Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Celebrating St. Patty's in our homeschool and home

Perhaps it's because it comes at the end of long winters, darker days and we may be wallowing in the midst of the tail end of the winter doldrums but ever since we started homeschooling in 2006, we've celebrated St. Patrick's Day with our own bits of fun.

I thought I'd share a few of our favorite St. Patty's Day things with y'all.

Our Favorite Books: (Click book for link)

This one is just too funny.... and you may want to make pancakes while you're reading it. And since it's St. Patrick's Day, you may want to make green chocolate chip pancakes. Just sayin'.

For your listening pleasure:
We really enjoy a good audio book at our house and this collection of Irish Folklore doesn't disappoint. I think the piratey Grace O'Malley story is still our all time favorite.

When the kiddos were littler, we added in some fun worksheets to our school day. You can find a slew of printables for St. Patrick's Day on Pinterest.
Here are a few fun ones:
How To Catch A Leprechaun writing activity
Write a Limerick worksheet
And here's a whole History of St. Patrick's Day unit study [PreK-K]
A St. Patrick's Day Trivia Quiz for middle schoolers
A wonderful 5 day unit study from Knowledge Quest on St. Patrick
A seriously cool rainbow themed science experiment
And this experiment using Skittles is super cool- even for high schoolers (possibly because they also get to eat the leftover Skittles)

Again- Pinterest has a plethora of pretty pins for this. I'm all about keeping it simple.
For example, I'm a fan of this oldie but a goodie- the science project turned decoration with white carnations and green dye.... but here's a few more simple yet crafty fun ideas:
Paper Strip Shamrocks
A pretty candle centerpiece with dried split peas

Here's a link to lots my wonderfulness on my St. Patrick's Day Pinterest Board
And here's a post I did a few years ago about our celebrations including my attempt at rainbow jello desserts.... let's just say- t i m e  c o n s u m i n g. 

It can't really be St. Patrick's Day at our house without a showing of this- our all time favorite "Irish" John Wayne Movie.... [Guess what? It's on Netflix right now!]

As for food.... now there's some real fun. It's easy-peasy to add green food coloring to a few good dishes.
For breakfast we've had: green (scrambled) eggs and ham, green oatmeal and green pancakes. Or even Lucky Charms Cereal!

Lunch: Bubble and Squeak (scalloped potatoes and ham)
Supper: Irish Beef Stew or Shepherd's Pie.... and yes we've even had corned beef and cabbage (but I gotta say, not a fan.)
With Irish Soda Bread [a boxed mix from Aldi. Sigh. I heart Aldi.]
And dessert: Mint Chocolate Chip Shakes of course!
Or Grasshopper Pie. 
Ahem, I just found this recipe right here for grasshopper poke cake. I think that's our dessert for St. Patty's 2015.

Want to get fancier? More involved? Here's a link to 50 different Irish Recipes for St. Patrick's Day

We don't hold much with "luck" 'round these parts... instead we count our blessings. Which is a good habit to be in, really. And so with that- I'll leave you with this snippet of an Irish blessing...

May God hold you in the palm of His hand until next we meet again.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Winter Farm Update aka Our First Farm Winter

[Forgive me Dear Readers... this post has been sitting in my draft box for 2 months.... and here I am posting just a couple of weeks before the 1st day of Spring... sigh.]

We had a three day blizzard in November and then a green Christmas. Crazy.
The chickens, which are usually all buttoned up in the coop for the duration of winter enjoyed many days free-ranging in the yard. Which is good because temperatures dipped sharply with the new year and they’re closed off in the coop with a heat lamp again.
We’re using the deep litter method, which means we’re not cleaning out the coop…. which means it’s smelling pretty ripe.
Good thing I’ve got 3 kiddos to feed and water and gather eggs.

Winter shows us the truly amazing blessing of our outdoor wood burner. Oh yes. It’s -11 degrees out right now and a balmy 74 degrees in the house.
My boy is in short sleeves and none of us are wearing socks.
It’s a bit to get use to after living 20 years in a drafty century-plus old house that we kept only as high as 66 degrees during the day…. And 64 degrees at night.
Sometimes it gets too warm and we have to open a window.
The other plus is no heat bill. None of us really mind the trek out to the wood stove because all of us enjoy the benefits of wood heat…. We feel the difference!
Downside- we need to be mindful to dress warmer when going out and about away from the farm.

