Monday, December 12, 2011

Salt Dough Ornaments

We have been busy around here, so I haven't been as good about writing every day. Well, that and a certain amount of innate laziness I have to try and overcome. It can be a huge effort to overcome inertia and actually do something more creative some evenings. In a similar fashion, the days are generally filled so I don't get to sit down without interruption very often. Even trying to plan certain activities during the day can take an overwhelming effort to accomplish.

I have been wanting to help the kids make salt dough ornaments for a few months now. I have run across the recipes in too many places to count for the last several years, and always thought it would be an easy and fun project to do with the kids. Things always seemed to get in the way, though. I was finally able to sit down (ha, ha. Actually I didn't get to sit at all for several hours!) with the family and help the kids make ornaments last night. While Greg worked on making the dough, I helped them roll it out, cut, and transfer the ornaments. As usual, my little independent-minded children wanted to do everything themselves so I tried to let them as much as possible. The kids did most of the decorating, and we left a few undecorated so they could be colored or painted after they were dry.

As with any new project we have a few little learning experiences that will hopefully prepare us for the next round of making decorations. We all had a good time, and made quite a few nice ornaments for the tree. I want to send a few to family members too, so I'll let the kids pick those out. I'm looking forward to having these on the tree soon. Growing up, we often made new ornaments every year; I think this was mainly in school, especially when we were little. I have fond memories of so many of these ornaments, and I want my children to have the opportunity to have these same kind of connections as they grow up.

For our dough, we ended up using some whole wheat flour and kosher salt as that is what we had lying around. Normally this wouldn't be a problem in baking, as the salt would be well incorporated. Our ornaments ended up looking more grainy (as Greg jokingly called it, more like some rawhide dog treats), but I like the texture of it. They appear more homey to me, and since it was a craft project for the kids to enjoy I think it is just fine. With this recipe the dough is only slightly cooked at a low temperature to actually dry out the dough. Please remember, this dough is not edible, and quite nasty if you try to eat it. Make sure your animals don't get to it either; I imagine the salt content would not be healthy for pets if ingested.

Before I actually get into the recipe, I want to talk a little about the lessons we learned. Since we used the materials we had on hand, our dough turned out a little different than it might have otherwise. Had we used a generic highly processed white flour and table salt, the dough would have been more paste-like and less grainy. I have also seen recipes with only 1/2 cup of salt, but I think a larger amount might act as a preservative and drying agent for the dough over time. I have read about adding other ingredients to the dough to change its consistency (cooking oil, lemon juice). I have no experience using them so I cannot say how they will truly effect the dough. We may experiment at some point in the future and I will update you later if we do.

For the dough:



1 cup flour

1 cup salt

1/2 cup water

Food coloring

We ended up using one batch of dough per color (4 colors overall), as each batch made a small amount of dough. Dissolve salt in the water first, then stir in the food coloring. More food coloring will create a darker, intense hue while less will create a lighter shade. This will make it easier to incorporate into the flour more evenly. Add the water/salt/color mixture to the flour and mix thoroughly.

If you make several colors at once, I suggest you put the dough into plastic bags or under cling wrap to prevent it from drying out too quickly. If your dough turns too crumbly, add a little water. Sculptural elements can also be added using a little water to bind the pieces.

Roll out the dough and use cookie cutters or a cup to cut out ornaments. Lay on a cookie sheet on top of waxed paper; unless you want to take a chance they will bond quite well to your baking pans, that is. Be sure to poke a hole with a straw or toothpick so you can put a ribbon through the ornament when it is dry.

Bake in an oven at 250 degrees until they are dry. Depending on how humid your area is and the thickness of the ornaments, it can take an hour or several days. Ornaments can also be dried in the air over several days. If you use plastic decorating elements in the oven, check them often to make sure they don't melt.

Ornaments can be decorated while wet or dry. I sprayed the ornaments a little with water before adding the decorations then we used some sequins and small plastic beads while the ornaments were wet, and pressed them into the dough so they would stick better. Once dry, ornaments can be painted with a variety of paints, glitter glue, spray paint, markers, etc. Be creative and play around! Clear spray paint can also be used to seal the ornaments. Be sure to store them in a box wrapped in tissue or paper to protect them when not in use, as they can be fragile.

This dough can be used to make ornaments for any occasion, or just for fun. Here are a few images of ours.

Friday, December 9, 2011

A Better Day

I have been trying to think of something to write about all day, and came up with too many options. We actually had a reasonably productive day, and have a plan to come up with an action plan for dealing with the house, life, and everything else. Well, maybe not everything else, that would take far too long and be rather speculative anyway. We had planned to talk while taking the kids for a drive to another city about an hour away from here. The plan was to warm up some ribs for lunch (leftovers from today), and make S'mores over a fire. Our grand plan has been slightly diverted since we discovered the park we were intending to visit doesn't have camp grills like we thought. Hmm. So much for getting out of town. Maybe we will have Plan B (or C or D) in place by morning.

Speaking of mornings, after breakfast today we took a walk as a family down to the river. We really need the exercise, and since Claire needs a LOT of physical input (or her behavior goes downhill and she acts out more) we figured it would be a good start to the day. It had warmed up to a brisk 21 degrees Fahrenheit, so the little people were bundled up nicely. It was probably a mile or so overall, and we didn't stick around long to throw rocks into the river like we usually do. I snapped a few photos; here is one of some ice along the riverbank.

This afternoon I tried taking a few new pictures of our pigs, since they have been growing up fast. They are now about 9 months old, and definitely of breeding age. We originally planned to use another boar (or try AI) for the girls, but we also didn't plan on having them here this long either. So we have to be flexible. We recently expanded their roaming area, which is bounded on several sides by electric wire fence. It gives a pretty good shock (really, ask me how I know!), yet the pigs seem to test it every single day. I wanted to get a good low angle on them, so I was really close to the ground. My piggies however, being the curious sorts they are, were wondering just *What the Heck* I was doing, and kept coming over to investigate. Forgetting all about the fence in the process. When they accidentally touch the fence, they give out a might squeal and run off about 10-15 feet. I am pretty sure all three of them touched the fence while trying to investigate what I was doing. Sigh. Silly piggies. The light was terrible, but here is one photo I have of our boar, Marley.

We also dealt with a long-awaited "Mothra" project that Claire has been asking us to do for her. She has been asking for us to make her a "Mothra" she can fly. It has been a fun project to figure out, and I know the kids willl love it when they are done. I'll try to put up a post or tutorial on it as soon as we finish one, but I have been taking some photos along the way. Today was cutting them out with the scroll saw, and here are some of the templates before being cut out.

Hopefully we can actually cut some stress soon and get out of town for a few days. I am SO looking forward to it!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Frustration Again

I really should change the title of this to "Frustration Still". It isn't as though our (or my) frustration level has changed at all in the last several months. There is so much we need to do, yet we are hampered by the lack of funds to be able to move and store all our stuff in any easy fashion. We don't *want* to stay with the IL's, but we felt like it was a logical stepping stone to finding land and being able to sell our house.

Now, I just don't know anymore. This environment isn't one that I want my kids to grow up in. My FIL is an ass, and has religious and political views I do not share. I don't enjoy my children being exposed to so much hate. The air is terrible around here next to power plants, mines, drilling for oil and fracking everywhere. The whole spirit of this place is toxic, and I feel it dragging our emotional and spiritual selves down.

We started on this journey because we want to have land where we can be self-sufficient, yet we just have so much to get accomplished before we can reach that point, it seems like such an insurmountable task right now. I guess I am feeling depressed about things, and I know it is a feeling shared by the family. We need a break. We need to be able to regroup and figure out a better plan to get out of here and on to a better place. I don't know if we will need to sell all our animals or not. I would feel really sad to, but I know we need to do something different so we can keep moving on to our goals.

Monday, December 5, 2011

My Little Monsters

We are huge sci-fi fans in this house. We enjoy watching a variety of genres from fantasy, action, to space fiction. Granted, we enjoy other styles as well, but science fiction is our greatest joy to watch overall. Even on the day my daughter was born, we watched the SciFi channel for hours while we all recovered. Through the years, my children have discovered their own love for watching monsters, spaceships, and magical creatures. They enjoy everything from Mothra Lives, to Doctor Who, to Star Wars (I, and II - the most recent ones) as a small fraction of what they have seen. We aren't big on the traditional "Disney-style" stories around here, so no princesses or cars or the like if we can help it.

As a consequence of seeing what might be considered advanced viewing for their years (although I know many, many parents who proudly declare their kids are rabid fans of Star Wars, etc.), we have spent a fair amount of time explaining the mysterious world of movie make-up and special effects. I think they enjoy picking apart the effects from the reality, and gaining a greater understanding of how much of what they see on TV (be it movies or the news) is actually faked or not quite accurately portrayed.

One of the ways we have helped to show the kids how fake these shows are is to show them. How, you ask. Well, by making our own fake blood and alien goo, showing them using their own bodies, and letting the kids play with it afterwards. It isn't for the faint of heart, as it is quite messy. But it makes for great photos! Oh no, a dismembered arm!! And so forth.

