Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Family Time

Tomorrow brings a new year.  And...the start of Bryan's vacation time!  He's taking Thursday and Friday off, so we'll be enjoying a five day weekend as a family. 

We are so thankful for this opportunity to all be together.  With the overtime Bryan's been working lately, he is often home after the kids are in bed.  Here are some of the fun items on our "to-do" list:

1.  Legos.  Bryan loves Legos.  I doubt he'll be making a pretty pony collage though.  :) 

 2. Playing together.  Ellie got some magnet dolls for Christmas that she wants to play with.  There are many other toys the kids are ready to share with Daddy!

3. Art.  We ordered a See the Light DVD art lesson and want to complete one of them. 

 4.  Read.  We have some new books to tackle.  Sydney got some cute Pooh Bear board books that Ellie enjoys reading.  I'm planning on finishing The Sheer Ecstasy of being a Lunatic Farmer.  Bryan has two books on his list that he's hoping to make it through as well. 

The kids and I are heading to the library today so everyone will be set.

5.  Sleep!  Some extra shut eye will be nice. 

Enjoy your New Year's celebrations!

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Peek at 2014

It's the time of year for pondering.  Self-examination.  Thinking.

What went well this year?  What things do I want to change?  How do I change?

As a Christian, I want to examine my life against scriptures.  I want to make plans for my life that consider the Truth of God.  I don't want to fall into the "New Year's Resolution" trap that so many people do.  I don't want to decide to change something and then quit.

And that's what will happen if try to change anything in my own strength.  Phil. 4:13 says that we can do ALL things through CHRIST.  He gives us the strength to do anything and everything.  That means my plans for next year need to reflect changes that He would have me make in my life.

Many verses have been coming to mind.  I'm planning on picking one to claim for 2014.  A focus verse if you will.  One that will guide the direction of my life for the next year.

I'm still praying about which one.  But I'll be sharing it with you all early in the new year.  And you can help hold me accountable.

A few goals for 2014:

After spending some time in prayer, these are a couple of goals I have. 

Read at least one book a month (not a children's book--I read lots of those!)

        I KNOW I want to tackle these ones:

                   *Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal (Salatin)--I checked it out from the library once
                     before and read bits and pieces.  It deserves a full read.  I like his work. 
                   *The Hobbit (Tolkien).  Would you believe that I've NEVER read this book.  (Or the
                     Trilogy that follows...) 
                   *Keeping Our Children's Hearts; Our Vital Priority (Maxwell).
                    *Raising Real Men (Young). 
                     *Eragon (Paolini) Jayme wants me to read this one.  She just listened to the tape. 
                     *The Untold Story of Milk (Schmid) I love raw milk.  But I should read more about it!

I haven't narrowed down the others yet, so I'll start with these. Any recommendations for me?  I don't have as much time to read now, so I want to go for quality.  And books that are on topics of interest. 

Complete the Couch 2 5 K Training.  That means exercise 3 days a week.  And be able to run a 5 K.  I don't think I'll actually run the race with other people though.  I prefer solo/family based exercise.  But being able to run it--that would be amazing! My older sister is also doing this program, so we'll be able to encourage each other along the way.

Sew one item for the house and one item for someone (or me) to wear.  That means I need to learn to sew.  My sisters can help me!  

Blog at least three times a week.  I love being able to get my thoughts out in writing.  It's very relaxing for me! 

Take a picture a day.  Most days I'll use my phone.  Sometimes I might break out Bryan's fancy SLR camera.  I'll take pictures of kids.  Pictures of cows.  Pictures of life.  We need to capture those memories! Maybe once a week I'll share my daily pictures with everyone here.  

What are your plans for the new year?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The BEST Homemade Pizza Blog Tutorial Ever!

A few years ago, my older sister and her husband gave us an amazing Christmas gift!  They created a blog for us about homemade pizza.  They created detailed instructions with illustrations the kids love. 

And as a bonus?

It's super good pizza! 

You should try it.

Click here for the instructions....the recipe can be linked to from the site. 

Getting It All Done: Farm Chores--Winter

After taking an extended break from the Getting It All Done series, I thought I'd add a new post.  Farm chores are essential here at Grouse Creek.  Here is how we get them done...

Our Winter Farm Chores:

Feed Sheep Hay
Feed Cows Hay
Feed Calves Hay
Feed Chickens Scraps
Feed Chickens Grain
Water Sheep
Water Cows
Water Calves
Water Chickens
Milk Maggie & Epie
Feed Calves Bottles
Strain Milk into Jars
Clean Barn
Bedding for Animals
Clean Milking Supplies
Gather Eggs
Straw for Chickens
Let Chickens Out in AM and Lock them Up in PM

And occasionally take care of other things that come up like escaped animals or fence mending.  And scraping ice.   

Writing everything down was essential.  Didn't want to forget anything!  But, it looks like a massive list.  So I had to divide it up to make it more managebale for my brain to wrap around at five in the morning. 

