Start the coffee

I am NOT a morning person. I never have been. I was always late in high school. I took a class first hour that I could pass simply by showing up for test days on purpose senior year. I dropped every 8am college course I ever signed up for until I decided to just stop signing up. One of my greatest joys of homeschooling is not waking my kids up before the sun.

But lately, I cannot sleep in. Someone is counting on me. Well, actually many someone’s. 2 dogs who want out of crates, 3 goats, 6 ducks, and 25 chickens are waiting for me every morning. If the sun is up, they are up. And they’re depending on me.

I set alarms every night to make sure I’m up by 7 at the latest. I have not heard that alarm go off in a very long time. Someone somewhere who is good with words once said “Purpose is a powerful alarm clock.” And those words strike so true in my heart. When I wake up with purpose, it’s easier to get out of bed. It’s easier to deal with the why. If you love what you’re doing, and the people and things that are counting on you, and you see them as an opportunity to learn and grow and provide, the morning doesn’t seem so dismal.

After the barn is open and the dogs have gone outside, I still need a mass amount of caffeine to make it through the morning 😉 , but we’re headed to the right path. I let the kids sleep later because I love the quiet. But I hope to start waking them with purpose too.

What’s your morning purpose? What inspires you and gets you going?

Nature Sweet Nature

9 walnut trees.  9 walnut trees that make a huge mess every fall of little grenades that fall from the sky and sometimes knock you on the head while you’re walking around.  Husking black walnuts and drying them out is a ton of work that we have not attempted yet.  But we started looking at other ways that our shady friends in the yard could teach us something.  They feed the squirrels.  They draw woodpeckers.  They hold our hammock in the shade.  But they also produce sap!  And they are one of the few kinds of trees that make delicious syrup.  Not as popular as the sugar maple, black walnut trees produce a super sweet sap that can be boiled down to a delicious syrup.  We started reading and watching youtube vidoes, and then we were off to the races for just $20 in supplies on amazon.

The kids were excited to try something new, possibly not as excited as I was…And we had to wait for the right weather.  All of my reading told me to watch for nights below freezing and days above 40.  For us in Michigan this year, that meant Valentine’s Day.  There was a good run of cold nights and warm days after that.  The kids wanted to make their own video about tapping the trees, so we did 🙂  You can watch it here.

The tapping process was pretty simple.  We ordered a set of spiles (tree taps) and tubing from amazon for 10 taps.  You can see the supplies we bought here.  The price fluctuates, but I am willing to bet it’s cheaper in the off season, than on.  We drilled holes in the tops of milk jugs and juice containers to fit the other end of the tubing like this stock photo.

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We had the kids measure the tree and then learned about Pi to figure out the diameter.  I knew those geometry skills would come into play some day.  Thank you Mr. Pollock, Armada High School.  We used a dressmakers tape to measure around the tree for the circumference and divided by Pi for the diameter.  A tree should have at least a 12 inch diameter to be tapped.  A tree greater than 24 inches can handle two taps.

Drill a small hole (for our spile it was a 5/16 drill bit) at a slightly upward angle into the tree as high as your tube reaches and 1 1/2inches in. You should drill on the south side of the tree and if you can, under a large healthy limb or off shoot.  If you tap one tree twice, make sure the taps are at least 12 inches apart.  Gently tap in the spile just until the sound from the hammer changes to a dull clank instead of the higher pitched ting.  Super clinical terms here, right?  You don’t want to drive too hard or too far because you risk splitting the wood in the tree.  It just needs to be snug in the hole, not flush to the tree.  And that’s it!  Then you wait.

Our first trip out was still kind of cold so we only put three taps out in two different trees.  A few days later we added 4 more taps, for a total of 7 taps in 5 different trees.

I read somewhere you should use or freeze sap within 7 days.  So we took that to heart and we collected everything we could on day 7 (for the first three taps) and boiled!  We had somewhere between 4 and 5 gallons.  First we tried the fresh sap from the tree after a quick filter.  Some people swear by the homeopathic properties of tree sap.  We didn’t explore that too much but we wanted to see what it tasted like.  It was sweet like the left over melted ice in the bottom of your fountain coke.  It wasn’t wonderful…but it wasn’t bad.  Maybe we will look into the benefits more in the future.

We double filtered the sap through the filter that came in our kit and a coffee filter in a strainer into a large 22QT stainless steel stock pot.  I think it’s important that I tell you that real syrup makers boil outside or in a special sugar shack because the steam it creates is ridiculous.  They also steam in long pans with more surface area, but we don’t have that kind of set up and this is recreational and educational for us so we just went with what we had.  We boiled on our stove top with the window open, the stove hood on, and a fan blowing steam toward the window.