We had such a night recently, and here are some of the action shots. I can't wait until they get older and we can let them film their own movies complete with effects.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Oh No! My Memory Is Full!

I found out recently that the memory card on my phone is completely full. I was trying to download the latest software update, when it failed. I really should have known better. I knew the SD card would fill up fast with videos and photos, especially since it was only a 2 gig card. Since I haven't replaced it yet, I now have to go through all the videos and photos and delete all the irrelevant stuff.

As I was doing this, I ran across a number of photos reminding me of just how far we have come (and stagnated) this year. There were images of the kids making cookies last Christmas, and hubby using a chainsaw to cut down large tree branches. Photos of us fixing a young goats' broken leg, and the icy trip north to collect several mostly wild dwarf goats. I still have another 1500 pictures to go before it is down to a reasonable level.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Listening to Whale Songs

I am listening to whale songs tonight. I read an interesting article on the Mother Nature Network recently, located here which asks for people to listen to the recorded whale songs to help scientists analyze and match up songs from Orcas and Pilot Whales in an attempt to determine the different dialects. Pretty cool, huh? It is part of a recent effort of scientists to use the help of the general public to analyze particular sets of data in a way that computers and the scientists themselves cannot. There is a good Wikipedia article on crowdsourcing and why it works quite well for different fields of study. An article over at ScienceDaily relays how a group of gamers recently solved a medical puzzle involving the structure of a retrovirus enzyme that stumped the researchers for over a decade. The gaming group solved the problem in about three weeks through a collaborative effort.

For me, helping out these different scientists helps me feel at least a little more connected to my own science background. I always intended to stay working in the Anthropological/Psychological/Arts fields, and this at least gives me a connection to helping with the research while still taking care of my family and teaching my children as well as the hundred other things I do in a day. Even if I never get back into the field of study I had started in, I can at least help science along in some fashion.

Right now you will find me listening to the chirps, burps, and screeches of various whales located here. I figure I am already listening to similar noises from my own mammalian offspring, so I might as well expand my range a little and help a group of researchers out. If you are interested in trying your hand at helping science along, try here at Zooniverse or here for a bird survey, or here for other crowdsourcing projects open to the public.

Why don't you give it a try too?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Incorrigible and Not A Team Player. Yep, That Is Me.

A few years ago, I participated in a dessert competition. Now, I'm not normally one for entering competitions unless I feel highly motivated to prove myself, or I really think I can win it. Overall, I'm not one to seek out a competition just for the thrill of it (unlike other family members). This is probably the reason I always hated team sports, but I digress. I know I am a good cook and baker, and I normally wouldn't feel any particular desire to publicly prove it. If it wasn't for one thing, and one thing only. I despised the person running the event.

I am not usually a vindictive person. Well, no more so than anyone else, I suppose. This person, however, had gotten under my skin in too many ways and for too long a period of time. She decided to hold an event within the organization we were involved in at the time solely for promoting herself. She was one of those self-important people who seems to enjoy lording their own lofty (usually perceived) position over others. Even when they really have no status to claim. She also turned out to be someone who liked to talk poorly about others behind their backs, yet was perfectly pleasant and rather friendly to that same persons' face. I am not sure what I ever did to wind up on the malicious side of her. I try to treat people with respect until they show they are not to be respected or trusted. I like to give folks the benefit of the doubt. Yet I also know that I have no tact, and often say things that people take poorly even if they are not intended that way. Maybe this was just one of those times. Or maybe she was just an unpleasant little person and jealous or feeling unconsciously threatened by me. I will never know.. At the time, this event seemed like she was attempting to make others look bad so she shone in the light brighter than any other people.

As a way to shine even brighter than the celestial bodies themselves, the theme of her event was determined to be "Angels," which really had not a single thong in common with the organization at the time except in a peripheral fashion. If you were to squint a lot. Needless to say, her decision to hold this event rankled me, and I decided to do something about it. Part of her event was to have a dessert competition, also under the theme of "angels," where the attendees would choose their favorite tasty delight. Hah! I can do this, I decided, with just a wee bit of mischievous calculation. I combed my recipes for ideas, and felt disgust and disdain over the very idea of an angel food cake or anything remotely of the sort. This sublime dessert needed passion, depth, and lust rather than the traditional image of the lightest, airy, confection.

Then it hit me. Devil's Food Cake. Only I would infuse the cake with the richest dark (almost bitter) chocolate flavor rather than the pale, flat flavor of many a Devil's Food Cake. Rather than any traditional icing, I chose the style of a German Chocolate Cake, with a rich toasted coconut and toasted pecan frosting, where the pecans had been laboriously sliced in the perpendicular to resemble an angel's wings. It was a stroke of genius. I wanted my audience to feel as though they were being corrupted by even tasting a morsel of my divinely inspired dessert. I wanted to show off what an awesome baker I can be. I wanted to rub her nose in it and steal some of the glory she was trying to take all for herself. I called it my "Fallen Angel Cake," and it was glorious.

As I walked up to where the event was being held, I apparently caught her eye. She had been unaware up until that point, that I would be attending. It was not my usual type of event to go to, so it was a good assumption on her part. However, as I said, I wanted to put her down a peg, even if it was just to make her uncomfortable by my presence. I wanted her to even *try* to argue that my entry could not be allowed because it didn't fit into her predefined idea of what was acceptable. As I told her about my lovely Fallen Angel Cake, I could see her struggling to find a way to deny my entry. Her better judgement (or the realization that I would probably shame her publicly in some way) won out, and my entry was approved. I am sure she felt I didn't have a possibility of winning, so what would it hurt?

Apparently the bulk of the attendees felt so enlightened and moved by my fallen angels' passion, they voted my dessert the most noble honor of best tasting at the event. The woman putting on the event who apparently had no sense of humor was deflated by the wicked temptation of my offering, to which I found myself the owner of the most fiendish satisfaction. It pleased me greatly to watch her have to publicly congratulate me (and give me a small token for a prize) for my winning delight. Her words came out slowly, as though having to pass over a great blockage in her throat (the crow, maybe?). I felt vindicated by my win, and pleased to have my skills in the kitchen justified and enjoyed. That afternoon, my greatest pride was not in bursting her well-filled bubble of hot air, but in the plate cleaned of all but a few crumbs.

What makes me recount this story to you all? Well, today is my birthday, and I felt the need to indulge in a little devilish sweet delight for my birthday cake. So I am making another Fallen Angel Cake for the family to enjoy with me.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Making a Simple Bone Broth

One of the best parts of cooking a turkey, duck, or chicken is saving the bones and cooking it down into a broth. I love the rich flavor this homemade broth creates, and I try to make a lot and freeze it for use later. It makes a great base for beans in the crockpot, the most awesome gravy, and is good to use in any recipe that calls for broth. Broth that you make yourself is more nutrient dense, and has only the ingredients that YOU put into it. Commercial broth often carries with it a high level of sodium; since salt enhances flavor, the commercial broths must be pretty awful without it! An added bonus is that the broth is super easy to make, and gives your body a readily available source of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and trace minerals.

This bone broth is often made from the bones of a bird that was just eaten, and it is usually already seasoned so it needs little added to it for flavor. In my case today, I am using a chicken that we butchered and skinned about a month ago. Since it was skinned, it has none of that luscious skin and fat to protect the meat when baking and I felt it would be easier to boil it down for a nutritious and flavorful broth with a lot of chunks of meat in it. I started out with a whole chicken, and added the necks of two turkeys that we butchered for the holidays, as well as parts of the wings that were too awkward to keep on the turkey but had too much meat on to throw away.

Please excuse the poor photos, they were taken with my phone as I was in the middle of several things at once in a kitchen that boasts modern (1970's) lighting. Eventually I will work on taking fabulous food photos, but not today (or even tomorrow).

To start the broth, find the largest pot you can. Mine is an 8-quart pot I believe; the broth is still simmering on the stove so I can't easily check its size, sorry. Although I do have larger pots, this one is about the perfect size for making broth with leftover bones. Be sure to save the bones from your last fowl meal. They can be stored in a large gallon-sized Ziploc (or other brand) bag for a day or so until you are ready to cook them down. Put bones in the bottom of the pot and add water until about an inch (or two) shy of the edge of the pot. If you fill it too high, the water is likely to boil over. Add a splash of vinegar (apple cider is great for chicken), which will help to draw the minerals out of the bones. Turn heat on high, and let the bones come to a simmer. Once you have reached a simmer, turn down the heat just so the simmering is maintained. Be sure to check the water level occasionally through the day, and add more as needed to maintain the level above the bones.

I will often simmer the bones for at least 24 hours so the broth becomes as nutrient-dense as possible. A crock pot is a great way to make broth if you are going to be away from the stove for much of the day. This photo was taken as the broth was just starting to cool, so a little fat is starting to coagulate on the top. Once you have finished cooking the broth, turn off the heat and allow it to cool. Strain the bones out and compost or bury them if possible. If you are cooking a whole bird (like I am right now), pull the meat out and separate from the bones. This meat can be used for any chicken-based meal, or tossed back into the broth for a quick and nutritious soup with added vegetables. If your final broth seems too watery or takes up too much room, you can always reduce it by simmering the broth for a longer period of time.

