Thursday, November 7, 2013

Feeling Useful

My last day of work was Friday, and I've had a very productive and happy day today.  I came downstairs to the smell of breakfast - always a wonderful thing.  Though it was a very strange one (shitake mushrooms, bacon, and sweet potato omelettes a la *B*), it wasn't too bad.  And I didn't cook it, which is always appreciated.  I conquered my fear of pie crusts and made a crust for a hubbard squash custard pie. It was delicious!  Though it was just a little green, which is strange.

We went with my family this afternoon to a local oyster roast.  We've gone every year since I was a little kid.  Even Miss F was eating fried oysters.  Probably not the most healthy way she could have eaten oysters, but I'm happy to have another shellfish eater in the house :o)

My brother dropped bales of straw off from his fiancee's farm, so *B* has been working away in the garden today.  He made three straw bale gardens in which to grow garlic.  He had picked up four bags of lawn trimmings from the side of the road the other day, so he mowed them into the beds as the last lawn mowing of the year.  He also took apart our canopy and cleared off our deck.  It's so nice to have the outside of the house decluttered, just as it's nice to be decluttered inside.  Even Miss F was raking up leaves with her child-sized rake.

Many of our summer crops have died off, but our jalapenos and lima beans are still hanging on.  I'm not sure how long the limas will last, but they still look good and are just now filling out.

Since it's so cold, I finally got up the motivation to fix an old winter coat of mine.  The last time I wore it, I was 60 pounds heavier, and two buttons of six were missing with two buttons hanging by a thread.  Rather than taking it to the tailors (which I can't believe I've done before), I found some thick black thread in my fabric box and sewed them on myself.  I've known how to do it for a long time, but I couldn't bring myself to cut off the two buttons that were still intact until today.  I think I did a pretty good job, and it'll be a lot warmer than my leather jacket if this winter is going to be as cold as they say it will.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Homesteading and Homemade Food

Aside from attending the renaissance festival, my weekends have been taken up making pumpkin puree, roasting pumpkin seeds, baking bread, making pasta, and canning.

The pumpkin seeds are so delicious.  A quick boil in salt water and baking in a baking sheet with some olive oil makes them crispy, salty, a little oily and just plain delicious.  They don't last long in our house.

This year, we had four San Marzano roma tomato plants.  My mom had one.  Her one plant produced more than our four combined - times five!  She was sick of dealing with the plant at the end of September, so she let us have whatever we wanted if we ripped it out for her.  We got almost 45 pounds from that one plant!


We laid all of the tomatoes out on the table in front of a window.  The red ones we picked out and threw into a freezer bag.  The rest, we let sit.


So when it came to sauce day, I knew we'd be set.  We'd have enough tomatoes to fulfill our needs all winter.  What I didn't realize was that I didn't have the equipment to deal with all of this at once!

Within ten minutes of putting the tomatoes into all of these pans, the black pan started to smell terrible.  Because of how the bottom of the pan was formed, the tomatoes instantly burned to the bottom.  So we pulled the tomatoes that were still good off and filled more pans.


The whole process was a bit stressful.  I kept having to shift sauce around from pan to pan in order to keep it from burning but to keep reducing.  I kept cooking and straining tomatoes for six hours.  I bet if I had a large stock pot, this would be a much easier endeavor.


In the end, though, it all worked out pretty well.  I would totally do this again next year if I'm properly prepared.

After the tomato sauce ordeal, I apparently had canning amnesia, because I bought two half-bushels of apples.

I'm thankful that apples last a long time, because it took me a couple of week to get around to processing them.


About half way through processing, I mentioned to my dad that it was really difficult to push the apple pulp through the sides of my strainer with a spatula.  I wanted to get a food mill one day.  The next day, he stops by with my grandmother's Foley food mill.  She used to use it for making ketchup.  My grandfather gave it to me to use since he wouldn't be using it.  It really makes work easier!

