"The greatest fine art of the future will be the making of a comfortable living from a small piece of land."
-Abraham Lincoln

Post-Christmas Post

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas.  Things around here were pretty hard.  We lost our baby on Dec. 5th, buried him on the 13th, and then had to rush DH's grandmother to the emergency room three days later because of a pulmonary embolism.  She had just found out she had incurable cancer a few weeks earlier. The hospital treated her bloodclot but she had become so weak and sick from the cancer and the medicine for the bloodclot that she couldn't come home and went to a nursing home instead.  I spent Christmas morning at the cemetery and the afternoon at the nursing home.  She went to be with the Lord this morning, twelve days after walking into the hospital.  I spent nearly everyday with her for the last six years so it's definately a little surreal to know that she's gone. 

However, even though we've felt a little like Job lately, we've still had many blessings over this Christmas season.  We've had an outpouring of support from friends and family and we are incredibly blessed for that.  I've been reminded to lean on Jesus and not on myself, a lesson I seem to frequently forget.   Our kids had a modest Christmas compared to last year but they didn't seem to mind at all and have thoroughly enjoyed their Christmas.  My brother in law came home from out of state and it was really good to see him.  Just many blessings all around. 

This Christmas season has definately been a good reminder that God is good even though life isn't always great.  And even in hard times we can and should count our blessings. 

Monkey In The Middle

I just finished the monkey square for youngest's "monkey in the middle" knitted afghan.  The square is actually intended to be an 8"x8" dishcloth but I increased the size a bit by using a much larger needle (size 7 US) than what was called for in the pattern so my square ended up being about 10"x10". 
The square is super cute but the pattern, which you can find for free here, is not one for mindless knitting.  If you intend to make a square while watching some super exciting movie on TV then this is one you'll want to skip.  The stitches are easy, no lace or eyelets, just plain knit and purl stitches so if you have the time and quiet to be able to focus just on the knitting for awhile then this is definitely worth it.  It took me about 12 hours to complete the whole thing and that was with the usual distractions that come with three kids, although some things, like my sink full of dirty dishes, got pushed to the back burner for the sake of this monkey. 

The plan is for this to be the center square (hence the monkey in the middle moniker) surrounded by plain, solid squares in this blue and a complimentary green.  I'll have to make about 34 plain squares if my calculations are right but those should work up pretty fast since they are going to be just stockinette stitched squares with a popcorn border to match the monkey square.

P.S. In case anyone is wondering, the monkey is symbolic.  DH and I affectionately refer to each of our children as Monkey #1, Monkey #2, and Monkey #3 due to their climbing, jumping, running, and general tendency towards wreaking good natured havoc.

We've Been Decorating

Our homeschooling curriculum has been focused around a Christmas theme for the last week or so and as a result the kids have made a lot of Christmas projects and decorations. It's been a fun way to keep them busy while teaching them all about Christmas customs around the world, the history of some of the decorations we use,  as well as the Nativity story and other holiday gems like The Gift of the Magi.

Everything they worked on was created out of simple household items like paper plates, tissue paper, construction paper and direct from the printer coloring pages with the exception of the mug centerpiece which required a mug (obviously), some floral foam (the green foam), some wire, bits of evergreen branches, and miscellaneous Christmas beads.  Throw in some safety scissors and scotch tape and we had inexpensive projects for each day of the week.   The kids had great fun and ended up learning too, you can't beat that.

Cinnamon Swirl Bread

I made this cinnamon swirl bread for my father-in-law who really didn't believe that I knew how to make bread without a bread machine. He absolutely loved it though!   I ended up making four loaves, two for my in-laws and two for us.  The recipe is a basic egg based white bread except, instead of shaping it into loaves, you roll each divided half of dough into a 15x7" rectangle and sprinkle each with half a mixture of 1/2c. white sugar and 2 tsp. cinnamon. Then roll it jelly roll style, pinch the seams and place them, seam side down, into two greased 9x5x3 loaf pans.  I glazed one loaf with a basic powdered sugar icing and left the other plain.  We actually like it better without the icing. 

Egg based white bread is the only kind of bread my grandmother would make but darn is it good! Egg based dough makes a bread with a softer crust and there is a bit more firmness to the loaf, it doesn't smoosh as easily as basic bread dough.  It also ends up with a richer flavor and a slightly yellow tint to it.  I usually only make one loaf into the cinnamon swirl bread and make the other into plain white bread because it saves me from having to make another two batches of bread dough for things like sandwiches, french toast, etc.

Just for Laughs

I came across this video of Chondra Pierce the other day and it's hilarious.   If you've never seen Chondra Pierce she's a Christian comedian and seriously one of the funniest ladies in the comedy business and this is one of her best. 

Banana Bread

Hopefully everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  Our turkey day was pretty standard.  We had food and football, both in very large quantities.  I was in a food comma for most of yesterday and didn't manage to get much done except a little cleaning from Thursday's festivities and I turned some of our over-ripe bananas into banana bread with vanilla frosting. 

I used a different recipe than normal, a much less complicated recipe than normal, and it turned out really good.  I found the recipe for the banana bread on cooks.com.  The only change I made to the recipe was that I added a little bit of cinnamon.  Next time I may add some chocolate chips for the kids or you could add nuts if you prefer it that way. 

