Friday, December 14, 2012

Natural Cough Syrup... that really works!

It's that time of year... when Little Girls get colds, and then after the cold, they cough and hack for a few more days. And as mothers, all we want to do is soothe that poor throat and give them a break from the nasty cough. We want them to have a chance to sleep at night (and we want to sleep, too!) That's when it gets tempting to buy an over-the-counter cough syrup.

But have you ever looked at what's in store-bought cough syrup? It's made primarily of Red Dye 40 and high fructose corn syrup. I'm not sure what moron decided that feeding our children carcinogens when they are sick would make them feel better, but I find it frustrating.

Thankfully, a friend relayed a recipe for homemade cough syrup... all natural, not all that bad-tasting, and it really, really works. My poor girl, who spent the night before last coughing and hacking through the night, slept like a baby last night, with nary a cough to be heard.

I'm sure this recipe is posted somewhere online already, but as it was passed to me verbally, I thought I'd post it here for any friends that want to give it a try.

Natural Cough Syrup
2 oz dried thyme
2 oz dried marshmallow root
1 oz dried peppermint
2 oz dried licorice root
1 oz dried wild lettuce
8 oz fresh ginger, grated
1 lb honey
2-ish quarts of water

In a large pot, boil the dry herbs and the water for about 30 minutes. I ended up adding another two cups of water because it just got too thick. Expect your whole house to smell like this boiling mixture of herbs. When my five year old looked in the pot, she said, "Ew! It's the Bog of Eternal Stench!"

When it's done boiling, let it sit until it's cool enough to strain. Ladle the herbs into squares of cheese cloth, and squeeze like heck. It's sticky, gooey, and kind of nasty looking, but that's where the good stuff is.

Once it's strained, add the 8 ounces of ginger to the pot and boil for another 10 minutes or so. Ginger is amazing stuff - will soothe a tummy, and kick a cold almost instantly.

Take the pot off the burner and stir in the honey. Yes, it uses a pound of honey. Honey coats the throat, stopping that tickle that leads to constant hacking. Once the honey is stirred in and dissolved into the liquid, strain out the ginger. Ladle the syrup into jars. I'm storing mine in the fridge... I'm not sure if that's necessary or not, but it feels safer to me.

To administer - I used a teaspoon for my five year old. It was plenty - stopped the cough in it's tracks and let her sleep soundly all night.

A general disclaimer: I'm not a doctor, and I can't diagnose your kid. I'm just a mom hoping to do my best by my own children, and sharing what I learn. I can't tell you if this is the best option for you or your child. Use your best judgement. If a cough persists for too long, you should seek medical advice. If you are aware of any allergies to any of these herbs, or herbs in these families, don't use them. And don't give honey to children under one year of age.

A note about finding the ingredients, and cost:
All of these herbs can be found in the bulk section of my local health food store. A 4 ounce bag is usually about $2. Do try to use local honey, as it is more beneficial to your body than honey farmed in China. Most stores carry fresh ginger root. One good-sized root is 4-6 ounces.
The total cost for the ingredients to make this was about $25. While that does seem expensive, do realize that it makes 3 pints of cough syrup. A bottle of herbal or homeopathic honey-based cough syrup is usually $10-12 for less than one cup. So it's actually really inexpensive to make. And if you're lucky, this will probably be enough to last the year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Sweet Prayers

Two Little Girls have recently decided that they would like for us to hear their prayers before they go to bed at night. This is already proving to be a sweet and touching addition to our already beloved bedtime routine, adding exponentially to the smiles and fond memories each night.

Littlest One's prayer tonight:

"Dear God, thank you for Bandit. And thank you for my mom, and my dad, and my sister. And thank you for Angel, but not Little Bay because he's a punk. And thank you for Goldi (even though she is handicapped) and for Grammy and Jupiter and Matilda and Lazarus and Lavender and Tinkerbell and Freckles and Twilight (even though she runs away from me) and Penelope. And thank you for the rooster-boys (except the one with the gold neck that tried to attack my mom's foot.) And thank you for Liberty (even though she is at Ms. Kris's house being 'breaded') and for Justice and for Justice's babies that she's gonna have. And thank you for Huck, and thank you for Izzy, and thank you for Milo and for all of the barn cats, Batman, Buffy, Fluffy, Poofy, Sally, and Gabriella. And thank you for my room. But not my bathroom, because I don't live in it. Amen."

And the Oldest's:

"Dear God, thank you for my mom and dad and sister. And please make Izzy's leg better before my birthday so she can play in the snow with me on my birthday. Amen."

Don't they just warm your heart? Okay, so they aren't perfect prayers with fancy words and all of that. But it's clear that the things that matter most to these girls are very real things - their family, and their animals. Both of those things are precious, and I'm glad that they realize it. I hope they continue to thank God for these blessings, and that they never take them for granted. And I hope that, as long as they live, all it takes to satisfy their hearts are the people and the animals that they love.

Oh, deer: The Irony

Deer season came and went, without a buck to put in the freezer.

The irony of this, of course, is that the day before my hunting season started, my dog was grumbling and looking out at the driveway, where I saw a lovely little buck, just inside the driveway gate. He was just standing there, watching and listening, grazing occasionally on the long grasses along the fence. Eventually he made his way up onto our mountain, where it is clear that he disappeared into thin air for a week.

And then, after spending a week watching out every window, driving all over looking for deer, and even tromping up the mountain in eight inches of snow, wearing a skirt and carrying a rifle in a last ditch effort to find a deer, I look out the living room window the morning after hunting season ends and there's a little buck, walking along the ditch at the fence line, grazing with a couple of does. It would've been about a 25 yard shot from the balcony of my bedroom. But he was safe, hunting season was over. I'm pretty sure he knew it.

Last night though... last night takes the cake for irony. It was nearly midnight when I woke up to a sound of something banging around on the front porch. Scared the heck out of me, as no one wants to hear anything that close to their front door in the middle of the night. Our dog wasn't impressed either, and started growling and barking. Andrew got up and went to see what was going on while I looked out our bedroom window, which overlooks the porch. As he makes his way down the stairs, I watch a small herd of deer scatter off the front porch and back out the driveway. Several others followed. We went back to sleep, hearts racing after waking up in such a startling manner, only to have it happen again an hour later.

