Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Dealing with Summer Heat

Summer heat has begun to settle in here.  Lots of muggy days recently.  This has brought to the forefront thoughts of ways I have to adjust my choring and even meal preparation.
Choring without electricity is generally a more physical endeavor.  When summer's heat is upon you, the most physical tasks can become very difficult.  We don't have fans or air conditioning to keep cool and comfortable while doing our tasks.  We depend on a breeze coming in the windows to cool the house.  I find that the most labor intensive tasks have to be done in the early morning.  Tending the garden becomes the first task once breakfast is dealt with.  By 10:00am, the day can become too hot to work in the garden without risking heat exhaustion. 
The next task is laundry.  In the summer months, I prefer to do laundry outdoors.  I am able to set up a laundry table with the wash tubs & wringer near the clothesline.  I wash in somewhat cool water, so the heat doesn't affect me as much as it would if I were gardening.  The little ones are usually outside with me and playing.  I try to have a little pool set up for them to play in nearby in a shady area.  They are able to have fun outdoors while I work close by. 
Baking bread and such is likely the most difficult for me in summer.  My mornings are filled, so bread gets baked late at night. One idea that I have spoken to Joe about is the possibility of moving our gas (propane) stove from the kitchen to the porch.  We could use a portable propane tank to provide the fuel for it.  This would allow me to be able to use the oven without heating the house up.  We have one area of the porch that is always shaded. The set-up would be as safe as a propane grill.  The main preparation we will need to do is to add a inline shut-off valve to the propane line in the house.  Another option is to build an outdoor oven.  In some styles, such as the type used by some of the Native American people in the desert area, you build a fire in the oven to heat it up.  When the fire burns down, the ashes are removed.  Your bread is placed into the oven and a removable wood door is set in place to hold in the heat.  I found the plans for one in a back issue of Grit magazine.  You can also find plans and instructions online for the adobe or brick bread ovens.
I am looking into plans for homemade solar ovens.  That will be good for things like breads or cookies.  For baking casseroles or roasting meat, I do not know if a solar oven is safe.  There may be food safety issues is using a solar oven for things containing meat, sauces, or cheese.  It will make a good research topic to check out online though.
One way that we avoid heating the house when cooking it to eat lots of salads or cold foods.  Instead of baking bread often in the summer, we use tortillas and make wraps.  I keep salads like potato salad, cucumber salad, and the makings for a lettuce salad in the refrigerator.  Pickled beets. Hard boiled eggs and similar items are a welcome addition.  Made your own sandwich spreads and have lunch meats on hand.  In the mid-day meal, these types of foods are a very nice break from a cooked meal.
The most important part of dealing with the heat is to stay hydrated.  Drink lots of water, lemonade, or kool-aid type drinks.  Take breaks as often as needed to avoid heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  Do the heaviest work early and the lighter tasks in later hours of the day.  If possible, spend as much time outdoors in a shady area as possible if your home does not stay cool enough.  Often I will roll up a dish towel that has been dampened in cool (not cold) water and drape it around my neck.  This will help give relief in the hottest times.  Just be sure to not use cold water as it could bring on shock.
Hope this gives a few ideas.
May the Lord's blessings be with thee,
FREE Animations for your email - by IncrediMail! Click Here!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Raised Row Gardening - Update

