Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Day at the Farm: Barn chores

I had to write up some instructions last year for a my sister who was coming to look after the animals for a few days and I thought you might like to see what is required for a DAY-AT-SHALOM ENGEDI-FARM in the winter.


You don't have to do anything - the neighbour will come and look after them - you are allowed to pet them if they will let you (good luck with that!)

Sheep and Donkey:  Maybe, Lamb-chops, Flanders and Mr. Sheepie

They need is fresh clean water. 1/2 bale of hay in the outdoor feeder and a 1/2 bale in the inside feeder. 
Rinse and fill water bucket in the morning - check it at night to be sure it's still full - if nearly empty the sheep can't reach the water.
They get 1 half can of "ewe food" at night - they have to share.
They can go outside in the cement paddock during the day.
They enter and exit through the gate on the west side of the barn.  If you have their "ewe food" (ie. Bait) ready they are usually not too difficult to get back into their pen.  Shut the door between their side and the chicken/duck side before you let them in or them will head straight for the chicken feeders and cause chaos! 

The chickens: 48 old lady names - call them whatever you want :) and 2 roosters

The biggest chicken pen - those chickens are allowed out every day.
Fill the feeders and waterers
Rake & stir the shavings on the floor - the deep litter method is working really well for us!
Collect eggs in the morning and refill the nesting boxes with fresh shavings.
We usually don't let them out until 10:30 (so we can sleep in!)  NO!  So they will lay their eggs in the nesting boxes - or else they are all over the barn.
Shut the door to the coop throughout the day.
Put them back to bed by dusk - if it's still light out you will have a much harder time rounding them up.  They WANT to go back to their coop when it's getting dark and if they have not had access to feed all day they are more than willing.

The Big Rooster: Solomon

Solomon and the other rooster Fred will fight to the death so don't let them out on the same day.
His pen is the second one on the left from the main door.
He just needs to have feed and water available.

The Chicken Couple: Fred & Ethel

Fred is the other rooster - Fred and Ethel get let out on opposite days of Solomon.  You will hear him crow and think - what was thatstrange noise :)
Their pen is closest to the main door on the left.
Food and water available - check for an egg!

The Muscovy's:  all white ducks Sir Winston, Sir Francis (a girl!) Lady Bella and Lady Gaga.

They are in the farthest pen from the door on the left side.
They are also on rotation with the other ducks because the boys don't get along
Feed and water available - check for eggs.

The Rouen's: Colorful ducks - Harrison & his wife, Pom-Pom-Head

They live in the pen to the right of the main door.  Same as the other ducks.
Check for eggs.

The Cats: Lilly and Chloe and a few other random wild cats with no names.

Cat food is in the green recycle bin in the farthest back room of the house. 
1 scoop morning and night split between the two bowls.
Water dish is outside under the bench close to the back door.

The Dog: Levi

Requires the most amount of work.
Mandatory snuggles and kisses.
His latest trick is taking off to the neighbours :)
Dog food is in the bag at the top of the basement stairs.


We don't work at cleaning too hard in the winter.  Big cleaning jobs are reserved for days when the weather in the winter is unseasonably warm or it waits till spring. 

To paraphrase a sign I saw once: 

Our chore list changes with the seasons and as new animals arrive on the farm.  We're looking forward to the changes that baby lambs and new ducklings and chicks will bring.

Ahhh spring...can't wait!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eggs - beautiful eggs...

Monday, January 23, 2012


Ahh January - my least favorite month of the year.  Generally speaking I don't feel the need to escape anywhere - I just simply don't want to go outside any more than absolutely neccesary - like not even to the grocery store. The out-of-doors is cold and snowy and icy and I would rather be warm, drinking tea and reading a good gardening/farming/how to raise better chickens book. It's has therefore become my annual EAT-TO-THE-BOTTOM-OF-THE-FREEZER-MONTH.

This is also my reality check whilst I am reading seed catalogues.  Every year I fall in love with all the pretty pictures - things like kaleidoscope swiss chard are just so enticing but what does one actually DO with swiss chard.  It's one of those things that end up at the bottom of the freezer in little plastic baggies that in their frozen state could easily be mistaken  for rhubarb - I can assure you it does not taste like rhubarb no matter how much sugar you add!

