Monday, November 30, 2009

I'm Validated

Over the course of the next few hours many aspiring novelists will be seeing the picture to the left. It's not without sacrifice that these simple words grace their screen as thousands of people rush to the finish line to validate the work they've done over the past thirty days.

Your humble narrator is among them.

This was my first year participating in National Novel Writing Month, warmly known to its participants as NaNoWriMo or just Nano. The principle of this challenge is to write a novel in thirty days. Yes, you heard me right, an entire novel. Fifty thousand words to be exact.Thirty days total.

A month is a precarious thing and tends to slip through your fingers at an alarming rate. Let's recap what has happened to me over those short thirty days.

Besides the usual care and keeping of five kids there was, homeschooling, caring for my pathetic garden, grocery shopping, holiday shopping, a three day trip for an Army function, shopping and packing for said Army trip, a visit from an out of town friend, Thanksgiving and corresponding Back Friday, we were sick for about a week plus a few days, a baby was teething or constipated for the majority of the month, my MP3 player broke and hours were spent researching new ones, winter clothes were brought out and sorted, donations dropped off to the thrift store, there was a three day Woot off, a new school chair was ordered, egg dinosaurs were hatched, solstice presents hid, church attended, some college exams taken, Ikea furniture assembled, three pies made and lots of car repairs done.

It wasn't a month of me sitting in a bubble cranking out word count consuming scenes. Though all the madness I created an entirely new work of fiction. Is it Hemmingway? No. Is it Tolkien? Not a chance. Hell, Dr. Seuss' works are probably more inspiring but guess what? I don't care. There is now a completed novel with my name on the front. I did it. No one else.

I can't wait to do it again.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Yeah, it's that easy. (pie tutorial, stages 1 and 2

So, on a recent twitter relay between myself and Kitschy Coo* about pie, where we discussed the merits of bringing damaged and/or inedible pie as a hostess gift and whether or not you could actually cobbler a key lime pie (don't you dare steal that idea! I'm so entering a contest with that), I discovered you can't buy Jell-o in Scotland. My heart goes out to all you delicious dessert making Scots and your lack of gelatin goodness. Apparently, the Kitsch-ter is also lacking in pie making abilities to go along with her Jell-less-ness. It's a very sad day.

But, on a happier note, for those of you swimming in the abundant gelatinous sea, I've whipped up (quite literally, too) an easy chocolate pie recipe that is sure to please and dirty enormous amounts of dishes should you choose the advanced prep setting. I usually go for what I call "beginner easy" tutes on here but have also included an "advanced easy" recipe for those of you more pie-efficient -or would that be pieficient?

Beginner Easy Chocolate Pie 

1 6oz pack of chocolate Jell-o
3c milk (any will do)
1 premade chocolate graham crust
1 tub of coolwhip
some chocolate chips (optional but come on, you know you want them)

Make the Jell-o as instructed. Fold in (this is an advanced term which means not to stir it in, you fold it over lots of times) half the cool whip. Open the pie crust. Slap the chocolate Jell-o mix in the crust, slap on the rest of the cool whip. It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to taste good. Make lovely swooshie designs in the cool whip and lick the bowls. Sprinkle on the chips (optional but makes it look fancier and thus advances your skill level in the minds of the people with whom you wish to share). Fridge it until it's cold and firm. Eat it.

Advanced Easy Chocolate Pie

1 6oz pack of chocolate Jell-o
3c milk (any will do)
2c heavy whipping cream
1tsp vanilla
1/2c granulated sugar
1 pack chocolate Grahams pulverized (give to your kids to carry into the house or stick them in a baggie and work out your frustrations)
2tsp butter
some chocolate chips (optional, I don't really think chocolate chips are optional...)

Put the cream in a cold bowl and stir the bejezus out of it on med/high until it forms "peaks" (this is assuming you have a hand blender or lovely Kitchenaid otherwise stick with the beginner recipe). This is the stage before butter is made so be careful not to over whip it, not that I speak from experience...) Drop the speed and add the vanilla and sugar. It's done when it makes nicer peaks and looks whipped creamy.

Make the Jell-o as directed on the box (using the 3c of milk) then fold in half the whipped cream you just made. Smash up the grahams, melt the butter and mix it in until it resembles coarse meal. Press it into a pie tin.

