November 2010

I cannot tell you how many times I have pulled up my blog to post something–anything–and I just go blank.  Is it writer’s block?  Blogger’s block?  Snow-and-cold-weather-induced-brain-hibernation?  Whatever it’s called, it’s as though my brain just goes numb, and I just can’t find my groove.  The funny thing is, we are doing all sorts of things, and I am even getting photos of most of it!  For me, it’s really strange to be short on words (just ask my poor hubby!).  So, here I sit, gazing out my window at the snow falling, and watching my area turn into a magical, white wonderland.  With the low temps outside these days, I have to admit, I do find an advantage to not having our farm yet….I am not having to bundle up 2-3 times a day and go out in that miserable cold to tend the critters!  YET.  Anyway, when I get over this block in my brain, I will have lots of photos and details.  I just have to figure out how.

This week has been wonderfully busy, and having my mom around for Thanksgiving for the first time in years has been absolutely thrilling!  We have taken pitifully few photos over the week–the time just disappears before we even realize it.  Nonetheless, here is a quick re-cap. 

Early in the week was pretty normal, with homeschooling Monday-Wednesday.  I did a little pre-Thanksgiving baking to get me in the cooking mood, baking some apple and cherry pies for dinner one evening. 

My mom, “Nana,” came over for Thanksgiving Day, and voluntarily agreed to be a guinea pig for some of my latest cooking creations–natural lotions, lip balms, and some experimenting with food recipes for Thanksgiving.  My favorite experiment was brining the turkey. 

Turkey has never been a favorite of mine, as every time we have cooked it (we like to roast our turkeys), it winds up quite dry–especially as reheated leftovers!  This year, since we special ordered a free-range, all natural turkey, I feared it might be even worse (since there tends to be less fat to moisturize the turkey).   Furthermore, it was a big turkey at 18.6 pounds, so I knew the lengthy time roasting might dry it out.   So I did a little research and learned about brining.  It is an incredibly simple process, and produced, by far, the absolute best turkey I have every eaten!!  Even the reheated leftovers are deliciously moist!  So that experiment went over beautifully.  The pumpkin pie turned out acceptable, but my pumpkin bread was a complete flop!  Apparently, when I transposed the recipe I always cooked onto a recipe card, I mixed up my tsp with my TBSP, and wound up adding waaaaaay too much cloves and other spices.  It is edible, but not incredibly enjoyable!  I’ll have to fix that!  I also didn’t have very good success with my pumpkin cookies earlier this week.  I used my favorite recipe, but the altitude really affected the way they cooked.  I have to experiment some more with that.  And while my sweet-potato casserole turned out delicious, I learned an important lesson about why gourd squashes are used for decoration.  We got several of them through our CSA.  Being the practically-minded, waste-not people we are, we decided to forget tradition, and to chop those gourds open and eat them.  One was incredibly tough to cut into, had a pitiful amount of meat, but we went ahead and roasted it to decorate the turkey.   Then I tasted it.  BLEH!!!!!!!  There is a reason they are for decor only!  All in all, though, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving day.

Nana stayed the night, and then this morning, we pulled out the Christmas decorations.  We like to focus on Thanksgiving, and not overlook it.  To help, we refuse to pull out our Christmas stuff until after that special day has passed.  We do tend to pull it all out the following weekend however.  The kids got to help set up the tree, while I arranged my first nativity set.  Over the last couple years, I have absolutely fallen in love with the Willow Tree figurines.  I don’t have many yet, but I bought the nativity set last year at an after-Christmas sale.  This year was the first time I got to use it.  I have a few more pieces I would like to add to it, but I am so excited to have that up finally! 

 We finished most of the decorating by mid-morning, so, expecting beautiful weather, we loaded up and went for a several-mile mountain bike ride down the Santa Fe trail.   It was the kids’ first opportunity to really show off their bike skills to Nana.  Unfortunately, we forgot the camera.  That just means we’ll have to do it again.  Nana was so excited to be outdoors and active, she has already made us promise to take her hiking in the mountains tomorrow.  She may just wear me out with all this action!! 

So that was our week.  I hope yours was at least half as enjoyable and “thanks”-worthy!

You probably noticed the decrease in posts recently.  This has been an extra busy month full of some big changes.  It’s a long story that I won’t go into, but the extra short version is that my mom has recently decided to move out to CO to be closer to the grandkids.  It was a bit last-minute, so she lived with us for a little while until she found a place and some transportation.  Now, though, she is out on her own and looking for a job. 