I want to thank everyone for the comments and email concerning the garden.  It seems to be a good topic for discussion.  I wanted to post a bit of an update and more information about the way we are gardening.  The raised rows that we are using average about 12-14 inches wide.  They are approximately 8-10 inches higher than the walk path between them.  The path between is about 12 inches wide to give us plenty of space to walk through with a wheel barrow.  We are covering the walk paths and sides of the raised rows clear up to the plants with 2-3 inches of mulch.
I have 2 rows of tomato plants.  One is a medium sized tomato variety called Marglobe.  It is said to be a good choice for canning and is very popular in our area.  The second row is the Roma variety of tomato.  We love these as a good all-purpose tomato in that it is not really juicy when dicing it for a salad.  They make a good choice for making sauces, ketchup, or bbq sauce for canning also.  We have 11 Roma and 13 Marglobe plants.  The 12th Roma plant is Abbie's and is planted in a container until we find a place to have her little garden.  We were blessed to find in one of our 6-plant pony packs of Marglobe, there were 2 tomato plants in one of the little sections.  This extra one gave us the odd number of 13 plants.  I planted the tomato plants about 12 inches apart in a single line down each raised row.  The spacing will provide each plant with plenty of light and room to grow.  Soon, I will be raiding the supply of tree trimmings from previous storms to gather sticks of sufficient size to stake up the tomato plants.
My row of radish and carrots were planted in a "scattering" method.  Not very uniform in spacing, but with the tiny seeds this method works well for me.  The plants start growing fairly close together in some areas and will need to be thinned out.  With the radishes, I am able to thin the plants, clean them and use them in a salad just as you would a full sized one.  They are flavorful, just have not formed the bulb.  Carrots are a bit slower growing.  I only thin if truly needed in the beginning.  When doing this, I very carefully pull the tiny plants and using a pencil or stick to make a hole, I transplant the carrot in another spot where there is room for it to grow.  This helps me to not waste a good plant.  Later on, as the carrots become larger, I thin them out when the carrots reach the "baby carrot" size and are tender.  These are a great addition to salads.  Abbie loves to dip baby carrots in peanut butter as a afternoon snack.  The main point is that I do not believe in tossing away any of the plants that I thin out.  I try to find ways to use them or transplant them back into the garden.
The rows of bush type beans and peas are planted about 3-4 rows across the raised row.  I space the seeds about 2 inches apart, unless I am being helped by my 4 year old daughter who believes that seeds need to be closer to their neighbors!  LOL   The rows of plants are close enough together (about 3 inches apart) that they provide good shade and support to each other.  I know that this is planting much closer than recommended, but I have always had great results with it.  The harvest yields from planting this close together has never been stunted by spacing the plants this close.
Root crops such as beets are planted with the seeds spaced just far enough apart to allow each plant to grow to it's full size.  If you like your beets to be harvested when they are 2 inches diameter, plant them about 5 inches from each other.  This allows about 1 inch of space in between them once full grown.  I often will plant the seeds 2 inches apart.  When the beets are about 1" diameter, you pick every other beet.  These can be pickled and canned whole.  The remaining beets, I like to pick when they are about 2 inches diameter for canning sliced beets.  By then the beets are getting very crowded looking, but still doing well.  Typically, you can replant beets again as soon as the larger ones are harvested.  This will give you two full harvests of beets in one growing season.
I refer to things like squash, cucumbers, pumpkins, melons, and gourds as "mound plants."  This is due to the fact that I plant them in rows containing raised mounds or hills in which the seeds are planted.  I make the hills about 10" diameter and plant 3-5 seeds per hill, depending on the size of the full grown plant.  Large plants such as zucchini contain 3 seeds per hill, while smaller plants such as cucumbers will have up to 5 seeds.  I have found that I am able to grow this way with great results each time.  Harvest yields are very good and few weeds are able to grow around the plants.  With the addition of mulch, there is literally no weeding to be done.  Plants that require a great amount of space, such as pumpkins, are planted with no more than 3 seeds per hill and the hills are spaced up to 4 feet apart to allow plenty of room for the vines.  If you keep a close watch on the vining plants, you can train the vines to go where you want them.  Just gently lift and move them to where you want them to go.
Hope this helps.
May the Lord's blessings be with thee,
FREE Animations for your email - by IncrediMail! Click Here!

