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)

Saturday, November 19, 2011

FO: The Just Plain Sweater

I suppose for every successful knitting project, there must be at least one unsuccessful one.

I finished The Oldest's "Just Plain" sweater more than a month ago. It's hung on the mirror in my bedroom since then awaiting buttons. After seeing how it came together, I had no motivation to bother with sewing buttons on, but she finally insisted. She selected six mismatched black vintage buttons from the button jar. And now there is a finished product.

Mostly, I hate everything about it. I really don't like purple. I can't stand this flimsy chenille yarn. The sweater doesn't fit nicely at all, being far too wide around. And I even somehow managed to make the buttonholes crooked, because I'm awesome like that.

So it's not the prettiest sweater I've ever made. The up side is that she doesn't seem to notice the awkward fit, or the crooked buttons. She just feels the softness of this wretched yarn, and sees a shade of purple that makes her heart go pitter-pat. So I guess it's not a total failure.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Homeschool Bits: Quill and Ink

While we were in Missouri, we discovered the novelty of black walnuts. Being as we're Westerners, and they don't grow wild here, we'd never seen them before. Chloe had a great time collecting them at the park at Alley Spring.

We put them in a bag, brought them home with good intentions, and ended up leaving them in that bag on the front porch for six weeks. They were rotten and slimy and gross. I was ready to toss them. But when I was reading about how to make black walnut ink and dye, the first step is to... leave your black walnuts in a bag to rot. Heh! Awesome. On to Step 2, then!

We put the rotten walnuts (maggots and all. No joke*.) in my five quart soup pot.

(I thoroughly wanted to ruin the pot, so I'd have an excuse to get a new stainless steel one. It didn't work, the pot's just fine.) Clad in rubber gloves and craft aprons, in our very oldest of clothes, we stabbed the walnuts with steak knives repeatedly until they were fairly broken up.

Then we brought them inside, filled the pot with water, and boiled it for a few hours.

Now, they say to boil it for 8-24 hours. I was working with two impatient little girls, and a time span of one afternoon to finish this project. We boiled it for two and a half hours, and that was plenty.

I mashed the husks up a bit more as it boiled, and when we were satisfied with how dark it was, I strained out all the nasty sludge.

Then we made our quill, using a feather from the geese The Daddy shot this spring. I'm not going to go into detail here, because if you Google "how to make a quill" you'll find about forty five thousand how-to articles on the subject. Suffice it to say, it's not hard. We had the best luck with an Exacto knife.

We all took a try at writing with the quill.

It was surprisingly easy. Chloe wrote a letter to her great-grandma that we visited in Missouri. The downside was not being able to erase!

History, science, art, penmanship and grammar all rolled into one activity? Awesome. And the actual hands-on time was only about half an hour.

*Yes, maggots. Seriously nasty. If it wasn't mentioned specifically in the blog I used as my general instructions that there would be bugs and larvae of all sorts, I don't think I could have continued. But by the time they'd boiled for two and a half hours, we couldn't tell they were in there any more. Not sure if that's a good thing, or if it's even more disgusting...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The House-hunting song.

Oh give me a home
Where the elk and deer roam
Where my children can happily play.
Where never is heard
A loud neighbor's rude words
And rain dampens my garden each day.

:-) I was feeling musical, so I wrote us a farm-hunting theme song.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Love Story: A Girl and her Yarn.

I feel compelled to tell you my happy knitting project story. It's been a long time since I finished a project I was so darn smitten with. This story is far too long, considering it's about yarn. But hey, at least there are pictures.

When I take a trip now, instead of buying souvenirs that are going to sit on a shelf and collect dust (because I have too many of those already!) I try to buy a ball of yarn. It turns into something useful, and each time I use it, I have a chance to look back on the trip fondly.

So when we were in Birch Tree, Missouri (population 600-something) I found a local yarn store called The Twisted Thread.