Here are our AM Farm Chores, in roughly the order they get done:

Water cows (this time of year using 5 gallon buckets since the hoses freeze pretty solidly.)
Milk Maggie
Milk Epie
Feed calves milk & rinse bottles
Strain milk into jars & get equipment soaking
Clean barn
Give animals hay
Check on bedding
Let chickens out and check straw, water and feed (large containers don't need done every day...)
Give chickens previous day's scraps
Wash milk supplies

Jayme and I handle these most days.  Two days a week she gets to sleep in and I get them all done.  By myself it takes approximately 45 minutes on most days.  More if there's a lot of ice and it's cold.  Less in the summer.  When Jayme helps, it takes about 30 minutes or so. 

When Jayme helps me, she takes over the hay and straw while I milk Maggie.  She then helps milk Epie and feeds the baby calves.  On her way in, she lets out the chickens. 

At night, I have more help.  Jeffrey, Ellie and Sydney love going to chore.  In the summer, everyone comes along.  With the weather this cold, Jayme is now staying in the house with Owen and Simon.  They don't do well in the cold. 

Here are our evening chores;

Water cows & calves
Sled hay over to the sheep (We put hay on the sled, the three kids jump on, and I pull them across the road!)  This task isn't as much fun in the spring and fall without snow. 
Check sheep water (they don't drink it very quickly)
Sled back home and Count Chickens (Should have 18)
Gather eggs and lock up chickens
Feed calves and cows hay

It typically takes 15 minutes.  Jeffrey gathers the eggs.  Ellie and Jeffrey feed hay to the calves.  Sydney pets the animals.  :)

That's how we handle farm chores. This time of year they aren't too bad, especially now that milking only occurs in the morning.   (Since we were all sick over Christmas, we stopped milking Epie at night as well.)

Having kids help makes the chores go more quickly and be more enjoyable!

Buttermilk Bliss! & Buttermilk Banana Bread Recipe

I'll be honest.  Until recently, I never really understood the whole buttermilk thing.  Pancakes?  Much preferred sour cream ones.  Ranch?  Yup--the original was better.  Soaking grains?  Really like the lemon juice route.

I just didn't get it.

Of course...I think that may have had something to do with the fact that I never really used buttermilk.  Either that fake powder that you add water to, or regular milk that was soured with lemon juice or vinegar were my trusty stand-ins. 

Yuck!  No wonder things didn't taste spectacular.  Pancakes with vinegar soured milk anyone?  Um...no!

But, my view on buttermilk has recently been swayed.  I was reading online for some easy ways to culture dairy.  And I came across many posts on making buttermilk.  Many of them called for ordering a special packet of culture.  That would get expensive after a while.

Others called for culturing your cream and then churning butter and using the remaining buttermilk.  Except no one in this house likes cultured butter.  And we don't routinely skim our milk.  So that didn't seem to be the solution either.

Then I came across this post...it seemed like the perfect solution!  I measured out a cup of Maggie's milk into a jar and left it on the counter.  It took about two and a half days to clabber.

I poured out all but 1/4 cup and added new milk. (I fed the discarded bunch to the chickens...) I repeated the process until the milk was consistently clabbering in only 24 hours.

Now I have a lovely quart jar of buttermilk in my fridge at all times.  Unless its on my counter getting refilled.  That's amazing!

My beautiful buttermilk.

No cultures to buy.  No cultured butter to churn.  Just milk.  And time.  And patience.

So now that we discovered the bliss of buttermilk, what are we doing with it?

Ah...so glad you asked.  Making pancakes.  Making homemade buttermilk ranch.  Making biscuits.  The list could go on and on, but I'll spare you. :)

And leave you with what I mixed up this morning.  Buttermilk Banana Bread.
I love how you can start with something that looks like this and end up with something so tasty!

I started with this recipe.  But I changed it up. I knew I needed to double it.  And I didn't like the amount of sugar called for.  Vegetable oil is a no go here, so that needed switched to butter.  A few other changes followed, and this was my final recipe.

Makes 2 loafs of banana bread

4 beaten eggs
2/3 c buttermilk
1 c melted butter
5 mashed bananas
2 c unrefined sugar
2 c white whole wheat flour
1.5 c unbleached flour
2 t baking soda
1 t sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare 2 loaf pans.  (I smeared them with butter...)

Mix up all the wet ingredients and add the sugar.

Stir until it isn't too lumpy.  (How's that for technical?)

Add the dry ingredients.  And stir again.

Split batter between pans.

Admire the beautiful bubbles that cultured buttermilk adds to the batter. Ok--maybe it's just me who does that.  Feel free to skip this step!

  Put pans in oven.

Then go out and milk the cows.  And feed the animals.  And don't forget to let out the chickens.  Oops--better give the cows more bedding.  And knock the ice out of the calf waterer.  And...

Or...just bake for an hour.  That works too. 

But it'll smell better if you've been out working in the dark early morning and are freezing when you walk back into the house. That was a wonderful welcome this morning. 

Slice the bread.  Spread on some butter.  Enjoy! 

What's your favorite way to use buttermilk?  Now that I'm hooked, I've been on the lookout for new recipes. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Lego Mania!

Bryan loved Legos when he was a kid.ll   When Jayme was about eight, we bought her the Castle set of Legos--like the entire series.  And Bryan passed down all of his Legos.  We have a pretty impressive collection if I do say so myself.

