment

As you can see from the photo, oh wait. There isn't any photo of bargains this week because I didn't get any. On Saturdays, I try to post some of the great deals I've gotten during the week, but not this week. That's right, I didn't use one single solitary coupon at a grocery store this week. In fact, the only food I've brought into our house since last weekend is 4 gallons of milk.

We had plenty stocked up and, to be honest, I was just tired. I enjoy the thrill of the bargain hunt and the prices are a huge boon to our budget, but sometimes enough is enough. That's where I've been this past week - resting. Not resting from everything, just from sales fliers and coupons and stores.

It's been a good exercise and, of course, has gotten me thinking.

What would happen if we tried to not set foot in a store, except to buy some milk and produce, for two weeks? Or three? Could I get creative enough to stretch out all that we have? This type of creativity was a way of life for families in the past. Think about the stories you've heard regarding how people managed during the Great Depression. Could we do that?

When I made the decision to not go grocery shopping this week and just use what we had on hand, my life actually got simpler. Yes, I had to do use this old brain to come up with a menu from what was in our "store," but I didn't have to tax my noggin with making lists and juggling my schedule to fit in shopping. Then there is the time I saved because I wasn't shopping. I had at least a few hours to use for something else. (Not sure what I did with them, to be honest, but I know there were there.)

Finally, choosing to make do with what we had on hand forced me to accept that what I had was what I had. There were no other options. The items on the shelves and in the fridge and freezer were it. Oddly, this whole thought was very freeing. All of the possibilities outside of what was within my sphere were gone. I couldn't see a recipe in a magazine and think, "Oh my! That looks delicious maybe would should have that for dinner tomorrow" and then run out to find the ingredients. My only focus was on doing my very best with what I'd been given. Can you see what I mean about feeling free?

Freeing isn't actually the right word. I think the word content works better. Can you see what I mean about feeling content? I made the decision to be content with the food and such that we had on hand and, in the process, could rest for a bit.


What if I stopped flailing around after all the things which pull at my eyes, my mind and my heart and just decide (and it IS a decision) that what I've got is what I've got? What could I do with all the time and energy this would save me? What would happen if I decided to be content?

Rest...I might just find rest...and blessed peace.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Happy No Pants Day!

Yes, today is officially No Pants Day. Who knew? It seems the first Friday in May is traditionally celebrated as No Pants Day.

I think I've lived a sheltered life because this is a new one for me. This holiday seems a bit odd. How does one decide to declare No Pants Day? What's the thought behind (pun intended) the whole thing? Are there any underlying (yep, again, intended) philosophies that I am missing?

No one on the Farm seems to be celebrating No Pants Day except for the smallest Young'un. She would love to celebrate today's holiday every day of the year. We're working on this...

I wasn't planning on running out for anything today, but now that I know about No Pants Day, I might just have to change my mind. Could be interesting to see if anyone is celebrating around town.

Just a short post today...I'm keeping it brief (just had to do it one more time).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Growing Things on the Dryer

In case you are keeping score at home, I thought I should update you on what has gone in the ground here on The Little Farm and what is growing on the dryer in the basement.

Last Saturday, Farmer Ron and his hired hand Zach worked hard and planted swiss chard, 2 types of spinach, 5 different lettuces, a mesclun mix (you should really add this word to your vocabulary - you'll sound like a smart French chef), and Calypso beans. These seeds join the sugar snap peas which were put in a couple of weeks ago and are already 3 inches tall.

The Calypso beans are debuting in their rookie season on the Farm this year. We've never grown this variety, nor have we ever grown a bean that will be dried and stored. Should be interesting. We've been eating more beans around here lately because, well, they are cheap and they fill up the biggest young'un. Also, those black and white beauties looked so good in the seed catalog, I just couldn't pass them up.

Today, Farmer Ron put some hills of blue potatoes in the ground - another rookie veggie on the farm. He also planted Kentucky Wonder pole beans along one wall of our garage in our backyard. I made a flower bed there a few years ago and have some hostas and black-eyed susans growing. However, the wall of the garage is pretty bare. So, instead of planting some morning glories or some other climbing flower to fill the space, we thought we'd put in something that would be green, flowery and produce food! The plan is that the beans will sprout and start climbing before the hostas get too big. Just killing two birds with one stone here - beautifying the backyard a bit and saving some space in the actual garden for something else.

