Monday, September 29, 2008

Cute Kids

Crazy Chickens

We have some rather weird chickens. I don't know, maybe this is normal chicken behavior but it is weird to me. We have one chicken who has decided that the perfect place to lay her eggs is in one of the recycling bins. And we have another one who seems to think that every time the van door is open, that is an invitation to jump in. All I can say is if the darn chicken poops in my van, we will be having chicken for dinner.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quotable Kids

Tonight at dinner one of the children asked Alan how old he was. Being the typical smart alec that he normally is when given any justifiable (in his mind, at least) opportunity, Alan came back with "older than dirt." This started a conversation about how old the kids were. The result was that some of them are older than dust but younger than dirt. You have to love the way young minds work.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Working On the Barn

The crew is hard at work again helping Dad with the barn.
And here is Dad doing his best to not fall of the roof. Because if he falls off, I am not taking him to the hospital. Ok, maybe I will. I just won't enjoy it.

Astronaut Liam

An unexpected box arrived in the mail today full of goodies from the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. Liam is dressed up as an astronaut. The kids have enjoyed astronaut ice cream and are busy playing with an International Space Station play set. We have books on making paper airplanes, helicopter type toys, wooden planes and a solar system. There is a small side of me trying to plan a unit study to go along with all of this stuff. The kids are enjoying themselves so in case you are reading this Donette, the kids all say thanks.

The Walnuts are Ready

I took a short break from dealing with apples this afternoon to harvest a few walnuts from our trees. There aren't many to be had this year because the trees are still on the young side and the wind and rain over the past few evenings have knocked some off the trees. Finding them before the animals is not always possible. It is rather neat to be able to find all this food in our own yard. Now we just need a usable, not decorative, nutcracker so we can break into the darn things.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Apple Cake

I made a German Apple Cake yesterday to have for breakfast today. Yes, I'm ok with feeding the kids cake for breakfast. Besides, do you not see the word apple in the title? Apparently everyone loved it because by the time I came downstairs there were only 2 pieces left. Some days I actually forget how much food my gang can devour. Guess this means no one will complain if I make another one or two for the freezer.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Current Canning Count

Yesterday I managed to make 9 jars of apple butter and 8 qts of applesauce. This brings the current count to 10 qts plus 1 pint of applesauce and 13 jars of apple butter. We keep forgetting to get a new jar when we run out so we'll have to get better about that. We also have 10 qts of various types of jam (strawberry, triple berry, raspberry and cherry), 15 pints of salsa, 13 qts of peaches and 8 jars of strawberry syrup. I found a great recipe for making fruit flavored syrup with no corn syrup. Super easy, super cheap and very yummy. In the freezer, we have 6 qts of cherry pie filling, 1 qt of applesauce, 5 gallon sized bags of strawberries, at least 12 quart sized bags of blueberries, a gallon sized bag of rhubarb and 3 gallon sized bags of bell peppers. And I forgot all about the green beans and asparagus in the freezer from the garden. On the schedule for today is making apple pie filling and apple jelly. Yesterday I managed to slice open a finger and finger nail on the left hand and burn by right arm. Who would have thought splattering applesauce would be that hot. So the other goal for today is to inflict no further injuries upon myself. Liam woke up sick in the middle of the night so I also have extra laundry to do today. Sounds like it will be fun day. Hopefully the boys will also get some math work done but other than that this week, we are focusing on apples for some reason. I'm hoping to make more applesauce on Friday and perhaps an apple cake or two for the freezer. We have to get the apples off our trees this weekend but those will all go to applesauce as well since they are super small. The pears on our trees need to be dealt with this weekend as well so I'm hoping to can those as pear slices. We are actually starting to run low on canning jars which is quite amazing. My Grandmother gave us her entire supply of canning jars when we first moved here and I thought we would be set for a while. But we did not have enough peaches to can last year and only did about 12 jars of applesauce so I'm sure that has something to do with it. Plus one jar developed a crack and had to be tossed. Better to toss it than have it explode in the canner. I still have quite a lot of work left to do. The kitchen table is still buried in apples.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Question to Ponder

To go along with my last post, I ran across an article lamenting how folks on food stamps are expected to live on too little money food wise. In general, food stamp recipients are expected to buy all of their food for $25 per person per week. So for a family of 4, that works out to $400 a month. Keep in mind, this does not include anything not for human consumption so no pet needs, shampoo, soap, etc. And to be fair, I feel you should also consider that folks on food stamps are able to get free or reduced lunches and often breakfast for their school aged children. Granted, not every food stamp family gets the full benefits and many of the families are headed by single parents working who may not feel up to cooking from scratch after being at work all day. But I have to say that in my experience, yes, you can easily feed your family with that much money. You can also use coupons and sales to stretch your money further. With those guidelines, my family is supposed to be able to eat on $900 a month. Yup, we spend less than that. If I had $225 a week to spend on just food, we'd be eating organic meat and dairy all the time. My question is could your family take the challenge? Can you feed your family on $25 per person per week? Do you feel those guidelines are fair or have folks in this country become way too used to the easy way out and are afraid to put a little work in? I'm not saying you can walk into the store and buy whatever you want with that budget but with some time and planning, you could do just fine, IMO. I'm starting to think more and more that folks in this country need to buck up and quit complaining so darn much.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ye Olde Grocery Budget