Store the stock in glass jars for several days in the fridge or freeze for use later. Some people freeze it in ice cube trays so they can add them easily to any recipe for a boost of flavor.

Since this was an unseasoned chicken, I will eventually add some basic herbs and spices for flavor. Generally I will add what smells good to me at the moment, but a little sea salt, fresh ground pepper, thyme, and fresh garlic are my own absolute minimums for cooking a bird and its eventual broth. The flavors of the broth can be made as simple or as complicated as you like. This method can be used for beef bones as well, and also makes a fabulous tasting broth. What matters is that it is a simple and effective way to add a nutrient dense food to your diet, and it tastes good too!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Feeling Good

I am feeling pretty good tonight. When I started writing blog posts for NaBloPoMo at the beginning of this month, I wasn't sure it was a good idea. In the past I have had a hard time finishing projects when I feel overwhelmed or stressed, and this last two years has seen my stress level in the stratosphere on a regular basis. I was honestly not sure I would be able to mentally and emotionally be able to do it and I wanted to avoid the massive guilt trips I would give myself. Somewhere in there, that tenacious part of me decided it would be good for me to at least have a small creative output, even if it was writing rather than art. Unfortunately, I did not do my sketchbook challenge much this month. I am sad about that. I did a sketch, but it never really got off the ground past that.

I DID, however, manage to write every day. Which I am proud of. I even managed to put my introverted self out there a little more and try to promote my blog. At this point I think I am going to continue a daily post. It will keep me going and maybe I can even start fitting a little art in there as well on a more regular basis! So congrats to me and all of you who made their goals come true.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Everything Is Just Ducky, Thank You

There is something fascinating about watching ducks. They bob their heads to each other, wag tails, preen, and follow each other in a line often when going somewhere. They are so comical and LOUD, especially when hungry.

Every morning when I go out to take care of the animals (I don't do this myself, Greg and I work as a team), one of the first things I do is feed the ducks. If I am late, which they believe that anything past dawn is late, they start quacking louder and louder. It sometimes sounds as though they are about to storm the castle! By the time I head out with their food, they are quacking up a tremendous storm. They come running towards me, then as I pass, they start to follow. Sometimes I stop and turn around to take a few steps, just to see them scatter. They regroup and follow me again as soon as my back is turned. It is kinda cool to have such a following. Especially ones that give us such tasty eggs.

Speaking of eggs, their egg-laying behavior is a little different than the chickens. With our hens, I was used to them occupying one or two favored nests (out of more than four). They generally lay throughout the day, and it is rare to find eggs out of the nesting area unless some very young hen hasn't quite figured things out yet.

As for the ducks, they are a bit different. They tend to lay pretty much in the morning, although every now and then we get a random afternoon egg. These random eggs aren't even in a nest. I swear, it is as though the duck (the female specifically, also sometimes called a hen) is walking along, lays an egg, and keeps on walking as though nothing happened. They are often found scattered throughout the yard as well. The other ducks seem to be more civilized. They will go to their nesting area, lay an egg, then often cover it up again with straw. Something our hens (chickens) would never do. So, every morning I go hunting for the duck eggs, to make sure none get missed or accidentally stepped on. My runner ducks, when they are laying, don't tend to cover the eggs up, but they do make a nice little nest to lay in. I'm not sure if part of it is the difference is between the heritage ducks and the more commercial ducks, or if it is an age-related issue, or if some of the ducks just prefer to drop an egg wherever they are versus those that want to make a proper nest. Whatever the reason, they lead me on quite the hunt every morning.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sweet Carrot Casserole Cake

My Mother-in-Law loves the Carrot Casserole from Furr’s Cafeteria, especially during the holidays. She will order a large pan of it, and eat it over several days. I remember having a little taste last year when life was very hectic and we agreed to order food instead of cooking it like we normally would. It was horrible. Sickly sweet, and with a strange texture. This year when she ordered the stuff again, we decided to make our own version so the kids would at least have a healthier version to try.

After looking around the interwebs to see if someone else had come up with a clone of the recipe that we could change to fit our tastes, I finally found one that was close enough here. It is similar, but not quite the same thing. The one we came up with is still rather sweet for our tastes, more like a dessert than a side dish. If I were to make this as a side for our family again, I would probably just stick with the amount of agave used during the cooking of the carrots and omit the added sugar. We tend to prefer dishes that aren’t overly sweet, but I know that not everyone shares our tastes. So experiment and see what works for you!

I did a side-by-side comparison of the dishes so you could see how different they are. There are no ingredient lists at all for the “Carrot Souffle” from Furr’s, so I cannot speak to what it actually has in it. Judging from their ingredient lists of other dishes, I can believe it has 20+ ingredients, mostly chemical or preservatives. I am not entirely certain it even has carrots in it (and is the bright orange monstrosity on the left).

On the other hand, I know that ours does. I decided to call this a cake rather than just a casserole because its texture and sweetness really is more like a cake than a side dish.

This recipe makes enough for an 8 x 8” pan in the oven.

Sweet Carrot Casserole Cake

2-3 cups of cooked carrots (about 14 or 15 raw medium-large carrots)
1 ½ sticks of butter
¼ cup agave nectar (dark)
2 eggs, well beaten
½ cup sugar
3 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. baking powder

Shred carrots and cook in pan with the butter and agave until tender, caramelizing if you want. We prefer the fuller-bodied flavor that cooking them in a pan and letting them caramelize a bit creates, rather than steaming. You may need to cook them in a large pot or in batches, as it is a lot of carrots at first. Don’t worry; they will reduce in size quite a bit! At this point, you can put them in a food processor to mash them, or leave them in the shredded state. We left them shredded and the consistency ended up the same as if we had mashed them first.

Blend the eggs, sugar, flour and baking powder in a bowl. Combine with the carrots and pour into a well-greased 8 x 8 casserole dish.

Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350 degrees and bake for another 30 - 45 minutes, until done.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I Have A Fat Toad in My Living Room

I never meant to have a toad. Truly. I have nothing against them, I think they are wonderful creatures and are encouraged to spend time in the garden eating bugs. I just don't want one in the house, and certainly not following me every time I make a foray into the kitchen.

Why on earth, would a toad follow me every time I go near the fridge, you wonder? Because this toad is actually a dog. My dog. He didn't used to be a toad. One might believe that a spell was cast upon him by an evil sorcerer. The truth of the matter is that while we were out of town several times over the last six months or so, my Father-in-Law fed him huge bowls of dry food, all the treats he could eat, plenty of dog cookies, and leftovers. He also was allowed to sneak into my In-Laws room and devour whatever food their dogs didn't finish. It isn't a problem with our other dog, he actually has some self-control when it comes to food and will eat a reasonable amount of food and then stop. My toad on the other hand, has no self-control.

He is a yellow lab, and Labrador Retrievers are well known to eat and eat like the piggies they are until they become big, fat toads. For years, we were able to keep our dog at a nice, healthy weight. We fed him a controlled amount of food every day, and if he had leftovers we adjusted his crunchies to compensate. When he would start to lose his waistline a bit, we would cut back a tad on the dry food. If he started to look a little too lean, we would add some dry food back in. It wasn't rocket science, and it kept him at a healthy weight of 85lbs or so for the last 8-9 years. He had nice proportions, and his head looked like it belonged on his body.

He now looks like a tick. Tiny head with a grossly fat body. I mean, his fat rolls have fat rolls. I am so disgusted with his status and health. He now snores, and grunts, and wheezes. His heavy breathing as he follows me around hoping for some food to fall has me not only revolted, but seriously tempted to buy a soft muzzle to keep him from eating anything I don't want him to. Greg has stopped me because he feels it would offend his folks too much. Truth be told, it probably would. I don't know what else to do though. I feed him a minimal amount of food, and try to make sure he doesn't sneak extra "snacks". When asked if he can have some dog cookies, I usually say no.

The weight remains with him despite my best efforts. Greg happened on a likely, and disgusting theory as to why. The food the dogs eat is a pretty good quality one, called Taste of The Wild. I would prefer to feed them a raw diet, but it isn't feasible right now, so the dry food is what they get. We were able to convince the in-laws to switch as well, on the theory that they would be feeding the dogs less on a higher quality diet. While that worked in our own home, it has not worked with my Father-in-Law. He still feeds his dogs heaping huge bowls of the stuff, so his dogs get obese as well. We think that there is so much protein still readily available in the excrement of the other dogs, that our fat toad goes out and eats it, and manages to keep gaining weight. Yes, we have seen him eat shite. As horrible as it sounds, it makes a certain amount of sense.

At this point all I can do is try to limit his diet, keep him from stealing food, and not let him outside for a long period of time. And I can hope that our living situation gets resolved soon so I can get my poor fat toad back down to a healthier weight before he dies of a heart attack trying to get his bulky ass off the floor.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gimme A Little Skin...