The vanilla frosting is just a basic vanilla frosting recipe.  Nothing fancy.  Very simple.  The recipe that I used for the frosting came from my one and only brain but you can find a very similar recipe on food.com.

The frosting recipe is basic enough that you can substitute the vanilla for almost any flavoring that interests you. Make sure to sift the powdered sugar first.  If you find that the frosting is a little too thick  just add a bit more milk and stir awhile longer and it should be fine.

This is a really good way to use up those bananas that are too ripe to eat anymore and kids love it.  Well, at least my kids love it but my kids are such ridiculously picky eaters that if they will eat it then that's a pretty good bet that almost any kid will eat it.

Cake Flour vs. Bread Flour

Ever wonder if what type of flour you use really matters? 

The above loaf of bread  was accidentally made with cake flour.  See, I buy my flour in bulk and keep it in the bags in a metal trash can (clean, of course) with a tight fitting lid.  When it was time to make bread this week I figured that I had plenty of flour in the can and I was right.  I still had at least half of a 50lb bag.  Without looking at the label I reached in and filled my flour canister and went about making the bread.  It wasn't until the first rising stage that I got a notion something may be wrong but I figured it was just not quite warm enough in the house since it is fall and it had risen some so I figured we'd just make do with a slightly more dense than normal loaf. 

Turns out it wasn't the loaf that was dense.  It was me.  When I pulled it out of the oven, instead of a nice, normal, slightly browned, light and fluffy loaf of bread I got that white rock in the picture. I had completely forgotten that I had cake flour at all and had just assumed that the flour I had grabbed was either the all purpose flour or the bread flour either or which would have been fine.  These loaves didn't just look terrible, they tasted terrible.  The only ones who would eat them were the dogs and I don't think they were really thrilled with it.

Now, after spending nearly 3 hours making bread the last thing I wanted to do was have to start all over but that's what I get for not being diligent in the first place. With the second set of loaves I made sure I had bread flour not cake flour. 
Now, this is what bread should look like (ignoring the poor quality of the image, of course).  Brown, not white.  Fluffy, not rock hard.  Nice loaf shape, not whatever that other thing was.  So now we all know that the flour you use makes a definite difference.


My Father-in-law grew an acre or so of popcorn this year and had brought over about 40 ears for us to sell at our little stand.  Fortunately for us, they didn't sell!  For the life of me I can't imagine why it didn't sell other than perhaps most people didn't know what it was and didn't realize that after they decorated with it they could eat it.  I mean, this is useful stuff, it's not like normal purely ornamental indian corn. Oh well, it meant more for us.

Most people don't believe me when I tell them that there really is a difference in taste between homegrown, home dried, pan popped popcorn and the popcorn that you get in a little paper bag and stuff in the microwave, at least until they try it.  Microwave popcorn needs the butter it's slathered in and the mounds of salt covering it.  Without it, it tastes pretty terrible.  Pan popped popcorn tastes great with just a little shake of salt and nothing else.

We dried our popcorn in a cool dry spot in our garage for about two weeks before I even bothered to pop a few test kernels.

Despite the fact that a small mouse  or other critter had managed to sneak a few bites during that time the drying was successful and the test kernels popped just as they were supposed to.  So we took half of the cobs inside to hull them.

The kids usually get the job of hulling the popcorn and it's one of the chores that they actually enjoy.  They made pretty quick work of the first 20 ears that they worked up.  We'll save the next 20 for tomorrow or the next day. Ordinarily, after you've hulled the popcorn you can simply stick what you don't want pop right away into freezer bags and freeze them for up to 30 months.  However, since hulling is done by the children in my house, I find that I have to wash the kernels after they are done hulling because we usually end up with excessive amounts of cob pieces, hairs, and general debris.  When it's in small amounts it's no problem but when the debris covers the kernels in their bowls it becomes more of an issue.

The nice thing is that dry corn kernels sink while dirt and debris tends to float.  So, I simply immerse the corn kernels in a large bowl full of warm water and then fish the debris out with a mesh ladle strainer.  If you find you need to do this then try to make quick work of it.  Soaking the kernels for a few minutes won't hurt anything but you don't want them to soak for hours.  After I'm done washing them I stick them on cooking sheets in single layers and put them in the oven at 170 degrees (the lowest my oven will go) for about an hour or hour and a half to dry. 

I popped up a batch for my brother-in-law and his girlfriend since they had come for a visit.  His girlfriend had never seen anyone pop popcorn in a pan on the stove before, which really surprised me.  It got me thinking that maybe popping popcorn on the stove is becoming a lost art, perhaps there are many people out there who don't know how to do this.  So I'll run down the process on here. 

Popping Popcorn on the stove:

1. Get a sauce pan with a well fitting lid.  I use one with a glass lid so my kids can watch the kernels pop, it's like nature's best magic trick.  It seriously entertains them almost as well as Saturday morning cartoons.

2. Pour in enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  It doesn't have to be a lot of oil, a small amount will do as long as it completely covers the bottom of the pan.

3. Turn the heat on medium-high.

4. When the oil has had a little time to heat up throw in a couple of test kernels.  If they pop (usually takes just a few seconds) then you know that the oil is hot enough to add the rest of the kernels.  If they turn brown immediately or scorch then you know the oil is obviously way to hot.  If it takes them forever to pop then you either don't have the oil hot enough or your popcorn is a dud.