So give me your ideas for cheap, filling, meatless meals. Alright, I'll take cheap with meat but I don't pay more than $2 lb for meat. I'm sure most folks are feeling that budget crunch at the grocery store lately. I'm starting to try to have meatless meals on not only Friday, but one other day a week hoping it will help some. We're heading into winter soon so we can rely on oatmeal more for breakfast. Nothing is much cheaper than that and it actually fills their bellies up all morning. No, not the instant sugar filled kind in little packets. The old fashioned cook on the stove kind. The chickens are finally laying a bit so I'm thinking once a few more start laying, we'll have enough eggs for us and to give away occasionally. I'm not going to venture into selling them at this point because that would require the dreaded government paperwork. I've heard of an awesome farmers market in downtown Rochester that is apparently more than worth the drive. But they are only open 3 days a week and if you don't get there super early, there will be no parking. I think I will have to venture out there next week once all the apples are taken care of and packed away in the pantry. I have our name on lists for a whole hog and half a cow this year but those are dependent on both the animals and the available cash at butchering time. But back to the original question. What are your go to cheap, filling meals? We do our best to avoid corn syrup, red dyes, and excessively processed/packaged stuff to keep it healthier for the gang. We do pasta night on Wednesdays, meatless on Friday, try for homemade pizza on Saturdays and in the winter we tend to eat more soups, chili and things of that nature. Crockpot meals are a plus and any bread recipe that will rise easily in a cold kitchen (the kitchen is freezing in the winter for some odd reason). I'm really hoping I can get more than the same 3 people to toss me ideas here because I think I have most of the ideas from 2 of them already. I know you are out there.

Sneaky, Sneaky Chickens

The chickens seem to think they are entitled to roam the yard. They think the fence is for suckers. Admittedly, letting the birds roam is supposed to be healthier for the birds. That way they eat a diet that is more natural. They keep the bug population in the yard down. They provide nice fertilizer everywhere they roam. Ok, that one is not so great when a child steps in a pile of chicken poop right as you are trying to leave for church. Another negative to roaming chickens is that they lay their eggs where they want in nice hidden places all over the yard. This weekend, two of those hiding places were discovered. Someone has been laying eggs in the garden and someone else has been laying eggs in the front patch of bushes. 11 eggs total were discovered and they have all passed the freshness test. So we now have 3 or 4 chickens laying eggs everyday. I'm really hoping that once the barn is finished and the fence is fixed a bit, we can keep the chickens where they belong because I don't relish the idea of having to search the entire yard for eggs.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Caramel Apples

Look at that face. Can you tell she is enjoying her apple?
The kids all helped make their own caramel apples. They all then devoured them.
I have to say that this is about my favorite way to eat apples. I know, terribly healthy of me. But they are more than worth the mess.

113 Pounds of Apples

So what exactly does that many apples look like? Well, check the pictures and find out. Amazing how many apples 9 people can pick in under an hour. As usual, the kids had fun and ate plenty of apples as they picked. I see in my future a week of peeling, slicing and coring apples while we get applesauce, apple butter, pie filling and apple jelly made. The kids like dehydrated apples so I may put them in charge of running the dehydrator this week. At some point, we'll have an apple cake and caramel apples. And to make things even more fun, our pear trees are ready so I will have to spend some time canning those as well. It should be an interesting week.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Must I Wait?

I took a couple of kids with me today to run some errands. We stopped at the farmer's market and bought some cinnamon raisin bread from the Amish bakery for breakfast tomorrow. One loaf is iced, one loaf is plain. Now I have been staring at it all afternoon trying to convince myself that yes, I really must wait until the morning to have some. It is so delicious, everything you want in bread: homemade, no preservatives. And I know as soon as the kids wake up, it will disappear. I think I may have to figure out how to make bread that tastes as good as theirs does, if that is even possible.

Another barn update

Hi this is Alan again. I might not look like I have made much progress, but slow and steady wins the race right? Besides the things that I have been doing require a good deal of work to get it done right. Here are some pictures of the progress so far.

This shows most of the work I was able to get done. No that board is really in place. I just laid it up there to get an idea of how it was going to work.

This is just a close up of the same thing. As you can see I have not cut the "Bird's mouth" or anything.

As you can see I have put Joist hangers on the ridge crest to make placing the rafters easier.

