Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Here Comes The Sun

For our anniversary I bought Rob and I matching acoustic guitars. I know, it sounds a little corny but he had made a comment about wanting to learn while he was deployed and being clueless as to what to get to celebrate the day I ran with it. We had been talking about doing more things as husband and wife and I though "That'll be fun to learn together". At one point in my tumultuous teenage life I had a maroon electric guitar that was once my moms. That's about the coolest thing I have ever found out about her. I played around with it but never really got anywhere.

Now, my fingers are sore from about a ten minute practice hanging out on the porch pushing Max in the baby swing, savoring the new autumn air. I'm sure, just like hauling toddlers, my body will be conditioned in time. Not even remotely close to knowing how to read music, I'm happy with my progress of the first four notes of "Here Comes the Sun" by The Beatles. I remember holding my first child and vigorously swaying and bouncing him while singing that song a capella to settle both his and my anxiety. Tears streaming both our faces as I belted out the words:

Little darling the smiles returning to their faces,
Little darling it seems like it's years since it's been here... 

The sound of my wildly untrained voice breaking through whatever misery his tiny body was experiencing as we lay together in a patch of sunlight streaming soft warmth through the living room window. As I sang, his wails turned to hiccuped sobs as he slowly calmed against my breast. These are the memories I hold.

I continued the trend with the rest of my babes cooing sweetly simple words when times were emotionally hard. Learning those first few notes today, while somewhat troublesome to my non-music reading self, is inspiring. The squishy flesh at the tips of my fingers feels abused right now but the pay off will be worth it. Just like motherhood, when you're arms are at their breaking point from jiggling a baby tormented with the first of many tooth pains or the crippling sciatica brings you to your knees as you swaddle life in your womb;  it's a good kind of pain.

Looking at the guitars I picture Rob and I hanging out on our front porch away on our little slice of land, as the kids dance wildly in the lawn, as we josh each other and screw around on our well used guitars. Maybe grabbing some coffee one sleepy Saturday morning and waking the world with these words burned into my heart:

Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Shut up. You're getting a chicken.

Well, not even, really. This year we've decided to forgo the traditional gifts for our adult relatives. I mean really, what could we possibly give for twenty bucks that they couldn't buy themselves, would actually like and wouldn't be immediately considered for re-gifting? I'll tell you what: nothing.

We've tried to go the handmade way before but again, it feels like our efforts aren't really as appreciated as they could be. I'm sure the coffee got drunk and the soaps used but like I said it isn't anything that they couldn't have gotten themselves. It's starting to seem like the holiday's are turning into symbolic showmanship. It's not what I want to raise my kids on.

Shopping and gift giving to stimulate the economy or fulfill overwhelming wants instead of tiny ones leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I want to give a gift because I think the person will enjoy it, to show someone I care about them, or give that little something someone's been denying themselves because they just don't really need it and not just because they're a tally mark on my shopping list.

Where went the time of school supplies, much needed clothes (or the occasional fancy dress), handmade toys from loving hands, those cherished bits of candy and the rare winter orange tucked neatly into a darned stocking? When Presence was truly Present enough? I might sound idealistic but hey, I'm an idealist I suppose.

Instead, we have mounds of presents forgotten within minutes of being opened. The joyous high of discovery lasting only until the next glitzy package is shoved under sleepy faces. Piles of wasted paper and packaging shoved unceremoniously into black plastic shrouds. Children mentally ticking off the shopping list they made from catalogs and commercials as they open their gifts. Then the crash of hyped up holiday mayhem when the weariness of "Too Much" overpowers even the most determined tot and parents are left exhausted and bewildered as to how they're going to merge all these new things into their already over crowded lives.

Do I sound like I dislike the holidays? Probably. But I really don't. I dislike what the time of now has brought to it. I feel like someone took a Rockwell and disfigured it and it makes my guts clench with it's grotesqueness. Each year around this time I start feeling like this but am clueless as to how to affect any change. While I want to tell everyone not to bother with gifts I also don't want to alienate my kids or make them feel like freaks. There is a fine line I must walk. Maybe I should just start putting money into a therapy fund.