5. Pour in just enough popcorn to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer.  If you pour in more than a single layer on the bottom, the kernels underneath are more likely to burn and the kernels on top are more likely to not pop. 

6. Move the pan from side to side regularly to coat the kernels that haven't popped with the oil and to help keep the ones that have popped from burning.

7. The kernels will start popping at a furious pace and then, after several seconds the popping will start to slow down. At this point, take the pan off of the heat, wait another couple of seconds for the holdouts to pop, then CAREFULLY remove the lid because there will probably be a lot of steam.

8. Pour your popcorn into a bowl and dress it up however you want.  Obviously you can use salt or melted butter or both.  My husband actually likes to eat his with Zatarain's Creole Seasoning or seasoned salt.  I've also heard of people using powdered cheese, cinnamon sugar, regular sugar, caramel, a little powdered cocoa mixed with sugar, even a little Tabasco sauce (that last one is a little too adventurous for my blood).  The possibilities for toppings are endless really.  Once your done dressing up your popcorn, dig in and enjoy it. 

P.S. No, the popcorn in this picture is not burnt.  The darker hull on the popcorn is simply due to the multiple different colors of the original kernels.

Crocheted Dishcloths

I spent a lazy last night crocheting and watching reruns of Amen on GMC instead of cleaning or doing dishes like I should have been doing.  I was also eating my weight in homemade 3 musketeers bars.  I found the recipe at The Open Pantry.   If the good Lord had decided to take me at that moment last night I would've died happy :)  Not productive, mind you, but happy. 

I ended up crocheting two dishcloths, a smaller one and a larger one.  The smaller one measures about 5in. square and the larger about 8in. square.  I normally don't make them smaller than 8in. but I figured if I made more small ones I wouldn't have to fold them come laundry day.  Yes, my laziness went to the very core of my being last night.

The pattern is very simple and very basic.  For the 5in. small dishcloth I used a size G hook and a worsted weight cotton yarn remnant.   For the 8in. larger dishcloth I used a size I hook and the same cotton remnant.  Gauge really doesn't matter.

Small Dishcloth:

CH. 22, turn.

Row 1: DC in 3rd ch. from hook and in each ch. to end of row. turn

Row 2: Ch. 2, DC  in first DC st.  Continue in each st. to end of row. turn

Row 3: Repeat row 2.

Repeat row 3 until dishcloth measures 5 inches from top to bottom or until desired length is reached.

Large Dishcloth

Ch. 26, turn

Row 1: DC in 3rd ch. from hook and in each ch. to end of row. turn.

Row 2: Ch. 2. DC in first DC st. Continue in each st. to end of row. turn.

Row 3: Repeat row 2 until dishcloth reaches 8 in. from top to bottom or until desired length is reached.

Row 4: At end of last DC row, ch. 1. Do not turn. Begin to work sc evenly along the side of the dishcloth until you reach the corner. 
 Ch. 1. Do not turn. Work sc. evenly along the bottom edge until you reach the corner. 
Ch. 1.  Do not turn.  Work sc evenly along the other side until you reach the corner.
Ch. 1 Do not turn. Work sc. in each dc st. along the top edge. Join with slip stitch in first ch. 1.  Fasten off.
Weave in ends.

I FINALLY Got My Camera Back!

After many, many, many loong weeks of not having a camera, I have finally gotten a new one.  Well, it's not exactly new.  I just managed to save enough money to fix up an old one.  The picture quality isn't great (as you'll see soon enough) but at least it's something.  Who knows, maybe Santa's elves have something in the works for me for Christmas.  

The last couple of months here have been pretty busy, mostly with the usual seasonal stuff like putting up corn and freezing and canning fruit from the fruit trees and vegetables from the garden.  In fact, both of our freezers are so full of corn, peaches and cherries that I'm having extreme troubles getting to the meat that is tucked back there someplace. 

Freezer number 1 has been housing all of our corn.  I think we put up somewhere around 40 bags of corn.  As you can see it's not entirely full at the moment. The partial clearing is thanks to the fact that we have been eating corn 4 days out of the week for the last 4 weeks.  We're all so sick of corn at this point that we're starting to have nightmares about it.  I think we'll have to take a couple weeks off from corn fritters, creamed corn, baked corn casserole, buttered corn, etc. etc. etc.

Freezer number 2 is completely filled mostly with peaches and cherries along with some small amounts of pumpkin, apple pie filling, strawberries, and the occasional pack of hamburger.  We currently cannot use freezer number 2 until I can clear out some of this fruit!  Now we LOVE fruit in my house but we all seem to be getting bored with the same peach muffins, cherry cobblers and various pies.  So, I've been on the hunt for new and versatile recipes that will help dwindle down some of our surplus.  One of our favorites so far is Cherry Coffee Cake which you can make with really any kind of fruit filling including peaches and apples. 

I personally found the recipe written out on an old recipe card and I have absolutely no idea anymore which cookbook it came out of but, here it is, in case you want to try it.  I completely recommend trying it, it's good.