I used to have a chest freezer for my main freezer. We put it on cement blocks when we moved here because of it's location in a basement - better safe than sorry if the basement ever flooded because there's no moving a full freezer in a hurry.  The extra height made it next to impossible to deal with the contents on the bottom even for a tall person like myself - after the first foot or so - food just disappeared into the black pit never-to-be-seen-again.

My least favorite month is also usually a lean one for our family - it seems our business invoices get buried on someone's desk around Christmas time and they don't get un-buried (and therefore paid) until February.  This has led to some of the most creative meals I have ever put together being presented for our dining pleasure in the cold month of January.  It's a good thing stews, chili and soups are comfort foods designed for this time of the year. They are tailor-made for hiding items like swiss chard- we don't really EAT swiss chard I just spend my time using every trick I know figuring out how to get rid of it!

Every EAT-TO-THE-BOTTOM-OF-THE-FREEZER-MONTH  challenge is different.  Some years we did it out of sheer financial necessity and others out of a desire to save money for something else but the rules were mostly the same - no shopping at the grocery store except for fresh fruit and veggies.  It's become a habit - a good one I think.  I remember nearing the end of one of our challenges and finding several bars of good chocolate - no doubt put away for a special recipe at Christmas and forgotten - after a month without easy access to store bought treats we all agreed it was heavenly!

We recently bought a more energy efficient upright freezer - oh what a glorious improvement on both fronts!  It saves us money on electricity and you can actually see what's in it - imagine that!  But the EAT-TO-THE-BOTTOM-OF-THE-FREEZER challenge will remain for old-times sake and because I've grown to love the challenge of it.

Now back to my cup of tea and my Veseys seed catalogue.  Oohhh look... wouldn't you know it - they now have one called Rhubarb Organic Swiss Chard...and aren't those Bulls Blood Organic Beets beautiful!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Poor little duckie and the mean old fox

Ahh a not-so-peaceful day on the farm. We've had some snow and grey cloudy weather lately but today was bright and sunny and the ducks were out-and-about having a grand time quacking and showing off right at the back door.  They like that spot probably because it's out of the wind and because it's near the kitty's food bowl - my free range ducks would rather live on cat food if given the choice.

We often come out the door to be greeted by their quacking and honking and strange bobbing heads.  I don't think I'll ever get tired of having animals in my life.  Today I went to the door to call the dog back in and was greeted by 7 ducks and 2 cats...I waited a long time for those moments!  The chickens have no interest in coming out that far from the barn in the winter.  They hang out with the sheep and the donkey roosting in the eaves of the barn and happily pecking and scratching in the spilled hay.

Today we had some excitement however.  I was in the kitchen looking through some books I had ordered when I heard some unusally loud quacking so I rushed to the window to see a FOX - right at the back door!  I threw the books as I ran out in my socks screaming to scare him away.  I didn't even see him when I got outside and it was only two steps.  One of the Three Stooges trio of ducks - a female rouen (from a two rouen and a crested white duck family) was quacking loudly and huddled terrified in the corner.  There were no other ducks around - verrry unusual since they all stick together like glue.  I carried the frightened duck into the barn while the boys checked around the house for the fox.  What they found was poor little Lady Gaga - laying in the grass bloodied.  It seems Mr. Fox had grabbed her in his jaws but dropped her when Crazy-Screaming-Momma came running out of the house.  Poor little duckie.  She was bleeding and not walking very well when I put her in her pen for the night.  I give her 50/50.  She had blood on her feet - which you can see in the picture are webbed with some wicked claws - so I know she got some blows of her own in.  Go Lady Gaga!

I used to like foxes.  On the rare occasion I would get a glimpse of one on the road it made my day.  How wonderful to see wildlife.  It all changed when I saw the first Mr. Fox eating one of my chickens last summer.  Ah - the other side of the coin.

Well - once again everyone is safe and sound in their pens but maybe tomorrow they will stay in for the day just to throw Mr. Fox off the hunt.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Food storage: Eating what you store - oatmeal

So - how are you doing getting around to eating all that food in your food storage??  You have started right? Anything in your food storage that you haven't really added to your main menu? Some things are easy to incorporate and others we needed a little help getting into the habit of using regularly.  Since storing boxes of cereal is bulky and expensive I knew we needed to start eating hot cereal more regularly.  I like oatmeal but other things seem easier when I'm tired and not quite awake.

