Wednesday, March 30, 2011

This Spring Day

Breakfast with berries and cream is always a good way to start out the day.  J made the coffee, I made the waffles.  The boy cleaned the berries and we were all set.  I love breakfasts together.  It is rare for us to be able to eat together on the days that J works, without it feeling rushed.  I have been making a better effort to get up early and just get breakfast started earlier, and it is making our mornings much nicer. (note to self, getting up early is not just for "me time", I can get up early to help others too)

We made an effort to finish some things we've been working on and get them out of the way early in the day.  So we tackled math and history and cleaning.  Go team!  The littlest two were kept busy with this novel idea....  
 A Balloon!
 They had so much fun!
 They played for about an hour while I cleaned the kitchen and did laundry.  I think I'm finally caught up from being sick over the past month.  Honestly.  I get behind like that and it takes forever to get caught up again!

After lunch, we headed outside to play.  The sunshine was so warm, the sky so blue.  The grass was dry enough to sit on while I weeded the asparagus bed.  I cut fire wood. (for real) They had some jedi training going on.

There was some bird watching...or maybe he was being a spy....

 Then we headed inside for quiet times and I have to say the new couch was incredibly helpful with this today.  No one grumbled a bit and they all rushed to get a good spot on the couch!  After we rested, it was time to get to work on dinner!  Hen helped with the rolling out of the dough.
 Have you ever seen such a cute kitchen helper?
 We made chicken artichoke calzones, one of J's favorites.
 And while we were at it, we made a pizza for later, and this spinach garlic cheese bread.
 After dinner, I was able to go for a long walk with Millie.  It must be spring!  It was still light out when I got home and my soul just felt lighter knowing that longer days are here.  I don't always realize how much the darkness of winter affects me while it's happening.  The sunshine of spring, the light of the longer's like it thaws me from the inside out.  It's such a fantastic feeling of renewal.
Crocus blooming, and hollyhock's green growth.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The New Couch

Do you remember this post from way back when?  You know, the one where I tell you about getting rid of our old couch?  Well, J's back is much better for it, but I'll openly admit that my temper had a rough time with the whole thing.  I won't give you any excuses, because...well...I was being selfish and impatient.  But I will say, that it was back in January when we got rid of that old couch, and we sat on the floor for two months before I finally moved the old daybed in.  

Now, the daybed is not quite as bad for J's back as the couch, but it's not comfortable and it only seats three.  As you know, there are six in our family, so inevitably someone (or several someones actually) have been sitting on the floor for a good three months now.  And for the record, the daybed belonged to my grandmother who died when I was thirteen.  So if that tells you at all, what kind of shape it's in.....

And here's the thing....all of this really shouldn't have been a big deal.  I mean, people in other countries sit on the floor all the time.  We have a warm house.  And blankets and the ability to keep the floor clean and dry.  Yet, everyday I found myself getting grumpier and grumpier about there being no real furniture in our living room.  And the grumpier I got, the more entitled I started to feel.  I started thinking about how we have never boughten furniture since we've been married more than ten years ago.  How we really should have furniture so we can have people over and they will feel comfortable.  How my children should be able to have a clean, comfortable place to sit.  

And you know what?  All of those thoughts really are just a big charade for my pride.  Because wasn't me wanting other people to be comfortable really about how embarrassed I felt when a friend was here and instead of sitting on our "couch of blankets" (where we sat everyday) she dragged a chair from the other room so she could sit down?  I admit I felt humiliated.  But I wouldn't have felt that way, if I was really interested in her being comfortable would I have?  Really.  It just all boils down to me thinking I deserve nice furniture because of my pride.

And somehow, while I was scanning Craigslist for furniture, I realized that it is the same lesson that I have been learning over and over again these past few years.  Yes.  The lesson about not having a bath tub and feeling entitled.  The lesson about not having kitchen cabinets or a sink that doesn't leak and feeling entitled.  And I wonder....what have I missed that I keep having to learn this over and over again?

And this time through....this same lesson....I see God at work in me more.  I was more willing to wait until J was ready to spend the money.  I was still impatient at times, yes, but I was much better than I have been before.  I prayed about it and waited to see what God had for us.  I waited.  And waited.  

Then finally, two days ago we spotted on Craigslist this sectional for a very small amount of money that was very close to what we had been looking for and J said, "Yes! Let's get it!"  So I went through all the communications with the seller and set everything up for delivery, only for the man to never call us back and disappear entirely.  I was so disappointed.  But only for a minute!  Because, the very same day another sectional was listed and this time it was exactly what we wanted and even though we were not the first ones to reply to the ad, the woman picked us.   Today J went to pick it up and it just barely fit into our van.  After much effort we got it through the skinny old front door and voila!  Our new couch.
 There's actually a spot for everyone in the family and then some!  It's so fantastic!
And it's clean and nice and the kids love it.  We all sat on it before bedtime tonight and J read aloud to us.