Cherry Coffee Cake

1 egg, beaten
1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/8 t. salt
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1-3/4 c. biscuit mix (I make my own but you could use Jiffy or Bisquik too), divided
21-oz can of cherry pie filling (I made my own cherry pie filling using a quart size bag of frozen cherries).
1/2 c. brown sugar packed
1/2 t. cinnamon
3 T. butter, diced
1/2 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

Combine egg, milk, sugar, salt, vanilla and 1-1/2 cups baking mix.  Stir until smooth.  Pour mixture into a lightly greased 8"X8" baking pan.  Spoon pie filling over mixture in pan.  Mix together remaining baking mix, brown sugar, cinnamon, butter and nuts (if desired).  Sprinkle over pie filling.  Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.  Cut into squares.  Makes 6 to 8 servings.

I Remember Sept. 11th 2001

"I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains."
                                                                              -Anne Frank

 I can remember where I was on Sept. 11th 2001.  I was a freshman in college.  I was with a friend of mine in the student lounge, getting a sandwich before our morning classes.  There was a big screen tv in the lounge and a group had already gathered in front of it, although my friend and I had no idea why at the time.  We got our sandwiches and as I was paying for mine, he went over and stood in front of the tv and immediately came running back telling me a plane had hit the world trade center.   I remember thinking that it must of been a single engine plane, something small and feeling horrible for the pilot and whoever he may have had on board but figuring it had done only minimal damage to the towers themselves. 

Then I walked over and saw the smoke and realized it was a full passenger jet that had hit the tower.  And we sat there, surrounded by people that we knew and people we didn't, and watched the live news broadcasts on abc as a second plane approached.  I can remember barely sputtering out "Is that another plane?" and a split second later it disappeared behind the first tower and a shot of flames, debris and smoke came out of the second tower.

I can remember sitting there watching in stunned disbelief when another friend came rushing in to announce that the Pentagon had been hit as well.  Then we went up to my dorm room and sat there watching the news reports on our little television with our door opened.  People from the hallway stopping in to watch with us.  At one point we probably had 20 people in our teeny tiny little room.  I remember seeing what I thought at first were suit coats flying out the windows and then realizing in complete horror that those were people, jumping out of a hopeless situation to certain death. 

It's interesting now to see us as a country 10 years later.  Going to the airport is an entirely changed experience.  The site is still empty.  There's a national memorial being built in the middle of what used to be someone's cornfield.  We still stop and remember at memorial events.  But life has moved on.  There's still babies and weddings.  Still cookouts and parades.  We still go to work and we still ride on planes and trains.  People are resilient.  Today, we'll honor those who lost their lives on Sept. 11th and in the subsequent wars by celebrating the all American way of life.  We'll watch our football games, we'll eat a big Sunday dinner with family and friends, and tonight we'll say our prayers for those that are gone and for the family members that remain.

God bless.

In Mourning

My brand new camera (the one that Oldest dropped a few posts back) finally completely gave up the ghost this week.  So it is in loving memory that I dedicate this post to the cameras I've loved and lost with a pictorial tribute from photos past.

Egg Noodles

Our rock candy suckers are coming along nicely, although they aren't quite done yet due to the humidity and other factors that slowed our rate of evaporation down around here the last week.  BUT, they are forming and in another few days we should be able to eat them, which is clearly the best part!

Now,  I have a message for all those out there who buy over processed, neatly packaged egg noodles at the grocery store.  STOP!   That's right, stop it.  Just say no.  Sure the so-called egg noodles that you buy in the store are edible and they come already dried but seriously they aren't nearly as tasty as homemade noodles and most of the time they don't even have eggs in them.  Instead they contain ingredients that are barely pronounceable like thiamine monoitrate. 

Homemade egg noodles are EASY to make.  That's right, e-a-s-y.  They are inexpensive.  They are quick to make.  It will take you more time to drive to the grocery store and fight your way past the crowd in the pasta aisle to pick up the store bought, chemistry lab by-products that we call noodles than it will take you to make your own at home with ingredients you likely already have on hand and can definitely pronounce.   If you are thinking about dipping your toes into the water of a more free and self-sustained lifestyle than there is no better place to start than right here. 

There are several different recipes for homemade egg noodles.  Some call for water, some for milk, some for chicken broth and all of them are great.  Personally, though, I like my simple recipe best. 

  1. 1 cup of flour
  2. 1 t. salt
  3. 2 eggs
This recipe will make enough noodles for two people.  I usually triple it and then store it in bulk for my slightly larger than average family.  Feel free to increase the size to whatever is right for you and yours, just make sure to keep the ratios the same. 

Step 1.  Combine the flour and salt in a mixing bowl.
Step 2. Make a well in the center of the flour.
Step 3. Crack both eggs into the well and beat them up.  You could beat the eggs separately and then pour them into the well if you don't mind adding an extra dish to wash. 
Step 4. Gradually mix the flour from the sides of the well into the eggs.  Eventually you will get a nice ball of dough. 
Step 5. Turn out your dough onto a well floured surface.  Use your flour liberally on your hands, your surface and the ball of dough.
Step 6. Kneed the dough gently, adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking, until the ball is smooth and no longer sticky. Cover the ball in plastic wrap and place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight.
Step 7.  Flour your rolling pin and surface and roll out your dough to whatever thickness you like from 1/4in. to paper thin, the choice is yours.  Then grab your pizza cutter (easiest) or butter knife and cut out long strips, try to stay as straight as possible. 