Even if this isn't the year I figure it all out we have made a choice to donate livestock in the names of the adults in our lives. Since we're trying to become self-sufficient we thought what an awesome way to help others by donating to ? This year everyone is getting chickens donated in their names to people in third world countries. Start practicing your excited faces. Who knows? Maybe I'll start a trend in our family and next year we'll be getting those donation cards (but I would also appreciate a chicken of my own when we're on our land and my excited face wouldn't be a practiced one.)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

How to argue with a Toddler

Perhaps it's just the age or maybe it has something to do with her being fourth in line, but whatever the case my amicable little Emmy has developed a sense of "ME". This has morphed my tiny tot into a force to be reckoned with and reckon I try.
Emmy protesting her flower girl a wedding.

Twenty-five pounds of pure determination toddles around my house every day referring to herself in the third person. Frustration levels rise when she fights me for "Emmy's turn" with the mop or vacuum. Her obsessive need to tidy is limited only to her desire to trip me up, for after her turn with the selected cleaning implement, I turn around to find chewed up carrots spit in a fifteen foot radius across the front room. Does her OCD extend to cleaning her own messes? No. I get a firm "Mommy dew it." as she rushes away to get into other mischief. No one can even remotely mention anything to do with the bath or in less time than it takes to diaper a baby, she'll have stripped and started chanting "Emmy baff! bafftub! Where my bubbles at?" It takes a good ten minutes to talk her down and it usually involves some sort of bribe.

Emmy trying to steal my camera.

Here's a little excerpt from a recent conversation:

Emmy -Mommy where my bankies at? (bankies means blankets)
Me- They're in your bed
Emmy - Yoo go geddem.
Me- No, you get them, they're your blankies.
Emmy- In my beg gail bed? (big girl bed.)
Me - yeah, upstairs.
Emmy - Mommy geddem.
Me - No, you get them.
Emmy- ALEX! You get Emmy's bankies in my beg gail bed?
Alex - yeah, I'll get them.
Me - Nice.

Oh, how I love her though! She went through a phase recently that when asked what sound any particular animal made she would reply "Thank you!" Though bossy and frustrating, her and her animal friends at least have manners. And how on Earth couldn't I melt when she gets the aforementioned bankies and says with wide hazel eyes "Mommy cuddle you?" or says "I wuv you"?

Then that time she pee'd on the floor after spending twenty minutes sitting on her brand new pink potty with not a drop expelled and says "I sorry" it's hard to find an argument strong enough to battle this curly haired not-quite-a-baby-but-still-not-a-big-kid girl.

Emmy in a snail shell with one of the blankies.

So, while I probably misled many of you thinking I had the answer-it-all for battling toddler wiles the short answer is: you just can't.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Make your own apple chips

I like apple chips but damn if they're not expensive! I'm taking advantage of the season to make my own. I was able to get apples for .83 a pound and bought about 12 lbs. the easiest way to do this is

1. Clean the apples
2. Core them (I have a nifty pampered chef corer but you could do it with a knife.
3. Grab your mandolin slicer (picked mine up from walmart for about $5) set on thick and slice them up.

You'll end up with thin donut shaped apple slices which you just lay flat on your dehydrator trays. They'll stick together if you overlap them. Let it go about 9-12 hours and you've got apple chips for a fraction of the price. They'll keep for a long time in mason jars with O2 absorbers.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

I think I'm going about this all wrong.

And my apologies if you've seen it this way too. Here I am, carving out my tiny corner of cyber space and I feel I've fallen into a boring rut. Sure, I try to type about things I hope bring interest to your lives, give you fun things to work on or insights into things we've done with home schooling and crafting. But is that what you really want?

If so, go ahead and post on here that you find my witticism highly amusing and my tutorials brain knocking good and I'll keep plugging away.  Otherwise, I think I'm going to refocus my energies into our farm blog. It's nothing personal, really.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My name is Crystal and I'm addicted to fabric.

There's the first step for you. I know I have a problem. I'm addressing the problem. I have no desire to really rectify the problem though. Which is a problem.

