Confessions of a Cracked Egg

Sweet Blackberry Recipes for Summer

Confessions of a Cracked EggOne of the sweetest parts of summer time is raiding the berry bushes of all their sweet goodies! When we first moved here, we knew for sure berry bushes were a must. Blackberry, raspberry, and blueberry bushes were added the first spring. As often happens, those blackberries multiplied yearly along with the native wild blackberries already here.  So now 5 years later we find ourselves with the most fortunate dilemma of having TOO MANY blackberries!

Blackberry bush

Ball has several yummy recipes available for those who like to can and preserve blackberries into jams, jellies, and preserves. We also enjoy making blackberry syrup to enjoy all year with our pancakes and waffles. With those recipes so well covered already I’ll just share some of our favorite summertime fresh blackberry recipes here!

The following recipe is one adapted from an apple dumpling recipe after a 4th of July conversation with a friend. He told a story of his Grandma baking him blackberry dumplings from biscuits when he was a child. These are easy and fast to make, yummy quick treat that the kids just love! 

BLACKBERRY DUMPLINGS

fresh blackberries
2 packages crescent rolls
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
12 oz. Mountain Dew
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 x 13 baker. Roll berries into crescent rolls (quantity as desired) starting at the narrow end. Pinch sides in to completely seal, this will form a round “dough ball.” Place in dish. Melt butter, add sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cook on stovetop until thickened into a syrup. Add vanilla. Pour over top of dumplings. Pour 12 oz. of Mountain Dew (or other citrus lime soda) AROUND dumplings. Bake immediately for 35-40 minutes.

Yields 16 dumplings (8 servings)

Dumplings are delicious, but don’t really take up a lot of berries. If you are over run with the like us and have just canned all you want to can, try making a blackberry cobbler! This will use up 8 cups of berries in a hurry! This is a heavy on the fruit cobbler, with a light cobbler top.

To many blackberries

Easy Blackberry Cobbler

Blackberries

8 cups fresh blackberries
2 cups sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3/4 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Batter

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together blackberries and first four ingredients (listed under blackberries). Set aside.

Melt butter into 9x13 baking dish. Stir together remaining 1/2 cup sugar, flour, baking powder, and milk. Pour this mixture over melted butter. DO NOT STIR. Spoon blackberry mixture on top of batter.

Bake cobbler at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Serve gooey and warm, or cool for thicker consistency. Excellent with vanilla ice cream!

Yields 6-8 servings

Blackberry cobbler

These have become our favorite “go to” blackberry recipes for the summer! Both are sure to be a crowd pleaser anywhere they go. Hope you enjoy, and happy picking!

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Getting Started With Milk Goats

Confessions of a Cracked EggThings on the farm are always changing. Andrew and I agreed when we first started in the fall of 2010 that we wanted to try new things, experiment with techniques and livestock we had no previous experience with and see what exactly we ended up with. The theory was, if we tried everything surely we would find something we were truly passionate about. We already knew our entire family enjoyed chickens, but we were wanting to find a larger species to add to the mix. From 2010-2012 we gained experience with donkeys, cows, sheep, turkeys, guineas and pigs. Some I enjoyed more than others, all were OK but, eh … there just wasn’t one species that clicked with me to the point that I looked forward to seeing them first thing every morning! The children had their chickens, Andrew his cows. Time to find my niche!

In the fall of 2012, I attended the Mother Earth News Fair in Pennsylvania. My favorite seminars were surprisingly on milk goats. I had never considered goats for us, as the only experience I had with them were a friend's herd of brush goats that, to be honest, were ill mannered, stinky, and left alone to range half wild across hilly woodlands. However these milk goats I had been learning about sounded intriguing. I came home and immediately told Andrew this was something I wanted to try!

As soon as he was able to work the ground in the spring, Andrew began fencing off a small section in the backyard just for one or two goats. May and Nutmeg came home shortly after. Both girls were in milk, and as often happens to me, I had not entirely thought this situation through in my excitement to bring them home! Day 1 with two girls in milk and what did we not have? Shelter or a milk stand! Andrew amazed me by pulling together a rather decent milk stand (which I still use today) in a matter of hours out of some pallets and wood scraps behind the barn.

Milk Stand

As for shelter, a vacant 10-by-12-foot dog pen was moved into the goat fence and a new heavy duty tarp secured on top. This simple shelter was quit efficient for the summer and early fall months until we could get a permanent shelter in place.

May and Nutmeg were easy to handle, sweet girls who were already trained for milking. May, a Lamancha/Nubian cross took an instant liking to me. She is still a big baby, acting much more like a dog then a goat. Always the first to greet me and right by my side whenever I am at the barn. Nutmeg, a purebred (non-registered) Nubian, was actually easier to milk but somewhat less friendly in the field.

May and Nutmeg

Pretty soon we were enjoying farm fresh raw milk daily! Andrew and I did a bit of research and agreed together that we wanted to provide our family with raw, unpasteurized milk. This decision was a personal preference based on our own research and dedication to clean milking practices (more on that in another blog!).

Fast forward two years … Nutmeg is no longer with us as she was sold in the fall. Never a heavy milker and often more difficult to handle in the field, she was replaced by a registered Nubian girl named Luna. May is due any day now with her second freshening with us. Last year she gave us a beautiful little girl named April and we are hoping for twins this year!

May and April 

Nutmeg and Baby

Incredibly, both girls delivered last year within days of a tornado striking our farm. Thank God no animals were seriously injured, and these mommas and babies came through just fine! However the hay barn, their store of hay, and the milking stall didn’t fare as well.

