Friday, May 31, 2013

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

A different kind of school

A different kind of school
I'm a firm believer that children will protect what they love, and they love what they know. I want my children to know nature and our environment. They're not really abstract learners, but they are able to understand a fair amount of complexity if they experience it firsthand.

I spy, with my little eye, three turtles!

If a picture says more than a thousand words, what does a walk through the woods, with the smells, touches, sights and sounds say?

We find local places to see nature, some (like today's) more formal than others. But we're out, observing, tracking, sketching and discussing, a lot. I want them to know what I'm talking about when I say 'the environment'. That's not just some faraway abstract place, but right here, right now. We talk about habitats, seasons, predators and prey, camouflage and sometimes about a lot of different stuff that doesn't seem to come up when we're at home. It's a different kind of school!

A long time ago, they milled grain without fossil fuels...

One of the great things about the outdoors is that the same place changes all the time. Repeat visits don't get boring, because since the last visit, much has happened! Eggs have hatched, flowers have bloomed, mushrooms have grown...

Family Friday Button


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

BBQ popcorn

Another rainy day finds us inside, snuggled up and nursing a bit of a cold. That means you get another recipe. We've gotten really fond of popcorn around here, as of late. I used to think of air poppers as just one more plastic gadget I didn't need, but I'm a convert now. Did you know that popcorn is a pretty healthy and pretty green snack? Lots of fiber and for me, it fixes a craving for spicy chips that befalls me from time to time (ok, most every night).  I first got the idea for it from this book, which has been an inspiration to me for a while now. Then soulemama posted a fabulous recipe for cheesy herb popcorn, that got us really into trying our own variations. 
Just one word of caution: Almost all corn (88% in 2011) in the US is GMO at this point, and if you don't feel like supporting Monsanto et al., buy organic. Again, one of those situations where environmentalism and social justice point you in the same exact direction. You can support farmers and help to protect them from completely unreasonable patents and legislation that keep them at the mercy of giant seed companies at the same time as you help reduce the amounts of pesticides in the environment. 

Popping corn
1/3 stick butter
1/4 cup (or to taste) nutritional yest
1/4 tsp garlic (or to taste)
1 tsp Steak seasoning (we like Mitchell Street by Penzey's Spices)


First, mix the dry spices in a large bowl.
  Then, according to the direction on your popper, pop the corn, and as the machine spits it out,  pour the smallest trickle of melted butter on it and stir the pot with your third hand. (That was a hard picture to take!)

When the popping is done, keep mixing and mixing to try and coat the spices evenly onto the popcorn. Reducing the amount of butter is possible, but it is harder to get the spices to stick. 
I have read about using a spray can of canola instead of butter, but I don't love the oil-to-waste ratio involved in that idea. I'd rather eat more butter (twist my arm).

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On the road

What could be better than car camping and reading about the pioneers? Such a welcome break from the usual... That book 'Sarah's Quilt' is amazing, and if you like homesteading you should read it! It's about a homestead/ranch in AZ in the beginning of the 20th century. It's crack.
PS: I just realized it is the middle of a three-part series.... You know what happened if you don't hear from me for a few days.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Some Good Words

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you."
~Job 12: 7-8

Frogs are amphibians. Amphibians are considered indicator species, which means their health and populations can be used to assess the quality of our environment.

"Amphibians are considered to be indicator species for environmental health: they have delicate skin that readily absorbs toxins from their environment; they have few defenses and can fall prey to non-native predators; they rely on both aquatic and terrestrial habitats at various times during their life cycle. If amphibians populations are in decline, it is likely that the quality of the habitat in which they live is suffering." (from here)

A more upbeat link for school age children on the same subject, here. Guess what other species are considered an indicator species? Honey bees, of course! 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Forget Spelling Bees - today we're doing Bee Math

I haven't told you yet that at my last hive inspection on Monday 5/20, I could find neither the queen, nor any eggs in my supposedly 'good' hive. That is bad news, as without queen, no new worker bees, and eventually the colony will die.