This time, I walked downstairs, turned on the porch light and looked out the window. There was a four point buck, munching away at one of the pumpkins that had been decorating the porch. He was knocking over flower pots, trying to shove his antlers into the little space where the pumpkin had fallen. I opened the door, and off he went.

Two days after hunting season ends, and I'm shooing a buck off of my front porch.

It's almost hilarious. But it would be more hilarious if I'd have had a venison steak for dinner, first.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

"Hunting"... if it can be called that.

With the back seat of the truck filled with kids and guns, we set off this afternoon to try to find me a buck to shoot.

An hour of "Are we almost there?" and we arrive at a spot my husband deems worthy of hunting.

Two Little Girls, swimming in adult-sized blaze orange vests, hopping up and down in excitement as we tell them repeatedly, "Hush! The deer can hear you!" We get our gear together and set off down a trail.

The Man of My Dreams and I walk along side by side, guns slung over our shoulders, as our children wander around as silently as they are able.  Which is, of course, not silent at all.

It's amazing how loud Two Little Girls can be when they are trying their best to be Very Quiet. The Oldest immediately gets hiccups. Littlest One whispers non-stop about every little bit of nature she sees. The Oldest tromps through every bit of mud she can find. The Littlest scuffs along in her boots, occasionally breaking out into a skip. And then she whispers to us about how quiet she is trying to be, and isn't she being so very quiet, and do we think the deer can hear her since she's being so quiet? If it is possible to whisper at the top of one's lungs, she's mastered the skill of it.

We sit after awhile, listening and looking. Littlest One curls up into a blaze orange ball in the dirt, tired from walking and enjoying a rest. The Oldest sits next to me, chewing a blade of grass and listening to the wind rush through the trees. That lasted about two and a half minutes. Then she announced, in that deafening whisper, "I'm restless." So she wanders up the trail a bit to examine a culvert where a seep of water is trickling through. Littlest One, fully rested after that two and a half minutes, sits up to scoop up handfuls of dirt and watch it trickle through her fingers. She then rolls around on the ground and rips her vest. "Oops!" she 'whispers'.

We get back in the truck and drive for awhile longer. Two Little Girls amuse themselves in the backseat by making silly noises and falling into fits of hysterical giggles that had me giggling along with them. We get out to walk again. The Oldest crunches through all the crusty, dried mud she can find. Littlest One pokes a stick into every snow bank on the side of the trail. As we turn to go back to the truck again (walking any distance is nearly impossible with two of the short-legged crowd along) they run to a fallen log and balance-beam their way across it. We arrive at the truck with two new 'walking sticks' that they toss into the bed. They will be added to the pile of walking sticks which has been acquired over the course of several years.

We give up on hiking. Two Little Girls play "statue" in the back seat. They are the noisiest, giggliest statues I have ever seen (or heard.) We proceed to drive... and drive... and drive. Bumpy, bouncy, washboard roads. Eventually they lay their heads against their windows and close their eyes.

No, we didn't find any deer. With two small children along, what we were doing could hardly be considered hunting. But it was sweet, and they had fun, and we were all together. I'm disappointed that I didn't manage to put meat on the table (yet) but there's still time, and in the meantime, we created some great memories.

And tomorrow, The Man of My Dreams and I will sit quietly on our mountain while Two Little Girls make themselves a breakfast of cold cereal and play as loudly as they wish - in the play room. Hopefully we'll have a bit more luck that way!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!

Ah yes, it's been that time of year. For the past two weeks, I have toiled in front of the sewing machine, cursing French seams in chiffon, slippery satin, and invisible zippers.

And of course, it's all worth it in the end, when I see the smiles on my daughters' faces as they don their costumes and traipse around the town begging for candy from strangers.

They are, of course, old enough to decide what they want to be. There will be no coddling or convincing or bribing for more creative costumes, like my ideas for a paper doll, or a peacock, a flapper or a robot. No, they have their own ideas, and I had to work with it. But in the end, they turned out cute, and they were thrilled with the results.

So without further ado I present....

My princess

and my ninja.

Not what I would have picked, but oh, how well suited they were for my sweet little girls.

Yes, they wore their costumes all day long as we ran errands all over The Big City. And every time someone said, "Oh, look, what a pretty princess!" (which was, you know, pretty much everyone) Littlest One would give a grand, sweeping curtsy. The Oldest lost every bit of shyness with her face covered, and talked to everyone like she's known them for years. What funny things costumes can do for children!

And now that Halloween night is officially over, the real fun begins: when Two Little Girls wear their costumes day in and day out for weeks, playing the parts of a ninja and a princess and creating every possible play scenario two little minds can come up with, providing me with hours of entertainment and therefore making all those cursed French seams worth all the work.

Here's hoping everyone had a wonderful, safe Halloween filled with much laughter, happy memories, and enough candy to last til Christmas.

**Note: To anyone who cares to see larger versions of these photos (Grandma) you can click on them for the full-size image. :-)

Monday, October 29, 2012

And then... they named her.

It's a known fact in the chicken-buying world that determining the gender of day-old chicks isn't a fail proof endeavor. When we bought our first batch of hens last year, it became obvious that Mrs. Tweets was actually Mr. Tweets. Ahh, Mr. Tweets. We'll never forget how pretty he was, how much fun we had with him, and later, the feeling of terror he evoked if ever we were forced to go outside.

In this year's batch of laying hens, Tinkerbell was the one who turned out to be a rooster. A teeny, tiny little rooster he is, but his attitude is good still so he's allowed to stick around. And really, it makes me giggle every time I think about the fact that we have a rooster named Tinkerbell.

What never occurred to me though, is that it is just as impossible to guarantee that a batch of roosters will actually be roosters. We got our ten meat birds, and have been butchering them as needed for dinner. But in that batch, who walk around crowing happily all day long, there was one hen. I felt awful for her - one hen in a coop with nine roosters? She was miserable, staying on the roost all day long and not even eating or drinking unless she could sneak over to the food without them seeing her. My solution was to hurry up and butcher her, get it over with so she wouldn't have to live a miserable life.