We've also got plants growing on the clothes dryer in the basement. The tomatoes, eggplants and pepper plants that we ordered from Seed Savers, were planted about a month ago. You can see from the photo above not all of the little guys made it. We've only got about 5 peppers and 5 eggplants growing, but the tomatoes are going strong. We've got at least 20 of those plugging away down there.

This is the first year we've attempted to start tomatoes and such inside from seed. We may end up buying a few plants to supplement what we've got growing. I've got a goal to can enough tomatoe-y type products to last the whole year. Also, I stopped by a greenhouse while out running errands tonight and some of those plants just looked so yummy! They have peppers called Pinot Noir sweet peppers. Oh my! How could we not grow one of those?

Here's the recap.

In the ground:
pole beans
sugar snap peas
swiss chard
lettuces - 5 varieties
spinach - 2 varieties
mesclun mix
calypso beans

On the dryer:
tomatoes - 4 varieties

We're only about 2 minutes into the first quarter so stay tuned...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Speaking of Seeds...

I've shared a bit about how memorywork plays into our days here on the Farm. Even before we knew we were going to homeschool, we had Nate memorizing Bible verses. We got him a goldfish when he learned his first 10 verses. First kids get all the perks. All of our other kids, just get a high five or a cookie when they learn a verse, but I digress...

Memorizing anything to music seems to make the task much easier! However, for many years I had a love/hate thing going with the Bible CD's that were made for kids. I knew the had value in terms of content, but they made me crazy. You know the ones I am talking about - one or two adults with syrupy sweet voices, music that sounded pretty much the same in every song, lots of little kids singing in high pitched voices and, although you couldn't see them, you just knew the girls had big hair bows and the boys were wearing sweater vests. Yeah, THOSE CD's drove me nuts. Consequently, (I probably shouldn't admit this lest I lose either my pastor's wife card, my homeschooling mom card or both) we just didn't listen to them.

Enter the Seeds Family Worship CD's! I thought I'd died and gone to a "Kid's Bible Sing Along CD" free heaven. There are 5 CD's in the collection - Seeds Family Worship: Seeds of Faith, Vol. 2,Seeds Family Worship: Seeds of Praise, Vol. 3,
Seeds Family Worship: Seeds of Purpose, Vol. 4, Seeds Family Worship: Power of Encouragement, Vol. 5, Seeds Family Worship: Seeds of Courage
. We love them all.

The Seeds CD's are all 100% scripture. There have been many times when the kids have heard a verse in church or elsewhere and I've seen their eyes perk up. They've recognized it from the music. It is so great to see!

The actual music itself is great - appealing to kids AND their parents, even our older kids like it (although they might not fess up to it). There are adult and child voices, but they are good voices, not ones that make me want to climb the walls. The music is varied moving from rock to blues to slower songs. I listen to these CD's on my own in the kitchen and often find the verses running though my head.

These CD's are modern, but because they are all actual scripture, they don't fall into the traps which seem to catch lots of other modern Christian music. It's pretty hard to mess up a song theologically when it's taken straight from the Bible. Also, these songs don't seem to repeat themselves over and over and over and over like many praise songs around these days.

If you are wanting to add some scripture memory to your home or just some good music, I can't recommend Seeds Family Worship enough. You will love them!

(I apologize for the messy links above. I wanted to be able to send you straight to Amazon so you could listen to the CD's, but my blogging skills are...well, poor...and it has taken me FOREVER to get even on the post, let alone looking nice. Thanks for being gracious!)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Will It Roast? - Broccoli

We're going to have lots of veggies here on the Farm this summer. I can't wait! That's some good eating to look forward to.

I had someone ask me this question the other day, "How do you get your kids to eat all those strange vegetables?" We had been talking about what was for dinner at our homes that night or some other Mom sort of conversation topic.

Here's my answer to her query: I've learned to cook vegetables in ways that make them taste delicious!

If you think about it, what kid (or adult) is going to be excited to sit down to dinner and see a mound of soggy, pale green broccoli on his plate? Broccoli that has been frozen and then boiled is, well, just not the most appetizing form of broccoli known to man. I've made it this way and my kids have eaten some of it...but they weren't happy about it.