But here's the good news:
This is a queen cell. If the worker bee democracy decides that for some reason or other, a new queen is needed, they feed one fresh egg in a certain way, and encapsulate it in this spectacular, large queen cell. In other words, the egg wasn't anything special, it's the nurture, not the nature, that makes a new queen. The queen bee, as important as she is, does not call too many shots in the hive. Very fascinating subject, you can read a little more about that here from a fellow blogger, or a lot more in this book that I'm about to order:

Now, my question is: How long will the hive be without queen? When should I check that the queen has successfully hatched, mated, and started laying? This is where the math bit comes in.

My handy dandy beekeeper's handbook tells me that a queen ecloses 8 days after the queen cell was capped. Of course I don't know when exactly that was, so we're doing math with a confidence interval here.
Once out of the box, she'll eat for about 6 days, and then fly out to mate for a few days, depending on weather. If you look outside today, you can tell it's not red hot bee dating weather.
The virgin queen will have to attract dates from a 'drone congregation area' which requires drones to be out flying (unlikely in rainy weather), and her pheromone to spread out to attract them. Here's a good description:  "Mating during the queen’s nuptial flight takes place in drone congregation areas (DCA), where many drones from nearby colonies gather. On warm sunny afternoons, sexually mature drones flock to these aerial zones. When a queen approaches a congregation area, drones chase her, forming a comet-like swarm in her wake. Several drones copulate with the queen in midair (Gries and Koeniger 1996), and then die immediately. The DCA’s persist from year to year whether or not a queen is present. It is still unclear why drones choose particular areas in which to congregate and how queens locate these areas, although DCA’s and the mating behaviors of queens and drones have been extensively studied."

It's the bee equivalent of getting a guy to like you enough to stop hanging out drinking beer at the bar with his buddies! Except, a queen is supposed to do this something like 10 times, for the sake of genetic diversity in her colony-to-be. Not sure if the guys know it'll be a one-time-deal.

After returning home from her adventures, she'll take another 3 days to begin laying eggs. And that's if all goes well. Doing all this math and looking at the calendar, I decided not to disturb the bees and start checking for new eggs no sooner than June 2nd, more likely the second week of June. And if I don't find eggs or young larvae then or soon after, I'll have to re-queen with a store-bought mated queen, as I did in the other hive.

The 'bad' hive with the new queen is doing OK. The population seems a bit low, but that's to be expected. And I found capped brood that, again, according to the bee math and date of the new queen's release, should be the new queen's own progeny. What's sort of cool in this picture is that you can see a young worker bee hatching, almost in the center of the picture. It's hard to take a picture with one hand, while holding the frame and camera in gloves and with a bee veil over your head, so it's not amazingly well focussed, but you can sort of see the still-pale bug-eyes and you can take my word for having seen its little antlers wiggle out first. A bee birth.

Friday, May 24, 2013

{this moment}

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Comforting Cinnamon Buns

There's been a lot less rainbows and sparkles around here than usual, to say the least. Luckily, we worry at a high level, and I think that these cinnamon buns will be just the ticket to give us a little boost. It's dreary and gray outside.
I've worked out this recipe and used it for years, and it's been very successful for me, even on those days when I was short an egg (add more milk and butter) or started with water instead of milk by mistake. Ooops. Some people are intimidated by yeast, so I thought I'd focus the pictorial on the rising aspect.

This recipe makes a double batch. It is not worth heating the oven and getting out the big mixer for a single batch in my family! The buns freeze well, and you can freeze them baked or unbaked.


2 cups warm milk
4 tsp instant dry yeast
4 eggs
2/3 cup butter or margarine, melted
5 cups whole wheat bread flour
2-4 more cups of all purpose unbleached white flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup white sugar

4 tbsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter (don't use margarine here, unless you're desperate)

2-3 cups confectioner's sugar
a few tablespoons of lemon juice

For the dough, add a teaspoon of sugar to the milk. Add the instant yeast, stir to dissolve and wait for bubbles to show as in the picture. I know, instant yeast does not need 'proofing' like that, but I also know that doing it anyway saves time in the rising later. I simply set this on the counter while I measure out the flour and butter, and don't really lose time to the 'proofing' (isn't that true for so many 'convenient' food products?).