In order to keep the Legos and Owen and babies safe, we have a dedicated space for Legos.  The upstairs closets in our house are more like little rooms.  With short ceilings.  We turned the one in the girls' room into a Lego land.  A table and a small chair were added for comfort.  The Legos often make it out into the girls' floor or the other table in the upstairs hall. 

Only finished creations are allowed downstairs.  Carefully placed on the kitchen table for Daddy to admire when he makes it home from work.  

I'm not too good at building.  If I have instructions, I can do it.  If it's a free-for-all, I can make a house.  And that's about it.  At least if you want to actually tell what it is I made.  Jayme bought the game Creationary--think Pictionary with Legos...and that's pretty fun to play.  That's about as creative as I get with Legos. 

Jayme, Jeffrey and Ellie are another story.  They all build well.  Jeffrey loves building airplanes and boats.  Ellie likes the people and Jayme's Lego Friends collection.  Pretty Legos!

Jayme gets really creative.  We found a Lego idea book at the library, and that really renewed her interest.

She learned how to make a house with stories that are easily removed.  She designed and made a Viking longboat.  But the one I've been most impressed with?  This one...

Yup.  She combined two of her favorite things.  Legos and My Little Ponies.  And made the coolest mosaic ever!  Meet Apple Bloom.  A Cutie Mark Crusader. 

Jayme worked for about thirty-five minutes to make this creation.  She is already planning her next one.  She wants to invent a pony based on the color schemes that we have.  And she is pretty sad that we don't have pink Legos.  She really wanted to build Pinkie Pie! Oh well. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

O is for Oatmeal!

Our final letter of 2013!  We'll start back up with P in January.

Oatmeal Sensory Box

This one was fun to put together!  I took a large Tupperware container.  I added about a cup and a half of oatmeal. 

I made two batches of oatmeal playdough (1 c oats, 1/2 c water, 1/2 c flour all mixed together + food coloring).  I colored one red and one green. 

The kids got involved.  I asked them to pick things out of the kitchen drawers that they wanted to use.  A potato masher, cookie cutters, random lids, an empty medicine bottle and a piece of an old fashion coffee pot were all selected. 

We played!  Owen liked the playdough.  I liked that it wouldn't hurt him when he sampled it.  I still stayed with him and tried to keep him from eating it, but at least two small pieces made it down the hatch.  He is quick!

Jeffrey and Ellie used the lids to make Os.  They poked the middle out with their fingers.  They really liked the texture.

Sydney shoved it all in the coffee pot piece.  Then she tried to squish it out the bottom, but it was too thick.  She then started picking up the oatmeal and letting it fall back down on her arms.  She giggled a lot!

Ellie got the idea to try and add the oats to the clay.  It became pretty stiff.  Then Jeffrey filled up the medicine container with water and tried helping her out.  They ended up getting workable clay again.
 That's a huge reason why I like sensory play--the kids can explore the materials and try and problem solve on their own.  And they work together at it. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Unexpected Blessing

Shortly after cleaning up from morning chores, the power went out.  The weather wasn't bad.  It was just an unexpected blessing.

After helping Bryan get out the door, we scrambled some eggs on our woodstove top.  Then we made some hot cocoa and went down to the basement for a gallon of water.  We made tea.  It was a lovely morning of snuggling and reading.

Since the power wasn't supposed to be restored until right before noon, I decided to get a jump start on lunch.  I put a chicken in my dutch oven, along with some veggies.  I added some water and seasonings, and set it on the stove to cook.  Wow--the smell was amazing!  All morning we enjoyed the smell of the cooking chicken.

Power was restored sooner than expected.  Then we were able to get on with scheduled school activities that needed the computer.  But, we enjoyed a wonderful morning.  It's amazing how much slower pace life is without power!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

When You Can't Have a Christmas Tree...

Our family has always enjoyed decorating the Christmas tree.  When I was a kid, we did it annually on the Saturday closest to December 15th.  (Having a wood stove shortens the amount of time a tree does well...).  It was such a fun day.  Cocoa to drink.  Christmas music playing.  Telling stories about various ornaments.

Other than the date, my husband and I have carried this tradition onto our own family.  We opted to go with an artificial tree because of the layout of our house (think tree right across from wood stove scenario...) and we always had it up the majority of December.

Until this year.

Owen's Pica has gotten so bad that we were worried to put it up.  Too tempting for him.  Too much headache for the rest of us.  We didn't want to constantly be loosing ornaments to Owen's GI tract.  Not to mention the pain that those ornaments could cause Owen.

Spending all day, every day, keeping a very strong and very determined seven year old away from a beautiful tree doesn't sound like a way to enjoy the Christmas season to me. Neither did having it barricaded with the dining room table or something.  So Bryan suggested not having a tree this year.

It made sense.

But, something has been missing.  The younger kids keep asking when we'll put up the tree.  They worked hard on ornaments last year (with Truth in the Tinsel) and wanted to see their work.  They love the sight of a decorated tree.

We had to do something.  So, how did we decorate for Christmas this year?

We took advantage of the ceilings. My husband had that wonderful idea!  We hung garland up around the dining room/living room and used ornament hooks to hang our lighter ornaments from it.

When we go shopping this coming Friday, we are going to buy some heavy duty hooks for the ceiling that will support the weight of our other ornaments.  We are planing on stretching string around the room with those hooks.