The fact that there was a local yarn store at all in a teeny little Ozark town thrilled me. Mostly, she carried Cascade products, which I can easily buy at home, and aren't all that exciting to me. But! There was this shelf! A shelf of gorgeous, hand dyed (and even some hand spun) yarns! Colors galore, I tell you. But I knew just what I was after. I wanted a ball of hand dyed yarn that was going to remind me of the amazing fall colors of the Ozarks.

And lo and behold, there it was, the "Fall" colorway. Sumac red, Sassafras orange, the gold of hickory and dogwood. It had all the colors of the fall I was so enthralled with there in Missouri. And it was hand dyed by someone local to the Ozark region. And it was cashmere.

So anyway. Enough about the yarn, with it's gorgeous drape and ultra-soft feel and.... Right. So anyway.

I bought my ball of yarn, finished enjoying the fall in Missouri with my sweet grandmother, and came home to start looking for the right pattern. I knew I wanted a shawlette/kerchief. You can't do too much fancy lace work with hand painted yarn, so I was looking for something simple to show off the pretty colors. I looked for over two hours at Ravelry's options, was about to shut off the computer and give up completely, when I saw Simple Things.

The name hooked me first - Simple Things are what I live for. I looked at the pattern some more. It was named after a quote from Laura Ingalls Wilder! Our trip included our stop at Laura's home! It was clear to me then, this project was meant to be.

And so I knitted it. And lemme tell ya, knitting with cashmere (even just 10% cashmere) is a pleasure every knitter should experience at least once. This yarn is like butter, I tell you. It took a couple of weeks, but now I have this piece I am just utterly tickled with.

Oh my. Just look how those colors melt together, and yet still stand out from one another. I am completely sold on hand-dyed.

The shawl is hanging in my hallway, when I'm not wearing it. I get a lot more satisfaction out of it when I walk by it forty times a day than I would if it were hanging in my closet. It won't stay there forever, but at least for awhile. I'm calling it part of my "fall decor".

And so goes the story of a girl and the yarn she fell in love with. I love stories with happy endings. :-)


**Note: The picture above the pegs is the painting of Laura's house that my grandmother gifted me. Isn't it so pretty?

**Another note: check out Morandia's MIB Fibers if you want your own ultra-soft skein of cashmere/merino yarn. I'm sure she can help you out.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Thoughts on Gift Giving - for the kids

The holidays are coming. We're being bombarded with even more marketing than usual, the toy aisles at Wal Mart are full and spilling into the walkways, and the newspaper advertisements include actual books of pictures of toys intended to make our children beg for all the things they don't even actually want.

Over the past several years, I've become completely jaded when it comes to Christmas gift giving, especially to my kids. It's exhausting, it's irritating, it's wasteful and expensive. I want to make a change this year. I want to give them less, but not have them feel like they're missing out. But how to do it? When you set the standard for eight years, how do you suddenly turn around and just stop?

Honestly, I've always tried to keep it fairly simple. At least, compared to the insane barrage of gifts I was presented with each year as a child. The rule has always been six gifts - each month through the year, I would purchase a gift (something I found on sale usually) and stash it away in The Christmas Closet. (The six remaining gifts were for birthdays.) Doing it that way avoided feeling that extra pinch at Christmastime, and kept me from buying stupid things at full price during the holiday season. And until my oldest was about six, it was a really good system. But around that time, her interests became more specific - and on top of that, they changed more frequently. You can buy a three year old girl a Barbie in February and know she's going to love it come December. Not always so much with a six, seven or eight year old, who is fascinated with dinosaurs in February, but by December is over the dinosaurs and on to an obsession with horses.

So we need a new system.

My goals for this system: to discourage excessive want and materialism, and instead encourage appreciation and value; to provide toys and other gifts that will provide a full year's worth of enjoyment; to avoid adding to the already significant amount of Kid Clutter in our home; to not go broke.