I can see now that I am going to wind up waaaaay to spoiled!  We have never lived closer than 4 hours from any of our relatives, and I admit, I have often envied friends who are able to have lunch dates with their moms, have family over for dinner, and/or use their parents as babysitters on occasion.  We have never had any of those options. 

During the short time my mom lived with us, she almost solely took over kitchen clean-up duties and getting the toddlers all ready and dressed every morning.  It was wonderful!!  Now that she is living elsewhere, she comes over for lunch or dinner, has the option to stay over on occasion (we left a room available for her), and, like this morning, she will come pick up some of the kids and go do something fun with them.  I have had the opportunity to go on 3 dates with my husband in the last 3 weeks.  THAT in itself is absolutely thrilling to me!!  The kids are loving it as much as I do.  They compete for who gets the next date with Nana, are always asking when she will come visit, etc.  In exchange for the help she provides, she is having me teach her how to shop organically, change her diet to a very healthy one, and learn to bake and cook from scratch, using only raw, natural ingredients.  It is also mutually beneficial for us for our physcial condition.  She wants to exercise, and I find it difficult to do with 4 children, but together, we can go hiking, see the sights around here, etc, as she helps me with the kids, and I help by simply giving her some company.  In addition, when she comes over, she will often let JR or M read to her.  They love to do it, and it gives them some extra, non-school reading practice.  She will often sit and cuddle A or N while I work on my chores, something I sometimes feel they don’t get enough of. 

  We don’t know for sure how long she will be living out here, but the plan for now is that she will one day follow us when we retire to the farm, and find a little place nearby there. 

Yes, I could definitely get spoiled with all the grandmotherly help around here!!

On one of our last gorgeously temperate days, S decided he wanted to take his oldest boy on a “man’s day” hike.  Many years ago, S hiked to a particular CO peak called “Eagle’s Peak,” and wanted to take his son there.   It was a several mile hike, so they planned to leave in the morning, in hopes of reaching the summit before JR collapsed from exhaustion.

Being mom, I, of course, insisted they pack plenty of food and water, and I dressed JR in layers so he could be sufficiently warm or cool as they climbed over 2000 feet or so in altitude.  That may not seem like much, but that 2000 foot climb means the trail winds up to 9368 feet high.  Needless to say, temps can change significantly at that altitude! 

Around 8:30 or so, I dropped S and JR off at the trailhead.  As I drove back down the road, I passed another hiker headed to the trail, and his gear included hiking sticks and shoe spikes for traction.  I looked up at the sheer rock face of the summit and I seriously wondered what I had sent my son off to do.

The trail head. Notice the white sign over JR's shoulder. It is a "Beware of Mountain Lions in the area" sign.

I shouldn’t have worried, though, as shortly after my departure, they were having tremendous fun–in a man sort of way, of course–hiking, exploring, performing dangerous stunts that would never be allowed if mom were around…you get the idea. 

A little rock-scrambling

They found a comfy little tree-bench just perfect for a rest stop.

More rock scrambling

This tree was actually growing around a large boulder. JR is sitting in the portion of the trunk that hasn't yet closed up. You can see the boulder behind him.

By mid-morning, they were getting close to the summit, but after all the rock scrambling, climbing, and maneuvering of the slippery, steep trail, JR was starting to peter out.  S decided it was good time for a snack break.

JR willingly agreed to that idea and collapsed on the ground, complete with apple in hand. I think it took him a while to find the strength to raise his hand to his mouth to actually eat the apple!

After a revitalizing rest and snack, they set out once again.

The trail meandered through fields and forests at times, and S said this area was just full of aspen trees that had shed their leaves for the winter.

Finally, they reached their goal, the 9,368 foot summit of Eagle’s Peak. 

At the summit

The summit marker

Enjoying a spectacular view of the U.S. Air Force Academy

Someone set up a tribute to veterans. The sign says, "Veterans, past, present, and future, Thank you!"

A memorable father/son moment

The fun didn’t stop at the summit, though.  After a lengthy break and a while spent enjoying the view, the father/son team headed back down the mountain.  Some areas of the trail were very steep, and JR spent a good bit of his time sliding down.  During the trip, they encountered the same guy I had passed as I left.  He and S helped JR pick some good sticks from the side of the trail, and he showed JR how to use the sticks properly to prevent sliding.  JR had a great time practicing his new skills and improving his traction. 

JR and a new-found friend working their way down the trail.

On the way down, they passed a small waterfall.