The best part?  The string can stay up year round.  We can finally easily decorate for other holidays without worrying about anything being eaten.  Snowflakes in January.  Hearts in February.  You get the idea!  We're so excited.

And Owen can't reach them.  He can just sit back and look at them like the rest of us.  Yeah! It's safe. 

Now we don't miss the tree as much.  Not when we can look up and see the beautiful decorations all around the room.

It works for us!

And hopefully when we go to the doctor at the end of the month, he'll have a suggestion on the worsening  Pica. 

Linked up to: Raising Arrows

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Christmas Cards

So excited!  I actually got the majority of our Christmas cards down to the Post Office today!! Still trying to round up an address or two, but feel very good.  We haven't sent out cards for a couple of years, and it was such a blessing sitting down and remembering our family and friends as I addressed envelopes.

Some members of our family are far away (for instance in France) and some are near (across the road) and the rest are in between.  Whether we see them daily or only once every few years, I'm so thankful for the people God has placed in our lives.  Sending them a Christmas greeting is a great way to stay in touch this time of the year.  Praying for them is something easy we can do all year!  One of my goals for next year is to be better at that.

Now...our Christmas card reveal:

It's so nice to have Photoshop to work with. Bryan takes such great pictures that they are fun to play with.  The stair pic is my favorite.

The verse we selected for this year (2 Corinthians 9:15) points towards the true gift of Christmas.  God sent his Son to earth to pay the penalty of sin that we deserved.  Through Him we can have complete forgiveness from God.  What a wonderful thought!  If you don't know the forgiveness of God, please get in touch.  Bryan or I would love to share the gift of God with you!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

5 Ways to Work Towards Kindergarten Language Arts Standards with Thinking Putty

Standards.  Like them or not, they are here to stay in the world of education. But you know what?  Teaching these standards isn't difficult.  It can even be fun.  And most of you are probably already hitting the standards without realizing it.

Just to prove how simple it can be, here are five ways to meet at least one kindergarten language standard with a favorite tactile toy--thinking putty.  In case you aren't familiar with this product, let me give it a quick summary.  Silly putty...on steroids.  Seriously.  Just a large amount of awesomeness in a tin.  It stretches.  It bounces.  It works on fine motor skills.  Very cool stuff. And very useful for teaching.

Without further ado, here we go.  All of the standards are Common Core State Standards for Reading/Language Arts for Kindergarten since my state has sadly switched to those.

Materials for all lessons: 
At least one tin of thinking putty (if you have two, you use one and your child use one...otherwise you can share!)

1. Recognize and name all letters of the alphabet (both upper- and lowercase).  

Thinking putty activity.  Have your child build letters out of thinking putty.  You make a capital, and have your child make a lowercase.  Switch.  Have your child call out the letter to build.  See who can build the biggest capital M.  See who can make the smallest capital L.  

Make a letter and have your child guess it.  Guess what letter they built.

Building familiarity with the alphabet through play is one of the best ways to ensure reading success.  So play with your letters.  It's good for the brain!

Can you build Dad out of thinking putty?  How about Grandma?  Ask your child these things, and build people you know.  Together. Once you have two faces assembled, ask questions. 

 How can I tell which one is Dad?  Oh--you're right.  He has a beard and wears a hat.  Grandma has longer hair.   (Or whatever features can be used to distinguish two people.)  The attention to detail that young children have is remarkable. Even if the people are hard to build, the conversation you have will work towards this standard. 

Do the same thing with places.  Can you build our  house and Grandma's house?  What's different about them?  How are they the same?  These simple questions will get your child's mind going.  

Triangle, Square, Circle (Apparently my thinking putty skills need work!) 
Make three things out of thinking putty that all fit the same category.  Ask your child if he or she can guess what your category is.  (If your thinking putty skills are anything like mine, you might have to tell your child what your objects are first! :) )

If you've made a triangle, a circle and a rectangle, ask your child what else could go in that group and then create it.  (Perhaps an oval or a heart...)  Or if you made three numbers, have your child add another.  

Then switch.  Have your child build three things and you guess the category.  Then you add something new.  

This game is building vocabulary skills and helping your child see how different objects are related.  

Thinking putty is a great medium for retelling stories.  Since each tin holds a good amount, you can break it into smaller chunks.  This is Jonah.  This is a big whale.  This is the boat he was on.  Using those three simple pieces, a child can retell the story of Jonah.  

Change it up a bit.  Make a house.  A bed.  A chair.  Tell the story of Goldilocks.   

Even if the objects don't look exactly like what their supposed to, you are building the key skill--retelling a story from memory.  

Take turns.  You tell a story.  Then your child tells a story.  Build the key elements of the setting.  By demonstrating how to retell a story, you are helping build comprehension skills that will serve your child throughout a lifetime. 

 Ask your child to create a new creature out of thinking putty.  Then, ask questions about the creature.  Have your child use words to answer. Here are a few to get conversations rolling: 

What would you like most about having this creature as a pet? 
How would it feel to hug this creature? 
What is that part used for?  

Then, you build a creature.  Have your child ask you questions.  Take turns building and asking.  

There you have it.  Five super simple activities using only thinking putty and conversation.  Five activities that link to Kindergarten Common Core State Standards.   