We started boiling around 10am over a medium high heat.  We added a candy thermometer to watch the temperature.  One of the joys of living in a house built in the 1890’s is super awesome wiring and about 2 hours into our boil we lost the oven hood.  The entire wall fuse blew and I couldn’t get it back on.  It actually didn’t come back on for almost two days…  So the condensation really started to build up once we didn’t have that fan sucking it outside.  Do not boil in your kitchen if you have wallpaper.  You’ve been warned.

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This spread halfway across the kitchen.  We opened more windows and added another sideways fan and it helped tremendously.  There was no sticky residue left behind when we were done that so many people had warned about online.  It was just moisture.

But we boiled on!

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The end temperature goal is 219 degrees.  We didn’t stand here and watch this all day.   I checked on it often, but we went about our day and just didn’t LEAVE the house.  With more surface area, the boil would have gone faster, but we weren’t in a rush.

After 4 hours, around 2:00 it really started to change the most.

I watched it diligently from 2:00 until we pulled it around 2:20.  I covered my hand and got that candy thermometer way down in there since it wouldn’t reach anymore and watched the temperature carefully.  When it hit 219, we pulled it from the heat and ran it through a fresh strainer/coffee filter into a glass bowl.  It was super thick now and ran much slower.  We wanted to bottle while it was still hot so we shook it a bit to get it through as fast as we can.  Apparently the 212 or so is the magic number for killing bacteria in the bottles too.  So that’s why we rushed it.  We popped it into small bottles and capped them and even added shrink wrap collars with my hair dryer.  The kids wanted labels so we made them, even though we are not selling them, they will make cute gifts if we don’t use them all.

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Our 4-5 gallons of week 1 sap boiled down to not quite 10 beautiful ounces of rich, dark, sweet syrup.  Walnut is not as thick as maple, but it’s dare I say sweeter and a little buttery. It takes a lot of sap to make a little syrup, but really it was more about patience than actual work and seeing the end product made us so proud.

Week 2 taps are running and we already have a few gallons! We can’t wait to boil some more.

Go tap a tree!  Learn something new and enjoy nature together and the magic it creates.

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Using What You Have

I’ve been looking around at our land and all the things we have here.  Or all the things we COULD have here, and making a plan.

Last year we grew a garden, but I wasn’t super awesome about caring for it and I didn’t fence it and we lost most of it to the wandering deer and rabbits and squirrels…and draught…because I’d forget to water it.  But imagine what we COULD have grown?  Imagine if I learned how to can.  All the tomatoes that we didn’t eat fast enough would have served a purpose.  Or the pumpkins that I accidentally left outside and the frost got them.  The walnuts we never collected because it was “too hard”.  It was wasteful.  But I’m still learning.  And I’m making strides to be better this year.

I’m not a GMO worrier.  I think most of our plants/seeds are genetically modified now.  I’m not a super crunchy no chemical person.  I live on coca-cola.  But we have this opportunity and we should make the most of it.  Every single one of us could be more self-sufficient and grow our own “something” to enrich our lives and get back in touch with where we came from.  Even in an apartment, there is a window that can house a hanging herb garden or something.  But we don’t.  We buy them because it’s easier.  We don’t have time.  But what if that is truly the only thing we do have here on this planet?  Time.  What if we could slow down and connect with our roots?

The kids and I sat down and made a list of all the things we do have here or could have here if we utilized them properly and cared for them or planted them.

We could have a blossoming garden of whatever veggies we want.

We could have black walnut syrup if we tapped our trees.

We could have tons of herbs, if we used that back window.

We could have Pears, Apples, and Grapes if we pruned them properly.

We could have Grape leaves if we collected them.

We could have white mulberries, if we picked them.

We could have tons of walnuts drying out in the basement if we put in the effort.

We could make our own wood stain with the walnut husks.

We could have handmade yarn if we processed the goat mohair.

We could have plums in a few years if I had planted those trees I wanted.

We could have blueberries and blackberries if I had tended to those plants we placed by the old chicken coop.

We could have Jams and Jellies If I learned how to make them.

We could have milk and cheese if we milk the goat this year.

We’ve got eggs covered 😉

When you look at your yard or your land, what do you see?  I see an opportunity to teach my children, and myself, so much.  I want to try all of the things.  But all of the things take time.  And we are so busy being busy it feels like we will never have it.

We are going to make the time.  We commit to learning something new.  We commit to put down busy and do something that feels joyful and productive.  Make a new busy 😉  We commit to learning through trial and error.  And facing the world of people who think we are crazy and making the most of what we have here.  No land?  Drop on by.  We have some things you can do 🙂

 

Rise To The Top

Listen up! I made bread. I am so proud of myself. In the event of the apocalypse, I feel totally prepared.

