Saturday, January 28, 2012

How Much Does Homeschooling Cost?

It seems like a lot of families who are considering homeschooling worry about the costs. A lot of them think they need to have an exorbitant sum of money to homeschool.

By far, the largest expense of homeschooling is often giving up one income. Most homeschooling families have a stay at home parent that takes care of most of the schooling. This isn't always the case. As they say, where there's a will, there's a way. There are certainly families that have both parents working from home, or one parent working full-time while the other works part-time, or have one parent working days and the other working nights. It can take a little more sacrifice to make these situations work for the family though, and they don't seem to be quite as common as the more typical "stay at home mom" situation.

Once you get past the income question, you get to the "outgo" question.

For our family, we budget $50 per month for homeschool expenses. I do my best to make this cover books, supplies and school related activities. Sometimes that doesn't work out and a trip to the museum might come out of the travel budget, but for the most part, we can stay within the budget.

Extracurricular activities like theater class or sports are a separate budget category.

I make this budget work for us primarily by planning ahead and spending wisely. I stock up on things like pencils, glue, notebook paper, folders, pens and erasers right after school starts each year. The week after the public schools open, I start stalking the Target aisles and waiting for the sales. Some years are better than others, but I can almost always get this stuff 30-75% off and I try to buy for the whole year. Markers are often a better deal at Christmas time when Toys'R'Us starts putting things on sale. Usually there is a buy 2, get 1 deal on crayola that I use to stock up because I have a hard time finding marker sales besides that. Craft supplies such as construction paper, craft glue, and random things like pipe cleaners, googly eyes, beads and popsicle sticks can be found on sale at Michael's and often there is a coupon you can use as well.

Some of our curriculum resources come up in "scratch and dent" sales. This year I was able to snag some math supplies we needed and next year's math book in Right Start's Black Friday sale, which featured used supplies. I recently purchased some history resources from Knowledge Quest that aren't in pristine condition, but are like new and were offered at a pretty steep discount. Which ever curriculum you're going to use, sign up for the company's emails and follow their facebook page so you're aware of the sales and can pick up things you might need for next year.

A lot of our books also come from Amazon. I use Swag Bucks* to help me out there. On average, I earn about one $5 Amazon gift card per month by using swag bucks to search for websites and sometimes participating in their swag code hunts and playing games. That certainly doesn't cover my entire Amazon bill, but it's definitely worth my time and can easily pay for our spelling, geography and grammar books each year.

Of course, we also utilize the library a lot. Any homeschooler should get well acquainted with their local library. If you are working on a tight budget but determined to homeschool, you can certainly create your own curriculum centered almost entirely on the resources available to you for free at the library. We have an absolutely wonderful children's librarian here that, in addition to being great with the kids, is very supportive of homeschooling. She, along with parents who came long before me, has built up a rather extensive collection of curriculum books along with the regular library fare. Things like Story of the World*? Yep, we have that in our library. Kits that contain a book, a learning objective, and a hands on activity to help with early literacy? We've got those too. If your library doesn't have a book you're looking for, talk to the librarian about inter-library loans. You can get just about any book if you're willing to ask and to wait a little while for them to get their hands on it. Our library also has a pretty extensive collection of movies. This is great for free entertainment, but we've also found wonderful non-fiction DVDs relevant to what we're studying or movies that go along with books we're reading. Find out if your library holds a yearly sale or gives away older materials. They may also be a source of activities such as a summer reading club, preschool literacy programs, chess clubs and computer classes. What if you're stuck with a rather crummy library? Check out the next town over and see how theirs is. It could easily be well worth your time and gas money to plan out a bi-weekly trip to pick up the supplies you need for the next 2 weeks of school.

I think there is inherently a little bit of wastage in the first couple of years. You can meet up with other homeschoolers and look through their books or buy used books at a curriculum sale all you want. At the end of the day though, you just don't know if a certain book will work for your child until you try it with them. You are going to make mistakes and buy things you don't use. To a certain extent, you just have to accept this as a fact of homeschooling. You can sell the books to other homeschoolers and recoup some of your loss. Just because something didn't work for you doesn't mean it's a bad curriculum, chances are someone else out there would love it. As time goes on, you get a better handle on what will meet your requirements and will also work for your kid and it gets easier to get the right thing the first time (and save some money).

How do you make homeschooling fit into your budget?