And you know what they say about heating with wood…. It warms you twice. Once when you cut it and again when you burn it.

A few weeks ago it was so bitterly cold that the remaining water in the chicken waterer froze in the time it took for Lu to walk the 40 yards from the coop to the house. So we’re thankful for the heat lamp we have going 24/7 in the coop to keep the water frost-free.

We had the most amazing hoarfrost too. I enjoyed a sunrise hike around the property that morning. Everything coated in fuzzy frost. Breathtaking.

Shoveling is a lot more work here at the farm than it was in town. We expected it and for the most part we welcome the exercise and diversion from schoolwork.  It helps that I’ve finally perfected my homemade hot cocoa recipe. It only took me two years. [My secret ingredient is instant chocolate pudding powder…. A tip from my sister.]

It does help that for our first farm winter we only have chickens to look after.

Our 7 remaining chickens are doing quite well. Egg production has been down the last couple of days with the extreme cold but we’re not hurting for eggs. We’re adding unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (ACV) to the waterer twice a week to help keep our hens healthy and the kids like to pull their favorites out of the coop for some lovin’ and hugs every so often. When the weather warms up into the 30's we let them out to free range again for a few hours a day. Which seems to combat their cabin fever. We also make sure they get some good treats often…. Like these mealworms that we have renamed Chicken Crack for obvious reasons—the hens straight up LOVE the stuff. We add a couple handfuls to the feeder which also helps to keep the ladies eating well. We make sure they get our fresh fruit and veggie leftovers and even give them their very own cabbage every couple of weeks or so. The cabbage is not only nutritious but also provides “fun play” for the chickens because we hang it from a string…. It’s like a cabbage piƱata.

We sent all three roosters and three of our hens (that had stopped laying) to the processor back at the beginning of December and now our freezer has some of our very own farm-raised meat in it. We’re pretty proud of that. We've cooked up a couple of the hens already along and served them with some of our own canned pickles and apple sauce. It was almost a complete from farm to table meal. We're looking forward to a true farm to table meal later this summer.

In other farm news, I placed the biggest seed order for me ever a few weeks ago. The seeds arrived the end of January and I'm in the process of plotting the planting and starting of it all. I'm over-the-top excited. Our garden is going to be the biggest it's ever been. We’re going bigger in some areas and smaller in others. For example, 37 tomato plants was really too much. Really. But the Zinnias… one can never have enough flowers. Never.

I’m also going to try my hand at winter-sowing. I’ve been doing a lot of online reading about it and am saving our milk jugs. I'm hoping it goes well. I'll try to keep you posted.

So there you have it…. Our first farm winter. Even though the farm seems to be fast asleep under a blanket of snow there is always stuff going on and needing doing.
And of course, we like it that way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Let's talk Chicken

So I just realized that I never really shared about the coop and chickens here.
Our first foray into farming and I've been remiss in giving it its proper place here.

Sometimes we've been known to do things a bit backwards.
Like buying chickens before we have a farm.
Or even a coop to put them in.

Lucky for us, my parents didn't mind chicken sitting until we got things squared away.

It all started with a box from Meyer Hatchery.
A box containing sixteen of the cutest little Dominque pullets (a chick that is a hen) you ever did see.
Now, we didn't take all sixteen to live in my parents basement (that's where our brooder was). Nope, we split the purchase 50/50 with my brother (who already had a coop but not enough room for all those chicks.)

Why Dominiques
A few very good reasons, they are a rare heritage breed and we like the idea of helping to keep this breed alive. This breed was one of the first breeds established in America. Dominiques are heat and cold tolerant (perfect for Michigan's weather) and very sweet birds. They're also great egg layers, staying pretty consistent to daily laying (except during molting). 
Our Ladies, as we affectionately call them, quickly became like pets to the family. The kids took to holding and snuggling them right away, so the ladies have always been a friendly bunch.
We also gave them names: Beulah, Bernie, Dixie, Gertrude, Louise, Mabel, Omelet and Sunny. And the kids each quickly found a favorite chicken. Lu's favorite is Beulah, who just so happens to be the bossy leader of the group (go figure). Mads took to Dixie who is just the sweetest of the sweet, just like our Mads. And The Boy, well, he can't just settle for one, so Omelet and Louise found themselves being carted around and looked after quite often. They tolerate him very well.