And don't get me started on veggies from cans...Although I can set an opened can of green beans on the kitchen counter and two of my kids will eat them like candy. Strange, very strange.

My secret (ha, ha) cooking methods are steaming and roasting. Roasting is, hands down, my favorite because it is so easy and it tastes SO good!

So, in honor of my love of roasting and in anticipation of the bounty of veggies that will be coming through my kitchen this summer, I'm starting a series of posts I've titled,

"Will It Roast?"
(We've already talked about roasting cabbage here, in case you want to catch up.)

Today's veggie is broccoli. I'm going to tell you how to make broccoli so delicious you kids will want more and your husband will gaze at you from across the table with those eyes... you know the ones. The recipe is so short because it is SO easy. Don't blink; you might miss it.

Roast Broccoli

a bunch of broccoli - whatever your family or those you're cooking for will eat
a few cloves of garlic
some olive oil
salt and pepper
a lemon (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat your oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil (you don't have to do this, but you'll love the broccoli even more if you do, trust me). Wash and cut broccoli into florets. I don't use all of the stems, but I do use some. DRY your broccoli. Yes, this sounds strange but it keeps it from being soggy. You can dry it with a towel, let it sit on the counter, throw it in a salad spinner, whatever works for you. Spread the broccoli out onto your baking sheet. Peel the garlic cloves and slice or chop them. Add them to the broccoli. Drizzle with olive oil - I don't have an exact amount - at least a few tablespoons. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Give it a good stir and stick in the oven. 20-25 minutes later, you'll have yourself a little slice of heaven. You'll know it's done when you see some crunchy browned bits. I usually serve it at this point, however some fresh squeezed lemon juice and/or some Parmesan cheese will really put it over the edge.

Will it Roast at your house? Let me know!

Swagbucks Bonus

You might be tired of hearing about Swagbucks, but I just love them and found a great deal to share with you. Normally, you get a 30 buck bonus just for signing up with Swagbucks, but for a little while, you'll get an additional 20 buck bonus if you type in the code SWAGNATION5.

A $5.00 Amazon gift card is only 450 Swagbucks, this would be a great start on getting there!

Use the link here or click on Swagbucks in the sidebar. You'll earn rewards for doing your everyday, regular internet searching. What have you got to lose?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Verse of the Week

This week is the Fifth Sunday in Easter and the lectionary texts remind us that Christ came not just for the Jews, but for all. Thank heavens!

The artwork is a photo of a poster in Bejing, China. The text of the Verse of the Week is written in English and Chinese on the bottom of the poster. I think it's so interesting to see how a graphic artist in China depicts Christ. That artist's Christ has a different look than the drawings of Christ I've seen here in America.

The verses I working on this week are from John 13:34 & 35. They are familiar words and I could tell someone the jist of them, but have never put the to memory. We'll see how it goes.

John 13: 34 & 35

(Jesus is speaking)
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Good, but hard words.

How about you? Are you putting anything to memory this week?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Spring on the Little Farm!

It's here! It's really, truly, actually here! Spring! The grass is so green it makes my eyes hurt; the trees have little leaves fluttering on them; the bleeding hearts (these are flowers) are hanging from their branches. It is good!

I thought you might like to see what things are looking like around The Little Farm these days. You're only going to see the outside of the Farm...inside the farmhouse is, well, a bit messy.

Here's the garden and new chicken spread. In the foreground, is the blooming cherry tree. Next is the garden and the bright green spot beyond that is the chicken tractor.

Another look at the garden. The house is in the back.

We just moved the chicken coop to it's new spot and Farmer Ron made a yard for them out of a roll of chicken wire. We needed to get them out of the garden for a while because we planted seeds (lettuces, spinach, chard and other greens) today and they would tear the ground to pieces.

The gals enjoying their new digs. We are getting 4 eggs a day, for the most part. Today we cracked open our first double yolker.

There are even green things poking up in the garden: rhubarb, raspberry bushes and sugar snap peas!

Isn't it exciting? I know some of you live in places where you've already been eating food from your'll just have to indulge me and my enthusiasm. I can't wait to eat some greens and peas!

Farmer Ron and Zach, our Little Farmer, spent some time getting a few more plots ready for our tomato, pepper and eggplant seedlings. I'll keep you posted!