One of my goals in life is to make the mundane thinks in life run on auto pilot so I cooked up this way of having my cereal and eating it too.  One of the grains I store lots of is oats - my favorite kind is the steel cut variety and it has a great storage life (12-15 years if stored properly).  There are several other options for oats all of them good and healthy but the instant ones are the least nutritious.  Steel cut oats take a little longer to cook so I had to find a way to make it simple and automatic.  Enter the humble crock pot.  I have a smaller sized crock pot that works really well for this - it holds about 6 cups in total.  The larger crockpots work better if you double the recipe or add extra water. When teamed with a timer I am all set.

This is a simple recipe that can be changed a million ways to suit your tastes. The idea is that you put it together as soon as you clean out the crockpot from the day before. The grains soak throughout the day and the timer turns it on so it's ready to eat the next morning. 

Makes 2-4 servings

1 cup steel cut oats (you can use part quinoa, millet or anything else you like)
Opt. chai seeds, almonds, flax seed, etc.
1 tbsp. of lemon juice
1 tbsp. wheat or kamut flour
4 cups lukewarm water

Rinse the oats under cold running water for a few seconds.  Place everything in the clean crock pot.  The soaking time in the room temperature water along with the acid (lemon juice) and the flour helps to make the oats and seeds more digestible by starting the sprouting process which means you'll get more nutrition out of your food.  The flour may seem like a strange addition but it contains an enzyme that neutralizes the coating on the grains that prevents them from spoiling and that kickstarts the sprouting into gear.

Use a timer to turn the crockpot on at 2am and off at 8am.(or change the times to suit your breakfast habits) Cook on LOW. It's ready to eat after approx. 6 hours but it won't hurt it to sit longer. If you forget to turn it on or the timer gets messed up and doesn't turn after a power outage you can cook it on HIGH for about an hour and a half or until its as done as you like it.

Top each bowl with any of the following:
Flax seed oil, Udo's oil, butter
walnuts, raw cashews, coconut
Dehydrated or fresh apples, blueberries, strawberries etc.
Cinnamon, ginger
Raw honey, agave syrup, stevia to taste
Add anything else that you are supposed to eat every day and forget to eat like wheat germ, bran etc.

A healthy breakfast that gets you started on the road to STORING WHAT YOU EAT AND EATING WHAT YOU STORE.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

On the Lamb - three sheep and a donkey

Today was one of those days that I was glad to see come to an end.  Actually most of the day was great.  I got in the baking mood - banana bread, gluten free flax bread and Swedish cocoa cookies - so my son was on his own for chores in the barn this morning.  He doesn't mind working alone when we've done a big cleaning the day before and since the weather was actually feeling unusually spring-ish it was a beautiful day to be outside.  All went well until…

Evening chore time.  It was already dark when he went out to put everyone into their pens and feed them for the evening - really dark.  The kind of dark in the country makes city folk feel right uncomfortable.  I'm a country girl now so I can't admit to being afraid of the dark can I?  We have a yard light - most farms have one.  It's as big as a streetlight in town. I hated that big stupid light so much that when we first moved in and we discussed taking it down mostly because it shines in my bedroom window at night and keeps me awake and it makes a strange hissing sound.  How very annoying.

Moments after he left to do the chores DS came running back to the house with a panicked look on his face - MOM THEY'RE GONE.  THE GATE IS WIDE OPEN.   Oh my - by THEY he meant the ram, two ewes and the donkey!  I was really hoping they would be in the back field close to the house - I don't know why - they never go there.  HEAD FOR THE OPEN ROAD is their motto.  First we ran around with a big flashlight - ONE big flashlight that we had to share.  (Another one already on the list for the next stop at Canadian Tire tomorrow!)  Then I stopped to gather my thoughts - they obviously weren't anywhere right close by- the animals or my thoughts either for that matter.

Think first. 
Then act.
Pray first of all so you can think and then act!

In between running around I was praying hard.  OH GOD HELP US FIND THE ANIMALS - it's pitch dark and I don't know where to look AND THEY COULD BE ANYWHERE  ...getting eaten by coyotes, hit by a car, being beat-up by the neighbours stallions AGAIN or just not ever coming back... but you know where they are - please show us.  Great example of pray and panic in the same prayer!

Next stop back inside to see if any neighbours had called - I wasn't sure if it was good or bad - but no phone calls.

Then we grabbed the car keys and a bucket of grain.  We headed off down the road - first one way and then the other.  Nothing.

