Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A New Bedtime

Bed time is sacred in our house. Only on very rare occasions does it get messed with. My daughters are always in bed at eight o'clock. They are permitted to read or do other quiet activities until they fall asleep, but for this mama, quiet time commences at eight each night. Especially now with no more nap times, I need a couple of hours to myself at the end of the day if I'm to maintain the level of sanity I need to actually raise these children.

So it's a really big deal when I write that I raised The Oldest's bedtime. She's allowed to stay up til nine now.

Somehow, when I wasn't looking, this little girl went and grew up! She's matured, become quite responsible and dependable. She was at her real dad's house for a day this weekend, so I was taking care of her chores too, and I realized how much more it felt like I was doing. She's really, truly helpful! Not "little girl helpful" - stirring the bowl of muffin batter or haphazardly shoving her own clean clothes into drawers - but truly helpful, honestly making a difference when it comes to keeping our home neat and tidy.

She feeds the chickens and the dog, she empties the dishwasher and loads the rinsed dishes, she sorts the recycling, puts away all the laundry except Mommy and Daddy's, makes her bed and (mostly) cleans her room. At any time I can ask her to dust the living room or clean the bathroom and she'll do a great job of it. During this harvest time, when I'm in the kitchen for a couple of hours on most days, she's often in there helping me. She's peeled ten pounds of carrots in one sitting, she peeled, pitted and sliced a whole 20 pound box of peaches for canning, she dices tomatoes for the freezer.

Obviously, it's not that she does all of that every single day, but she does it as needed. And here's the kicker - She does it with a good attitude!

Okay, well, mostly. But ya know, there are times that I want to pout about washing the dishes, too. Usually she's standing next to me cheerfully going about her tasks. It's not infrequent for her to come to me and say, "Is there anything else I can help you with?"

What a blessing this little girl is to me.

And so, I raised her bedtime to nine o'clock. Staying up late is special to a little girl, and this little girl deserves it. Staying up later means you're more responsible, and this sweet girl has become amazingly responsible. It gives her a whole hour of time without her sister, time to play just what she wants without interruption. It gives us time to chat if we want to, or to sit and knit quietly together.

Seeing that my girl is growing up is killing me. I'm not ready for her to move into the "young lady" stage yet, and she's nearing it quickly. But seeing her grow up, and seeing who she is becoming, is utterly heartwarming, too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Knitting Bits: Yarn Shopping with the Oldest

With the cooler weather we've been having, I've been struggling with my desire to ignore the garden and knit instead. I gave in. The garden is in sad disarray as I sit cheerfully in the shade and knit to my heart's content.

I took Chloe yarn shopping for her winter sweater today. I learned a few years ago, after I spent two weeks knitting an adorable sweater for her, that she is not the type of girl to overlook comfort for the sake of cuteness. It was a bit scratchy, that cute little sweater, and so I had to beg her and bribe her every time I put it on her. She wants a sweater that is loose fitting, with sleeves long enough to cover her hands, a hood, and the softest yarn one could possibly find.

So we spent half an hour scouring the yarn aisles at Hobby Lobby this afternoon. We were after something worsted weight, and purple... unless she changed her mind on the color once we got there. After years of watching me in a yarn store, she's mastered the art of fondling yarn. She walks along, hands out, squeezing skein after skein of purple yarn. If one feels like it may be soft enough, it must endure the next test: she rubs it on the inside of her forearm, and then on her cheek. That's enough to make most of the yarn go right back into the bin. Of all the yarn varieties that Hobby Lobby had to offer, only two passed the cheek-rubbing test. And of those, only one had a shade of purple she thought was suitable.

And so I am now knitting a top-down raglan cardigan out of plum-colored velveteen plush yarn. Top-down allows me to make the sleeves just the right length, and I've altered the pattern to include a hood. No lace, no cables, not even appliqued flowers - "just plain", said my Little Girl who is clearly growing up. I did convince her to let me use mismatched antique buttons down the front, because "just plain" isn't in my vocabulary.

I'm happy to be knitting again. :-)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Houseguest

We had a house guest visit us in the kitchen this afternoon. We weren't expecting her, and so she took us quite by surprise.

She seemed a bit perturbed that we had moved her food source indoors. She marched across the counter and promptly began exploring. She found the dish soap fascinating.

As much as we enjoyed the impromptu science lesson, and would have gladly had her stay awhile, we thought she'd appreciate being replaced in her cozy home in the basil pot.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Fall Dresses for Little Girls

I'm still on Housework Hiatus.