So what do you do when everything blows away and you still must milk every day? Bring out that trusty old dog pen again and set it up! Dog pens are as useful as duck tape, every farm should have one! Stock panels on top, supported by a center beam, add a bit of strength and support to the tarp as well as keeping out the poultry, to maintain a clean workspace inside. Not ideal, but it certainly will do in a pinch! This simple system had to do for us from April until November this past year. We are now working on the inside of the new goat barn! Can’t wait to have a real milking stall!

Temporary Milk Pen

During these last two years I have found a sincere passion for my four-legged milk babies! Milk goats are what I truly enjoy working with and look forward to each day! In this short amount of time we have learned so much. We’ve begun making yogurt, cheeses and soaps. Last year I started a small soap side business thinking I would sell my “extra” bars hoping to just cover soap-making expenses. I was shocked at the response, and now my little hobby is turning into a part-time business! (More on that later too!) 

Now, things haven’t been all good in the milk goat world this last two years. As with any new venture, there was definitely a learning curve! The tornado certainly made things interesting as well. We made a few mistakes, learned a few hard lessons, and continue to learn more each day. Several people interested in owning their own milk goat have asked me, “What would you change/do differently if you could do it over again?” So here is my list of best advice for getting started:

  1. Choose your first goats wisely. If I had it to do over again, neither May nor Nutmeg would have been here. Though they were both sweet and pretty girls, neither are heavy milkers. The two girls together barely produce what is considered "average" for a single milk doe. Which means we are paying more money in expenses to get less milk. We chose girls that were easy to work with and at the bottom of the price range for available goats in our area. I believe if we could have had much higher production.

  2. Be set up before you bring home your goats! OK, so maybe this is an obvious to most “normal” people, but it is something I seem to forget frequently. At the least, your fencing and shelter should be done. If getting girls that are in milk or currently pregnant, it would be wise to have your designated milking area and a milk stand ready to go as well.

  3. Ask a lot of questions when you buy. This is especially important when purchasing older animals. I look at it this way, everyone sells babies to keep their numbers down. But why are older animals (gone through first freshening already) being sold? Did they not produce much milk? Were they not a good mother? Is their temperament quirky? Do they not play well with others? These are the things you should be asking. A new milk goat becomes a member of your family. You want the best fit, and the least headache, for your new addition!

    Cierra and Lana

  4. Establish a relationship with a reputable, experienced breeder from the start. This is so important! You never know when you will need some expert advice. If you are like us, all emergencies will happen between 6 p.m. Friday to midnight on Sunday, never during a veterinarian’s normal business hours! These reputable breeders are also good references on other breeders, who has the best stock and customer service, which bloodlines and color patterns may be desirable in your area (which increases sales value of your offspring).

  5. Don’t believe everything you read online. Yes there is a lot of good information out there for free, but if you have a medical emergency or true need for reliable care then look to that reputable breeder you are now friends with or a certified veterinarian. Plan ahead! Emergencies never happen on schedule. Find a veterinarian in your area who works with goats before the need arises. Call them, introduce yourself, get basic price lists (de-horning, farm visit charges, emergency care fees, castration, etc) and establish a relationship with them. They will be much more likely to accommodate you should an emergency arise if they know you already! 

  6. Establish a goal and game plan early on. Why do you want goats? Are you trying to supply enough milk just for your family of four to drink? Do you want extra to make cheese/yogurt and other products? Does crafting with milk and making soaps, lotions and such sound like fun? How much room do you have? Are you going to hand milk or use a milking machine? There isn’t a right and wrong way, just your way!

Most importantly, realize that milk goats (regardless of breed) are a true investment. This is not a part time, “when I feel like it” scenario. Taking off for weekend getaways, those annual summer week-long vacations, snowstorms in sub-freezing temperatures, 110-degree-80-percent-humidity summer days, and, yes, spring tornadoes all have to be taken into account. Regardless of how you feel or what the weather is like, your new family addition must be milked. A well-cared-for milk goat is a happy and healthy goat that rewards you with lots of healthy, yummy, natural milk!

So, I finally found my niche! My two girls have grown into nine girls and three boys, with more due any day now! Our new goat barn is almost finished, with plans for adding a soap workshop/milk parlor in the future! You could say I am addicted. As much as I enjoy the girls and their fresh milk products, I find soaping equally enjoyable. More on soaping coming up soon!

Kids and Goats

Lana Triplets

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Another New Beginning

Confessions of a Cracked EggIn 2011, I began blogging with GRIT with my very first blog titled “New Beginnings.” We had just moved onto our farm and had no idea of what life had in store for us here. In less than a year we experienced a whirlwind of building, fencing, relocating, layoff, the birth of our third child, and the homecoming of our very first livestock. What a year! This was one of the very first photographs I took of our new farm, my favorite part, the big red barn on the back hill.

Barn in Summer

Since that time, we have slowly expanded our operations. This year we were all prepared to continue that expansion with another 4 acres of fencing, a new shelter for our male alpacas, a machine shed for our growing inventory of farm equipment, and a much needed family-size truck for hauling and transportation.

So why ANOTHER new beginning? Well, as is our usual style we just can’t be boring.