Since June, we've put up 16 quarts and 15 pints of peaches, 6 quarts of green beans, 16 half-pints of strawberry jam, 14 half-pints of peach preserves, 12.75 quarts of tomato sauce, 6 half-pints of tomato paste, and 41.5 half-pints of apple butter.  Every time I can something new, I only see the bit that I just did.  I feel a little good about it, but it still doesn't feel like enough.  Well, that changed today.  I went downstairs to put more apple butter in the pantry, and there wasn't enough room.  Over 1/3 of our pantry is home canned, and that is amazing.  Our strawberry jams are rapidly disappearing, though, because they are *B*'s favorite.  We will definitely be canning a bigger batch next year.

This past Saturday, we bought three fresh chickens from a local farmer.  These chickens are sustainably and humanely raised.  It’s the same farm where we get our pork.  The chickens look more bird-like than any other chicken I've ever bought.


I chose fresh chickens so that I could part them out myself and be able to use as much of the chicken as possible while giving us an easy source of meat on busy nights.  Part of using the whole chicken was rendering the fat.  I’ve never done it before, but we tend to eat skinless meat, so it seemed like a good idea.  I followed the tutorial on Penniless Parenting and it was fantastic!  The result was almost ½ a cup of shmaltz and some tasty fried chicken skin.


I've also been doing a couple of little projects.  I made homemade pasta on a whim using the 3 cups whole wheat flour to 1 cup water ratio to put into some chicken broth for an impromptu chicken noodle soup when *B* was sick.  I didn't consider myself a chicken noodle soup person in years gone by, but I am definitely a homemade chicken noodle soup person.  I realized it's just the canned stuff I can't stand.


I've made two batches of crackers now using the recipe from the Prudent Homemaker.  They're really good, but I'm having a hard time rolling them thin enough to be cracker-like.  For now, they're tasty pita-like bites.  I added 1 tsp of garlic the last time, and it made it brilliant.

Since it's getting cold and Christmas is coming, I picked up some yarn at our local store for a scarf for Miss F and presents for family.  I was amazed that the scarf took me just over 24 hours to make.  In a day, she got herself a new scarf to go with her red, pink, and white winter hat.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A New Farmer's Market

*B*, Miss F, and I started going to a new farmer's market.  It's much further away than the one in our town, but for some reason our market closed early in the middle of September.  It's probably for the best, because the new one we found is MUCH bigger and has many more items. 

We buy coffee there from a local roaster who employs people with developmental delays and sends some of their profits to charities overseas.  There are at least three times the number of farms, many more meat and egg producers.  They know us and Miss F even plays with one producer's daughter while we're there.  There are three pastry/bread/yummy food vendors.  I know two of three vendors.  I grew up with the son of one of the vendors.  His mom makes delicious jam.  The other vendor happens to be a couple I used to know.  I babysat their children when they were young, and it's now amazing to see them move onto a new stage in their lives now that they're empty-nesters.  They make the most brilliant food - bacon, cheddar, and scallion scones, ham and gruyere croissants, pumpkin tiramisu, and plenty of pastries.

Since we've found this farmer's market, we've been stockpiling winter squash and pumpkins.  We love all things pumpkin, and we love soup made from butternut squash.  This year though, we also picked up a hubbard squash and a cheese pumpkin.  We're going to see how they taste.  If good, we'll load up on them to feed us through the winter, since the market only goes until the end of November.  My mother's husband had this work shelf sitting around that he made a number of years ago.  They gave it to us, and it makes an excellent squash storage shelf.  It's wonderful to see it so full!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy

Since I went back to work a little over a month ago, I have been making the most of every single moment the best I can.  That means more work, but less blogging.  I have off today, but I go back Tuesday through Friday for my last week of teaching these classes.

I've learned a lot about myself in the time that I've been back teaching.  The first week was fantastic.  I enjoyed every minute of it.  Then came the first test.  The average was 75%.  For most teachers, that's considered a decent score.  For me, I agonized over those students who came in under that number.  Some of these kids didn't pay attention, didn't ask questions, didn't come to see me, didn't do their homework, and didn't do the chapter review.  But I still stressed out hard core that they failed, even if they didn't seem to worry about it at all.  I worry about how much of the grade was my fault.  I think it's the judgment calls that are the hardest.  I continually check and double check my steps - was I fair with grading?  Did I take off a point or half a point for small math errors?  What’s a small error?  Should I allow them to turn things in late if they have a good reason?  How do I know they're not lying to me about their excuses?