That's it.  You're done.  You've made noodles.  You can use them immediately or lay them out on a wire rack (faster) or dishtowel (slower) to dry completely.  Drying is usually the most time consuming aspect of noodle making and typically takes several hours . But once the noodles are completely dried you can store them in an airtight container on your shelf for up to 5 months. 

You may be looking at this last picture and wondering to yourself where all the noodles went.  Well, it's a sad story really.  You see, homemade egg noodles are not safe at my house.  They will sit there, minding their own business, trying to dry and my DH will come along and devour them one by one.  I try to protest on their behalf but my pleadings fall on deaf ears.  So I've had to resort to drying my noodles in batches.  One small batch that I keep on the counter in the kitchen, the sacrificial batch if you will, which DH spends all day picking at.  And the other batch, which I don't get out of the fridge to cut and dry until just before bedtime.  They are dry by the time I get up in the morning (usually just before DH gets up) and I can put them all away before he even notices that they were there at all.  I know it's pathetic but that's life when you are a married to an egg noodle addict. 

It's a Little Hot

90 degrees today at 2pm in the shade.  By the time the sun had set we had reached a peak temperature of 94 degrees with a heat index of 103 or 104 depending on who you ask.  But it gets better.  Tomorrow is supposed to be one of our hottest days on record, if not THE hottest day on record, with temps crawling at least to 95 and a heat index somewhere between 105 and 115.  Yep, you read that right, 115.  I think hell is about to swallow Ohio whole.

So what is one to do about the heat?  Well, for starters, we spent the day playing in the sprinklers.  Watering the critters.  Hosing the critters.  Hosing ourselves.  Sitting in the tub, kiddie pool, shower etc.  Eating chocolate dipped frozen strawberries, peaches, bananas and watermelon chunks and slaving over a hot stove.

"Wait, what!?  Did she just say 'slaving over a hot stove'?" 

Yes, yes I did.  Now you are probably thinking that I've gone all squirrely in this heat, perhaps I've lost my marbles.  Nope.  You see, there is one treat that I always associate with summer (and you really don't get much more "summer" than 95 degree searing heat).  It isn't ice cream or slushies or snow cones.  It's rock candy. 

Rock candy has a looong history dating at least back to 9th century India and Iran possibly even earlier than that!  It's been referenced by many authors and poets, including William Shakespeare.  In earlier times it was used for therapeutic purposes as medicine instead of simply as the sweet treat we know and love today.  For the life of me I have no idea why we ever stopped delivering our medicine via rock candy.  I mean, when I was a kid (probably even now as an adult) if my doctor had said "Here's your medicine" and then handed me a bag full of rock candy suckers, you better believe I would have spent much less time hiding under my bed and in closets to escape my mother and her medicine spoon.

None the less, it wasn't until about the 1700's that Rock Candy began to be widely used primarily as a sweet treat.  Rock candy is still more than a simple lollipop though.  It also makes for a darn tasty science project.  I use rock candy to teach my kids about crystals, solvents, solutes and solutions as well as evaporation.  

If you've never made rock candy before then now is the time.  It is relatively easy to do.  First, you need a few common kitchen items.

1. A couple of sterilized canning jars.
2. Some wax paper
3. A couple of rubber bands (or in our case hair ties)
4. 4 bamboo skewers with the sharp ends cut smooth.  You wouldn't want a little one to kabob their tongue.
5. A medium saucepan.
6. 1 cup of water
7. 3 cups of sugar (White or brown sugar. Either one works fine.)
8. Flavoring or food coloring if desired.  We used watermelon and grape.

The first step is to heat the water in the saucepan until simmering.  Heated solvents (water) can dissolve larger amounts of salutes (sugar) than they can when cold which makes it possible to super saturate the solution, a necessary step when making rock candy. 

Then stir in the three cups of sugar slowly, a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly and making sure that each batch of sugar dissolves completely before adding more. 

Once all the sugar is added you can stop stirring.  Allow the syrup solution to heat to a rolling boil. 

Once it reaches a rolling boil, remove it from the heat and dip your skewers in the solution. 
Place the skewers on a plate or on some wax paper and allow them to dry while you divide the solution evenly among your two canning jars.  Then add any flavoring or food coloring you want, making the solution just a bit darker than you want the finished product to be.

Place two skewers in each jar then cover with squares of wax paper, poking the paper over the top ends of the skewers.  Place a rubber band around the wax paper to keep it in place and set the jars up on the fridge or in any area that is out of direct sunlight and where the jars are unlikely to be disturbed.  DO NOT TOUCH THEM even though it's tempting.  The humidity in your area will determine how long it takes for the rock candy to form.  The less humidity there is is the faster the water will evaporate and therefore the faster the crystals will form.  You're probably wondering why it is, then, that we can't set these in direct sunlight as that should speed up the evaporation.  Well, that's correct.  It would speed up the evaporation...too much.  If the water evaporates too quickly then the sugar won't have a chance to form into those nice big crystals that become the rock candy. 

In 3 days to about a week we should have some rock candy suckers to show for our trouble.

Happy 4th of July!

For independence day this year we spent the morning cheering for Oldest and Middle as they walked in the Fourth of July parade, then we picked raspberries.  I've got burgers and chicken breasts on the grill and a yard full of friends and family.  And tonight we'll be heading to the fireworks display in town.  Doesn't get any better than that. 

