Friday, December 30, 2011

A quiet evening at home

Friday nights are quiet at our house, with only one of the Two Little Girls home in the evening. Tonight was spent listening to Littlest One have her first guitar "lesson" while I started making seed order plans for this year's garden (on the farm!)

I had to take a break from the catalogs and gardening books to snap a few photos, 'cuz Littlest One's about the sweetest guitarist I think I've ever seen.

My parents gave her this little guitar for Christmas, and it just the perfect size for both girls to play around with.

Can't think of a better way to spend a quiet evening at home.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Building habits

Each year, I try out a few new "homesteading" skills. Mostly just to see how it goes, learn something new, and stash any knowledge gained away for some day when I might actually need it. But some of the things I've learned over the past few years have become habit: homemade laundry detergent, homemade sausage and pepperoni, homemade noodles and bread, canned tomatoes and fruits and jams. These things have become habit, in the same way we form the habit of making our bed each morning or brushing our teeth, or fixing lunch.

Each year, I add a few new habits. Homemade dishwasher detergent is a new one in our home, and after trying out a few different recipes I'm finally satisfied. All it is is washing soda and borax (also ingredients in laundry detergent) and the secret ingredient: citric acid. Without the citric acid, dishes come out spotty and cloudy. I tried lemon juice and it helped, I tried white vinegar and that wasn't bad, but powdered citric acid turns out dishes that are beautiful and sparkly every time. I found that I can buy citric acid online in bulk for far less than what our local health food store carries it for, and citric acid is the same thing as Fruit Fresh, meaning I can also use it in my canned goods. Fancy. :o)

The chickens are another habit we formed this year: never again will I be able to imagine life without laying hens. No one ever could have convinced me I'd love having chickens as much as I do, but man are they great. Not just for the eggs they lay, but for the compost they produce, and for the fantastic entertainment value. When you don't watch TV, you learn to find amusement by watching other things... like Two Little Girls and the Adventures of the Four Chickens. Chickens take hardly any time at all to care for - five minutes a day to feed, water, and collect eggs, and an extra five or ten minutes a week to clean out the manure and compost it. Of course, this isn't including the hours that Two Little Girls spend outside holding and rocking and petting and combing their hens. But that part isn't necessary, it's just bonus. And even through winter, our girls are providing us with a couple of eggs a day still. We're already looking forward to brooding a new batch of chicks this spring.

On my list of things to try out next year (or some year thereafter):
*Making soap. I'd love to try it with elk or goose fat, just to see how it turns out. I also want to give castille soap a try, since it's the basis for so much everyday cleaning.
*Pressure canning, so I can put up more vegetables without having to worry about running out of freezer space.
*More homemade dairy. I've gotten pretty good at farmer's cheese and yogurt, but I'd love to try out some mozzarella or colby. I'd love it even more if the milk came from our own goats...
*Homemade oils and herbs for medicine. Feverfew was a success this year, and I know certain herbs and teas work great for different minor ailments. I'd love to have my own "medicine garden".

Any other homesteaders out there forming habits, or trying out new skills? I'd love to hear about them, so I can start adding to my list!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Silhouette Pillows

Now that Christmas is over, I can show you the picture of my Mama's Christmas gift.

Silhouettes of the girls, on pillows.

I saw the idea on Pinterest (imagine that) and tested a few ideas out before finally figuring out how to do it. Mostly, I thought it would be lovely to applique them on, and then realized there was no way I had the skill to applique around tiny noses and lips. So I went with iron-on transfer paper. It made the whole thing easier, and the lines much clearer. The silhouettes are done in a dark blue bottom-weight cotton and the pillow cases are muslin (since I was going for a homespun, country sort of look.)

For the pictures, I just took side profiles pictures of the girls, printed them at out as 5x7's and cut them out. The hardest part of that was figuring out how to style their long hair so that it still looked like them when I cut it off at the shoulders. Ponytails seemed to be the best option. Then I pinned the cut out photo to the back of the transfer paper once it was ironed onto the blue fabric. I was able to cut the fabric easily with the transfer paper, as it added stability. A good, sharp pair of scissors is a must for this project.

