Friday, April 30, 2010

Presenting Project... Poultry!

Meet our chicken coop!

It all started in the garage on a rainy Saturday (my birthday, no less) with some vague plans I printed from the good ol' Internetz. Oz and his brother(s), however, have well and truly outdone themselves in the actual making of the thing.

They worked so hard, from step 1 on, to make sure that this chicken coop would be the prettiest, sturdiest thing in the whole wide West, that I really feel that I owe them bigtime.

Well, mostly, as Oz told the owner of the horses that live in our pasture, "I'm only doing this ONCE."

But he's doing it very well. Everything from replacing the chain link on the gate with chicken wire...


... to the making of the coop itself. (The kids picked the paint color, by the way... I had no choice in that one).

He even worked out a system so that the windows can be opened or closed as needed!

This is the flip door to the nest boxes...

There are dividers in between the boxes now, but it'll be so handy to just reach in, get the eggs or clean out the boxes...

... and all the while our 'girls' will be able to roost happily in their home. The roosts have yet to be installed, and Oz is even going to cover the floor in linoleum for easy bleaching when deep cleaning time comes.

Even real shingles cover the roof! And check out how sturdy it is... his foot is standing on the nest box roof!

It's been hard work, and we won't recoup the costs for quite a while, but what a gorgeous home for our chickies. Thanks, babe, for all you've done!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Teaser!



More photos to come, but this is what Oz and his brother(s) and I have been working on for a few weeks. I know some of you already know what it is, but anyone else wanna take a stab at it?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pysanky!

So I sat my butt down on the couch this weekend and created some pysanky. Ukranian Easter eggs. Pysanka is singular, pysanky plural. The things I learn and feel the need to share :)

Anyway... this was my first egg. Which I broke while trying to remove the wax.


So I made it again with slightly less success. One of the most interesting things about making Ukranian Easter eggs is that EVERYTHING is a symbol. Every color, every shape, everything means something. On this egg, the curls signify defense and protection, the dots can represent stars or Mary's tears at Jesus' crucifixion, and the background color of black signifies the darkest time before dawn. Neat, eh??

Now, the process of actually making pysanky is time-consuming but well worth it (even if your results are as amateurish as mine).

THIS is the setup (and I learned later that tea candles don't cut the mustard). Dyes are in the labeled containers up the top and are not edible and will stain everything, including your hands. Eggs have to be room temperature. Q-Tips are for dabbing on small bits of dye into small areas for certain colors. I'm a lefty, which is why the beeswax and candle are on the left. Good lighting is also a must.

First, you have to draw your guide lines. They (usually) get covered up with dye when you're making the egg. After you draw your guide lines, you heat up the beeswax using the candle in one of the kistky and sketch the areas you want to keep white. Then dip in the first color. Dry it off. Cover everything you want THAT color with wax and repeat the process till you're done! Sounds so simple, right? And then you melt off the wax, cover it in varnish, and empty out the internal contents.

But really... they're so pretty. And if I can ever get the hang of it, I'm going to really, really enjoy it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Your (great) grandmother's cinnamon rolls

I am a cookbook fiend. I am hoping to find a way to introduce you to all my cookbooks and maybe feature a few of them, but I haven't come up with a really good way to do that yet. For now, let me introduce you to my prize cookbook.

I found this at a flea market for $10 and HAD to have it. Had to. Here's one of the reasons why:

That's right... 1923. A year before my grandmother was born (the one who is 86 and still lives on her own). This cookbook was published that long ago. It also came from the smallish town in Kansas where, many years later, my mother went to high school. That was another selling point.


This is THE first recipe in the book, after you get through all the information about how to properly set a table and other various interesting tidbits. These cinnamon rolls are the best things ever. They really are. I wouldn't lie.

You have to start by scalding a cup of milk. I use whole milk in recipes like these. I see no reason not to when you're just going to cover them in butter and sugar anyway. Anyway, so heat the milk up to 'almost' boiling (I'm lazy and use the microwave that they would have used in 1923 if they'd had them back then) and then let it cool to the point where you can stick your finger in it and leave it there for a few seconds. Then you add 1/4 c. water, 2 T. sugar, and one packet (2 3/4 tsp.) yeast. Give that a stir, and it should look something like the above picture.

Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes, and it should look like this:

Beautiful yeasty goodness. Then throw in 1 1/2 cups of flour, mix well, and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap.

Set the sponge somewhere warm and slightly humid. In winter, when it's so dry here my hair will stand on end just by LOOKING at a blowdryer, I preheat the oven to 170, turn it back off, put a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven and put the bowl on the rack. But I'm anal retentive like that. Friday, however, was a perfect day for cinnamon roll makers; 78 degrees in the house. I switched on the oven just long enough to have some heat/humidity come out the vents at the top near the back of the range and then turned it back off. Hence the fogginess of the plastic wrap.

Works like a charm.


An hour later, you'll have something like this. Light, fluffy, and slightly sweet to the taste.

Oh, did I mention you'll want to bring a couple of eggs and some butter (note I said BUTTER... margarine just won't do the job right... but salted butter is fine) to room temperature? You should do that while the sponge is rising.

Mix together 1/2 c. sugar, 1/4 c. softened butter, 1 tsp. salt, and 2 egg yolks. Again, I brought modern-day appliances to the party. I'm all for ease of preparation and helping you raise your cholesterol.

Add your egg mixture to the sponge and mix well. Then throw in 3 cups of all-purpose flour. Mix it well and then knead it with your hands till it's got a fairly smooth surface and can be shaped into a ball.
I usually transfer the ball to a clean, slightly oiled bowl for the next rising. It'll take about an hour and a half for this to double, though I have been known to forget that it's in the oven (again, in winter) and let it go for about three hours and haven't had any trouble.

I'm just sayin'. It's very forgiving. Like my grandmother.
This lovely blue photo was taken after the dough had risen. It was ready to be rolled out and made into cinnamony deliciousness.


Some cookbooks give you measurements as to how big your dough should be. For me, I roll it out till it looks about the right thickness and then score it with a knife to see if I can get 12 1" strips out of it. If I can, then I move on. If not, keep rolling or fold it back together and try again. Just don't work too much flour into it. You can see my score marks at the edge of the dough here.

I take another 2-3 tablespoons of butter and melt it down and brush it all over the dough, then cover it with brown sugar (however much is up to you... I probably have about 3/4 c. to 1 c. there) and then douse it all in cinnamon (again, add till it suits your taste). Slice and roll up the strips and place them into a buttered 9x13 pan.

Yes, I said 'buttered.' Works much, much better than Pam.

I usually throw any sugar/cinnamon that leaks out of the rolls back into the pan. No sense in wasting good cinnamon sugar!

Let the rolls sit for about 20 minutes to rise and then bake at 375 F for another 20 minutes.
They're taunting you now.

And now they're just blatantly challenging you to just eat one.

Pardon me while I wipe the icing off my mouth.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The art of makin' stuff

Many things have been made in this house this weekend:

Cinnamon rolls

Pysanky

The thing my husband and his brothers have been hard at work building for me

Pictures of all to follow.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Confession time

I have *not* been the best teacher this year. I think (hope???) that many folks run into the same issue, but I am now stepping back and realizing all the mistakes I have made with my own son this school year. And having the obligatory guilt trip followed by the realization that I can and will fix these issues next year.

Has he learned this year? SURE! He started the year barely able to write his name and now has incredibly legible writing. Huge, but legible. Slow, but legible. He started the year barely knowing his basic addition facts and has spent the last week adding things like 465+197 or 24+17+32+11. And getting them RIGHT. He knows the definition of a noun and can give examples, he knows a few spelling rules and can apply them practically, he knows about the ancient Greeks and Romans, he will tell you words and their definitions in Latin, and he can tell you the organs that make up various systems in your body.

Progress? Yes.

Fun? Maybe not.

And that is my shortfall. I got so caught up in making sure he was progressing that I forgot one of the reasons that I took him out of school in the first place, that he was bored and I wanted to be able to let him put emphasis on the subjects he loves. I got so focused on doing things the WTM/classical way because it suits *ME* that I haven't really been open to too many other concepts.