Grow food ✔️

Raise chickens ✔️

Goats (soon to be in milk) ✔️

Make Bread ✔️✔️✔️

How is this my life? Knock me over with a feather…

So here’s my experiment into bread: I LOVE Olga’s restaurants. The bread, the almond Swiss butter, the zucchini fries, the gyro meat, the peasant soup, all of it! I went on a hunt for the almond Swiss butter spread in stores and found a recipe instead…and went way down the rabbit hole. I found a recipe for their bread too. The kids and I had recently worked into no yeast breads like dessert breads and zucchini, But we’ve never had to actually knead or prove. I asked the kids to help me but they ignored me and trashed the living room instead. Here’s our recipe:

1 cup of milk

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup margarine

1 tsp salt

2 1/4 tsp (1 package) active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

1 tsp Sugar

4 cups flour, divided

1 egg

Looking at this recipe I know now I totally forgot the salt 😂

So I started with scalding the milk. I didn’t know what that meant so I hit the google machine and it means warm up until almost a boil but not a boil…there I saved you some time looking that up too. So in a small sauce pan I warmed the milk to a frothy simmer but shut it off before it boiled. I transferred it to a big mix bowl and added the margarine, sliced up to melt faster, and the honey. Set aside.

In a small separate bowl, pour in some warm water, the package of yeast, and the teaspoon of sugar. Apparently sugar is what feeds the yeast and activates it and makes it grow. This immediately made me think of Men in Black and I’m now convinced yeast is an alien that thrives in sugar water. Not regular water, er tap water, er lemonade… Mix gently just until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside. It will get frothy and thicker, and weird looking quite honestly.

Head back over to that milk bowl, add 1 1/2 cups of the flour and mix well. Add one egg and mix some more. I’m guessing some salt goes in at this point but I know why I missed it now, the recipe never told me to add it. They think I can bake…nope. I need explicit directions.

Add your yeast mixture to the milk mix. Add the other 2 1/2 cups flour about 1/2 a cup at a time mixing thoroughly between. This is the point where I realized I should definitely have been using my kitchenaid mixer, but I was already committed to this hand mixing mess and didn’t want to dirty yet another bowl (because then we have to clean yet another bowl) so I got the work out instead.

At the last 1/2 cup, my biceps were huge, and the flour kind of stopped taking so I turned it out on to the floured up counter and started mixing with my hands and kneading. It said knead for 2-3 minutes. I don’t know how long I kneaded but I know it was fun and I felt like a kid doing an art project.

Next, it said to return the dough to an oiled bowl… ? … so I poured some vegetable oil into the bowl and sort of swished it around the side. I don’t know if that’s right…at all. I poured out excess so it wasn’t like soggy but left a film everywhere. Then it said to flip the dough once so both sides get oiled. Ok. Done. Then we covered it with cling wrap and put it on top of the stove to prove. I know what proving is because I have a deep love for the Great British Baking Show. But basically it means keep it somewhere warm all covered up and wait for it to grow.

This is about 5 minutes after we placed it under the cling wrap.

The aliens are doing their thing. It’s bigger!

Oh boy! That’s huge! It’s about doubled in size, so it’s ready.

The recipe said to punch the dough down. I didn’t know what that means but I took it quite literally and punched it in its doughy fluff ball face…a few times. And then turned it out on the counter. The counter was floured but I’m not 100% sure it’s supposed to be at this point but I figured more flour was better than stuck to the counter.

I divided it into four balls with a pastry cutter. And then divided those 4 into 4 also. So I had 16 dough balls. Put a dry skillet on the stove at about medium heat. Roll a dough ball out into a “rough” circle. Thank God this part said rough because I found out I can’t roll a circle to save my life. They were not round at all. And I’ve decided I’m ok with that.

If your skillet is warm enough these cook super fast! Basically you drop the circle on the Pan. Start to roll out another ball. Freak out. Flip it over. Finish rolling ball. Freak out. Take it off the skillet. It was literally like 15-20 seconds each side.

I did it! I made Olga bread. So full of pride. The kids and I tried the first one before we cooked the rest because I’m not into wasting time and if it was bad, I’m not above just tossing the whole bowl in the trash. But they loved it! And I did too! It was sweet and had some fun bubbly holes. It wasn’t quite Olga bread sweet, but it was definitely sweeter than a pita. I think one issue I had was that we only have skim milk and whole milk probably would have given it more flavor.

