Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Winter Sun

I've mentioned before about how much we really love the sun. When we were investigating ideas for our house, we looked into a lot of options. We thought about a cob house. We were working out a floor plan for a yurt. We knew we wanted something that was efficient in some way - and that's what sold us on passive solar.

We literally live on top of a hill. We see no other houses and the only thing we do see other than trees is the stacks of a local power plant in the distance. And that's on the east side of our house, where we don't frequently look out the windows. It makes us laugh, because people think we live in a huge house because the whole south side is windows. It's really not that big! But, it certainly does look that way from the south.

For the passive solar design to be effective, there are some elements built into the design. An important one, especially for the winter, is the length of the overhang. Our roof has a two foot overhang! I'm used to it now, but when I drive by houses with no overhang at all, it looks weird :-)

The overhang keeps the sun out in the summer and allows for lots of sunlight to enter in the winter! We were skeptical at first, but were quickly proven wrong our first winter here. The sun can reach our woodstove and even the pennisula in the kitchen!

As the solstice approaches, we garner an even deeper appreciation of the sun. And look forward to the return of the light!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

On the Needles - Holiday Knitting

I haven't been putting up my knitting updates recently...because, well, it's not that exciting. I decided to make a lot of the same thing (which is still a secret!) for Christmas gifts this year. So, I've been knitting like crazy. In 2 weeks, I can tell you what they are. Until then, any guesses?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Do You Weave?

So, I'm a little more than a month away from my birthday. Last year on my birthday, my mother in law gifted me a rigid heddle lap loom. The loom was handcrafted by a couple in MI, I believe, and is really quite gorgeous. The thought and care they put into making the loom and also the details that come with it are pretty top notch.

And so, I've had it almost a year. And I've only made 2 things with it. The scarf/table runner that it was warped to make and another small placemat. When my mother in law was in visiting over the summer, we attempted to warp it. It worked ok...but, warping is most definitely the hardest part of weaving! We warped it with cotton and the weft yarn was some beautiful hand dyed local yarn.

Things were going well, until we noticed that the heddle had a little snag in it. It was wearing down one of my warp pieces until it finally broke. We tried to knot it back together, but it wouldn't hold. So, instead of a scarf, I have a small table mat. That's ok!

We sanded the whole heddle to smooth out any bumps. I have an eight dent rigid heddle, which is suited to use worsted weight yarns. And I haven't attempted to warp it since. But! The cold weather is certainly starting to set in and what better time to start!

There are so many things I could make, the possibilities are endless. What about you - do you weave? Do you have any tips for a newbie like myself?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Homemade Ornaments

We went yesterday to cut our Christmas tree! We are firm believers that the tree shouldn't be up before Thanksgiving. We had to take advantage of the 60 degree temperatures yesterday! While we have the room for a bigger tree, we chose a smaller tree. It measured in at five and a half feet and it is the perfect height for the kids to decorate it.

Speaking of decorating, I'm a big fan of making our own Christmas tree decorations. Two years ago, Kole and I made cinnamon ornaments. When I ran across a recipe for chocolate salt dough from Fun at Home With Kids, I knew we had to give it a go.

I'm so thankful for our stand mixer when it comes to making play doughs and salt doughs. It gives it a much smoother texture than I could achieve with kneading it. It could be I'm just a wimp, too!

This stuff smells awesome. Like whoa. The kids had fun digging in. Quite literally for Little J. And of course, some had to go into her mouth. It surely doesn't taste good, but at least there isn't anything toxic about it.

I encouraged Kole to use Christmas cookie cutters, but he insisted on machines and tools. It's their tree, so hey! But, much like making cut out cookies, the novelty wore off after the first few and so I was left with the rest.

That's ok - there really is something therapeutic about getting your hands into dough. I added some holes to the top for string and they're currently finishing up baking in the oven. Annnd, my house smells amazing!