And the lesson?  Well....all I can say is that I can see more clearly these days, how God takes care of us. I know to some people all these things seem like coincidences, but I choose to believe that it is The Shepherd leading us to good things.  I hope the next time this lesson comes round to be able to trust even more, and as a result to just rest peacefully during the waiting....knowing that it will all work out somehow for our good and for His purpose.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Crochet Handbag

 I whipped this up last week one night.  I had no intention of making a handbag.  In fact, I thought I was crocheting some washcloths to give to a friend.  I love how this cotton yarn is to work with, and became charmed with the color.  It seemed too pretty to make into a washcloth, so J suggested I make a bag.  I'm glad he did!
 I crocheted a few flowers to add to it and I like how old fashioned they look.
Now all I have to do is figure out a closure for it.  I thought about a button, but it seemed too clumsy for the design.  I'd like to make a loop and "knob" (you know like a fancy bump that goes through the loop and holds it in place) out of yarn, but I don't know how yet!  Any of you crafty ones reading this have a suggestion for me?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Children's Stained Glass Window Project

Take a peek at what we've been up to this week!
 I found the idea for this at The Crafty Crow.   (which you really should check out if you haven't already for tons of beautiful crafting ideas!)  The window is made with colored tissue paper and glue.  It's that simple.  We used Elmer's washable school glue and watered it down a bit so that it was easier to paint on the window.  (and yes, I tested it and the dried paper and glue wash off the window really easily)

 The boys loved this project.  It is such a sensory experience, painting on the glue, touching the wet tissue paper, smoothing it out with the paint brush.  Also, it is a really great way to learn about color.  We were surprised by all the beautiful colors you can create by layering different colors of tissue paper on top of one another.

 The bonus for this project is that it hides from our sitting room, the mess that is my porch right now.  I am going through a process of simplifying the house, which means getting rid of unneeded things.  The porch is holding all of the things that will soon be part of our garage sale, as soon as the weather is nice enough.
 Here's what it looked like at the end of day one.
 And here it is finished!  The boys had fun cutting out different shapes.  There is a bird, a lobster, a spider, a fish....and many others.
I am so pleased with how this turned out.  Sometimes the easiest projects can be the most beautiful!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Backyard Flock

A good friend of mine is thinking about getting some chickens and asked me a few questions about getting started.  I've been asked about our backyard flock quite a few times and thought I'd answer the basic questions here for you.

Having your own chickens is a wonderful thing!  They are beautiful, interesting creatures and having fresh eggs is amazing.  They taste so much better, are better for baking, and are much more nutrient dense.  We purchase day old chicks, which arrive in the mail, and start them from there.  Raising them from chicks is much more cost effective than raising them from the egg although I always think that part would be really fun to watch.  The day old birds are so sweet.

 They need heat, light, clean bedding, fresh water and feed and a little bit of attention.  Keeping them clean and free of drafts is really the most important thing.  They feather out in about two weeks and then are ready for a little more room but still should be in the brooder for a bit yet.  Once they are about 6 weeks old we put them in the hen house and out in the yard.
 checking out the coop at about 6 weeks
an Auracana, a colored egg layer...the shells can be pink or green or blue

 We have a coop to keep them safe at night from predators and weather.  A coop is a good thing, but chicken tractors are also really effective and perhaps better suited to a small backyard flock.  Here is a great link to learn more about chicken tractors including tons of photos and ideas.

 Our flock in their yard...they like the nettles and fallen apples
Our Auracana Rooster...isn't he a beauty? ...and no you don't need a rooster to get eggs!

After about 16 weeks (give or take) they will start to lay eggs.  At which point you need to change their feed to a laying ration.  The first eggs will be really small, but wow is it ever exciting to find that first little treasure!  In a few more weeks they whole flock will be laying and the eggs will start to be normal size, although still medium in size.  The eggs increase in size as the bird matures, and you can especially notice a growth in size after the bird molts.
A "first" egg next to eggs of hens that have been laying for a few weeks

A laying flock will produce for a few years if kept in good health, and generally you can expect 2 eggs a day from every 3 hens.  That's what they say in all the books anyway, but we have several days a week where we get an egg a day for each hen.  In the winter, chickens need a well protected, yet well ventilated space including fresh water that isn't frozen and extra feed.  This can be tricky in Wisconsin, but our flock layed throughout the winter and only now went into a molt which is normal to do once a year. (we are still getting 8 eggs a day as opposed to 15)  Get your hands on a good book to guide you through this and other questions you may have.  The one we like is Storey's "A Guide to Raising Chickens".  

One other thing I get asked all the time is if having chickens is cost effective.  Yes!  Having hens saves us money. When compared to buying organic eggs at $3.80 a dozen we pay about $14 for a bag of feed which lasts us about a week.  We supplement with pasture and fruit and vegetable scraps from our kitchen.  The water and heat is a minimal cost.  If you consider that we get about a dozen eggs a day, sometimes more, sometimes less....that's 7 dozen a week.  Times that by $3.80 and you are paying over $26 dollars for that many eggs.  We don't use 7 dozen a week, but we are able to sell enough to cover the cost of feed so we are basically getting our eggs for free unless you count the manual labor.  Which is truly not fun somedays, but other days it's such a joy!  Our children have loved having chickens!  They love feeding them and gathering eggs and picking berries to throw to them through the fence.  