I'm really happy with how they turned out, and really would like to make some for myself, too. And my mama seemed happy to receive them, so I think we can call this project a success. :o)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Chemises and Pantaloons

New pajamas are the customary Christmas Eve gift at our house. Usually it's something store-bought, but I found this pattern and just couldn't not make them.

Chemises and pantaloons in the style of late 1800's pioneers.

The construction is genius, with a drawstring neckband that grows with them and plenty of extra length and width. The pantaloons have three extra pleats sewn in - just let out a pleat, and you get an extra two inches. I sewed in an extra four inches of waistband in each pair, so that I can let out the waist as needed. I imagine these will be worn out long before they're outgrown!

I figured I'd be more excited about the final product than the girls were, but they actually seemed really pleased, especially when I explained the history behind them.

Sewing notes: This pattern was super easy. Total was two hours for each gown/pant set if sewn on the electric. Since my electric spazzed halfway through the first set, much of the sewing was done on the Singer treadle, which nearly doubled the sewing time. After the first set, I changed a bit on the construction of the pantaloon ruffles, just for the sake of my own sanity. Flannel maybe wasn't the easiest fabric to work with, but it worked well enough.

Christmas Eve Bits

Miscellaneous pics from Christmas Eve at our house:

Homemade gingerbread cookies and
homegrown carrots for the reindeer.

Daddy playing Christmas carols
while the girls try on their new jammies,
and dance around the living room.

Merry Christmas from Two Little Girls, and their Mommy and Daddy!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Traditions

Despite being completely distracted by this whole farm-buying business, I'm trying to keep at least some focus on our Christmas traditions, especially since this is the first year we are really paring back the gifts in hopes of keeping the focus on what Christmas should really be about. Over the years, more and more traditions have come about - some inspired by favorite memories of my childhood, and others that just seem to have crept into our yearly celebration.

*Decorating Day: the day after Thanksgiving, a whole day spent listening to carols, putting up the tree, redecorating the house, and hanging lights.
*The Cookie Party: an afternoon of moms only fun, with a huge plate of delicious cookies for the family to gobble up afterward (a blog on this year's party is coming soon!)
*The Nutcracker ballet: we missed this one this year, but we always try to find a nearby, affordable production of the Nutcracker to take the girls to.
*Christmas Lights: an evening spent driving around, listening to radio Christmas tunes and hitting up all the best-decorated neighborhoods in town
*Christmas cookies: we bake 8 or 10 different varieties of cookies, then deliver them to friends and family
*Christmas card-making: a few evenings spent with all the Christmas craft supplies in the house, making cards to send to everyone we love.
*Sugar cookies: this one earns my mom the Best Mom Ever award. She used to bake tons of sugar cookies, provide every color of frosting available, and we made a huge mess decorating gingerbread men, stars, bells, trees and other shapes. I dread the mess every year, but this is a favorite for my girls, as it was for me.
*Cookies for Santa/Carrots for Rudolph. Or in this year's case, carrots for all nine reindeer, because we have an infinite supply of carrots from the garden still.
*Christmas Eve PJ's: each girl gets new jammies to wear on Christmas Eve (mostly because I want them to look cute in Christmas pictures the next morning.)
*The Pickle: If you've never heard of a Pickle ornament, check it out. We let the girls hunt for the pickle on Christmas Eve, and whoever finds it gets to open her jammies first. (The jammies are still a surprise every year. For some reason, though we've been doing it for five years or more, they always forget what the present is going to be.)
*Stuffed toys for Izzy. Each year we buy her one of those $5 stockings filled with stuffed toys for dogs. We wrap it up, she unwraps it, and then proceeds to spend the morning tearing the stuffing out of every single toy. I'm not sure how she knows that it's okay to do this on only one morning each year, but she understands and has a great time of it.

That's all I'm remembering right now, though I'm sure there are others. We also try to make at least a few different Christmas crafts, sing every Christmas song we can remember, and this year we'll add reading the birth of Jesus as well.

Do share - what traditions does your family enjoy through the holiday season?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Third Annual Christmas Cookie Party

All kinds of fun was had at my Third Annual Christmas Cookie Party.