But we were too slow.

The girls figured out that she was a hen. They started carrying in separate bowls of food and water for her, hand feeding her table scraps each day, locking the roosters inside the coop so she could have daily fresh air and exercise. And then.... they named her. Rule number one, when you are raising animals to butcher - Do NOT name them!

Meet Lavender.

She has now been moved into the hen house, and it looks like she will be a permanent addition to our egg-laying flock. Except that, seeing as she was raised on high-protein food meat bird food, she's not likely to ever lay any eggs. She just walks around, towering above the rest of the hens, and frequently being carted from place to place by Littlest One. She seems happy... or at least, happy to be away from a whole flock of roosters.

Welcome to the farm, Lavender. :-)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Freckles, the Trick Chicken

 Meet Freckles. Freckles is a banty chicken. She is also a trick chicken. I couldn't figure out what the excitement over a tiny chicken was.... but now I get it.

 **Please pardon the awful pictures. If you've ever attempted to photograph a Chicken Show, you'll understand what a difficult undertaking it is.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

And Off She Goes!

Remember that post from earlier this summer, where I talk about my sweet, cautious kiddo walking ever-so-slowly through all the events at her 4-H gymkhana?

Heh. Yeah. Once again, she's proven to me that she is not one to be rushed, but that when she is good and ready, she can do anything she sets her mind to.

We've officially gone from, "C'mon, Chloe, trot!" to "Whoa, slow down!"

See that? She's loping! She has finally discovered what fun it is to sit astride a running horse... and now it's all she wants to do.

Yes, it makes my Mama-heart skip a beat. But it also thrills me to see her having so much fun with Angel, and to see the confidence she's gaining.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fall Splendor

It's fall up here on our mountain... a little earlier than normal, even. It's amazing to think that we are so blessed to live in a place where folks come just to look at the colors of the trees. Our little piece of paradise is surrounded on all sides by hills and mountains just covered in golden aspen and red oak. Truly, a glorious view.

But we decided to go for a drive the other day, and immerse ourselves in the colors of fall. And it was beautiful.

This whole country is covered in fall splendor right about now, but my Colorado heart is certain there is nothing more beautiful than mountain after mountain glowing with aspen. 

 Happy Fall, everyone!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Cream of Wheat

My kids were starting to get a little jealous of my homemade pumpkin spice latte habit. They kept asking if they could have one too, and while I try to be a pretty nice mom, I'm not nice enough to give them coffee first thing in the morning. (Or ever. Just to be clear on that.)

As they were staring longingly beside me as I whisked up the pumpkin and the spice and the cream, I had a little idea. And it was a good idea. One good enough that I think it's worth sharing.

Pumpkin Spice Cream of Wheat.

It's a super-fast, super-simple hot breakfast for a chilly fall day. And it helps with the guilt of those delicious lattes every morning. This recipe makes two servings, and takes about five minutes to prepare.

In a sauce pan, make your cream of wheat as directed. I actually use Bob's Red Mill wheat farina. It's 2 cups of water to 1/2 cup wheat, boiled for a minute or two. I usually add 1/4 tsp of salt to the cereal as it cooks.

When it's done, remove it from the heat and add:
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. pumpkin puree
2-3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Mix it all together well. Spoon into bowls, then top with a bit of half & half and a sprinkle of nutmeg.

Okay, so I'm not a food photographer, and this doesn't look very pretty. But it's really, really good. I promise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Meeting the March Family

I realize that not every mother has a deep love of literature. But for those of us that do, there is no greater joy than sharing our beloved books with our children. The characters that were our dear friends now become the friends and even playmates of our children; the lands and the times we knew so well come to life again as our children experience them. It's a lovely gift to share.

Our literature studies are my very favorite in our day. It doesn't ever feel like school. Long after the work books are put away, after dinner and dishes and chores, when Two Little Girls are snug and clean in fresh jammies, we settle down into the living room for our literature studies... which simply means relaxing while Mom reads out loud. It's a bed time story in their eyes, not school, and so they love it all the more.

As our study of history courses through the developments of America, we have come up to the Civil War. And so, after much anticipation, we began Little Women last night. To read, "Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," out loud to my daughters gave me a thrill that only other Lovers of Books could understand.

And as the characters are 'sketched' for the reader, as Jo is described as the tomboy with thick, beautiful hair always pulled back, who has a pension for writing stories, I saw the glimmer in The Oldest's eye as she related herself to this most-beloved character. Littlest One was coloring in the living room as I read, but stopped and looked up at the description of Amy, the baby of the family, with her blue eyes and blonde hair.

As the girls in the book confess their 'bundles', complaining of the housework they don't enjoy and of how hard it is to be good, both of my own girls by this time were fairly riveted. How beautiful for them to realize that they can related to young girls growing up during the Civil War, a hundred and fifty years ago. The struggles of young girls haven't changed much, in some ways. And when the characters in the book vow to stop complaining and try harder to do a better job, I could see the consideration wrinkle it's way across The Oldest's forehead as she thought about how she could apply that to her own life.


With forty three chapters of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy to come, I look forward to the cooler fall nights as we snuggle down and share their stories together. And I daydream of all the wonderful books to come. When we are done visiting with the March family, we'll meet Anne Shirley, and Sara Crewe. If I am blessed enough that they will still let me read aloud to them when they are in their teens, I will happily introduce them to Heathcliff and Catherine, Jane Eyre, and Mr. Darcy. So many beautiful, wonderful books are out there for us to enjoy together. My only concern is that there may not be enough time for all of them!

Monday, September 24, 2012


I never intended to be a Horse Mom.

While horses are beautiful, lovely animals, putting my smallish nine year old on one of them and sending her off to ride was not on my to-do list. When we moved up here to our little farm, I had visions of goats and chickens... maybe even a mini-jersey cow.

I put her in gymnastics when she was three. We tried dance lessons at age six. I offered karate. But by then it was too late. She had already become a Horse Lover.