The ladies have been great layers for us as we averaged 7 eggs a day that first year (I know, someone's not laying but we've never really figured out who).
Once we moved here we began free ranging them for periods during the day and putting them to roost in the coop at night. They love to follow us around when we're outside and if you're weeding in the garden, they'll fight over who can be closest to you and get the grubs, worms and bugs.

Chickens do their best laying the first year and then begin to taper off. From our chicken research, we found hens lay well for the first two to three years and you should be purchasing your next set of layers during the 2nd year so you're never without hens producing eggs. Our original plan was to buy 8 more Dominiques in February of 2015.

About a month before we moved to the farm we purchased six more chickens. Our local Tractor Supply Company Store (TSC) was having a sale on the very last day they were selling chicks. A buck a piece. The Mister and The Boy had to stop and check them out. Had. To. The chicks were straight run (which means you don't know if you're getting hens or roosters) and The Boy picked three Barred Rocks and three Welsummers with great anticipation.
And a couple months later we found out we had 3 hens and 3 roosters.
Three LOUD roosters.
But also 3 very beautiful roosters. Two Barred Rocks named Silas and Seamus and the most gorgeous Welsummer named Benedict by Lu (who as thinking Benedict Cumberbatch and Eggs Benedict. Win, win in her book).
The girls were named Esmerelda, Beatrice and Henrietta. Bea is Mads' favorite and Hettie has all of The Boy's affection. Hettie is a Barred Rock; Ezzie & Bea are the most lovely Welsummers.
We have become completely smitten with the Welsummer breed. They lay the most beautiful, speckled dark brown eggs and love to forage in the yard. [I believe these two are responsible for the ruination of two of our pumpkins while we were gone on a day trip last fall.] Welsummers are also a rare breed but not a heritage breed as they are a considered relatively new breed introduction to North America. The breed is most well known for the rooster, which is the mascot on the Kellogg's Cornflake cereal box.

All three breeds get along well together. Well, I should say all three breeds of hens get along. We had to remove Silas and Seamus to a makeshift coop of their own as they didn't get on well with Benedict and were always picking fights with each other as well.
And we don't need three roosters.
We don't even really need one rooster at this point since we aren't planning on hatching our own eggs at this point. 

Benedict and Esmeralda 
Barred Rocks are considered a dual purpose breed, raised for both eggs and meat. So Silas and Seamus had their days numbered from the get-go. Late last fall we also discerned that three of our Dominiques were not laying anymore and we were fed up with Benedict's shenanigans (even if he was gorgeous). So we took all three roosters and the three Dominique hens to a local processor for butchering. I gotta say the Mister and I were pretty geeked to bring home our first farm raised meat. AND the butchering cost was low. Just under $17 for six chickens. [We chose whole chicken butchering. It would have been a bit more money if we wanted the meat in pieces.]

This next week we'll be putting in our order for a new batch of Dominiques that will eventually (this summer) replace our first batch of layers. The kiddos have also talked us into ordering three "fun" chicks. One for each of them. Sammer wants what he calls an "afro" chicken- known to most others as the Polish breed. Mads wants an Easter Egger and Lu hasn't made up her mind yet. She's still pouring over the catalog and making notes.

We asked each kiddo to research their chicken breed to make sure they were cold and heat tolerant, behave nicely, lay medium to large eggs on a regular basis and get along well with other breeds.

The Mister and my Boy are already making plans to scoop up a few more chicks on the last sale day at our local farm store, probably around the end of April. They just can't help themselves. So plans are also underway to build a small chicken tractor that we can move around the yard this summer and fall to help with fertilizing and to help give us more room for chickens until we butcher again.

