Saturday, August 31, 2013

Back To School

For our little town, school starts in just a few days.  For many this is a bitter sweet time of year.  The summer is finaly coming to a close and the kids are going to be out of the house for hours every day.  I am excited for my son to be back to formal education (we are always learning but there are many things he learns better from a teacher than from me)but I am not sure what I am going to do with all this newly found free time.

I am always working on a few projects around the house and I am a firm believer that everyone should have something in the works at all times.  This can be anything from a huge renovation to simply reading a book, and everything in between.  Having kids around can lead to taking a lot of breaks.  Fixing snacks, cleaning messes, or refereeing sibling smackdowns make finishing one chapter seem like an impossible task. 

Now that my son will be out of the house for a few hours every day, I will be able to dedicate myself wholly to finishing some of my many projects around the homestead.   I am currently working on a quilt and already have 2 more being prepared in my head.  Not to mention all the task that need to be completed around the farm.  During the summer months I do get a lot of work done outside but never as much as I would like.  The weeds we pulled from the front landscaping have been laying in the yard awaiting the rake for almost a week and the shed we are tearing down has been suspended in a state of half down for much too long.  I look forward to finally getting some things finished around here befor the snow falls.  With the weather around here, that snow could come any day now.

This is the perfect time for y’all to put some serious effort into all those projects you started in the past few months as well.  Get outside and pull those last few weeds from the garden, finally paint the shed you have been staring at since the Spring thaw, finish that book you picked up in July but still haven't read past chapter 2.  I know we will all love to take a personal day or two as soon as the school year starts but you will feel so much more accomplished when those projects finally get wrapped up.  I have yet to find something that brings the feelings of joy and satisfaction as much as completing a task all on your own (or with the help of some close friends).  So, now that we have all this free time on our hands, get out and get busy!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hubby's visit home

Being a military spouse, people assume I will follow my husband all over the world.  That is not the case with us.  Yes, I want to spend as much time with my husband as possible, but I also want to give our children the best life I can.  For my husband and I, that means living 1700 miles apart (at least for now).  My reasons for staying put while my husband gets stationed all over creation are vast.  Many wives don’t understand why I would choose to separate my family, many people in general don’t understand the choice I have made, but it is my choice and it works for us. 

What little time we do get to spend together is packed full of family activities and quality time.  We never seem to accomplish everything on our to-do list but that is probably because we always seem to spend an extra day vegging on the couch watching movies.
My boys always working hard to keep the farm functioning.

My husband was home from the 9th of August to the 25th.  Two weeks does not seem very long but it was the longest we have been together in all of 2013.  As soon as he got off the plane I bombarded him with a honey-do list to include weeding the front landscaping and taking down an old shed.  We actually accomplished a ton in those two weeks but did not finish the weeding or dismantling of the shed.  We did however get 6 cavalettis built, most of the weeding and dismantling  and we cleaned the house.   Even if I had the house spotless, in my opinion  he would have found something to clean.  It is just what he does.  He even set up my sewing area and rearranged/organized a new desk for my computer.

When we weren't busy with chores, we spent a lot of time just being together as a family.  For our son’s birthday we went up north for a Pirate festival and boat tour around the islands.  We spent a few days simply lazing around the house watching movies.  It took us two days to go through the toy room and our son’s bedroom (I know those sound like chores but doing them together made them much more tolerable).  And finally,his last day home, we drove south to a friends wedding.

As much as I love having my husband home, I know that when the time comes I will have to put him on a plane back to wherever the military has him living at that time.  He is happy with his career and plans to make big advances in the near future.  I love having a place to call home and somewhere settled to raise our children.  We speak on the phone as often as possible and we cherish every moment we get to spend together.  Someday he will be settled back on our little homestead, but until then we will enjoy our life as a long distance family.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Beef Stew

This is not your typical beef stew!  What I love about this particular recipe is the addition of apples.  I absolutly love almost anything with apples included.  This stew uses apple juice in the broth as well as applesauce in the dumplings.  It is the perfect dish for a crisp Autumn evening.  