I can't wait to get them up on the tree! How about you? How do you like to decorate your tree?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Simple Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends! It was a beautifully chilly day here on the hill and we were the hosts for dinner today. It was a mainly local food meal - we purchased our turkey from a local farmer, potatoes from our garden, homemade bread for our stuffing, and brussel sprouts from another local farming couple.

Although I inevitably stress about the meal, it's not because I'm making a complicated recipe or because we're making a million and one dishes. We keep it simple. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a vegetable are all we need to be satisfied.

We are working our way through our white potatoes from the garden this summer. They are starting to get some eyes, but they are just fine once they are peeled. And they make some awesome mashed potatoes!  Now that we have a table saw, one of our projects for the winter is building root cellar storage and potato bins are on the list!

My grandma requested lots of stuffing, so she walked me through how she made hers. It's pretty basic with lots of bread, onion, eggs, butter, and a splash of chicken broth. Kole was excited that stuffing was essentially just bread, but was disappointed when he saw onions. Oh well, more for us!

My concern really lies in making sure we get the turkey fully cooked! And not cooked as in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation cooked turkey!  We have been getting our turkeys locally for the last several years, but this year Becky and Larry raised some heritage turkeys to meet a demand. We have become accustomed to, and prefer, heritage chicken so we decided to give the turkey a go. If you're not familiar with the heritage breed poultry, they tend to take longer to grow and have less white breast meat. Since we've never cooked one before, Dan scoured the internet. He found that most of the people he found had butterflied the turkey and it was done in a little over an hour at a high temperature. I was skeptical, but I told him the turkey was his domain!

So, a little after 11, he put the turkey in and by 12:30 it was ready! Not bad for an 11.5 pound bird! He made sure to use two meat thermometers to ensure that it was fully cooked. The website has a lot of good tips for ensuring your turkey is properly prepared - these tips are good for more than just Thanksgiving! And while this video may make you giggle, food safety is important!

I love how this infographic shows the appropriate places to take a temperature reading on the bird. I really, really tried to remember to get pictures along the way, but I forgot. It was a whirlwind getting food on the table and we couldn't wait to dig in...

There were 6 adults and 2 littles, but we have a good deal of leftover turkey. And a lot of dark meat! Like, really dark meat. I'm thinking about maybe trying turkey stroganoff! I love how Deborah likens the dark meat to being useful in recipes that call for beef or pork. I think we are heritage bird converts!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thanksgiving Prep

It's a cold and snowy day here in WV! Our thanksgiving preparations started last night when Dan put a dry salt brine on the turkey. We got a heritage breed turkey weighing  in at 11 pounds. Should be enough for us! We are anxious to try it tomorrow.

I baked bread for stuffing and put together the dough for some bread for tomorrow. Later will be baking the pies!

I mentioned the other day that I was planning to make soap for some gifts. I decided to get started on it today!  I'll put a post together Friday with how I do it. It's a lot of fun and smells awesome. I plan to start selling some of my soap after the new year.

What are you doing to prepare for tomorrow?

Monday, November 24, 2014

On the Needles November 24

Wow. A month away from Christmas Eve!  And Thanksgiving week! I picked up our bird from Gardner Farms yesterday. They raised some heritage birds this year and so we are excited to give it a try.

In other news, I was elected to be on the board of directors for the Clarksburg Farmers Market. I'm excited and nervous, but I hope my input can help make some positive changes to help grow the market!

And I've been knitting like crazy. I came across a pattern for a mug cozy that I love. It's going to be Christmas gifts for quite a few people. And I finished my mom's moccasins.

Since the mug cozies are to be Christmas gifts, I don't want to post a picture of the finished product. They are a quick knit and I can bust through some of my leftover yarn from other projects!  Here's a sneak peek...

Let's just say I have 4 done and will probably cast another on today. I think they'll make lovely gifts. And along the gift line... I'll be making some soap in the next few days. I'll try to get pictures along the way!

Are you making gifts for the holidays?