A New Blessing (Challenge)

Have you ever noticed how many of our greatest blessings from the Lord come through challenges that we face?  In my lifetime, I have noticed this happening time and again.  Personal and Spiritual growth happens most profoundly in our lives when we face an obstacle or challenge that we must overcome.  One scripture that helps me is 2 Corinthians 12:9-10  "But he said to me, 'My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' So then, I will boast most gladly about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may reside in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, with insults, with troubles, with persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong."
This week, I have been given a new opportunity for growth.  For about a year, I have had trouble with my hands, forearms and elbows from time to time.  I would get a burning pain that reminded me of a Charlie horse in my leg.  No matter what position I had my arm in, even when laying in bed at night, the pain would be there.  Last weekend, I over worked myself planting in a portion of the garden, turning soil with a shovel, and spreading a thick layer of mulch through the portion of garden that had been planted.  By evening, I could barely lift my arms without a sharp pain.  Over the next few days I had very little relief.  The pain in my arm increased greatly on Wednesday when I did laundry on the washboard.
On Thursday, I went to a doctor.  She checked my arms and hands over, having me try putting them in a couple of positions that they didn't like going into.  Next blood tests were ordered.  She said it could be either carpal tunnel or rheumatoid arthritis or a combination of both.  Yes, I was beginning to see a new blessing called a growth opportunity beginning to appear on the horizon.  After the blood was drawn for the tests, I was sent home with 2 prescriptions having been called in to the pharmacy.
This morning, I received the results of the lab work.  There was no sign of arthritis inflammation in my body.  Praise the Lord!!!  The verdict:  I have carpal tunnel in both wrists.  Now, you are going to think I am crazy, but all I can say is "Thank the Lord for the carpal tunnel!"  Carpal tunnel can be managed and even cured through surgery if necessary.  Rheumatoid arthritis is a lifelong battle that can worsen and even cripple a person later in life.  If it came down to a choice of which would be better, carpal tunnel is it.  Yes, both are painful.  Yes, both require changes to your lifestyle or routine.  That is just the way it goes.
The blessing for me is that as long as I wear a brace on my wrists when doing activities that can stress the joints or when in pain to help support and relieve the joints, the changes I need to make are minimal and easily managed.  There is always the option later on if it gets worse that I may have to get surgery, but that is okay.  I am not at that point yet.
I feel so richly blessed today.  What could have been a much tougher condition has been made a much lighter one.  Would I rather have neither?  In my human attitude and mind I would have to say, "Yes!"  But what an opportunity I would have missed.  A chance to renew my appreciation for my health and what the Lord has given me.  A chance to take stock and really look at the way I do things and find a better way.  Most importantly - a chance to once again show gratitude to the Lord for His grace and blessings in my life.
May the Lord's blessings be with thee,
FREE Animations for your email - by IncrediMail! Click Here!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Homeschooling - Early Education