In hindsight, we should have built our original coop bigger.... and now I have a better understanding as to why farmers always say, pick the size you want to build and double it

Gonna remember that one-- because a lean-to for cows is next on our build list.

Monday, February 9, 2015

New 2015 Menu Plan Printable.... for free!

I’ve been menu planning for well over ten years. It is my go to for staying organized and frugal. I may let some other things slide but my menu plan stays. It keeps me sane.
The last couple of years, I created and refined my menu plan printables.
Last year I made a pretty plan for each month of the year and shared them on the blog.
I loved those pretty printables!
[And they can still be found here]

And then found that I wasn’t really using the breakfast and lunch portions of it. We’ve streamlined our breakfasts into 3 or 4 daily options during the week and my man cooks big manly breakfasts on the weekend. Being creatures of habit- we have a big breakfast of eggs, potatoes and bacon (or sausage) on Saturdays and our family favorite Coco Wheats with dried cranberries on Sunday. Like I said, we’re creatures of habit and we like it that way.
Lunches are leftovers or sandwiches (deli meats, pbj or Lu’s fancy grilled cheese) or something else we plan on or pull out of the pantry (such as canned soups and canned ravioli).

So I really didn’t need all those squares I created on my printables…. Wasted space.
I started looking online at other menu plans and didn’t see anything close to what I wanted. I decided I just needed to design a new planning page. However, our family computer with the program I used to create the other plans is “in the shop.” Not one to be daunted or to be patient, I decided to forge ahead and create my own using a bit of the hand-lettering skills I’ve been practicing and trying to acquire. [Part of my Year of Brave]
I found it to be an entertaining and rewarding experience. I’m not terribly adept at hand-lettering yet, so I had lots of rough drafts. But perseverance and a lot of erasing paid off and I created something I was so thrilled with that I was willing to share it here.
Right here…. With all of you.

The perfectionist in my finds all the faults but the artist bubbling inside me loves the wonky, off-kilter scritchy-scratch of it all. It’s me to a T.
So I’m being brave and putting it out there for you all to not only see but download and use for your very selves.
A bit of my wonkiness for your very own.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Farmhouse Projects: Hallway Update

As I mentioned in Monday's post, we haven't completely finished any of our rooms to the point where I can really say, "This room is done." I wonder if we ever will.
Doesn't Murphy's Law say something along the lines of when you get a room completely done you're tastes will have change and you'll want to repaint? Ha!

Today I want to update you on the hallway as this is one of our best transformations so far.
When we started it looked like this:

And now it looks like this:

Once it was this...

Now it is this>

This is when we started peeling that 30's wallpaper...

This is now> 

For the full BEFORE and beginnings post- go here.

Let's keep smiling and looking at the NOW version>>>

Doors open.... no windows in this hallway. Natural lighting only when we open all the doors.
I like natural lighting, so I like open doors. Except when people don't make their beds.
or clean their rooms...
Close up of the wall between the doors.... a piece of painted barn wood, tiny basket and a reminder...
Today is a GOOD DAY!
View up the stairs- green paint is our dining room paint (the room you walk into at the
bottom of the stairs) As you can see- I still need to paint those stairs. Thinking dark
grey treads and white kickboards.

We still haven’t figured out the ceiling but I’ve decided to stop waiting for that to start hanging artwork. The painting of the girl with the daisies belonged to my grandmother. She asked that it be given to me when she passed. She said it always reminded her of my mama as a toddler. For me, it always reminded me of my little cousin Jenny (who passed away when she was three). The photo to below left of the daisy painting is an aerial view of our farm circa late 50’s (we think) when my great grandparents were still alive and running this place. We love looking at the way things use to be and contemplating where we'll place new out buildings based on what once was.

I still haven’t figured out what I want to put on the other walls in the hallway and I’m okay with that. I'm learning to take my time and envision the space. I'd planned a gallery wall on the longest wall but I'm hesitating because I like the quiet, simplicity of nothing right now. Lu has suggested a big mirror on the stairway wall to reflect some light into the space. I'm still noodling that one.

