Saturday, November 29, 2008

Preparing for Christmas

Greetings to all! I pray that everyone is doing well. I thank all for the emails and comments wishing me well. Simplifying my life through cutting back on other non-material things in my life is having the desired affect in my health. Our family had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. My Beloved worked along side me in the kitchen. As I did the cooking, he did the cleaning up. It is something that he is wanting to do each year on the holidays. We want the children to learn to take part as they are able so that it becomes a family activity. At 2 1/2 yrs old, Abbie is already old enough that she can do little tasks to help in both the food preparation and setting the table. To her, washing the plastic dishes, spoons and forks is still a playing activity. I wash the items first to be sure they are clean, then I let her "wash " them. It both keeps her happily occupied while teaching her a skill that will be a blessing later. She is also learning to take part in the household tasks.

Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is past, Christmas preparations are going into a more focused effort. We keep our celebration simple. Our main focus is on the birth of our Lord. We intend for our children to grow up not focusing on the holiday tree, decorations, and expecting a pile of gifts waiting for them on Christmas morning. In our home, we will have a small tree on a table decorated with ornaments that are homemade. I am making stockings from fleece for each family member. Right now, the children each have a purchased gift. I am working on making the remaining gifts. They are simple things, a toy and clothing type items.

During the next few weeks, I will be helping Abbie to make little gifts for her Daddy, brother, and Grandparents. This will become a tradition. We want the children to learn that just as Christ gave of Himself for us, we should give of ourselves (time, talents) to others.

Another way you can teach children to give to others as Christ gave to us is to find a charity that you can help especially during this season. Find one that is age appropriate for your children so that they can also participate. This year, my Beloved has signed our family up to be bell ringers for the Salvation Army. At 2 yrs old, Abbie will enjoy ringing the bell. I am working on teaching her to say "Merry Christmas" which I am sure she will do very well at. We will all be there as a family doing this. Now that Abbie is getting older, I am planning to make little blankets that she can help to tie instead of quilting. We will work on them through the upcoming year for donating next year. It will be another way to give of ourselves through the year to help others. Another idea is to make a little craft of some kind for the troops. We are considering making little angels to send with a note thanking them for their service and letting them know that we are keeping them in prayer.

Along with our family devotions which we have several times throughout each week, we are hoping to keep this holiday season in a way that focuses on the Lord and gives glory to Him. I pray that the Lord's blessings be with you and your family as you celebrate this blessed season.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Making Changes

It has been too long since I last posted here. I am making changes in my life. As some may already know, I have both fibromyalgia and arthritis. The arthritis isn't too bad, but the cold weather affects it. Over the past couple of months, my body really seems to have been taking a hit. Everything from being sick for 2 weeks with a cold to being injured by our sheep when they were a bit ornery and territorial when the ewe was in heat. Now, with winter cold upon us, I am having to slow down and prioritize my activities to help prevent flare ups of the fibromyalgia. One of the problems with my fibromyalgia is that it hits me pretty fast. I have been medication-free, treatment-free for 2 years now due to changing my diet. I had found that something in the grain fed to commercially raised livestock causes my flare ups. So, I eat a vegetarian diet for the most part but also eat grass-fed meats which do not cause me to have a flare. The best meat that I have been able to eat without any problem is venison.

Last week, I had a rough week with pain. In short, I overworked myself. That is one of the few things that causes a flare up. I have been baking cookies and breads for my Beloved's co-workers who place orders with him at work. It has been a nice little way to earn a bit extra for the family. Last Monday, I had a large order which involved making 4 full batches of cookies. Only one was a type that didn't require the cookies to be shaped before baking. This meant a lot of standing, which is something I cannot do. By the time I was done, my pain level was very high and I had difficulty walking. My Beloved very lovingly hugged me and let me know that we would no longer take any cookie or bread orders. It is just too much. His concern was that now that winter is upon us, the number of orders would go up.

Another change that I am making is that I will only be using my blogs at blogger. The homestead blogger account was my oldest blog, but this account is much easier to manage. Between the two blogs (this one and my recipes blog) I will be kept busy enough.