Slap in the chocolate mix, slap the whipped cream on top, sprinkle with chips, fridge it till firm and consume with wild abandon.

I seriously made the advanced pie and the blog post in less than an hour so I take no excuse from those of you with access to Jell-o. As for you Scots, if you're visiting the US or some other instant pudding fortunate country, you can totally make this in a hotel room.

*KitschyCoo can be followed on Twitter. Or you can shop her fabulous store on Etsy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Only a few days left

We're coming down to the last laps here guys. I just broke 30,000 words, the most I've ever written in a single story and there is still so much more to go. Thankfully (and It's Thanskgiving too so double Thanks) I have a supportive husband who, while I cook and let him work on car repairs, will let me hide out in the bedroom a good portion of the next few days in order to get my purple bar. I told myself, "self, you may buy the badges to sew onto the new laptop bag you bought a few weeks ago, if you make it to 50k by the 30th." I intent to win.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gobble Gobble

No, those guys aren't our dinner. They're a pair of Wild Turkeys from the zoo. We visited them last week. I can't wait for the day we pick out our Turkey chick (turkling? still learning the lingo, folks) and raise it for our Thanksgiving meal.

There are few things I get completely internally torn up about, one of them is holidays. We're talking shredded insides here, people.

When I was a kid we celebrated holidays with zeal. Heaping tables surrounded by relatives without much thought behind the holiday other than traditions we've come to expect; food, fun and presents. I suppose with age and enlightenment I've put down the rose colored glasses and replaced them with a jaded eye. Holidays serve a purpose, in fact the term "holidays" is slang for "Holy Days" when the church gave peasants the day off to renew their confirmation to God by celebrating specific Christian events. We've morphed them into feel-good feast days or a goal to reach on the work calendar with little reflection on the purpose behind the symbolism. Looking forward to what we get out of it, instead of the principle. History too, has become forgotten.

I am trying very hard not to soap box on you before you pull out those fat roasters and get to work but it's difficult. Hey, I have a 12lber ready to go, too. But I have a problem with it and you, my unfortunate readers, get to hear it. That is, if you're still reading.

This year we've nixed Christmas. Why? Because we're not Christian. (I'm sure I just lost a bunch of you.) We're Unitarian Universalists. Also, because there becomes little meaning behind it when you take the Christ out of the equation. Celebrating it feels like an elaborate jest. We've decided to celebrate Solstice instead. We're taking a page out of The Book of New Family Traditions, enveloping the things that are important to us and how we want to teach our children.

Tomorrow celebrates another day I have a problem with. Thanksgiving. All I'm going to ask is for you to look into the historic truth about the holiday. You might be shocked. Maybe you'll change your ideas about how to celebrate or if you do it at all. We're changing it, developing it beyond the thankfulness and feast.

I ask you to read about the history, check out the book if you're interested, and feel free to post a reply with your thoughts and ideas. This is a morphing topic in our household and I'd love to hear from others.(I try really hard not to push, just pry eyes open a little. If you're happy with your celebrations, by all means continue!)

I am thankful for you readers. Happy tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dreaded update

It's taking them much longer to come together than I'd have liked but it's getting there. I think some days they look a lot better than others. Everyone has bad hair days though so it's okay.

Fact is, my hair is just a straight and oily mess most of the time. It makes knotting it up harder as the natural oil of my hair tends to make the straight strands slick.

Hopefully, in another six months I'll have gorgeous locks with minimal frizz and fly aways. Until then, it's getting there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Relationship Problems

Sewing (my long time lover) and I are at an impasse. I really want to continue the relationship but I feel we need a break. I haven't been very good about attending to Sewing's needs. I leave our dates in the middle, unfulfilled and incomplete. You can see the remnants littering the house, forgotten and collecting dust. I've become preoccupied with other things and Sewing's whirring call is just a din in the background of my life. It's too much work to get everything out to be with Sewing. Takes too long to thread Sewing's needle, so many other things come first. I look at Sewing longingly, wanting to reconnect, desperate to rekindle the fire of creation that ignites between us whenever the stars align and we finally get together.

I've stopped communicating and that's a big problem in a relationship.