On April 4, I awoke around 3 a.m. for no apparent reason, just an uneasy feeling I couldn’t explain.  I walked around checking on the kids, making sure the doors were locked, and then settled into the recliner and flipped on the TV to catch some early news. I wasn’t aware we were under a tornado watch, and watched for the next hour as severe thunderstorms moved into our area and encircled us. Nothing new for this time of year, and honestly nothing I was too worried about as we were not under a warning. By 3:45 a.m., the rough wind and pounding rain quieted and the regular morning news came on with all watches set to expire at 4 a.m. I dutifully stayed awake watching the news until 4 a.m., then turned the TV off and made my way back to bed hoping to get a few more hours of sleep before starting school with the kids at 8 a.m.

Moments after laying my head on my pillow, I heard a roar coming from the rear of the house. Odd, I thought, like a low flying plane. Moving once again into the kitchen I looked out the window to see … nothing. Everything looked peaceful and normal in the weak morning daybreak. But the sound, it was getting louder. I once again began rounds anxiously checking on kids and approached the front door. As I opened the door to look outside, the world exploded. The roaring was now a deafening howl, and I suddenly was not able to see past the front steps for this huge mass of GRAY. A wall of horizontal wind and sudden hail thundered down on the front lawn.

I slammed the door and ran to the girls' room where the noise was loudest, grabbing the baby from her lower bunk, I screamed at Macey to wake up! She clumsily began climbing down from her upper bunk when all around us thousands of snapping sounds went off in a simultaneous orchestra of twisting wood. With the baby crying on my hip, Macey yelling for her daddy and a groggy and confused William walking from his room, I pushed them forward. Still not comprehending what was occurring; my only thought was our master bedroom was quietest. So we all ran from the noise, and directly into a bewildered Andrew standing next to our bed.  Seconds later, with three crying babies piled up on a mattress, we all sat wide-eyed and silent for what seemed like a lifetime as the war outside ended, and the world became silent once again. I’m not sure how long we sat there. Neither of us remembers our next actions, but we both very clearly remember opening the front door once again.

On TV, tornadoes look amazing, these terrifying and yet amazing towers of beautiful swirling clouds. You think you know what to do; first there is a tornado watch. So you keep the news on and go about your day. Then you hear a warning, you calmly gather your family into your safe place where you wait until all is clear and danger has passed. Oh, but it isn’t that simple! In my head that is exactly how I had always imagined it. Somehow I pictured this certainty of knowing exactly what it was and how to react. I was not prepared for a rogue cloud, something missed by radar and completely not mentioned on the news. I was not prepared for the confusion of the moment, the uncertainty about what was actually occurring until well after danger had passed. And none of us were prepared to open that door.

We were all safe. Our home was amazingly untouched save for a few loose shingles and pieces of siding pulled loose. For that we will always be thankful for God’s wonderful protection. Our cedar grove in our pasture wasn’t so lucky. All of our beautiful shade trees were twisted and snapped like toothpicks and scattered throughout the pasture and across fencing.

Downed Trees

Twisted Cedar

Another answered prayer, all of the livestock that usually sleep under those trees were safe! A few bumps and cuts, but no lives lost. We took stock of the property damage to fencing, pig shelter, trees, just all around us fallen trees. Moving to the back of the house we found more fencing twisted, huge hardwoods toppled in different directions and some very scared alpacas completely confused as to where their fence was. I kept telling myself, “Its OK. This is OK.” We can patch fencing, fix that shelter, and pick up our scattered belongings blown loose throughout the neighbor’s field.

A short while later, Andrew goes to check on the cows in the back field while I concentrate on calming the kids and making phone calls to family. My first thought when he walked back in the door was the cows were dead. You know that look that says I lost my best friend, my car broke down, and it was raining all at the same time? “The barn is gone.” I stared at him a moment before asking what he meant. “The barn is GONE. It’s not there.”

Barn after the Storm

A few hours later with the help of a friend's extra chainsaws and a few strong men, we cleared a path to the back field to view the damage. Amazing, how something strong enough to literally pick up and move a 26-by-40-foot barn hundreds of feet and shear steel T-posts off at ground level can leave the contents neatly piled in a stack.

Empty Barn lot

A neighbor came down to check on us and gave her account of what happened. She and her daughter were up watching the weather when they heard the same strange noise. When they went to investigate, they saw a funnel cloud drop down from the sky on our back property line. It made its way straight through the center of our property, lifting and tossing the barn “like a bunch of toothpicks” before moving through the hay field, into the woods, and out of their view. It literally cut a path straight down the center of our property, briefly touched a few trees on our neighbors' joining property line, and then rose back up into the sky.

Our home sits directly in that straight-line path. By some miracle, the tornado hit the woods in our backyard and hopped over the house, landing in the front yard right in front of the porch where I saw it when I opened the door, never comprehending that the horizontal wind I was seeing was actually a funnel cloud!

So here we are, four months later. Our fencing has been repaired. The largest of trees have been removed from driveways and paths. Piles of limbs and brush still stand in the pastures; the twisted metal skeleton of that big red barn that first sold me on this property is now being broken down and sorted into scrap and salvageable material to hopefully use towards another shelter. All of our machinery and equipment sits exposed near the driveway without the protection of the big barn. There is nowhere to store hay so we have chosen to use round bales instead of square this year. Our male alpacas do not have a shelter. And our hopes for expanding this year have been sidelined.

We are now in another new beginning. One of recovery and repair to regain what was already accomplished and then lost. It has been rough, and progress is slow. But we are getting there! Construction is nearly finished on a smaller barn for the front pasture. Soon we will start on a run-in shed for the boys. While we still occasionally grumble about what was lost, we are mindful that it could have been so much worse! Buildings can be re-built. Trees can be replanted. Family is never replaced.

“Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes He lets the storm rage, and calms His child.”

Calm after the storm

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The Work House

In the summer of 2011 when Andrew and I first found the property we now call home our biggest concern was how to make the payment. The land was beautiful; the ponds clean and full, with a nice big barn on the back and even a little office. On the front of the property on the road were two small singlewide trailers. We had originally been looking for five acres where we could build a home. Our house plans were already picked out, our down payment secure in the bank, all that was missing was the land. This property however was 24 acres and significantly more than we had designated for our land budget. After much thought and prayer, and many late nights spent bent over a notepad and calculator we decided the best decision for our family was to purchase this property and move a doublewide onto it for our family until we could afford to build that house. The land was much more important to us than the living arrangements, and this way we could use the rental income from the trailers to pay the land payment. Works in theory, but seldom does real life adhere to the rules set forth by my pen and paper!  

The first few months after we moved things went smoothly. Just as we had planned, the rental income covered our farm payment. Then things began to go south. One of our renters had stopped paying the rent, and the other was causing us weekly grief with the police for their domestic arguments. So round #1 of renters didn’t work out so well, they were all evicted and the homes were made ready for new tenants. Round #2 of renters didn’t go much better, and after $2000 in repairs and $3200 in un-paid rent they were also evicted. By this time we were pretty discouraged! In fact, we were so aggravated by the whole thing that we simply sold off one of the trailers.  Porches, poles and all it was sold and gone in two weeks. The sale of the trailer helped us recover much of our loss, and we once again started making improvements on the remaining trailer. Our next tenant went a little more smoothly, but after seven months they were gone as well. Our initial plan of being landlords was NOT going as planned! 

Andrew and I love farming. We really enjoy being together with the kids as a family and spending our time outdoors working. This experience showed us that one thing we did NOT enjoy was being a landlord! So, the last few weeks we have taken a serious look at our goals, finances, and the direction in which we wanted to proceed with this empty trailer.  

 Work House 

When we first relocated, our family of four fit tightly but comfortably into our 1150 sq ft home. Now however, we have three young children in two small bedrooms with very little work space and non-existent storage. With home schooling, quilting, canning, and freezers full of homegrown meats we are busting at the seams! So a new idea struck us. Instead of spending our time, trouble, and efforts on renters why not use the space ourselves?  

For the first time since moving, I am now excited and smile when I look at that trailer! What had become a money pit and area of concern is now going to be transformed into an income opportunity!  

The most pressing use for space right now is for poultry. Yes, poultry. We usually hatch and raise small batches of chicks when the weather gets warm as both replacements for our egg layers as well as to sell for income. We have been limited in quantity raised and when we could do so in the past by the seasons. Without a dry, warm place to keep the chicks those first few weeks it was impossible to raise them before May or after August. Not now! Andrew has already transformed the smallest bedroom in what we now call “the Work House” into a brooding room.  

 Brooder Room 

He started by installing a new GFC outlet in case we have any water spills. On that outlet, he hooked up a thermostat wired to a water based radiant heater. Using this thermostat, we can set the room temperature for that particular room anywhere between 50-90 degrees while maintaining a comfortable temperature elsewhere in the home. This is also safer than stringing up heat lamps and easier on the electric bill! He sealed the doorway leading into the hallway with weather stripping. This keeps the hot air in, as well as the poultry dust and dander. Luckily, there is no air vent in this room. So our little birdies are tucked safely away without disturbing the rest of the space. Using this new brooding room, we can comfortably house 75 chicks up to about 3 weeks old.  

One thing I really enjoy doing is quilting. It started as just a hobby and a way for me to make the kids something special. William wanted a Cars quilt with Lightening McQueen, so that was my first assignment. Then Macey decided she needed a bed quilt with My Little Pony’s on it. Once that was finished, I decided to make a coffee quilt for my Mother who was about to have a birthday. Of coarse, since I made her one I had to do one for Andrew’s Mom so her gift was a Christmas quilt. Once others began seeing these quilts, they started asking if I made them for sale. I had not considered this before, since it was something I really just did for fun as a hobby. Several said if I did decide to do so they would love to place an order. So, now that we have this new space I figure why not?  

  Maceys Quilt Coffee Quilt 

A few modifications will have to be made before I can start sewing and quilting. The best space for this would be the living room. Unfortunately, there is no overhead light at all in this room. So Andrew’s next job is to install an overhead light. The kitchen and dining area will actually be used as a home school space and probably be where we spend our early morning hours and lunchtime. We looked around and found a dining table set at a friends yard sale for $40!  Now we are searching for storage containers and cabinets to house the kids school supplies and books in. The painting in the kitchen is nearly complete, and the cabinets are being re-done for the first time in their 32 year history!  

 Getting Ready to Paint 

All of our birds will be outside and out of the house during the hottest months of the year. During that time, we will be using the kitchen as a processing center for our garden produce. It will be so nice to be able to get all of that mess out in a less cluttered, child free space in the evenings and come home leaving the counters up there covered in cooling jars instead of trying to work around them in our home kitchen! Each summer, we put up several hundred jars of assorted fruits, veggies, jams, butters, and soups. This past year we also purchased a commercial food dehydrator and have been using it to dry all of our excess fruits and veggies that do no get canned.  

 Commercial Food Dehydrator  Apple Yield Round 2 

The master bedroom area will be converted into a playroom for the kids. We have already begun cleaning, sanding, and prepping for new paint. The kids have picked out all sorts of wild color ideas for decorating! Andrew is going to outfit the closet space with shelves and drawers to store their toys, games, and supplies. This will get so much clutter out of our own home, and also give the kids a safe space just to themselves where they can play while I sew.  