I think it started around the time she was two. From about that time, she spent most of her days pretending to be a horse. The love grew over the years, though she never did ride a horse until only the past year or so. But not having ridden one didn't matter in the least. At the age of seven, she determined to save enough money to buy a horse.

Of course, every seven year old has big plans. But how many of them actually succeed in bringing them to fruition? Childhood dreams change with the seasons, don't they?

Fast forward two years.

She has saved $186.65.

Generally, this wouldn't be enough to buy a horse. Unless you happen upon a family with a little girl who has a lovely old mare, and is ready to move up to a horse with more spunk. And then said family hears that there is a little girl out there who has saved nearly $200 of her own money, and wants to sell this sweet old mare to that little girl. Their only goal was to put the mare in a home where she would be well-loved, well cared for, and would teach more children to ride.

So after two years of saving every penny received from birthday money, Christmas money, and other special holidays, my daughter turned over her life savings...

and brought home her very own horse.

Meet Angel.

She's twenty four years old. Yes, twenty four is old. But for my cautious little girl, that is the perfect age. She's been a 4-H horse for awhile now, and knows how to do everything. She is so gentle and sweet tempered and well experienced in raising little girls. We're already enjoying every moment spent with her, and she seems to enjoy the constant affection that Two Little Girls have to offer.

If you've never watched one nine year old girl sell her first horse to another nine year old girl... well, let's just say it's a very touching experience, and one I won't soon forget.

 I know it was a hard thing for her to do, but she knew that her sweet Angel was going to a home where she was going to be loved and cared for, and would have two more little girls to teach to ride.

And watching my own daughter hand over her money and walk her new horse into the trailer... I'm proud to say I didn't cry. Because I could have. I am SO PROUD of her! How many nine year olds can say they bought their own horse? So many times she would see a toy in the store that she would've liked to have bought, but she passed it up because she wasn't willing to spend her "horse money". She knew what she wanted. She set her goal. And she didn't let anything get in the way.

She's already ridden Angel a fair amount here at home, and the two of them are getting along beautifully. She's a good, safe, reliable horse who knows how to handle small children. And that, to me, is priceless.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Potatoes: The Treasure Hunt

Some days, it's hard to tell the difference between what is work and what is play.

Take digging potatoes, for instance. Surely smiles like this don't come from hard work...

And laughter of this variety can't come from chores... can it?

Ah, but maybe it can.

There are some wonderful opportunities out there for convincing children that work really can feel like play, if only it's approached with the right attitude. Or if it's turned into a wrestling match for the biggest potato pulled out of the ground.
We've never grown potatoes before. This whole Digging Potatoes experience was a splendid one, for all three of us.  It's a veritable treasure hunt, and one that requires Two Little Girls (and their Momma) to be elbow-deep in soil. And any job that involves a good bit of getting dirty is bound to be welcomed.

I'd love to offer you all a few great tips and hints for growing and harvesting potatoes, but I've got nothin'. We're brand new at this, and from all I have read, we did everything all wrong. The skins are thin because you're supposed to withhold water for a couple of weeks (someone should have told that to those rain storms that keep rolling through in the afternoons.) You're supposed to wait until the plants die back after frost to harvest, except that more than half of our potatoes already weighed over a pound and a half each, and I can't see letting them get any bigger. It'll only take one potato to feed all four of us at that rate.

So while they won't store in the cellar long, and they aren't anywhere close to being the perfectly shaped potatoes you find at the store, I'm sure we'll happily be eating baked potatoes and home-fries for a few weeks to come, anyway.

And next year, I'll read about harvesting potatoes before I decide to dig them all out of the ground. ;-)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Why I Saved that Fancy Dress

I remember going through my closet when we were packing to move to this house. As I got to the stash of formals and semi-formals pushed to the very back, I considered e-Baying them. After all, I'm a mom. Mothers have no reason to own a handful of different fancy dresses. Most of them haven't been worn since before The Oldest was born.

And then today, I received an invitation, written in pencil on construction paper, as I was fixing dinner. "Dance, dance, dance!" it read. "You are invited to Chloe and Cora's ball and feast. Please wear a fancy dress and dress shoes. Tickets are two dollars."

You should have seen their faces when I showed up in the play room wearing a shimmery, strappy semi-formal and sparkly silver heels. "Mom! You look.... um, you actually look.... pretty." Sigh. All that effort, and that was the best she could do for a compliment? But hey, a compliment's a compliment. I'll take it.

And so we turned on Vivaldi, and I twirled around the playroom in my fancy high heels, doing my best to look graceful while dancing with a four foot long stuffed dragon. Both girls (and several stuffed animals) gave speeches, we feasted on crocheted play food, and we danced some more. (The second time, I had the pleasure of dancing with Grover. He's a much better dancer than Dragon.) And then the timer rang saying dinner was done, so I bid them adieu, curtsied, and thanked them for the lovely time.


Did I have time for a ball just then? Of course not. If I'm to get all of the "important" stuff done around here, I'll never have time for such things.

Except that, at that very moment, that ball was the most important thing I could have done. I could tell because of the looks on their sweet faces - eyes wide and enormous grins, giggles and curtsies and faux-British accents that are saved for only the most special of moments.

I hope I remember more often to take care of those Very Important Things before anything else.  Too often it seems that laundry, dishes, dirty floors and dusty furniture take precedence. How many times have I been invited to a play, or a puppet show, or a ballet recital, or a picnic, and couldn't find the time to attend? I'm not sure the number, but I'd be ashamed to admit it even if I did.

It won't be long before there are no more invitations, no more balls, no more stuffed animals, play food, and dress-up clothes. And those things are the ones that matter most of all.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When all else fails, climb higher.

If only we could explain to the barn cats that if they would just stop running, the silly puppy wouldn't feel compelled to chase them...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Urgency of Fall

I don't whine very often. Or, well, I try not to. I love having a blog filled with cheerfulness and stories of happy and satisfying things. Because really, my life is filled with happiness and satisfying things. And I know I don't have a right to complain. But once in awhile...

