Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Full Circle

I was sort of dreading my post today. Yesterday was a sad day here because our sweet dog of 16 years passed away.
She was a faithful companion and she loved to swim and jet ski. Until this summer, a day at the lake would perk her up and cause her play like a pup again.
We took her to the lake July 4th but instead of being a lively youngster again, she was confused and didn't act like she knew where she was. Her hearing was gone and her sight not very good either.

We knew her time was coming to a close, but it was still sad to discover she had passed away in her sleep.

But then the cycle of life makes a full circle. If there is one thing I have learned by farming it is the circle of life. It's the lesson that there will be death but then there will also be life.

Devin and I went to lunch this afternoon and came home to a wonderful sight!

Belle had her calf while we were gone. It is a large, healthy heifer too!

Although I wish I had another week of once a day milking, I am glad that calving went so well and that the calf is healthy.

I am still sad that we lost Raven, although she had a wonderful, long life.
I am happy and blessed to see a new life on the farm.

What will we name this heifer?
Well, I have a special friend in Huntsville and her very special daughter, Molly, has a birthday today. I think it only fitting that I name this sweet calf after her.
So, welcome to the farm Molly!

Happy Hump Day Ya'll!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Large Family Meals: Fast Food

*This is not a paid review. The authors of this book have not asked me to review it. This is just my opinion and experience, hoping it can help others families.*

Like most large family moms, I spend about half my day (everyday) thinking about food and meals and grocery lists. It can be an exhausting aspect of running a large household but it offers many lessons in being prepared and organized.

Of course there will be days when activities consume the day and meals are difficult to prepare. There are also days when one or more family members is sick and meals are difficult to get on the table.
Ya'll I am the first person who LOVES a greasy fast food burger, seriously, but I really do try to eat healthy and I haven't the cash to be buying burgers for 7 kids at a whim.
 Prepared moms have a plan, and after a few hours of work yesterday I am once again a prepared one.

Enter freezer meals.
I admit right now that I am not a lover of casseroles. I am not a fan of processed cream of anything soups. Many of the freezer meal plans have never worked for me, until I found this book

This book does have casseroles, but it also has food such as Sweet Asian Chicken. This meal consists of chicken pieces frozen in a homemade marinade that, once thawed, is cooked as a stir fry you can eat over rice.
I also made Pecan Crusted Chicken. This dish is again chicken frozen in marinade. The instructions include a separate bag to freeze that contains a special panko and pecan breading to roll the chicken through once thawed. The result is a delicious crispy baked chicken strip.

Of course those two examples require a minimal amount of preparation for a home cooked meal. For days when I just have no time at all I did prepare a couple of casseroles. I made lasagna (my kids' favorite), chicken enchiladas (my favorite) and a chicken-broccoli bake that is served over rice.

A new recipe I also made consisted of making and pre-baking Salisbury Meatballs that have been frozen with a made from scratch Salisbury sauce. Once thawed it can be reheated in a skillet and eaten over mashed potatoes.

Finally, I decided to prep for quick lunches, especially for Journee, who is working 2 jobs and attending school full time. I cooked up refried beans and seasoned ground beef to make 30 bean and beef burritos. These are wrapped individually and ready for a quick heat up.

You will not find any cream of soups in this book either. All of the sauces are made from scratch and are simple. There is also advice on exactly how to organize a grocery list for this type of bulk shopping and meal prep.

I chose foods that can be eaten with rice because I have a rice cooker. Families need rice cookers! It is an absolutely easy way to cook wholesome rice without making a mess and it is very quick. Rice in bulk is inexpensive and versatile. Rice cookers will also keep the rice warm after cooking, so you don't have to be perfect in your meal timing either.

A few hours of kitchen time resulted in 18 entrees and 30 burritos. This will be a great supplement to my  weekly meal planning, and on hectic days I know that I have meals ready to go.

Of course I now have the task of organizing my freezers and making sure I have everything where I can see it. This picture of my freezer is just what I made yesterday, but I still need to pack my roasts and chickens back in the space. My morning should be interesting.

Now all I have is to finish going through school books that arrived via my favorite brown truck yesterday.

Happy weekend ya'll!

Monday, July 21, 2014

It's a Bit Crappy

The chicken fence fell down yesterday. I speak of the fence that goes around my egg mobile, that is currently in the front yard. We have had lots of rain and the soft ground gave way to the fence posts and it fell over.