In our “free” time, we hope to start an online farm store. Items up for sale in this store will be stored, sorted, and shipped from our workhouse. We will offer handmade items, jams and jellies, dried products, and occasional farm supplies, as they are available. Right now we are working on all the legal requirements for selling food items and business licensing. There is a lot more to this then we thought!  

Right now, everything is very much a work in progress! But with time, a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck our money pit will hopefully be another source of income and a much needed expansion for our growing family.  

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Homestead Home Schooling

When Andrew and I found out we were expecting our first child our daily conversations immediately began to revolve around our expectations of parenting. From the most immediate concerns of bottle or breast and cloth or disposable to the farthest possibilities of college and marriage our conversations covered it all. There were many things we were not sure of, some things we didn’t quit agree on, but one thing we both new for sure was we wanted to raise our child in the most traditional way possible. We agreed that I would stay home with our new daughter as long as it was financially possible.  Little did we know a short sixteen months later our second child would arrive! With two small children at home in diapers being a stay at home Mom seemed to be the most reasonable thing to do. As Macey and William got older, Andrew and I became concerned with the quality of education they would receive. We began talking about public vs. private, and while we both preferred private school there just wasn’t a good option available for us in our area. So we turned to home schooling.   

  William and Macey 

Macey has always been a very perceptive child. As a four year old she had a strong desire to learn. Her birthday fell in November, after the school age guideline for kindergarten. So we took the leap in August and enrolled her in home school kindergarten. I was excited, but also scared! What did I know about being a teacher?  Andrew and I both have college degrees, we have experience coaching youth sports teams and teaching youth groups. But this was our own child, and her future! No pressure.  

Within days we knew we had made the right decision. Macey flew through kindergarten so quickly I had to order her more books by January just to keep her busy! By the end of the year she was reading Dick and Jane to us, writing short sentences, reading road signs and counting her own money. She loved science and reading, enjoyed art and history, and had an incredible memory for her age.  

During Macey’s kindergarten year, our family moved from a small lot in a large town to a farm in a rural area twenty minutes from the nearest small town. Culture shock! While it was tough starting up a new operation here while taking care of the kids and home schooling one, there were also many un-expected benefits.   

   First Farm 

Our first summer here we spent every spare moment fencing, building, finding breeding stock, picking out equipment, planting, harvesting, canning, preserving, and exploring outdoors. The kids were amazed daily at all the new activities here! Before our move, the kids’ knowledge of the outdoors was basically formed around the soccer field, public park, and the yard.  

William started kindergarten this past fall. With two young children to home school and a new baby at home, things were getting quit interesting! It simply wasn’t possible to sit at a table for hours on end doing bookwork all day. I stressed over this the first few months, and then I suddenly realized… we didn’t HAVE to sit and do book work all day! 

    Daddy reading stories 

The kids and I began to incorporate our daily chores and outdoor activities into our school day. For instance, when Macey was learning division we used our new baby chicks as a learning tool. As we cleaned their brooding boxes and moved them into fresh containers she divided them into equal groups. William gathers eggs for us daily. When we went to the barn to collect, I would ask him to count all the eggs for me. On a farm with 104 animals, there are many opportunities to practice math!   

  Macey with Chicken 

We do our language, handwriting, and spelling indoors using a combination of books, dry erases boards, and learning games. Even these lessons can be incorporated outdoors. Try having your child spell the species, breeds, and names of your animals. Give them chalk and let them write sentences or their spelling list on the concrete or brick outside. We made an outdoor chalkboard from a piece of plywood and krylon chalkboard spray paint. For a fun activity, write down specific items or places in your yard and set up a reading scavenger hunt. For instance, start with the word “bird feeder.” When your child reads the words and finds the bird feeder, give them another clue saying “slide” and so on. A sweet treat at the end is usually a good motivation for this game! 

Science has become much more fun since we moved! Last year as part of our science lessons we got a butterfly habitat and ordered larvae. The kids got to watch the entire process from caterpillar to cocoon and finally beautiful butterfly! After enjoying our butterflies indoors for a few days, we had a release party one Friday and released them into our yard. Now every time the kids see a black and orange butterfly they say it’s one of our babies. This Christmas they got an ant farm. In a few weeks we will get our ants for it.  

  Caterpillars 

Life on a farm provides many unique life and science lessons that can simply not be learned in a classroom. Since Andrew works away from home and the kids and I are home together each day, when there is a farm emergency we are all in it together. The kids have sat with me through sick sheep, piglets being born, chicks hatching, and all manners of gardening chores. They know the different stages of a tomato plant not from a book, but from real life observation. They know the food chain intimately as they have experienced birth, life, and death of livestock. Macey and William probably know more about livestock behavior and habitat than many adults. They can also identify several types of plants and trees by their leaves and bark. We take “nature walks” frequently and discuss the different species of flowers, trees, grasses, and weeds. The kids also enjoy field trips, such as this one to the Ripley's Aquarium dinosaur exhibit.  

  Digging for Fossils 

Our kids are very hands on. They enjoy learning things through doing. We use every opportunity we can to learn things by moving, touching, seeing, and doing. Macey’s favorite class of coarse is art! She loves to draw, color, and create. We have incorporated art and history together by having each child work on a “States” folder. Each week we learn about a different state, color a page showing the state flowers, animals, birds, etc. and add it to the folder. Bruce Larkin has a neat series of short reading books on each state. Every state has it’s own book, and Macey reads these to us as we get to each state (they are designed for a 2nd grade reading level). We have also done projects in drawing, modeling clay, origami, beads, and many other mediums. 