Linked up to: Raising Arrows

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cute Cookies

A group of people from church are getting together tonight to go caroling at a nursing home, and then gather for fellowship.  When I came across these cookies on a blog a few weeks ago, I knew this would be the perfect occasion to try our hand at making them.

When we went shopping on the 6th, I grabbed everything we needed and tucked it away in the kitchen.  Today was the day to pull everything out.  I don't normally buy cookies, so the kids were super excited to see them all! 

And then we had fun constructing our hamburgers.  We decided to set up an assembly line.  Jeffrey did ketchup.  Ellie applied mustard.  Jayme added lettuce and burger patty.  I played gopher, taking completed hamburgers to the tray and refilling supplies as needed.  Simon slept like a sweet little baby, and Sydney and Owen took turns eating broken cookies. It was a family event indeed.

Jeffrey adds ketchup.  He did a great job!

Ellie adds some mustard and Sydney looks for a sample.
Jayme adds lettuce, a bun and assembles.
Ellie approves!

The finished product--really cute!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hearts and Livers and Tongues, oh My!

Monday the 9th was butcher day at Grouse Creek.  Two large Holstein steers--the ones with horns that kind of scare me...were butchered.  I was available to help the butcher as needed, and answered "Yes" when he asked if I wanted to keep various organs and other meat that most people say "No" about.

I kept the liver, heart, sweetbread (Thymus gland), tongue and jowls from both steers.  Some of this meat went to the freezer after cooling. Some got cooked right away.  Honesty, I have to get up a bit more nerve before actually cooking some of these!

The hearts were cubed immediately.  One batch was marinated for 24 hours using a recipe from Nourishing Traditions. I thought I'd be brave...but I just dumped it all into a freezer bag and froze it.  One of these days...

The livers were cut into small chunks and frozen.  I've had liver and onions before.  I didn't like it.  I need a new recipe! Any ideas? I've successfully incorporated grated liver with ground beef before, so I may just continue to do that.

The sweetbread was prepared according to Nourishing Traditions. It's still in my fridge.  I'm planning on cooking it today.  It's small, and not so intimidating. It's supposed to be a mild organ.

I'd never done anything with tongue before.  I think I still have one in the freezer from last year...I found great directions for cooking on this site.  I boiled them up and the bumpy skin came right off.  Instead of processing it further into taco meat, I decided to go shredded BBQ style.  What I tasted right away was good.  But, I had too much meat out, and decided to freeze this for a future meal.

The jowls is what I was most excited about.  Apparently this is a delicacy in some parts of the world.  I used this website and slow cooked the whole thing in foil in the oven.  It was fall apart tender when I pulled it out! And tasty!

I shredded the beef cheeks, added a can of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and some taco seasoning.  Then I covered the baking pan up with foil again and stuck it in the fridge.  On Mexican night this week, I simply put the pan in the oven before milking in the evening.

When I came back in, the meat was warmed and delicious.  A quick shredding of some lettuce and grating of cheese, and dinner was ready.  We just scooped the meat into tortillas, added toppings and rolled.  All of the kids liked it.  Jayme and Owen ate two tacos.  Ellie ate her entire one.  Sydney and Jeff did pretty well too.

Bryan and I also liked it.  The large chunks of red meat were a nice change from the normal ground beef tacos we do.  We're definitely looking forward to the more traditional cuts of beef being ready! Roasts and steaks and ribs...yum!

What organs have you tried?  Any tips for an enjoyable liver recipe?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Cold Weather Blessings

"Oh the weather outside is frightful..."

This song has been playing in my mind lately. Temperatures have been hanging out well below freezing lately. We've hit negative temperatures a few nights. Brr! When you live in an old farm house (built over 100 years ago) that lacks insulation in most areas, it is just flat out cold.

My dad (who lived here as a kid) always told us that he would bring a glass of water upstairs to bed at night and wake up to a frozen cup of solid ice. I never really believed him. Figured it was one of those "walk uphill both ways in the snow" type stories. Except now, with temperatures this low, I believe him!

With space heaters running full blast and a roaring fire downstairs, our upstairs temperatures have been in the low 50s. Too cold for us!  I can easily imagine it sinking cold enough to freeze water without heaters--especially if the fire died. So we've decided to have everyone sleep downstairs for now. 

Routines are off.  Quiet time is more difficult (everyone isn't in their own space).  It's been a small challenge.  But, instead of grumbling about it, I decided to make a thankfulness list.  God is very good, even when we are not enjoying the temperatures.