Back to the farm.  I didn't know what to do.  I looked down at my feet in frustration and fear and  SAW SHEEPIE FOOTPRINTS!! OH - footprints in the snow!  We found more tracks leading to the east across the front yard so we got back into the van with the big flashlight.  We drove slowly down the road and to our immense relief there they were...standing huddled together looking very lost in the front yard at our neighbours several houses down the road (who weren't home).   I honestly think they were relieved to see us! We quietly stopped and Luke hopped out with the grain.

What I saw then amazed me. It was just like the children's picture books...they followed him all the way home and right into the barn.  I could hardly believe my eyes after all the trouble we've had with Mr. Sheepie - they all just followed him home.

Never was I so glad for a quiet and DARK country road.  No cars to spook them which could have been disaster and so dark that none of the neighbours even knew what happened!  Those are about equal in scale in my mind.  The first time Mr. Sheepie visited the neighbours was bad enough (see my post on "Boys - Oh Boy") I just didn't want to have to face them again and ask if they had by chance seen three sheep and a donkey wandering by.  So, our secret is safe (as long as you don't tell anyone!)  

Back at the barnyard in the light of the big yard light we tried to figure out what happened.  Luke is not 100% positive he locked the gate after bringing the compost into the paddock early today but I've also seen Maybe (the donkey) play with the chain and she could possibly have managed to open it herself.  Tomorrow we'll be adding an extra chain, a bungee cord, duct tape, all the bailing twine in the barn and whatever else I can think of so we don't repeat this scenario. 

All is well.  Everyone is back where they belong.  The fence and the driveway gate at the front of the property have just become top priority again and along with that extra flashlight we'll be buying more light bulbs for the big yard light - I love that thing!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Getting Organized: Flylady Testimonial

FLYLADY COMMUNITY - Get rid of your chaos and learn to fly!

My dear FlyLady and crew,

I can't count the many times I have sent a word of thanks your way over the

My journey with you began when I started homeschooling and the paperwork
clutter from schoolwork became the last straw on the poor overburdened camel
of our lives. I absolutely couldn't cope anymore with all the mess and
stress and chaos. Then I found YOU. Over time I finally "GOT" it and was
able to manage my home with pride.

As time moved on we added more teenagers to our family. We lived in a teeny
tiny home with 7 adult sized people and although life was more than a bit
crazy keeping up with everyone's school and work schedules, (homeschooling
some of them) and a business we ran out of our home we managed because of
what I learned from you. We had chores for everyone and lists, the bathroom
got swished and swiped (most of the time) laundry got done, food prepared
and somehow we survived to tell about it.

We moved to a farm a year and a half ago and I spent a good deal of time
worrying about the move. I knew we could handle the actual moving because I
had completely de-cluttered our home over the years -- we just opened the
closet, put it in a box and put it on the truck -- no decisions necessary.
But you see my old home was less than 1200 square feet (including the floor
space under the oil tank which was prime real estate in a house that full!)

Our new home was twice the size plus we would have a barn and a garage and
multiple other places to stash stuff -- would I be able to handle it?? All
that space to keep clean and organized, a small farm to run and several
acres of grass to cut on top of everything else?

Well, I was worried for nothing. Everything you taught me works the same
right here on the farm! You can do anything for 15 minutes -- including
cleaning out a stinky stall, working in the vegetable garden, cleaning eggs
and produce and even cutting the grass sometimes!

My beautiful white cast iron sink gets shined up regularly -- if you ever
think that the shining the sink thing is just for looks get a white sink!

We are loving life on the farm and I know I could never have made the move
and survived with my sanity if not for your kind words of wisdom over the
years. You made what would have been impossible -- POSSIBLE!

Thank you!
Anita from Shalom Engedi Farm

FlyLady here: Routines and BabySteps help you create the possible!!

P.S. My testimonial was sent out to her email list - how cool is that?!  If you've never heard of Flylady and you have trouble organizing your home and your life you NEED to check out her website and her FREE emails. She really did change my life!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Feeding a Family of Fourteen

I was reading one of my favorite websites last week and I came across a post that made me sit back and think.  This was written by Drakenstead1 and he gave his kind permission for me to re-post it here. 

I'm sure many of you folks are experienced gardeners and preservers of the harvest. What I have to say here is probably "old hat" to you folks. I'm making the effort to post this for those who are just starting out or those with a small garden who "put up" a few things every year. I have no issue nor an axe to grind I'll merely tell you what it was like growing up in rural Minnesota as the eldest of a family of 14. 