   Pottery 

Beyond the “normal” subjects usually studied, home schooling on a homestead offers other life lessons necessary for the development of strong adults. By assigning your children age appropriate farm chores they learn responsibility and compassion. We want our children to feel like they are a part of our operation. When they each have turned 6, we have let them pick their own spring lamb. Last year, Macey picked Alpha. This year William will get his pick. Our deal with them is as long as they help care for their sheep, the money made off of their sheep is theirs. If they slack off on their duties then they do not get the reward for the work. This year Macey asked for her own chickens. Andrew built her a chicken tractor, and Macey was allowed to pick her own breed. She wanted Americanas because they lay colored eggs. So she now has a flock of five birds. We are about to hatch our first eggs off of her little flock, and she will get to either keep or sale her chicks. William has already picked his breed, the Salmon Faverolles. Now Andrew has to get to work on another tractor! Last year the kids made over $400 together from farm chores and sales, not to bad considering they were 6 and 5 years old! Not only are they learning responsibility, animal husbandry, and math, but also how to save and spend wisely. We do not buy our children gifts throughout the year if it is not a birthday or holiday. Instead, we provide opportunities for them to earn money throughout the year. When they want something, they have to decide if they want it badly enough to spend their own money. Our kiddo’s have become pretty savvy shoppers!  

Regardless of which approach you decide to take towards home schooling, I would definitely recommend you contact your local school system or state school board and request the yearly learning assessment guidelines for your childs grade level. This will allow you to make sure your child is learning all the minimum requirements as their public school counterparts. If your child is going above and beyond these minimums that is great! Keep up the good work. Many states will also allow your child to take yearly assessment tests with the public schools. Next year, Macey will be taking the state TCAP tests with our local 3rd grade public school classes. William will do the same when he is older, as will Cierra eventually.  

When we first had the notion to home school, I had no idea how complex our decision truly was. I imagined an organized and structured plan centered around a table, stack of books, and notebook paper. Life rarely turns out as we plan, and in this case I am thrilled that is the case! Eight years ago I had no idea we would be here on this farm with three young children, home schooling, and me staying at home. Our life is crazy hectic, and our days full of new adventures! The kids are flourishing, our family is close and happy, and I will never look back with any regret at the decisions we have made. So if you are sitting on the fence wondering if you have what it takes to home school, I felt the same way at first. How scary it is to take that leap! Just remember, no one loves your children as much as you do. There is no one perfect way to home school, every child is different and your approach may not be the same as mine. That is the beauty of home schooling though, it can be adapted to suit your family, your needs, and your child’s learning type. So jump right in, and be prepared to learn a lot about yourself along the way!

Things I Never Knew About Farming

We have officially been here on the farm for two years now. In some ways the time has flown by, and in others it seems a lifetime ago. When we began our farming adventures here, we thought we knew what we were getting in to. We had some experience, spent countless hours researching and planning, and had a network of friends and family to talk with if we had a problem. No matter how well you prepare for it though, the farming life can certainly throw some surprise at you!   

Growing up I knew I wanted to be a farmer. My biggest dream was to live on a farm, have a big garden, beautiful rolling hills dotted with animals, the smell of flowers in the gentle breeze, as I walk through a perfectly clean barn on a bright sunny day. There are only a few things wrong with the scenario I used to play in my head:  

  • 1)In my visions I was always clean! 
  • 2)In my visions the barn was always clean! 
  • 3)There were no dirty animals! 
  • 4)The air smelled like flowers! 

 Do you see a pattern here? Not once in all of my day dreaming did I conjure up a picture of me splattered in mud in the pouring rain chasing an escaped dirty pig through the yard and back into it’s electric fence with lightening flashing all around. Reality is quit different from my childhood dreams, but it is also so much more exciting! The longer we are here, the more we realize there are many things we never knew about farming!   

Pigs are clean animals 

Really, they are! Pigs do not wander around in their own filth as many people think. In the wintertime, our pigs are usually spotlessly clean on pretty days. However, pigs can not sweat. So in the summer time when the temperatures climb, they must find a way to cool down. They do so by taking a mud bath! The cool mud serves two purposes. First it cools the pig, and second it acts as a sun block preventing their skin from burning. You will notice that when the temperature goes back down pigs will seek a source of water and take a bath. They enjoy being clean! In the winter when the weather is very messy and muddy, our pigs do their best to stay clean. Even if it means taking a bath in their drinking water!  

  Pig Taking Bath 

Roosters are not good alarm clocks

We have all seen the movies where the rooster crows at dawn to wake the family up for their daily farm chores. Either the movies didn’t do their research, or our roosters are defective! When we had only two roosters thing were pretty quiet. One was dominant, and the other was ok with that. Our problem began when we started hatching our own chicks. We soon found ourselves with roosters of all ages. As they matured, these roosters would begin to compete for rank amongst themselves. The result, crowing from midnight to 6 am! Now, we try not to keep more than a handful of roosters of a mature breeding age. Typically, we have 1 rooster for every 6-8 hens. At this ratio, we have cut out much of the all night crowing! 

  Rocky the Rooster 

During a drought, cut hay

During the summer if you find yourself going through a period of drought and you really need rain, cut hay. Ok, maybe this isn’t based on solid scientific facts but it seems to me that every time the weather report says it will be clear and we cut hay…. It rains! So logically I am thinking a good way to end a drought is to cut hay! So next time your garden is dry, cracked, and resembling the grand canyon just go cut some hay.   