My Cold Weather Blessings

1. We are super thankful for our lovely wood stove.  We were able to purchase a really high quality, efficient one back when we had two incomes.  It keeps the living room toasty and most of the downstairs warm.
2. We are thankful that we live on acerage with timber. And that Bryan is able to cut wood for our needs. And split it. We do not need to worry about running out of wood during the winter.
3. Also thankful that we have a covered area in the barn to store all of the split wood.  We don't have to try and get it out of snow. 
4. We are thankful that The Lord provided us the means to insulate the downstairs of the house prior to temperatures plummeting. The last few years have been fairly mild winters.
5. We were blessed by my parents a few years ago with their hide-a-bed couch when thy upgraded. Bryan and I are now sleeping on this until the temperature gets back up to 20 or so.
6. My parents also blessed us with a beautiful wood bunk-bed set that we have in Owen's room.  (We are planning on making an enclosed bed for Owen eventually).  Now, we have four of our children sleeping in those beds.  Jayme, Jeffrey, Ellie and Sydney are sleeping in that room.
7. Since we are sleeping downstairs, and can listen more closely for Owen opening the stove, we are able to let him sleep in his favorite spot--on the floor right in front of the stove.  He's been sleeping about an hour longer at a stretch than normal! Sleep is always a blessing!!!
8. We're thankful that Simon was already used to sleeping downstairs.  No adjustment for him.
9. We're thankful that the kids love each other and enjoy each others' company.  We're spending lots of time in two rooms.  Altogether.  It could be bad.
10. We don't have a lack of blankets.  That's wonderful!  God is so good!
11. The made out hide-a-bed leaves an awesome fort area underneath.
12. We have a furnace installed in the downstairs that allows us to keep the bathroom and kitchen and playroom from completely freezing.  We don't like to run it because of costs, but we have it in case of emergency.  That's nice to know.
13. We can leave water dripping at night, and our pipes haven't frozen!  No water would be even worse.
14. The butcher was still able to make it out on Monday.  No more big, scary cows with horns around.  A freezer full of meat coming soon!!!
 15. We're able to play all kinds of unique games, like The Story Bowl, and our Nameless Game.  If things were normal, I probably wouldn't be as motivated to think of new game ideas that everyone can play.  We've even turned plastic cups into bowling pins and bowled together.  It's really fun! 

Even when temperatures plummet and it's cold, we are able to thank God and know that He's working everything out.

Is it this cold in your part of the world too?

N is for Noodle

This has been a fun week in our little homeschool!  We've made it all the way to N.  N is for noodle!  I've been making an effort to incorporate more sensory play into our learning.  It's good for Owen.  Actually--it's good for all the kids! 

First, we had to make colored noodles.  With Christmas just around the corner, I picked red and green.  I put dried macaroni noodles into a gallon Ziploc.  We added several drops of red food coloring to one bag, and several drops of green to another.  A little rubbing alcohol was added as well. 

Then my helpers shook, shook, shook.  Eventually the majority of the noodles got covered.  Then we let them dry on a cookie sheet.  When they were done, they looked like this:

I divided the colored noodles between five sparkly boxes I found in the dollar section at Target.  I added a few goodies--gold chocolate coins, Christmas stamps, ribbon for lacing, and a cinnamon stick.  The kids loved digging through their noodles to find everything. 

Then I used glue to write a name on construction paper.  Each child put noodles on top of the glue, and had a tactile name. Great practice!  I just did a big O for Owen, and a big S for Sydney.  Those two needed some help.  Owen had hand-over-hand assistance, and Sydney just had big sister work with her until she understood what she was supposed to do.

 But, macaroni noodles aren't the only ones we used for play this week.  Spaghetti noodles worked wonderfully as well.  I cooked a big 3 pound bag. Then I colored half of it red and half of it green.  I used the same bags as before, but used olive oil instead of rubbing alcohol to  help transfer the color.

This is the perfect sensory medium for Owen.  It's cooked, so if when he eats it I don't have to worry about it expanding internally.  After reading about noodle baths on this website, I knew that Owen would love one.  He did!  He had noodles on his head, noodles on his toes, and he even threw noodles on the floor.  Thankfully, it was easy to clean up!

Then the little girls asked if they could take one too.  I dug out their swim clothes and refilled the tub.  They had a blast! The noodles turned the water an interesting color.  They picked it up and cooked with it on the sides of the tub.  They threw it at each other.  They let their toes dangle in the noodles. 

That website (Growing a Jeweled Rose) also has directions for making glow in the dark noodles.  I want to try that sometime, though I probably won't let Owen play with those ones.  He will eat them after all. Thanks to the Pica.  Don't want him glowing internally!  
Other possible noodle activities for the week:
Noodle Necklaces
Noodle Patterns
Noodle ABC dig
Do you have any fun ideas for noodle play?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Alphabet Castle

We've been hard at work learning letters around here.  One of my favorite ways to practice letter identification is with a large foam puzzle.  I'm sure you've seen them around--the letter pops out and back in, and you can connect them to make a large mat.  The kids love playing with it.

After we take all of the letters out, I usually throw them all around the room.  I grab up a case and call out the letter.  The little guys run around trying to be the first to find it.  Once all the letters are retrieved, we order them.  Great letter practice!

Owen can easily be included in this activity.  He usually chews on a letter or a case, and we all tell him which letter he has.  Exposure is our big goal with Owen, so it works great!

Jeffrey and Ellie decided to do something different.  They recruited Jayme and had her build them a letter castle.  They could pop out letters to make windows.  It was another fun way to play with the alphabet.
Jayme puts the finishing touches on the door to her castle.

Ellie demonstrates the peep hole.

Sydney, Jeffrey and Ellie in the completed castle. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Keeping Owen Safe: Dutch Door

Owen is getting tall.  And strong. The gates that have worked wonderfully for years can now be yanked out of the frame by him. 