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Home Improvement

You all know that as a homeowner (and specifically if you built your own house!), your work is never done. There is always something that can be done. When we completed construction on the house two and half years ago, we knew we weren't really *done*. We still have little odds and ends to do. Life happened - like some pretty memorable winters, adjusting to life with two kids, adjusting to life on 53 acres - you get the gist. So, this past weekend, we set to work to completely finish the kids bathroom.

When we were getting ready to move in, I took Kole to Target to look at wall decals to try to decide how to decorate his bathroom. He was big into "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" book and fell in love with the stickers. So, they were up on the wall until recently. To start the project, I took down the stickers in preparation for painting. Holy moly, what a difference that small change made! The bathroom isn't very large, but it felt huge once the stickers were down.

In preparation for the update, I was scouring Etsy for printables that I could have printed and framed to put up in the room. I ran across these and had them printed at the local Staples. Frames can be mucho expensive, so I picked up some frames at Dollar Tree and painted them white. They turned out better than I had anticipated!

After Kole picked out the stickers, I did some searching for a shower curtain to match. I was really happy to find this shower curtain (hey - it's on clearance right now!). It was a pricey purchase, but it is still in fantastic condition after two and a half years. It washes well and if I hang it outside to dry, I don't have to iron it. And it's just plain cute :-)

On top of painting, Dan adjusted the placement of the vanity light, scraped away paint from the edges of the tub surround (hey, when we painted we didn't have very good lighting in there and I did the best I could!), used some acetone to remove paint on the textured floor of the tub, and we washed the outlet covers. Next up, we will touch up paint the trim and door. All of our doors were primed only when we hung them, so we are planning to work our way through them this winter to completely finish out the trim. Once that is done, we can pat ourselves on the back for finally finishing the room. And then look at our to do list for the rest! Hey, at least we have a table saw now!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On the Needles November 16

Boy, felting can be tedious. Don't get me wrong, I love knitting to felt. My terrible gussets disappear when felted! But the whole felting process. Whew. Or perhaps it's because my husband has big feet.

I only got one of his gigantor slippers felted. And I started on some moccasin like slippers for my mom. They're to be felted as well, but she's got small feet!

We've been working on some projects around the house this week. We still have some finishing work to do and we are starting with the kids bathroom. They have a very hungry caterpillar shower curtain. We initially put up very hungry caterpillar stickers, but I haven't been feeling them lately. So, I found some cool printable on Etsy and got them printed at Staples. I picked up some frames yesterday at the Dollar Tree and painted them white. I trimmed the pictures to fit. I'm pretty happy with how they turned out!

Dan is working on finishing up filling in holes and painting the trim as well as putting up a fresh coat of paint. He moved the light above the vanity to get it more centered. I'll try to get some finished pictures when it's all done!  I'm also working on our gallery wall in the entry way. I picked up some dimensional letters at JoAnns and painted them white. They'll go up above the kids pictures.

I'll keep you updated on our progress! What are your craft or DIY plans for the week?

Check out some other great posts over at the homestead blog hop!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Four Season Gardening

I shared recently on my Facebook page how envious I am of Mother of a Hubbard. Her winter garden is drool worthy! She's in KY in a similar zone to me, so it was encouraging to see her having such success. And it made my tummy rumble at the thought of harvesting delicious greens year round.

I ordered Eliot Coleman's books, Four Season Harvest, and I can't wait to read it cover to cover. I read through the first chapter and I love how down to earth it is. And how encouraging!

We have big goals for next year and I'd love to try our hand at four season harvests!  How about you? Are you a year round gardener?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

On The Needles - November 8

It's definitely getting to be knitting weather round these parts. Dark early and chilly = cuddled under the blanket knitting. It will be even better with the woodstove going :-)

I'm trying to get Dan's slippers done before it gets too much colder. I am a l m o s t there!

For an idea of just how big these puppies are, check out the picture of Kole's 4 year old sized hand next to one.

And do you see the sun in that picture!? When you live in a passive solar house,  you hope for the sun. It makes such a difference in the comfort level of the house. It can raise the house a good 10 degrees on a nice sunny day. We love free heat!