I want to go down to four meaningful gifts for each kid (and by meaningful, I don't mean expensive.) Four is still probably an excessive number, but we better take this slow or we might all have a panic attack. One of those gifts will be hand made, all the better if it's made from recycled materials. One will be educational, something that will be used during school time to make learning a bit more fun. One will be something I find used - clothing or toys. (Is giving used items as a gift tacky? Eh, not to kids. Read Money Secrets of the Amish for a great view of this.) And the last will be a toy or something else they're really wanting.

This seems totally doable, right? I distinctly remember the year I was twelve, and when the presents under the tree were all opened and tossed aside, I looked one more time to make sure there was nothing else, and I was really disappointed. I'd already made out like... well, like a spoiled adopted kid whose parents wanted her to know how much they loved her. And I wanted more? Disgraceful. The let down was awful - going from the huge high of More Stuff to... done. I think a lot of people from my generation have a similar memory. We want to avoid that for our own children... so we've decided the best way to avoid it is to give them even more stuff! How much sense does that make?

So how to inform my kids - especially the oldest - that we're going to help build character by giving them fewer gifts? This can't go over well. They've got strong characters, but only Christ himself could accept that bit of news without feeling any disappointment.

My hope is to replace that huge pile of gifts with a huge pile of family traditions and togetherness. Remember in my last post, when I talked about quality time together as a family being the most important demonstration of love for my oldest daughter? Well, I'm gonna take that and run with it. I'm not sure just how yet, but we'll figure it out. I'm pretty good at coming up with hokey traditions that Two Little Girls love. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

Have you downsized your Christmas gift giving yet? How did it go over? If you've got any tips on how to make this less traumatizing for my kids, please do share!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Considering the Amish... through the eyes of an 8-year old

"What are you reading?"

It's pretty much my favorite question to be asked, whether it comes from a friend or, in this case, my eight year old.

I'm reading Money Secrets of the Amish. It's really a good little book, and I highly recommend it to anyone that tries to live frugally. With this whole possibly-buying-a-farm thing happening in our lives right now, I figure there's no time like the present to tighten the belt and start really hoarding cash. It gets expensive to feed horses and goats, ya know.

Anyway, this led us into a great discussion over breakfast about who the Amish are, how they live, what they believe. Have you ever considered how that life looks in the eyes of an eight year old? (Okay, maybe not any eight year old. But my eight year old.)

*The Amish dress modestly, in long skirts and head coverings. This wasn't shocking to her. She thinks my sisters-in-law are the most beautiful women she knows. They dress modestly, in long skirts and head coverings, and to my daughter, their style of dress encompasses all that is feminine and beautiful. The only down side? "When I wear a long skirt, I trip going up the stairs."

*The Amish have a deep faith in God and live by what the Bible says. Again, she sees no problem with this. She loves Bible stories. She loves knowing what God tells her to do, and trying to do it. Mostly, she just loves God, as much as she understandsHim.

*The Amish work hard for the things they have. Even the children are expected to help. These girls see our Daddy gone to work fourteen or eighteen hours a day, mowing and tilling and such on his days off. They see me doing housework day in and day out. And they know how to carry their own weight. My girls do a good number of chores each day, each having her own responsibilities. Working hard might not be their favorite thing, but it's not anything they can't handle. They've proven to us (and to themselves) that they can.

*The Amish don't drive cars. They use horses and buggies to get around. Horses and buggies?! Is there any downside to that? Not that any eight year old can see.

*The Amish don't have a lot of physical, material stuff. They keep what they need, but not much more. The downside? We love pretty things, fancy things, lots of toys. The upside? They don't spend half their day putting away all the unnecessary belongings that get left all around the house. Less time cleaning? That's a big plus, to this Momma and her girl!

*The Amish don't have TV, or video games, or anything else electric. Not even electric lights. No TV? No video games? No problem - we use our TV about once every month. We don't own any video games. And no electric lights? Oil lamps and candles? Well, that sounds like about as much fun as riding in a horse drawn buggy!