We ripped up the old 1970s carpet on the floor… that red carpet was from my childhood church when they redid the sanctuary in the early-80s. It was so old the underside was disintegrating as I pried it up. Ew. I had hoped to find time to sand the floor and paint it but then our house finally sold and we were all about the move and settling in. It’s on my list for projects this spring (on a day I can ship my people away). In the meantime, we purchased four very inexpensive runners from Menards to keep us from getting wood splinters.
We brightened up the light fixture by taking the very dated cover off and adding a wonderfully bright Ikea bulb to it. Yep, it’s a bare bulb up there. I’m okay with that right now. I haven’t settled on a light fixture yet, as I find it to be a big (and expensive) decision. So we’re still working on that one.

Project List- Hallway Phase One: 
Scrape wallpaper off all walls we can get to
Patch walls where needed
Sand patches on walls smooth
Prime walls
Prime trim
Prime doors (still have 1 left)
Prime railing and banister
Prime Beadboard panels on stairs
Paint walls- Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore
Paint ceiling- an off white color (tbd)
Paint doors, trim and railing- Superhide White by Dutch Boy
Paint beadboard panels & top of railing- Cement Gray
Finish tearing plaster off short wall (not seen in photos)
Replace and repair plaster on short wall
Rip up carpeting
Sand floor to prep for paint
Paint floor with dark grey porch paint (color to be determined)
Paint stairs- treads dark grey and kick boards white
Replace overhead light with something more in line with our decorating style (and something that holds 2-3 bulbs to give off more light in this dark space-- This might get moved to Phase 2)
Repaint switch plate- Rustoleum's Hammered Bronze
Add a gallery wall on west wall
Add carpet runner to floor 

As you can see-- we are so so close to being done with Phase One!

Project cost breakdown (so far):
1-2-3 Primer: $22.63 (finished can used in master bedroom and used about 1/3 of new can)
Dutch Boy Platinum Paint in BM's Gray Owl (2 gallons- used 1.5): $49.96
Dutch Boy Platinum Paint in Superhide White (leftover from other projects) $0
Dutch Boy Duraclean Paint in MSL's Cement Gray (1 pint): $11.90
Partial sheet of drywall (purchased for Sam’s room and used leftover on short wall repair) $3.27
Joint Compound (we’re on our 3rd bucket) I’m estimating $7.00
Four carpet runners $24.98 (our for now, to-get-by purchase to be replaced in Phase 2)
Running total >>> $119.74

So.... what do you think?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Farmhouse Projects.... Update

I’ve been meaning to update for awhile now on a few of our farmhouse projects… but reality and my need for perfection keep getting in the way. For example: the fact that we haven’t finished painting the ceiling in the upstairs hallway because we’re having trouble with the very old wallpaper some well-meaning person pasted on it and then painted over… multiple times. And since we hadn’t finished painting, I hadn’t hung any artwork yet… and that was bothering me.

Top of the built-in China Cabinet in dining room (first post here)

I haven’t shared the dining room because I wanted to hang more pictures and artwork and get those school books out of the bookshelf in there because it looks… distracting.
I haven’t shared the family room because I wanted to do a paint treatment on a bookcase, plus add another bookcase to the other side of the buffet (being used as an entertainment center) for balance and storage, not to mention- hang more artwork and our flat screen tv on the walls.

I haven’t shared the schoolroom because we’re in the thick of doing school and it is most definitely not neat and tidy... it’s closer to disaster status. Plus I still have unpacked boxes in there. It’s bad, people.

Madsy's side of girls' room.

Lu's bedside artwork- She did hoop art & I did the map.

And the bedrooms… I haven’t showed you finished bedrooms because they’re not quite finished yet totally being lived in. Ahem.

However, I’m working hard at letting go of perfectionism and working to only share the ideal portions of this crazy, blessed life I’m privileged to live.

So I’m going to update you where we’re at right now… starting with the hallway.
Because this is real life and real life isn’t about perfection, it’s about learning to live in the midst of the process of becoming. Every room is in stages of becoming and probably always will be. Kinda like me.

Girls' Room and The Boy's Room- Curtains made by Lu.

