This is a little bit of a catch-up post since we went earlier this year, but I really wanted to share the adorable pictures and fun story.  We had the opportunity to tag along with some friends on a field trip that was sponsored by the local homeschool group (San Angelo Christian Home School Association – SACHSA) to the The Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center here in San Angelo.

They took us around and introduced us to the sheep they were raising to test out different feed and breeding programs.  They have figured out that different feeding programs can actually affect the number of babies conceived when breeding; and since some breeds are naturally more likely to have multiples, the richer feed encouraged this to happen more often.  One mama actually gave birth to twins during our tour!  We walked by and she was cleaning a newborn baby, and when we came back around she was nursing that one and cleaning another ♥

And here’s another gratuitous picture of adorable baby sheep, just because.

And later on in the tour the kids got to hold and pet some lambs that were a little older.

I don’t know how much the kids really absorbed about the programs and studies Agrilife was working on, but we all had fun seeing and interacting with the animals!  :o)

First of all, I’d like to apologize to my devoted readers for disappearing for a few months.  ;o)  We are doing well, and most definitely staying busy.  We found out that we are expecting baby #3, and he or she should be joining us around mid-October!  I’m about 20 weeks along right now and am very happy that my appetite and energy level are returning to more “normal” levels, hopefully it stays that way for the next 20 weeks.  :o)  Here’s a picture of our little one (we’re calling him or her Baby C, since we have an A and a B it seemed like the most logical choice!)

We’re going to wait until the birthday to find out if it’s a baby boy or baby girl, so we’ll have to have a fun guessing game for that as the date approaches.  I think the profile picture looks a little different that the other two kiddos, so I’m wondering if we’re going to have a little dark haired mini-daddy on our hands this time!

In other things; school is going well, we did have to take a little break at the beginning of the pregnancy when I wasn’t feeling well but we’re back on track now and plan on working through the summer so we can take our break to welcome the new baby this fall.  I do have some fun things to post about as I get caught up on the past few months, we took a field trip to the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center as well as discovered a few exciting new ways to learn and use what we’re learning.

Our greenhouse is complete, but the weather around here has been much hotter than normal (we hit 110° –which is just 1° shy of the all-time high for our city– a couple of weeks ago!) so unfortunately it’s too hot to grow anything in there even with a shade cover and the windows opened up.  :o(  We do have quite a few things battling the heat and doing relatively well out at the community garden, including tomatoes, sweet and bell peppers, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, scallions, onions, carrots, green beans, and a watermelon vine!

The kids are growing like weeds, and doing great.  Adelyn knows all of her ABC’s and numbers, can count to eleven, and recognizes all of the basic shapes!  We’re working on potty training and making a little progress here and there, hopefully we can get that figured out before the baby comes.  Brody is devouring chapter books as fast as he can get his hands on them, he just finished up the Chronicles of Narnia series and is starting on Harry Potter, as well as making great strides in math (which has been a little bit of a struggle for him so far), and even graduated up to the top bunk!  We’re all healthy, happy, and making the most of the summer so far.  :oD  I’m glad to be back online and can’t wait to share more of our adventures with y’all.

Last year AJ got us a little pop-up greenhouse tent from a co-worker and we were able to grow some tomatoes, bell peppers, and green beans!  Unfortunately, the wind took it’s toll on the greenhouse and the grasshoppers had a good time feasting on every inch of green that was in there.  :o(  So this year, we’re upgrading!  After looking around at kits, pre-builts, and plans that are available, we decided to go ahead and build our own out of PVC pipe.  It’s going to be 9’x12′ with 6′ walls and 8′ to the peak and covered with a heavy duty clear tarp (which will hopefully withstand the elements out here!).  Plus, the design can be easily expanded to make it longer (by adding more center ‘rib’ sections) so if we outgrow the space, we have that option.

AJ had to work this weekend, but the kids and I were able to get off to a good start!  We got the entire base cut and assembled (AJ does get credit for helping me glue it though), and the pieces are cut for the dome roof but putting it on is a job for at least two adults so we haven’t gotten that accomplished just yet.

Obviously, we still have a lot of work ahead of us, but it’s so exciting to know that it’ll be ready for spring planting!!  I’m going to use the Square Foot Gardening approach to make the most of our little space, plus some Topsy Turvy strawberry and tomato buckets that I got on 75% off clearance last season.  :o)

A few months ago a sweet lady from church shared a sourdough starter and bread recipe with me…ever since the moment that I baked my first loaf of bread (which wasn’t anywhere near perfect, but it was perfectly edible!) I’ve been testing and tasting recipes, trying to find one that’s just right.  Our go-to bread is a simple honey wheat, it isn’t fussy and doesn’t require a ton of kneading.  I’ve even flubbed the recipe a time or two and the bread still turned out ok!  When I first started digging up bread recipes, everything I read made it seem like bread baking was so difficult and high maintenance.  If you’ve thought about baking  homemade bread before but were intimidated, I hope this recipe will help you see that it doesn’t have to be.  Ok, now for the good part…

Honey Wheat Bread (makes two large 2lb loaves)

Dry Ingredients

  • 5 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (optional, but for recipes with higher wheat content it helps you achieve a softer bread with less kneading)
  • 1 tablespoon instant yeast (or 1 1/2 tablespoons/2 packets active dry yeast)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (or 1 tablespoon table salt)

Wet Ingredients

  • 2 cups warm water (100-110* Fahrenheit)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 c unsalted butter, melted

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl (if using active dry yeast, it must be ‘proofed’ in warm water before being added so save it to add with the wet ingredients).