*As a result of the way they live, the Amish have more time to spend together as a family. Working or playing together, Quality Time speaks more loudly to my daughter than anything else. Time spent together is at the top of her list as far as the things she values. When I have the time to sit down and really listen is when she feels the most loved, the most connected. There can be no down side found to more family time. It is, undeniably, the most valuable thing any of us have.

I could see the gears slowly turning as she digested this information. Sure, there were some downsides (like those long skirts tangling around skinny little-girl legs. And chores.) But the negatives were dwarfed in comparison to the positives. I could already tell what she was about to say, so I spoke first.

"We are NOT going to be Amish."

The excitement that was building was immediately replaced with a frown. "Aww man, 'cuz I was just gonna say, 'We should be Amish!'"


So, totally, not ever gonna happen. But just as with any culture, there is no harm in learning. The Amish deserve immense respect for their faith, their values, and their way of living. They have so much to teach us, if only we'd give them a chance.

Do check out the book. It's a rather enlightening read.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Teeniest of First Steps

After the Crazy Month of October, we'd agreed that the far more relaxed month of November would be a good time to begin taking some steps toward The Farm Dream.

It's a dangerous dream, this farmy one of mine. If I'm not careful, I can spend hours daydreaming about our Farm Life-To-Be. Acreage. Animals. Barefoot little girls wandering through rows of vegetables. It's an easy dream to get caught up in. It's also not an easy one to realize.

But today, we took the first step. We called a mortgage lender to begin the process of pre-approval. Tomorrow, we'll have an actual price range to work with, and we can start chatting with a real estate agent.

It's the teeniest, tiniest of first steps. But it's a step.

A farm? Can we really handle a farm?

Sure we can. If anyone can, it's us. Right? I mean, maybe. I hope so.

I keep reminding myself it could still be a Very Long Time before this becomes any sort of reality. Selling a house takes ages these days. Finding another house could take as long... or longer, if we end up building. No reason to get all excited. This is a long, slow process. We're talking maybe even years.

Don't get excited. Don't get excited. Don't get excited.

I'm not excited. I swear. Those daydreams aren't sneaking into every waking moment of my daily life. I promise, they're not.

Don't get excited. Don't get excited. Don't get excited.

My heart isn't set on plowing fresh ground in the spring. I'm not thinking about packing. I'm not looking at advertisements on Craigslist for horses. Or goats. Or anything else.

Don't get excited. Don't get excited. Don't get excited.

I'm not even sure we're ready for this. Really farming? I mean, not really farming. Still hobby-farming. We're not ready to make a living this way. Yet. But it'd be a lot closer than the homestead-in-the-city we're currently farming. It'd be a whole lot more work than what we've got now. Really? Are we really sure we're ready to take this on? Huge, huge responsibility.

For Heaven's sake, I'm practically panicking. And all I've done is call a mortgage broker. There is absolutely no good reason to be getting all worked up yet. It's just one teensy, tiny little step.

Still not getting excited. Really. I'm not!

Tonka Trucks!

A gift of toys speaks loudly to children, doesn't it?

I'm not one to buy my kids a lot of new toys. Not because I want them to "do without" by any means - we're just blessed with generous family that overwhelm them with gifts at holidays and birthdays, and those toys keep them entertained for the remainder of the year.

But Two Little girls deserved a reward this fall. They have waited patiently all spring and summer long for the freedom to dig to their hearts' content in the garden. They have the freedom to go in and out of the garden as they please, but they know they aren't to dig it up until the first frost comes and kills off the veggies. So they waited. And they didn't complain.

Now that the garden is empty of all plants and freshly tilled, they could hardly wait to get in there and dig up that fluffy soil. Since they were so patient, I decided a reward was appropriate:

Tonka trucks make for good times! Especially when there is that much dirt to be moving around.

The beauty of having girls: we get to enjoy "boy toys", too.

This should buy me several hours of peaceful baking and knitting time, and should keep my children covered from head to toe in dirt for days to come. :-)

Garden Update: Tending to the Soil

My garden kind of sucked this year.

