Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Milk Musings

For the majority of Tristan's life (3 1/2 years now - just to give you a time frame) we've drank raw milk. When that is unavailable, we get the next best thing: milk from the local diary "Homestead Creamery." We get it delivered, making it a little fresher than what is in the stores, and we always get the Whole Creamline milk - meaning it is pasteurized but not homogenized.

Shannon as of lately has decided that he doesn't like "cream milk." Sometimes you'll get a chunk, for lack of better or more descriptive adjectives, of cream in the milk that just won't seem to blend in well. The longer you let un-homogenized milk sit, the more the cream and milk separate. If Shannon even thinks he sees cream an alarm system goes off and we all seek immediate, underground shelter. .......
No, not really. But anyone who's dealt with children's sudden absolutes about food knows the ensuing havoc caused by not adhering to their eating mandates, whether the fault was real or perceived. Tristan it is black beans, broccoli, ranch dressing and onions; Shannon it is cream. Heaven forbid there be good-for-you cream in that there milk!

Tristan, is another matter, as siblings usually are. It was with great amusement this morning that I heard him exclaim that there was cream in his milk. And there was. I had noticed a big glob of it go into his glass last night (don't worry, the glass was in the fridge overnight!! geez - you worry-warts, you!!). I told him it was good for him and to drink it.
Then I heard him announce that he was eating it. OK. He is drinking out of a tall, child-sized, Tervis Tumbler. A tall, narrow plastic cup basically. First I start hearing the noises. For those of you who know me, you know I can't stand "mouth noises." Tristan was reaching his little hands way down into the cup, scraping up some cream on his fingers and eating it. Like the determination to get the last little bit of ice cream or milkshake out of a cup. Relishing in the deliciousness of it. I handled it for a minute or so before I couldn't take it anymore.
I told him to drink it, and was informed that it wouldn't come out! So ... I went and got a long teaspoon and scooped the rest out and let him have at the spoon. I then began cleaning out the cup.

For those of you who've never had raw or creamline milk, clean-up is a little different. The milk clings to glasses and cups, the cream even more so. Warm-to-hot water is a requirement to get it off, as is a little rubbing with a sponge.

While I was cleaning his cup, Tristan announced he wanted water. I told him he could have milk. Then I told him that he could have milk with his lunch.
I'll end this with his reply, his way of saying he wanted the milk right then and there, not later.

"I want milk without my lunch!"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2 1/2 Years of Blogging ...

~The Blue Nymph, and it's current inhabitants, braving the snow and cold this winter with a smile~

I started blogging here on July 20, 2007. It's now almost 2 1/2 years later. When I started this blog it was with the intention to try and document our journey. And this morning I find myself feeling a little reflective. Perhaps it is the biting cold outside, though I must admit today is warmer than yesterday and that I like the cold anyways.
We call our home "The Blue Nymph." It was built in 1890 and has it's own definite and unique personality - we decided it needed a name, so we named it.
In the two years plus that I have been blogging, the house has seen some changes. We've added a fence out front, as well as a proper picket fence around the main garden in the back yard. We've added a brick patio at the base of the deck, a small outdoor pond, rain barrels, more garden beds, more trees, and of course the chickens. We've made changes indoors as well, the most major was the addition of lots of insulation and a new boiler heater.
The house still likes to fight back though. The big bathroom seems to refuse to warm up this winter, as does the sunroom. The latter seems to show the house's true sense of humor and irony.
We're currently waiting on a contractor (nothing new there I suppose) to come look at what we fear is a leak around a chimney. It's a completely internal chimney, not attached to any outside walls, and since we haven't had a leak there before (not since we've been here anyway), we're assuming the recent snow and ice is to blame. We shall see. We are anxious though. This will prove interesting.
But that is part of the journey. Part of owning a home. Part of having an older home especially.

When I started this blog, Shannon was 3 1/2 and Tristan was not yet 1. Now Shannon will be 6 in a week and Tristan is 3 1/2. We've officially begun our homeschooling journey.
Right now we're unschoolers. Most days it feels as if we're "no-schoolers" as it can be hard to readily identify knowledge being learned. But we, they, are learning everyday. Right now I would be completely lying if I didn't fess up to the fact that they're NOT learning that Mommy is getting ready to whip their butts if they don't quit fighting.

............ I typed the above an hour and a half ago and with one massive blow-up/meltdown (a Mommy thing) from me later, and the kids have been fed lunch and are now down for naps. I've eaten my lunch and read my comics. So let's try this again. I thought about deleting the above, but for now, I'll leave it in.

In the last 2 1/2 years here are some of the things that've occurred:
*We made both small and gigantic steps in urban homesteading. It is a new world in front of us. Not everything was a success, there have been many failures, but we've learned from every bit of it & are eager for the future.
*We've realized that while you can work with all your might to weave a closer-knit community, you can't please everyone. Some people will down-right hate you, for no good reason. My personal line here is that if you're going to hate me over flowers, then go ahead because I just can't reason with you.
*We've had to tell our children that people aren't always nice and that the world isn't always friendly. Even typing that brings tears to my eyes, a child's innocence should never have to be shattered.
*We've realized that the world has changed, and our street, in it's mere design, is not a neighborhood. But that having a close-knit community doesn't require that we all live within a block or two of each other, and that the web is a wonderful tool in developing a good community.
*We've learned we very easily can produce a significant amount of food on this land, and that we haven't even hit the tip of the iceberg yet. And it feels really good.
*We've stood our ground, known our rights, and felt how strong we can be and are.