Get used to dirt 

The first spring we lived here I tried in vain to keep the kids clean outside. I honestly thought we could all get through our daily chores without getting messy. Ha! If you want to farm, seriously farm with more than just a horse in a barn stall, you are going to get dirty! Best thing to do is just accept this, go buy a pair of rubber boots and a few pairs of blue jeans and get to it. Throw your hair up in a ponytail, dig out that old t-shirt you haven’t worn since college and enjoy yourself! Chances are no one will see you anyway, and who cares if they do? There are some advantages to being known as “the crazy lady.” 

Farms do not have to smell

Everyone always associates farms with bad animal smells. One of our family’s favorite movies is Nanny McPhee 2. I love the scene where “the cousins” come to visit the farm. The little boy steps out of the car into messy, muddy, manure covered ground and says, “We’re in the land of poo!”  Most people just believe that is expected. While it is true that most factory farms do stink due to the large concentration of animals in small areas, smaller farms and well ran large farms do not have to smell. Using proper land use ratios, adequate bedding, and good husbandry a farm can be pretty near odor free. So it may not smell like fresh flowers in a gentle breeze, but any properly ran operation regardless of the type of livestock raised can maintain a low odor, even on the hottest summer day. Joel Salatin, leading farm advocate and author of many books including Folks, This Ain’t Normal (one of my favorites!) covers this topic, and many more typical farmyard myths.   

Dirty Stalls are not a bad thing

Lets re-phrase that, deep litter stalls are not a bad thing. I used to believe that a properly cleaned barn or pen was spotless with a single layer of clean bedding on the floor. The more I am learning about natural farming methods though the more we are seeing this isn’t the case. The most efficient, healthy, and productive way of handling stalls and pens is to use plenty of bedding, and repeatedly layer new bedding on top of the old. Then, when you have accumulated several layers of alternating manure and bedding, it can all be removed and used as compost. For more on this topic, I would highly recommend Holy Shit by Gene Logsdon. We are currently using this method in our junior poultry pens. We now have a nice bed nearly 10 inches thick of manure and bedding! And guess what? In a pen of 37 birds there is absolutely no odor beyond the smell of hay and feed.  

   Junior Chicken Pen 

Bet your daydreams never included this image!

My Dad came over two weekends ago to watch the kids for us on a cold, wet Saturday so we could get some chores done that required more than one able body at a time. Our list of things to do that day included: Worm, vaccinate and do toenail trims on 14 sheep then band one young ram. Castrate, worm, and vaccinate a boar pig. Move four sheep into a new pasture. And finally, band, worm, and vaccinate a 300 lb. Bull calf.  The weather was supposed to be over cast, windy, with a 20% chance of late afternoon showers. I headed outside in a pair of old jeans, hiking boots, t-shirt and light jacket. Things were going smooth and quickly for a while. Had a little trouble with a few unruly sheep but nothing major. All we had left was doing the bull and moving the sheep. We were congratulating ourselves on what good time we were making! Suddenly, a rain drop lands on my nose. Then another, and within minutes a heavy, steady rain.  The temperature quickly dropped and the wind picked up. Andrew is holding the bull while I have the unpleasant task of banding and vaccinating. As I am standing to one side with my leg bracing the bull and my head practically upside down trying to fit a band on a wet bull Andrew starts laughing. He says, “Bet you never thought you’d be doing THIS when you grew up!” I can only imagine what I looked like there at that moment with my hair plastered to me, shivering in my saturated jacket with sheep and cow crap down my pants and blood on my shirt (where did that come from?). In that moment I realized how strong my marriage is. If he can love me looking like that, then we’re doing just fine! And no, I can honestly say I never, ever, not once, thought I would be doing that when I was young!  

Cats aren’t just cute house pets

Andrew is not a cat person. He never really has been, sure he has tolerated one here or there for my sake a few times during our marriage. That’s about where his relationship with them has ended. Until recently. Last year we found ourselves over run with rats in the garden, mice in the feed sacks, and moles all over the yard. We had not owned a cat in three years. Andrew agreed it may be time to call in back up. So we brought home our first two kittens Boots and Tiger. They sleep in the feed shed and enjoy their run of the place, coming inside to play with the kids in their down time. Things quickly improved, and we began receiving “presents” on the front porch when they were only three months old. Tiger is no longer with us, but we have since added Milo, Max, Jinx, and Stix to the line-up. Boots has trained them well, and we have not seen a live mouse or rat since last summer! The moles are fewer as well. I would much rather feed a few cats than be over run with rodents!  

  Tux and Jinx 

Some things you just can’t learn from books. You have to live them, experience them, and learn as you go. While our life here doesn’t exactly match what I had pictured in my dreams, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  

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New Recipes for the New Year

Another Christmas has come and gone! This weekend Andrew, the kids, and I got our tree and decorations all packed up just in time to ring in the New Year with my parents and little sister. We had two weeks of cold, dreary, and wet weather that kept us indoors much more than we would have liked. So, what’s a girl to do over the holidays when stuck inside? Experiment in the kitchen of coarse! 

  Cooking Supplies 

Every year we try to do an assortment of cookies and sweets for our family gatherings as well as a few plates for friends who may need a little holiday cheer. Our usual spread includes chocolate chip cookies, chocolate fudge, sugar cookies, pumpkin bread, banana nut bread, and the occasional pie or cake. This year, I wanted to try something a little different.  