*Affiliate Links

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Goal That Shall Not Be Named

A few months ago, we happened across a house for sale. We weren't looking to buy a house, but this one was intriguing. We called up our realtor and took a look at it. I LOVED that house. I wanted that house. Bad. We could not afford the house. It had been on the market an exceptionally long time, so we put in a bid for what we could afford and crossed our fingers. The sellers chose to owner finance someone else rather than sell to us outright. I jokingly said, "the nerve of those people putting all that stuff in OUR house!" when the moving van showed up in the driveway.

I won't lie, I still LOVE that house. Should it go back on the market at a time when we can afford it, we just might try to buy it again. But that post I wrote on having perspective applies to me too and several weeks ago I decided it's absurd to be thinking our current house isn't enough.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, the average house in 1950 was 983 square feet. The average family size was 3.6 people, so that 983 square feet was enough for a family with 1 or 2 kids. Our house is 1800 square feet, so it is definitely enough space for the 5 of us. I catch myself thinking it feels pretty cramped and then I remember that's really ridiculous. I've been trying to think of how I can change my perception and make it feel more comfortable here and I've decided the real problem is too much stuff and too little organization.

I broached this idea with Josh a while back and he agreed it was a worthwhile goal, but I hesitated to share here because, you know, then I'd actually be accountable for what I'd said. But here it is, in black and white. I have a goal of working through each room of the house this year, simplifying where possible and instituting organization that a clutterbug like me can keep up with.

There is no attic here, so everything that is kept and stored needs to be organized and neat to minimize the amount of space it takes up in the house. One of the first things I want to tackle is our school area because right now I keep supplies in a small side room off the living room and we work at the kitchen table. The supplies rarely make it back where they're supposed to be, so we need a new system.

So that's the goal: stop making the space look and feel smaller than it is. Without dipping into the travel budget more than necessary. I'm going to try to remember to take before and after pictures and share them as we work our way through the house. With everything else going on around here, I expect it will take most of the year, but we'll get there!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Freezing Broccoli, Cauliflower and Cabbage

We've been eating fresh veggies from the garden for a while now, but a person gets a little burned out on broccoli after a while. It's also getting to be time to clear out winter plants and make room for the spring garden.

So yesterday, I worked on freezing some of our broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.

First up, a quick note on the cauliflower. It's gone "ricey". I can't accurately describe what ricey means, so I just took a few (rather poor, sorry 'bout that) pictures to show you
Here's a regular head of cauliflower and a ricey one
Closer up, you can see how it looks like it's opening up.

We also started seeing some pinkish spot in the cauliflower:
This color change and the heads going ricey happens when the cauliflower matures during weather that is too warm. We've had some days in the upper 70's, so it's not too surprising this has happened. The result is produce that's not exactly the highest quality, but it's still edible, so I still saved it.

There are some vegetables that are super easy to freeze. Onions and peppers are great (which is why we grow a lot) just chop them up and freeze them. Some things need to be blanched first though. When we first started gardening, we didn't know that. We froze broccoli without blanching it first and it was the nastiest thing ever when we tried to eat it. Blanching is a process of briefly cooking food in boiling water or steam and it de-activates enzymes that can wreak havoc on your food.

Blanching can be a little bit tricky. If you under-blanch, it can speed up the enzymes and be worse than not blanching at all. If you over blanch, you get gross, limp vegetables with more vitamins than necessary drained out of them.

Blanching 101:
Fill a large pot with water and set it on the stove over high heat. Fill another pot or a large bowl with cold water (I add ice cubes several times to keep it cold)
Wash and chop your cauliflower or broccoli into about 1 inch chunks

Put the veggies into a basket that you can easily submerge into the water. You want to work with fairly small batches. I did about one pound at a time.
Once your water is at a rolling boil, you put the basket into the boiling water. Keep the heat high and it should come back to a full rolling boil pretty quickly. When the water is boiling again, you start your timer. Different vegetables need to be blanched for different amounts of time. For broccoli and cauliflower, the blanching time is 3 minutes.

At the end of the blanching time, lift the whole basket and put it in the cold water. Your water should be cold enough and your batches small enough that the veggies are completely cool within the amount of time it took them to blanch. So for our broccoli and cauliflower that blanch 3 minutes, they should be cooled off in 3 minutes or less. If it's taking longer than that, you need to add some ice to the water and/or work with smaller batches. This cooling step is what stops the cooking process, so it's important to get it right.