Well, that's not entirely true. We did at least grow enough vegetables to keep us well fed through the summer, and there is a bit in the freezer, but certainly not what I was hoping for, not as much as what I grew last year.

There are several reasons for this:

*The chickens. Backyard chickens are lovely, particularly when they have a fenced yard that keeps them out of the garden. I had this sweet little dream that the chickens would go along, picking the nasty bugs out of the garden, fluffing the soil a bit and fertilizing as they went. What I discovered was that chickens - even just four of them - are destructive little beasts. They ate my kale to the ground, picked tomato plants clean of any leaves, and slept on the carrot greens, laying them down flat. Of course, they may have been eating bugs, too, but I couldn't tell. So we made them a nice yard to live in, and let them out frequently when there is someone out to torment supervise them.

*My laziness. The best way to grow a great garden is to work hard in it. Somewhere around July, when the temperatures got up over 100 degrees, I lost the motivation to spend an hour each night in my garden. The weeds suffocated some of my plants, I didn't bother fertilizing anything, and it showed in my rather meager harvest. I also lacked any motivation to plant seeds in August for a fall crop, meaning what was planted in spring was all we had.

*Lack of planning. When one is working with very limited space, one must plan to make the most of every bit of space. I seriously failed on this one, just sort of planting things where I felt like it. There were huge chunks of wasted space, minimizing the amount my garden could even produce, and making it look like a hodgepodge of plants, instead of neat and tidy the way I like it.

*The soil. This is the big one. Last year's garden was amazing, producing huge vegetables at a rate we could barely keep up with. It was lush and full and just incredible. I imagine those beautiful plants sucked every bit of life out of the soil, leaving it with pretty much nothing to offer this year. A seed can only do so much with soil that is void of any nutrients. Beets that took two months to grow last year barely produced a bulb after four months this year, despite the same exact watering system. I did toss out a couple of bags of store-bought organic mushroom compost early in the spring, but it wasn't much, and certainly not enough to replenish all that was taken from it the year before.

So we addressed that issue yesterday. I spread a barrel of homemade compost in the worst areas first - composted kitchen scraps and chicken manure, good ol' "black gold" filled with the best nutrients of all kinds. The problem with homemade compost is that you never have enough to really make much of a difference. So we also hauled home a truck-bed load of horse manure. (This is one of the benefits of having a mother who keeps horses. She's always got plenty of poop on hand, and is always willing to share.)

I hauled the manure into the garden with a wheelbarrow and spread it around while my sweet, hardworking husband tilled it all in thoroughly.

And of course, the chickens were expected to do their part.

Only they kept getting distracted by the swiss chard in the cold frame. Man, that stuff sure pleases chickens.

So twelve wheelbarrows of horse manure, a barrel of homemade compost, and a bit of sand leftover from my beet storing experiment last year has been dug into the garden. The soil out there is dark and fluffy, a far cry from the compacted clay we started out with. Hopefully this TLC will give us the best garden we've ever had come spring - if my laziness doesn't get in the way of my success!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Homemade Chicken Soup - for Marcie

My sweet friend Marcie is "afraid of soup." Her words. I keep trying to imagine this chilly fall weather without the warmth of soups, but I just can't.

So Marcie, here's a good, standard chicken soup recipe. From scratch.

Start with a whole chicken. (Don't panic. You can so do this. Nothin' to it.) Open the packaging, remove the giblets (if it comes with them, they'll be in a plastic bag stuffed inside the chicken. If it doesn't come with them, don't worry about it.) Rinse the chicken with water inside and out, just to get the excess juice off.

Stick the chicken in the crock pot (I use a 5 qt crock pot, which leaves room for lots of broth.) Fill the crock pot with water. Put the lid on, turn the crock on high, and walk away. Thoroughly ignore your chicken for six hours.

An hour before dinner time, chop your veggies. Start with some kind of onion (or scallions. Or leeks.) Dice up the onion, and dice some kind of root vegetable. Carrots are good. Or parsnips. Or both. In a big soup pot on the stove, heat a drizzle of olive oil. When it's hot, add the root veggie and the onion. Stir and cook until it's soft. Expect about 10 minutes.