Some things we've learned:
*I've learned I cuss, a lot. That wasn't anything terribly new, but I'm more aware of it now. As much as I adore house-dresses of the 40's, I am not a delicate housewife. I am one tough mother, and that isn't always a bad thing.
*That just because you want a blueberry bush to grow "here" doesn't mean that it will. It might grow if you move it 5' to the left though, even if that isn't where you wanted a blueberry bush.
*That keeping the heat turned down low has to have it's limits. We killed a guinea pig (we think) this way. The house is now set at 66 degrees. Some rooms feel warm, some feel cold, and that can sometimes depend on the time of day or not.
*The importance of truly dressing for the seasons. Why Southerners move slowly - in the Summer it is hot, not running about keeps you cooler. On that note, we've learned that everyone crammed into the dining room for cake & ice cream in the middle of August is a guarantee for an instant sauna.
*That even though you're not "in school" you're still learning. Sitting in an English class isn't the only way to learn English.
*That each kid really does have their own time-table for learning.
*That child-led learning still requires guidance from parents and that, like most things, isn't as smooth or as easy a process as we may have hoped.
*Being broke inspires creativity. Actually, it doesn't inspire it so much as it requires and demands it, but saying it inspires it makes me feel like I have a choice in the matter.
*That we do things as a family. "Everyone helps" is our motto.
*That you CAN make most things you need, and you will save a lot of money.
*That you have to unlearn things if you do that one above. Our laundry isn't scented, and I will admit that, at times, I miss the scent of fabric softeners, even though I know how gross the commercial ones are and won't use them.
*Vinegar + Water = a very efficient multi-cleaning spray. The smell of vinegar goes away quickly. Use old cloths for wiping, and silently curse fuzzies from those cloths - wiping till all is dry and they too fall away.

It's both difficult and amazingly easy to live on an urban homestead. The things we do and grow we had to learn how to do. The saying that a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step is true.
For me the hard part is remembering that we live in town, in the heart of our little city, and how to handle that. That, as much as I may want a cow or goats or sheep, I can not have them. The houses are close together around here, and I don't think there is one that can't see into our windows at some point of the day. It's a constant scrutiny, something that comes as part of the deal when you live in a small town or city. Being different makes you stand out, for the good and for the worse. You can't just decide you're going to live a certain way, as much as I try to. It isn't the late 1800's, I don't have 500 acres, I can't send the boys out to chop down firewood.

And, most importantly, given how long it has taken me to write this post is that I'm constantly reminded that things don't always work or flow the way I/we want them to. I woke up feeling reflective and ready to write. But I hadn't checked email since noon yesterday, so there was a lot of work there. And then there were dirty bathroom mirrors and surfaces needing cleaning. And laundry needing folding. And phones that rang and little boys that needed time-outs.
So I've learned to take my moments of Zen when and where I can get them. Hanging laundry outside, something I must fess to not nearly doing often enough; the sips of warm tea and the feel of the warmth from the mug in my hands; quiet dogs lying under foot; kids who still like to cuddle in bed with you and watch cartoons; the warmth of my husband beside me, and the way the scent of him lingers on his pillow after he's gotten up in the morning.
That is where our last 2 1/2 years have gone. We look forward to where the next 2 1/2 years will take us.
We're grateful for those who read this blog and enjoy it, even more grateful for those who leave comments and let us know you're out there. You're part of our community, part of our lives, and part of this journey, and we thank you for it all. Namaste.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

3 Year Old Wisdom

Some wisdom & insight this morning from Tristan:

~ I tell him he need to go poop on the potty, and he replies "No, I go poop IN the potty"
~ I tell him the toilet paper comes from recycled products, he tells me "No, it comes from the closet" (where we keep our toilet paper)

~ His idea of a phone conversation? "Mommy's fixing us cereal, we're going to Grandpa's, bye I love you, bye I love you." - Short, simple, to the point. Said within 5 seconds by the way.

*This one I've added on from this afternoon:
~I was cleaning out their ears with cotton swabs. Tristan's are notoriously the worst, though luckily not infected. It is something that the boys make a big production over, though it seems to tickled them more than anything. I got Shannon first. Tristan, giggling, ran out of the room. When he came back he announced "I don't have ears anymore!" --- he had run into his bedroom and gotten out his knit Hokie beanie/hat. He was quite proud of himself. (Even if it didn't keep his ears from getting cleaned)

*And this one is from a recent shopping trip to the Co-Op in Roanoke:
~I was looking for some organic cocoa powder (once you switch, there is no going back!), and spotted some organic, live cocoa powder for a good deal. Instead of the usual cannister however, this cocoa was in a bag. When I put it in the cart Tristan announced "Look! A bag of dirt!!" No amount of reasoning could convince him it was anything else.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Eve & the 2009 Tally Wrap-up

We hope you all had a safe, warm, and wonderful New Year's Eve yesterday. With the exception of me tripping, falling, & nearly impaling myself on camping chairs last night, we did too. We took the boys downtown for the Science Museum's Bouncy Ball Drop at noon, quite an interesting event. Here is a link for a quick video: We also grabbed lunch at Roanoke's famous Texas Tavern, and then visited the Market Building for a treat afterwards. Nice family fun, even if it was rainy and slushy out.