Honestly, I don't think it's complaining. It's just stress! There is SO much to do, and so much I want to be doing, and I don't know which way to turn, I don't know which way is forward or which way is backward.

I think feeling the fall in the air is making me feel like I'm under pressure to get everything done. The land around me is sending out it's warning, "You only have a month left to prepare yourself before the ground is frozen solid and it's too cold to go outside!" I hate how gleeful it is in this threat - all those bright, beautiful leaves of flaming red and golden amber, happily announcing that winter is, in fact, just around the corner.

Don't get me wrong, I love fall. I love that the sweltering heat of summer is finally gone, that the air is crisp and we can play outside without risking heat exhaustion. I think my problem is that I love fall so much that I just want to sit outside and enjoy it, instead of all this work I'm doing inside.

I'm to the point where I don't care if I see another ripe tomato as long as I live. Or at least until next July. Pints and quarts of salsa, soup, dried tomatoes, diced tomatoes, pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce... it's all in there, stored up to keep us nourished this winter. And I still have one more box to go. A month ago all I wanted was to be eating raw, sliced tomatoes with a bit of salt and pepper. Well, I'm over that.

School is (somehow) back in full swing. We manage about four hours a day on a good day... which means more like two hours a day on average days. Somehow, getting tomatoes in jars before they rot seems a lot more pressing than learning why Franklin Pierce was a fairly worthless president. Aw, who am I kidding? Even riding the horses or chasing the goats seems more important than Pierce.

The garden is nearing it's end, and I'm encouraging it by failing to water it - ever - and hoping it'll just hurry up and die off. It's done its job, we have veggies in the freezer. Now, I would like a break from weeds and aphids and squash and hungry grasshoppers. I think I'll dig the carrots today. Because nothing is more fun than digging carrots out of compacted clay soil. Really, you should try it.

The house hasn't been properly cleaned since, um... we moved in back in February. Spring came so quickly that by the time we were unpacked, we were suddenly drowning in The To-Do List that comes with trying to learn how to care for a 40 acre ranch. Animals and outdoor work and outdoor play take precedence over house cleaning. I wash laundry, and dishes, and occasionally (if it rains) I manage to dust or vacuum. But this darn beautiful fall air is making feel like I need to be deep cleaning... which is, of course, impossible when one's entire kitchen is brimful of vegetables and fruits that the fruit flies are dangerously close to consuming in their entirety.

It's nothing that doesn't happen every single year about this time. An urgent need to get everything done coupled with an urgent need to sit in my wooden chair on the deck and bask in the beauty of fall.

I think the best remedy for it is to go pour a glass of wine and sit and watch the leaves change colors.

After I finish canning these tomatoes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

And 'Justice' For All

Have you ever tried to photograph children and goats together?

It's nearly impossible - they never stop moving!

Someone will almost always be blurry because there is always a tremendous amount of running and giggling going on.

Of course, occasionally they stand still... if there is grain involved.

We have a new goat. The girls are calling her Justice. You know, because we already have Liberty... so now we have Liberty and Justice.

She's a Toggenburg. I didn't want a Toggenburg. I wanted a Nubian. But this sweet lady was for sale, and it didn't take long for her to tug on our heartstrings and decide that if she needed a new home, it should be our Forever Home Farm.

She's friendly as all get out, following the girls wherever they go (whether they are holding a grain can or not.) She's almost four years old, and is pregnant and due in January. You know, because if we're going to learn how to raise kids, we might as well do it in the dead of winter up in the mountains.

We're excited to have her.

This also means we will be giving Snickers, our Goat-On-Loan, back to the neighbor, who was kind enough to let us bring her home to keep Liberty company until we found a permanent goat. (This was after learning the hard way - twice - that you really can't just have one goat.)


I'm not sure I ever really wanted goats all that badly... but I gotta tell ya, they sure are tremendous fun. And the smiles they put on the faces of Two Little Girls makes me love them all the more.

Welcome Home, Justice!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rooster Beware

Remember that nasty, mean rooster I mentioned? He was awful - 'Ruler of the Roost' to the extreme. If any of the other roosters would even try to come out into 'his' yard, he was attack them, make them scream, pull out feathers, until they ran back for the indoor coop. They were all afraid to eat, or get any fresh air. It was getting ridiculous.

So we found a good place to re-home him, a place that made everyone much happier.

The crock pot.

Chicken and dumplings. Yep. A much better place for him.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pretty Flowers

I'm not a flower gardener. I have a few plants in a little flower garden, more for the sake of my beauty-loving five year old (who is very much a flower person) than for myself. I grow food. Food sustains us. It is useful, and brings immense satisfaction from the time it begins to grow to the time it finds its way to our table.

That being said, we grew The Prettiest Sunflowers Ever this year.

It's called Earthwalker. The plant is taller than I am, and looks more like a bush than like the usual sunflower stalk. It's covered with dozens of flowers and buds. What's better, the hummingbirds are all over these flowers! When I go out to water, they zoom past my head and make me duck. I only wish I knew if these were heirloom or not- if they are, I'm totally saving seeds for next year.

It's simple, easy to grow flowers like this one that almost make me want to be a flower person. Almost.

Earthwalker seeds can be found at Pinetree Seeds, one of my favorite companies for ordering seeds. Great prices, great service, and a decent heirloom selection. (And they didn't pay me to say this.)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Two Little Girls and One Dead Turkey

From the beginning of The Turkey Project, I was worried about how Two Little Girls were going to respond. I prepared myself for dramatic tears and declarations of vegetarianism. I assumed it would be ugly. After all, they are both old enough to remember five months ago, when those little baby turkeys were adorable, fluffy, inquisitive little creatures that they could hold in their hands and nuzzle softly.

I was worried for nothing. When the time came to butcher our birds, the girls were excited as all get out. Not that we weren't all a bit sad, too, but they were just so interested in the whole process that it far outweighed the sadness, and the prospect of good turkey meat for many dinners to come helped, too.

I vetoed having them in the barn during the actual killing. When they tried to spy through a crack in the door, I shooed them away. It wasn't that they were thrilled with the idea of murdering a turkey, it was simply that the whole idea of how it would happen was fascinating to them.