You want to drain the veggies as well as possible so they aren't encrusted in ice when you freeze them. I do this by spread several flour sack cloth towels on the table and spreading the vegetables on them while I work on subsequent batches. I've found this works a lot better than just letting them drip dry in a strainer.
After the veggies drain for a while, I also gently pat them with another towel to get as much water off as possible. Then I spread them on a foil lined cookie sheet and put them in the freezer for an hour or two before I bag them up so that they don't all stick together and it's easier for me to use half a bag if I want to.

Once my broccoli and cauliflower was taken care of, I headed back out to the garden and realized I had several heads of cabbage that also needed to be harvested

They've also had trouble forming correctly because of the warm weather and I felt like leaving them out for another week of warm weather was asking for trouble. I harvested one head and made coleslaw. I wasn't quite sure how to save the others, but I checked in with the National Center for Home Food Preservation and it turns out you can blanch and freeze cabbage as well. I followed the exact same steps with that except that it only needs to blanch for 1.5 minutes. I'm not sure how it will hold up after freezing, but I plan to use it to make fried cabbage, so I figure that should work out okay.

Check in on my fall garden wrap up post to see how well and not so well the rest of the plants did!

More Macro Fun

While we were working in the garden this weekend, I took a break to get more practice with my new lens. These were my favorite shots.

One of these days all the snipets of information about ISO and light metering and white balance will mesh in my mind. Today is not that day, but I still like some of the pictures I'm capturing in the meantime!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

My Patience Has Left The Building

This post has been building for a while. Had I written it several weeks ago, it might have been a "oh, those silly pet peeves" funny kind of thing. Now it's really grating on me though.

I have lost my patience for people who think their world is crashing down. The sympathy and sometimes empathy I could muster up for these people has completely left the building.

There are two main factors here. The first is that my baby will not eat a normal diet. She's the third kid, I'm not an inexperienced parent and there are medical professionals involved. This isn't picky eating, and it means she is up at least every 2 hours all night long to get sufficient calories in. I don't feel like going into details and explanations, so suffice it to say she's up all night long. She's been up all night long her whole life. Again, 3rd baby, this is not just a "we're too stupid to get the baby to sleep and eat" thing. The point here is that while I am eternally grateful for her health and how easy we have it, the sleep deprivation has hit mind numbing levels. Literally. My brain wants 9 hours of sleep a night and it hasn't had it in a very very long time. So I just don't have the mental fortitude to deal with a whole lot of absurdity right now.

The second, and much more important, factor is that my best friend's 3 year old son died seven weeks ago. He's gone. She would give anything to listen to another tantrum, to clean up a mess he made, to stress over getting two kids to their various activities, to be sleep deprived because he needed her rather than because she misses him.

I recognize that I can only control myself. I own that my frustration is my problem. I flailed around for a little while wondering WHY this frustration was building and I've settled on these two factors. The sleep deprivation primed me for the frustration, but losing Max was a turning point in my tolerance level. Unfortunately, I can't really do anything about either factor, so I'm left with venting for the time being.

I just don't have it in me right now to deal with anyone else's utter lack of perspective. There is so much hand wringing and made up drama as if the world is crashing down when it's not. That's it. I'm tired of hearing about mundane BS accompanied by much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I expect it from my 4 and 7 year old, not from adults.

We get up with our kids, we solve many small catastrophes, we clean up messes, we take them places, we fix their boo-boos, we put them to bed and hope they stay there. Sometimes they get sick or hurt or fight with their siblings. These are not problems. They're life.

Many of us live a charmed existence with a roof over our heads, food to feed our children, clothes to cover them with, the means to educate them. It's somehow become a big problem to not have a smart phone or DVR or new car or the money to eat out at restaurants. The lack of these things is not a problem. It's (still very fortunate) life.

If someone says the wrong thing to you or doesn't say the right thing to you it is not a sign that the world is out to get you and you have been abused beyond all measure. It's life.

It's all life. Everyone has one and A LOT of people have been dealt an incredibly rough hand. It demeans and marginalizes those people to fixate on perceived problems that are really just part of life. I don't think the people doing this are malicious, but they are so focused on themselves that I do wonder if they've taken the time to look up, look around, and take stock of what other people are going through. To gain just a little bit of perspective.