Sometimes people ask me why I want to be with Sewing. I need it, that's why. It's funny but being away from Sewing makes me nuts. I need that outlet, the companionship Sewing gives. Sewing is a gentle lover but can be harsh too. It can make me bleed if I'm not careful. One thing about Sewing is that I know it can keep a secret. Those times late at night while I run Sewing too hard for too long and things don't come out right, Sewing never judges, never tells anyone of my mistakes. Never complains about my impatience.

I miss winding Sewing's bobbin. Being the one to push its buttons and step on its pedal. Sewing roars to life under my ministrations; light on, eager to run. The things we create together,'s just magical. Somethin' special that's for sure. I want the product of our combined energies but am too lazy to do the work right now. I'm selfish that way I guess.

One thing I know for sure, Sewing will wait for me. Even as I now jaunt off on this new love affair with Writing, Sewing sits silently in the corner. Beckons to me in its own creative way. I'm not sure how long Writing and I will last. So far the words flow easily between us. It's exciting and exhilarating, the way Sewing once was and will probably be again when the tides change in my fickle heart.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Support System

I know this photo is ridiculously large but I wanted to really show these tiny tendrils to you. I was outside today taking photos of the garden and kids. The weather is still accommodating for new growth and these snap peas have really taken off over the past few weeks. I hope they make it through and give me something before the cold sets in for good but what will be will be.

Getting back to the point, what dawned on me while I was snapping the snap peas is their ability to support themselves. Epiphany struck and I started thinking about human support systems. You see, these little seedlings don't have any inhibitions; they need a lift up, they reach out, they seize the closest thing that will help them. Sometimes it's a sturdy branch, one that will support them throughout their lives, never wavering. Other times it's a neighbors own outstretched hand. The bond may last. They may grow apart. They make multiple anchors throughout their lives just in case one fails, they won't fall. They provide a strong support system for the babies they produce.

They reach out, grab a hold and hold on. They don't apologize for needing help. They're not ashamed when the weight of their lives gets too heavy for them and they need support.

It got me thinking about the times in my life where I've needed assistance. Did I ask for help or try and shoulder things too heavy? Who was there to grab my hand? Is there anyone in my life now, extending their hands looking for support? Even if I can't be someone's sturdy branch, can I link with someone as we help each other?

It may be silly, finding these little life altering gems of realization, in things as innocuous as a snap pea tendril but maybe it's taking the time to find those things

Friday, November 20, 2009

Snap Pea Soil Leviathan

Like visions of Mary in crazy things, tell me this doesn't look like a dragon.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ravioli Factory

Today, I forced little laborers to crank out almost a hundred pumpkin/butternut squash raviolis (before you start yelling at me, I totally helped). We're expecting company on Saturday and I haven't seen my dear friend Chellie* since she moved up north and I want to make her visit to our house a nice memory on her crazy East Coast tour. And maybe if I distract her with yummy food she won't notice the dirty parts of the house we're probably going to miss.

Super easy and fun to make I got the recipe off some site but as is true to my nature had to change the darn thing because I could. I cooked up a BNS I had in the fridge, gutted it and pureed it with a can of pumpkin, tossed in nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice without really measuring and about a cup of grated Parmesan cheese. Wetted the edges of precut wonton wrappers with some whisked up egg and filled each with 1/2 tsp filling, folded in half and pressed shut.

The kids decided these were just the greatest thing to chef (it's a verb of cooking in case you were unawares) and could be filled with so many things, as the kids mused, like cheese, peas or orange juice. Just whatever your stuffed-pasta heart desires. 

There's a sage/butter sauce that goes with this and I'll toast up some pine nuts from the pantry to go along. Add a side salad and some yummy chocolate cherry brownie cookies and the bliss will be so overwhelming she might think I live in Martha's house. At least I can hope.

*Chellie is a funny zombie loving librarian musician that can be twittered @chelliemo

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

If I ran the zoo

We went to the zoo today. It was one of those almost spur of the moment things that basically sums me up. I work better under pressure. I had told the kids over the weekend since it was a big waste of time to go to the silly seminar four hours away since it wasn't that great a time, we'd go to the zoo to make it up to them. When a seven year old tells you it was the worst time of their lives, even though it's only a fraction of your lifetime, you have to take that to mean something. Besides, I needed to be made up to, too.