In other words, I forgot that I am doing this for him instead of me.

So I started to plan. In preparing for next year, I have bought three different science curricula with the idea of letting him go through them as fast as he wants. (A good first step in my reformation program because he LOOOOOOOOOOVES science. Loves it. I gave him a Nasco catalog yesterday and got it back marked up worse than any Toys 'R Us catalog ever would be.)

Then when he said he wanted to learn both French AND Latin (Megan, dear, I'll be calling you for French help when I get stuck), I at first said no, that one language was enough.

But then, during my Great Revelation, I realized that the problem was that *I* didn't want to teach two languages. But the kid has had a great grasp on the English language since he finally started speaking, and he catches onto grammar rules extremely quickly. Why wouldn't I want him to pursue things he obviously loves? I couldn't bring myself to stifle it. So we have Latin and French books now. He's already starting to gun for a third language the year after, but *that* I am nipping in the bud for a while.

And so I'm trying to match my Type A/OCD personality with the mish-mash ADHD personality of my boy. My anal retentiveness to his go-with-the-flow. And I've come up with a plan. (Because I can't get away from myself THAT much. I must have a plan. Plans are good.)

I have finally decided that if he will do a little writing and a little math each day, I will let him pick what else he wants to do as long as I still see progress. Meaning if he wants to spend an entire week on science or history or piano or language, FINE! I know eventually he'll come back to spelling or art or grammar because he does like those things. Right now, though, I have killed a little bit of joy of opening the books to see what's inside.

Is this plan perfect? Probably not. Will it drive me absolutely batty initially when he spends the first two or three weeks of school on one subject and one subject alone? Definitely.

Am I gonna give it the best shot I possibly can?

Also yes.

Come August, pray for me. My sanity will need it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Was in the Box (and other Birthday Stuff)

Well, another birthday has come and gone. I'm another year older. I'd tell you how old I am, but I'd have to lie. And I don't lie. It's a bad example for the kiddos. I'm sure you understand!

BUT... the good part (OK, *one* of the good parts) about this birthday was that I got to open the box!

Here was the first thing I found...

Handy-dandy little egg blower.

And then I found this...


... which caused me to drool over all the designs, like this...

and this...
... and then I opened it up and realized that not only are the designs GORGEOUS, they all have meanings.

Isn't that totally cool??? I'm a sucker for symbolism. Have been ever since Mrs. Potts, my 10th-grade English teacher, helped me discover symbolism in literature. Even my tattoos are symbolic.

Anyway, finally there was this gorgeous little box. It contained these...

The little tools are called kistka. You scoop some of the beeswax into the top of the stylus and then melt it over a candle and it darkens so you can write on the egg and see where your designs are at so you can dunk them into...

the dyes! There's a whole specific order to the dyes, starting with yellow, then green, orange, red, blue, and black. There are other shades, but that's the order I've memorized so far. I have so much to learn! I really and truly can't wait to give this a shot.

My birthday was altogether lovely. M2 got me a very cute card and some silicone potholders. M1 got me a new lawn chair (mine had broken over the last year) and the following card:


Isn't that priceless? I laughed SO hard. M1 was very pleased with himself for finding it.

I also got some other kitchen gear from Oz that I had needed replacements for as well as a wonderful card and the movie "The Proposal." Betty White is such a riot, and Sandra Bullock has been one of my favorite actresses for years. Anyway, then Oz and one of my brothers-in-law went to Lowe's and got stuff and worked in the garage almost the entire weekend on another project for me. There will be pictures later.

Oz also surprised me by having some of my friends meet us at a restaurant for dinner and my stepmother took the kids for the night. I also got dozens of 'Happy Birthday' messages on Facebook and texts from friends.

I am very, very, VERY spoiled. I hope you all have someone in your life who spoils you, too!

Woolaroc, revisited

Because it is completely cold and nasty and drizzly and rainy this weekend (which hasn't stopped it from being a TOTALLY AWESOME weekend, but that's another post), I am all for remembering a time when there was sun and warmth. All of a week ago.

Oz and I took the kids to Woolaroc again. We had been there last year, too, but it was so hot that we left before we could do half the stuff that the place has to offer, and I had promised myself I'd take the kids back.