5 pounds stew beef cut into 1 1/2" cubes
1/2 cup flour
3 beef bouillon cubes, crushed
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cups onions -- sliced
2 garlic cloves -- minced
1/2 cup beef broth
3/4 cup apple juice
2 Tbs vinegar
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp curry

Apple Dumplings
1 cup applesauce
2 eggs, well beaten
2 tsp parsley, chopped
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt

To make dumpling batter, blend applesauce with eggs and parsley; add flour, baking powder and salt and beat into egg mixture.

Coat meat with mixture of flour, salt and pepper. Combine meat, onion, garlic, beef broth, apple juice, vinegar, thyme and curry in crockpot. Cover and cook on high 4 to 5 hours or low 8 to 10 hours. 
Remove cover and place tablespoons of dumpling batter on top of stew. Cover and cook on high for 20 minutes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Bringing Home Baby

OK, this post isn’t exactly about babies (not human ones at least) but I couldn’t resist the title.  It does hold some bearing tho.  Befor bringing home your first child, you have to be prepared.  You make sure you have a crib, clothing, food, first aid items…the basics for raising a child.  The same thing applies to bringing home new pets or livestock.  Befor you bring them home, you have to be prepared.  Animals don’t have nearly as many needs as children but there are some basics that must be seen too.

Most farm animals are happy with the simplest of shelters (just take a look at my duck shelter) so this doesn’t need to be a huge expense.  2x4’s and plywood are invaluable resources to keep around the homestead.  Sheet metal is a bit more expensive but I promise you will find a use for even the smallest pieces.  The most important things to remember with building a shelter are to make sure it is tall enough to accommodate your largest animal, and that it is wide/deep enough to comfortably fit the entire herd/flock.  It is tough to say what size, specifically, is needed for each type of animal.  For horses, they say each animal needs at least an 8 foot by 8 foot space for themselves.  I have three horses that happily squeeze themselves into a 12x8 area.  They have more space to spread out but they choose to squish themselves together.  So, the size of your shelter will be determined by the animals using it.  So long as everyone can get out of the elements and no one is fighting, it is big enough.  When in doubt, err on the side of caution and go big!  Orientation is also important.  The purpose of this shelter is to protect your animals from the elements.  Take into account the position of the sun throughout the day and attempt to avoid building your shelter in an area that would allow the sun to shine directly into it at any point in the day.  Also determine which way the wind blows.  You don’t want the wind to blow into your shelter any more than you want the sun shining into it.  For air flow, you can put in windows or eave vents.  And finally, along with orientation, you need to determine where to place the shelter on your property.  Choose a location that is on higher ground to avoid creating a mud hole.  You also want to choose somewhere that is easily accessible for cleaning and emergencies.  

As much as animals like a nice cozy home to tuck into at night, they absolutely love being able to stretch and run whenever possible.  Most cattle and horses are happy in a field enclosed with t-posts and wire.  Cattle can be in barbed wire but I strongly suggest you do not put horses in barbed wire pastures.  If a horse should run through the fence or even just lean on it, barbed wire could cause serious injuries that could end the useful life of your horse.  Sheep do well in similar fencing but the spacing between strands will need to be much closer together.  Goats, on the other hand, will need rather sturdy fencing.  What I have found works well is a combination of mesh fencing and wood.  Goats have a knack for finding ways out of pastures.  Make sure the fencing is built tall and sturdy to deter the goats from climbing over or pushing their way out.  Pigs will need the sturdiest of fences if they are kept in a smaller pen.  Livestock panels are a great way to enclose small areas and are easy to move around.  For any animal, the smaller the pen the stronger the fence will need to be.  If you are fencing in a huge field, you have more liberties with fencing.  Poultry of any kind (many people like to bring their birds in at night to keep them safe from predators) will need tight mesh fencing.  I chose to use pallets, to keep predators out, with mesh along the inside, to keep the ducks in at night.  Some people choose to put aviary netting over their poultry enclosure to keep their birds from flying out and to help keep predators out.  