Again, I realize that the insane level of frustration I'm feeling over this is MY problem. I wish I could be more understanding. I probably spend more time than I should trying to understand where someone is coming from so that I can appreciate what they're saying even if I don't agree with it. I have no patience for this right now though. I have several people around me who have very difficult life situations to deal with and they do it with grace and with very little complaint. Seeing these situations has made me appreciate how easy, how good, my life is and I just don't have it in me to watch them and all they handle and then turn around and listen to the fabricated hardship of people who have been blessed beyond all belief. I don't understand their lack of appreciation.

My patience has officially left the building.

On A Roll

After a very long wait that nearly did her in at times...
...Sierra finally fits into my first pair of roller skates. She's got a few new bruises, but she couldn't be happier.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Winter Gardening

We're in hardiness zone 8b and that means it's already time to be planting in the garden again.

We are still growing and steadily harvesting some of the things I planted last September: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and brussels sprouts.

But some of the garden beds were empty and we've found new things to fill them with. 24 strawberry plants, 350 onion starts and five 15 foot rows of carrots. The potato patch will need to be tilled soon so the 10 pounds of seed potatoes (red lasoda grow best for us, we've had horrible luck with white kennebecs) we bought can go in the ground.

The girls also decided they needed their own garden, and took it upon themselves to dig up a square of ground out in the yard and scavenge some boards to line it with. We finally helped them out with a frame and digging up some soil from the back of our property to make it into a little raised bed. They've planted some onions and carrots which they say they're going to trade us for strawberries. Because vegetables are soooooo not cool. Fruit is where it's at. They're wily like that.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reading, With Flair

This was supposed to be a short and sweet post with a couple of early reading activities. But when I put the pictures on my computer, I just couldn't decide on one or two to use. They all capture Sedona's personality so well.

She recently finished the first set of BOB books* (we had a celebration...daddy brought home two balloons and we made chocolate chip cookies) and she's doing really well. So now it's time for her to start working on sight words. These are the words that can't really be deciphered with regular phonics and just need to be recognized on sight. She comes across them in the books she's reading, and I also recently picked up the kindle edition of Reading Power*, which is a book of sight words that's free on Amazon right now.

I started out with just 4 words she has been seeing recently. I wrote them in chalk on the driveway, then I would call out a word and she had to go stand on the word
I never knew there were so many ways to get from point A to point B
But she certainly had a great time
and hopefully the movement helped the words stick for my little kinesthetic learner.

After doing this for a while, I took a turn. I would stand on a word and she called out what word it was. She thought that was pretty funny too. Especially since I was holding Secora, who would giggle every time I jumped to a new word.

The key to this would be to not make it too permanent. You need to be able to add and take away words and switch up the location of the words so they recognize what the word looks like and not just where it is.

While we were enjoying the weather, I decided to also work on some listening and early spelling skills. I wrote the vowels on the driveway, then called out a simple CVC word such as "cat" or "cup" or "hot" and she had to stand on the vowel sound she heard.
She liked that one too and Sierra enjoyed coming up with words for her
There are times reading requires sitting down and just reading, but if you've got a wiggleworm on your hands, don't be afraid to get up and move!

*Affiliate Links

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Garden Successes and Fails

I planted the fall garden back in September and have had some success and some failure. Learned a few things not to do in the future.

For instance, do not orient the peas' climbing lattice so that it catches the wind. I don't know why I didn't think of this because it's very noticeable that wind frequently blows very hard in that direction, but I thought nothing of building what was basically an unstable 6 foot tall wall. It didn't hold up very well, as you can see:
Other problems with the peas revolved around the weather. In the past, we've planted peas in the winter for harvest in the spring. This was the first time I really tried to grow them in the fall. I learned that peas are only cold tolerant if they're used to growing in the cold. If they start in warm weather, any peas on the vine die as soon as a frost hits. Sedona rescued a few peas (she likes to eat them straight off the vine), but for the most part, peas would form, then die with a frost. New peas would form, and again, die with the frost. It was a frustrating cycle.

Also weather related, I think, is some sort of fungal problem. Eventually, the plants stopped forming peas at all and the peas that were on the vine and the vine themselves didn't look healthy. I think this is some form of powdery mildew because that is a big problem here in the fall, but I'm not sure. The leaves looked like powdery mildew and the pea pods were big, but the peas inside were teeny tiny and there was fungus inside the pod.

You don't want to leave powdery mildew in the garden, so we pulled up all the vines and threw them in the trash can.