What's on your needles this week?

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Soft Boiled Eggs

I've been on a soft boiled egg kick lately. Even though the days are getting shorter, our girls are still kicking!  We don't use supplemental light. While I know it's not harmful to them, I also think it's nice to give them a rest. We've been getting anywhere from 3 - 7 eggs a day. I'm happy with that considering a few of our big girls are molting. And boy do they look rough. I really want to get the equivalent of a furminator for chickens to help them out, but I know that wouldn't be very comfortable for the girls. Molting looks kind of painful!

Back to the soft boiled eggs. I saw my mother in law eat them while we were on vacation in March. And they looked awesome - something I'd never had. I had sort of forgotten about them until I recently watched a Martha Stewart show on PBS (we love PBS - no cable in this house!). She showed all kinds of ways to prepare eggs.

So, over the last few weeks, I've been enjoying some. Her method and what I've found to work for me, is to bring the eggs to a gentle boil, remove from heat (I put my stove to the lowest setting), put a lid on and set a timer for 3 minutes.

Isn't Fiestaware pretty? They're discontinuing the peacock color - it's one of my favorites! The eggs are best eaten with homemade bread, of course :-)

How about you? Are you a soft boiled egg fan?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Thankful for Beautiful Mornings

My kids had me up at 5:45 AM. Unfortunately, their little bodies didn't get the message that the clocks have changed. It's not terrible getting up that early, I just prefer for it to be *my* idea. Oh well. Sleep is over rated, right?!

The sunrise and sunset can be so pretty up here on the hill. It really helps put life into perspective. I've recently been able to put a lot of things into perspective (finally!) and I'll be sharing those when I find the right words :-)

I was thankful for the sunrise this morning:

I took advantage of being up early and had a loaf of bread rising and a load of laundry on the line before I had to leave for the dentist. Ugh. I had a natural birth with Jenna, so you'd think I wouldn't be a wuss about pain. But I hate pain in my mouth.

It might not be terribly noticeable, but my left lower jaw is swollen and droopy after the shot of numbing agent (lidocaine, novocaine, whatever...). It took more time to numb it up than it took to fill it. And I felt EVERYTHING. Yeah!

I did my civic duty and voted on my way home. It's fun to live in a small town. When I checked in, I saw some cute little ballots for kids. I brought one home for Kole.

We worked with him on it. He didn't know some of the characters on it and neither did we. So, he just picked one. So, not that much different than what normally happens!

How about you? Did you vote? Get a cavity filled? Get up before the crack of dawn? Let me know! I love hearing from you!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Stocking the Pantry

I've shared my love of my pantry. I am terrible at meal planning. Really and truly horrible. Every time I try it, we end up wasting more food than eating it seems. So, I prefer to have my pantry stocked with staples.

A friend recently told me about a food buying club. We generally get our bulk foods from a co op. But! We can order food from the same place as the co op for much less. I was sold! I placed a large order on Monday and picked it up today.

We got two types of rice, black beans (which we hope to grow our own next summer), salt, some spices, sugar, peanut butter (9# worth), green and red lentils, applesauce, frozen peas, steel cut oats,  raisins, dried cranberries, and a 50# bag of flour. It feels so nice to have our pantry full now! Do you meal plan? Shop in bulk?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

On the Needles - October 30

Wow. October 30 already! Where has this year gone?! I'm glad I got the kids fall hats knitted a few months ago. I think hats are my first love in terms of knitting. I plan to knit each of my kids a new hat each year. Hopefully they can pass them onto their children one day! I knitted them before I started this weekly update, so here's a picture:

I got to work this week on Dan's slippers. Wow. He has big feet. You know what they say about big feet! They need big slippers! Gosh...what were you thinking??