And if I’m going to really embrace The Nester mantra, “It doesn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful,” well, then I should just share where we’re at right now. And tag on “It doesn’t have to be a finished room to make a happy home.”

So I've included glimpses of our farmhouse in this post.... happy bits of finished-ness that make me smile lots. Like the curtains my Lu has made, the hoop art the girls and I are making to add to their walls. Mads' word CREATE. It so fits her.... My home isn't finished and I doubt it ever will be but it makes me oh-so-very-beyond-tickled happy. I'm content here and that's so important to me. I feel like I abide here, not just reside. It's okay that it's taking me a long time to finish things because I don't want to rush this nesting and settling in; this is my process of abiding here.
And I like it.
So why shouldn't I share it in all it's unfinished glory? Show you what I'm enjoying, what I'm working on and reflect on far we've come?
I'm gonna do it!

So stay tuned for a picture-laden post of what the hallway looks like now.
And just so you know.... I couldn't stand it anymore- I hung a couple things on the walls.

This afternoon lighting is so swoony.
That's my Great Gram's quilt, a painting handed down to me from my Grandma and an aerial photo of the farm in the early 50's.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Brave Bread

I love a good fresh homemade just-out-of-the-oven loaf of bread.
Homemade bread is the best because the smell hits your tummy before the sight fills your eyes.
I was never one to bake bread until I received a bread machine for my birthday years and years ago. With the bread machine I became a bread baker.
And loved it.
I usually skipped those recipes that were just making dough in the machine because I wanted the machine to do all the work for me. I guess it just didn’t feel convenient.
Fast forward quite a few years and I’m working my way towards a Miss Suzie Homemaker badge…. I’m canning, cooking more from scratch and making my own cleaning and laundry supplies…. yeah, I’m a bit wonky like that.
Because really, honestly, I groove on making my own stuff. I started because financially we needed to tighten the purse strings but I continue to because I truly enjoy doing it and have found it really doesn’t take that much more time.

So I decided to start using my bread machine just for prepping the dough.
And I like it.
A lot.
[Example: This pizza dough recipe is the bomb.]

But I’ve still shied away from what I deem “fancy breads”.
Until now… with it being my Year of Brave, I decided to brave the making of some fancy bread.
Actually, Chocolate Chip Brioche

Whoo wee.
I searched online for bread machine recipes for the fancy bread and adapted my own recipe from what I found.
And I made it.
And it’s seriously yummy, as in the-family-couldn’t-stop-eating-it yummy.
Not only is it a yummy tasting fancy bread, it looks like a yummy tasting fancy bread.
Yep, it’s a keeper.

Chocolate Chip Brioche in the Bread Machine
Add ingredients to bread machine in order listed, per your machine’s instructions:
1/3 cup water (room temperature)
1/3 cup milk
3 eggs lightly beaten
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
½ cup sugar
4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 ½ tsp bread machine yeast (dry active yeast)

2/3 cup chocolate chips-- Add at “extras” part of bread cycle or in your machine if you have a spot for “extras” like I do (some machines beep to let you know it’s time to add extras and some, like mine, have a compartment for adding your extras at the very beginning)

Egg Wash (to be added right before baking)

Follow the instructions for your bread machine’s dough cycle. For my machine, I select dough cycle, add extras and 1 pound loaf on the control panel and hit start. I love how the machine does all the work for me. Towards the end of the cycle prep your baking sheet by greasing it and dusting with flour.
When the dough cycle is complete, remove the dough and place on a lightly floured surface.

Brioche dough is very sticky so make sure you’ve floured your hands as well! Knead the dough a bit to work in some flour and combat the stickiness then divide it into two equal balls of dough. Using your hands, roll each ball into a 20 inch dough rope.

Place your dough ropes side by side on the greased and floured baking sheet (that you prepped earlier) and braid/twist them together, forming the twisted bread dough into a circle at the same time.

Cover the dough ring with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until double in size, usually about 30-45 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Make egg wash. [To make egg wash: whisk one egg, add in 2 tablespoons water and whisk until well blended.]

After dough has doubled in size, using a pastry brush, lightly brush the brioche dough with the egg wash.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes or until brioche is golden brown.



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