As soon as the bird was dispatched, and we carried it into the shop to process it, the girls were in there with us. As The Daddy pulled the guts out, the comments and questions came pouring out. They saw firsthand the trachea, the gullet (which we cut open to show them the food still inside), the heart and liver. Not only did they see them all, but they touched them. Hands clad in rubber gloves, they loved touching the different parts. They noted that the gullet was surprisingly hard, that the lungs were particularly bloody and fragile, and that everything was still very warm. They held the feet and examined them (before giving them to the dogs), got to see what hollow bones look like, and were able to see up close how a ball and socket joint works.

There was also much talk about exactly how we were going to cook him, and how good he would taste.

Are they scarred for life? Absolutely not. They're not even refusing to eat meat. In fact, I think they are far better off on many levels for having been a part of this experience.

Most of us, throughout middle and high school, dissected a number of different animals. I remember crawdads, frogs, and even a cat. I also remember being thoroughly disgusted with the entire project, but there was one reason for that: we were made to think it was a disgusting activity. The kids in the upper grades talked about how awful it was. The teachers even told us that it was coming with a hint of dismay. It was assumed we would all be grossed out, and so we were (or at least, the girls were.) It was simply expected.

You see, I think it's all about the approach. We never hinted to the girls that this would be a 'gross' or 'disgusting' endeavor. It simply 'was'. We never required or forced them to have any part of it. If they didn't want to eat turkey this fall, I wouldn't make them. But, being already quite homeschool-minded, they viewed the whole process as educational. They asked a million questions, and we did our best to answer them. When we didn't know, we tried to figure out the answer together. They were indubitably thrilled when we finally got around to cutting open the gizzard, so that they could see the rocks which the turkey had swallowed in order to digest his food.

The much anticipated Opening of the Gizzard - 
note the rocks inside.
As they got bored, we certainly didn't make them stay. The Oldest stuck around for part of the plucking of the second turkey, decided she didn't particularly care for plucking, and just hung out for a bit before going out to ride her bike. Littlest One happily plucked for as long as we let her. By the third bird, both were more interested in feeding feet to the dogs, chasing their laying hens around, and just playing the way little farm girls do, and that was fine.

The other reason that I really feel like this was a healthy experience is that I know for certain that my daughters will forever appreciate every piece of meat that is set in front of them at the dinner table. For five months, they fed and watered the turkeys each day. They lifted Turkey Boy into the coop at night when he could no longer get in alone, and eventually built him a bridge to make his life easier and more comfortable. They treated all three with great respect, if not necessarily love, until the ends of their lives. Having walked this journey, they now have no doubt exactly what is involved in putting food on the table in front of them, and they will forever have a deeper appreciation for it.

There are few cultures like ours, where children are so far removed from their food that some don't even realize that "chicken" actually comes from a dead chicken, and that "turkey" is actually just that - a turkey. On so many levels, I really think that is sad.

So no, I don't think my girls are scarred. I think they are far better off for this experience. I doubt they will ever be quite as fascinated as they were this year, and I'm not sure I could ever require them to help with the processing of meat (unless it is an animal they hunt and shoot themselves.) But I think over the course of several years of this, they will have the skills necessary to accomplish it if needed, and they will always appreciate, maybe a bit more than other people, the food that is set before them.
Miscellaneous thoughts on the subject:

*When you bring the birds home, DO NOT NAME THEM! Not even "Thanksgiving" and "Christmas" or "Thigh" and "Breast". Call them turkeys. Names bring forth perceived personalities, and personalities make them friends.

*Begin referring to them as "food" immediately. Discuss what will happen, preferably before they take up residence in your brooder. Address concerns, sadness and uncertainties frankly and honestly, but compassionately.

*Provide pets. When The Oldest was upset at the thought of her sweet white poult eventually being eaten, we agreed to adopt a new batch of laying hens. This gave her something new to love and invest her emotions in. Adding a couple of little banty hens to the flock was not an expensive or difficult thing to do, and it, eh, smoothed ruffled feathers quite well.

*Do let your kids help care for the poultry. They should know, firsthand, how much work goes into raising birds, whether it be for eating or for laying. This is where the appreciation factor comes in.

*Don't force them to take part in anything that makes them uncomfortable. If you intend to raise meat birds year after year, there is a good chance they will eventually be comfortable with the whole deal and will learn the process. Some kids can handle this all right away, others can't. Don't push them.

*If you can, start them young. Littlest One has seen animals butchered since she was two years old. It doesn't even register as anything disgusting to her, it's simply how her meat is prepared. And she does like her steaks. Blood, bones, raw meat, even a severed head - none of that stuff fazes her because she's grown up with it.

*Use it as a learning experience. There is no greater way to learn than hands-on; even public schools will admit that. If they want to touch, let them. If they want to help, encourage it (even if it makes the process take hours longer than it would otherwise.) If they would rather just watch, allow it, and always answer questions as well as you can.

*Go into it without prior expectations. Don't assume that they will feel any certain way. Kids, as a general rule, want to live up to their parents' expectations. If you have no expectations, they will be free to react as they will. When they do, be compassionate, and be honest.

*Do discuss the importance of respecting the turkey's life, and that his life was taken to sustain theirs.

Obviously, I'm no expert. These are just things I learned over the past months, raising and butchering our own meat alongside my children. I'm sure there will be folks who disagree with me, and I would be thrilled to hear any other suggestions folks with more experience have to offer. 

This post is linked up at The Prairie Homestead's Weekly Barn Hop. If you have any homestead-related posts to share, be sure to link up as well!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Notes on Turkey Processing

 I remember being about eight or ten years old, on a camping and fishing trip with my family. My father, like any good and decent father, decided he was not going to raise a young lady who was incapable of gutting fish. And like any reasonable little girl, I reacted with hysterics.

It was a really bad day. I'm still not sure I've forgiven him.
Based on my past history, I suppose it's rather surprising that I now willingly take part in the butchering of animals at home.