I put the whole wheat flour, in the mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add the melted butter, eggs, sugar, salt, and yeasty milk, and turn it on. The result will be a sticky lumpy mess. Let it stir for a while unti the dust settles, then start adding in the white flour, little by little. This is the most crucial step here. You want the dough to be pretty stick, ALMOST still sticking to the bowl. Especially with whole wheat, I find that leaving the dough a little moister than you think helps it rise better and tough bits of grain can soften up over time as the dough rises.

You'll want to cover the bowl and rise until 'doubled in bulk'. What is really important here is that you observe the consistency. It should go from kinda tough to more squishy if you poke it. In summer, this will happen much faster than in winter (I don't run A/C). Some people put the dough in the oven with the light on, for a slight warming effect away from drafts.

When you've seen the dough rise enough to your liking, melt the second portion of butter and simply stir it together with the cinnamon and sugar to form a dark brown paste.

Split the dough in two portions and roll it out into a rectangle (I use the term loosely), about 1/2in thick, and wider than long. Spread half of the buttery cinnamon paste on it with the back of a spoon, then roll it up the long way.
Slice the roll into 3/4in wheels. Now you can either lay them individually on a cookie sheet to bake, or you can put them in a cake pan side-by-side for a more sticky and moist result (but harder to serve as finger food).
Now, let them rise yet again. This time, as little as 15 minutes should give you a visible 'lift'. I place my shaped buns at the top of the stove near the vent of the oven, and start preheating the oven (375F), to give them that extra warmth. 

Bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes. Observe and don't overbake. Buns in a pan take a little longer than the individual ones. Enjoy the smell of goodness that will fill your house!

For the icing, mix powdered sugar with just enough lemon juice to make a spreadable consistency. Thinner icing makes the end result less sweet. I prefer the lemon icing because it's healthier, and less messy, than the traditional cream cheese frosting. But that said, if you're looking for more of a treat, cream cheese frosting works great here, too. Put the icing on the slightly cooled buns. We eat them as soon as they can be eaten without burning us, but in theory, you could wait, too.

For freezing: I freeze individually baked and iced buns. I can pack them as a snack as is, and they'll defrost en route to the schools.
I have also frozen cake pans full of shaped buns that have not had their second rise time. Wrap tightly. Take it out in the evening and defrost in the fridge overnight. Then in the morning, preheat the oven and put the cold pan on top of the stove. While the oven heats, your buns will get their second rise time and then they can be baked in time for a brunch or late breakfast.

I shared this post at:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The transportation conundrum

Did you know that ...?

- 25% of car trips are made within a mile from home, 40% within 2 miles.
- cars produce the most emissions on those short trips, because engine start-up is 'dirtier' than normal operation.
- 50% of people commute 5 miles or less. (I used to commute 11 miles and would bike that on occasion.)

In other words, replacing the short car trips with bike rides is effective and time-efficient, too. I can bike 1 mile in about 6 minutes with 2 kids worth of cargo. The library is about 3 miles from our house, the recreation center 3.5 miles. Church maybe 4. Those are feasible distances!

Now the nitty gritty: I have three daughters. Last year they were 1, 3 and 6 and any pair of two of them could fit in the bike trailer (an older model Burley that we picked up at 'the dump' - aka local transfer station's swap shop). Either of the two younger ones could fit on the backseat, that we also found at the dump. They didn't love the trailer because of some uncomfortably positioned aluminum bars, so I sewed some padded fitted cushions. They know how important biking is to us parents and complied. Riding my hybrid with the cargo of three worked great for the local errands. Fast forward another year. Every kid is 5 in taller and 10lbs heavier. The trailer no longer fits 2 kids and even the middle daughter complains about being cramped solo. Something had to give. Even riding to preschool with 2 was impossible since the tagalong (from the dump....) is incompatible with the backseat.