Another problem spot has been the cabbage. It hasn't formed tight heads like it should. That could be because of two reasons. First, cabbage needs a steady water supply to form up well and mine have been a bit neglected lately. Second, cabbage needs somewhat steady temperatures to form up. The bouts of warm weather we're having make the plants more prone to opening up. I'm salvaging the situation the best I can with more water and they're edible, just not "prize at the county fair" worthy.

Other things have done really well. Namely, the broccoli and cauliflower. The broccoli has been very successful, producing about 2 pounds each week. The cauliflower is growing and producing well too, but since I started with fewer plants, there's a little less to harvest. The brussels sprouts are holding out and looking good. They're being slow-pokes, but they still look healthy and on the right track.

What can I say? You win some, you lose some. Experience is the best teacher and we've definitely gotten better at getting reasonable yields as time goes on. I dare say we're finally at a point where the garden consistently saves us money whereas in the past we never knew if we'd get enough out of it to justify the cost or not!

We were back out there preparing for spring planting and getting some cold tolerant plants in the ground last weekend, I'll share more later this week!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

When You Shouldn't Homeschool

Yesterday, I read an article on The Pioneer Woman written by Heather Sanders about 3 reasons NOT to homeschool. I've really enjoyed Ms. Sanders' writing in general because her children are older than mine and she often writes things I find really helpful. She also happens to live near us, so sometimes I can pick up helpful field trip and travel tips.

This article in particular really hit home with me though. She states that you should not homeschool if your spouse is not in agreement, if your kid doesn't want to do it or just because all your friends are doing it. Obviously, she expounds on each point and I found myself nodding my head and mumbling "uh huh!" all the way through.

Like Ms. Sanders, I do not think homeschooling is best for every family or even every child within a single family. I'll preface what I have to say by clarifying up front that I am not a fan of "radical unschooling". Education can be highly individualized and an older child can have a lot of say in what they study and how they study it, but I feel like it closes off pathways to certain opportunities when unschooling is taken to the extreme, especially with young children.

In addition to Ms. Sanders' original three points, I would like to add a few of my own

If you're not willing to put in the time

I spend a lot of time homeschooling. At this stage (with a 2nd grader, a pre-schooler and an infant), each child has limited "seat work", but they need my one on one attention quite a bit. I spend about 3 hours each day actively sitting with one child or another and teaching a lesson, helping with a worksheet or directing an activity. There is another 30 minutes or so of grading worksheets, filing away things I feel I need to keep and updating records. On the weekends, I spend another 2 to 3 hours organizing the coming weeks' lessons so I can "grab and go". It's not an unreasonable amount of time at all, but it is time that needs to be set aside in addition to the regular stay-at-home-mom duties of making lunches, changing diapers, taking trips to the library, running errands and cleaning up. Aside from the daily time, there is time spent looking through books and resources to decide the next year's curriculum and sometimes creating worksheets and tests when I haven't been able to find ones I like. Last week I spent an hour writing a music theory test for Sierra that took her 10 minutes to complete.

If you think it's all sunshine and rainbows

There are many different reasons people choose to homeschool. A lot of them seem to have some reason public or private school would not work for their child. Chances are, that same reason will cause you at least a little bit of grief at home too. Simply bringing the child home doesn't magically erase whatever the issue is. You may very well be better equipped to handle the issue at home, but you will still have to handle it. Also? Can I tell you a secret? Teaching, even your own kids, isn't always rewarding. As much as I love to read, I absolutely hate teaching kids to read. It takes every ounce of patience I have to sit through a small child sounding out every single letter and then stringing a word together. It's only slightly more bearable when they have their phonics down, but you still have to spend hours listening to them read aloud while they work on their fluency (using the right inflection based on the punctuation and context). I can't stand it. But I do it every day. And I have to muster the patience to do it with a happy face. Maybe you don't like math, or science, or history. There will be something you'll have to stare down for a considerable amount of time for the sake of giving your kid a good foundation. The moments when it "clicks", when your child proclaims you a great teacher, when your child delves further into a subject of their own volition and you have the time to let them, those are great moments. But make no mistake, there are also moments when you find yourself yelling, "just go outside and play!" and wishing for 5 o'clock so you can hand them all over to someone else and escape for a while.