Many animals can survive on what they forage for in the fields.  In most areas tho, it is smart to supply hay regardless of the animal or its purpose.  Hay for ruminants does not need to be as high quality as that needed for horses.  Check the common weeds in your area and talk to your hay provider (or check your fields if you do your own hay) about anything that may be in the hay that will be toxic to your animals.  Grain is a supplement and in no way NEEDS to be fed to any animal.  Many owners choose to grain their animals for various reasons but I repeat it is NOT necessary.  Determine what your animals need for nutrients and decide for yourself (possibly with the help of a veterinarian) what your animals need as far as supplements.  A clean fresh supply of water is absolutely essential to the survival of any animal.  If you are lucky enough to have a stream or creek running through your pasture, you are all set!  Those of us that are not that luck have to supply water every day.  Any container can become a water trough.  I have seen everything from old bathtubs and plastic barrels to brand new galvanized tubs.  Check the water every day to make sure it is clean and clear and to top off any container.  In the winter you will need to make sure your animals can get to their water by either using an electric deicer or smashing the ice.  A clean fresh supply of water and hay and your animals will be fat and happy.

First Aid:
Halters and leads are important to have on hand in case you ever need to catch or move an animal.  You should have a few rolls of cotton and a bottle of surgical scrub to clean cuts and scrapes, gauze and vet wrap to cover wounds.  It is a good idea to keep some antibiotics on hand just in case, and always have your veterinarian’s number close to the phone in case of an emergency.

Once you have all those bases covered, you are ready to bring home your first animal.  Livestock can bring numerous things to any homestead.  Food in the form of meat, dairy, and eggs is the biggest reason many people keep animals.  Horses are used for work and pleasure.  And any animal brings with it an immeasurable amount of entertainment (sometimes good and sometimes bad).  Whether for work, entertainment or consumption, animals are an important part of any homestead.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Apple Crisp Cheesecake

I love any and all types of cheesecake!  This particular recipe brings together my two favorite desserts...Apple Crisp, and Cheesecake.  I plan on making it again this fall and hopefully it will become a staple of my family Thanksgiving feast along with my delicious Maple Cheesecake (I will share that recipe later).  

Apple Crisp Cheesecake
1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup quick-cooking oats
4 teaspoons brown sugar 3 tablespoons butter, melted FILLING: 2 packages (3 ounces each) cream cheese, softened 1/4 cup packed brown sugar 1 egg, lightly beaten 3 tablespoons sour cream 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/8 teaspoon ground ginger 2/3 cup sliced peeled apple TOPPING: 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour 1 tablespoon quick-cooking oats 1 tablespoon brown sugar 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 2 teaspoons cold butter
  Directions: In a small bowl, combine the cracker crumbs, oats and brown sugar; stir in butter. Press onto the bottom of a 6-in. springform pan coated with cooking spray; set aside. For filling, in a small bowl, beat cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Add egg; beat on low speed just until combined. Stir in the sour cream, cinnamon and ginger. Pour over crust. Arrange apple slices over filling. For topping, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Sprinkle over apple.
  Bake at 350° for 40-45 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen; cool 1 hour longer. Refrigerate overnight. Just before serving, remove sides of pan. Refrigerate leftovers. Yield: 4 servings.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Paper or Plastic?

I used to hear this question every time I went to the grocery store.  I have not been asked *Paper or Plastic?* in years.  What surprises me is the fact that we, as a whole, are so strongly pushing for a healthier ecosystem but many grocery stores still default to plastic bags.  I’m no expert but I am pretty sure plastic bags are not good for the environment.

Turns out, paper bags aren’t nearly as eco friendly as we like to think they are.  As a finished product, paper bags are much better for the environment than plastic bags.  Paper can be composted and only takes a short amount of time, in comparison, to degrade.  Plastic bags, traditional plastic bags, take hundreds of years to break down and can cause countless problems for animals that may come across them.  The process of making paper bags, on the other hand, has a much higher impact on the environment that does the process of making plastic bags.  Some sources (I used This Site) say that making paper bags produces a whopping 70 percent more pollution than plastic.  Not to mention all the trees that get felled in the process.  These factors create a serious rift at the counter when trying to decide on Paper or Plastic.  

So, now that I have gotten you thinking, what do we do?  One expert, who spoke to NBC, says it all depends on where we live.  Those of us closer to the coast should go with paper for the reduced risk to the environment when we throw our bags in the trash.  Those of us in the central states should go with plastic for the reduced risk to the environment in the production of the bags.  

The biggest thing to remember is that neither bag is realy any better than the other in the whole scheme of things.  There are pros and cons to both paper and plastic and we need to determine what is best for our individual situation.  My answer tho, invest in some canvas totes and avoid Paper or Plastic all together.