As frequent readers of my blog know, Joe and I plan to homeschool Abigail and Micah.  I have been doing preschool with Abbie for a year now in a relaxed manner.  She loves it.  Last winter, Abbie started talking more about wanting to "do school" and seemed eager to get started.  We went to Mardel's Christian Book Store in Oklahoma City and bought a couple of workbooks to get her started.  She has loved it!  This is giving her the chance to get into the habit of doing schoolwork 4 days per week.  We also are doing hands-on activities, such as making homemade play dough in primary colors to mix together and make secondary colors. 
One of her favorite times of "schooling" is when we are outdoors and looking at the changes in the plants & trees on our property.  Abbie has excitedly watched over the spring as the shrubs grew new branches, found tight little leaf buds, and the changes as those leaf buds opened up to reveal their leaves.  The apple tree's blossoms have delighted her.  Today, she was fascinated to find that we now have walnut-sized apples growing on the tree.  She has learned about how bees carry pollen from one flower to another.  Best yet, was when she helped plant the family garden.  She had a little sand pail with a handful for English pea seeds in it and carefully planted a row of seeds.  She has her own tomato plant that she has been tending.  It is so fun to watch her excitement and delight in the nature that the Lord has created.
We are, in part, following the Charlotte Mason method of teaching.  At her young age and Micah's autism, this method makes the most sense.  It is very hands-on and utilizes the child's natural curiosity to help lead the child into learning.  We do use workbooks for teaching her to write her letters, numbers, reading readiness, and early math concepts.  Very thing else however is taught through hands-on, talking to her, or reading to her.
A new teaching tool that I am using with Abbie is file folder games.  If you search online, you can find a multitude of websites with free printables for the games.  One website that I found is called Positively Autism.  It has many printables that you can use as a teaching aid for children with learning challenges.  I am finding that the games are great for teaching Abbie also.  One such game is a simple math game.  The game pieces are heart shaped.  One set of hearts has math problems such as 1+1= and the second set of hearts are the answers.  The answer game pieces are adhered to the inside of the file folder.  You then laminate the folder and the math problem game pieces.  To play the game, the child places the math problem game piece on it's correct answer.  For teaching a young child, you can have a bowl of beans or other counting aid handy to help them find the answer to the calculation.  You can find games such as this for many different course subjects. 
There may be those who feel that we are starting Abbie off too early in her schooling.  We don't agree.  She was very excited to start and we followed her enthusiasm.  She loves learning new things and is doing great with it.  Micah will learn through hearing what we tell Abbie and being with us as we walk outside and expose him to nature also.  I show him the same changes in nature that Abbie finds.  While he may not be acknowledging it yet in the way that Abbie does, I know how important it is to expose him to these things.
Micah's therapy is a form of homeschooling.  When I work with him and label things, he is learning to associate a word with the item or concept.  I nearly always name the item I am handing him or see him playing with.  For example, when I see him playing with a little truck I ask him, "Is that your truck?"  Later, I will add the color of the truck.  We look at books and as I point to items in the pictures, I name them.  If he points to something, I tell him what it is.  Micah has an aversion to his hands, feet, or face being touched.  I made a game of it by doing a tickling motion and barely touching his hands while saying "fingers."  I then did the same with his toes.  I go back and forth - finger, then toes - saying what I am tickling.  He now will hold out his hands or feet for me to tickle.  When he plays with a door, I say "open" or "closed" to name the position he has placed the door in.  Front & behind, over & under, in & out, are all concepts that I am naming as we play together.  Sounds pretty basic, but it is working.  Now, when playing with a door he will open it when I say "open" and shut the door when I say to "close."    While he may not repeat the words to me, he is showing through his actions that he is learning the concepts.
I am keeping Micah's therapy in the form of play or activities that he enjoys.  This is what works best with him.  By keeping it fun, he is getting excited about the "game" and it shows in his ability to remember and try to anticipate what I am going to do next.  I vary it just enough that it won't get boring or too predictable.  He giggles when there is an unexpected result, such as in the "finger & toes" tickling game when I suddenly tickle his neck or chin instead of the anticipated finger or toes. 
This week, Micah made a new milestone.  He was getting overwhelmed as he was playing one day with Abbie.  His eyes began to get a stressed look and his fingers were flapping very rapidly.  He began to meltdown, but then walked over to me and laid his head against my leg.  He immediately stopped the meltdown as I stroked his hair.  Now, I notice that he comes to me more often and lays his head against me to cuddle up to me and have his hair stroked.  He is getting frustrated less often.  He now is actively seeking me out for comfort instead of simply melting down and crying when overwhelmed. He has found a way to settle down without tears.  Next step is to help him to learn how to do this on his own in case I am not right there and available, such as when he is visiting his Grandparents.
FREE Animations for your email - by IncrediMail! Click Here!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Not in Oz.......Yet