So, when an open weekend presented itself with gorgeous weather, I grabbed it. I informed Oz on Friday afternoon: "I told the kids we're going to Woolaroc tomorrow so we can go hiking on the nature trails, and I was thinking we could take a picnic lunch."

Oz: "Sounds good... but isn't there somewhere closer that we could walk on nature trails and have a picnic?"

Me: "Oh, probably... but M2 wants to see the museum again. So *you* can talk to her about it if you come up with other plans, but I told them we were going to Woolaroc."

Oz: "Ah. OK."

He's very well-trained. It's one of the reasons I keep him.

So on Saturday, we packed a picnic lunch and piled into the van and drove to Woolaroc. When we got there, they had their seasonal Mountain Man Camp open, which is where this blogger got stupid and forgot she had a camera in her pocket and therefore didn't take any pictures, but I'd love to go back and do that. These people actually camp for the entire weekend and live the pioneer life. They had fur hats, leather clothes, moccasins, etc. They had shooting and archery exhibitions/competitions going on, some people had things for sale, and everyone looked like they were having a blast. There was one place that had a huge Dutch oven for sale for $40, and I *had* $40, and I thought really hard about buying it, but the logical person in me wanted to know where I'd store it and when I'd use it, and I couldn't answer her, so I had to let it go. The foodie part of me is still having non-buyer's remorse, and the logical part of me is still trying to smack some sense into the foodie part. I think it's a useless effort.

But anyway... we went through the museum again, and M1 loved the shrunken heads and M2 was completely mesmerized for 10 minutes by a gigantic portrait of the portrayal of Pocahontas saving John Smith, so that was worth it.

And then we ate lunch, and the wind was just strong enough to blow M1's plate right onto me, sloppy homemade cole slaw and all. Nothing like sticky mayonnaise on your shorts.

And THEN... M1 and Oz saw the lookout.

We hadn't been up it last time because we were hot and tired and just honestly didn't notice it was there. So Oz and M1 wanted to go up in it despite M1's horrid fear of heights. M2 didn't want to at first - she wanted to go play in the kids' area - and then she actually SAW what they were talking about and said, "Hey, can we go up THAT?" And Daddy had to tell her that that was, in fact, what they had been talking about the entire time. So up we went.

It's pretty up there.

And *then* we let them play in the kids' area till M1 had a meltdown and had to go have a rest in the car for a bit.

Meanwhile, M2 invaded the petting zoo and got to meet Salt and Pepper, the newborn goats. And she petted them. And got to tell M1 alllllll about what he had missed and rub it in just to the point where I had to give her the Look.

And all was right in her world.

M1 had recovered his composure by the time we got back, so we decided to go ahead and take a look at the hiking trails. We knew one of the trails was fairly short, so Oz and I figured that we'd just do that one and come back and head home.

The children, however, had other plans. M1 saw a sign for a 1-mile - that's ONE MILE - trail and wanted to take it and talked M2 into wanting to go, too. I was skeptical.

"Um, you know that'd be like walking around the ENTIRE zoo, right?"

Both kids chorused, "Yeah."

"You know I'm not going to CARRY your gigantic butts back to the car and Daddy isn't, either."

"Yeah."

"You know I'm not going to listen to WHINING when we're halfway through the trail and your feet get tired, right?"

"Yeah... can we just go???"

I caved. I'm a sucker like that.
It really was a beautiful trail, and there was enough to see and do during the mile-long trail that they never did get bored or whine.

We found a dead, hollow tree. (M1 was disappointed that there were no bees in it.)

We found little tadpoles...

and their larger brethren one pool over. And snails. That black speck to the left of the tadpole is a snail.

And tracks. Deer tracks, mostly, though I also saw raccoon and either wolf or coyote. The kids were impressed with my tracking skills, though I have to say that with hoofprints like this in the dirt, I'm reasonably sure a blind person could have done a pretty good job of finding where the deer had gone.

There were butterflies and flowers, too. M2 collected a few flowers to bring home, but of course they had wilted by the time we made it back. She had wilted, too, and both kids were ready for bed early.

Well worth the trip. :)