In case you sere wondering the ridge crest and the two support beams are about 110 pounds. So they were really fun to move.

Last I put in a center support.

Just a Few Pictures

I just wanted to share a few more pictures from our trip.

If you look closely at this next picture, you can see the cougar is actually stalking the children in the enclosed box. There is a tunnel for the kids to crawl in that brings them out into an enclosed room inside the habitat. Normally the animals are no where to be seen since they are napping or something. Yesterday they were up and walking around and stalking the children in the box.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Zoo

We finally made the trek out to the zoo for Kieran since he finished his study on animals. I have to say that it seems we go to the zoo more for the playground than for the animals. Our zoo is on the smaller side with lots of small animals that hide in their habitats so you are often lucky to catch glimpses of half of them. Today they had a scavenger hunt for all the kids and everyone who finished it got a free jump rope. So we came home with 6 jump ropes. I decided Gabe really did not need one yet. We almost lost one scavenger hunt list when it fell into the elephant habitat. The kids were most upset when I said we were not going over the fence to retrieve it so they tracked down a large stick to remove it with. Took some time and patience but eventually they rescued it. So we saw a few animals, met up with a few friends and brought home new toys. And now the little ones are napping. Any trip that wears the kids out a bit is always a good one.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Flannel Sheets

We got a big box in the mail today full of new sheets for the kids. Nice soft, warm, snuggly flannel sheets for winter. Amazingly enough, the kids were excited to get new sheets in the mail. Makes me wonder why we buy them toys. But we keep the heat rather low around here, especially at night. I have a feeling these sheets are going to keep everyone much happier and warmer this year. Maybe I'll get lucky and actually be able to turn the heat down even farther at night.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How do you Homeschool?

We've apparently landed in an area where folks seem to live and breathe the "bring school home" theory of homeschooling. The better early than late and sit them down with school books for hours at a time. The folks in our local Catholic support group will turn down invitations to field trips or social gatherings of all sorts because they need to hit the books. This is a new reality for me. Our family firmly embraces the ideas of year-round schooling, keeping things a bit casual, field trips and playdates are a good thing, not pushing the books early. I don't think my family could embrace a more formal school attitude. It would drive me insane. Lest you think the children are not performing at grade level, let me assure you they are doing that and more at times. We have the state mandated yearly standardized tests to prove it. They each have their areas that they truly enjoy and run with and they each have areas that they struggle with at times. We've had a kid start reading at 4 and one who did not read wonderfully on his own until about 8. And yet by the time they were both in 4th grade, they were about at the same level. Amazing how that happens. I've seen mother's run themselves ragged after a baby was born because they were afraid to take a break from school and get behind. For me, that break usually starts a few weeks before the baby is born and runs for at least a month afterwards. The baby is the lesson and is much more important than a book at that point in time. I am even more grateful now for the friends I made when we were starting our homeschool journey than I was at the beginning. Grateful to find folks who could show me that it is ok to not take things so darn seriously and that your kids can learn in a more relaxed environment and even thrive in one. No, we don't do Shakespeare much around here since neither parent really cares for it. But the kids do enjoy reading CS Lewis and Tolkien and Greek Myths (that is all their father) and Little House on the Prairie. They also devour books about the saints (something neither of us were exposed to and that we are now are learning right along with our kids) and older kids books from the 50's. You don't have to worry about what messages your kids will stumble upon when you hand them a reprint of an older book in most cases. Most importantly, my kids still have plenty of time to be kids. We are not running around trying to take them to 20 different enrichment activities but just letting them be kids. TV and computer are strictly limited and many folks think we are much too strict on that one but we have our reasons. But enough rambling. I suppose this was just an attempt to reassure myself that yes, we are doing what is right for our family and our kids are doing just fine. But can't help but wish I was able to find a few like minded homeschooling families nearby. It's gets a bit lonely to feel like you are moving against the crowd all by yourself.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Do You See the Baby in this Picture?

Ok, I really need to stop calling Gabe a baby. He's not a baby. He's a full fledged toddler by now and an entire 14 months, almost. Anyway, this is how the little dude was entertaining himself this afternoon. Who would have thought a paper bag would be worth 30 minutes of blissful baby laughter. And you must ignore the mess in the picture because this is real life folks. A friend can deal with a cluttered house and if you aren't a friend and are about to comment on the clutter, well, get over yourself.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Barn Progress

Hi this is Alan. Since I don't really have any place to post what I am doing, and don't have enough interesting to create my own place I am borrowing Cheryl's blog.
So today we started working on the barn roof. It is just Cheryl and I so the progress is slow, but we are moving forward. We built an extra ladder, for Dad's use only.

We got some of the cross beams hung.

And we made the first cuts for the peak, but then it started raining so we called it at day.