If you can't grow a thick skin

People talk about you when you homeschool. Usually behind your back, not that that keeps the gossip from getting back to you. Other people talk about "those people" before they realize that one of "those people" is in their midst. There are a lot of assumptions made about homeschoolers: what their beliefs are, why they homeschool, what they teach, how they teach, how their children interact (or don't) with others. I'm still working on my thick skin and find that I often want to defend our choice and my ability as a teacher, which can really eat you up if you aren't careful and that insecurity and stress will be taken out on your children. There are a fair number of homeschoolers that will judge you as well. Some believe they have found the answer as to how to properly educate every child. Which is, of course, patently absurd. See that? Me, homeschooler, being judge-y. It comes up, just like in any other group. Homeschoolers have their disagreements over the right and wrong way to do things and while there are plenty of kind, genuine people who will answer questions and share experiences without passing judgment, there are also those that ridicule and vehemently disagree. It's part of life, but it gets a little daunting on those days it seems to be coming from all directions.

I get a little nervous when one of my friends wants to ask me about homeschooling. It has been great for us so far, but I feel a burden to share with them what it realistically entails and I always worry a bit about how clearly I make my point. How your children will be educated is not a decision you should make lightly. It's a decision that needs be thought over and re-evaluated regularly for the family as a whole as well as for each individual child. I think that's true whether you choose public, private or homeschool.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Harvest Log

I've added a button on the left side of the gardening page to show how many pounds of food we have harvested from the garden this year. I wanted to also have a list of how many pounds of each thing we get, but it looks like I need to come up with a more clear way to do that.

We are off and running on our goal of harvesting 150 pounds in 2012 though. We've got a whopping 3.25 pounds so far! Here's the cauliflower and broccoli we stir fried with some sweet asian chicken I made from the Fix, Freeze, Feast* cookbook earlier this week. I'll keep updating the harvest totals button as we go through spring and summer, I'm (not so) secretly hoping we blow right past our goal!

*Affiliate Link

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Year, New Space

Have you noticed things have changed around here? It doesn't look like much, but for someone with extremely limited website design experience, it took many hours of staring at lines of code I barely understood and a lot of trial and error to get it looking the way I want it to.

Let's take a quick tour.

My most recent post will still show up on the home page, you just need to scroll down a bit to find it when you come visit.

If you follow along here because you're interested in a certain topic, you can easily keep track by clicking those tabs at the top of the page. So those of you that are interested in homeschooling, but don't really care about gardening don't have to wade through everything to find what's interesting to you. All of the topics are pretty self explanatory. "Life" is whatever doesn't fit in any of the other categories.

Eventually I will finish prettying up the place and will also add a list on the home page linking to the latest post in each topic so it's easy to see where there is new material without clicking through everything.

You can also "like" my FaceBook page, where I update whenever there's a new post.

The links to my 101 in 1001 list and disclosure statement has moved over there on the left hand side. The "About Me" button is coming back, just as soon as I make a new button to match the others. The travel map will only show up on the first page of the travel posts now. Hopefully that will help some of you out, as I recently discovered the map was making browsing from some mobile devices a pain.

Aside from organizing everything, I'm also hoping this new layout helps me post more often in each topic. It will be easier for me to see if I've gone a long time without a post in a certain group and I'll be more driven to add to the topic.

Hope you like it! If you find any broken links or buttons that don't work, let me know!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Bugs Bugs Bugs!!

I'm not sure why, but I've never been very interested in photographing people (aside from family members for memory's sake). Bugs though, I find good macro pics of bugs absolutely fascinating. It's almost like outer space, but right here under our noses. There is this entire world we walk by every day and never take the time to notice. A quality macro photograph of a bug shows so much detail that most people never even think about. These pictures are what always got me interested in biology text books, and I was the nerd that stayed up late reading extra chapters because I thought the biology book was a real page turner (I wish I was joking). I hope to one day have the skill to take these pictures myself.

I'm not there yet. Not even close. But I'm taking the first few steps since Josh gifted me with a 50mm macro lens for Christmas. I've been reading up on how to take macro pics (and making a wish list of more gear I'd like to have when I save up the money), and playing around in the garden.

Just thought I's share some pictures I snapped the other day. They aren't very technically advanced, but they're still pretty neat to me!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Feast of the Epiphany

Each year, I do a little post about the Feast of the Epiphany and king cake. I've never actually done a tutorial on how to make the king cake though!

I'm more than a little late, I should've done this yesterday so you'd have more time to make your own king cake. Honestly, I totally forgot today was January 6 until Sierra excitedly told me "It's that day, with the cake!" at 8 o'clock this morning. That child made herself a calendar last year and she uses it to keep me accountable. But no worries, king cake is just as tasty on January 7.