Body art, body modifications, piercing, tattoos, scarification, cutting... What images come to mind when you read or hear those words? Most people I find tend to fall into two camps; those that view the aforementioned words as a means to show their souls on their skins, and those that either don't understand that desire or find it uninteresting or abhorrent. Myself? I most definitely fall into the former camp. I have been decorating my body since I was young and wanting to express myself in a way that I was at a loss to do with words.

Some people wonder how it all begins. I think that motivations vary widely. For some, there is an inherent frustration in being able to express strong emotions verbally. Others may find it a comfort (or a very powerful addiction) to modify their flesh in a variety of ways. There are other reasons, but I'm not going to point them out here as this is not the point of what I am writing about today. It has always interested me how our American society views "acceptable" versus "non-acceptable/weird" changes to our bodies and how these views have evolved over the last 30 years or so. Coloring your hair in "appropriate" shades is OK, but bright hues are strange. A single set of pierced ears was fine for women, but with each additional hole in the earlobe a cultural line was crossed in the sand. Too many, and you approach freakish standards. For men the earlobes with jewelry determined whether he was gay or straight. Tattoos were unusual especially on women, and I had my first at age 18.

When I was a teenager, nose piercings and brightly colored (blue, orange, etc.) hair was generally seen as odd or freaky. Go figure, I had both. I remember vividly walking down the street as a young punk (it was the mid 1980's) toward a mom with her young child. As they grew closer, the mom gave me a shocked look, then pulled her child abruptly close to her and well out of my path. To my own young anti-establishment self, I was both proud and sad of that moment.

It makes me happy to see the greater acceptance of altered bodies today. While I don't care for some of those modifications for my own body, I can certainly understand the desire to stand out in a crowd or to wear my beliefs on my skin. Why does all this come up? Last night I dreamed about tattoos. It was a rather frustrating experience actually, since I kept waiting and waiting for the person to show up. Then they kept putting the wrong artwork on my skin, and I wasn't able to voice to them that I really didn't want these designs on my hands, I wanted something different. I never did get the art done that I wanted, but I am not sure if my dream-self ever would have.

My waking self, on the other hand, I hope will eventually have the artwork on my skin that I want. I have been thinking of tattoo designs for many years, and I have finally come up with a few that I want sooner than later. Two of them I need to refine the drawing to fit me a little better. The others will have to wait until I can find the time (and eventual money) to accomplish them. Maybe I will even splurge on a tattoo machine for myself and eventually make some trades...

So, what are your views on body modifications, and how did you come to them?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Taking A Walk

Late this afternoon as the kids were winding up to be loud and rowdy, we decided to take them out of the house for a walk. Rather than walking down to the river, like we often would, we drove out to the hills. One hill in particular. It isn't the most outstanding feature around, but it is a nice, steep hill that folks like to drive up and down in their four-wheelers and ATVs. From the looks of the trails, a few even make it.

At the base of the hill, its steepness is deceptive. What looks like the crest of the hill is actually about the halfway point, leaving you breathless and wondering why you chose *this* particular challenge to undertake. This afternoon, it was chilly and the breeze had picked up to a blustery wind. If there were trees around, their leaves would have swirled around us as their trunks broke the chill. Yet this land is truly desolate, with the only vegetation the scrubby ankle-high grasses that found a hollow to grow out of between rocks.

The climb was at a good 40 degree angle, which sent my breath flying as I am quite out of shape. My stamina was apparently still lounging on the couch eating chocolate, damn it. We held the kids hands to help them along, and to keep chilly little fingers a bit warmer. Even with the lure of ice cream for the ones that reached the top, we made it to just under the halfway point. It was too cold and windy for all of us, so we turned around vowing to conquer it another (warmer) day.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chasing Sparrows

Tonight has been a bit of a downer for me. It is probably part of the whole depression I have been feeling about our living situation. Rather than focus on the negative and the feelings of frustration and sadness I have been experiencing tonight, I thought I would tell you about our rooster instead. It will be worth it, I promise.

If you have been reading along, you will remember that this spring we picked up a whole flock of baby roosters. We originally intended to keep 5 of them; two Americauna and two Barred Rocks for breeding to our hens. Five was a lofty number, and we knew we would eventually narrow it down to hopefully the best rooster or two. The remainder we planned to butcher once they got to a decent size or started crowing, whichever came first. As they grew from adorable little fuzzballs into feathered ruffians we watched for signs of impending maturity. At some point we realized that we had WAY too many birds, and some of the roosters were just going to have to go. We ended giving away about half of our "free" roosters before we figured out the butchering aspect ourselves. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I still think it was the best decision at the time.

Then the fateful day finally arrived. Late one afternoon, a faint and squawky "cock-a-doodle-do." Oh crap. Apparently one of the Barred Rock boys felt he was getting to be a big boy. Then another one. And another. At first, I was holding out hope that there was one creative rooster feeling his oats, but no. We suddenly had THREE of them trying out their voices! After a few weeks of hearing their chorus turn from adolescent to full-throated rooster, we ended up permanently silencing the majority of the roosters. As it turned out, two of the "pullets" (young hens) we bought in the spring ended up being roosters as well. Ah well! It sometimes happens that way since sexing a day-old chicken is an art in and of itself. After a few months of watching the boys interacting with our hens (and the turkeys, they share the space), we ended up with a final three roosters. All Americaunas.

We didn't intend to end up with these specific guys, it just sort of happened that way. One would escape my husbands eye when he would go to catch several of the boys on a butchering day. Another would hide with the hens (chicken!!). The third kept flying into the goat pen and hiding out there - he seemed to prefer their company to the other birds. Yet the remaining three were awfully pretty, so we were more hesitant to let them go. We actually intended to butcher two of them during one of our butchering days, as one was a bully and somewhat aggressive. No way am I going to have a 8 pound bird be aggressive towards my family!! Plus, he was starting to beat up on the hens. He HAD to go. His buddy had to go too, since we decided that three roosters was easily three too many. I think it was the noise that was really getting to us at the time. We are staying on half an acre or so, and we worried the neighbors were getting cranky with the early morning wake-up calls. The bully had an especially loud an resounding call that annoyed.

Somewhere along the way, after the final three escaped the axe(sounds like your typical reality show, doesn't it?), we decided to find new homes for at least two of them. I tried selling them. I tried giving them away for free. I swear, I had 15 different people ask about them, and even drive out here to pick them up only to get lost or blow me off entirely. I was getting massively frustrated, and Greg was threatening to butcher two of them if they didn't have a new home soon. The bully chicken, while beautiful, was getting to be too aggressive. How do you get the point across to a bird that they are NOT the boss? We happened upon an unusual solution. When all our birds are young, and at least once a year thereafter, we trim their flight feathers. It doesn't hurt them, and it keeps the birds from flying too far off the ground. This can be a huge concern, as we lost a turkey to a neighbor dog earlier this year when it flew into a neighbors yard. I don't want to lose any more of our birds because they flew into a yard that wasn't safe. So, we trimmed a few of his long tail feathers (he was a little unhappy, but not hurt), and then several of his cape feathers (he was *really, really* cranky about those!!), and then tossed him in with the goats' rooster. What better way to demote a rooster than to remove the feathers that marked him as a male?! Chicken psychology as it were. Since the bully had been picking on the smaller rooster who liked the goat pen better, we simply left him to live with the goats so he wouldn't be beat up so much. We thought the change of pace and seclusion from the hens might be helpful for the bullys attitude. Plus, he (the bully) would be easier to catch without all the other hens and turkeys around.

Apparently our little goat-loving rooster became more territorial about the goat pen; As soon as the bully rooster landed in the goat pen(sans his male-determined plumage), the picked-upon rooster chased him around and pecked at the bully until there was submission. I don't think it was the path the bully rooster would have preferred, but it did calm his behavior down somewhat. Chicken politics, fascinating to watch! The day after the bully was moved to the goat pen, I was finally able to adopt out the two roosters. Since the guy living with the goats was generally peaceable, quiet, and liked hanging out with the caprines, we decided he could stay with them and help keep their pen bug-free. The remaining two boys went to their new home, which was a comedy of errors in and of itself. I hope that poor woman didn't have two cranky roosters flying in her little car when they drove to another state. It was obvious she had never held a live chicken before! So we were finally down to one rooster, who prefers to live with the goats.

It is a funny arrangement he seems to have. He talks to the hens, and a few of them hang out by the communal fence to show off for him. He runs around the yard when the goats are out during the day, and hops over the fence at night to sleep in his pen with his dairy goats. He *could* easily fly into the pen with the hens, but he hasn't yet. I fully expect to discover him in there one morning. And he is apparently rather territorial about his pen. When we were milking this morning, I saw him running around after some little sparrows. A small flock of them was hopping around the goats pen looking for leftovers, and apparently the rooster wanted to protect what was his! It was hilarious watching him running and chasing the tiny birds, from one end to the other, as they swooped in to capture what they could. It looked like they split into two smaller flocks, and our poor ruffled rooster was left chasing one and then the other out of his pen. I guess he has finally found his home.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Another Quickie

Tonight, I am only up for another quickie. Why? It is late, and I have been going non-stop all.day.long. I am pooped. Seriously. Yet I come on here, knowing that my heart-of-hearts will guilt my creative spirit to no end if I don't post tonight. So here I am, and here you are. Forgive me for sounding a little list-y tonight, I am foggy brained and just want to sit and vegetate in front of a book while my creative juices simmer in the back.