The Chicken and the Egg

Guess what was found this morning. Our first egg. About darn time, too. I was beginning to rethink the frugality of raising chickens for eggs based on how much food they've been eating. So we have at least one chicken laying eggs. Hopefully by the time we use all the eggs we have in the house at the moment, we will have a few more laying so I can avoid buying eggs for a while. Or at least until winter weather hits. Chances are fairly good that they won't lay in large quantities through the winter. But with 23 chickens, it is possible we may still have enough eggs anyway. Only time will tell.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Audio Books

Audio Books are very popular around here with just about everyone except me. Ok, I'll listen to them in the car but otherwise, I tend to prefer a real book in my hands. Our kids love to listen to them and we often use them to help reluctant readers learn to enjoy reading on their own. They are great for quiet time. Alan often listens to them while driving back and forth to work. The only problem with audio books is that they can be a bit hard to afford. I recently found a few places to get audio books for free. Yes, there is always the library and we do pick up quite a few there. But sometimes you want something different. Personally the adult section is lacking in decent audio books in our library. If you love audio books, check out these sites and share your favorite places to get them with us: Storynory and Audio Books for Free.

Friday Round-up

It has been a very exciting, wet, rainy day. We saw a couple of plays put on by some very funny actors.
We found a cute little dude wearing a hat that was just way too big for him.
We picked up this little lady being escorted by both a Union and a Confederate soldier.
We rescued this little prairie girl from the rain.
And we did some lounging around while waiting for things to get started.
And did our best to entertain folks before the show.
The week at camp was a success. If only it had not rained all day today while the rest of us planned to hang out in the village. The rain did cause us to finally explore the art gallery which annoyed one of the grumpy old ladies working there. Oh my, you have children with you. Gasp! Um, deal with it lady. We came home with a van full of soaked but happy kids. We'll definitely being doing this camp again next year.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Apple and the Boy

Yes, that is my super tiny Mr. Gabe eating a super big apple he stole from his sister. That she stole from the box on the table when I was not looking. These kids keep eating like this and there won't be enough apples left over for me to turn into applesauce tonight. We stopped by the produce stand and came home with 2 more boxes of free produce. You certainly can't complain about that and obviously, the kids are enjoying it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Playroom Question

One of the great things about this house is the finished playroom in the basement. Ok, we are still working on real heat down there for the winter but it's still great. I don't have to see the toys and the clutter if I don't want to and the kids have their own space. Which makes it that much easier to keep toys out of the living room and bedrooms. We are big on bedrooms being only for sleeping. No toys means less mess and makes it easier to put more kids in a bedroom. But the playroom question. Exactly how messy to you allow it to get before you declare it a federal disaster area? That is the question I have been pondering lately. You know they can't really play if the floor is covered in so many toys that you can't see it. And you know things get broken when they are left out and stepped on. Plus the little one can't be down there if it is mess and his older brothers love to take him downstairs and play with him. Yes, I have gotten rid of toys and tossed the extra clutter. I have a rule that no toy stays in the house that annoys Mom. Yes, even those super cool battery operated things they get as gifts. Pretty much if the toy does just one thing, we don't keep it as the kids quickly get bored of it and it ends up in a heap on the floor. Maybe I'm mean but I've never been a fan of toy fads and toys that tell kids how to play with them. Then again, maybe the dress up box would not always be emptied on the floor if they weren't being so creative. Guess it just may be time to enforce a mandatory cleaning session again as the rug is starting to hide on me.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Happy Birthday Blessed Mother!

September 8 is when the birthday of the Blessed Mother is celebrated. Going along with the hands-on way of teaching the faith, we celebrated the day with cake and homemade pizza. Yes, I normally use blue frosting since blue is traditionally associated with Marian feasts but things were a tad crazy here yesterday.

I believe it is very important that we start reclaiming the rich heritage that is the Catholic faith. Celebrate feast days, celebrate your patron saints' day, get back to the real faith. Sure, we all know God loves you and a few bible stories but there is so much more to being Catholic than that. People are leaving the Catholic church in droves simply because we are no longer being given the real faith or taught anything anymore. So many people claim they are Catholic while also saying they no longer believe in the true presence of the Eucharist, they think it is ok to use contraception, to support pro-abortion politicians and organizations, to avoid confession, never mention mortal sin or purgatory. We are loosing our rich heritage and it is time that stopped. When you take the time to celebrate feast days, you make the saints real people for your children. When you teach your children to pray for souls in purgatory (as opposed to just telling them that everyone goes right to heaven) you unite them with their loved ones who have passed away. There is so much more I'd love to say but I'm sure most folks would think I am a loon.

Bottom line is what have you done to celebrate your faith lately? Your Mother is calling and wants to share the joy of Her birthday with you. Do something fun and show your kids that faith is a fun thing. Make some more memories.