I hoard fabric. I can't go to the thrift store without pouring over their old lady smelling remnants looking for that one perfect find. I can't go to the chain fabric store either without making a serious dent in my checking account. Even is a trap for my addiction taunting me with hard to find prints. Currently, I have a closet bursting with fabrics egging me on to make them something special.

I think the reason I lust over fabric is the potential. Turning that eye catching print into something even if, the majority of the time, I have no idea what that might be. Not all fabrics are alike. There are many prints out there I look at and say "Dear god." wondering what on Earth someone would do with such a hideous pattern. But to each their own and in fabric there are always some for all.

This past year I've been on a quilting kick. Having a machine that is designed for it helps but isn't necessary though it was the catalyst to get me interested. Those quilts used to look daunting. Sitting in the quilting store laughing at me and my feeble attempt to figure out how they put the darned thing together. I started out simple and like to think I've gotten quite good even if the binding is digging in its heels and refusing to let me figure out how to make it perfect.

I like the ability in quilting to join together even the teeniest fabric scraps into a creation that amuses the eyes and cuddles the soul. It's my new joy. I still find small snippets of time to give to my first passion, sewing clothes but quilting has trumped it for now.

I yearn for the day I have a studio and my future dress form, Susan (yes, I've already named her) would greet me and encourage me. I already have my workstation and fabric storage picked out from IKEA. How's that for fueling the addiction?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CD Experiment DAY ONE

-donning white lab coat - adjusts nerdy glasses - glances studiously at clip board

Day one of our experiment went off without a hitch, or leak as it were. We started with cloth in the morning and ended up using 7 diapers and covers by the end of the day. Not bad by my standards. Of course, with only having three covers it meant I had to do laundry last night and make sure I hung up the covers to dry. That little folding octopus clothes hanger from IKEA works great for it (and it's only $5).

For bed we used a disposable with an additional liner. We get the liners in 30 packs from Toys/Babies R Us. Publix used to sell them for .50 a bag cheaper but they got discontinued. *sigh* The TRU 30 pack is $3.49. Those little eight cent things make a regular diaper into an overnight, waterhouse. You can use them in cloth diapers too.

This morning (day two) we woke and immediately donned our cloth diapers. Emmy loves them and requested the "poke de dot" cover, the only patterned/colored cover we have. She's quite pleased with her dotted cushy tushy.

My Cotton Babies order shipped so hopefully by mid next week I have a new hanging wet diaper bag and a handful more covers to extend my need to wash every day. So far having almost double a prefold stash has been working out. Also, this morning Max is constipated and having lots of teeny #2's so I've kept the same cover since nothing's touched it and used three of the prefolds. Imagine if I had gone through 4 diapers for him already this morning!

All in all, we're doing well. I'm optimistic that I'll be able to go the 30 days on one pack of disposables.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cloth Diaper Experiment

I posted before about how I've gone back and forth about cloth diapering and how we've reintroduced CD's back into the household. I was basically just trying to let everyone know that it's not an all or nothing thing.

To elaborate on that post I've decided to do a thirty day experiment. I JUST opened a new small package of diapers for both Emmy and Max. Both packs cost approx. $6 each though Max's are Pampers and Emmy's are Target brand, I'm not sure if that matters but if it seems one is using more or having more issues, we might do a second experiment in more controlled conditions. I'm not a scientist, I'm just playing one on this blog.

We already have cloth diapers on hand but I'll try and break out the cost of what someone would have spent on the same set up. I use prefold diapers, snappi closures and a variety of waterproof covers. I bought everything except the Snappi's from I got the Snappi's through Ebay and I think it was like 3 for $7 or $8. I did get some with the beginner pack from Cotton Babies too though. I just put a new order in today but that was for fun stuff and the very much needed diaper wet bag that'll hang on the door to the laundry room. I needed one before anyway.

I'm approximating the diaper covers since I have some fancy ones and some very plain, less expensive ones. They all seem to work exactly the same so far, though i personally prefer the ones with extra gussets around the thighs. Some were $8 and some were as much as $13 so I'll put $11 as the middle range and we'll leave it at that.