So that’s our adventure into Olga bread! Go make some, and if it’s good, invite me over to taste test it with you 😉

Barnes Animals

I realized ALL of my Facebook statuses (stati?) this week were about animals…like ALL of them.  So I thought I should do a blog post here for our animals.  Besides the 4 children, who are similar in many ways to the animals we care for 😉 , we are currently providing care for 22 animals.  That is 22 responsibilities for us and for the kids to learn from.  It’s also 22 things that can go wrong every single day.  This post might just turn into a who’s who in the backyard homestead, but they’re important enough to us to garner their own post.

Our oldest friends are Rocko and Lola, our 12 year old cats.  I had cats before I had children and honestly, when they pass, we will never own another cat on purpose.  We got Rocko as a baby with his brother peanut the year Lewis and I got engaged.  Peanut was this sickly little runt, and I’m a sucker for the runt, and Rocko was the brother they wanted to go with him.  True story, but obviously we love Rocko now, but he was definitely the consolation prize when his brother died of pneumonia probably from their birth inside a wall on a construction site where they were found.  The pet rescue had us come choose another cat when we told them what happened.  I chose Lola because she was so pretty.  She was standoffish and a little rude, but so pretty.  Well, like any ex-girlfriend will tell you, you can’t change someone, and Lola was no different.  She’s still standoffish, and a little rude, but so pretty.  She hates everyone but the people who live in this house and, in some ways, I respect her loyalty.

Next up is Millie. Millie is a Red Parrot Cichlid we bought at a Meijer grocery store when Renna was 4.  She is indestructible and ridiculously large for a fish.  She has outgrown 3 tanks, and no matter what weird thing happens to her, she keeps right on living…making messes, and making me feel kind of sad, that that clear tank is her life.  We’ve tried to buy her friends to keep her company, but she eats them all…

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When we moved to the new house, that came equipped with a chicken coop, we obviously had to put chickens in it.  It was sort of not an option not to. So we ordered 6 chicks from a hatchery and they promptly delivered 7.  We named one Spare since he was obviously the extra to make up for the sickly one they sent us that would inevitably die on Renna’s birthday.  True to her mother’s child, she had chosen the sickly runt to make “hers”.  So We had Spare, the White Polish Rooster (who now lives on a nice farm an hour north of here since he was NOT fond of small children as he grew), 2 White Polish Hens: Egg White & Snips, 3 Buff Orpington Hens:  Scissors, Radio, & Omelette.

These chickens were LOVED.  And by loved I mean the kids carried them around like stuffed animals, and took them onto the playset.  They sat on their laps while they would swing and slide and play.  When we came outside they would run up to us like puppies looking for snacks.  Elliott loved them so much, he would play and play and play and then eat food and touch his face and eventually get salmonella.

When your 3 year old gets home from a life threatening sepsis stay in the Children’s hospital, you take him out to celebrate his recuperation, right?  We took him to the park across the street where a town event was going on, and we came home with Daphne, a 1 year old boxer terrier rescue.  There were a bunch of yippy little dogs, a shaky chihuahua, and a super noisy coon hound.  But there, underneath the tiny yippy dog’s crate was another crate.  Where a medium sized dog sat.  Making medium sized dog faces and not a noise.  She laid there and watched everyone.  She didn’t bark. She didn’t growl.  She sat there, with medium ears half flopped over just waiting for someone to love her, and that was obviously us.  She’s turned out to be the perfect mix of adventurous and lazy to accommodate our lives.

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As our chickens grew, our rooster’s “needs” grew and we realized we needed more hens to keep him “busy” so we purchased our Barred Rock quartet from a homestead near Metamora, Maleficent, Roxy, Black Mamba, and Carla.  Lorelei believes that Carla is the most beautiful name in the entire world and she would name every girl person or animal, real or imaginary, Carla.  I’ve known some Carla’s and Karla’s in my time, and I must say they’ve been amazing people, so more power to you Lorelei!  And then Spare the rooster had to go anyway after his final frightening attack on Elliott.  We found him a good home, because we are not a “cull the flock” kind of family. We pretend we “farm”, but truly we don’t.  We love farm fresh eggs, but roasted breast of Roxy will never make our dinner menu.  I retract that statement. In case of Apocalypse, I am totally prepared to eat the animals.

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The first animals I would eat would be the bunnies.  They serve no purpose other than being cute and maybe someday a 4h show project.  We started with 2 little lionhead bunnies, Mufasa and Roary.   And I swear we are good pet parents, but Roary died too.  Roary had a baby bunny heart defect.  We know this because we rushed him to an emergency vet where they even gave him a bunny IV and bunny CPR when he crashed.  We couldn’t have done anything differently.  But again, the kids started learning that life with these animals would not always be easy and sometimes it was downright heart-wrenching.