So, after a crazy morning wherein Emmy decided she couldn't wait for me to finish inserting my contact and got a chair, an orange from the fridge and a steak knife, and gave a new meaning to the term "blood orange" all in about 90 seconds, I decided, after the bleeding stopped and we mopped it up off the walls, stairs, door, sink and our persons, we'd give ourselves a treat and go to the zoo today instead of waiting till tomorrow like I had sort of planned.

After basic first aid and trying not to toss my cookies, we packed up our personal zoo and headed out to the more organized (and more expensive) one. Four hours at the zoo (with a jolt of Starbucks) helps mop away those crappy days. It had been a long time since we had been and even though we had to fight through a few arguments mostly with a cranky toddler, it's really nice to just check out animals that have nothing better to do than be zoo eye candy.

Most of the animals aren't farm worthy though and that's okay, even if my brain quickly skips over a contemplation of what it'd be like. A lot of my thoughts immediately turn to that nowadays though. I suppose it's all part of the changes I wrote about before. I look at animals now with a different sense of purpose.

I think my favorite part was the kids section of the zoo which is about as close to a farm as I can get right now. The myriad of petable, feedable goats was a great treat and as I blurted out to Rob once, I just can't wait to get my hands on a goat of my own (you know what I mean). The two little girls rode the ponies. Emmy is so proud to be big enough now and it proved a great distraction from "the finger boo-boo". And I had to ride a camel (so Emmy could) which is not something I ever want to do again. A ride on a camel I can best describe as being only somewhat strapped to a huge drunken sheep on stilts. Elsie the llama was out for a stroll giving the kids their first taste of petting one. I might have to reconsider our livestock choices after being flirted with by that beautiful dame.*

A nice time was had all around and inserted a positive memory in place of the hellish weekend we endured. But that weekend's over and we're moving on and now healing too.

*Llama flirting seems to consist of being nudged for food while getting looks of mild contempt. It's a beautiful thing to the certain kind of person.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Long weekend

We're going away this weekend for mandatory Army fun. Really, it should be a pretty nice time. We're getting put up in a Marriott, most all expenses paid (or reimbursed) and get some free child care. Nice. It's getting ready for the 2 nights and 1.5 days we'll be gone that's a doozey. You just don't realize how much stuff 7 people need until you have to pack said people and enough stuff to get them through that short time into an Astro. We should really invest in one of those plastic roof thingies that until recently I thought was a roof top dog crate. Hey, sometimes those neurons just take a day off.

It's been getting progressively colder here. We're sitting at about 61 right now, dips a little cooler at night and rises into the 70's at full sun. I'm a little worried about my baby garden. I've been painstakingly out there every day to clear the beds, water and pull any dead leaves off. Virtually every garlic has sprouted, the shallots are raising their many fingered hands from the soil and the long wispy grasses of the onions are edging near a foot long. The new beefsteak tomato plant has quite a few nice blooms. I think the cherry tomato is feeling a little nervous about being outdone by the new guy and has sprouted a third blooming for the year. The outside snap peas are shorter but thicker than the inside ones but should do great in the cold. We're not looking at anything below mid-fifties this weekend so frosts shouldn't be an issue. I still worry though. Maybe I'm more a farmer than I thought.

Alex has been learning distance in math and just loves the GPS so he might get navigator duty on the trip. That's still up for debate though. I'm annoyed my MP3 player died. I haven't had any money since I had to buy that stupid dress and shoes at the mall the chance to replace it yet which means I get to swap out CD's (which now reminds me to pack some) or listen to movies I can't see playing in the back of the car. It's about a three hour drive which can easily turn into five with the every five mile potty breaks.

Maybe when we come back on Sunday afternoon I'll have some fun stuff to share about our long weekend away. I'm being harassed by a toddler that wants to wear her shorts on backwards with two legs in the same hole and can't figure out why they won't pull up. So, have a good Friday the 13th and corresponding weekend all. Adieu.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The demise of the grocery list

On our trek to self-sufficiency a major key in development is to stop relying so heavily on going to the store. The wear and tear on the car, the gas consumption, and man hours alone spent each week restocking the coffers won't get us to our farm any faster. Once we're out there, we'll be further from store fronts so travel times longer and competitive shopping harder so weekly trips will cost even more. 

I've been working towards learning how to make the things we need from basic ingredients that will be inexpensive and easy to stock up on. Items like milk, flour, and sugar. And even planning to reduce those down further on the farm when we have a cow and grain mill. Baby steps for now.