One of my Beloved's and my goals has always been to simplify our lives. I am finding that it is time to do it in other areas of my life also. My first responsibility it to my relationship with my Lord, then my family, then other things. In an effort to do that, I am not going to be participating in groups or forums, with the exception of the homesteading one that my Beloved and I have at Yahoo. If you are interested in it, you can find the link to our group on our family website. There is much to keep me busy here at home. Besides seeing to the more common needs of my family, I also am working on sewing clothing items for all of us.

I will still be sewing and crocheting items to sell through our family website and our Ebay store. These will be ready-made and I will not be taking orders. This will allow me to focus on my family first without the stresses that come from meeting deadlines on orders.

May the Lord's blessings be with thee.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Keeping Warm at Night

Have you ever climbing into bed on a cold night and felt very chilled from the bed sheets being cold? Unlike our little ones who's bedroom is heated, my Beloved and I sleep in a room that has no heat or insulation. Often at night, the bed is very cold which can cause your muscles to clench and tighten.

We finally found a very easy solution for the problem. The first step was to remove the top sheet from the bed. Next, I took a large fuzzy acrylic blanket and spread out on top of the bottom bed sheet. We sleep on top of this blanket. Next, I added layers of blankets. The first is another fuzzy acrylic blanket, then a couple of heavy quilts or comforters.

The acrylic blankets that we use are the fuzzy large throws or decorative type blankets. Most often, you see these blankets with a large decorative image such as an animal or floral design.
The first night that we did this, the temperature dropped to freezing point. Though the air in the room was very cold, we kept warm and comfortable all night. The following morning, I awoke without any pain or discomfort in my muscles from them becoming cold in the night.

I am now thinking about finding old acrylic blankets to use as a batting inside quilts. Feeling how warm the blankets are, I would imagine that they would make a wonderful batting layer.
If you have access to old acrylic blankets, you can turn them into crib sheets to make a little one's crib or toddler bed just a bit warmer and softer.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Family Gardening - Where to Start?

Growing your own food is a blessing. Not only is it cheaper in the long run, but you have all the health benefits of fresh produce that has been organically grown and the benefits of spending the time outdoors. For most homesteaders, the dream to grow/raise all of their family's food is a common goal. It can seem like a daunting task. One question that I hear often is, "Where do we start?" Here is how I plan ours.

1. Plan your garden area. How much space do you have available? We have 20 acres, but only a very small portion of it is good fertile soil for gardening. Luckily, it is the area directly behind the house and not a section in the farthest end of our field! We also have a couple of other smaller areas where we can plant, but the soil is not as fertile and would need a great deal of compost to make it good enough for growing a vegetable garden. The area where we plant the garden is roughly 1/8 acre in size. I am able to plant quite alot in that area and by succession planting, I am able to grow 3 gardens in the same space.

2. Deciding what to plant. This is one of the hardest things for many people. I made it easy for us by keeping track of the foods we actually enjoy eating. Make a list of all the vegetables that your family eats on a regular basis. You can take this a step further by saving your shopping receipts.
When you first start planting a garden, make sure to plant the vegetables, such as tomatoes, that can be expensive to buy in the store's produce area.

3. How much do we plant? This is another area where the shopping receipts can help. You can take a look at a typical month and add up the quantity of the vegetables you buy. Be sure to include canned and frozen vegetables in the amount. I count 1 pint for each small 12-15 oz. can of vegetables and 1 quart for each large 28 oz. can. This is also going to be important to know if you are planning to can the vegetables as it will give you an idea of how many jars you will need. Next, talk to gardeners in your area or the nurseries. Find out what kind of yield you can expect. Look through seed catalogues. They can often give you an idea of what type of yield to expect. Then, plan your seed purchase accordingly.

4. Start your seeds early. I buy my seeds from Heirloom Acres Seeds about the beginning of January. By late February, I am ready to start the seeds in little flats indoors. I like to give the seeds about 8 weeks headstart in their growth before planting just after the last frost. Buy enough seed to last the entire year. They offer their seeds in packets and also a variety of bulk size quantities. The larger the quantity, the better the price. All of their seeds are open pollinated, they do not sell any that are hybrids.

5. One tip that I learned from my Father was to plant things like green beans & peas in double rows. He would plant 2 rows of beans or peas only 2 inches apart. This would give him twice as much harvest in the same area that traditionally he would have gotten had he planted them in single rows. Between each set of double rows, he would leave a space wide enough to walk through. The plants grew very well. I remember one year in particular that we had 2 (20 ft long) rows of green beans that in their first picking produced 115 quarts of green beans for canning.