Today started off with a bang and continuation of yesterday's festivities. Just before dark we picked out a pleasant looking fellow from the backyard coop and butchered ourselves a Thanksgiving turkey. He was a black slate (really a genetic mutation of the blue slates I believe), and a nice sized bird. We had just enough time to pluck and remove the inner bits before we were too chilly to continue as our solar heater was setting. We do all our processing outside to keep the house a bit cleaner, so we are a little more subject to the whims of Ms. Nature. Since the sun was already looking quite rosy and dim, we decided to continue the preparations after breakfast. Our friend had a good nights rest in a cooler filled with ice while we snuggled warm and cozy under the covers inside.

This morning we continued the preparations with choosing a second turkey from the pen (the smaller of the two slate toms we had remaining). We gave him our thanks for feeding our family, and spent some time plucking and butchering him. Jacob came out to help while Claire was inside pretending to be a moth flitting about with giant orange silk wings. When our second bird was all ready, he went to the ice bath with his fellow bird to rest. In the intervening time, we made pies, cranberry sauce, baked sweet potatoes, and prepped for the grande finale tomorrow. After the weigh-in today (17lbs even once fully dressed out!) we carted our first bird over to the neighbors house. We had offered them a holiday bird to be neighborly a few months ago, also figuring that it would help cut down on our feed bill just a little bit. These big turkeys can eat a huge amount in a day!

The bird we dispatched for ourselves was probably in the range of 21lbs, which is pretty darn good for a heritage breed! I certainly wouldn't buy a larger one at the store. He has a nice amount of fat, and his thighs are HUGE, so I am looking forward to seeing how he tastes tomorrow. It was only just a little while ago we popped our bird in the oven, for a night of slow roasting. Rather than try to cook him in one blaze of glory, I thought we would see what a cooler (275 degree) longer time in the oven would do to our heritage bird. I am sure he will be moist and tasty under his tin foil hat.

Anyways, I am tired and I know I haven't been super entertaining tonight so I will sign off. For those who celebrate the holiday tomorrow, have a fabulous Thanksgiving. For those who do not, I hope you have a wonderful Thursday in peace.

G'Night all!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Nothing Tonight

Last night I was a big fat loser and totally forgot to post. Oops. Oh well, I will try to make up for it soon.

What Are You Cooking?

Every year, I wonder if we should have something different to eat for Thanksgiving. It is such an American holiday, and I feel a particular pull to at least do some of the "traditional" fixings. In years past, I have had a variety of "non-traditional" meals. Duck breast, ham, beef, maybe even enchiladas, not counting my years after High School being poor and without family at all, where I ate whatever was around unless invited to a family meal by friends or co-workers. Then there were the many years of holidays spent on the Florida coast where we gorged ourselves on fresh shrimp and crab for the holiday. I always felt like such a rebel, consuming seafood when everyone else was downing turkey or ham. It was always strange, though, when my mother insisted on her rutabaga being included. As an homage to her own family traditions, she picked one up faithfully every November and December and cooked it. Even with shrimp. Truly an odd arrangement.

I used to plan alternate family dinners for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I talked about Indian, Mexican, and more. I championed sweet potato pie, black eyed peas, even my mothers' beloved rutabaga. Yet I kept coming back to the basics. I love the flavor of a good turkey, especially slathered with an amazing gravy made from its own juices. The rich saltiness of the gravy goes so well with the meaty texture and flavor of the turkey. Especially with a kick of spicy-tart cranberry sauce on the side. None of that horrid canned stuff for us. No, I get fresh (as much as I am able) berries and cook them with a cinnamon stick, some cloves, and orange or pineapple juice as a sweetener to counter the sheer tartness of the cranberries. Let it simmer for a while for the flavors to marry and it is the ultimate partner in my turkey-gravy-berry trio.

I then look toward the sweet potato for my next hit. And Yes, I think food can be a drug, and I am totally addicted to the exquisite flavors of a fantastic meal! This isn't the sweet potato casserole with marshmallows floating on top like some fruity tropical drink stuffed with 16 umbrellas, sprigs of mint, celery, and seven fancy swizzle sticks that I make. I prefer the simple baked sweet potato with pastured butter on top, and a pinch of salt. Sweet potatoes and yams are already naturally sweet, so why add the cloying stickiness of commercial marshmallows to them? I can't think of too many other foods that are more revolting. I would personally rather eat fried crickets than the sweet potato/marshmallow sludge. I like the contrast of the earthy sweetness of the potato to the salt and creamy butter. It makes me feel grounded and whole.

Speaking of feeling grounded, I think pumpkin pie (homemade, of course) deserves a spot at the table. I have tried pecan pie, even a chocolate version which was amazing, yet it wasn't quite the same. The best pumpkin pie is consumed about a day after it is made, to allow the flavors to fully generate. I am a crust lover, preferring mine deeply tanned, while Greg loves his custard. Together we leave not a crumb behind. I would love to add a tart cherry pie this year, but sadly they are not available. It would be a spectacular counterpoint to the meal. At last, this is the majority of what we are having. My in-laws have ordered stuffing and carrot casserole from Furr's Cafeteria (*shudder*). Greg has convinced me to make a healthier and better tasting version of the carrots, so I will add that to the list. I may even whip up a few white potatoes for them (we eat them maybe twice a year), but again I may not. Now all I need is a bottle (or two!) of wine and we will be set! Too bad the in-laws don't drink. Oh wait, that means more wine for me, Hooray!!

Leading Up To The Holidays, I Feel Like Crap

Have I mentioned yet I feel conflicted about the holidays? Even just typing the word "holidays" gives me the hives. I'm not really sure why. I don't remember any particular even that made me feel like I wanted to avoid family gatherings. Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family when I was young was fairly happy. We had traditional foods we ate, holiday traditions we followed, etc.

Yet here I am, getting ready to start our own holiday traditions. Tomorrow (or the next day) we plan on butchering two of our turkeys, one for us and one for a neighbor. After that I will get going on baking pies and preparing whatever else I can to save myself time on "the big day". I truly love cooking and baking, especially for people I care about. I don't mind hanging out with family, and I enjoy seeing friends and family that I haven't seen in a year or longer.

I think that what makes me uncomfortable and sad this time of year is the reminder that we aren't where we really want to be. We have no comfortable home to call our own. We have no land to truly grow our own food and raise our animals. My family is spread across the nation (well, the world really), and none are likely to visit any time soon. I feel sad that I can't give my family the place I would like to, but I can at least try to feed them in a fabulous fashion, with quality food. So, I will prep our turkey, and cook our sweet potatoes, and boil up some cranberries with honey (or something else sweet). I will love my children and husband, and hug them often. And I will try to keep my sadness and disappointment to myself.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Thinking About Thanksgiving Dinner

For some reason I both love and hate planning holiday meals. I really love cooking and baking. I (often) enjoy doing it with the kids help. I enjoy cooking and baking with my husband. I like dreaming up menu ideas and making what people love to eat. For some reason, though, I find it tedious to go through my menu and make a list of the items and quantities I will need for a large meal. B-O-R-I-N-G.

However, since it is almost time for Thanksgiving, it has come time to start in the planning. So, as I dream about the fantastic turkey we will butcher in a few days, brine, and cook, I will also make a list of everything I need from the store. The biggest change this year is going to be our turkey. This spring we picked up several heritage turkey poults (baby turkeys, day old in our case). We bought Royal Palms and Slates, hoping to have several hens so we could eat most of the toms for the holiday and breed the others. Unfortunately, we ended up with way too many toms and only two hens. So now we have to figure out which toms we keep for breeding, which ones we will eat, and sell the ones that are left over.

Right now, Greg likes the appearance of the Slate Turkeys the best. I'm not attached to one over the other, and I am more than happy to keep looking for another breed we might like better. We are planning to get more poults, hopefully with a greater ratio of hens, this January or so. We want them to be grown enough to be put outside with the adults come spring. Since heritage breeds take longer to mature than the "traditional" breeds used in large farming operations, the birds should be ready to butcher by the holidays again.

As for this weeks event planning, I figure we will do the rest of our shopping tomorrow or Monday so we can avoid the last minute rushes of people. I hate, hate, hate having to shop when there is a mass of other folks at the same time. Makes me feel claustrophobic and twitchy. Then I can start cooking by Tuesday/Wednesday. Fun times ahead.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Random Number Generators

When you have more than one child, disputes between them are like the ocean tides. They rise and fall according to the arcane pull of the moon, with the random tsunami generated by subterranean forces. Our family seems to be a fairly active planet in that regard. While some of these arguments are fueled by hunger or an inability to express their emotions (or overexcitabilities, or being tired, or too much sugar), some are simply the push and pull of siblings trying to work out their hierarchy and relationships. I say simply not in any demeaning or offhanded fashion. I have a sibling (older, as it happens) so I understand how intense these fights can seem, especially when you are in the middle of one.