I think I've decided that I'd love to teach if there were no grades.  That's essentially tutoring, which I do now.  But my night job is very stressful for two reasons.  One, there's no evening family time.  *B* and I split shift parent, which means he gets home, kiss hello/goodbye, and I go off to work.  We don't even get to eat dinner together.  Since he leaves early in the morning for work, we don’t get breakfast together, either.  Essentially, on days I work, we have no family meals whatsoever.  Reason number two, my boss is a very nice woman, but she has difficulty running a business.  She messes up kids' schedules all the time, she forgot to take taxes out of my paycheck all year last year, and I didn't know that until I got my W-2 because she would never give me pay stubs no matter how often I asked.  She’s also very demanding of my time despite what I need.  If I say that I can only work two days a week, she still pushes for a third (or fourth) day.  And I’m stuck deciding between my job and my family.  If I choose my family, I have to make that case over and over again every time she asks me to put in more time.  While I like the work, it provokes a lot of anxiety on my part.

The hardest part was that Miss F had a very bad experience with daycare for the first two weeks.  She got three major head injuries in three days from climbing and tipping chairs into the center's brick walls.  While I know that kids get hurt,  the center did nothing to fix the problem after the first time, or even the second.  I had other concerns as well, so I looked them up on our state's child care licensing database.  They had six major, unresolved infractions.  These ranged from being understaffed and overcrowded to being in a building with major code violations including no running water in the bathrooms.  We pulled her out immediately and found a very nice woman who runs a small home daycare down the road.  I have been much less worried since she's switched, but I still miss her.

I’ve decided that I’ll be going back in January to cover a friend’s maternity leave.  We can save a lot of money up for the next baby.  I'm not pregnant, but we've been thinking a lot lately that our family feels like we're missing someone.  I've been offered my old job back full time next year, but I won’t go back to teaching full time if *B* gets a job that can support all of us.  He graduates in December, and I’ve agreed to move anywhere in the country if he can find a job.  His degree is in Environmental Biology, and there aren’t many related jobs in our area.

So that's all of the work-related news that's been going on lately.  I've got quite a few posts lined up on the home-related goings on to be posted shortly.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Longest Three Days

On Monday, Miss F went to daycare for the first time.  I went off to school and took care of other people's kids. Honestly, I had a rather good time.  But after school, I still had to go to my night job. They graciously allowed me to take a month off, but I agreed to work the first week so that they could find someone to take my place. Until that point, I was the only math tutor.

So I didn't see Miss F at all.  At 3 am, she cried, and I jumped right out of bed to cuddle her. Not my normal parenting style, but I missed my baby.  She missed BOTH naps at daycare, so I knew she was tired. Ten minutes later, I put her back to bed.

Tuesday morning, I woke her up just in time for breakfast before daycare. I opened her diaper to find horrendous diaper rash: three bleeding wounds. No wonder she woke up! I would have changed her if I knew. I would have known if I had taken care of her, or at least gotten her from daycare.

I took her to daycare anyway, but immediately called my mom. She was off for the day, and neither *B* nor I could pick her up because I worked at night still and he was in school. I had her get Miss F early so that she could treat the wounds.

I got home at 7:30, after Miss F's bedtime. We do this all again today, and I'll be gone after her bedtime yet again. The first day I'll get to see my baby for longer than half an hour is tomorrow night. After these three days, the rest of my time working will be a piece of cake.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Last Thing I Thought I'd Do

As of Monday, Miss F will be going to a daycare center.  While this is temporary, it's really pulling at my heart strings.

The backstory:  I worked for four years at a high school.  I anticipated taking a year off when Miss F was born, and coming back for this current school year.  But there were no positions.  Last night, I received a phone call asking me to cover for a teacher with terrible morning sickness.  We are worse than living paycheck-to-paycheck right now, and we really need the money.  On top of that, it would allow me to a) determine if I ever want to go back to teaching while I have young kids and b) allow me to take a break from my night job.  I've been getting seriously burnt out with my night job.

So I agreed to take the job, and immediately started calling around about daycare options.  I had tried to find family and friends first, but no one was able to take Miss F during the day.  I managed to find a center who had come highly recommended.  Daycare is surprisingly much cheaper than I realized, so financially this is a good move for us.