No big deal, really, because as a farmer (albeit small scale) I realize that poo is no big deal. In fact, poo is a big part of farm life.
If you are thinking of starting a farmstead, be prepared for lots of poo.

What happens when my fence falls is all the hens decide to free range. It's quite a party, and like any big party there will be a mess to clean up. The hens especially love my driveway and sidewalk and porch.
Of course this time there were some new kids at the free rage party.

Yes, the geese enjoyed the party as well. One thing that is always true about geese is that they poop.
A. Lot.
So, after the fun was over and all of the birds headed back to the egg mobile for the night, I pulled out the water hose. It only took 45 minutes to wash the driveway and sidewalks off.

Word must have gotten around that we were throwing flock parties because some real wild ones showed up the next morning, looking for some food and companionship.

Fortunately the Canada geese didn't stay long and didn't walk across the driveway. They stayed long enough to chatter with my hens and geese and then left.

Of course we also have lots of cow poo here as well.

I expect there will be even more in the future since this lady is due to calf in early November. More calves mean more cow patties.

Belle is due to calve anytime after Aug 1st, and I noticed today that her udder is starting to fill out some. I will spare you a photo of her lady parts, but she is getting ready for calving within the next month. Her belly is looking nice and full as well.

Since we have been milking twice a day for 8 months now, I decided to cut back to once a day milking. Honestly, I need the break. I usually cut back sooner but was afraid to since Lucy had so many mastitis issues when she calved. So far both cows are doing great and I am enjoying my milking-free evenings.
We will soon be back to twice a day with Belle once she calves, so I am going to this break while it lasts.
More calves=more poo, but also=more milk=more cheese.

Ah, the muck, the mud, the poo. That's a farming life and I admit that at times it can be a bit crappy (pun intended) but somebody's gotta do it, right?
I am glad to be part of it.

Happy Monday Ya'll! Make the day count!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

A Cold Reminder

I am back from the living dead. OK, that might be a little dramatic, but I must admit that having a bad head cold in the middle of summer is not fun at all. Of course when is a cold ever fun?

Being sick when you are single is one thing, but adding a farm and 7 kids into the mix takes on a whole new meaning. With that said I was reminded this week of some important aspects to running a large family.

1. It pays to teach your kids early how to do chores. This week would have really been terrible except Indiana and Willow are well versed in farm chores and they managed to keep everything done on time. This includes milking the cows. Journee and Quinn kept the house picked up and everyone pitched in caring for the youngest 2 kids. Laundry? They can all do that as well, so at least I didn't have to worry about daily house and farm chores.

2. I do not have nearly enough meals frozen and ready in my freezers. I would love to say that we ate healthy meals while I was down, but that is so far from the truth I am ashamed. I think some pizza and taco takeout were eaten, you know , the take out crap. What can I say? Lunch was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but dinner was a quest for anything. Normally, in months when I have my act together, we have several meals in the freezer for hectic days and times when I am not up to par. Today I plan to write up a store list and menu plan and get my act together.

3. Blue Bloods is now one of my favorite shows. Yes, I laid in bed and watched several episodes now that it is on Hulu. Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlburg? (sigh) I have always liked shows about the NYPD, I am a life long fan of NYPD Blue, and now I have a new show to love.
 Of course, this has nothing to do with managing a large family except sometimes mom needs a show to watch.

Now that I am back with the living, I am trying to get everything organized for the new school year.
Yesterday I spent hours at the kitchen table organizing curriculum and getting a *plan* ready for the first 12 weeks of school.

One thing I am doing differently this year is our math. I have always used Math U See until the kids get to Algebra and then I switch them to Teaching Textbooks. This year everyone is using Teaching Textbooks, except Zeb (kindergarten).
It was an expensive switch, but I think it will work best. Math U See made changes to their books several years ago I never did like, and Teaching Textbooks has been a good program.

We are also going to concentrate on one state each Friday. This is an idea I learned from  Kris at Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers. We will start with the west coast and move east.

It's all in the logistics. It's all in keeping things organized. It's all in having a nice cup of coffee each morning to get motivated!

Happy Sunday Ya'll!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cold Recovery Day

I have been suffering from quite a cold this week, however I feel better today. Of course this al means I am way behind here at home and must play catch up!
Since the new school year is upon us and many of you home school, I thought I would repost this writing from April 2011.
Whether you are a seasoned home educator or a newby, I think this can help you.

10 Pearls of Wisdom for Homeschooling

After 7 kids and 10 years of schooling, I have learned a few things.
Some things I learned the hard way and others the very hard way.
On top of my head, here are my pearls of wisdom.

