I Left My Heart on the Table

I was yelling at my kids today. I’m not sure why. But there was kind of a lot of yelling. I tried to apologize and then explain to them why I was yelling. I poured my heart out about the “mental load” that many writers and bloggers have been writing on lately, the part of your mind-space reserved everyday for all of things that need to be done and all of the things you need to remind other people to do for the household or for yourself. I started asking them questions, like who knows how to empty the dishwasher? Do you know it needs to be done even if I don’t ask you? Who knows how to brush their teeth without being told? Who knows where their plate goes after breakfast without being reminded to clean it up and where to put it?

The resounding answers were that they all knew, but none of them do it without being asked. They know how to start laundry and they all have an assigned laundry day. Never once has one of them started their laundry without me telling them to start it. And this is where the mental load gets heavy. As primary parents, caregivers, whatever, it’s super exhausting to micromanage everyone’s lives. They are children, so I know I need to know when important things come up, like they’re due for the dentist and make that appointment (note to self for the 12th day in a row, call dentist) and I accept that responsibility. But why do I need to tell them to put clothes on their body every single day? Why do I need to know when they showered last and why don’t they know they need a shower? Can they not see or smell that they are dirty? Why do I need to remind them that when we go to the car for a full day of classes that someone needs to grab the backpack, the lunch, and the piano music bag?

I’d love just a brief glimpse inside their brains and what their mind is filled with on a daily basis. One of my goals as a parent,and particularly a homeschooling parent, is to teach them to be strong, independent adults with life skills. At what age do they just know that things need to be done without being told 9,000,682 times?

So there I sat at the kitchen table pouring my heart out to them. They were receptive. They smiled. They nodded. The little one told me that when I look busy she could say hey it looks like you need help, mama, can I help? And I cried because she was so sweet and she understood!

Then I walked into the other room and within 10 minutes all of that eager helpfulness was gone. Dead on the floor. The mental load was left resting on the dishes still on the table. The juice cups mocking me with sweating koolaid rings. The laundry, left unswitched in the machine. And I yelled some more.

Suddenly, I understood. I NEED A BREAK. And that’s ok. And I am saying it out loud and I’m saying it with purpose. I NEED A BREAK. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them or appreciate them. I just need a minute with my own thoughts where I’m not the nag micromanaging everything. I tried to remember the last time I did something without them that wasn’t work, and the only thing I could come up with was the time I met a friend at target two months ago and we walked around drinking Starbucks for 2 hours. It was glorious.

I adore my kids. They’re fun and funny. They’re truly good kids. But I need a minute. Do you?

I Straight Up Don’t Believe You

I was checking out a new blogger suggested to me on Instagram because of a homeschool hashtag I follow. She had AMAZING and artistic photos of her home. I found myself drooling over white linens and pillows and perfectly arranged succulents and lemons left out purely for decoration. One post boasted a brilliant kitchen with a “spill” of baking stuff drawn into a heart, reading (paraphrase) my favorite thing in the world is preparing a wholesome dinner for my family.

Then I remembered which hashtag brought me to her page…#homeschoolmom…and I snapped out of it, because I straight up don’t believe her. I get some people are neat freaks. Truly I do. They exist in my own family…I seem to have missed the gene that enjoys cleaning. But if you’re telling me your kids are home with you all day, hands on learning in your home, that you have white everything and it’s always perfect? No. Stop it now. That’s a lie. Maury Povich didn’t even have to call me with the results to that lie detector.

And then the doubt sets in. Am I an incredible slacker? Do other moms really have this THAT together? They can do all things through Jesus Christ and I’m just a great big failure? Oh snap. The dishes are looking at me…

Judging me…

I think I’ve entered the 7 stages of grief. First I was shocked. Then it was denial…and then irrational anger. I’m not sure I bargained, but depression definitely crept in there. So now I’m writing this blog to test for realistic expectations. What does your house look like at the end of the day?

If you’re a mom of mayhem, like me, huge shout out from the rooftops. I GET YOU. Your house is a lived in mess. There are unmatched socks in a bin somewhere and your bathroom sink is full of kids toothpaste. You probably can’t remember the last time the littlest one had a shower. And that’s OK. You are not alone.

Our intentions are pure, but let’s be real, why would we buy a white rug in the first place? Get the one with technicolor swirls and then when they spill the grape juice ask them to aim for the purple swirl. We had exactly 3 fairly large spills that needed containment and clean up today. And today was a good day.

So if you’re scrolling Instagram and you see a life too perfect in pictures to be true, just do what I do, and assume they’re all freaking lying. 🙂

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 😉