Today began as a blustery damp day.  Clouds gave thoughts that rain would not be far away.  We had a cool wind with on and off bouts of rain sprinkles throughout the day.  All thoughts of laundry drying on the clothesline diminished as the morning wore on.  I ended up with a fire in the wood stove and hopes of drying a bit of laundry on the drying rack.  As I was listening to the radio,  I heard the noon weather report.  Rain was definitely in the forecast with severe storms a possibility in some parts of the state.   Yeah, no laundry to be dried outdoors today.
I busied myself doing other tasks.  Cleaned the kitchen after lunch while the little ones napped.  I then made some Corn & Potato Soup for dinner as Abigail finished her homeschooling for the day.  Joe got home from work and we had an early dinner.  Just after we finished dinner, a neighbor stopped his truck in front of the house and honked his horn several times.  I checked to see what they needed and was told that a tornado was coming our way. 
Joe gathered up Abigail and Micah as I hurried to get them some drinks from the refrigerator to tuck into the diaper bag.  Luckily, I always have an extra bottle for Micah already prepared and Abigail had a water bottle full of Kool-Aid.  I grabbed up the diaper bag & 2 blankets from their beds.  By the time I got to the car, Joe was nearly done getting Micah in his car seat.  I got Abbie in the car and then we went about 1/4 mile to the community's school where the tornado shelter is located. 
It was odd.  I have issues with enclosed places and being underground.  The longer we were there, the more claustrophobic I felt.  In all, there were approximately 50 people in the shelter.  What a way to meet neighbors!  Some children brought their puppies with them, another girl brought a frog she had caught in her yard.  It was an interesting experience.  Joe stood outside near the shelter door for a time until he saw the tornado forming near our location.  Abbie was unafraid and took the whole situation in stride.  For once, Micah was able to be in an area with a lot of echoing and not be sent into an over-stimulation melt-down. 
We were truly blessed.  A nearby small community located just southwest of us was in the direct path of the tornado and was hit hard.  The city hall and many other buildings had their roofs torn off or some other damage.  There were other towns surrounding us that were also hit.  Our little community was spared.  After it was over, we all stayed at the shelter a little longer to be sure there were no more tornados in the area.  Joe stood outside again with others and was able to take a picture of a forming tornado with his cell phone.  That tornado didn't fully form and touch down while in our view.
I know that God's grace and blessing is what kept so many safe across the state as tornados were causing so much destruction.  I am so grateful for His protection.  While we were still at the storm shelter, I asked one of the neighbors, who happens to be a minister of one of our community's churches, if it would be appropriate to have a prayer to thank the Lord for His protection and ask His blessing of comfort to those who's homes were damaged.  She declined saying it would possibly offend some of the neighbors who are not believers.  What???  I don't understand this.  At community dinners it is appropriate (and sometimes customary) to ask a minister to lead a prayer over the dinner, yet in this situation it is not appropriate?  I went ahead and said my own prayer silently.  When we got home, we said one as a family before putting the little ones to bed. 
We have so much to be thankful for.  There was no damage.  Our family is safe & was unharmed.  Our animals were safely at home and also unharmed when we returned.  The garden was spared a bad hail storm.  We have caring neighbors who are willing to take that extra moment to stop and make sure we are informed & can get to safety.  We live close to a secure shelter. The list goes on and on. 
And one huge blessing in the eyes of one of the little kids at the storm shelter - we didn't fly to Oz like Dorothy! 
FREE Animations for your email - by IncrediMail! Click Here!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Busy Day in the Garden

