I am PT Freaking Barnum

The kids finally saw The Greatest Showman…and we’ve now seen it 632 times I think. The soundtrack has also made its way into our collection on iTunes.

Honestly, the first time the kids watched it, I was busy and I didn’t “watch”. The second time the kids watched it I think I was knitting or scrolling Facebook. The third time the kids watched it, I found myself singing along anyway. Like the words had subconsciously infiltrated my brain, but I hadn’t really thought about what the words were. All the songs are tremendous, but A Million Dreams has infected my soul and reached a place in my heart that resonates so loudly that I can’t drown it out.

‘Cause every night I lie in bed

The brightest colors fill my head

A million dreams are keeping me awake

I think of what the world could be

A vision of the one I see

A million dreams is all it’s gonna take

A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make

Benj Pasik and Justin Paul climbed into my heart and stole my essence when they wrote this song. I should probably sue them…

A million dreams ARE keeping me awake! I’ve always been a dreamer, and my journey is an odd journey because it changes so much so often. I have had many jobs…many, many jobs. And they’ve all been very different. I may be 35 (I think?), but I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But I know it has a feeling. I know I want to create something that exists in the world. Something beautiful. I don’t know if that means actual art work, or clothing art, or maybe writing. I do not know. But I want to make an impact on the world. I am P.T. freaking Barnum. Are you? Dreams! Vision! The Greatest Showman. What’s your dream? Do you have a million too?

Sidebar: Lewis has informed me many times that The Greatest Showman is not historically accurate and Barnum may not have been such a good guy. But I rarely care about “facts”. I am PT Barnum from the MOVIE. I am Hugh Jackman 😂

Affiliated – Story Cubes

We are affiliated.  We are affiliated with Amazon.  Why?  Because life is busy and stores are hard.  So we shop Amazon…a LOT.  It’s easy and I don’t forget stuff because it’s like *click*click* done.  Boom.  It’s in the mail in 2 days.  We buy our fair share of Amazon items for the farm and for school, so we joined the affiliate program.   Don’t worry, we won’t be pushing random things.  But when we do find something we love, we will share our link with you and you can choose to use that link to purchase that item too and then we get a kickback from Amazon to keep things going around here.

A product we really, really want to recommend to you is Rory’s Story Cubes.  The kids played Story Cubes with some of their friends and Elliott asked for it every.single.day since that day.  So I popped on Amazon and I ordered them.  They’re fun.  They’re educational.  And they make even tentative children bold story tellers.  We made this quick little video to show them to you.

Why I like Story Cubes:

  1.  Kids and Adults can play Story Cubes together.  The little one’s just make less complicated stories.
  2. I can challenge the kids to expand on their story.
  3. It is creative “writing”/thinking disguised as pure fun.
  4. It can be used as a writing prompt to get kids going on a detailed story.
  5. Everyone likes the sound of rolling dice right?
  6. There are multiple packs to keep the fun fresh.

 

If this isn’t school work, presentation, improvisation, and quick brain training I do not know what is.  Barnes & Boutiques seal of approval.  Fine scholastic Fun.  2 Thumbs Up.

So if you want to try Story Cubes for yourself, you can grab them HERE.  This set contains 3 full sets of cubes: The original, Voyages, and Actions.   One set is fun, but we get the best stories when the kids add a few dice from each set and roll those.  It gives them verbiage to play with and additional ideas.

But sometimes that is out of budget.  So if you’re going to get just one, I recommend the classic set in the Orange box HERE.

 

If that is still out of budget, here’s a great DIY idea:  Make them!  Find some cube shaped boxes of any size.  We made these animal and color dice many moons ago with 6x6x6 boxes I had from shipping hats and headbands.  I would print some pictures from google images and decoupage them on the side of the box (or use packing tape because decoupage sounds like a LOT of work…) and get to playing!  It might be fun to do together anyway!  You can learn more about playing with our animal or color dice on our Sensory Play website 🙂

 

 

So go play!  Have fun.  Learn things.  Improvise 🙂  Once Upon a time…

 

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 😉

WHY I’m NOT leaving LuLaRoe

There has been a rash of Going Out of Business Sales in LuLaRoe.  I don’t really talk about it much but I’ve felt it in my team and from my customers who are scoring items at rock bottom prices.  And I don’t fault them for that.  I’m on a budget too and I LOVE a good deal.  But those sales come and go.  I’m here for the long haul.  I can’t sell at those prices because it wouldn’t make any sense for me or my business or my family and I value what I sell.

