Outside!

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While friends out east are dealing with feet of snow (I’m a little jealous, to be honest!), we’ve been having a mini warm-up — it got ABOVE FREEZING today! Not that I’m a huge fan of playing outside when it’s really cold, but M has a really difficult time with it. Even if she’s bundled up, very cold air makes her gasp, especially if there’s a breeze. So today’s weather — right around freezing, with almost no wind at all — was perfect for going out in.

She was delighted from the very start, since she loves her snow pants and snow boots and likes the idea of playing out in the snow. We went to bring water and food to Mister Chicken, and then we did the same for the hens. M hasn’t had a chance to chat with her chickens for quite a while! I had already let them out a few minutes earlier, so when M and I got back down there, only three were still in the coop.

‘Where’s Charlie?’ M asked. Then the other two came trundling through the snow, from under the deck.

‘There’s Charlie!’ she said and gave one of the chickens a pat. And it WAS Charlie! I have no idea if A) she’s realized they wear different colored leg bands (though I don’t think she could have seen that from a distance); B) it was a lucky guess; or C) she just knows the chickens so well that she can tell who is who at a glance. (I know was Laverne’s comb looks like, but otherwise they’re all pretty similar.) At any rate, Charlie would never deign to let ME pat her, but she went right up to M. My little chicken whisperer.

Valentine’s Hearts

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I was very anti-Valentine’s-Day when I was a younger person, and I haven’t given it much of a thought one way or the other in recent years. But this year, I decided that I’d go all out and decorate the house. It’s the beauty of having a kid — you get to enjoy things because you know they will. I hung the first of those tissue paper pom-pons during M’s nap, and when she came upstairs, she was quite excited to see it and said, ‘Birthday to you!’ (since her birthday decorations were the first time she’d really seen the house decorated).

This morning, we made ‘stained glass’ hearts for the windows. I taped down a piece of clear contact paper (sticky side up) on the counter, and then M stuck down squares of tissue paper, red paper-hole-punch dots, and silver glitter. A lot of glitter. I tried to adjust the container so it wouldn’t come out very fast, but it could sense that it was in the hands of a toddler and went crazy. I was worried the finished product would be practically opaque from all the glitter, but it actually looks really good. I guess M knew what she was doing!

When she was done adding things (or, rather, after I pried the glitter out of her hands), I laid another sheet of contact film on top, sandwiching everything between the two sticky sides. I thought this might be the tricky step, but by unrolling only a little bit of the paper at a time, it was actually pretty easy, and it went down without any bubbles or wrinkles.

I think the best way to add a ‘frame’ around the outside would be to have two frames — one on each side — that are slightly bigger on the outside than the ‘stained glass’ shape you’ve cut out. That way, you could just glue the frames together around the edges, trapping the plastic part inside. (This would be a particularly good method if you want to hang them from a string instead of putting them on the window.) I thought I’d found a glue that would work with the plastic contact film, but it peeled right off once it was dry. So I just tacked the frame to the plastic in a few places, using clear tape. (You could also just staple them.)

Et voilà! I’d like to do an organized art project (vs just letting Maris paint on her own) nearly every day, and I’ve got lots of Valentine’s ideas — so we’re going to be up to our eyeballs in pink hearts for a while!

Eclairs

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We (I) made éclairs yesterday — 10% because I wanted them, 20% because I thought M would like them, and 70% because I thought it would be funny to see how messy M would get while eating them. (She got a little messy, but mostly she didn’t want to waste the chocolate by putting it anywhere besides her mouth.)

I had to make two batches of choux pastry, because when I put the first tray in the oven, I managed to turn the oven off. So they were… not éclairs. But it turns out that chickens like half-baked choux pastry! Luckily, it’s easy to make, but I don’t like wasting ingredients, especially eggs and butter. So it’s a good thing the chickens pitched in to make that first batch count. The second batch came out perfectly, so I filled them with fresh whipped cream and topped them with ganache. M thinks they’re pretty good!