But a really big thing for us this year is the grand Harvest Tallies, along with our 2009 Egg Tally. Keeping tallies has really put things in perspective for us. We realize we could've gone into much greater mathematical tallying, but we didn't. And it is still pretty groovy. Here is a recap from what I posted in November:

Here are the Tallies:
*Tomatoes - 187lbs 12.1oz - prices really varied here, so we picked a mid-way price of $2.82 a pound pound = $529.46
*Bell Peppers - 7lbs 11.4oz - these are priced by quantity, not weight, we had 34, and again prices varied, so we went mid-way @ $2ea. = $68
*"Hungarian Sweet" Banana Peppers - 8lbs 6.4oz - @ $3.29 a pound, non-organic = $27.31
*"Anaheim" Peppers - 11lbs 8oz - @ $2.99 a pound, non-organic = $34.39
*"Charleston Grey" Watermelons - 21lbs 5.6oz (this was only 3 melons, and one was pretty darn small!) - @ $3.99 each (this price is from the Co-Op) = $11.97
*Cherries - 3lbs 8oz - @ $5.99 a pound, non-organic = $22.76
*Beans - 13lbs 8oz - these are a blend of the following: Mitla, Boston Favorite, Charlevioux, Hidatsa, and Roma II - again, a mid-way price of $2.50 a pound = $33.75
*Zucchini - 8lbs 5oz - @ $1.79 a pound, organic from Kroger = $14.86
*Oregano - 3lbs 4oz - ok, this is cool .. a 1/2oz jar of organic oregano from Kroger is $3.99 - at that rate, it's $127.68 a POUND = $434.11 .. AND, we could've harvested TRIPLE that amount, EASILY!!!!!

These are the things we remembered to check price on. So .. you wanna know how much total it would've cost to buy all of this stuff???
$1632.75 ... WOW!!!!!!!
Ooh, but let's not forget costs to grow this all. Ok, well we didn't pay for seeds this year because we saved seeds in previous years and took advantage of the Earth Day Seed Swap. We paid $30 for a bale of hay. We paid roughly $49 for some new canning jars. We did buy some plants. So, let's round the total spent up to $80. Ok, well subtract that from the above total. That brings us down to $1552.75.
~ Since I posted this in November we've harvested over 15 lbs more vegetables: mainly potatoes and Jerusalem Artichokes. I can't find the Jerusalem Artichokes around here but here is the tally for the potatoes:
*8lbs of organic potatoes (mixed varieties) - a 3lb. bag of organic russet potatoes @ Kroger can be bought for $2, so let's go with that price. = $5.33.

Now for the 2009 Egg Tally. In 2008 we were happy to have our tally be 72 eggs for the year. This year, our sweet biddies managed to lay 808 MORE eggs, with a grand tally of EIGHT HUNDRED EIGHTY eggs!!!! 880 eggs = 73 dozen eggs. From six little biddies. To buy this at the store would've cost us (@ $3 a dozen) $220. We bought maybe eight bags of feed at roughly $18 a bag, equaling a cost of $144. Let's say we've bought 6 bales of hay for them at $6 a bale = $36. $144 + $36 = $180, so we've still got a good savings of $40 there. I'll add that to the Harvest Tally.

Some more things. From what we've canned so far we've already "saved" well over $100 if not a lot higher than that. So far I've already canned Spaghetti Sauce, Tomato Sauce/Soup, Ketchup, BBQ Relish, and the Strawberry Jam from early Spring (even if we did buy those strawberries from a U-Pick Farm). Not too shabby. This fall we did spend $15 to can lots and lots of apple butter and apple sauce. I'd give us, easily, another $50+ in saving there.
Also, for holidays and general gift giving, we gave away a LOT of homemade/homegrown goodies (and eggs!). I can say at Christmas-time alone, this probably saved us close to $200.

So, let's do some math now, shall we??

*Approximate total 2009 Harvest Tally - 280lbs 4.5 oz
*2009 Egg Tally - 880 eggs

*Approximate Money Saved in 2009 = $1948.08
~ remember, this is with costs spent taken out, and costs saved via gift giving, not having to visit the doc (because of better health from all this goodness), and etc!

The thing that really amazes me the most though is that we don't have a huge garden. We don't devote our lives just to this. This really has taken nothing "out" of our lives, but it has given SO much. We're already planning next year's plantings. Onion and garlic for spring picking have already been planted. I'm working on a medicinal herb garden in my mind.
But this is still small stuff. Imagine if the majority of families started something small on their own too. One plant is still more than no plants.