Oftentimes, these arguments appear as the most ridiculous and inane issue to argue about (from the perspective of an adult who is often bone tired of listening to bickering for 3 straight hours). Who gets to sit in the favored spot at the table next to the wall where they can see the TV playing in the other room. Who gets to sit at the faucet end of the bathtub. Who is getting the tape off the shelf, or who is going to grab the oatmeal from the pantry first. Tears usually ensue from the loser of the argument. Sometimes from the winner as well as the loser retaliates.

We finally hit upon a couple of pretty fair ways to resolve these disputes, that the kids have accepted as the final decision makers in many of these situations. First we have the old favorite of rock, paper, scissor. After many "rock" ties, somebody usually slips up and does paper or scissors. Usually by this time the frayed nerves have given way to the thrill of the game so the intensity of the argument is dispelled.

Our other tool has become the random number generator. It can be as simple as a roll of the dice to as complicated as a random number generating app. The kiddos seem to prefer the latter option, as Greg now has TWO of them installed on his phone. It is an awesome thing to see the anger and frustration fade into delight and laughter. I really ought to put one onto my phone as well for the inevitable pull of the tides.

Obviously there can be many more creative solutions to the bickering, but these are two that have consistently worked for us lately. What creative solutions have you come up with? I would love to have more ideas for when I am fresh out of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Yup, I'm Tired

Truly, my eyes at least are tired. They have been hurting all day long, and I have no idea why. I must have scratched my left eye while I slept last night. It was hurting all day, and when I took the littles out to run a few errands, the sunlight nearly blinded me. I am going to read and go to bed soon. I don't feel like writing anything creative tonight. Good night, and maybe tomorrow I will have a creative flash and pen a truly magnificent post. Sleep well in the Blog-O-Sphere.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reading Eggs (A Review)

I thought I would do something a little different tonight. I read (well, scan, since I don't have a lot of time to actually READ, and I can absorb information readily enough by scanning quickly)quite a few homeschooling websites, newsletters, blogs, etc. in an effort to figure out ways I can help my children learn concepts more effectively. I know that they have different learning styles, and I suppose that some of this effort is in trying to figure out HOW they learn, so I can help them learn better. Does that make sense? I hope so.

Tonight I thought I would put up a review of a program we are trying out. I received an offer from one of my many resources to try out the Reading Eggs curriculum, an online program designed to support a child's learning to read. I had looked at this program several weeks ago, but wasn't sure if it would be the right kind of program for my 3 and 5 year old kids. Plus, I was not sure that with a two-week trial period I would get a good feel for whether the program would actually help them in learning to read or not. They love several online reading programs already, but they tend to use one for a few weeks, then another, so I never get a good feel for how much the curriculum is actually helping them out. We also do some book-based reading fundamentals (phonics, vocabulary, phoneme awareness, etc.), but their response is rather tepid so far. So I figured that with a longer trial period (in exchange for a review, which did not have to be positive, mind you, just honest), it was worth a try to see if it actually helped them in the process of learning to read or not.

I have to say that after they have been using the program for 4 days, I am very happy with it. My kids love the program, and my daughter (5.5 years old) is *whizzing* through the lessons and loving it! She could easily spend hours in front of the computer with little to no help in the program. She has also already written her first story (I spelled the words she wanted to use, while she typed it all in), and she seems to be gaining the confidence and familiarity with the various concepts presented in the program faster than some other programs we have used. I don't know that it is necessarily the program itself, or if enough information has soaked into her brain that it is all coalescing into a better grasp of reading by using this program. Either way, she is learning a lot and enjoying the lessons.

My son loves it too, but he definitely needs a little more guidance to go through the lessons, since he seems to get a little more frustrated with some of the repetition. He can spend a lot of time in the "playroom" though, so I feel that the program is benefiting him at least as much as some of the other online programs do.

At this point, I like that my oldest child can navigate the program herself, and it seems fairly intuitive for her to follow. I also like that I can keep track of her progress easily, and she needs very little input from me to help her use the site.

From what I understand, the part of the site for older readers (in the 7-13 year old range) is very different. Since I have not accessed that section I really cannot comment as to whether it is useful or not. I can say that the "early reader" area is great for my kids, and might be useful for children who need a little extra review or a slightly different approach than more formal schooling takes.

My only complaint at this point is the pages of "golden eggs" that are seen when the main lesson pages are loading. They flit by so fast (often in less than a second) that she can barely see them go by, much less actually try to play them to gain more "eggs" to redeem. It would also be nice if the stories/books they create could be printed once they have been saved. You are given one chance to print them out (which I didn't see until too late), and there were no other obvious opportunities to print them. Other than those relatively minor problems, I like the program, and I hope that my kids will continue to enjoy and learn from it over the next several months. If they continue to use it through the trial period and it is still a benefit, I will seriously consider getting a subscription for at least my daughter.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Just Mesmerizing

Tonight I think I am going to keep it short. The kids are in bed, and I am tired. I ran across this completely stunning video and wanted to share it here. It is so mesmerizing, and for some reason makes me feel rather sad. Maybe because of its breathtaking beauty despite the not-so-subtle evidence of our planets huge population. Either way, the detail it stunning. It is pretty amazing to watch, and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I have.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael K├Ânig on Vimeo.

If the embedded video doesn't work for you, here is a link to the original video.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bibliophilia

It is obvious in our household that we love books. Bookshelves line most walls in almost every room of the house. I draw the line at the bathroom, though. Paper and water mix too well to allow their presence in such a moist environment. Family photographs often have our heads cut through by the shelves that border our living spaces. We have several thousand, collected between us through a lifetime, yet it is still not enough. I have a huge "wish list" of books I would love to have someday. Not just books that I want to read, but old books that I grew up with. Like the set of hardbound "OZ" books I used to thumb through to stare at the pictures within. Or that old collection of "A Thousand and One Nights," or or a thousand other wonderful tomes I can think of.

Some of my earliest memories are of books. Our house was a close second to the local branch of our public library. So many books lined the walls that I am fairly certain they are sinking my parents old American Craftsman-style house into the ground. I have fond memories of reading comic books in the bathtub, and science fiction while hanging over the ends of the couch. I don't know if I was an early reader or not (my mother has forgotten my true childhood and replaced it with a more "perfect" one), but even my earliest memories are filled with books. The smell of the old pages fills my blood, and the feel of ancient cracked leather and dusty pages I can sense when I close my eyes. Some of my fondest places to visit have always been used bookstores (and hardware stores and art stores, oh and fabric stores, but those are different stories). I could sit on the floor for hours lost in another world, turning pages and oblivious to the rest of the world going by.

For all my love of books, in the last several years I haven't been able to read a tenth of the books I would like to for research much less for pleasure. It is a sad state of being, but I am slowly trying to remedy that. I have a few eBooks I am slowly reading through, as well as some "real" books and magazines I try to read a little bit of every now and then. I have tried to dutifully catalog all our books at LibraryThing, but I know I have probably missed a hundred or so. Every time we buy new books (or I receive them through PaperbackSwap, another awesome site,) I often forget to log them in. Someday I will get them all listed, and maybe some day I will have more of the books of my hearts desire. And maybe even someday I will have the leisure time to read to my hearts' content. Now, tell me about *your* earliest book memories, I would love to hear them....

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Can I Meet A Normal 5-Year Old, Please? Anyone?

One of the problems of having children who might be considered "gifted" (a term I am not terribly comfortable with using, but seems to be an accurate description) is the disparity between a child's physical and intellectual growth and their emotional and social development. Termed "asynchrony" it pretty much sums up what I bang my head against all day long. Kids that are really smart, well beyond their physical years, having massive tantrums that are totally appropriate for a much younger child because they did not get to have something "right now".

I am copying this brief quote from the Hoagies' Gifted Education page, because it is just so...my children. I should note, this description fit myself and my husband as well when we were children. Educators and Parents had other, less pleasant words for it: difficult, anti-social, disruptive, non-conformist, Bah! Too many negative words, that I heard all to often. I don't want to put those words on my children, yet they can both be so frustrating to deal with at times, that I fear I may use them anyways.

"The Gifted Child.  No individual can be more exhilarating, or more frustrating. The parents and teachers who deal with these wonderful children can often be described in a single word: Exhausted. The gifted child can speak as an adult one minute, comparing the emotional relationships in Les Mis with relationships in her own life, or discussing potential conflicts between evolution and the bible, and in the next minute throw an impressive tantrum because she didn't get what she wanted... right now! She can have you in awe of her theories on accelerated space travel, or pulling your hair out in frustration over her argumentative refusal to do her part in everyday chores. "

I have very few "normal" three or five-year olds to compare them to. I suppose if they were in formal public schooling we would be able to see the differences more clearly. However, these are the two best examples that we have! It is also more frustrating remembering my own childhood and where my parents made choices that were not the most helpful for me in the long run. That is one of the reasons we chose to homeschool - I think they will have a better and stronger learning experience with us. I feel that public school would completely kill their natural curiosity and desire to learn like it has with so many other children.