They made it down quite a bit earlier than expected, ultimately completing the entire trip in around 4 hours.  JR showed impressive stamina.  In fact, I had spent the morning running errands, and had not planned to pick them up until around 2 in the afternoon.  They were done just after noon, so instead of waiting, they hiked another 3/4 mile or so to the U.S.A.F. Academy visitor’s center, watched a video, and learned some Air Force history.  After an hour or so there, JR said he was bored and wanted to hike some more, so they headed off down the road where I would be traveling to pick them up.   JR, however, had finally tuckered out a while later, when they reached a big hill.  Just before 2, I found S walking down the side of the road, several miles from the visitor’s center, carrying his exhausted little boy on his shoulders, and, I suspect, just enjoying that precious time together.

I had a “first” last night that still has me laughing!  Every month, I order bulk organic food supplies from a co-op called Azure Standard.  Essentially, you place your order on line, then, when the scheduled time arrives, A.S. loads your supplies onto a semi-truck, which hauls yours–and many other folks’ supplies–to a designated “drop-point” or meeting place.  The supplies registered to that drop point are quickly unloaded by the customers, placed in personal vehicles, and everyone returns home.  As soon as possible, the truck driver heads down the interstate to his next drop point.  The drop-point unload process generally takes about 15-20 minutes.  It is generally very efficient and organized, though it can appear chaotic due to the number of people racing back and forth from the truck to their vehicles loading items. 

Around here, our drop point is a large truck stop right off the freeway.  It has been the drop for years.  Our truck typically arrives around 9:15 at night, so it is dark, and we often attract quite a bit of attention–sometimes causing crowds of people to gather to watch our busy-bodies race back and forth unloading.  We are used to the stares though, and really don’t think much of it anymore.  Until last night. 

For some reason, the truck stop was unusually busy last night, with large tractor-trailer trucks parked in every available space.  We’re talking probably 100 trucks.  Very busy.  We did our best to find an out-of-the-way corner so we wouldn’t hinder traffic flow.  Our truck arrived, pulled over to the side as usual, and we all backed our vehicles up as close as we could get around the truck to load our supplies (mostly mid-sized boxes and 25-50 lb. bags of grains).  Suddenly, police vehicles pulled up from all angles and parked around us.  I was loading my last box when an officer headed me off and began to cautiously question me about what we were doing.  I briefly explained the organic foods co-op and how the drop point worked.  He kind of laughed, and you could almost see a wave of relief wash over him.  I could almost hear him thinking, “That’s all this is about?!”  He excused me, so I got in the car and drove off so I could get out of trucker’s way.  That’s when I discovered the rest of the group had been cornered by the truck by several officers and vehicles, and were still being questioned.  I kinda felt bad leaving, but knew there was nothing I could do.  Nonetheless, I was laughing so hard at the whole situation.  They must have thought they were onto something big! 

I guess it makes sense, when I try to see it from an on-looker’s point of view.  I mean, late at night, a relatively unmarked semi pulls up, is surrounded by an organized crowd of people, quickly unloaded of boxes and bags (most unmarked), and those same packages divided up among the individuals.  It probably does look pretty fishy! 

Oh, I just can’t quit laughing!  I have often joked that between my raw milk, picking up CSA produce from a business’ side porch, and picking up a monthly delivery of bulk organic food items direct from a tractor-trailer truck, I often feel I am part of some kind of black-market elite group.  I guess last night just goes to prove it!!

Once again, we have been contacted by a potential expectant young woman who is considering placing her baby for adoption.  I have been communicating back and forth for a couple of days.  On one hand, it is thrilling to think someone out there may actually be making the choice to give life to her baby, even though she cannot raise that child, and that she is considering us to be the parents in her place.  On the other hand, I remain very guarded.  I just can’t help but think it is another scam.  It is so sad that a small handful of women make themselves feel better and have their fun by hurting others.  It is so unfortunate that we cannot just jump into a match with an expectant mother, and get to know each other without reserve; to be able to develop a relationship with a hurting young lady, and just be there wholeheartedly for her in a time of need.  I realize it is just an unfortunate part of our society and time. 

That being said, we must remain faithful.  We must trust that God will build our family, His way, and in His time.  We will guard our hearts carefully, but we will also treat these girls/women who contact us with respect and assume they are innocent and truthful, until we receive reason to believe otherwise.  I have learned that is impossible to know for sure until that bundle of blessing is placed into our arms and legally made ours.  All we can do is what we are doing now: pray by name for each girl who contacts us, research her info as we receive it, treat her with love and respect, and hope for the best outcome for all involved.  Only time will tell.