Never heard of a cookie party? The idea is simple: everyone bakes a double batch of cookies to exchange. We spend a couple of hours eating fattening foods, talking and laughing, visiting and playing games.

First was a quiet game of Jumbled Christmas Words, just to get everyone's brains working a bit.

After that was a game of 7-11: roll the dice, if you get a 7 or an 11, you get to hold on to the prize until someone else gets a 7 or 11.

Whoever is holding the prize when the timer goes off gets to keep it. I'm happy to report that everyone played fair, and there was no fighting (this year.)

The best game by far was Reindeer Antlers. You can read the details here, but the gist of it is that each team blows up balloons and stuffs them into the legs of panty hose.
At the end of the time, the leader of each team puts the nylons on her head, with the legs sticking up like balloon "antlers". Whoever has the best rack wins! It was good, goofy fun all around.

There were a few other games, some more eating, and then came the voting for The Golden Spatula award. Each person tastes a little bit of each cookie and votes on their favorite. And the 2011 Golden Spatula Award winner is.......

Lisa won for the second year in a row, with her fantastically rich Peppermint Cream Bars. There were so many unique and creative recipes this year, and some great old standbys: Alfajores, Peanut Butter Cookie Candy Bars, honey almond biscotti, chocolate toffee shortbread, and snickerdoodles. These ladies really upped the ante this year since they knew it was a contest. Apparently that Golden Spatula Award is quite coveted.

Thanks to all the girls that came this year, I had a blast and hope you did, too. My family enjoyed all your cookies tremendously. To anyone that didn't come this year and wants to be added to the invitation list, let me know. There's nothing quite so fun as hokey house-wife parties during the holiday season. :o)

A Christmas Dance

We went to the Tiny Little Town for the Christmas Dance last night.

Tiny Little Towns are wonderful. Because they have things like Christmas dances in old auditoriums. Because they have local bands that include banjos and fiddles and all the ranch-folk get up and dance and have a merry ol' time.

Tiny Little Towns also have adorable little boys dressed in boots, hats, and leather vests.

Adorable little boys that like to dance. :o)

I get the prize for worst video quality ever, I think. It was dark! But it's still cute.

On a side note... the contract is signed. The Tiny Little Town is going to be home before too much longer!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Refusing to Believe.

All throughout my childhood, I dreamed of having a little girl of my own some day. I would make plans for things I'd do with my daughter, I saved special toys and books to some day share with her.
When I was pregnant with The Oldest, I had an ultrasound. They told me it was a girl, but I flat out refused to believe them. It seemed to good to be true. Of course I would've been happy with any healthy baby, but in my heart I desperately wanted that daughter I'd always yearned for. I wanted her so badly that I simply couldn't let myself believe that dream might really come true. I was too afraid of the disappointment if they'd have turned out to be wrong. I bought nothing pink, or lacy, or frilly. I stuck with greens and yellows and a safari themed nursery. And then she was born, and I finally believed it. I had the little girl I'd always dreamed of.
And then, to have another? I still can't believe I'm so blessed.
We're going tomorrow to sign the contract for The Dream Farm.
I'm still refusing to believe it. It really is just too good to be true. Surely, something is going to go wrong before we close on the property and move our Two Little Girls into the most perfect setting we could ever hope to raise them in. Something will happen to dash our dreams right back to the ground, force us to pick ourselves up and start over again in this search.
I'm so terribly excited, I can't put words to it. But I'm also so emotionally invested in this amazing opportunity that if it fails, I'll be devastated. I refuse to make any concrete plans until I know for sure that it's really going to be ours, just like I refused to buy pink. One woman cannot have so many wonderful things in her life, can she? Humbled is the best word to describe the way I feel when I even begin to imagine this might be real.
But regardless, we're signing the contract. It's one step closer to all we've dreamed of and worked toward for so long. It's the opportunity of a lifetime, if it all comes together. For heaven's sake, it already has a root cellar.
So tentatively and cautiously, we're hoping everything continues to move forward. I'll try not to blog only about this farm-buying business, though forgive me if it's all I manage - it's all I'm really thinking about these days.