It was our first year growing some of our own things too. I've been experimenting with dehydrating as well. I now have a nicely stocked dried basil supply, completely from the garden I planted from seeds. Some jars of dried fruits and veggies bought on sale in season stock up the pantry. So far I've used them on pizzas, in breads and chicken bakes as well as just eating them right out of the jar. Being able to use every last bit of produce purchased reduces waste and the need to buy more and more often. It also gives us an alternative to in-season produce.

The breads are coming along. French toast, dessert breads, scones, muffins, pizza, practically every baked good imaginable is edging closer to being black listed from shopping. I'm pleased with the progress but the next investment will be a better bread book.  Haven't mastered sandwich type breads as mine tend to come out dense but it's happening. Ice cream has been taken off. The investment in the KitchenAid maker was well worth it. I've been making all our dried and frozen fruits and some veggies too. I've gotten away from grabbing Starbucks by pre-brewing my own coffee and chilling it in the fridge. Last night I made cheese. I bought a kit from Urban Cheese Crafters on Etsy. A gallon of milk and 45 minutes later and we had fresh mozzarella for dinner. I'm working on learning how to make jams to utilize inexpensive seasonal fruits.

The list is getting whittled down though there is still an enormous list to tackle; pasta, butter, sauces, yogurt, juice, those pesky sandwich breads, are all on the chopping block. It gives me a good feeling to make food that I've grown or made from scratch. Learning how to make these things now, even if I have to buy the ingredients from the store still, will be a good building block for our homestead when we can either replace or supplement the ingredients for things from our farm. Baby steps.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I've changed.

Last night I had to go shopping. This chore has become an irritating task for me, even when I don't bring the kids along. I really loathe clothes shopping, have no use for jewelry or perfume and fancy toiletries and make up end up sitting unused in the cabinet. The truth is I have no use for 99% of what is sold in the mall (the percentage would be higher but the bookstore closed). I used to shop all the time and never was bothered by it. I suppose with this desire to homestead I've changed.

Most everything I need now is on the long as I don't need it right now which is the case of the outfit for the upcoming weekend, or the necessary groceries. I get my music online in the form of MP3's, books come from or one of the big "B" chains, I can order practically everything (including some food) and have come to love shopping in my jammies. Having all that wonderful shopping at my fingertips has replaced trekking through crowded stores packed with overpriced junk. Plus, getting the mail is fun.

So, here I am, seven at night walking the mall. Store after store filled with trendy looks I had no desire to wear. I only need a dress. A semi-formal to formal dress. Just one lousy dress! What was offered in the stores was either short cut and slutty, yards of taffeta promness or mother-of-the-bride-wear. Nothing suited for a almost thirty mom with dreadlocks and a wrist tattoo going to a formal Army dinner. Sigh. I trudged on.

I tried Ann Taylor, NY&Co., a black and white store that looked promising, Old Navy, Sears, Macys, then stumbled tired and bleary eyed into Saks. Big. Mistake.

The mannequins in the front looked promising as I held my breath through the cloud of perfume that marked the path to the clothes. Past the shoes with name brands like Prada and Chanel I should have known better and turned around then and there but I was desperate for a dress. I needed to get it so I wouldn't have to come back. I turned a corner and found the clothes. Giving things a good glance I didn't see anything appropriate for my soiree but it's a big store. Making my way back out of that section to hunt down the formal wear a really cute flannel shirt stood in my way. If I had been drinking something I would have choked. Then again, I'd have to have been drinking to have bought it. The little white tag that faced me showed the reasonable price of a mere $138. WHAT?!? For a flannel shirt? Did this shirt give the wearer super powers? Did a portion of the funds go to aid starving children? I bet anyone could raid some relative's closet and find a similar shirt...for free. What exactly was I getting other than a shirt that resembled any other flannel shirt? Someone's name, that's what, and the Saks bag to carry it in. 

I'm not an art hater. I do realize that clothes are pieces of art, someone creates the pattern, chooses the fabrics and makes the darn things. I just don't understand why they have to cost so much. Buying flannel in builk should be pretty cheap and sewing a shirt isn't that hard. I know, I've done it. The plastic buttons weren't coated in gold either. That shirt sent me running out of the store so quick I almost walked in the path of someone spritzing overpriced perfume. That's how rattled I was.