When I was 22 I went to the local American Legion with my Father so we could have a quiet glass of beer and a talk. Dad had just been laid off and times in general were tight. Times were always tight but we managed. Dad was fond of the saying that "Love Grows" which he usually followed with "Set another Place at the Table". One of the local wags came up and loudly asked with a mocking tone" How ya gonna feed all them kids now eh?" Dad was the coolest guy I ever knew. He simply smiled and replied "Plow up another acre". We then went back to our conversation and ignored the clown.

Our garden was a wonderful pet monster. It varied in size but was never under 5,000 square feet. That did not include the large area that went to sweet corn or pumpkins & squash which we raised for sale as much as food. Everything one could imagine went into the fertile Minnesota soil from Broccoli to Zucchini. Our spud patch was always there to teach the young bucks in the family what testosterone was really for.  Quite a lot of bad behavior was cured by a session in the spud patch. We could easily and often did put up a ton of the tubers in the wooden racks Dad & I had built from scrap lumber in the cellar. Also into that cellar went onions, garlic, cabbage, carrots and anything else that we could hang or pack in tubs by the hundred weight.

We also had what was called then a "fruit cellar". Mom supervised the canning of fruits and vegetables up to 3 & sometimes 4 thousand jars a year. Along with the fruits and veggies went quart & two quart jars of rendered lard from the pig or pigs we slaughtered each fall. That which was not made into soap became the cooking oil we used producing tasty eats and pie crusts that still make my mouth water at the thought. I remember the canning sessions in the late summer and fall. The long yellow Formica table in the kitchen had benches at each side. One side for the girls and one for the boys. The babies sat on the ends with Mom & Dad respectively. My brothers & I sat on one side with our view of our sisters obscured by a mound of green beans so high that we could not see our them on the other. We would snap, cut and wash well into the night with the sounds of the huge field medical Auto Claves that Dad had scrounged Army Surplus hissing in the heat of the August nights.

Things that tasted better frozen went into the two 29 cubic foot freezers tucked into the basement corners.  This included quarts of frozen peas that I traded labour with a Local Farmer for. Meat of course went in there including the pig, half a cow or sometime a whole and all of the wild game that my brothers and I could take legally. The freezers were packed full each fall and supplemented with game as available through the winter.

Each fall the entrance to our huge old farm house was packed with the Red Wing stoneware crocks that antique collectors now pay a fortune for. Sauerkraut bubbled and smelled along with wine fermenting and mead brewing for a delicious smell that it does not take much effort to remember. Hung from the celing were bunches of herbs that Mom grew in the "special" garden that Dad & his sons worked up and did the heavy work on. The classic parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme filled the air with scents that acted as a counter point to the other wonderful things working there. Things like rosemary were set in pots and carefully nurtured through the winter. They were considered expensive exotics that would not overwinter.

Each fall in wood splitting time Mom would hang the last of the tomato plants by their roots in the basement so at least some of the green fruit would ripen. We often had them until Thanksgiving. That's when we would also harvest the things that needed a touch of frost like squash, spuds, and brussels sprouts. That's also when she would make her "Harvest Soup". Huge kettles of everything that was left went onto the stove to feed the brutal heavy work that this much food required. Along with the soup we ate the fresh bread that she baked 12 or 14 loaves at a time every Saturday. I also remember the 9" x 12" cake pans used to bake rectangular apple pies with the Haroldson's that make Minnesota fall go snap and crunch.

Flour was purchased along with corn meal, oil, salt, sugar and spices. Everything was done in the largest quantity possible. Grandpa had scavenged a stainless steel drum that we built into the kitchen cabinets. It slid out with it's hundred pounds of flour every baking Saturday and filled the house with smells that my Dad told us was the scent of heaven.

We raised chickens for the pot after they had set in the freezer for a while. We would butcher twice a year setting up a production line to process them in the back yard. My wife's first introduction to my family was chicken day. To her credit she pitched right in. That's when I decided that we were meant to be together. It was probably not the most romantic thing but her willingness has kept us together for over 40 years.