With the arrival of the snow last night, my big project of the day was to come up with a way to organize the tremendous amounts of winter gear for 6 people.  It only made sense for everything to go into our entry-way closet, so I started out by emptying the closet and starting with the bare bones organizers.  After just one snow day, I realized I needed several things:

  • a place for dry gear and extras
  • a section dedicated to each person, for their gear such as hats, gloves, etc.
  • a place for damp gear to dry
  • a place for boots
  • a place for big, bulky items to hang (parkas, bibs, etc)
  • a place for lighter jackets for those periodic warmer days

The bare bones included the hanging rod (top) and the little shelf with hanger underneath.  Last year, we got great use out of baskets and drawer systems, but we discovered some flaws.  First of all, the baskets and drawer bin we used were way too small to hold everything.  But it was a start.  I decided to purchase some larger, equally-sized drawer bins for the primary small-stuff storage, and to use the baskets only for damp things so they could easily dry out overnight.  This is what my final result was:

You can see in the pic the kids’ lighter-weight jackets, as well as S and my jackets and parkas hang from the top rod.  The little shelf is perfect for the kids to hang those damp parkas and bibs on, though I would recommend hanging such a shelf a bit higher than the tallest child’s parka/bib will hang.  Ours is a bit low here.  The boots sit nicely right underneath.  Off to the right, is the new drawer system, with each person’s drawer labeled with their name.  I already know I am going to love that bin (though I wish it weren’t plastic!). 

So there you have it.  A great way to keep all that gear off the floor and in the closet.  One last thing I would like to do is find/purchase a cheap, washable rug to go over that entry-area floor.  I am already tired of the water and muck that gets tracked in the front door!  I have considered having the kids remove their boots at the front door, before coming in, but it is so cold, that their little feet would be just miserable next time they put them on.  I think an absorbent rug will be the best option.  If you use any organizing systems you really like, I would love to hear your ideas!  I am still working on my design for the farm “mud-room” area, and need all the ideas I can get!

After 2 months of the weather not settling into a pattern, lots of cold wind and temperatures, and many weeks of listening to JR pray for snow, it finally happened!  I had a bunch of errands to run, so I consolidated them all into one afternoon.  I had heard there was a 50% chance of the weather turning nasty, so I checked to make sure we had the tire chains, warm clothes, snow scraper, snacks, and water in the car, then left around noon yesterday to try to get them all done before the weather rolled in.  Let’s just say we didn’t make it home nearly in time! 

First, a cold rain started, then cold wind was blowing my car around the freeway, then the flurries started.  As we headed north for our final errands, it began getting really dark, really fast!  Mind you, I haven’t driven in major snow in about 15 years.  By the time I got my last errand completed and headed home, this is basically what I saw out my windshield:

Don't worry, I concentrated on driving, and took the pic after I arrived home--but it looked the same!

It didn’t matter that it was 15 minutes until dinner time, pitch black out, and the temps in the low 20’s.  All that mattered to the kids was that the first snow of the season had finally arrived!   They ran in the house, threw on the few snow supplies I had set out in preparation for snow, and ran out to play. 

A, all dressed up and ready to go play in the snow!

And play they did.  We have a little hill in our sideyard that is absolutely perfect for small children to sled on.  So, the kids spent the next hour sledding, throwing snowballs, and they even recruited their dad to help build a snowman.  (No pic of that, sorry.)

2 yr old A and 22 month old N playing in the snow

My camera kept focusing in on the snowflakes rather than the surroundings, so I finally settled for a pic of the snow accumulation on the back porch. We got about 3 inches in 4 hours.

Finally, we forced the kids inside to eat dinner, and they eventually headed to bed.  This morning, we awoke to a beautiful winter wonderland.

And, of course, as soon as they could gobble down their breakfast, the kiddos were back outside, playing in the snow.

A and JR ready to sled again.

I had promised our first big snow day would be a no-school day.  However, we are expecting an even bigger snow storm tomorrow, so I gave the kids the choice.  They both agreed they wanted to spread school throughout the day today so they could have lots of time to play tomorrow.  So, that’s what we have done.  They literally played outside from breakfast to lunch this morning, did some school work after lunch, then the younger 3 headed to bed while JR and I did more of his schooling during quiet time.  I am proud to say we are almost finished, so we are eagerly anticipating what tomorrow might bring!

A while back, I read a book by author and farmer Joel Salatin.  I have read almost every book he’s written, though, so unfortunately, I can’t tell you which one it was.  In any case, I read this book about a year and a half ago, and one statement really stuck with me.  He basically asked what I was doing RIGHT NOW to help me reach my goals.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how much meaning could be found in that statement–for anyone.  It is so easy for us humans to dream up goals in our heads, then look at our current circumstances, and come up with a litany of reasons why we CAN’T reach those goals.  He made the point that when he talks to people, he can pretty accurately predict within a few minutes of conversing whether or not that person will EVER meet their goal.  It’s all dependent on how motivated they are to make the best of their current situation, and do what they can right now, under their current conditions. 