In all honesty, I was just disgusted. I've become increasingly disgusted with the way things have become in our society. I used to bop down the mall laden with bags and not care about the empty space in my wallet. I've changed. Am I cheap? Unashamedly, yes. And I like good quality for the money I do part with. I suppose with the way I've been heading lately, towards homesteading and a farm of my own, looking at those items, realizing the severity that there's a market for it to need an entire two story store attached to a hundred like it to cater to persons anxious to own them is a little overwhelming. I just don't get it anymore. I don't see the appeal. It's hard not to look at that flannel shirt and think of the dehydrator I've been wanting or materials to build a chicken coop.

I suppose it boils down to priorities. I shouldn't have been surprised but it was like a slap in the face that my own have changed so much from the "norm". I guess I really have changed when, after hours of shopping, only smiled when I picked up my new cordless drill.

Monday, November 9, 2009

November in Florida

Photo take by me in our front yard yesterday

While our Northern counterparts are getting their first snows (or maybe more than first) us sun bunnies are still melting in the heat. Coming into the second week of November, when people start preparing for the holidays that are synonymous with cold weather, some days we're still stuck in Summer. AC blowing, flip flops on, iced tea in hand. The winter beds in the garden are more like a second try for the year than bedded down bulbs. Honey bees are still buzzing even if the mosquitoes have slacked off their swarming. Snow birds are coming to roost.

I wasn't always a Southerner (and Florida's even further south than most consider "down south"). Nope, I was born in the sticks of New Hampshire. I vaguely recall non-flat land and snow drifts taller than a man (when you're five, that's really tall), crisp first days of school and wearing layers under Halloween costumes. Trees that boast colors other than grass green or dead brown and crunch beautifully under foot. When it's a high of eighty-three two weeks before Thanksgiving my bones ache for those blustery days.

In all honesty, I have absolutely no idea what snow is like for an adult. I've never had to shovel, plow or drive it. Heck, when it was too high I probably got carried so I didn't even have to walk it. I never have to think about preventing frost bite or stocking oil for the winter. Coats are used for more than a handful of weeks and boots, hats and scarves are survival tools not fashion accessories. I don't have to function under the bulk of gloved hands. Burst frozen pipes are almost an old wives tale; something that happened to someone else a friend of yours once knew. We have no snow tires or tire chains or need for remote starters. 

It's a little embarrassing to admit really. Waking up before the dawn, shivering and huddling under the blanket then getting up and the thermostat reads a balmy, (really not that cold) sixty-eight. Sometime during these few decades in the sultry heat of the south, I lost my natural ability to fight the cold. My body just doesn't like it anymore. Then again, it doesn't care for the blazing heat of the summer either, where if you're not getting burnt to a crisp in the sun, the mosquito swarms are eating you alive. When walking to your car leaves sweat marks on your clothes and opening the front door requires a good dousing of OFF. 

I'm not sure there's a place in the world where the weather is always that gorgeous spring day or that delicious autumn night. I suppose we have to take what we get and make the best of it. If it's not cold by turkey day, maybe we'll blast the AC and bundle up and pretend.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Raw Food Energy Bars

Looking back again, I found THIS post and since the ingredients to make these are sitting in my pantry I thought I'd do a recap...this time posting the recipe I forgot to do last time (oops).

Today I made cherry and apple raw bars. Of course, I forgot to take photos today so the above is from when Livi helped me make them over a year ago. It's a pretty basic formula I think

equal parts dates to whichever dried fruit you prefer and about 1 cup of nuts per 3/4 cup date/fruit mix.

Here's what the cherry bars were

2 cups dried cherries
2 cups dates
2 cups WHOLE nuts (I did a mix of almonds, cashews and walnuts because I didn't have enough of any one kind)

I just wing most recipes. For this I chopped the nuts fairly well in the processor but still left some nice chunks. Then removed those and did the dates and cherries together until it made a pastey kinda gob. Took that out, hand mixed them together.Basically, I used as much nuts as I thought looked good in the bars as I mixed so the proportions will vary. Lined a deep sided cookie tray with saran wrap and used that to make the squared sides by pressing the mixture into place.