Just one more thing to mention.....
Raising birds for meat is also really worthwhile.  If you eat meat, you really should know where it comes from and raising your own birds is a wonderful way to understand what it takes to bring this kind of food to the table.  We raise about 60 chickens a summer for meat, with another family, and it provides for us all the chicken we use for a year, plus tons of homemade chicken stock.  We do the butchering and processing ourselves.  Our friends are so cool.  They made a chicken plucker out of an old washing machine drum and it works super well!  We now have the butchering process down pretty well and between the four of us we are able to process one batch of 30 birds, plus watch all eight of our children, in an afternoon.
We have raised the meat birds in a chicken tractor so they can be on pasture 24 hours a day.  Meat birds are not the same breed of chicken as the ones used for laying.  (There are dual purpose breeds, that might work for you if you have lots of land, time, and the intention of breeding your own birds. )  These birds go from brooder to butchering in 6-8 weeks.  If you are interested in this, I would consult the Storey's book and find someone in your area who can guide you through this.  It's not hard to raise them at all, but butchering is a different story.  It takes practice and patience and is not for the faint of heart.  If you choose to have the butchering done by a processing plant it really takes away from the ecnomical advantages of raising your own birds.  I will say that now that we have done this, we will never go back to buying store bought chicken unless we have to!
And, yeah, I have pictures of the chicken plucker and of J plucking a bird, but I thought I'd spare you. ;)

Monday, March 21, 2011

Birthday Cake Parade

 Redwall Abbey Cake (from Brian Jacques' book series "Redwall")
 Banana muffins with homemade animal cracker tops for a 1st birthday
 Snake Cake (a timber rattler)
 The Very Hungry Caterpillar Cake 
 Giraffe Cake (with toasted coconut)
 Garbage Truck Cake
Castle with graham cracker fortress walls
Dump Truck (modeled after a favorite Matchbox Car)

Not shown....the ladybug cupcakes, the pumpkin cupcakes, and this one strange cake that was supposed
to be a car but ended up looking like a bug.  
                 ......Bob the Builder, which was funny, i know, but it was such a hit with the boy!
                 ......a bull's eye cake with arrows & a Buzz Lightyear cake (both of which can be found in the archives of this blog)
                  ......the Scuba Diver Cake, which I apparently only took video of.  Who does that? :)
                 .....and the Millenium Falcon, which is my personal favorite because it looked so real.  If you are one of the grandma persons that attended that party and you have a picture of the Millenium Falcon (which would've been Nov. 2008) would you please make me a copy?  Pretty please with sugar on top?

Alright.  Now you know about my obsession with birthday cakes.  I hope you still like me.  Let me know, by leaving me a comment and telling me which one you like the best and feel free to leave a link to some pictures of any cool cakes that you've made.  And don't forget to go back and look at the previous blog post to see Hen's Train Cake from his party this weekend!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Hen's Train Cake

Two 9 inch chocolate cakes, cut in half and made into hills with track.  I used the "Perfectly Chocolate Cake" recipe from the back of the Hershey's cocoa can, except I used organic ingredients, sucanat instead of sugar, and coconut oil instead of vegetable oil.
 The train is made up of sugar cookies sandwiched together to make a front and back to the train.  The boys helped me decorate the train cars by lending me a book and instructing me on cattle cars, and boxcars and tenders and the like. (phew!)  It was really fun to make!

Happy 2nd Birthday Little Hen!  We love you!

Friday, March 18, 2011


Our littlest mancub turned two this week!
 He's had a splendid time this week playing outside.  All winter he wanted to play outside with the bigger boys, but then when it actually came down to it, he would get frustrated about walking in the snow and downright mad about falling into the snow, which is inevitable when you are two.  This winter was a winter of cold, icy, hard-to-walk-in snow.   And now the snow is almost gone and the season of mud has arrived!  A boy's favorite season!

We are celebrating Hen's special day this weekend with family, but couldn't pass up the chance to make chocolate cupcakes on the actual day.  The littlest boys and I made these, while the older two were at homeschool co-op.  It was fun, but I'll admit Owl and Hen were not very into helping make them, but were very into helping to eat them.  Ah, well...

He licked the chocolate buttercream off the top and tried to grab a second one, because isn't that what you are supposed to do?  The cupcake must just be something to put the frosting on for ease of holding and licking!

Today we walked to the local bookstore and when we walked into the children's section Hen spotted Arnold Lobel's "Owl at Home".  He pointed to it, and promptly said, "Owl at Home! Owl at Home!" The bookstore owner knows us and has been the supplier of books to our oldest boy (voracious reader) since he was 3.  When he heard Hen's response to seeing the familiar book he said, "Another one? How old is he?"  "Two", I said sheepishly.  And yes, we've got another one, whatever that means.  Having  children like this (bright, gifted, amazing?  i don't know what to call it?) seems "normal" to me now, and it's funny to be reminded how not "normal" it is for a just turned two year old to be talking in sentences and starting to sound out words in a book.

What a crazy journey we are on.  Parenting.  Loving.  Living.  I'm so thankful for this time I have with these Little Men.  Someone I know says, "Normal is just a setting on your dishwasher" and I am finding that is so true.