Saturday, May 8th.
Today began with lots of sunshine, cool temps and a pleasant breeze.  A perfect time to be outdoors and take care of the garden and other yard work.  Remember the free mulch we received from the tree trimming service?  We are moving large amounts of it to our garden.  This morning, Joe's parents dropped by for a couple of hours to help. Joe's Mom shoveled mulch into the 2 wheel barrows.  Joe's Dad then would bring the mulch to the garden.  I worked at spreading it out between the garden rows and around the plants.  We have about 3 inches of mulch layered there now.  This should be plenty to help hold moisture around the plants and also to prevent weed growth.  Having a large garden, we are hoping that this will make it easier to maintain.
After lunch, it is back to the garden.  I am wanting to get as much planted as possible.  The weather service is saying that we have a chance of rain for the next several days.  I need to at least get the beans and peas planted.  I am losing the window of opportunity to plant them.  If not in the ground by the end of this month, it will be too late.  The temperatures get too hot in June.  The tender young plants will have a difficult time managing to grow and produce once the 100*+ temperatures arrive on a daily basis in late June.  They need as much growing time as possible so that the plants are well established.
We managed to get a bit of preparations done in the garden while the little ones were napping.  Joe is shoveling trenches and piling the soil from the trenches on the garden rows to form the raised rows.  The raised rows are averaging about 12-14 inches wide.  After Joe forms the mounds, I go over them with a hoe or shovel to break up any large clumps of soil.  I then rake over the soil to smooth it out in preparation for planting.  I am able to plant 3-4 parallel rows of a vegetable in each row.  Things like root crops (carrots, beets, radishes) can have 4 rows planted per raised row and not be too crowded.  I like doing this as it saves the extra work for Joe in making the mounds.  It also helps with weed control.  Carrots and beets need to be thinned, but I thin them when they are large enough to use as baby carrots or the small whole beets for pickling.  To me, this seems a good way to prevent waste.  Radishes can also be thinned once they are about 1-2 inches tall.  With the roots removed, the remaining stem and leaves can be used just as you would radish sprouts on a sandwich or in a wrap to add a bit of extra flavor.  Vegetables that can be planted in 3 parallel per raised row are peas, bush beans, spinach, chard, many of your smaller leafy greens, and larger root crops such as onions.
I know that some may fuss about how I plant.  Gardening books and articles often state that you should plant your rows of beans 12 inches apart.  Why?  I have planted this way for 20+ years without any problem.  The gauge that I use is the seed spacing.  If I am able to plant the seeds 2 inches apart, then why do rows need to be 12 inches apart?  My Dad used to plant double-rows of beans or peas, spacing the 2 rows about 2-3 inches apart.  This produced a thicker bushy row of beans that shaded the ground enough to prevent most of the weed growth.  I plant my root crop seeds far enough apart to allow the vegetables to grow to proper size.  By eliminating the extra distance between the rows also allows me to conserve space.  If we are using from the garden throughout the season, then the closer planting becomes even less of an issue.
This week, as we are able we will be adding even more raised rows/mounds and Joe will be filling up some wood crates with mulch, old hay, compost and soil to prepare them for me to plant into.  I have decided to plant my leafy greens in those to prevent the rabbits from having a banquet.  In future seasons, these will also be used for many of the root crops also.  It will allow me to plant more of the bushy plants in the raised rows.
We are making the raised rows in the front section of the garden and the hills for the squash, pumpkin, melons, cucumbers, and any large vining plants will be in the back section.  As we are preparing the garden, I am looking forward to it being fully planted.  With the mulch layer on top, the garden will be so easy to tend to!  The wood shipping crates that we are using for planters are a nice addition.  I already have plans to plant in them earlier next season and then cover them with clear plastic to form a makeshift cold frame. 
I love watching the progress that we are making.  Each day, we are getting closer to being finished.  Abbie has been helping with the planting and has fun giving the tomatoes a "drink of water" each day we don't have rain.  Micah plays out there as we work.  We find it very important to have them out there and involved as much as possible.  Not only to teach them how to garden, but to teach them to work together as a family to get things done.  We want them to grow up with a strong work ethic.  One of the best parts of the gardening is that family time together.  Working as a family on a fun project that will benefit the entire family for months to come.
May the Lord's blessings be with thee,
FREE Animations for your email - by IncrediMail! Click Here!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Textured Blanket for Micah

This past week, I have been feeling a little stressed, so have been taking a bit of time to do something creative. I have been wanting to make Micah a texture quilt, but have had a difficult time finding fabrics of various textures. I came to an idea though that will make the project move along better. I am learning new crochet stitches. I have used the same basic 3 stitches for years and am wanting to learn more variety.

This all started with a dishcloth exchange that a friend in Australia is doing. I am making a couple of dishcloths to send to her and she will exchange a couple that she has made to send to me. This gave me an idea.

What about making a bunch of squares of the various crochet stitches and sew them together to make Micah's blanket? Each crochet stitch has a different feel to it. Add to this the various types of fibers that are available and the possibilities are endless. Fibers or yarns can be found in a wide array of styles, colors and texture. Some are bumpy and soft, some are very fluffy, some are slightly coarse, and some are smooth. With all the options, I should be able to make a textured blanket for him that he will enjoy.

I am so glad that my hands are finally cooperating and I am able to do handwork again. I have been unable to do much of it ever since the ram tackled me early last autumn. I have gotten very behind in sewing and crochet projects. Abbie is already asking for a new shawl and for me to make her some head coverings. She wants some bonnets similar to what I wear. With the longer daylight hours, I am trying to work on these things after the day's work is done and the little ones are settled in for the night.