Now add some other yummy stuff: a cup of frozen corn, a chopped green bell pepper, some diced zucchini, handfuls of shredded greens, a couple of chopped tomatoes, some diced celery stalks. Whatever you have is great. You want about four cups of this stuff, but don't measure, and don't sweat it. Use up leftover bits of fresh veggies in the fridge or freezer. It'll be fine. Stir it all together and let it cook for another couple of minutes.

While that's cooking, go to your crock pot. Measure out six cups of the broth. Pour that into the pot with the veggies. Simmer it on medium high.

Using a slotted spoon, take out the chicken legs and thighs. Your chicken should be falling apart by now, so this shouldn't be hard. It's not an exact science. Put the legs and thighs on a plate and use two forks to sort out the meat from the bones. Put the meat in the pot with the veggies and broth. Toss the bones in the trash. Oh, and turn off your crock pot. You're done with it for now.

Let the soup simmer for the better part of an hour. Season it with salt and pepper, and whatever sounds good. I like thyme and basil and garlic powder. Taste and season, taste and season. You'll know when it's right.

When the veggies are just about soft, if you want to, add in some kind of grain. I love brown rice (already cooked, usually leftover from some other meal) or you can use a package of egg noodles if you want chicken noodle soup. Continue simmering until the noodles are soft, or until the rice is heated, about 15 minutes.

So it takes about an hour and a half, not including the time spent sticking the chicken in the crock pot. But you don't just have to stand there for an hour and a half. Check it every so often, stir a bit, and leave it again. It's really pretty simple, and you'll have plenty leftover to reheat.

This makes 6-8 hearty servings.


After dinner, go back to your crock pot. Use your slotted spoon to remove the rest of the chicken carcass. You can pull the breasts off to use in another meal, and whatever other bits of meat you find. Put the rest of the carcass in the trash. You've gotten good use from it.

If you have a strainer, put it over a glass jar. Ladle the broth that's still in the crock pot into the glass jar. You should get about another quart of broth. Let it cool for a couple of hours, then stick it in the fridge. The next morning, skim off the solid fat. Now you have a quart of chicken broth to either use, or freeze for another time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

How to Prepare Chickens for Snow

Bangbangbang BANG!

My oldest raps a bamboo garden stick against the now-empty metal bird bath.

"Chickens!" she calls. "There will be a meeting for all backyard chickens held in the Sunflower Corner. You are all required to attend!"

Bangbangbang BANG!

Four chickens promptly scatter in opposite directions across the yard at the terrifying sound.

"Chickens! I mean it! This is IMPORTANT!"

"Mo-om, the chickens aren't listening to me."

"They are chickens, honey. They aren't little sisters. You can't boss them around, they won't listen."

Hmph. She will make those chickens listen to her, just you wait and see!

Following is the sight so frequently seen in our backyard: a hen, wings pinned to her side, neck outstretched, racing across the yard, an eight year old monster clomping along behind her in pink rubber chore boots, arms reached out to grasp when the opportunity strikes. This chase always ends the same, with the chicken in the arms of the girl, but those poor hens never stop trying to get away.

One by one, she catches the hens, carries them to Sunflower Corner, and sets them down. Then she turns to find the next victim hen. This could easily keep her busy for the better part of an hour: have you ever tried to put four free-ranging hens in one place, and just tell them, "Stay?"

"Chickens! This meeting is important! You all need to hear this! Your SAFETY is involved!" she cries, as she attempts to keep the chickens herded into the back corner. Chickens, when scared out of their wits, usually attempt to run. She was trying hard not to let them.

"Well, fine then. Never mind! I was just going to explain to you what you should do when the SNOW comes, but you can just figure it out for yourselves." Off stomp the pink chore boots with a very miffed little girl inside them.