Makin' Stuff

Since I'm no longer sleeping for any decent length of time, I have plenty of time to make things:

"Give a Hoot" fingerless mitts

Altered from the pattern for Give a Hoot mittens by Jocelyn Tunney. Sorry for the phone-cam pictures, I was lazy. The actual color is really a pretty bright turquoise. Using yard-saled wool yarn and a free pattern, the total cost for this project was less than one dollar. Sweet :o)

Leafy-lace Slouch Hat

Modeled by the youngest - it's my size, but she couldn't get my phone cam to work to get a pic of it on my head.

Pattern is called Lacy Leaf Souch (misspelling copied from the designer. Can way say "oops"?) I had to essentially rework the pattern, it wasn't a very good one and I was/am really disappointed with the hat in general.

Saw this sweet nativity on Pinterest. (Oh Pinterest, how I love thee. Seriously, if you aren't using it yet, you should be. It's the best way to waste time I've ever found.)

Directions can be found here. I found a wood carver's kit at Michael's for $5.99 that included enough wood to make two sets. The head beads were separate, and the tiny head was a wooden plug leftover from a recent furniture purchase. Quick and easy to make, and I really, really love it.

And a fun little mixed-media collage on a wooden plaque, all stuff I had on hand and a graphic printed from The Graphics Fairy. The sweet li'l angel boy makes me smile.

Wishing a fun holiday crafting season to all my fellow crafters, and a very Merry Christmas to everyone. Hope you are all enjoying it much as I am!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Really Big Dream

I'm not supposed to be getting excited, right?

Oh, but I am. And that means I'm in trouble. Because if this house isn't the one we're supposed to end up in, and we don't get it, I'm going to cry. A lot.

We looked at a farm yesterday. I knew just from the pictures that it was The One, and I was right. I was afraid to even go see it - it's a little more than we were wanting to pay, so I assumed we shouldn't even bother considering it. But for what it is, the price is ridiculously low. And it's not impossible. So we looked. And we got sucked in, and we fell in love.

The house itself is Way More than we could ever possibly need. It's enormous. It's fancy. It's so luxurious it's actually kind of embarrassing.

But the land is exactly what we want. When we set out to start looking, our focus was not on the house, but on the land. Houses can be modified, added on to or changed to fit our needs. Not so much the land that the house is sitting on. We knew we wanted 20-30 acres. We wanted some pasture and some wild, natural land. There needs to be irrigation or water of some kind, and good water rights. Out buildings and fences would be an added bonus.

We spent a few hours last week looking at the properties that fit those needs (there are only about four in the area we're hoping to move.) Only one really even came close, but it wasn't perfect - it was all pasture, no wild.

The place we looked at yesterday had it all: enough natural land that the elk and deer would be happy there, enough pasture to feed all the animals we hope to keep. There's plenty of irrigation water to take care of it all. And it's got out buildings. It's got more than out buildings - a wood shop, a chicken house, an implement shed, and a red barn. With a hay loft. It's all well fenced, and has corrals already in place. It all needs a bit of hard work and love, but our family is quite capable of both. There's nothing missing from the land itself that we could possibly want.

As I said, the house is secondary. It wasn't our primary focus. But the house is incredible. All the little details I've ever dreamed of having are there, plus more that I never even thought to wish for. Like a root cellar. It has a root cellar! (This has to be meant for us, right?) It also has a garage. We've lived without a garage for six years. The idea of having one is more than a little bit exciting.

We don't deserve to have this place. We'd be content with just the basics, and this is far beyond the basics. I'm afraid to let myself dream of this becoming a reality. It's too perfect. It's too good for us! I can think of a dozen other families that deserve this house more than we do. But, as my wise friend Katie told me, "God doesn't give us what we deserve. If He gave us what we deserve, we'd all be dead."

Waiting to hear from the mortgage guy, wondering if this is going to come together, is going to make me a crazy person. I didn't sleep last night, going back and forth between dreaming of Two Little Girls growing up in that perfect setting, and then reminding myself that this can't possibly actually happen. Our mortgage guy better work fast, or I might go insane from lack of sleep.