Apple bars

1 1/4 cup apples (because that's all I had)
1 1/4 cup dates
a dash of cinnamon (I just dumped a little in)
2 cups nuts (I used the remainder of the above mix plus added a bunch of walnuts)

Much the same directions as above; nuts first and remove, dates/apples/cinnamon to paste (I had to add a little water to make it sticky), mix together by hand, used the opposite side of the same cookie sheet to make them square.

Cut into bars and individually wrap in cling stuff. All in all, these took maybe 20 minutes to make and both recipes made approx 15 good sized bars. Happy not-cooking!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Looking back...Less is More.

Doing some maintenance on my blog I ran across THIS posting from over a year ago. I thought, with the holidays coming up, it'd be nice to do an update on my feelings on this subject.

The Barbies

I believe we're now down to two Barbies -both of which have painted on clothes - and one or two "daughters". These stay in the bathtub for some strange reason. My girls have not suffered Barbie-itis or any other acute fantastical lacking disease because of the absence of her and her perfectly molded brethren. They still get a glossy, starry-eyed gleam over the grotesquely pink aisle in the store but we're cutting down trips there anyway.

Other name branders

The Care Bears, My Little Ponies, Poly Pockets and other silly things have gone to the big toy box in the sky (actually, the one down the street where they re-sell them and I get a tax deduction). The kids have barely even noticed the void.

What we've kept

Dress-ups have been thinned of damaged items and restocked thanks to Halloween. We've added some LeapFrog Tag readers and additional Leapster games. Puzzles and games have taken up a larger residence and you can sometimes find the kids sitting quietly playing together without being prompted and without any required batteries. Thomas, Geotrax, Legos, music instruments, blocks and wooden dolls have all made the cut. Loving Family doll house people, baby dolls, Little People and Playmobil have permanent homes. And books were never on the chopping block.

After all this time, are we where I wanted to be way back two June's ago? Not exactly but we're getting there. We've instituted allowance for chores done (with a smile or at least no back-talk) with which they can purchase new toys. No more fighting me every trip with "I wants" but it makes restriction of what to purchase the new thing for me to fret over. So, we're still learning.

The new item up for discussion is the TV. Mindless, engrossment is really pissing me off. The resulting lack of helping out when asked because they're too glued to the screen which is showing them one of the same four episodes of Wonder Pets really gets me riled up. Add to that, the freak out when it goes off or the back talk from the older kids wanting to watch "just one more show" and it makes for a very angry mama. Solution? We're working on it but for at least this week (and maybe next) we're on computer and TV restriction. No TV, none of the time. I'll post an update on that once we figure out what we're doing.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Shouldering Home Schooling

Home School Field Trip to MOSI
I get a lot of wide eyed nods and "good for you"'s when I mention homeschooling. For such a rapid growing movement the social acceptance seems stunted; people just don't know how to respond. Then again, I give similar responses when people say their kids go to public school.

The reason behind our choice is moot, we're homeschooling. Period. I'm not going to list out the research we did or discuss the dread we felt when compulsory age came upon our oldest, we're quite a ways past that. Chugging along into our third year with county home school acceptance papers in hand.What I want to talk about is how home schooling effects ME.

Being the main responsible party for overseeing the education of five kids sends me into a panic attack if I think too hard on it. But that's also true of just being a parent. Lots of people throw the idea into the waste basket as soon as the realization of just how badly you could screw up your kid hits their minds. That's okay. I realize it too, trust me. I've fished the notion out (and back into) the basket for about four years. But public schools scare me shit-less even more. Add to that, my home school guinea pig first child, Alex, is advanced -by multiple grades in some subjects- and our research into current gifted programs offered in our area was extremely disappointing. Private school wasn't (and still isn't) financial feasible.

So, how do I handle organizing five kids, three that are school aged, without going mad? I'm not exactly sure, I won't be writing a manual any time soon, but I think it has something to do with experiencing the achievements those sponge-like minds exhibit daily, something I wouldn't get a front row seat to without them being at home. Those "ah-ha!" moments fuel my desire as I bask in the light of the bulb floating over their heads. Their achievements are mine, too.

We started out our first year using  which was a great resource to start with. The cost is considerably cheaper than private and the organization was hands-down what got me through teaching with Rob in Iraq. Plus this is the same virtual school program our state uses, so if we ended up needing to enroll them in school we'd be aligned with current standards. We home school year round and go by the real calendar rather than the school one (why school starts in August might be a good research lesson for Alex...), taking breaks as needed.