He didn't give me specifics on color, so I chose some blue and gold and WVU. Speaking of WVU - ESPN College Game Day is in Morgantown this weekend for the game! Anyhow... I apparently ordered twice as much yarn as I needed to for this project, so I will be able to make something else blue and gold. What do you think I should make?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Farm Gathering

I got to have a mom's day today! In the middle of the week! Can you believe it? When I heard about a local food expo going on in our area, I was interested. Since it fell on a Wednesday, I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it. But, as you may or may not know, my hubs is pretty sweet. He took the day off to hang with the kids :-)

I knew it was going to be a good day when I found out Fish Hawk Acres was going to be catering the event. The $10 fee was more than worth it for the lovely breakfast and lunch we had! The idea for the expo was to bring farmers and buyers (as in restaurants and stores) together to learn more about the opportunities to mesh local foods.

I met up with my friend Laura from Sweet Wind Farm and Cheri from Bonds Creek Farm. We attended a morning breakout session on alternative certifications for farms. It is a costly process for a small farm to become certified organic. A farm can follow organic practices and instead of shelling out the moolah for that organic label, they can become certified naturally grown (CNG). It seemed like a viable option for small farms in the area!

Then it was time for lunch. Yum! I may have had seconds of dessert. No judgements, please....

The first afternoon session I attended was for fruit production. There were so many good points raised in this talk! What's the first thing that sells out at a Farmers Market? Fruit! This talk focused on berries, mainly strawberries, blueberries,  and raspberries. It really got the wheels turning for Dan and I to work with our wild black raspberries to increase productivity. The canes are already there, so there's no cost involved other than our time. And we absolutely adore the berries. In case you don't remember the loveliness that is wild black raspberries...

The last talk of the day that I listened in on was by a poultry professor with WVU on raising backyard birds. He was a great presenter, even though Laura and I didn't agree totally with what he was saying. It opened some good dialog, though!

There was a "pop up" market outside after the event. I picked up some more honey and grabbed some honey chapstick. I'm hoping to start making my own soon, but this is pretty fantabulous for now. And I came home to two happy kiddos!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

On The Needles - October 25

I showed a sneak peak of some yarn I got earlier this week the other day...

The yarn is from Knit Picks. They were having a sale and well, I couldn't pass it up. And as an aside, you never ask a woman the size of her stash ;-)

The brown will be for some felted moccasins I'll be making for my mom and the blue and gold are for a pair of slippers just like mine for Dan. He told me he didn't care what color I used, so I chose WVU colors!

I didn't get a chance to cast on until Wednesday night and so I don't have much progress to show. Here's part of the first gold slipper:

It's actually a pretty quick knit. I hope to be starting some felting in the next week and a half or so! With cold weather on the way, I want to make sure everyone in the house has warm tootsies!

What's on your needles this week?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Library, How I Love Thee

We are big public library fans. As long as they have a big selection of Berenstain Bears books, we are good to go. They were a favorite of mine as a girl and now the kids have all my old books. They teach such awesome lessons in a fun way. Did you know that PBS also had a TV show? It's cute, but it drives me batty that they don't follow the books too well. Even Kole notices!

Anyhow...One of our favorite libraries has a special on their DVDs. You can rent 10 DVDs for 2 weeks for just $5! I don't know where else you can rent them for that cheap. And they have a good selection.

Today I picked up some new walking exercises to try out as well as plenty for the kids. I found the one Berenstain Bears we haven't yet seen. Dan wanted me to pick up The Lego Movie and I found the original Willy Wonka. The Johnny Depp version is a bit creepy. And Frozen. I do believe we are the last family with kids under 10 to not have seen Frozen yet.

Our favorite library is also linked up to a larger statewide digital library. I have an older Kindle and it works great to download some books on to read. And they have Berenstain Bears!

It really helps to have those resources around as a homeschool family. And for a homeschooling family that lives 35 minutes from the library.