I finally gave in a bought Little Girls, Big Style by Mary Abreu. I've been eying it for some time now at the local fabric shop. And then I used it to make some dresses for Two Little Girls for fall.

Cora's is the Knotty Apron dress - an attached faux apron and knots instead of buttons on the straps. Love how it makes her look like a little peasant girl.

Chloe's is the Pocket Pinafore dress. I had to alter the pattern up a couple of sizes - the book only goes to a size 6. The straps attach with suspender clips.

I love the book, and highly recommend it. These patterns are super simple - primarily rectangles cut and sewn and gathered. Anyone who can sew a straight line could make these outfits without much difficulty. I will say that the amount of fabric called for was way more than what I needed. I have tons of leftover fabric.

The best thing to do with fabric leftover from little girl dresses?

Make doll clothes, of course!

I used an old McCall's doll clothes pattern, altered a bunch, to make exact replicas of the girls' dresses. Basking in the glory of being a mom to little girls. :o)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Notes on Preserving: Frozen Eggs

Wanna see something gross?

Yum... egg cubes!

I realize how nasty this looks (and sounds) but chickens don't lay nearly as many eggs in the winter, and that's not too far off. So I'm trying to be proactive. I looked at many different articles about freezing eggs and settled on this one from Chickens In The Road. The technique is simple - crack the eggs into a colander, smash the yolks, and let the eggs drain through into a bowl. The resulting mixture is then poured into ice cube trays and frozen. Two cubes is about equal to one egg.

Note: eight year old little girls love cracking eggs. Two dozen eggs kept mine happily busy for half an hour.

I don't plan on cooking up a batch of scrambled eggs with these, but I figure they'll be useful in all the winter baking that we usually do.

I've also heard that you can just stick whole eggs in the freezer and then thaw and use them successfully. Has anyone tried that? What other methods for preserving eggs are there - I'm open to suggestions!

Friday, September 9, 2011

FO - Flowers of Fall

This whole homeschooling-homesteading mom thing is really putting a damper on my love for making things. I vaguely remember having time to knit, once upon a time ago, but it hasn't happened any time lately.

With the cooler fall weather settling in, I finally put my foot down and made some time to do a bit of knitting. I rebelled against the housework, even threw the to-do list in the trash. Then I poured myself a glass of wine (at 3:00 in the afternoon) and camped out in my favorite Adirondack chair beneath the shade of the elm tree in the front yard. It was lovely, and so very needed for my sanity.

And the product of my relaxing afternoon made it all the more satisfying:

Flowers of Fall hat by Brownie Knits

I love giant flowers on Little Girl heads. Makes me wish I was four so I could rock the giant flower look.

Thursday, September 8, 2011


Littlest One has been four now for nearly a month. You'd think the novelty and excitement of this new age would have worn off a bit by now, but it hasn't. Four is a very big deal to her, and she would like for every person that she comes in contact with to know it.

Every store clerk that has checked us out since August 15th has been notified of this change in age. "I'm four!" she exclaims to each cashier. Of course, this is met with, "Oh, what a big girl you are!" which pleases her tremendously.It doesn't matter who it is - a neighbor we meet while going for a walk; the lady next to us in the cereal aisle; the girl cutting our fabric selections... always, she must announce, "I'm four years old!"

Today I told her that maybe she doesn't need to announce her age to every person we meet, that perhaps she only tell them her age if they ask how old she is. "But," she said, "what if they forget to ask me?"

Ah well. She is four, after all. :o)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Notes on Preservation: Freezer Veggies

Someone asked for some of this information, so here it is.
One of my goals this fall was to learn to use a pressure canner. It never happened. So, as in years past, I'm working to freeze as many vegetables as I can before the first frost hits.

Vegetables (except for tomatoes) are low-acid foods and cannot be canned safely in a regular boiling water canner. I've heard a few horror stories about pressure canners, and they intimidate me, so I never found the courage (or the time) to learn to use one.

Knowing how much to freeze is a hard thing to master, and I'm still in the process. The one best tip I can offer is to keep records. For each garden season I keep the following records in a 3-ring binder in plastic-covered sheets:

Amount of each veggie harvested (usually noted in pounds with hash marks. You can get a cheap scale at Wal Mart for about $15. I love mine and use it constantly.)

The cost of any produce I purchase from local farmers or stores (so I know if I should wait for a lower price. Keep in mind that the cost of food goes up slightly most years. Don't wait too long and miss the best price!)