Opening the wood stove is another accomplishment of Owen's this winter.  It's not an accomplishment we're proud of.  He loves to lay in front of the fire.  If he can't see flames, he pulls the doors open.  I'm sure you can see why this is a problem.

We would simply shut his door.  But, we heat primarily with wood.  With the door closed, the heat doesn't get in that room.  And since the thermostat is in the living room with the stove, it can get really cold in all other rooms before the backup furnace kicks on. Owen doesn't stay under blankets.  And he doesn't regulate his body temperature well.  He would freeze with the door completely shut. 

So with a gate not doing the job of keeping Owen in his room at night, and slow burning fires keeping the house warm but not flaming, it was time for a change. We knew that Owen could accidentally burn himself badly, or even start the house on fire if this kept up. That couldn't happen.

 Bryan ordered a solid door from The Ugly Duck, and had them cut it in half.  We brought it home a couple of weeks ago, and Bryan got it installed.  He had to cut the hinge holes and the doorknob.  He did a great job!  I'm so thankful that he thought of this solution.

Now we have a door that Owen can't climb over.  He can open the doorknob, but Bryan turned it so the lock is facing the living room.  Some heat can get in over the top, keeping the room from being as cold. 
Bryan works on cutting the doorknob hole.  The dutch door is beautiful!

Owen is just tall enough to barely see over.  When he grows a little more, it'll be a better height for him.  But, it should last for years! 

We are going to replace the other gates in our house with this same solution.  It works! 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Christmas Corn

We needed a fun snack yesterday.  I wanted the kids to help make a Christmas treat, but didn't want to spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  Google helped me! 

I found an easy recipe for cracker jacks, colored for Halloween.  I changed out the colors, and made Christmas corn. The kids helped pick out the old maids and put the popcorn into two separate large bowls.

While they handled the popcorn, I mixed up the syrup.   I don't typically use evaporated milk, so I substituted that with equal parts of heavy cream and milk.  I was a bit nervous, but it worked fine! 

The syrup cooked really quickly, and only had to boil for a minute.  I poured half of it into another pan and added green.  I colored the rest red.  A few drops of food coloring is all it took. 

I poured the green syrup over one bowl, and the red over the other.  A  stir with a wooden spoon ensured that each piece was coated. 

Since it was really sticky, I decided it should be baked, even though the original recipe didn't call for that.  I combined both colors in a large baking pan and stuck it in a cold oven.  I set it to 350 degrees and set the timer for 20 minutes.  That seemed to be perfect! The popcorn was no longer sticky.

The kids were so excited to eat their Christmas corn!  It definitely lightened our moods and gave us energy to head out into the cold and do chores. 

Enhancing Creative Story Telling: The Story Bowl

We've been watching too much TV lately.  With temperatures reaching a high of 10, going outside to play as a family isn't an option.  Brr!  It's bad enough going out to do chores.

So with dark coming early, and cold, cold weather, we've been snuggling on the "couch bed" and watching DVDs.  Which is fun. Except it's been taking a toll on  behavior.  The kids are just wanting too many movies.  They wake up in the morning asking if they can pick a movie.  I'm all for snuggling on the couch and watching a movie this time of year, but not before breakfast and chores and school!

Time for a change.  Something to spark some creative thinking.  Something that used items we already had.  I've been wanting to work on story telling with the younger kids, and creative writing with Jayme.  And then I had one of those lightbulb moments.

I asked Jayme to get the big mixing bowl.  Jeffrey was sent on a mission to round up five Lego people.  Ellie was sent for some toy animals.  Jayme selected five toy blocks.  A few other items were dropped in the bowl, and the kids looked at me like I'd lost my mind.

After getting Sydney and Owen settled with the rest of the blocks, I announced that it was time to play The Story Bowl.  I instructed Jayme to close her eyes, and reach into the bowl.  She was to select five random items.

Once she had her items, I asked her to tell us a story.  Her story had to use all five of the items.  She could include other things as well, but those five HAD to be included.

Jeff and Ellie loved listening to Jayme's story.  Then they asked for turns.  Selecting the items was their favorite part.  On my turn, I got a rubber duck, a cylinder block, an airplane, a boat and a frog.  I told a story about a lonely duck who decided to leave his little pond and go looking for a friend.  He tried the boat and the airplane, but they didn't answer him.  Finally he came to a frog sitting on a rock.  They became friends.

On Ellie's next turn, she asked if she could look at the bowl while picking.  I said yes, and she reached in.  She picked the same five items I had, and proceeded to retell my story.  She added a cool waterfall by using her legs though.  Retelling a story is a great way to practice literacy!

This was such a simple game.  But, so much fun!  It hit many learning goals.  And the kids didn't even realize they were learning.  Creativity, sequencing, organization...all essential writing skills.  Those writing skills are honed through oral stories as well as in the written word.

Here is what was in our bowl:
Rubber bath toy animals


Every fairy tale needs a princess/king crown!
Blocks created wonderful background objects--hills, flagpoles, rocks, etc.

Lego People
If you need a fun way to build literacy on a cold winter night, grab a big bowl.  Gather some random objects and play The Story Bowl!