I've not gone into the details of a lot of the brutal back breaking work involved with this much production. Every mouth to feed came with a pair of hands which were put to task. That is what all my brothers and sister remember, not fancy vacations, restaurant meals or trips to Disney Land. I remember when my sister's new boyfriend showed up for her first date. He was a handsome young Irishman just out of the Navy.  (My sister) Cheech had been primping all day to get ready. When her young beau showed up and they were ready to leave dad said "Where are you going?" Cheech said "Out to the dance with Pat". "Not until your two bean rows are weeded" said Dad. I saw her face drop to the floor and the screech begin to form deep in her lungs. Two of my other sisters and I stepped up together and said "Don't worry dad we'll take care of her rows" With a silently mouthed "thank you" she left with her young man. They are married now and have four girls and four grandchildren. Pat told me that it was on that day he decided to ask Cheech to marry him. He wanted to be part of a family that backed each other up.

The conclusion is in light of my experience. I know at least in part what it takes to feed 14 people through a Minnesota winter. Now imagine doing it without electricity or gas to run a tiller or tractor or freezer or working a wood stove to cook and can. Don't be discouraged just consider the scale and prepare now. The time is coming again for us to earn our bread by the sweat of our brow and not the keys on a computer keyboard.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Invisible Mother

...... (I didn't write this!)

Invisible Mother

It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I'm on the phone and ask to be taken to the store..

Inside I'm thinking, 'Can't you see I'm on the phone?'

Obviously, not.

No one can see if I'm on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all.

I'm invisible. The invisible Mom . Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this?

Some days I'm not a pair of hands; I'm not even a human being. I'm a clock to ask, 'What time is it?' I'm a satellite guide to answer, 'What number is the Disney Channel?' I'm a car to order, 'Right around 5:30, please.'

I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated sum a cum laude - but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She's going; she's going; she is gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England ..

Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in.

I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, 'I brought you this.'

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: 'To My Dear Friend, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.' In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, 'Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.' And the workman replied, 'Because God sees'

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, 'I see you. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become.'

At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on.

The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. When I really think about it, I don't want my son to tell the friend he's bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, 'My Mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.' That would mean I'd built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, 'you're going to love it there.'

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women.

Great Job, MOM!

 Hope this encourages you when the going gets tough.. as it sometimes does...I didn't write this - I just love it.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

How It All Began...

I remember what I was doing 25 years ago today on Wednesday January 7, 1987 .  I had written in my journal a few days previous that I had a feeling something momentous was going to happen very soon but it still surprised me how wonderful it was when it finally did.  I went to work that day as a classroom assistant in a high school for mentally handicapped teenagers.  I had been invited by my co-worker - who was quickly becoming a good friend - to come over for dinner that night.  We were working on a project that needed a graphic designer and she had just the person for the job - he was coming for dinner that night too.

She knew.  I didn't know.  She planned this.  I was oblivious.

I was standing in the kitchen looking out the window while dinner was cooking and I saw him and that's when I KNEW.  I hadn't spoken a word to him yet but I just knew.  This was THE ONE.  We had dinner - I couldn't tell you what we ate - my friend's kids told me later that we hardly spoke to them we were so busy getting to know each other.

The next day I told my friend - YUP - He's THE ONE - I'm gonna marry him.  So I did.  We did - got married that is - 345 days later...and we lived happily ever after.  The end.

Well - not the end really - just the end of life as we knew it and the beginning of a life full of ups and downs and wonderful things and not-so-wonderful things.  We were laughing the other day when we contemplated what we would have done if we'd KNOWN what life was going to be like for us 25 years later.   We were so in love I know nothing would have stopped us but it may have given a few moments pause.

Life is so wonderfully-good when you realise that you walked through some very dark and rough places with someone who never gave up on you.  We were there for each other through the death of a parent and sickness and life changing disease and kids and teenagers and homeschooling and adding new daughters and a son-in-law to our family and moving to the farm.

We moved here a week after my birthday - I always say "I got a farm for my birthday present" and he says - "that should do for the rest of your life!"  He's kidding of course but it sure topped the toaster-for-a-birthday-present-fiasco a few years back!  I guess I can't really bring that one up anymore - I've been paid back in shovel fulls - (you can use your imagination as to what's on the shovel!)

Ephesians 3: 19-21(The Message) says:
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.  God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

That was our wedding text.  He has done far more than I could ever have asked or imagined - and I always tell Him I have a really good imagination. 