So we added another hutch and in came Slippers (II, after the baby chick we lost) and Brownie, the mini lop sisters.  Brownie is super sweet and Slippers is FAST.  We’re lucky if we can ever catch her to try to pet her.  Our hutch is huge like a bunny condo and she knows it.  Lots of places to hide and run away.

This week, we celebrated the arrival of our first hoofed friends, our new goats Nan, the angora, and Blondie the nubian boer cross.  Someday, these goats will serve a homesteading purpose, but at the moment they are just the cutest hoofed dogs a family could ask for.  They run around the pasture with the human kids.  They knock things over, they try to go through or over any door that is locked.  They’re so curious and so loving.  They cry when we go inside.  They’ve been here 5 days and they love us.  They treat us like their herd, and we’re happy to be that for them.  The goats changed things.  the bunnies did not care what time we changed their water or opened the barn door.  The chickens have their own access to go in and out with or without us, so we had morning chores, but morning was subjective.  The goats are a bit more time sensitive.  They need to get out of the stall and go get some fresh brush and grass outside.  They need to run and play.  They want out EARLY.  So now somebody needs to get up early to let them out and you better plan to pet them for a while before you walk away.

2 days ago, our broody hen, Snips the white Polish, hatched out some baby chicks, yet to be named, but nonetheless 4 new Black Australorp chicken babies joined our backyard flock.

I THINK we are done.  We are out of stalls to put things in, at least until we decide to breed Blondie to make her a productive dairy goat.  But this is how in one year, we went from a city family with 2 cats and fish, to homesteading family with 22 responsibilities looking to be cared for every morning.  Some days the kids grumble about feeding animals or turning off the movie to go play with goats, but most days, they’re excited!  They want to be the one to find the eggs, or open the barn and the let the goats out, or brush the bunnies.  They have also learned a lot about caring for other things and they’ve learned some hard lessons about nature too.

So that’s our growing family.  If you’re in the neighborhood, or if you’re at the boutique, and you want to meet them, I’ll page a human kid to give you the grand animal tour!

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-Mary

 

Stop Kidding Around

The thing about a farm is, it needs some animals.  I struggle with this because I don’t want to up our expenses with nothing in return.  Like bunnies…I love our bunnies and they’re cute.  But that’s it…cute.  They don’t provide us with anything because we aren’t going to eat them.  I am not a REAL farmer.  I will not eat animals we raised.  We name them and love them and the stew pot is the last place you’ll find them.  This is liberal hippy farming ok?  I do however, greatly appreciate animals that are useful to the state.  I LOVE the chickens.  They ask very little from us and they give us eggs every day.  Thanks Chickens!  We don’t sell our eggs.  They don’t earn us an income, but we will never starve because there will always be an egg.

So what’s next?

goats

GOATS!  No Kidding.

Reasons WE LOVE GOATS:

  1.  They’re cute as babies and adults which is rare.
  2. They’re generally pretty friendly.
  3. They don’t eat a ton that they don’t find themselves on the ground.
  4. They serve a purpose.
  5. Renna – “I like goats because they’re nice and friendly.  They make great pets.”
  6. Sam – “Because they’re cute.”
  7. Lorelei – “cause I think them is really pretty.”
  8. Elliott – “cause them cute and fluffy.”

Did we mention that they’re cute?  Ok, so goats are kind of just cute pets but they also provide different things.  Our goats will provide fiber for art projects or sale, and eventually milk and cheese.  I guess you can even make soap, but I haven’t looked into that yet.  I want the kids (the two legged kind) to grow up with responsibilities and I want them to know what it’s like to put someone or something else first.  When I was 12 I started working in a horse barn to pay for my own lessons and leasing a horse.  I cleaned 30 stalls a day (3-4 days a week) and fed and watered 30 horses.  Horses don’t know it’s Christmas morning and you’re 12.  They still need a clean stall and food.  I’m excited for my kids to know that.   They THINK they’re excited too 😉 We’ll see what they say December 25th.

Today we attended a Goat Care Class at Sheepy Hollow Farms in Armada.  We THINK we’re ready now 🙂  We can be good goat owners.  PLUS!  What’s better than shopping a boutique of crazy comfortable clothing at someone’s house?  How about petting a goat and snuggling a bunny when you’re done?

Are goats a business expense? #Taxwriteoff

Nan the Angora, and Blondie the Nubian/Boer cross, coming July 2017

You pronounce that Bbbllllaaaa -ondie. 🙂

-Mary