Snow is on it's way here at our little homestead-in-the-city. The fruits and veggies are packed neatly into the freezer and onto the shelves, the garden is empty and awaiting a fresh tilling before the snow covers it completely. The heater is on, the rice heating packs are ready to warm little toes at bedtime. The sidewalk chalk is replaced by crayons and colored pencils, fresh coloring books await dark, cold evenings. And the the chickens? Well, they'll figure it out.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Missouri Trip: Rocky Ridge Farm

The reason for our trip was to visit my grandparents in Kansas and my grandmother in Missouri. But we're homeschoolers - if there's a cool place to stop along the way, we're going to stop, and we're going to learn all we can.

Well, it just so happened that we'd have to drive right through Mansfield, Missouri on our way to Grandma Elda's house. Mansfield, Missouri, where Laura and Almanzo Wilder moved about seven years after they were married. Rocky Ridge Farm.

When I looked at the map and realized this, I did a little dance. I think I even squealed a little. Anyone who knows us knows our love for Laura Ingalls Wilder. I've read each of the books out loud to the girls, and they just thrive on the play that stems from pretending to be pioneers. (Cora is always stuck playing Mary, because of her blonde hair, but she can never be nearly as well-behaved as Mary was, and Chloe is always getting frustrated with her because of that!) My reading has gone further than just the books she wrote to biographies, etc. that describe more of who she was as a person, and I've become even more enthralled with the woman that she was as I learn more about her. Wisdom like that is hard to come by.

We arrived at Rocky Ridge Farm after rain had poured down on the area for five hours. It was soggy and damp and chilly outside, but we still enjoyed walking around the grounds, imagining Laura raising Rose out there among the huge native trees, and the trees that Almanzo planted.

The biggest disappointment of the whole place was that no photos were allowed of anything indoors, meaning I have very little to share with you in the way of pictures.

We started with a guided tour through the house, left very much the same way Laura left it when she passed away. Almanzo built the house, and he was clearly an ingenious carpenter. Everything he did just made so much sense, and he did it all with Laura's comfort and convenience as his priority. I'm terribly envious of the baking station in her kitchen - windows on both sides, a counter low enough to knead the bread comfortably, bins below for sacks of flour and sugar and cupboards in easy reach for other ingredients. Throughout the whole house were all the little things she treasured - framed calendar prints on the walls, handmade pillows and embroidery (even some that Almanzo did!) and it was just so perfectly homey and cozy. She had a library nook that looked lovely, another thing I'd love to have some day. Unfortunately, our time in the house was short. Chloe and I could have spent hours looking at every detail, but the tour guide pushed us through in order to make space for the next group coming after us. I would have been content to stay there all day but they wouldn't let us.

After the tour was the museum they've set up to house many of the more precious artifacts from her life - including Pa's fiddle. The real fiddle, the thing that got them through all the hard times of pioneer life, that celebrated the great times. That fiddle held that little family together. It was central in each of the books, as Laura's earliest memory on into her teen years when it was still such a great comfort to her. To see it was really, really special. We also bought a CD in the gift shop of the fiddle being played by a local - neat stuff! We were able to spend as much time as we wanted in the museum, moving at our own pace and taking it all in. There was a lot of "Mom, look! Remember when she talked about....." and "Oh, Chloe, it's the ......." We were both so excited to see firsthand so many of the little things mentioned in the books: Laura's first embroidery sampler (at age four), the lace given to her on her wedding day, the tiny box with porcelain flowers. Cora mostly just followed along patiently, listening and asking questions, though she enjoyed looking at the pictures of Laura and her family, seeing what they really looked like.

We visited "The Rock House" that Rose had built for them after she'd become a successful writer. We could sit on the back porch and imagine Laura there.

And I did manage to snap a quick shot of Laura's beloved blue willow table setting from outside the kitchen window.

Truly, the whole visit was a treat. We were able to, for a short time, immerse ourselves in all of Laura's things, imagine so much more clearly her life after what we know from the books. To be able to add sight to the stories made them that much more real.