Thank you Lord for choosing my wonderful husband who is all I ever dreamt of and more and for giving us a life with each other that we don't deserve.  Thank you for the children you chose especially for us and for 25 amazing years of walking with You on a journey that not in my wildest imagination could have EVER been this good.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Getting Organized: craft closet

Yesterday was one-of-those-days.  You know those days when you are on-a-roll and get so much accomplished?  Perhaps it was the combination of
a) that quiet lull after the holidays
b)the crazy need to organize that seems to come around in January after I've pulled out and put away all the Christmas decorations and...
c) enough sleep for several days in a row to catch up and feel rested after a busy fall.  Anyway - it was a great day for getting-things-done.

Maybe the fact that it was minus 25 helped as well.  We did the outdoor chores in record time.  We felt sorry for the animals but not sorry enough to stay and visit for long.

The scrapbooking area.

After quickly tidying up the house and deciding on dinner (which wasn't too difficult - frozen leftovers from the holidays defrosting on the counter- done) I made up my mind to tackle a task that had been on my mind for some time - the craft/fabric closet.  It was a jumbled mess of fabric sticking out from under the door and cardboard boxes that held mystery items of crafting-nature.  My currently off-to-school daughter loves to sew and be creative and has made some very lovely items in the past - particularly cloth shoulder bags and clothes made from her own patterns.  The successful ones made it into her closet - the not-so-successful ones made it to the bottom of the craft closet trunk along with many tiny scraps of strange and wonderful fabric, yarn, trim and pins and needles.  After seeing the reject pile I'm glad she's is on a trip to Sweden so I didn't have to run every castaway project past her first - hopefully she'll be able to live with my decisions - or maybe just not remember what was there!

First I added a few wire shelves to an existing shelving system in the closet. I happened across the shelves and hardware last summer at a yard sale.  I didn't realise what a great deal I had on my hands until I went back to buy two more shelves last night.  My yard sale find was a bag full of parts and 6 random sized shelves for $4.00.  TWO plastic end holder-things cost more than $4.00.   
The craft closet after shot.

Clear plastic shoe boxes were on sale at Canadian Tire a few months ago so I bought a stack of them and organized the fabric kinda-sorta by color.  Is that every nerds dream or what?! One big trunk holds the large pieces of fabric and the plastic shoe boxes hold all the rest.  My craft closet is clean but someone please come have a look soon before we mess it up again when the creative juices start to flow and the organizational zeal leaves with a whimper.

Next stop - linen closet!

I also spent a good deal of time looking for the cup-hooks I bought before Christmas - they were right where they were supposed to be but I didn't find them until I had looked in the same place three times.  My excuse is that the room they were in wasn't heated and being that the temperature in the room was only slightly warmer than -25 I was in a hurry!   They were for my next project - hanging up the measuring cups and spoons I got for Christmas.  That might sound a little weird but we do a lot of baking and cooking so having them handy makes sense to me.  Besides you-gotta-see these!  So cute!  They are made by the Ganz Company in case you're ever looking for them you can find them under Ganz measuring spoons on google.

The measuring cups are engraved.
1 cup:  A cup of closeness
1/2 cup: A heap of happiness
1/3 cup: A scoop of love
1/4 cup: A lot of laughter

A luxury for sure but these are heirloom quality and a great addition to a HOPE CHEST for young girls.

It was a busy day and it felt good to get some things off my list - lets hope the momentum continues!

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Price book

    We have a large number of teenagers and young adults that stay with us for periods of time.  Teenagers eat a lot.  Like hollow legs and empty pits they are always looking for something to fill them up.  So having a large pantry means that I know I can handle kids and company without having to wonder if I can afford to feed them or whether all I have to give them is my last can of lima beans - which they are more than welcome to - lima-beans-aren't-my-favourite!  That's the polite way of expressing your dislike of any food in this house - you're not allowed to say I hate it!

    A common statistic tells us that the average person has three days of food in the house.  I can't quite imagine it.  I don't like shopping so much that I would want to go every three days and I KNOW me - without a list and a plan I would spend waaaaay too much money...and yet the reason I hear the most often why people don't have food storage is that they can't afford it.  Money can be an issue when you're trying to stock up but like any issue in life it all comes down to priorities and choices.  We decided this was a priority.  Like health insurance or life insurance - food insurance makes sense to me.

    I've written before about my belief in a large pantry and why I have one - teenagers and company being only one of the reasons (how about temporary job loss, the ability to bring a family in need a meal on the spot, or the security of knowing that as prices rise you have grocery insurance) but now I want to share the method I use to build my food storage pantry that's really simple and saves me money. 