I talked about my fears of feeling like a bad mom for this move on a forum in which I post.  Many people were supportive, but some got really offended by my distaste for daycare.  I understand others need to work and/or want to work outside of the home, but we've always said it wasn't for us.  While their posts upset me, they really made me think.

And I realized why I'm afraid.

I'm afraid that my little girl will look for someone else when she's hurt.  I'm afraid that I'll miss out on her milestones.  But mostly, I'm afraid they'll do a better job than I do.

I'm not worried that daycare will make me a bad mom.  I'm worried that I'll find out I am a bad mom because she does so much better in daycare than with me.  Maybe she'll be more social.  Maybe she'll learn words more quickly.  Maybe she'll pick up baby signs, which I haven't gotten to work. 

I always worry that I'm not good enough (story of my life).  And while I always smile and thank people for compliments, I can never seem to let them sink through.  Instead, I have irrational fears.  Miss F didn't clap until she was 10 months, and she still doesn't really roll a ball across the room.  Both of these were milestones that the pediatrician asked about.  Was it because I didn't practice with her enough?  Was I not giving her the proper tools and stimulation at the right time?  Is she delayed in some way that I'm not aware of?  Or is she just a normal kid moving at her own pace?

So into daycare she'll go for six weeks, supposing the teacher who is out sick comes back when planned.  I'm going to try to stop mourning this as a loss and see it as an opportunity.  If nothing else, I'll come back to being a SAHM with a renewed outlook and appreciation of my life.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Pumpkin Puree is Easy as Pie

Actually, it's EASIER than pie! All you need is a crock pot and a pumpkin.

I've been itching for pumpkin since my newsfeed on Facebook blew up with pictures of pumpkin spice lattes. I batted my eyelashes at *B* and asked if we could get done canned pumpkin. He's my food conscience. He tells me what I needed to hear: pumpkins aren't in season yet, and fresh pumpkins are better than canned.

So I resigned myself to waiting for October. But the one tiny sugar pumpkin out on our vine was almost entirely orange. And wouldn't you know, pumpkins appeared at our farmer's market only two weeks later. They were $2 each, so I bought seven, though only five of them are pictured here.


As far as making puree, I washed it, ripped the stem off, poked several holes in it, and cooked it I the crock pot on low for six hours. If it were bigger, I'd cut it to make it fit and cook longer.


I let it cool a bit, removed the seeds, and scraped the flesh into a bowl.

A couple of quick blasts with an immersion blender, and I had nearly 4 cups of puree - about as much in a 29 oz can of Libby's.

A can of Libby's pumpkin is $2.88 at Walmart, which means I saved $1 after tax. But why bother, it's just a dollar, right? Let's examine this:
  • The pumpkin was grown in my county, compared to Libby's, which was most likely grown in Illinois. So less oil was used in transportation, with fewer greenhouse gasses put into the air. 
  • There was no packaging involved in my pumpkin, saving paper, metal, and plastic. 
  • While the pumpkin wasn't organic, I know this farm tries not to use pesticides. And since it's not a factory farm, there's a smaller chance of disease and contamination.
  • The money stays in my community. I'm not paying Nestle (the parent company of Libby's). I'm not supporting Walmart. I'm helping a local family and the college kids that work for them.
  • Finally: it's cheaper! Seven pumpkins =$7 saved for practically no work! How can you go wrong with that? 
Pumpkin was one of the first foods Miss F ate, and she loved it.  So I'm looking forward to giving her a tasty reminder of how she used to eat by making sausage and pumpkin pasta tonight.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Vegetables for Picky Eaters

My four year old nephew is a very picky eater.  His list of approved foods is very short:  bread products, tomato sauce/soup, chocolate, watermelon, and cheetos.  He hates vegetables, most fruits, and he's not a big meat eater.  A few weeks ago, we spent some time with them.  While everyone had pizza, he had a little french bread with a tiny bit of tomato sauce.  A little later, he had a bread stick.  That was all he ate from the time we got there at 10 am to the time he left at 5 pm.  He only started eating cheese a week ago.