It really hit home for me, as I realized at the time how much I was anticipating moving to our farm.  The problem was, at the time, that move was almost 5 years away.  I had already developed a plan to try to learn a few things (like making our bread and learning to cook).  However, as I pondered this concept, I realized how often I was looking at our current situation and saying “I can’t.” We moved roughly every 2 years, so I couldn’t have a farm.  I lived in Las Vegas and couldn’t invest in gardening equipmet, so I couldn’t grow my food.  I had young children, so I didn’t have time to learn.  Every time I read a farming or homesteading book, I got depressed that I couldn’t be at the farm, so I stopped reading those books.  Etcetera….. I’d be willing to bet many of you have been or are in that very place regarding some aspect of your life. 

As I pondered his question, “What CAN you do, right now?” I began to realize how foolish I was being with that thought pattern.  I had a dozen plant pots stacked up and just sitting in my back yard.  Why not try a container garden?  (Ok, so it failed miserably, but I learned TONS from the experience!)  If we had a garden at the farm, I would have to have a way to preserve the bounty for winter.  Why not learn to preserve foods?  I bought a pressure cooker, some jars and canning supplies, and just tried to find bargains on organic produce to preserve.  We had a septic system at the farm and wanted to not use cleaning chemicals that might damage it.  Since I used a lot of bleach and other harsh cleaners, I decided to learn new, natural, and less harmful ways to clean.  I had half-a-dozen books sitting on my shelf that I could learn things from while waiting.  After a while, I basically had a short-term goal to learn SOMETHING new every month.  At times, I would actually make written lists of things I wanted to learn, and pick something (or two) each month.  I soon realized, if nothing else, we were helping reduce that steep learning curve experienced homesteaders warn you about. 

Then, the housing issue arose this past spring, when we moved to CO.  There were times I was very frustrated and discouraged.  I had made goals to learn to garden, milk goats, raise chickens, and compost.  With the necessity of moving into base housing, those goals just flew right out the window.  We weren’t allowed to do any of the stuff we wanted!  I found myself slipping back into the “I can’t” frame of mind.  I’m not sure what snapped me out of it, but I remembered Joel’s question once again.  I started remembering things I had heard of in the past, like indoor citrus trees, vermicomposters, and CSA’s.  I started researching and decided to do what I COULD.  Within 2 months, we had a worm bin in my dining room for composting my kitchen scraps, 4 citrus trees in my window, a family closet in the basement, we had visited dairies and signed up for raw milk shares (and asked LOTS of questions of the dairymen!), found and purchased a whole cow for the freezer, signed up for a CSA to learn to eat seasonally and preserve what we couldn’t use, purchased rabbits to breed for meat in our garage, and learned a lot more about baking, canning, and food preservation.

It is so much fun, now, to look back over the last 5 months and realize that I had a choice to completely waste it, waiting for better circumstance, or to do what I could.  Thank the Lord for pushing me to do what I could.  We have tremendously reduced our learning curve once we get to the farm, we have hopefully set a good example for our children, and we have allowed room for new goals to be created. 

So now, I ask you, “What goal do you have, and what CAN you do RIGHT NOW to work towards achieving it?”  Think about it.  You might just be amazed with what you come up with.

Thanks to my CSA, I had collected an abundance of eggplant, and needed a way to use it.  I have tried a few popular recipes like Eggplant Parmesan and grilled eggplant, but since the kids and I aren’t really eggplant fans, we just couldn’t seem to make a dent in my stock.  Until now.  Thanks to this recipe, I am actually out of eggplant!  Even the kids couldn’t get enough!

Baked Eggplant Fries

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced lengthwise into 1/2 inch strips
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 2 tsp garlic (we love garlic around here!)
  • 2 eggs

In a shallow dish, combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, Italian seasoning, garlic salt, and garlic.  Mix thoroughly.  In seperate dish, scramble the eggs.  Dip the eggplant strips into the egg, then coat with bread crumb mixture.  Arrange in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet.  Spritz eggplant strips with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden and crisp looking.  Turn sticks over, spritz with cooking spray, and continue to bake for another 15 minutes or so, or until golden and crisp.  Serve immediately, as they are best warm.  You can serve with a plain tomato or spaghetti sauce as a dip, if desired. 

Note:  While I did not peel my eggplant, I did notice that the peel side of the strips did not hold the crust very well.  I decided to use the parts that were fully covered in peel for other things.  Just a bit of peel on the tips really won’t affect it much.

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