Our Weekend

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1. When I went through M’s baby clothes, I found that a LOT of them had yellow stains around the collar. She wasn’t a spitty baby, but she was happy to let milk dribble out the sides of her mouth as she ate. I knew the clothes were a little discolored, but the stains got even darker while everything was stored away. I tried this method for getting them clean, and it worked! I let the mixture sit on the clothes for an hour, as instructed, but then I rinsed them in a hot bath before putting them in the wash — I didn’t think our washing machine would appreciate having to deal with almost a cup of dish soap! The plain white Gerber and Carter’s onesies didn’t come totally clean, and the mixture left discolored spots on two solid-colored items, but otherwise everything looks as good as new! Those milk stains came out, as did some red marks on a pair of pants (something they were washed with bled on them ages ago). But the mixture was less effective on people-food stains, sadly. Still! That’s a lot of clothes ‘saved’, including that Oilily romper on the top, which I thrifted for less than $1 before M was born.

2. An egg.

3. Which I thought looked like a car after I cracked it. M agreed.

4. Cheese ‘straws’ — like we really need another vehicle for cheese in this house. But M and I agree that they’re delicious!

5. Some of my homemade cleaners, with the ‘fancy’ labels I made for them. I finally have everything I need to make everything I want. Except essential oils — but then I think to myself, Do I care if this smells like oranges/lavender/whatever? Nope.

6. The Fortnum’s hamper this year came with a huge jar of honey, honeycomb included. It’s really cool, but I can’t figure out exactly how to get the honey out without winding up with beeswax in my food. I guess I could fish out the comb now and just try to let as much of the honey drain back into the jar as possible. I do want to try to clean and melt the comb, to save the beeswax for other things.

7. Homemade (home-laid) egg salad on a homemade croissant. So good!

8. It never got above 0˚F (-18˚C) this weekend, but at least it was beautifully sunny! The indoor pets loved it, and even though neither of the chicken coops (the hens’ or the rooster’s) is heated, at least the sun can come in through the windows.

9. These two (Bear and Nova) still wrestle all the time. Don’t let their positions fool you — Bear is definitely in charge. I mean, she weighs a LOT more than Nova! But the dogs used to let her be the ‘dominant’ one when she was just a little cotton ball, so now she returns the favor. Beany doesn’t have time for the kids’ antics.

Sparkle Truck

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How do you like M’s Sparkle Truck? (Once I accidentally called it a ‘Sparkle Car’, and she patiently corrected me, like, Ugh, Mommy, it doesn’t even LOOK like a car.) We were at the store this weekend and found these stick-on gems, which obviously we HAD to get, so we looked for something to put them on. I suspected I’d be finding them stuck on EVERYthing if they didn’t have somewhere specific to go! So we got this little wooden truck, and she painted it — and then I had to dry it with a hair dryer because the sparkling process couldn’t wait.

I just thought it would be a fun thing for M to do, but it actually turned out to be a perfect exercise in manual dexterity. She had to hold the strip of gems in one hand and then use the other to carefully peel off the gem she wanted. And they’re quite small, so it took a lot of precision to get them the right way round and stick them on the truck. Toddlers aren’t exactly known for their patience, but M was totally absorbed and didn’t try to hurry things along. And she’s actually gone back a few times to add more gems — the truck is much more sparkly than when I took the photo!

Recent Food Stuff

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1. I used the bread machine to make a batch of pizza dough (enough for three crusts — I froze two of them). Then I made a pizza with homegrown/homemade tomato sauce and four cheeses. Then we ate it. It was as good as it looks!

2. I decided it’s time to start making yogurt again, since it’s so hard to find (unsweetened) organic yogurt close to home. I used my two thrifted Salton yogurt makers, like usual, but this time I used whole milk (I think I’ve done 1% in the past), and when I was heating the yogurt, I kept it at 190˚F for twenty minutes before cooling it to add the culture. One or both of those things resulted in much thicker yogurt, with no whey separation. Perfect!