I did buy some postcards of the most special things inside the house and museum - Pa's fiddle, her writing desk, the kitchen. And I bought a china shepherdess in hopes of someday having a mantle of my own on which to put her. When we arrived at my grandmother's house later that day, she gave us a painting of the white house, done by someone native to the area. On the back, the artist wrote "I knew Laura as a nice person and as a friend." A painting of Laura's house, done by someone who considered her a friend. Awesome. It will hang in our hallway now, treasured.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Missouri Trip: Bakersville

Blogging trips is so hard to do - we do so many things I want to write about, and take hundreds of pictures, and sorting through it all and finding the words to describe it all can be a daunting task. But I'm at least going to try, for posterity's sake, you know.


In the beginning of October, the girls and I set off on an adventure. And adventure without The Daddy (gasp!) that included driving 20 hours east. There were many stops along the way, all of which I'll eventually blog about, and ending in a little town called Mountain View, Missouri, deep in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks.

One of the stops we made was Mansfield, Missouri. Our main reason for stopping was to visit the Laura Ingalls Wilder museum there, but discovered another little gem close by: the little town of Bakersville, familiar to anyone who orders heirloom seeds from Baker Creek. We've ordered our seeds from them for years, and I'd always wanted to visit their little town. I had no idea driving through that we'd be right there, but plenty of signs led us right to them. And it was such a treat to visit this place (especially for this avid heirloom gardener.)

The gardens were utterly fantastic, and this was in early October, when they were long past their peak. But still there were bright colors in every shade of red and purple and orange and pink tucked away here and there, and flower gardens still bursting with color. I'm not a flower gardener, but this may have inspired me to become one!

We visited on a Wednesday afternoon. It was super quiet, hardly a soul to be seen, but I think that added a bit to the overall effect of the town. The shops were all void of people, meaning we could walk and look and talk to our heart's content without feeling rushed at all. The folks that worked there were sweet as could be.

There were shelves of jams and jellies for sale, handmade crafty bits of all kinds, an apothecary with jars and jars of dried herbs, books on every subject interesting to folks like me, and of course, seeds. Row upon row of heirloom, antique-variety seeds for purchase. It was a gardener's dream come true.

Not only do they grow heirloom seeds at Bakersville, but they grow heirloom chickens. All shapes and sizes and manner of fowl, really. You'd think, seeing as we have chickens in our own back yard, that coop after coop of chickens would get boring fast to Two Little Girls, but no!

I had to drag Chloe away from them. The kind folks at Bakersville were trying to close up for the day, and my daughter was still cooing softly to a cage of banties, telling them how pretty they were. She left that day utterly smitten, determined to own at least one pair of banties next spring.

Upstairs in one of the shops is a Seed Museum.

Seed catalogs, packets, advertisements and other memorabilia from years gone by. Truly, the folks at Bakersville possess an extreme love not just for gardening, but for the history of it. The girls dragged me through faster than I'd have liked, but it was fun to see all this history collected into one place - and there couldn't be a more fitting place for it.

I am so glad we had the time to stop at Bakersville. It was a lovely surprise to find it so close to our planned route. Some day we'll have to make it back and visit during one of their festivals, and see everything in action, but spending a quiet afternoon just exploring was a great experience in itself!

If you garden - or need inspiration to start - check our their website and ask for a catalog. It's the prettiest garden catalog you've ever seen, and you won't be able to stop yourself from ordering at least a few packets of something interesting to try.

More to come on the rest of our trip as soon as I make it through more pictures. :-)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Halloween Costume Cuteness

Sewing Halloween costumes is always great fun, and this year was no exception. The only change is that this year they're both old enough to decide for themselves what they want to be, and I had very little input. We do make the rule that there will be nothing evil, scary, or mean. That still gives them plenty to choose from.

We had a musketeer:

And a teddy bear:

They had a lovely time trick-or-treating, have far more candy than any children should be permitted to possess, and will now commence to use their costumes for dress-up play for many years to come. Perfect. :-)