Hope everyone is having a wonderful 4th of July!

Is It Normal to Not Favor One or Two of Your Children?

I was reading an article on a blog this morning that was talking about how this woman liked one of her kids more than she liked the other and how she felt guilty for it.  The comments about the article made it seem as though this was the 'norm' but that most people wouldn't openly admit it and saying, of course, that it would be wrong to show to your children that you liked one more than the other.

So now I'm feeling a little awkward.  I really, in all honesty, do not like any one of my children more than I like the others.  I do like different things about each one of my kids.  I like Oldest's generally sweet disposition and even (usually) appreciate the fact that she is a bit of a drama-queen.  I like that Middle is very charismatic and full of personality and I like Youngest's calm and quiet nature.  But I can't honestly say that I like any one of them more than I like the other.   I really do love, and like, all of my children equally.

There are times when they drive me crazy, get on my nerves, frustrate me.  There are times when I really feel overwhelmed and tired and need a break from my children. There are days when I question my decision to home school and wish that they were sitting in a classroom instead of jumping on my couch. There are times when I butt heads with one or more of them.  There are times when we all can't stand each other.  Those times are few and far between though, thankfully.  That's normal family dynamics.  We have our ups, we have our downs but it works that way with all of my kids.   Even if I'm doing my best, most introspective, deep and brutally honest assessment I still can't say that I like one more than the others or that I don't like one as much as the others.

I used to think that's how it worked with parents.  Kids always seem to feel, even into adulthood, that their parents favored their brother or their sister more than they favored them.  But I always assumed that most parents were like me and they really didn't have a favorite.  Now I'm starting to wonder if I'm some sort of freak of nature.  Before I thought I was in the majority, now I'm wondering if I'm a real weirdo.

Alas, it's finished!

I finished staining and hanging the first gourd birdhouse of the batch a couple of days ago.  I used an acrylic stain and finished it with about 4 coats to get it to the desired color.

The picture came out a little dark but you get the idea anyways.

Now I just have to finish Oldest's birdhouse that she's entering for the fair.  She decided what birds she wanted to attract and I cleaned, drilled and grinding the opening for her.  But I have to smooth it out a bit.  Then she's planning to paint it with her own design.  We still have a few weeks though, entries don't have to be in until near the end of July.  Hopefully we'll have enough time that if we screw up this one we'll be able to make another one in time to turn it in. :D

Cleaning the Inside of a Gourd

I've gotten the outsides of all of the gourds completely cleaned and scraped down and ready to go.  Last night I worked on the first birdhouse of the batch.  Now if you are going to make a birdhouse, bowl, jug, drum, etc. out of dried gourds (anything that requires large-ish open holes) you will need to clean the inside of the gourd as well as the outside.
The paper like stuff inside the hole is the pith.  It's usually moldy and gross. 

Not to sound redundant (in other words, yes I realize that I said this in the last post but it bears repeating) but you will need a dust mask of some kind...something more substantial than a bandanna or dew rag or t-shirt tied around your face.  I strongly suggest a full on respirator, I use one-P100 hot pink filters and everything.  At the very least you will need a dust mask made for filtering fine particulate matter. 

The other tools I use for cleaning the inside of a gourd are my trusty variable speed dremel tool with various sized grinding/sanding attachments (a drill and a hand saw or handheld jigsaw/router would work fine too).  I like the variable speed dremel because it cuts down on the amount of dust and offers better control.  I also use an old jigsaw blade, curved awl, and a thin wire brush.

For making a birdhouse the first step is to drill four small holes into the bottom of the gourd to help ensure proper drainage, it is a birdhouse after all not a birdbath. The next step is to determine where you want to place your opening.  I use a compass to draw a circle that is 1"-1 1/2" (the type of bird you want to attract will determine the size of hole you need to drill...check out a chart here) in diameter and use a pencil to mark the center of the circle. That's where you'll drill your starter hole. Then you need to drill two small holes into the handle of the gourd for your hanging wire, leather strips, strong string or whatever other sturdy material you'll use to hang your birdhouse.

I use the various grinders and sanders for creating the hole opening instead of a jigsaw or handsaw in part so that I can sand the hole opening while I'm making it...you know, killing two birds with one stone and all that...sorry for the poor choice of idiom but you get the point.  Anywho, once the opening is made it's time to clean out the inside of the gourd.  I use the old saw blade to break up the pith and the seeds and I shake out the loose material.  Then I use the awl and wire brush to loosen and grab whatever is left for a completely clean result.  Some people leave a bit of pith in the bottom to help the birds gain footing.  Personally the birds that come to my birdhouses never seem to have any trouble with footing without the pith and the one or two times I've left some in there the birds usually throw it right out anyways. Ultimately though the choice to pith or not to pith is really one of personal preference.

The inside of the gourd after it has been cleaned and the pith has been removed.

That's it, now the gourd is officially cleaned. After it's cleaned you can finish it off by painting or staining it and sealing it and it will last for decades. 
Finished (or nearly finished) product. Please ignore the extremely cluttered work table :)


Most of the gourds that I set aside to dry are ready.  There are only two that aren't quite dry yet and will probably need about another week or so. 