We also love our mail man. Our driveway isn't for the faint of heart, but he delivers our packages rain or shine. If we aren't home, he leaves us a note in our mailbox that there's a package on the front porch. I was really excited for today's box! Be sure to check back tomorrow to see what I've cast on :-)

Monday, October 20, 2014

Monday Reflections

Oh, Monday, you tease. My day started out with this pretty sunrise:

Over the weekend, I noticed a weird looking spot on my tooth. It seemed to come on quickly and had me kind of weirded out. I called the dentist when the office opened at 8 AM. Could I be there at 8:30? Why sure...says the girl still in her pajamas brewing some tea who lives 20 minutes from the office. I scrambled around to get ready and was out the door in under 5 minutes. Having short hair comes in handy!

When the hygienist was cleaning my teeth, she said the spot by my gum line was a cavity. She said it's common for people who take good care of their teeth after "years of brushing." I wasn't sure if I should feel good about that or old. All my other teeth looked good...until the x-ray. I'm going to throw this out there...I'm a terrible flosser. There. I said it. I don't floss every day. Or even every other day. Let's just leave it at that.

So, I have one cavity in between two teeth and a few more getting their act together. My dentist told me that with regular flossing, I should be able to stop them. So, regular flossing it is. Who's with me??

In other Monday news, the "rectum wrekcer" egg I shared on Facebook over the weekend was indeed a double yolker. And I love how orange the yolks are from free ranging!

That's the only dose of sunshine we saw here today. Unfortunately. I should probably sign off as I'm writing this, in secret, on my phone while Little J is jumping in her bed. That's what I get for allowing her a late nap.

How was your Monday? Let's take the floss pledge together!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Morning Commute

I thought I'd try something a little different this morning. I videoed the chickens yesterday morning as they were released from their night time prison, aka the coop. Enjoy!

And as a side note, please ignore my sounding like I'm running out of breath on the way back up. I'm getting over a cold.

The Morning Commute:

Let me know what you think! It took almost an entire day to upload the video. We do have DSL out here in the sticks, but that doesn't always equate to high speed :-)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Rex, The Drunken College Roo

Earlier this summer, Rex, our young roo started acting strange. He'd fall back on his legs and almost sit down. It got progressively worse to the point where he would fall down and spent most of his days under the deck. He was supposed to be out wooing his ladies! And swooping in to save them from any aerial attacks (thankfully, we've had none, but still!).

I checked the coop for empty beer bottles. I made sure he wasn't toting a brown paper bag. He sure was acting like a drunken college kid. He was fine otherwise - comb was nice and healthy, poop looked normal, and no other signs of illness. He still ate like a pig. So, I went off to Dr. Google. Since he was the only member of the flock with an issue, I ruled out the common things like Maerks and coccidiosis. It appeared he was suffering from a vitamin E deficiency.

I'm in several Facebook groups, one of which is a natural chicken care group, moderated by Susan Burek. Susan is a trained herbalist and is an advocate for a more natural approach to chicken care. I posed the question on the page as to what was the best course of action. Some people had dealt with a similar scenario and some people ended up having to cull their deficient chickens. I really didn't want to do that, so I tried the other suggestion:

Yes, that's infant vitamins right there. Oh, and the dogs rear end. Hey, that's what happens when I forget to get a picture in the daylight. I was told that if it was a vitamin deficiency, a couple of drops of Poly-Vi-Sol (without iron!!!) should do the trick.

So, we tried it. Poor Rex, defender of his brood, fell over when we went to pick him up for his first dose. We noticed some improvement in him and so we continued for a few days. We didn't ask our neighbors to give it to him while we were out of town over the Labor Day holiday, but we picked back up when we got home.

And you know what? He's improving! He now goes out and ranges with his ladies during the day. He squawks when he hears the telltale screech of a hawk. He still occasionally bumbles, but we are on the up and up.

He's on the right above. He's a really pretty guy. He's a Buff Orpington and is a deep yellow color. He's big in comparison to our hens. And he's pretty docile. He has to be to stay around these parts!

*I wanted to share this because I know many times people are looking to try more natural approaches to animal care. It worked for us and if you ever run into a vitamin deficient chicken, I hope it works for you as well.

Sharing over at The Homesteading Hippy for the weekly blog hop!

And here as well!