Most of the girls I know personally who are leaving are doing so because of major life changes.  New babies.  Sadly sometimes illness.  New opportunity knocking on their door.  Big moves.  A variety of reasons.  Some didn’t know exactly how much work this would be and that turning a profit takes a long time like most small businesses.  And yes, I consider myself a small business.  I have corporate rules I have to follow, but for the most part, LuLaRoe is my wholesale distributor.  I run LuLaRoe Mary Barnes.  I decide what to buy and when.  I decide how much to stock and which items.  I dictate my schedule. I insure my business.  I balance my books. I manage my inventory, marketing, shrinkage, charitable donations, taxes, etc.  I’m a member of my local chamber of commerce.  I run a business…from home.

I juggle 4 children that I homeschool and a small homestead farm with my dedicated business partner and husband, Lewis.  We often trade off at the door when he gets home from work.  He takes the kids and I head to the shop.  We work when we can and try to treat our customers like friends.  And I LOVE my job.  I love the look on someone’s face when they try on the dress that really speaks to them and makes them feel like a million bucks.  I love the moment when someone with a hard to fit body realizes these clothes are made for them too.  So I’m not going anywhere.

I have had a job consistently since I was 12 years old.  I’ve cleaned horse stalls, slung 50lb bags of flour, waited more tables than I could ever count, worked in corporate offices, managed offices, and worked retail for someone else.  I loved some of these jobs and I’ve disliked others.  But one thing is now confirmed in my head.  I don’t want to work for someone else.  I want to work for me.  I have an entrepreneurs heart.

As we stumble through the winter months and work on our “how” for 2018, one thing I have down solid is my “why”.  Yes I do this for my family.  To provide for them.  To show my children what hard work looks like and set an example.  But I also do this for a deeper reason.  I do this to create communities so that no one feels alone or disregarded.  Creating a place where people can gather and there are clothes that fit every body, short, tall, thin, plus size, all in one place.  A place where you can drop in and shop and bend a listening ear.  Escape if you need to.  Meet up with new people. Or bring your friend group for a much needed ladies night out.  We also try to create an online community where people don’t have to follow any bizarre rules or buy more than they wanted to get the one piece they love.  Even online I want to create a place where people can share what’s important to them and converse with other people.  So no one ever feels alone.  I want to create art in clothing and put together outfits that fit people’s busy lives.  Fashion is art and self expression and this company gets that.

So while I love a good deal, I hope that we provide something more.  I hope that we provide amazing service that comes with a side of friendship and gratitude.  Also, there are some AWESOME new items in the works and I want to show them to you!  I think LuLaRoe has their finger firmly on the comfortable side of the fashion pulse and I don’t want to miss out on what they will do next.

Have you tried LuLaRoe?

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I resolve

It’s that time of year again.  The time when we all decide all the things we don’t like about ourselves and our lives and we decide January 1 in the dead of winter blues is the time to change them.  My name is Mary and I am an over-resolver.  I set pretty high standards for myself and generally fail within 72 hours.  Then quit.  But I’ve apparently learned nothing and I’m making too many resolutions yet again.

Yes I’d love to lose weight.  Sounds great.  Not putting that pressure on myself right now.  A diet isn’t going to do it.  What we need here is a lifestyle change and that takes a lot more time and dedication.   So phase 1: we are cooking more.  We are resolute in our efforts to learn to cook new things, and stop eating out and picking up carryout as much.  Slow Cooker Recipe suggestions welcome, because time is NOT always my friend.

We resolve to be more organized and purge the things.  I admire minimalists.  I admire the simplicity.  The ease.  I have no idea how they do it.  Things keep accumulating and a lot of them seem to remain “useful” so I have a hard time purging them.  IF they are in fact useful, the option is to organize them better so our things don’t swallow us whole.  I will accumulate more things from the container store to contain the things that are eating the house 🙂  And truly purge as much as we can.  I really want this.  So I’m hoping we can commit.

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The cluttered desk I sit at while writing this exact blog this exact moment.  Posterity.

I resolve to paint the broken wall…It’s only been ONE YEAR.  January of 2017 a car crashed into my bedroom.  It did take a while to get the insurance check.  It did take a while to get the contractor we hired on the schedule to get it fixed.  But it has been FAR too long…and the wall is still not finished.  I never painted.  So he never put on the floor molding.  I resolve to do this ASAP.  This constant reminder of a scary night is probably not the healthiest thing I’ve ever done for my children (ha).

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My main resolution is one of those choose a word things.  I have chosen PRESENT.  I want to be present in all the things I do.  Multi-tasking is a big fat lie.  I am incapable.  So I need to stop pretending.  I can do many things at once poorly, or I can schedule my time and be present in each task in it’s time.  I want to make an actual plan for my business, with realistic yet challenging goals, and stick to it.

I’m also giving up all my vices and bad habits and joining a gym and going vegan…

JUST KIDDING.  I will need all the caffeine and time and protein to conquer the other hurdles.  What’s your resolution?  Come prove your resolve with me 🙂