Today was T-Day. Our turkeys, which we raised up from day-old poults, were starting to get too big to keep around. We raised a broad-breasted white tom and two broad-breasted bronze hens. (We'll get into the ethics of meat breeds some other day.)

I should warn you now that if you're a vegetarian, or if you're happier not knowing how your meat makes it to your table, you should stop here. Go find a blog about puppies or butterflies or something. You'll be much happier.

I think I'm going to divide this blog up into three parts, since I have discovered butchering turkeys in this fashion is a multi-faceted endeavor. (This means that you, the reader, get to read about dying turkeys for three days! I knew you'd be excited.)

Before we went out to take care of business, I found this blog by Braided Bower Farm and was immensely grateful that they had taken the time to write it. It's honest, to the point, and pretty well covers the whole process from beginning to end for the average home butchers. So if you're here looking for info on butchering a turkey, I encourage you to head that direction. The rest of this blog will be the notes I would add to it.

*We read the way Braided Bower Farm accomplished their killing, tried it, then improvised a bit. I think it's worth mentioning. We laced a rope through the rafters in the barn and hung a 5 gallon bucket from it. In the bottom of that five gallon bucket, hubby cut a turkey-head sized hole. Putting the turkey headfirst into the bucket, with the head coming out of the hole, worked something like an extra large killing cone, keeping the bird from flapping wildly as it bleeds out.

*Another five gallon bucket was placed beneath the bird-bucket to catch the blood. The amount of blood kind of surprised me. I was expecting a slow dribble. In reality, when the neck was slit, it sounded like someone turned a garden hose on in the bucket.

*Yes, sounded. I didn't watch. I'm a weenie. I held the rope keeping the bird suspended, but I closed my eyes for the actual slitting of the throat. I raised these birds from day-old poults! I felt kind of terrible. But only kind of.

*If you can find somewhere indoors to work, it's worth it. Yellow jackets in the fall are desperate for meat, which is what you are working with. Best not to risk being stung while you cut and slice with sharp knives. There are also flies, which are generally nasty. We used the shop. With the windows open. Because butchering anything doesn't smell very good.

*In the toolbox: a broad-bladed skinning knife, a narrow boning knife, and a sharpener; some needle nosed pliers and/or tweezers for removing bits of feathers; bandaids and triple-antibiotic ointment in case your husband slices his finger open (oops.); a bucket or other disposal method for guts, feathers, skin, and other bits that you won't be keeping to eat; a large trash bag to cover the table and keep clean-up simple.

*We didn't boil/scald the bird to pluck it. If you've ever plucked geese before, plucking turkeys is a breeze. With two of us working, it took less than half an hour to have the bird plucked clean.

*Determine whether it is really worth the effort to pluck. Obviously, if you want a roasted Thanksgiving turkey, you'll want the skin on. But if you'd just as soon bake a breast now and then, or cut up the thigh to use in soups or pot pies, skinning the bird might make more sense. We did both. It's also easier to find freezer space for pieces of a turkey than whole turkeys.

*I wrapped the meat first in plastic wrap, then in a double layer of freezer paper. I feel pretty confident this will work. For the whole bird, which weighed 20 pounds dressed out, I wrapped with about fourteen layers of plastic wrap, then a double layer of freezer paper. This was akin to wrapping a Christmas present with absolutely no rhyme or reason to its shape. It wasn't pretty. But it was well-wrapped, and will hopefully taste great on our Thanksgiving table.

*From the 40 pound tom, we ended up with 20 pounds of meat once he was dressed out and the meat removed from the carcass. The breasts weighed 6 pounds each. From the 25 pound hen, we ended up with about 12 pounds of meat. It's safe to assume that you'll end up eating about 50 percent of the bird's live weight.

*I saved the carcasses, necks, and wings from the cut-up birds to make broth.

*We also saved the feet for the dogs, who were thrilled with the treat.

I suppose that's about all I have to add for notes. Next to come will be processing meat with children around, and the ethics and morals behind it all. Stay tuned... you know you want to. ;o)

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Start of the School Year Panic

Oh my goodness, I've taught them NOTHING for WEEKS!

I'm pretty sure every homeschooling mother feels this way occasionally, when life just gets too busy for "school". At least, I like to think they do, because otherwise I'd feel painfully alone, and very much like a failure.

We do sit down school most of the time. Okay, some of the time. Eh, well, once in awhile I go through a spurt and have them sitting down working on workbooks. Sometimes.

Unschooling scares me. I need more order and control than that. I can't be an unschooler! How will my children ever learn math, or grammar, or the history of the world, if I let life be their teacher?

And then I talk to other homeschooling mothers who are ordering a year's worth of curriculum in every subject for their children right now, and realized I have ordered nothing. We're still finishing up last year's math books. We finished The Oldest's English book, and I have no plans for what will come next.

And there isn't time! We are racing through our day, putting up veggies and cooking and handling chores and horse-shopping and stuff. Surely horse shopping is far more important than the 7's mulitplication tables. Isn't it?

I'm in a state of minor panic. How are these children going to be successful wives and mothers if I'm not sitting down for six hours a day teaching them things they need to know? How will my kindergartener succeed in life if we don't have time for construction paper crafts and finger painting? What about all these other homeschool families that are gearing up for a new school year with fresh new school books to crack open for the first time, and wonderfully organized schedules to follow? We can't compare to that. I'd love to start school at 8 o'clock every morning, but there are animals to feed and play with, and stalls to clean and veggies to pick, and some days we don't even have breakfast until 9.

Breathe. I am going to stop freaking out, rejoice in the brilliance of my children, though it may not be "standardized brilliance" and I'm going to be grateful for the lessons our lives teach us. Because while this life doesn't offer up a whole lot of long division, it offers so much learning in so many other areas, the kind of learning that only a life up here can give them. And right now, that's going to be good enough. I'm going to let them enjoy the new life we are living up here for awhile. They are little, and they are excited and happy. There will be time for other things later.

And I'll keep telling myself that every day, until I actually embrace it. 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

South Dakota National Parks: Junior Rangers

If you ever make it to any of our nation's National Parks, and are a homeschooling family, make sure you check out the Junior Ranger Program. It's an absolute must.