Yet I don't feel I really need the comparison except when I start feeling depressed or stressed about their behavior or what they are learning (or not). I know they are intelligent people, that they have feelings that can easily be trod upon, and that there is a core of determination that I want to encourage even when it is the same quality that drives me mad because she won't go to the bedroom because her behavior is currently unacceptable to be around other feeling, sentient humans.

It is a frustrating world indeed, and I hope I can help them learn to navigate it a little better than I have.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chicken Butchering

Several years ago when we decided to get chickens, we knew that a consequence of having them would be that we would eventually have to butcher them. While we could have decided to keep them as pets, we felt it was important to acknowledge that while they were providing us eggs during their best years, they would eventually be a food source in their own right. After all that is an important part of our desire to be self-sufficient - being able to provide ourselves with fresh meat from the animals we have raised.

For years we kept the hens, talking about the eventual demise of some of them, and tried to find tutorials and information that would help us figure out how to most humanely butcher them. When we picked up the 25 roosters this spring, we both agreed it was time to figure it out and get past whatever was blocking us from doing the job ourselves. I have to say, while tutorials are reasonably plentiful online, it would have been nice had we found a mentor to walk us through the process. At one point several months ago, I thought we had found someone, but the moment to get together never occurred.

While a mentor would have been nice, when we finally decided on a day to slaughter our first chicken it actually wasn't as emotionally difficult as either of us had thought it would be. We decided to do one bird, and see how it went. I had read stories of it taking almost two hours your first time, because you don't know what you are doing. It seemed simple enough, though. Kill bird, pluck, eviscerate, clean up, cool/freeze/eat. That is pretty much how it went, too. As usual we split the work without really talking about it before hand. While both Greg and I are fairly sensitive people, we were able to deal with the whole chicken in about 30-45 minutes. We served him up for lunch the next day, and he was pretty darn tasty. I believe that Claire has decided that she wants nothing to deal with store-bought birds again as their taste was so poor in comparison. She turns her nose up at the paltry offerings from the fast-food place when her grandparents have offered.

Since that first time we have processed the rest of our extra roosters (we are keeping one who prefers to live with the goats), and all but two of our male ducks. We have plans to butcher a couple of the turkeys for the holidays coming up, which will be interesting. They are so much bigger than what we have handled so far, and considerably stronger. We also saved the duck down and feathers for making our own down pillow. I am so excited to be able to do such a project that brings a more well-rounded feeling to this whole experience!! I'll let you all know how that goes once I get the ticking for the pillow. But for now, goodnight.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Pessimism and Pride

A short post tonight. We have been watching some movies lately on Netflix, streaming them on the computer. The kids really like watching Dinosaurs (lots of National Geographic) and various Nature/Survival shows. We also watched King Corn and Food, Inc. Although we already knew a lot of what these movies talked about (CAFOs, Monsanto, the revolving door of the food industry/government), it just is such a reminder of what we find so important about food for our own family. It was frustrating to watch the shows on one level, because I feel so impotent to fight against the system as it is set up right now. Buying wholesome, organic, and REAL food for the family can be costly at times (especially for meat). Taking the time to plan healthy meals for ourselves and two growing kids takes thought and effort. Researching which animal feeds, plant seeds, etc. are going to be the best investment for our eventual self-sustaining future takes a lot of time and energy. It is exhausting work!

Then you watch movies like these and find it easy to feel sad and disheartened. Why try to fight the system when the system is regulating itself?

Yet I still hold out some sort of hope that it can all change for the better. I suppose I am an optimist at heart. I want to believe that people can actually change the system for the better by simple customer demand and desire. I want to see a day where instead of monster-sized corporate farms that spread filth, pollution, and disease like it was a desired commodity, we have a return to smaller family farms providing wholesome food to their local areas. I truly want to see that happen. But I fear that I never will. It is so easy to see how the reliance on technology to save us will probably be our downfall.

What do we do when the bounty the earth could provide us all (yes, even the current 7 BILLION of us right now)becomes so poisoned that we literally cannot sustain ourselves? It is easy to believe the science fiction writers of years past, as we see the fiction turn to fact in our daily lives. Yet I am struck with the puzzle of not only how to make this a viable change not only for my own family, but for other families as well? Do we have to start our own intentional Eco-Community to see the changes that I believe are important to our survival as a race? If he with the most money wins in this race for the feeding of American stomachs, then we must surely be the losers as we get by with a pittance of an income.

Yet I don't feel like a loser at all. I feel strong and proud that we have chickens who provide (most) of our egg needs. We have goats that give us their milk. Pigs that will eventually provide us with all the pork that we could need. We have turkeys, ducks, and chickens who feed and nourish us. We can grow a bounty of edible plants. We really want to get a few cows for milk, cheese, and beef. We are on our path to self-sustainability, even if it is only the beginning of our journey. We have gained such wisdom about ourselves and our world through this process, and the journey is far from over. Even when these movies make me sad, angry, depressed, or revolted, I still carry my inner kernel of calm, peace, and pride knowing that we are doing our best at this time to provide good, nourishing, REAL food to our family.

Maybe not as short a post as I was expecting after all.....

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parachute Cord Bracelet

This was our exciting project for the day: A woven parachute cord bracelet.
A few weeks ago, my husband asked me to look up the knot that makes a particular type of survival belt. It is an easy way of having a sturdy cord with you for times when you may need it. It is often made of parachute cord (also called para cord) which comes in a variety of types. The most commonly used for this application is Type 3 or 550 (it has a 550 lb breaking strength). If you are planning on using it for a life-saving application, be sure to test its strength first, or use something like Spectra cord (often used by climbers and backpackers, it has an 800lb breaking strength) which has greater abrasion resistance.


We decided to start with a bracelet, as a shorter and simpler project to get used to the process. In all, it probably took 20 - 30 minutes to make the first one for my husband. The second one took about 15 minutes or so to make. We used some parachute cord we had lying around from a previous project.



Rather than trying to create my own tutorial, I will point out some of the sources that I used to figure out how to make one.




This one on the lanyard knot, used to make the knot or button that is part of the closure, is excellent:
http://www.homemade-gifts-made-easy.com/lanyard-knot.html

I am pretty happy with how they turned out, and am planning on making some more out of a variety of colors. Then I'm trying the belt, but using the slightly more complicated "Slatt's Rescue Belt Knot" as seen here: http://www.tacticalintelligence.net/blog/slatts-rescue-belt-part-2.htm

and here:

http://www.orionn49.com/slatts_rescue_belt_knot1.htm

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Inter-Dimensional Travel

I have an inter-dimensional portal in my bedroom. I am not sure when it appeared, exactly. I have never even seen it myself, but I know it exists. How? Well, I have an unusual way of measuring its existence. My cats. I know, it sounds rather far-fetched and silly, but bear with me.

We have five cats. Right now, since we are staying with the in-laws in their house, we essentially live out of our bedroom while using their kitchen. We do at least have a bathroom to ourselves, even though it is across the house from our bedroom. The cats occupy the bedroom for all but a few hours in the evening, when they come hang out with us in the living room while we watch movies, play on the computer, read to the kids, etc. The cats would be welcome to run the house (they are indoor-only cats), except for the resident canines that sometimes have acted rather aggressively towards our felines.

Since at any single point in the day I can find every one of our cats in fairly predictable snoozing locations in the bedroom, when I CAN'T find one of our cats, it poses a real dilemma. Today was one among several recent days. I looked in all the nooks and crannies, but no cat. He would normally be on the bed going from the hot sunny window to the cooler shadows all day long. However, no cat, all day long. He reappeared this evening, and acted (as most cats do) as though nothing had been amiss. Mr. MIA is pictured here. The only explanation that makes sense is an inter-dimensional portal. It must take a huge amount of energy, which would explain why cats tend to sleep 20+ hours a day.

I don't know what they do when they travel to other dimensions. Maybe they even travel through time? Possibly go back to their home planet to report on what the Apes are doing. Or work as assassins, I suppose. Whatever they do, they certainly aren't talking about it to us!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Indulge Me A Little

I was sitting here tonight trying to decide what to write about, and feeling frustrated with this stupid cold making me feel slow. I am feeling uninspired right now. My three year old son is asking me several times to read to him, and I am realizing I would rather read to him right now (he LOVES books) than stare at my keyboard trying to figure out which of several topics to talk about tonight. Maybe tomorrow I will be feeling better to discuss any number of topics. So, I leave you tonight with some recent photos instead. These are not my own, but my daughters work. She really has an interesting way of staging photos, and I love to see her interest in the arts. We ended up buying her a digital camera about 18 months ago that she could use without us worrying she would break it. It is an actual digital camera, not a dumbed-down childish camera, and I am sure many adults would question such a young child (now 5 1/2 years old) having an expensive piece of equipment they could possibly break. I feel that I would rather she be given the responsibility as she is able to handle it (and she does very well), as well as encouraging her creativity. So here you go:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Productivity Among Workers is Up

As the Princess of Procrastination, I have had a remarkably productive day. Surprisingly so considering my two kids are sick and I seem to be coming down with their cold. Blech.