3. Then I made a sauce/compote with organic, frozen strawberries and honey — to put in the yogurt. Not bad! If I buy gallons of berries when they’re locally in season, then I can freeze them and make this regularly.

4. And speaking of local, I feel like I hit the jackpot in my eat-local ‘research’ (I put that in quotes because it wasn’t so much research as it was just plain old shopping at the co-op). I belong to a co-op that isn’t SUPER close (about an hour away), but it’s somewhere we occasionally run errands, and I really like the store. And they carry some products by Sunrise Flour Mill — which turns out to be about 45 minutes away from where we live (and not far from the co-op). Local, organic, and with an emphasis on heritage grains? Perfect! I didn’t realize until looking up their website that they have such a variety of products — I’ll have to track those down. For now, I bought some of the refined wheat flour, to see how it compares to the white bread flour I’ve been buying. SO excited to be able to make super local pasta (with eggs from the hens, of course), too!

Weekend Stuff

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We started the new year off right and went screen-free this weekend. We’ve done this three times since the beginning of December (obviously not all in a row), and the first time I had to turn down M’s request for ‘puppy show’ quite a lot. This weekend, though, she didn’t ask for the TV once! And I found it really easy to leave my computer tucked away and ignore my phone. In fact, we had so much fun just doing stuff that I wish the weekend could have gone on forever.

I cooked more. We had French toast for breakfast on Saturday, and since we’re out of maple syrup, I made a blueberry sauce/syrup with some wild blueberries that had gotten all icy in the freezer. Sooo good. Nothing was super out of the ordinary, but I definitely spent more time prepping and cooking rather than grabbing whatever would be quickest.

M and I ran errands both mornings, but otherwise we just stayed tucked in at home, playing together and working on our own projects. It’s not something I’ve only recently noticed, but M is so much happier to do her own thing if I’m actually DOING something, too, rather than staring at my laptop. If I’m in the kitchen, she usually likes to stand in her Learning Tower, either helping out or playing. Her Paw Patrol figures go everywhere with her these days (which maybe explains why she wasn’t so desperate to watch them on TV), and you’d be surprised by how long she can entertain herself with those little dogs.

During M’s nap on Saturday, I moved some furniture around (just sliding it on the carpet, since I can’t really lift tables right now!). To make a long story short (it begins with a room shuffle a couple of months ago), I put my sewing table in my bedroom and moved the old teacher’s desk out to the family room, where our Christmas tree had been. I knew M would love being allowed to use the desk (since she always tried to steal things from the drawers when it was in my bedroom), and I realized it would be the perfect place to store and use her art supplies. It has been a HUGE hit! The art stuff was in the kitchen before, and I didn’t like taking it out and then trying to hide it away again. M colored on Sunday morning, then painted a couple of sun-catchers in the afternoon, followed by a very happy watercolor session. (I need to take/post a photo of one of the watercolor hand prints she made — they look really cool!)

Before M’s nap on Sunday, I traced her old sleep sack (a large Baby Deedee Sleep Nest) onto a big piece of paper. She was very interested to hear that I was going to make a new blanket for her, and she was disappointed that it wasn’t ready for her nap a few minutes later! The old blanket served us well, but she still sleeps in her hip brace, so it was getting too small — and it was literally coming apart at the seams! I made her new blanket (in the last photo) wider and bigger, and I can’t believe that A) I didn’t make any mistakes as I was winging it and B) it fits perfectly. It’s two layers of fleece, totally finished inside (in theory reversible, except that the zipper works only from one side!). Two clearance fleece blankets were just (JUST!) big enough, and I already had the zip, so the grand total for her fancy new sleep sack was less than $6. And M really loves it. I washed it up so she could wear it last night, and I asked her this morning how her new blanket had been. ‘Sooo nice!’ she said, ‘It’s so soft.’ Then, as an afterthought, ‘Silly OLD blankie.’ So I guess she’s a convert.