Clearly, I'm in trouble. When it all falls apart, I'm going to be really, really sad. I wish I could prepare myself for the disappointment, but I don't think I can. So y'all dream with me for a little bit, and then be prepared to comfort me when I come back blogging through my tears, K?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hand Dying with Black Walnut Ink

Remember the quill and ink project? Well, we had some (quarts of) leftover black walnut ink, so I used it for another quick project:

I hand dyed some hand spun yarn.

I spun this yarn a couple of years ago and it sat undyed in a basket for two reasons:
a) I was scared of dying yarn
b) It's really, really not very well spun. There's a serious learning curve to spinning. This is only about my third attempt.

I learned that dying isn't really hard at all, doesn't take as much time as I was expecting, and that the satisfaction of having 130 grams of hand spun, hand dyed yarn is worth the effort.

The process was simple: I tied the skeins here and there with scrap yarn and dampened them, then put them in the room temp ink/dye in a large pot, and heated it to nearly boiling. Then I turned off the heat and let it sit overnight, using a wooden spoon to occasionally move it around gently and press on it to get the dye to saturate well. In the morning I rinsed until the water ran clear, then hung them to dry.

I'm thinking I'll knit up a shawl of some kind with it, something to embrace the imperfections (and there are a lot of them!) of my first fingering weight hand spun yarn. I'll let you know what I come up with... might be awhile before there's time for that. :o)

*Note: black walnut ink also works beautifully as a wood stain. I stained the borders of a little Christmas plaque I made, and it has a really beautiful color to it. This stuff is awesome, I tell ya. Sure wish black walnuts grew wild where we live... guess we'll have to go back to Missouri sometime to get more!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Meet Cowboy

This is Cowboy.

He's a miniature horse. My mom got him the other day so the girls would have something small enough to learn comfortably on. He certainly is small enough! He's 35" tall at the withers. He's sweet as can be, and oh so patient.

I see a whole lot of horse-y fun in our future!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Citrus is Flowering!

Each year on our anniversary, I give my husband a gift based on the traditional anniversary gift list. This year, the traditional gift was fruit. I got him a miniature citrus tree - it grows lemons, limes, and tangerines all on the same little tree that fits on the plant stand in our kitchen. Mind you, it's a tiny little thing. But there's one lime on it already, and it blossomed last week:

Isn't it pretty? There's no such thing as fresh citrus here in Colorado unless one finds a creative way to grow it. I figured this was a little more interesting than just a basket full of bananas and oranges, no?

Of course, neither of us have the slightest idea how to actually care for the poor tree. I didn't bother looking up the growing requirements for an indoor citrus plant before I bought it - what fun would that be? So now we get to learn how to hand-pollinate (which will be tricky, since we don't know which blossoms produce which fruits. Hmm...) We're supposed to mist it every day because (ha!) citrus trees require a lot of humidity. Have you ever been to Western Colorado? Our humidity is usually right there at a stable 0%.

I've done a fair job of growing plants outdoors, but indoors it's another story. Our house plants often go two weeks (or longer. Much longer.) before I remember that they need water. This tree came to the wrong house if it needs water on a regular basis. Which of course, it does. Darn tree is more demanding than the dog or the cat.

Anyway. Our citrus tree has a blossom! It's exciting, anyway. :o)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Homeschool: Long Division

Homeschool math, in the style of The Oldest.

6,408 / 3

"Six thousand four hundred eight divided by three. Three goes into six two times. Two times three is six, and six minus six is Look, I see a starling! But starlings aren't usually around 'til spring. I wonder where his family is? Six minus six is zero, bring down the four. Three goes into four one time. I wonder if Tchaikovsky wrote The Nutcracker or Swan Lake first? Four minus three is one, bring down the zero. What are we having for dinner tonight? Ten divided by three is three, three times three is nine, subtract and get one, bring down the How come it didn't snow last night? It's cloudy today, maybe it will snow tonight instead. Bring down the eight, eighteen divided by three is six, six times three is eighteen, subtract and What time is Cora's dance class today? Subtract and get zero, so no remainder. So 6,408 divided by 3 is 2,136."

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Holiday Traditions: Proof that I'm Sentimental

As if anyone needed proof that I'm sentimental.