It isn't even noon yet, and I have made an hours worth of phone calls that had been put off for at least a week. I have beans soaking for tomorrow lunch, duck and chicken necks simmering on the stove for broth to go in tomorrow beans, a few nasties removed from the fridge that couldn't be disposed of in a more efficient manner, and I am about to package up a few things to go in the post this week as soon as I feel well enough to drag my lazy ass out to the truck.

A good day for sure, so it probably won't last. But I will ride this wave for al long as it carries me. I may even try to get some more sketching done this afternoon, if I don't totally poop out. I think I will call it good to get today's blog post accomplished before midnight. What can I say, I am on a roll!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sourdough

I am not sure exactly how we did it, but we created a monster. Not just your fly-by-night everyday creature, but a truly horrible monster whose mere proximity leaves a rank taste in the back of your throat which cannot easily be removed.

It all started so simply, as stories like this often do, with a desire for fresh Sourdough bread. Last winter, having left our own carefully tended batch in the fridge at home, we looked locally for another strain to raise as our own. We finally located some, and brought it back. Fed lovingly on a weekly basis with premium organic whole wheat flour (despite avoiding wheat, we have not yet tried growing Sourdough on other grains). We baked we buttered, we loved our bread.

Eventually spring came, and is often the case when the house warms up, the Sourdough was left in its cool room to think about itself. We have neglected our strains before, with no ill outcomes, as even if the top turns black you simply scrape it
off and feed it once more and the culture returns to its former tasty glory. There was something different about this strain though.

Through the summer we occasionally started to get a whiff of something...dead. It is an unmistakable odor that weaves into your taste buds like few others. Once you have smelled death and its sister decay, you never forget it. We suspected a mouse perished in my mother-in-laws sewing room. Coincidentally the same room the Sourdough lived in. A month passed, and the scent not only lingered, but grew. After several months we had silently hoped the poor dead little thing had dedicated, as the smell was a little less obvious.

Alas, such was not the case. As the weather started cooling again, thoughts and cravings returned to our beloved Sourdough, and with it the nagging guilt that it had been abandoned for too long. My beloved husband, keeper of the cultures, took it upon himself to perform his ritual resuscitation of the Sourdough. He was unprepared for what greeted him upon opening the lid.

Actually, we were all unprepared for the overwhelming blow to our noses. He almost ran through the house with containers of cultures gone horribly, horribly wrong to remove them from the living areas. It took over three days for the smell of decay to finally start to abate from the sewing room. For another week, the containers of our new chemical weapon sat and thought about itself outside near the trash can. Not a soul wanted to deal with its disposal.

Eventually, my dearest spouse nerve himself up to the task and cleaned the bowls out into the garbage. After bringing the bowls back inside, he rinsed then heavily bleached them. Finally, they took a spin in the dishwasher, for their final triumphant return to daily use.

Except, something was still wrong. As the dishwasher worked, I still had that lingering scent in the back of my throat. Upon opening the machine, all I smelled was death. We ran the machine again. Still smelled like death. The scent seems to have permeated the plastic of the bowls now, so they sit outside while we decide what to do about them. We both hate the idea of tossing the bowls, as they could be useful.

Catfish bait? Something to pack in your luggage to dissuade the TSA to poke about in your undies? The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Organizing Our Homeschool

I used to think I was a super-organized person. Ask me where a particular important paper was from 3 years ago, and within short order I could usually find it. I was always so proud of myself for my organizing capabilities, and ability to find whatever I was looking for in whichever stack of paper or box of stuff it was in. I was awesome and proud of it!

Note the use of past tense here. A couple of years ago I had a terrible realization. I actually wasn't organized at all. I had piles of papers, here and there. Boxes of previous years worth of receipts, articles I intended to read, artwork of the kids, and ideas for art, business and more cluttered our storage room and every flat surface in the house. It was a harsh disappointment I faced.

I discovered the reason I was so good at finding things was not my stellar organizational skills, but my own inherent finely tuned visual memory. To this day if I am looking for something (last months gas bill, a toy my kids want to play with, something my hubby lost), I get a clear picture in my head of where I saw it last. I used to be able to use this skill in school to great advantage, pulling up mental images of my notes or pages in a book to recall answers for test questions. It is an awesome skill to have, for sure, but comes with its own drawbacks. Like trying to explain where something is to a family member. Translating my mental picture into words seems to freeze my tongue, until I can make a verbal map to the item. Frustrating, indeed.

So, how does this actually translate into homeschooling our kids? Well, to be honest, it is something I am still trying to work on. I have managed to print out our state standards as a bare bones minimum for us to keep a hairy eyeball on. I wanted to have them partly just for my own records as well as to make sure we don't miss anything (I may not follow any particular curriculum, but we are not unschoolers either). I have also started keeping some 'sample# pieces the kids work on so I can see/show them their progress.

I am still trying to get into a regular time during the day to sit down and practice reading, writing, math, etc. but the whole time-management aspect doesn't stick for long. We ARE good about teaching them different things in a more hands-on fashion throughout the day, so I guess that is a positive. It is a struggle though, and it makes me wish that much more for our own private space again. I miss having our own home, and there are days I feel like I am failing these two amazing, bright kids of mine.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Off To Bed

My littlest is recovering from a cold, and it is BLOWING like crazy out there tonight. Another frustrating night of trying to watch the news while the kids go nuts. I think it is time to re-think the evening routine, since we are all ending up pretty frustrated on a regular basis. Probably didn't help that we were out all day too, and so had to do evening chores late. Sigh. Just noticed that I have managed to at least write here (even though it has been sporadic!) for over a year now. Yay me!! Night all. Hopefully more interesting things to talk about tomorrow.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Fowl Thoughts

Owning and caring for fowl can be really interesting, and I have learned a lot over the past 4 years or so. It really takes caring for a number if different breeds before you discover what you like and what you don't, as well as what you really want to look out at every day that makes you happy. I think I have come to a certain point where I can say what birds I really want to have on our farm of the future. So, here is our fowl story so far...

Several years ago we picked up a dozen chicks, after talking about it for a few months. We have always had an interest in heritage or unusual breeds, so we decided on some Dominiques (heritage breed) and Americauna (beautiful colored eggs) hens. We originally wanted Auracauna hens, but had discovered that they are super rare and expensive after doing a lot of research. The vast majority of hatcheries that supposedly have Auracauna chickens actually have Ameraucanas, which still lay blue, green and even pink eggs (they are also called "Easter Egger" hens, a name which I personally find irritating). The trait for the colored eggs seems to be dominant enough for the Ameraucana breed to stand alone. Plus they are a pretty bird with a wide variety of corporation and features that I find attractive.

We lived with them in our tiny suburban backyard for about 18 months, before deciding that we loved our chickens, but didn't want to live WITH them any more. They really needed more space than what we had, so we moved half of them to live at my in-laws place, on their half acre. Unfortunately, several months later, they were killed by a couple of dogs. It was so sad, especially because Claire raised them from chick-hood, carrying them in a sling like little babies. Truthfully, it was almost a year before I told her about it since I knew she would be devastated.

Some time later, we moved the rest of the chickens (and a few more we got from friends) to the in-laws as well, and reinforced the pen so they were more protected from dogs. Along the way, we picked up several other miscellaneous laying hens from a friend, as well as from someone who was moving and couldn't take his hens with.

Then, this spring we picked up a group of 30 chicks (Americauna and Barred Rock), supposedly all girls. Plus 25 free chicks (all boys, of course) that were Rhode Island Reds, some ducks (we adopted 3 runner ducks and their Buff duck buddy), and a group of heritage turkeys!!

Just a few birds around here this summer. Several weeks ago we started to butcher the extra boys (an altogether different story!), and I think I have a few tentative conclusions to make. I love my Americauna and Dominiques chickens. They are colorful, have good personalities, and are fairly mellow. Barred Rocks are ok, but the boys are a little loud. Rhode Island Red roosters are obnoxious - they are push toward the hens, and are rather mean to each other. However, they taste really yummy baked in the oven.

As for ducks, I love my little Runner Ducks. They walk upright and are sweet, but not really to have for a dual-purpose bird (eggs and meat). The Khaki Campbell are ok, and the larger Blue Swedish ducks are ok too, especially on the dinner plate for their size (the males, that is).

And I love my turkeys. They are hilarious to watch and listen to (and for the record, turkeys really do say "gobble, gobble".) Unfortunately we ended up with only two girls and about 8 boys!!!! So, obviously, several will be invited to join us for the holidays.

YUM.