What else? (This is a long post!) The house stayed a lot cleaner over the weekend, which was only partly because I did more cleaning. Since I was paying more attention to M, even when she was playing on her own, I was able to remind her to tidy away her things when she was done (and set a good example by doing the same!). She’s actually very good at putting her toys away when asked, but she doesn’t remember to do it by herself.

I also started and finished Forrest Pritchard’s Gaining Ground. Rob got it for me a while ago (last Christmas?), and I don’t know why it took me so long to get to it, but it’s fantastically written and SO interesting. Although now I’m thinking that a couple of pet piggies would do such a good job of clearing and turning over the weedy fields… unintended consequences to buying me gifts!

2016

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Happy New Year! Time to quit your celebrating and start getting serious about becoming a better person, FINALLY. To be honest, my only REAL personal goals for 2016 are to give birth to a healthy baby and to try to help both kids thrive. But there are some other things, too, of course:

1. Stop using commercial cleaners. I think this one should be pretty easy, as long as I’m serious about it. The book in the photo above has some good recipes for homemade cleaners of all sorts (along with a good explanation of why certain things work well for certain types of ‘dirt’). I’ve already emptied out my freezer-vodka to make window/metal cleaner (better odds of my using the vodka that way!). Paired with a microfiber cloth, it gets my black stove top SO shiny!

2. Start THINKING about how to eat more locally/seasonally. With another baby on the way, I have no illusions that I could put this into action this year. I’ll be lucky to avoid microwaving 90% of our meals come this spring! And I’m not planning to someday go totally hardcore locavore, but there’s a ton of room for improvement in our current diet. So I just want to start finding out where I can source various foods/ingredients (bread flour, for example). And thinking about what I can realistically grow in future years. I find the idea of eating locally quite challenging (especially in Minnesota, and especially in rural Minnesota, where there aren’t big co-ops just ten minutes away), so simply doing a bit of planning is a big enough goal for me right now.

3. Less screen time. I find this a much bigger challenge than M does — maybe she can give me some tips! We’ve had a couple of screen-free weekends, which were great. I think that would be my ideal: no screens each weekend. But sometimes I have to get work done during the weekend, and I have a hard time drawing the line if I’ve already got the laptop open. But less screen time would feed nicely into other things I’m always working toward — keeping the house tidier/cleaner, getting out more, etc — so it’s a good place to start.

How about you? What amazing goals are you TOTALLY going to accomplish in 2016?

(p.s. — The beeswax pellets and little tins are for the salve I’m going to make from this summer’s calendula. M saw the beeswax and said, ‘Chicken food!’ She’s a country kid, alright.)

Mister Chicken

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An exciting development on the ol’ farm! My mom was on her way over yesterday and saw a dog standing over something in a field, something that was flopping around. So she got out of her car, saw the flopping thing was a battered chicken, and put it in her car (securely wrapped up in a towel). We don’t know where the chicken belongs, and all its tail and butt feathers had been plucked, which would have made it really hard for it to survive out in the winter weather.

Right now, he — it’s a rooster! — is living in the little auxiliary coop in our barn. It’s not much trouble to bring out extra water and food when I’m taking care of the hens, and this way he’s got somewhere sheltered to recover. Assuming he survives, I won’t be introducing Mister Chicken to the hens any time soon. He could be carrying something contagious. And I think he’d better be fully feathered before he goes outside and/or meets the ladies. I’m not sure what breed he is (hopefully when his tail grows in, that’ll help narrow it down), but he’s some sort of bantam. So he’s a smaller chicken, whereas my Buff Orpington hens are pretty darn big. Don’t want to give them any reason to think he’s weak and needs to be beat up!

So far, Mister Chicken seems to be doing alright. His plucked rear end looks sore, of course. But he doesn’t seem to be overly stressed or in shock (a real concern after an attack), and he’s walking around just fine. He didn’t touch the first dish of food we gave him, but I brought out treats this morning after I cooked them up for the hens, and he was interested in those. Nibbled some cooked pumpkin and was eyeing up the scrambled eggs when I left. Hopefully he’ll get a little bolder soon, so I can get a better photo!