The date of the lowest price I've found. Some veggies are only at a really low price for one week out of the summer. Don't miss that week.

The amount I preserve, the method, and the date, and also the date I use the last one. If I use the last bag of diced tomatoes in February, I know I better do twice as many the next year if I want to make it to August.

I also keep notes each year of what varieties of certain vegetables I want to grow again and which ones were disappointing, and I make notes of how many pounds of wild game we're able to put by.

I can't tell you how often I look back at these records. I can tell how much more we're using (as our girls are growing!), what season to start looking for certain produce items, when the best time to go tomato picking is, how many pints of salsa we eat each month... anything I want to know is there in my records. I realize my records sound anal, but they only take a minute or two each night to update, and they are invaluable.

For our family of four, here's what I've got in the freezer so far for this year (some grown, some purchased from local farms:)

14 lbs of green beans (in 3/4 lb packages)
50 ears of corn (cut from the cob, 2 cups per pkg =24 pkgs)
8 lbs of beets (in 1lb packages. I wish I'd planted more beets though.)
18 1-cup packages of spinach, kale, chard, and other greens
5 lbs of kohlrabi (in 1/2 lb packages. It's not our favorite, but it's an easier and more space-effective alternative to broccoli.)
8 cups grated zucchini (I'll do more. It's good for zuke breads and such.)
2 lbs diced bell peppers (I'll do another 2-4 lbs before the season ends.)

I haven't started freezing tomatoes yet - I decided to save that for next week. I needed a break. So I'll write the tomato post then, and carrots will be frozen in the next few weeks, too.

Based on the above totals, I can tell you that we've grown and preserved enough for 6-8 months' worth of soups, stews, stir-fries and side dishes. Hopefully by then we'll have peas and greens and other early veggies coming out of the garden again, and we won't be forced to buy too much from the stores.

I'll try to keep up regularly with preservation notes, since I know so many folks are trying to do this now.

PS - it thrills me to hear how many people are adopting this way of life. Everywhere I turn I'm meeting people who are canning and dehydrating and freezing and buying local, organic produce in bulk. I'm so proud of all of you!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Bible in 90 Days

So I'm doing the Bible in 90 Days challenge. Hence the reason my blog is so neglected - every spare moment of my day is now spent reading the Bible instead of rambling about my not-very-exciting life.

I'm nearing the end of 2 Samuel right now, one day ahead of schedule. It averages out to be 12-13 chapters each day, an hour to an hour and a half of reading. That can be pretty rough some days, when I'm already trying desperately to keep up with schooling two kids, preserving the garden harvest, and keeping the house presentable. Most nights I look forward to the reading. Tonight I was so exhausted I didn't even want to pick up my Bible, but I managed.

Reading it this way is so different from any Bible reading I've done before. It's fast - there isn't time for cross-referencing and deep consideration of the meaning behind specific stories or verses. It's just reading for the face value, for the story that develops. I've never considered the Bible to be a sort of novel before, but that's how this approach makes it feel, and it's really quite fascinating. I'm finally able to really register whose son is whose, and you get to know the "characters" of the story in a different sort of way. It also paints a disturbing picture of just what life was like back in the early days of civilization, what little regard they had for life (especially female life) and how harsh the lives they lived really were. We're all just a bunch of sissies now, aren't we?

Deuteronomy dragged on painfully. Actually, about half-way through Exodus to the end of Numbers were all equally boring and took significant will power to finish. It seemed that in one chapter, God told Moses "blah blah blah blah rules", and then the whole next chapter was Moses repeating it verbatim to the people. The Torah could have been cut down by half if he could have just written, "And Moses told the people of Israel what God said." But apparently he didn't think that would be effective. I suppose we do learn by repetition, don't we?

Joshua got to be more interesting, until I got sick of reading about conquest after conquest. Ruth is always a pleasant read - I enjoy the love story there. I do enjoy the parts of Samuel that are about Samuel, but once it gets into Saul and David and all the fighting, my eyes glaze over and I have to really work to read. I've never been one to enjoy reading about fighting and war, and this is page after page of tiny print all about... fighting and war.

I realize most Bible in 90 Days bloggers write daily or at least weekly about their reading... honestly, I'm wondering where they find the time. I'll update here and there, but mostly I'll just be frantically trying to finish one more chapter before I move on to folding more laundry or correcting a math worksheet or canning more tomatoes.

I'd love to hear from anyone who's successfully completed this challenge, or who is working on it - I can use all the support I can get!