Linked up with: Raising Arrows

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Baby Names

I've had some questions over the years about some of the names we picked for our children.  In this post, we'll take a quick look at all of them.  I'll do my best to explain our reasoning. :)

Jayme Rebekah 

Our oldest.  Bryan and I were seniors in high school while expecting her.  We both made a list of names we liked.  We made boy and girl lists since we didn't peek.  Then we compared.  And talked.  Jayme (or some variation) was about the only name on both lists.  We went with it. Bryan picked the spelling.  The y matches the y in his name.  :)

We knew we wanted a middle name with a meaning.  I have a throw away middle name (Ann....).  Bryan's is his mother's maiden name.  We talked about going that route.  But alas, my maiden name is Pease.  And Pease Tanner is just begging to be teased.  That one got scratched.  Almost immediately.  And has never since been suggested.  Sorry Dad....

A Biblical name was decided on.  We both liked Rebekah.  It flowed well.  We liked it.

Owen Elijah
Our first born son.  His name was going to be Wyatt Joseph.  Until my mom started singing a song that went something like this..."Wyatt Earp urps up" Yeah.  That name had to go.  Bryan was on deployment on the Ronald Reagan, and Jayme and I were in Washington.  We had long distance, email communications about a new name.  I suggested Owen--a couple at the church we were at before we moved had recently used it, and I liked it.  So did Bryan.

But Owen Joseph just didn't flow well. A different middle name was needed.  Bryan suggested Elijah or Elisha.  We went with Elijah since he was first.  Maybe we'll use Elisha someday.

Jeffrey James

James is Bryan's favorite Biblical name.  It also happens to be the name of my Dad (though he has always gone by Jim.)  We liked it.  We just couldn't think of a first name.  

One day at an appointment with the midwife, I suggested naming this child after  both of our dads.  After all, Bryan's dad had done an ultrasound while we were visiting him in Texas and confirmed that we were having a boy.  It would be fitting.  His name is Jeffrey.  

Jeffrey James flowed nicely.  Besides, I really liked the nickname JJ.  Only one problem...Jeffrey has requested us NOT to call him that.  He likes Jeffrey.  Or Jeffrey James.  

Ellie Elisabeth

Our first baby name inspired by a book. I had just finished reading aloud the Love Come Softly series to the family.  Bryan and I really liked the name Ellie, and her character in the books.  We just didn't love Elvira--her given name.  We didn't really like Elizabeth either as a first name.  And we decided to just go with what we liked.  Ellie.  

But, we knew that someday our cute little Ellie might grow up and want a grown up name.  She needed a middle name that was elegant and a contrast to the bubbly first name.  Sticking with our Biblical theme, we selected Elisabeth.  We chose that spelling because it has my name in it--Lisa.  

Sydney Damaris
Sydney Damaris.  Damaris is another name taken from a book.  Another one of Janette Oake's books actually.  A Woman Named Damaris. This name is found in Acts 17.  A rather obscure Biblical name, but one that Bryan and I both really like.  Except that everyone in the extended family seems to think her name is Sydney Damascus.  Oh well.  

Damaris was set to be Sydney's first name.  Until my math minded husband did some figuring.  All of our other kids have a two-syllable first name.  Can't leave this one out of that pattern.  So we moved Damaris to the middle place.  And came to terms with the fact that we had a naming pattern.  Two syllables from here on out folks! :) 

I don't actually remember how we picked Sydney.  But I'm glad we did.  Now.  I had serious naming regrets at first.  It just didn't seem to work.  Now it does.  Our little Sydney is often called  by her nickname--Cinnamon.  And let me tell you.  She adds spice to life alright!  

Simon Andrew
 Bryan picked this name, and I really like it.  In the book of Acts, there is Simon a tanner.  We have the perfect last name!  I, however, did not want our child to have a middle initial instead of a middle  name.  So we started brainstorming Biblical A names.

Andrew seemed to flow the best.  We liked the meaning.  And our kids have a pretty neat uncle named Andrew.  So we went with it.  Altogether, his name means a listening warrior.  Strong, but gentle.  Taking time to listen instead of just barge in.  But able to barge in when needed.  Good character traits.  Now we have to raise him right to get him to that point! :)

I'm also glad that Owen is now not the only child to have a name that doesn't end in the e sound.  It's all good!

Other Contenders

If the Lord blesses us with more babies, we are set.  Here are a few names that remain on our lists: 

Ziva Abigail 
Mia Joanna
Brynna Ruth
Ashlyn Joy

Brennan Samuel
Ethan Malachi 
Carson Isaiah 
Brendan Elisha 

Of course, we might change our minds.  If mom develops yet another strange song (and tells us BEFORE the name is given).  Or if another name just jumps at us.  Or whatever. 

How did you come up with baby names? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Serious Humor at Grouse Creek

When you work with animals, you never know what is going to happen.  Bryan and I walked out to the barn the other day, and saw this:

 Yup.  That's our holstein (who's going to get butchered Friday!!!) with his hay container on his head.  He's been eating out of it just fine for ages.  But somehow, he managed to get his horns in there just right.  And get stuck. 

After snapping a quick pic, I climbed over the gate and pried one side loose.  He backed up and shook his head.  The trough went flying.  He was free!

It made for a good laugh!  Animals...got to love them!