I'm a firm believer in giving Thanksgiving it's due, and waiting until afterward to begin the Christmas season. However, I also don't waste any time.

The Day After Thanksgiving is Christmas Decorating Day.

I sometimes get up early to shop, though this year I didn't. Then I make a yummy breakfast, and the fun begins. First we undecorate from fall, dust and vacuum, and then out come the Christmas goodies. Daddy hauls the boxes up from the basement while the girls and I open them and the fond memories start coming back to us.

For the girls, the memories are from last Christmas, or a couple of years ago. For me, some of these decorations spark memories from my own childhood. Christmas has always been such a happy season, and my memory bank is filled with wonderful rememberings from sweet times we shared at Christmas when I was young.

I remember when my mom would finally get sick of a decoration and would let me have it for my own room. There were these little cardboard houses, a cardboard glittery sleigh and some plastic reindeer that I would proudly display on my dresser each year. Oh man, were they ugly. But I didn't realize that at the time.

I remember one year my dad brought me home a teeny little wooden nativity. I'm not sure what happened to most of the pieces, though a few are still floating around here somewhere. As a kid though, I treasured that little set. It made me feel so darn grown up to have my own decorations in my room, and it meant even more because it was my dad that had given it to me.

And I remember the really ugly decoration, the elf sitting in a little holly-covered ball that was to be hung dangling from somewhere or another. I loved him. And I remember pulling him out, hanging him up, and my mother wrinkling her nose and shaking her head. He certainly wasn't her favorite, but I thought he was adorable and I remember insisting that we still display him even after he'd outgrown her fondness.

A lot of the decorations in my house are the same ones my mom would pull out year after year when I was a girl. She finally got so tired of them (and I was no longer there to insist that she use them) so she handed them over to me. Some aren't real pretty, but I don't care, and my girls don't care. Each one is special, each one sparks a different memory. And now it's all back in style, anyway: it's called "Vintage Christmas Decor." :o)

Here's a train (I think) my aunt made. I'm not sure how old it is. Each year a wheel or a little piece of candy has to be hot-glued back on. When I was little, it went up on the mantel over the brick fireplace every year.

And these embroidery hoops. Seeing them takes me back to the living room where I grew up, and that's a happy place to remember.

I remember being five? or six years old, amazed at how heavy this Santa was. Cora did the same thing this year, picked him up and said, "Whoa, he's a really heavy Santa."

And the stockings - one with reindeer, one with santas, one with ornaments, and two checkered ones, all lined up on hooks along the mantel of the brick fireplace from that wonderful living room. I picked the ornament one each year. This year, Cora claimed it.

To my girls: don't give away the decorations that have fallen out of style. Some day, you'll latch on to the memories they bring back to you, and you'll be glad you still have them. And I promise, they'll be 'cool' again some day, anyway.

And to my mom: thanks for all the wonderful Christmas memories you've given me. I don't think you even know how many sweet things I remember, but they are all centered around the amazing job you did making the whole Christmas season a special one for us.

Knitting Bits: A Rooster That Won't Attack

The girls still talk about Mr. Tweets almost every day. They really miss him, and will tell anyone who will listen all the happy stories about him. They end with, "Yeah, and then Daddy killed him, 'cuz he got mean." That's usually enough to render a look of mild shock on the face of whomever they are speaking with.

Anyway, I've always wished I could bring him back as he was before he got mean, and as I was surfing Ravelry one day, I found the perfect solution: The Knitted Chicken.

He won't attack. In fact, he'll even cuddle if you want.

I made the tail feathers a bit larger than the pattern called for, and crocheted an edge to make them seem more "rooster-ish."

And I crocheted some poofy feathers on top, since our mean ol' rooster was a Polish show breed.

I'm not sure which girl will get him, but he'll be a Christmas gift they'll likely both get a giggle out of.

Pattern: Spring Chicken by Jacqui Turner
Yarn: Scraps of black and white held together
Needles: size 10, and H crochet hook when needed

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Break Time!

How is it that we always end up so busy? And so often, it's with "big kid" stuff for the Big Sister.

So Littlest One and I took a "little kid" break.

It was much needed, and great fun.

Sometimes I wish I was a "little kid" too. :o)