Andrew and the kids LOVE peanut butter. I myself, not so much! However seeing as it is the season for giving, I decided to try a new recipe for Buckeye’s just for them. Andrew spent some time with me in the kitchen for this one, just waiting for a bowl or spoon to lick I think… but he asked a very good question. “What is the difference in a Buckeye and Peanut Butter Balls?” Hhmm. Well I am not sure how these actually came about, but here is my theory. Some time ago, a newlywed tried to make Peanut Butter Balls for her love. After many failed attempts to completely cover her peanut ball with chocolate her husband arrives home and asks what she is making. Embarrassed that her Peanut Butter Balls were not perfectly coated, the new bride thought quickly as her eyes wondered out the window and landed on a buckeye tree. “They’re Buckeye’s!” She exclaims. And they lived happily ever after. So whither you decide to call them Buckeye’s and leave an un-coated spot, or fully coat your balls in chocolate and call them Peanut Butter Balls, here you go! 

Buckeye Balls

½ cup butter, melted
1 pound confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ cups peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 6 squares chocolate almond bark 

Combine butter, sugar, peanut butter, and vanilla in mixing bowl and mix well. Refrigerate at least one hour, or until firm. Roll into 1 inch balls and place on waxed paper.  

Melt the almond bark on low heat, just until fully melted. Be sure to stir frequently to prevent scorching. Using toothpicks, dip each ball into the chocolate and turn to coat all but one small uncovered area (so balls resemble buckeyes). Place balls on waxed paper. Smooth over toothpick hole with finger or spoon. Refrigerate until chocolate is firm.  

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  These were a big hit with my crew here. I even tried one, and then realized I still don’t like peanut butter!  

  Buckeye Balls 

So after pleasing the rest of the family I looked for something new to try for me. I like sugar cookies, and have a favorite recipe for these which I use every year. This time though, I wanted to try something new. So I reached for a jar of our homemade peach preserves, and turned the sugar cookie dough into “cups” for little Peach Tarts! The baby and I really enjoyed these, and once the big kids and Andrew finished off the Buckeyes, so did they! 

Easy Fruit Tarts 

1 ¼ cup white sugar
1 cup butter
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 2 ½ cup all purpose flour
 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
½ teaspoon cream of tartar 
Jam, jelly, or preserve of your choice 

Preheat oven to 350 degree. Cream together sugar and butter. Beat in egg yolks and vanilla. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Lightly grease mini muffin tin. Indent centers and fill with jam. Make sure to use a thick jam or jelly, as loose or thin ones will cause the centers to settle more. Bake for 11-14 minutes.  

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 Peach Tarts 

With two new experiments, it was time to add some tried and true recipes. We chose to do chocolate fudge, tree shaped brownies, and pumpkin bread this year. Our pumpkin bread has won blue ribbons at the fair in two different counties, and is a crowd favorite on the holidays. If you are a pumpkin lover, it is definitely a must try! This recipe makes 5 mini loaves, so it is perfect for sharing! This makes a very moist bread, be sure to cool for 10 minutes before removing the loaf from the pan so as not to tear it.  

Pumpkin Bread

5 eggs1 ¼ cup canola oil 
1 can solid pack pumpkin (or 15 oz. Fresh prepared pumpkin) 
2 (3oz) packages cook and serve vanilla pudding mix 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
2 cups all purpose flour 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
2 cups sugar 
½ teaspoon salt  

Beat eggs until well blended. Add oil and pumpkin then blend until smooth. Combine all remaining ingredients. Gradually beat into pumpkin mixture.  

Pour batter into 5 greased mini loaf pans (5 ¾ in x 3in x 2in). Bake at 325 degrees for 50-55 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pan. Place on wire racks to cool.  

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So with our two new experiments and a few tried and true recipes, we were making great progress on filling our trays! Only one more treat left to do.  

For many years my husband’s grandmother Mary made Snowballs for Christmas. Mary passed away in 2010, and there have not been Snowballs since. As fate would have it, both Andrew and his sister Amanda had recently asked me to make some. Only problem was her recipe had been lost. I did remember seeing them at Christmas, but had no idea what was in them. As we all discussed what we remembered tasting and seeing in them, I put together enough ingredients to look up some recipes. What Mary called Snowballs my mother called Danish Wedding Cookies. Before long, I had a plan!  

Snowball Cookies

1 cup butter
1 cup sifted powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 cups sifted all purpose flour
 
¾ teaspoon salt 1 cup finely chopped pecans 
¾ cups sifted powdered sugar 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 2 baking sheets, or use parchment paper. Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla together until fluffy. Sift flour, mix flour and salt into butter mixture. Stir in pecans. Dust your hands with powdered sugar and roll dough into 1 inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on baking sheets. Bake for 20 minutes. Roll hot cookies in powdered sugar. Cool for 15 minutes then roll all cookies again in powdered sugar.  

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The recipe was a success! Our kids loved them, and so did our nephews. A little birdie told me they may even be better than the other recipe! Definitely make sure to roll them twice, both hot and cooled before serving. This makes them delicious!  

 Holiday Cookie Trays 

Our trays turned out quit nicely this year I believe. The white Snowballs, brown and chocolate Buckeyes, and colorful tarts added color and variety to our usual fare. Paired with Christmas tree brownies, chocolate fudge, and pumpkin bread there was something for everyone. Next time you find yourself stuck indoors, try your hand at one of these recipes. You may find yourself adding it to your next holiday line-up!  

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