6. Succession planting is essential. About 2-3 weeks after you plant your garden, go back and plant a second planting of the vegetables. I will plant a row of squash plants, for example, then a few weeks later, plant more squash seeds. This will allow me to get a continual harvest. By the time the first plants are starting to slow down production, the second planting is in full production.

7. Pay close attention to your area's first and last frost dates. Plants such as winter squash, root crops, peas and beans that produce well in cooler temperatures can be planted in late summer for a fall harvest. If you have very hot summers (100*+ for several weeks in a row) you may want to start the seeds in a flat, then only expose them to the sun during the cooler parts of the day. This will prevent the intense heat of the sun from burning up the tender plants. Then, once the hottest part of summer is over, transplant them into the garden. Things like peas may need to be planted in an area where they will get partial shade in the afternoon if the temperatures are still pretty hot in the afternoon. When I planted a fall crop this year, I checked the date of the first frost, then counted backwards the number of days on the calendar the seed packets gave for the amount of time until harvest. This gave me the last possible date when I could plant the seeds and still have a harvest. To give us a better harvest, I included a couple extra weeks for the harvesting. For most of the vegetables, this meant that I could plant as late as Labor Day in September to get the seeds in the ground.

Vegetable gardening is not an exact science. Some years the weather is better than others and will affect your crop accordingly. We learned through experience that in our area, the heavy rains in the spring flood our garden. So, we now have to plant in raised rows. The rows are built up about 10 inches taller than the walk space between them. This keeps the plants high enough that even when there is standing water in the garden, the plants are high enough to not be flooded out. We also learned that if the intense heat hits the garden too early in the summer and slows down the amount of harvest, plant the same varieties of plants again in late August and we will have a bumper crop of vegetables in the fall.

There are some vegetables, such as tomatoes, that enjoy the heat. Those are planted for a summer harvest. By the time they are starting to slow down, we are able to pull up the tomato plants and plant other vegetable seeds and plants in their place. By planting in this way, we are now able to get 3 full gardens in the same space in one growing season.

Next year, I am going to set up a large cold frame. I am curious to try and grow salad vegetables in a cold frame and see how long into the winter we can have fresh salads.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Crochet Shawls

Over the past week I have been working on crocheting a triangular shawl. I ended up getting 2 made! The are huge ~ 70 inches across and 36 inches from the neck to the bottom tip of the triangle. I am so thrilled to get both done in a week. I used my favorite yarn. It is a very soft acrylic/polyester yarn that is very cuddly and warm. This first shawl is made from an earth tone yarn that has tones of tan and other colors that remind me of a desert.

This is the second one that I made. It is made in a yarn that has shades of tan, cream and old rose with hints of purple and blue.It was interesting how I used skeins of yarn with the same dye lot numbers for this shawl, but I got the really neat striped effect in the top of the shawl. I couldn't have been more pleased at this happy mistake! I got the striped design without changing yarns! It was fun seeing that happen since it didn't occur with the skein used in the bottom portion of the shawl.
I am selling both of these shawls. We have them listed on our family website. If you are interested, feel free to contact me via email if you have any questions.

Monday, November 10, 2008

It's raining!

I am so excited. We have been saving the wood ash from our 2 wood stoves for making potash. Today, we started having rain again. I have a 18 gallon tote outside to collect as much of the rain water as possible. We are supposed to have rain off and on all day. By the weekend, I will have enough ash to start making the potash. I just need to set up an area where I can safely put the ash hopper. I already have an idea of what I will be using for the hopper. Either an old 5 gallon bucket or an old 18 gallon tote. Either one will work well. Just need a small hole near the bottom for the liquid to drain out of. I already have a container to catch the liquid in. We get glass gallon sized jars from a sandwich deli. They are too heavy to use for storing our dried goods in the pantry. The heavy glass would work good for storing the liquid in until I am able to make soap.

I found a recipe for making the soap that gives approximate amounts of fats & lye. I am excited to try making it to see if the recipe is an authentic one. Whether the soap comes out soft or forms a hard bar, we will be able to make use of it.