So when I dragged the kids to Costco for unrelated errands last weekend, the last thing I expected was a solution to my transportation troubles, yet there it was. A cheap-ish trailer that seemed configured differently and provided a little more headspace and legspace, while being a bit narrower which IMO improves road safety.

So far I've put 24 miles on it since Sunday (all with 2 kids, not 3) and it's working out OK. The middle daughter with the loooong legs still doesn't love sharing the trailer but at least it can be done if it must. I also love that the bike I bought at the end of my high school years still serves me so well, and even my husband can ride it if he ups the saddle a bit...
Shared at

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The chicken fortress, night 2

I'm going to start with a warning: There is a picture of a dead opossum in this post.

On the weekend, we finally installed the electric fending around the chicken tractor, to keep our remaining 2 pullets safe until they're big enough to go into the secure big girl coop. I chose to run 3 lines around the whole thing, secured by 4 corner posts. It was the cheapest and simplest solution I could come up with.

The wiring and installation wasn't rocket science. I didn't spend the money on a tester, so I zapped myself to check it was working. Ouch! But good, right?
Imagine my surprise when only 2 mornings later, I wake up to something fuzzy and dark gray messing with my pullets. It was 5:30am and the adult hens made a ruckus to warn me, so I ran out and what did I find? I saw a possum running away. Why wasn't he shocked by the fence?

Well, his wife took the bullet for him, bit into the fence line and died right there, shorting the fence for him to keep bothering my pullets.

The story gets crazier though - as I stare in disbelief and wonder what on earth I should do now, I see the underbelly of the dead possum move, and a smaller critter climbing out, and up the adult chicken pen. 


I eventually got gloves and pried the possum of the line (hard! That was hard! I never would have thought I'd have to pry open a possum's mouth with my hands in my life). Another life baby was on her belly, and several dead babies still inside her pouch. I felt terrible. I wanted to protect my critters, but really didn't aim to inflict death, hence the electric fence as opposed to a trap or shotgun approach! Then again, make no mistake, while I ran inside to get the camera and husband (in that order), the other possum came back and attacked the chicks again...

Later in the morning, I called a local wildlife clinic about the situation. They judged the two remaining babies to be old enough to survive on their own, and said they should be released, so that's what we did. Now I'll spend the day consoling a very confused 4yo who at the same time was very worried for the chicks and wanted to keep the possums as pets. I hope to find the wisdom to say something that makes sense of it all for her.

 Wildcrafting Wednesday

Monday, May 20, 2013

Playdough cookies

This is one of my kids' favorite activities. We've used if for children's parties, and for rainy days, and for sunny days. It's a simple cookie recipe that actually tastes pretty decent. I think it's the somewhat unusual addition of cream cheese that gives it a realistic play dough consistency.

The recipe is not mine, so I'll just share the link. Make just as instructed. I make the kids pick 4 colors. Chill them in disk-shape to hasten the process (your kids are patient? Go see a pediatrician about that, it sounds very unusual, to say the least).

I highly recommend portioning out the dough yourself, to avoid excessive handling and grossness of the endresult. The flower decorations on the table are courtesy of my older 2 children.

Plasticky type placemats help making work easier. Also, pre-cut pieces of baking paper help tranfer the creations to the cookie sheet. Instructing the children to work at even thickness is more difficult.

on the left, that's a grass cookie

Even the 2-year-old is hard at work here.
 Before baking, the cookies looked like this.

And baked: The browning is inevitable on the thinner edges.

You can see dragonflies, snakes, bug-eyed faces, rainbows, and flowers here. It's the mom version of the Rorschach test, so do your best, okay?

PS: You may be surprised at my use of horrible, synthetic food coloring. Go ahead and buy the natural kinds, I won't mind, I just haven't gotten around to experimenting with those yet.
I really try to teach my kids that homemade trumps store bought, and food coloring does play a role in my grand plan, especially when it comes to birthday cakes... so I keep it in the house.

I shared this post at
The Self Sufficient HomeAcre