  The outsides of these gourds have already gone through two of the three (or four..depending on the project) cleaning processes that I use.  They've already had their warm spongebath in sudsy dish soap water.Got rinsed off and then dried again in the sunshine (what little we've had lately) and they've soaked for an hour or so in 1 cup of bleach (vinegar works well too) to one gallon of warm water. 
  Little word to the wise...gourds float.  So if you are going to soak them make sure to either put them in a nylon sack (think pantyhose) that already has a brick or heavy stones in it before putting them into the water OR place a wet rag over the tops of the gourds after you put them into the water.  You just need something to hold all parts of the gourd under the water.
   Once they've soaked in the bleach solution I use a copper pot scrubber to gently rub all over the surface of the gourd to remove all the more stubborn mold that sometimes sticks to the gourds. Sometimes it takes a little doing.  I hadn't gotten to this part of the cleaning process yet when I took the above pictures.
   The mold frequently leaves a moddled stain on the gourd, it's part of it's charm.  If you want to stain the gourd you will want to finish the outside cleaning process with a bit of fine grit sandpaper worked in even, gentle circular strokes all over the gourd.   If you don't do this step and try to stain the gourd the waxy outer skin will likely mess things up for you. Be aware though that sandpapering the gourd also removes some of the moddling left by the mold.

If you are leaving the gourd whole without cutting, carving, or drilling into the gourd in anyway then you can stop here.  Otherwise, you will need to clean the inside of the gourd.  That's a tricky...and potentially dangerous process. Before you even THINK about starting to do that you will need to get a good quality dust mask or, better yet, a full blown respirator and some safety goggles. The inside of gourds always contain dust and usually contain some nasty molds, fungus, sometimes bacteria etc. that can cause nasty things like infections, gourd flu (really sucks), allergic reactions...sometimes anaphylactic in nature. So, yeah, be smart and be safe about all of this. I'll get into how to clean the inside of the gourds later on...for now I'm off to watch "How the States Got Their Shapes" on the History channel because I'm one of those dorks that really LOVES those kinds of shows.

Hello, Sunshine!

It's been a bit soggy in our neck of the woods.  It's rained almost everyday for the last month or so and our forecast is calling for rain 9 out of the next 10 days.  I'm seriously considering buying a boat. Today was one of the very few days when there was no rain at all.

Thankfully, though, the last couple of days weren't that bad. It sprinkled a couple of times throughout the day and came down really hard once or twice. I say "thankfully" because I was at the Relay for Life event and it would have been truly awful if it had rained the entire time.  It was kind of interesting though, it did sprinkle at the event, but it never downpoured, as I said before it DID downpour a couple of times throughout the day, it's just that it did so in the areas surrounding the fairgrounds where we were but it never rained buckets on the fairgrounds themselves. I don't think the rain would've dampened the spirits of most of the walkers regardless but it was nice that we didn't get soaked out there.   Even better, despite an almost completely gray, cloudy, blah day the sun managed to peak out right at the start of the survivors lap.  It really was inspiring. It lasted the whole lap and part of the next.  Some people may call me silly but I like to think that it was God smiling on them.  All told there were 57 teams, 389 participants and the event raised $44,758.16 for cancer research and support!!!!
You can check out more information about Relay for Life at the American Cancer Society website.

The kids and I took advantage of the little time we could get outside the last couple of days by going to the nature preserve and checking out the waterfall and the pond.  

The pictures aren't the greatest quality, there is a nice smudge in the lower left corner in each and every picture.  The result of Oldest saying "I promise I won't drop your camera" and then promptly dropping my camera, lens first, into the dirt.

I've Been Away for Awhile

It seems like it's been forever since I last posted on here but life has, once again, become very hectic.  This time it's because we are in the process of a move.  We're leaving our little homestead and heading for a much bigger one. 

It's gotten a little crazy, all of this was supposed to be finished at the beginning of April and here we are at the start of May and we're not entirely moved yet.  My husband's grandmother, who lives with us, has been having a very hard time with the move.  She doesn't care for change even on a small level so this big change in routine, lifestyle, etc. has been really scary for her.  So if anyone out there would be willing to pray for her, we would all greatly appreciate it.

The kids, on the other hand, are EXTREMELY excited. They can't wait to get to a bigger place with even more room to run and play than we have right now. The move was a definite necessity.  Since DH's grandmother has come to live with us space has been tight to say the least.  All three kids are crammed into one relatively small bedroom and Oldest is getting to the age where sharing a room with two boys is no longer something she tolerates well. We have only a small kitchen that is no longer functional for all the food prep (cleaning, cooking, canning, freezing, harvesting, drying etc.) that we do around here and storage is limited.  Living space is even worse with six to ten people usually spending the day crammed into the ridiculously small living room.  The lack of a basement in this house is also a big concern for DH considering the higher incidences of tornadoes and wicked storms that we've been experiencing as of late.  

Unfortunately I haven't been crafting much lately because I've packed most of my craft supplies and yarn and fabric away.  It's really starting to make me a little crazy, though.  I had no idea how dependent I was on "making things".  Clearly it's a sickness.

On a positive, and entirely unrelated note, Bin Laden has bit the big one!   We got him!  Woot!

Oy vey!