1. A relaxed and happy house is far better than a spotless one.
    I learned this the very hard way, I suppose. I used to mop everyday and dust and clean bathrooms. That  was way before I had so many children. I have learned that it is more important to learn when things can be picked up later. Those pictures in magazines you see? The perfect living room and kitchen? Pfft! NOBODY lives that way and has children! Do not set that as your goal! Now I might do a good cleaning on Fridays, but I break it into small sections through out the day. Every night we make a 30 minute tidy up that includes cleaning toys up in the living room and putting clothes away. I NEVER leave dirty dishes in the sink and always run the dishwasher. Your kids will not have memories of how clean the house was, rather they WILL remember the times you played games or watched movies instead of scrubbing the baseboards.

2. Your kids will survive just fine if they stay home.
     Honestly I think it is crazy to shuffle kids to a billion activities. In this house a child must be 11 years old and able to complete chores and duties without being nagged before they can participate in any outside activity such as guitar lessons, etc. They are also allowed only ONE activity, so they must choose wisely. I did not do any of these outside activities growing up and was fine. I NEVER participated in sports as a child and yet played through High School and was a star athlete. It is a drain on a family  (especially a large one) to be at practices and lessons and activities every night of the week. It's not worth the stress and your kids will be fine WITHOUT some extra activities.

3.  Families need regular, reliable and early bedtimes.
     Why on earth would anyone let the kids stay up late? Kids need rest and mom and dad need time alone. Period. My little kids are in bed by 8 pm. I let my two teens stay up until 9 pm, but they are in their rooms reading and drawing or downstairs watching a special show on TV.  In the winter if the little ones are cranky, I put them to bed at 7 pm! Now, in the summer we stay up a little later, but not often. Late nights are reserved for vacations and special occasions. It is also imperative that mom and dad get a few hours alone to catch up or watch a movie or even just "veg." Start this routine while they are young and stick with it!

4. Successful homeschooling begins with successful discipline.
     If your child will not feed the dogs when you ask them, then what makes you think they will do their math when you ask them? Again, this starts at an early age, but your kids need to know who is boss and that you mean business. We love our kids and show lots of affection, but they do have a healthy fear of disobedience and that is what you need to successfully educate them at home.

5. Your kids do not need a bunch of friends to be happy.
     I know this sounds a bit harsh, but think about it for a minute. I would rather have a few close friends than a hundred not close friends. There are people who questions the fact that we do not attend a home school co-op because they see high value in the friendship aspect of such a group. My kids, as well as myself and Devin, have a few very close friends. These are life-long friends and that holds more value than surface friends.

6. Marriage first, kids second.
    You and your spouse are in it for the long haul together. Do not spend so much energy on the kids that you have none left for each other. (see #2 and #3). Remember that one day your children will be grown and out of the house. It will then be just you and your spouse so make sure you are not strangers to one another. Go on dates often, even if the date is Chinese take out and a movie at home. Happy kids come from happy moms and dads.

7. Find a talent or interest and nurture it well.
    Maybe you like to knit or scrapbook or even play tennis. Whatever it is, find ONE thing that you love and make sure you have some time to nurture that interest. I love to quilt and sew and knit. I will carve out a day every couple of months and take a class at the local quilt store. When Devin works late, I will plop on the couch and watch a movie and knit. Your life cannot be all CHILD related! Remember the bit about one day the kids will be gone? Go make time for yourself and your hobby.

8. Life skills are just as important as math skills.
     Your child growing up and being able to cook meals from scratch, plant a garden, care for a baby, and change a tire are priceless skills. Home schooling is not just about math and writing and history. Take time to include your children in everyday activities such as cooking or building a storage shed out back. This is one of the wonderful benefits to educating at home. You have the flexibility to close the math book for a week and teach an important life skill to your youngsters.

9. When the sickness bug visits, just take the week off!
     I cannot stand it when kids get sick and yet the family still tries to maintain a normal daily schedule. Seriously, if you cannot take a week off to rest and recuperate then you have a problem. The body needs rest when it is trying to fight off a cold or infections. REST. Instead of trying to do school and all of the other weekly activities, just try and allow your family the freedom to stay home and do nothing. Pajamas should be the dress code and reading books the school day. Kids can color or play on the floor, but make sure there is opportunity for naps. A cold will clear up much faster this way and you will also not be spreading germs around town. I promise that the world will still be turning if you scratch your weeks activities.