I don't have a granite-etched schedule but more like a "let's see what today brings" mentality. We use curriculum, have tests and weekly spelling lists but some days we cover three science lessons and some weeks don't do a preplanned lesson at all. It works for us. The kids are advancing; it's not a race. I'm not looking to pop out the next world-star prodigy. We review material until it's learned and stop school when the kids feel too much pressure (like Olivia and her reading).

This coming year we've decided to let the contract on K12 lapse. Mostly for financial reasons but also because I've been able to learn my teaching method, developed confidence and have gotten more knowledgeable about standards, curriculum and learning styles of my kiddos. I've already started ordering our materials and downloaded THIS excel sheet from Donna Young to help me keep track, one of the features I've come to enjoy with K12.

I suppose how I shoulder home schooling would be summed up by trial and error. It's okay to try a program and find it doesn't work for your kid (or you). There are no real rules for home schooling*; play to your and your children's strengths, don't be afraid to tell your kid "I don't know" (go find the answer together), individualizing lessons may be more time consuming but the rewards will be painted on your child's individual  face, don't be afraid to try something that doesn't work, seek help outside your house (or in it) and enjoy the time with your child(ren). Teaching is a job, there's a reason people are professionals at it, but knowing your child can be a major plus to adapting learning to their specific needs- something difficult to get in overcrowded schools. Be open to suggestions, shrug off criticism and prepare to be "WOW"ed.

*check your county/state requirements for legal information

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cloth Diaper Experiment recap

The official word on the experiment is that we'll have to start it again...after we inform everyone in the house we're doing an experiment for cyber space. Sorry guys.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Food, Family, Fun and Finances.

I'm sitting here writing with what I imagine to be fifty cubic tons of sludge in my frontal lobe slowly leaking out my nose. I'm sick. I hate being sick. But it's brought back a recurring theme: Food.

 Homemade chicken noodle soup and lingonberry bread

It seems a pretty straight forward thing; you eat something good for you and it makes your body work top-notch. Though I find in our stressed out, fast paced lives "good" tends to get left behind for quick, easy and/or cheap. Not that good food can't also be those things but I have a hard time finding the evidence. I've started working towards limiting my grocery list down to basics and bulk. Not only for financial reasons - because raising five kids on one income sure is financially challenging- but for ease. Making a large trip to a chain store once a week with 5 chicks in tow leaves me grumpy and irritated and significantly light in the wallet. Making a home cooked meal from scratch, while time consuming, using quality, basic ingredients, gives me a warm feeling inside when I watch those little chicks gobble it up. Involving them in the cooking process gives them an opportunity to do the same.

Homemade multigrain bread

I suppose this could be considered either an early New Year's Resolution or a really late one. The way I've been going recently, the former is probably more true. Though a resolution it ye be. (Yes, I realize I just turned into a pirate.)  This also coincides with our trek up to those 5 acres. Self-sufficiency doesn't involve weekly trips to the store, at least not mine.

I've already crossed off dried and frozen fruit (yes, I still buy it fresh and only in season but I dehydrate and freeze it myself) and ice cream, important things, ya' know? This year store bought basil has gotten the boot as I have the three foot mini-tree in the front yard that's been supplying me endlessly. Bread and butter were next on the list though the butter may wait. I'm getting quite good at the bread though. The milk loaf from about 1.5 weeks ago was so yummy I made an encore loaf today. The yogurt wasn't quite successful but I'm still hopeful. When we get those goats and that family cow expenses on those items will be greatly reduced.

So I'm boiling it down to the four "F"s Food, Family, Fun and Finances. Is shopping weekly pushing a stroller and pulling an overloaded shopping cart while trying to redirect three to four kids from all the sparkly and/or sugar coated things in the store fun? NO. Does it make for a good happy family? NO. Is it financially responsible when last minute impulse items are added just to "get it over with" or things forgotten making for return trips? NO.

Then here's the goal: knock it off. I'm working towards getting as basic as possible so homesteading won't be such a shocker. Already, we've found that going out to eat just doesn't hold the same appeal it did this time last year. That $70 average restaurant check can be applied to the new food dehydrator or pasta attachments for the kitchen aid. Neither of which will leave us regretting our meal choices or wondering where all the money went.