Have you ever had one of those days that you swore was out to kill you?  Yesterday was one of those days for me. It started out normal enough, I got up to get breakfast for started and I heard Youngest calling for me.   Went in to check on him and stepped on a toy and fell, face first, into the carpet.
 Later, I put Youngest down for his nap, middle and oldest were putting together puzzles with Gran and so I figured it would be a perfect time for me to catch up on a little sleep as well.  I laid down and Middle came in to tell me that Oldest looked at him funny.  Seriously.  Laid back down and Oldest came in to tell me that Middle had made a face at her.  Grrrr.  Laid down again and Cookie came in to root through the bedroom trash.  Got her out of there and the trash picked up and laid down a third time, still hadn't gotten to sleep any yet.  Then came Chandler, to jump up on the bed.  Got him off and out the door and laid down a fourth time and Youngest woke up.  No nap for me.
So I decided to do some laundry.   Carrying a basketful of clothes I happened upon a soccer ball in the doorway to the living room.  I decided to give it one really good kick and send it sailing down the hallway.  That was the plan anyways.  Instead my foot connected with the doorjam.  My toes went totally numb for a few seconds and then....well, the next several words out of my mouth were not Christian or ladylike in any way, shape or form.  
I woke up this morning only to find my pinky toe swollen to twice it's normal size and sporting a rather unpleasant purple coloring.  DH decided to take me into the After Hours clinic to have it looked at and sure enough, I broke it.  So, no I'm sitting here typing this with my pinky toe all taped up and a "post op shoe" on my foot.
There it is, my handsome reminder of one very bad day.

On a not so painful note, we've got all of our seeds started for this spring's garden!   The kids started their seeds a few weeks ago and about three of them have sprouted...the others met their fate at the paws of an overzealous, crazy dog who decided she could not stand not knowing what was on the table so she decided to knock the table and all of its contents onto the floor.
What they have left is doing really well though (we're going to replant some more seeds for their garden tomorrow or the next day):
 This picture has scarlet nantes carrots (left) and a salad blend mixture (right).

This is another scarlet nantes carrot.

The kids are so excited to see their seeds growing, it looks like this year's kids garden is going to be as much of a success as last year's. 

Oldest's Hat

Oldest's hat is now finished. It's just a basic hat pattern; cast on 84 on size 8 16" circular needles, join in the round, knit a k2 p2 ribbing for 2 inches, then stockinette stitch for 6 more inches, then begin the decreases k10 k2tog across, knit the next round,    the next round k9 k2tog across, knit the next round, next round k8 k2tog.across, knit the next round and so decreasing the number of knit stitches every other round by one until you k2tog all the way across. (At some point, about the k5, k2tog point, you'll have to transfer to size 8 dpns).  Then cut about a 6in tail and thread it through the remaining stitches and pull it tight to finish the hat, weave in the ends, and viola'! You have your hat.

She picked out the fuzzy pink yarn herself.  If you are looking for the same, it's Sensations Angel Hair yarn color #647.

The hat will fit most older children and adults so go on out and make yourself a hat!

Space Invaders

Anybody who has ever owned an Atari or played old school arcade games will easily recognize the little green men on Middle's latest hat.

Space Invaders! I used to rock at this game as a kid.  Middle LOVES video games, I literally have to pull him away from them after his 1hr time limit is up. So when I came across this pattern on Ravelry I immediately thought of him and since his old hat was worn and ripped, he was presented last night with this brand new one.   He adores it. He's even been wearing it to bed. He refuses to take it off.  It's nice to see someone you love enjoying the things you make for them.

On the homesteading front, we are continuing to plant the starter seeds for spring.  The kids have each picked out their own seeds to grow this year from their grandfather's farm and from our own collection here at home.  Their garden was a huge success last year and they are really excited to start up again this year.

The kids (and I) really enjoyed the break in the winter weather last week.  The boys spent ALOT of time playing with their wagon and collecting "treasures" in the yard.  Ah, to be young again...

Happy Valentines Day!

The Sewing Machine Song

On the Homeschooling Front

I think homeschooling is tough in January.    For us, January is kind of a blah month anyways but by this point in our homeschooling year the inspiration well is starting to run a little dry, the kids have cabin fever, and it's difficult to get up the motivation to really hunker down and work as opposed to popping some popcorn, making some cocoa, and watching a good movie.  We're hunkering down and "getting her done" anyways, although we have had a couple of movie days here and there.

Oldest is breezing through her OHVA workbooks and online instruction. She's doing really well in reading, struggling a bit in math (I suppose she gets that from her mother) but she's improving.  Her Bible studies are going well and she's loving the art class we signed her up for at the cultural center in town. She's still doing girl scouts and will be visiting the senior citizens center this weekend which she is excited about doing.

Middle is working on reading through the funnix program and really enjoying it. We downloaded a free copy from their website. Which is awesome because the program is usually $249 and with this promotion you get the entire program, both funnix begging reader program and funnix 2 plus the teachers guide, workbook, and stories, for free. I mean, seriously awesome deal.

Middle is doing really well with the math worksheets that we're giving him and his letter writing is coming along really well. He's looking forward to little league in the spring and karate in a couple of weeks. Both oldest and middle are going to see Seussical at the theater tomorrow so they are extremely excited about that.

So, as you can see, even though it gets a bit boring around January, we still have plenty that we are working on.

As far as my knitting goes I finished the intarsia square, YAY!!! I only had to frog it a total of six times but it came out alright in the end.