On with the tutorial!

King Cake
read here for more on the history of king cake
1 c milk
1/4c butter
1 tbsp yeast
2/3 c warm water
1/2 c sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
5 1/2 c flour

1 c brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 c flour
1/2 c raisins
1/2 c melted butter

1 c powdered sugar
1 1/2 tbsp water

1. Warm milk (I do 2 minutes in the microwave), then add butter and stir until butter melts. Let cool.
2. Mix warm water and 1 tbsp of sugar in large bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top. 3. When yeast is foamy and milk is cool, add milk to yeast mixture 4. Whisk in eggs, salt and nutmeg. A few years ago, my brother-in-law gifted me fresh nutmeg and a grater. Once you've used fresh nutmeg, you can't go back to the jarred kind. This is what nutmeg looks like (they sell it in the bulk/health food section of our store, costs about 15 cents for one). Once grated, the inside has this neat pattern. You grate it on that weird, outward facing prong side of the grater 5. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Once all flour is incorporated, knead dough (I do this in the stand mixer) for about 10 minutes. You can add up to another 1/2 c of flour if you need to.

At the end, the dough in my mixer looks like this But it's not really sticky at all Gather it up And put it in a lightly oiled bowl to rise for about 2 hours (cover the bowl with saran wrap so it doesn't dry out)Once dough has risen make up filling:

Mix brown sugar, flour, raisins and cinnamon Pour melted butter in and mix until crumbly On plain or very lightly floured surface, roll dough into a large rectangle (you can do one giant one...mine's about 24x10"...or two smaller ones) Sprinkle the filling on top And roll the dough up. Sometimes I stretch out the roll a bit here. Form the roll into a ring shape on a lightly greased (I use non-stick cooking spray) cookie sheet. I do more stretching here and also pat it down a little flatter Use a serrated knife to cut several gashes in the cake Turn on oven to 375 degrees. Once oven is pre-heated, bake the king cake for 25-30 minutes Mine came out all poofy again this year. I'm not exactly sure why, I used to get flatter cakes. They taste good though! While cake is still warm, mix powdered sugar and water and drizzle over cake Traditionally, you should sprinkle green, purple and gold colored sugar on top, but I was having a cranky day and didn't get around to it this time!

Enjoy and laissez les bons temps rouler!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Some of our Favorites

Thought I'd share a few of our favorite Christmas presents

The girls were gifted this wonderful tipi by their aunt and uncle. They love it and spend a lot of time in there. I think it will probably move outside when the weather's warmer so we can make it as big as it can be, but I'm thinking I need to spray some sort of protectant on it before I do that?
When they're not in their tipi, they're in the house I made them. I was able to utilize scrap fabric I had hanging around for the sides and then I bought cheap tablecloth material for the top so it can just stay on there for the most part. One thing I didn't plan for was how much Secora would like it and that she's the perfect height to hit her head on the table as she walks in. I found an old pool noodle and made a cut along to the side so it would fit onto the piece of wood that's right by the door

I also made each of the big girls a set of these headbands. I originally saw the idea on pinterest and just played around with ribbon until I figured it out. They wear them all the time, which is nice because normally they won't wear their hair up, so it tends to look pretty unruly.

I got some pretty good gifts too. Namely, a new mixer that's 2 steps up from my old mixer

In the past, I had tried to double my cinnamon roll recipe and my mixer was totally NOT up to the task. I even wrote a note on the recipe "do not double". Check it out, my new mixer with a double recipe:

I also got a 50mm macro lens for the camera that I'm still learning how to use, but I can't wait to stalk some bugs in the spring!

And I haven't taken a picture yet, but I also got can storage racks that I'd seen on a food storage site and have been coveting. They're even better than I expected! I'll write more about them when I successfully complete my "build up 4 months of food storage" goal.

Josh wasn't left out, he got a coffee maker for his office at work (this is the first time he's had his own office he doesn't have to share with anyone!) and a rifle (and various related supplies) he's planning to use to supply us with some our meat.

We were definitely spoiled with gifts this year! It was also a great holiday: Josh's job snafu had been worked out and he's liking the new co-workers, we were able to have family over before Christmas and we were invited to a friend's house for Christmas dinner. We sure enjoyed ourselves!


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