Premium sized unbleached Indian prefolds  $2.00 ea. x  22  = $44
Snappi diaper closures $3.95 ea. x 8 = $31.60
Waterproof Diaper Covers $11 ea. x 11 = $121

Remember, I'm diapering a 9 month old and a 2 year old with these figures. If it sounds scary and you have one kid; divide. I do not buy special detergents, washers, sprays etc. I make my own laundry soap which I'll post about later. I also stay away from the all-in-ones which can run up to $25 a piece, four changes a day and you're looking at a richer investment.

So basically, for one month I've spent $12 on disposable diapers and $196.60. What I usually spend in a month on disposables? About $72 on 4 cases of diapers (rounding to $18 a case, 2 cases per mo. per child using coupons, sales or store brands). Plus the odd $10-12 pack of pull ups since Emmy is trying hard to train, and $6 for 2 bags of disposable doublers to get me through nights.

First month disposable/cloth hybrid = $208.60
One month disposables = $90

Remember this is for TWO children. I'll be posting more about wipes, cleaning costs, storage and useage, links for folding and more.

So breakdown: We're taking a thirty day challenge to introduce cloth diapers more than half time and see if we can get buy using only ONE SMALL package of disposables. If this works I should be able to reduce our diaper use the following month by at least $75 a month, reclaiming our investment price within three months of use.

Stay tuned and sign up to follow our Diaper Experiment.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finally got this quilt done!!!

I've been sitting on (not literally) two practically completed quilt tops. One has the backing already sewn on, the second, the one I finished yesterday, had to have it done. I figured after about six months of looking at it, moving it, putting it back and looking at it some more, I might as well finish them.

I added a chocolate brown raised dot minky to the back and hand sewn the handmade coordinating binding. I didn't go with a pattern, just figured out what I wanted it to look like. I dubbed this "Window Shoppers" basically because of the fabric. The quilt measures approx 42" x 50", nice and large. Shameless link to listing.

I have to hand sew the binding on the other quilt which went through the wash and I started a new top but can't top stitch because I have no more batting!!! My goal here is to move some of this fabric out of the house and make a little money for the holidays but apparently that's now side tracked as I ended up buying a BOLT of 45" Warm and Natural least I won't have an excuse not to finish these quilts! Well, unless I run out of backing...

I have a plethora of girl colored fabrics, probably because I enjoy making stuff for my girls more than the boys. I can only make so many elastic waisted pj pants before it gets boring. But I'm going  to try and get some of the limited boy fabrics I do have out of here in the form of quilts and maybe more elastic waisted pants. I'd like to find a nice easy overall pattern (if you have suggestions let me know!) or jumper for boys for the baby.

I should probably go to the fabric store but I really, really don't want to. I can't believe I just said that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dehydrated Yummies

In an effort to maximize the use of fresh fruits and veggies we consume, I got turned on to dehydrating by the lovely gals (and guys) over at Homesteading Today. I actually have a food dehydrator Rob picked up at Harbor Freight for about $15 a while back. HF is like Rob's mecca and I actually enjoy going there too. Lots of fun, cheap stuff.

So, back to dehydrating...

One issue I have in our house is overbuying fresh produce that doesn't get used before it starts turning. Nothing like going to get a fresh ripe strawberry to find they're squishy! Some people deal with it, I don't. Dehydrating has been a great way to fix this problem.

Basically, I've found three ways to do this that fit my family. One is to over buy in season produce and just go dehydrate it then, another is to wait until they're just a bit too ripe and then suck them dry and the last is to use the remnants of cut/used food. For instance, the leaves and discarded parts of celery, the ends of an onion, that last bit of pepper that didn't get used, etc.

From those ways, I've established quite a little pantry of dehydrated foods. I used the mason jars I wrote about in the Soy Candle post.

The benefits of dehydrated foods are quite vast; they retain their nutrient value, no electricity goes to storage, the jars can be opened and resealed with use of O2 packets, you can keep foods on hand out of season easily.