My sister-in-law and I talked about his food habits, and she expressed concern.  That's when I told her that I add grated carrot into our spaghetti sauce.  She works a very demanding job and only sees nephew for an hour a day.  So I offered to help.  I'm trying to come up with ways to sneak nutrients into his food.  I know there are cookbooks out there for this express purpose, but this is what I've decided to try so far:
  • Zucchini doughnuts
  • Veggie-spiked spaghetti sauce
  • Veggie-spiked "nephew approved" soups (bean purees in tomato soup)
  • Sweet potato pancakes

For the first experiment, I decided to make something he couldn't say no to:  double chocolate zucchini muffins.  I found them at For the Love of Cooking.  I was skeptical at first, but they are AMAZING.

These muffins are moist, dense, and chocolatey.  There's no hint of zucchini in them.  These particular muffins I made with whole wheat flour, sucanat, pastured eggs, and organically/locally grown zucchini to make them extra delicious and healthy. Nephew downed his muffin in no time flat and proclaimed his love for them.  Next time I make them, homemade applesauce will substitute some of the oil to make it even better.

How do you sneak veggies into your foods?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Comparison is the Death of Happiness

I've been on a bit of a Blogger-blackout.  Part of it is because we've been having wonderful family time.  Part of it is due to a lack of time and a pretty significant amount of stress.  But a lot of it was because of how I think when I spend a lot of time on the web.

I see cool things, ideas, tricks, and read about others' lives.  But then I compare my life to theirs.  In one little picture or a snippet of blog post, everything is beautiful, serene, calm, organized, and perfect.  And my anxiety starts a little flicker since my pictures never turn out that way - my life never looks that way.  But I'm sure that just out of view is the pile of stuff that was pushed aside, and that tablecloth is covering the fingerpaint and craft-related gouges in the kitchen table.  Even though I know that it's most likely an illusion, I still set myself up for impossible standards and disappointment.

A picture I would like to post online

What the camera shows when I back up

As we do every fall, we spent today at the Renaissance Festival.  *B* and I have been going since we were in high school, before we even met.  I met up with some friends there that I see about once a year.  They keep in touch on Facebook and on a forum.  I got many comments about the work I do around the home - making bread, making soap, all of the homesteading-type activities that I do.  I realized that, to them, I'm the person who does all of this amazingly impossible stuff that no one has time for.  I realized I need to appreciate what I'm able to do rather than worrying about what I can't.

So I'm back.  And, for once, sharing this blog with people I know in real life.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Goal for August - Just One Makes a Difference

I'm about a week late on my goals, but that's okay.  My new goal for August is getting 30 mpg in my wagon, as opposed to the 29 mpg I get now. It seems a really strange goal, but that would give me another 11 miles to drive before fill ups. That one mpg difference saves me $1.28 each fill up, or about $7 per month.

How Will This Work?
Slow down. Since I live in the metropolitan area of not one but two major cities, I have a lead foot. I must admit that I regularly travel 15 mph over the speed limit. I've tried a number of times to slow down, but my speed always creeps up.

Better maintain the car.  My brother taught new how to change my oil... 8,000 miles ago. I am more than due for another change. This one will be all on my own. I'll actually post on this when I do it.

No more idling. Miss F has always fallen asleep in the car on the way home from my stroller-based exercise class. No one ever wakes a sleeping baby, so I often sit in the car with her in my driveway, sometimes leaving her there while I pick weeds in the front yard. Once it started getting warm out, I worried abut those stories about babies dying in hot cars. So I'd let the car idle with the air on. It was a lovely side effect that she'd stay asleep longer when idling than when just sitting. Since the weather is unseasonably cool, I'm now turning the car off and opening the window. I won't leave her alone anymore so that I can monitor the temperature.

Drive like there's an egg on the pedal. My dad taught me this when I first learned to drive, but I blew it off once I became more confident. By driving this way, you're less likely to accelerate and brake hard. Fewer changes in speed equals less gas consumption.

Fill up at halfway empty rather than waiting for the light. There are mixed thoughts on whether the level of gasoline in your tank affects your mpg. But it's irresponsible of me to transport a baby in a car whose emergency gas light is frequently on. So if it helps my mpg, great, but it's not my major motivation.