10. Patience comes with experience.
      It's a common comment from people to say, "I could never teach my kids because I am not patient." or, "You must have the patience of a Saint to have so many kids!"
Let me tell you that I am not naturally a patient person and neither are most moms of large families. I have a large amount of patience now because I have LEARNED it over the years. You will never have the stamina to run a marathon unless you practice and run, run, run. You will not learn patience to home school if you do not try. You will not learn to be patient with many kids if you do not have them and try. Do not use that "lack of patience" as your excuse. Anyone can learn patience, but you must work at it and often times pray for help.

What have you learned over the years of raising kids and home schooling?

Friday, July 11, 2014

That Day I Had Heat Stroke

Okay, I might be exaggerating BUT the one thing that really stinks about bee keeping is the fact that it is always 90 degrees outside when hives need inspecting.

I had three nucs that were ready for full hive bodies and so I suited up after lunch and got all the hives settled into new homes.  Of course halfway through all this bee work I felt like I was going to die. The 90 degree heat and the 90% humidity and a well lit smoker is enough to make one feel like they are suffocating, and I might have even hallucinated for a second. I managed to get myself back into the house and into a nice long shower.

Of course now I am sitting on the front porch with sweet tea and a few pictures to share from the adventures we had yesterday.

I live close to a railroad track, in fact, the track runs along the front border of the property. Zeb mentioned to me a few days ago that he would like to ride a train. Lucky for him we live just a hop away from Chattanooga.

Yesterday we woke up and decided to take the little ones to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. I took the older girls many years ago with a home school group. This time Willow, Rose and the two boys joined us and we had fun.

There were lots of train cars to tour and many opportunities for that perfect family photo, you know the cute photos where everyone is actually looking at the camera and smiling.

The kids were also allowed the chance to get up close and personal to the very old locomotives and to stare in awe at the massive size of the wheels.
Of course our adventures included a real live train ride.

The boys, of course, sat in a seat with an open window. It was all fun and games too, until steam from the engines came blowing inside.

After the train museum we treated the kids to lunch out, which is a huge treat in this family.

So after our adventure yesterday we decided we would take the whole crew on another in September. We are thinking about taking everyone to Rock City once the weather cools a bit.

Chattanooga has lots of fabulous activities and sights to explore and experience and we are lucky to live so close.

What summer adventures are you having?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

That Crazy Animal Family

I have been completely unmotivated to do a thing the past week, unless you count cookouts as a *thing*. I have exceled in that area.

We spent the 4th on the lake with jet skis and family.
Devin grew up on this water in Tennessee and it is a favorite summer hangout for all of the kids.

It is always fun for everyone and this was the first year Fletcher could really go for a ride.

Of course no 4th of July would be complete without some corn harvesting and some blueberry picking. I think I ate as much as I picked and we enjoyed a home made blueberry pie the days following.

After we recovered from July 4th festivities we hosted a cookout at our home on Sunday, complete with fireworks. This of course meant that Monday was a sluggish day for us all. Lack of sleep and too much sun wore us all out.

These are not my reason for a lack in motivation to accomplish any of my many projects. The truth of the matter is we got a new baby.

We got a new fur baby, a mutt, a half pug beauty.
All I want to do is hold him.
Even the bulldogs love his antics and play with him. Duke knows how to be gentle too.

It is officially Indiana's (Rock Star) puppy, but we all love him so much that he might never be allowed to walk on his own. He is cute. Why are puppies so cute? That puppy breath? Seriously, why is puppy breath such a sweet smell?

So, we are that crazy animal family that owns a billion pets. We really do love having lots of animals and the kids are fantastic caregivers. I really do feel sad for ids who never have the chance to own a pet. Of course, there are times I feel sad for my feed bill and my budget and even my sanity.
BUT, puppy breath and puppy cuddles cures many ailments.
I have been calling this sweet pup Freddie, but I suppose since it is officially Indiana's pet she can name him.
She has named him Delconno. I have issues remembering that name, probably because I am a little old and somewhat crazy. I may or may not whisper "Freddie" into his ear when I hold him.

At any rate, we love him.

My goal today is to seriously look at my upcoming homeschool schedule and start going through curriculum possibilities....or maybe I will hold a puppy. Who knows. It is summer, right? I can have a few easy and lazy days, right?

I will say that I have some nice helpers now when I milk cows, which makes farm chores more fun.

Happy Tuesday, Ya'll!

, aka Crazy Animal Lady
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