I used my dehydrated red peppers and tomatoes as additions on homemade pizza. The other day I threw in a few hand fulls of dehydrated corn and celery into matzo ball soup. There are some great cook books out there too that utilize dehydrated foods and it doesn't stop with fruits and veggies, even meats can be dehydrated after cooked.

Check it out, dehydration might be a new addition to your pantry!

Friday, October 9, 2009

This Little Light of Mine - Home Made Soy Jar Candles

Recently I purchased a bunch of canning supplies on Craigslist. For $40 I made out like a bandit and got over 100 jars in various sizes in addition to bunches of other canning goods. Problem was, it had been in attic and basement storage, moved around and finally posted for sale years later.

When I was sorting through the lot I came across a good number of jars that had chipped rims. I had also started feeding Max some jarred baby food in addition to the food I had made. Here I am, knee deep in empty glass jars I didn't know what to do with.

I had heard a saying and I'm sure I'm mucking it up but it goes something like "Use it up, Wear it out, Make do or Do without" and I decided, for once, to live by it and make something with the jars. I lucked out that Michaels was having a 50% off one item coupon so I snagged a few microwavable soy wax boxes. Each box, normally $22 was $11 for 4lbs and I was able to get two large quart jars or three pint jars plus a smattering of baby food sized ones filled up with one box.

The soy was is ridiculously easy to use and spills clean up super quick. It can be washed off plastic and glass. Even the large quarts were firm and solid enough to store upright within a half hour. The only "difficulty" and I say that with little emphasis was figuring out how long to microwave the wax, which is probably specific to each persons 'wave.

Here's a photo of my set up. As you can see I opted to use things I had around the house for centering the wicks, which are wooden clothes pins. I used a $1.99 IKEA 4 cup microwavable measuring cup to melt the wax. This particular melting made 8 baby food jar candles, one large quart and about 1/3 filled second quart jar.

I got creative at one point and made some lavender scented ones but in my opinion the scents were too pricey and I hadn't had any oils on hand to make them that way. Again, just another expense I didn't really need to recycle the jars. I'm very pleased with the quality of the candles.

With storm power outages and hurricanes it's important to have candles on hand. Using (and possibly reusing) the containers to hold the candles is a bonus. After practicing with these emergency candles and still having a big box of jars left over, I'm contemplating making some scented/colored candles to give as gifts at the holidays.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Home School Signing

For our home school we have chosen to learn ASL for our second language. It has been a fun and rewarding addition to our education. The kids and my own. Amelia (and Max) have been exposed to signing since birth. Emmy knows roughly fifty to seventy signs. Alex is getting really good at finger spelling and reading. Livi and Cordi use signs to communicate with Emmy which eases some of the two-year-old frustrations she has.

Emmy almost never talks without at least signing a few things. Weeks ago, she fell off the bunk bed and had a mild concussion, the paramedics looked at me like I had three heads when I said "She's not signing!!!" Their response was "Oh, is she deaf?" which she isn't and they discredited her lack of signing but to me, signing goes hand and mouth with her communication skills and her lack of signing was a blaring signal to me something was very wrong. Thankfully, a few hours later both her verbal and signing speech returned.

Our preferred method of learning signs for the little ones is through the Signing Time DVD's.  these colorful, vibrant, musical movies bring signs to life. There are companion CD's, flashcards and books and even an iPhone app. They also have a downloadable free curriculum.

The songs are fun and wonderfully produced making them bearable for repeat play, which their sure to get. It's also totally adorable to see my 2 year old sign "signing time" when she asks to watch. Being able to clarify Emmy's imperfect baby speech by signing has be tremendously helpful to my sanity.

I've just started a signing program through Signing Online which is an online class. Fantastically priced at $50 per course (4 courses total), quick and well done mini movies of signing and cultural education of the Deaf community, Signing Online is a winner for home study. An extra $20 a course and you can receive CEC's nursing and teaching. I plan to finish out the four courses and then start Alex on them possibly next year.

If you're unfamiliar with the benefits of signing to young children, I encourage you to visit the links above and do your own research. Even if you don't pursue it as a second language or communication, signing can still be beneficial and fun.

Olivia signing "Doctor" and Cordelia signing "Bird"