Admittedly, it takes a whole lot of extra time, but the level of learning just cannot be found in any other way. They are there. They can see, smell, touch their surroundings, and the Junior Ranger program encourages them to look at all the tiny details they would otherwise glance right over.

If you visit a park ranger, they will give your kids a workbook, based on their age. The program usually includes kids ages five to twelve, and there are different requirements for finishing based on how old they are. The workbook is filled with activities that require them to walk through visitor centers and read the displays, search for details, and answer questions. They cover all kinds of history and science and social studies, and some of them really make kids think. Many of the programs require a hike or walk through the area, where they will complete a 'scavenger hunt' while looking for little bits of nature around them.

Usually, in order to complete the program and receive a badge, you are also required to attend a ranger talk, walk, or other program. We learned years ago how educational these can be - rangers are full of information specific to their park, and they love to share it - especially with kids. On our trip, we spent an hour being led through a cave, we listened to a talk about fossils (complete with real fossils to look at and touch) and we attended a walk around Mt. Rushmore where we were taught about the history and geology of the project.

When the book is all finished, and you've attended your ranger program, your kids take their books back to the visitor center where they are presented with a certificate and a Junior Ranger badge. They are also required to take an oath that they will do their best to preserve America's lands and share their newfound information with family and friends.

My girls earned three badges on this trip. First, we visited Jewel Cave National Monument:

Since the ranger leading the walk knew they were working on their Junior Ranger badges, she gave them the honor of occasionally leading our tour group to different locations. They loved this.

And of course, The Daddy and I are were just as fascinated (if not a little more) than the girls were with all the cave formations we saw. Really neat stuff down there - definitely worth the time if you are in the area, and aren't claustrophobic.

After that, we drove through Badlands National Park. It has it's own kind of beauty, though it's not far off from what we have here in Western Colorado. The colors were more impressive though. I did buy some yarn as my trip souvenir in the colors of the Badlands. :-) 

Next, we visited Mt. Rushmore National Memorial. It's awe-inspiring, the way the mountain was carved. You don't really have any idea just how huge it is until you are there and actually seeing it.

And after all those, we took a quick scenic drive through Custer State Park. While not a National Park, Custer does have a Junior Naturalist program available for kids too. I was a little bummed we couldn't spend more time there, as I think this area might have been my favorite out of everything we saw. Wildlife abound...

And who can resist pushy donkeys that actually stick their heads in your car begging for treats?
We sure can't.
We drove all the way through, looking at the Needles, and driving along narrow, twisting roads and low, one-lane tunnels. I would have loved to have just stopped and spent a day or two hiking and looking and taking it all in. The plethora of different geological formations all through South Dakota is so impressive.

We're blessed here in the west to have so many different National Parks within driving distance, but I know they are scattered all over our country. So if you're looking for a really neat, hands on way to teach your kids some stuff about the world they live in, definitely go check them out. Each one has something different to offer!

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Earlier this summer I spent half an hour digging up this area near my front porch, fluffing the soil, adding compost and perlite, and then planting some iris bulbs from my mother-in-law's garden.

Promptly after I finished, a certain little puppy came along, removed every single iris, piled them off to the side, and trampled down the soft dirt. It is now his favorite sleeping spot - cool and in the shade.
It's a good thing I love him so much... I'm going to have to live without flowers until he grows up a bit! But puppies are better than flowers, anyway. Flowers don't drip slobber down your boots, and who could live without that?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Crafty Kiddos

 Charlotte Mason was a big proponent of teaching kids 'handiworks'. I can see why. If they're working on something, it keeps them sitting. In one place. Without screaming and yelling. And I'm all about that.

It also gives them something useful to do when they otherwise would just be sitting around, like on car rides back and forth to The Big City, daily quiet time, story times, or during a movie.

The Oldest has wanted to learn to embroider for a very long time now. I finally got around to teaching her what little I know about it, a simple satin stitch and a chain stitch. She is embroidering the front of a pillow for her favorite stuffed cat, Luna. 

Sometimes I'm amazed at how much patience she can have. Every stitch was carefully placed. She kept the work as neat as a nine year old possibly could, and really stuck with it.

Littlest One - being as she is the Littlest One, and therefore must always find a way to do things like her big sister - was taught to finger knit. It's a simple process, though I wasn't sure if she'd be ready for it yet. Boy, did I underestimate her ability! Once she figured it out, she really took off with it.
One headband finished for herself, one finished for a friend, and now she's making one for the friend's mom... she has plans of handing out headbands to every woman and girl she knows for Christmas this year.

I love giving them something like this to do. We don't do "paper crafting" very often, because we honestly don't have that kind of time. There aren't construction paper art projects cluttering my fridge and walls, we don't do a lot of gluing cereal and cotton balls to paper for the purpose of calling it school. But these kinds of crafts are useful ones. They can take these skills and turn them into something beautiful and useful, and something to give to someone else. Those are the kinds of crafts I like seeing them learn.

We had a little talk about setting goals as the girls were working. I told them how, when I knit or clean house or anything else, I set little goals for myself. I tell myself "I'm going to finish four inches of this sleeve" or "I'm going to clean for fifteen minutes in the bathroom" before I get tired and take a break. Each of them set a goal - The Oldest to finish all the petals of her flower, Littlest One to finish one headband. When they reached their goal, they got to feel that little sense of satisfaction at having completed something without giving up first. I hope that's a habit they will continue throughout their lives. The tiniest goals set and met will eventually provide big results!

While I'm posting pictures, here's a photo of Littlest One's hair wrap. I did them a week or so ago while the girls sat and watched a movie on a lazy Saturday morning. I let them each pick out the colors they'd have, and two charms to hang on the end. Littlest One has a hummingbird and the letter C, and The Oldest has a horse charm and the letter C.

I remember doing these a lot when I was a kid - it was fun to recreate it with them. We didn't knot the whole thing down the way we did when I was young though, these are just wrapped and knotted every so often, so they will come out when they get tired of them.