    I figured out that we are creatures of habit and I suspect most of us are the same.  We eat the same meals over and over with a few exceptions.  This is GREAT news for food storage because it makes it less complicated to figure out what you need to stock up on.

    I'll use Spaghetti and meatballs in this example.  First I break down the whole meal into ingredients.

    So for one meal I would need:
    2 cans of pasta sauce
    1 package of pasta
    1 tsp. of Italian spices
    1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
    1 box meatballs (frozen or home canned for this example)

    So to make this meal 6 times I would need a case of 12 pasta sauce, 6 packages of pasta, a few Tbsp of Italian seasoning and maybe a whole container of parmesan if someone gets a little shake-happy with the container.

    Average regular prices for
    pasta sauce - $1.99 for the canned stuff
    pasta - over $2.00 a package
    Italian spices - negligable
    1 container of parmesan $8.00
    6 boxes or other of frozen meatballs - anywhere from $6-10 depending on brand which is why it's a great idea to make your own but that's another post.

    If you chose 6 more meals like the one above you would soon have more than a months' worth of dinners in your pantry! 

    So we know the regular prices but what we need to know is what the best sales prices are.  This is where the PRICE BOOK comes in. It is simply a way of tracking the lowest price on a specific item and also keeping track of when it went on sale and which store had it on sale.

    All stores have seasonal sales - canned pumpkin is more often on sale in the fall when pumpkins are plentiful and Thanksgiving and Christmas create a demand. Stores also have rotating sales - for example cheese goes on sale every 6 weeks around here. The regular price could be anywhere from $7-9 dollars for a 500gr. brick of Black Diamond cheddar however it regularly goes on sale for $4.44  and sometimes there's a really great deal at $3.97. I buy enough for my family to last till the next sale and I always eat "on sale" cheese. The price book tells me what is a good price, what is a great price and approx. how long I will have to wait till the next sale.
    So let's say we eat a brick of cheese a week and the sale cycle is 6 weeks long.  I would need 6 bricks of cheese.  At the regular price of $7.00 a brick I would pay a total of $42.00.  At the sale price of $4.44 I would pay $26.64.  When it's on a sale for $3.97 - only $23.82.  That would save me at least $20.00 on cheese alone.  Of course not eating so much cheese would help too!!

    The same idea works for canned or boxed or frozen food we used in the spaghetti and meatballs example above.  I know I can save at least 40% on the spaghetti and meatballs meal by using my price book, buying when items are on sale and not paying full price.

    Getting started requires a little extra thought and rearranging of your grocery spending.   I suggest you add another $20.00 to your food budget if you can and then use the savings to build up a larger amount that will be on hand to make purchases by the case.  It will take some time but eventually you will be eating most food items that have been bought on sale! The Price Book will also help you to not be easily deceived by advertised specials.  Just because the item is on the end-cap with a big red sticker doesn't mean it's a great deal.

    Here's what to do:
    • Start by saving all of grocery store receipts.  Keep them all in one place and after several weeks you'll be able to see what you buy regularly.
    • Purchase a small three-ring notebook or binder. Something that fits in your purse or your pocket is the right size or perhaps a section of a daytimer if you carry one.
    • Use you most repeated meals to make your initial list for your price book. No sense knowing the price of canned pumpkin if you never eat it or the cost of a box of salt that you buy once every two years..
    • Start a page for each major category. Keep it simple at the beginning - you can add more pages later. Canned Food, Boxed Food, Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, Meat, Dairy Products, and Snacks.
    • Create columns for listing your comparison information. You not only want to compare price but also keep track of which store offers that price. It should look like this.
    Store Name

    Unit Price
    of Sale
    No Frills
    Black Diamond
    October 6-12
    Black Diamond
    Nov. 18-24
  • Most grocery stores have the unit price displayed on the scanner code below the item on the shelf - save your brain and make use of them!
  • Bring your Price Book with you when you go shopping.
  • When you see something on sale that you eat regularly buy extra.  A few cans or a few cases depending on your budget and how much you want to store.
  • Continue to save your grocery receipts and use them to update your Price Book.  I've noticed the cost of food rising more because of what I've written in my price book than anything else!
  • All stores have loss leaders and special sales so there really isn't one store that can be the cheapest all the time.  Don't let their marketing convince you that you need to stay loyal to that particular store - I am loyal to the particular price.

  • Combine the Price Book idea with some Menu planning and you have a winning combination..