2. Whisk together wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

  • for active dry yeast, add to separate small bowl with 1/2 cup of the warm water and a pinch of sugar and let sit until foamy (approximately 10 minutes) then mix with wet ingredients

3. Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, add wet ingredients, and stir until mixed.  The exact amount of water needed can vary depending on the flour and the humidity.  You’re looking for a soft supple and slightly sticky dough, if it seems too dry you can add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time.

4. Dump the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes (here’s a demonstration video)

5. Place the dough in a large buttered bowl, spray top of dough with cooking spray, and loosely cover with plastic wrap to rise until doubled (approximately 2 hours).

6. Punch down dough and split into two equal parts.  You can bake both loaves now, refrigerate it in a lidded container for up to five days, or freeze it in an airtight container or freezer bag for up to one month.

7. When you’re ready to bake, knead each portion of the dough separately on a lightly floured surface, and shape into loaves. (and a demonstration video for this step)

8. Place each shaped loaf in a buttered or greased pan, spray the top of the dough with cooking spray, and loosely cover with plastic wrap to rise again (this step is called proofing and should take about 45-60 minutes until the dough fills out and rises in the pan a bit).

9. Bake at 350* F until brown and firm (internal temperature should be anywhere from 180-200* F)

10. Remove from pan(s) and place on a cooling rack.

11. When completely cooled, slice and enjoy!  Or if you’re impatient like us, just wait until it’s cool enough to touch.  ;o)

Notes:

  • You can substitute white wheat flour for some or all of the flour in this recipe, but remember that whole wheat flours have less gluten available so you may need to add vital wheat gluten to help balance that out.  Vital wheat gluten can be found in the baking aisle at most grocery stores, I have been able to find Hodgson Mill brand locally.
  • You can interchange the flour proportions and make your loaf more white or more wheat, just keep in mind that whole wheat flours soak up more water than all-purpose so you may need to adjust the amount of water accordingly.
  • This recipe can also be made in a stand mixer, but you must have a dough hook and it needs to be a heavy duty machine that can handle four pounds of dough (or you could split the recipe in half and make one loaf at a time).

Since we started on our homeschool journey, one of the most common questions I’m asked is “How are you going to find the time for all of that??”.  Realistically I had no earthly idea since I can’t rely on past experience, so I just went with my gut and responded, “We’re just going to have to make time”.

Ironically, that statement has held true!  This past week has been a crazy mess of meetings, AJ starting a new semester, and then topped off with a trip out of town for the weekend…phew.  But through it all, we managed to stay on top of most things (dishes and laundry don’t really count anyway, right??).  It also helps that we’re getting into our groove, it feels like the kids know what’s expected and are ready to participate when it’s ‘school time’.

I’ve figured out a few tricks for keeping Brody’s attention, and involving Adelyn to keep her busy.  Brody likes to have something to fiddle with while he’s listening, at first I thought it would just be distracting but it seems like it keeps his little hands busy so his mind can focus.  Adelyn just likes to be involved…she likes to sit at the table and write when Brody’s writing, or pipe in with random words from our conversation while we’re discussing something (but you have to be sure to acknowledge her by responding!).  My main responsibility is to be prepared.  As long as I take the time to prepare my lesson plans and have our materials ready to go ahead of time, we can transition smoothly from subject to subject and move through things with few disturbances.

On that note, I have to follow my own advice and sign off…as much as I’d like to dream about vegging out on the couch for a while and then going to bed a little early, or maybe getting caught up on the clean laundry that’s overtaking the living room, I’ll be heading to the table to plan our week and familiarize myself with our new math curriculum.  Wish me luck!  ;o)

Treat the earth well,

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

– Native American proverb

This was shared at our 4H meeting this weekend, and it really struck a chord with me.  It sums up the main idea that motivates our family to be conscious about how we live.  We’re not perfect by any stretch of the definition, but we constantly try to improve where we can.  Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in consumerism or old lazy habits and just waste, waste, waste.  Coincidentally, Brody’s science lesson today was about caring for the earth and how we can preserve our resources.  It had a great way of explaining how our environment is damaged by our actions, it sums it up and says that when we do things, sometimes we make messes.  Just like when we cook in the kitchen and it makes a mess, the way we live our lives can make messes in the environment.  So then all we need to do is try to not make such a big mess, and then clean up whatever mess we do make…so simple!

We all know the three R’s of conservation: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle…everyone chant with me now!  ;o)  But some people have expanded it to include a fourth R: Rethink.  Rethink the way you do things, just because it’s always been that way doesn’t mean it’s the best way.  For instance, having a different chemical in the cabinet to clean every different surface in the house isn’t necessary, it’s much safer (and cheaper) to go back to some basic elements that do a great job in many areas.  You can clean just about everything with baking soda and/or white vinegar.  Baking soda is great for scouring (pots & pans, counters, sinks, showers, etc) and vinegar works well for breaking up sticky or greasy messes, as well as disinfecting, and polishing (dishes, windows, counters, etc).  It’s true that vinegar doesn’t smell as fantastic as all of the chemically scented options, but the vinegar smell will disappear when it dries and it doesn’t leave you and your family inhaling dangerous fumes.  Here is a link to test results from a study by the Environmental Working Group that can give you a basic idea of the dangers in some cleaning products.  (The study is based on cleaners commonly used in schools, but many are also used in households as well.)

We can also rethink the way we buy things (used vs. new, new isn’t always necessary!), what we do with things after we’re done (donate, freecycle, compost, recycle, yard sale, etc — everything doesn’t have to go in the trash), how the products we use impact the environment (reusable, multi-purpose, renewable resources, responsible companies, etc).  There are little steps you can take, like printing on both sides of a page and then recycling used papers, using towels or cloth napkins instead of paper, avoiding harsh chemical products (cleaners, air fresheners, antibacterial soaps, etc) and using cloth diapers instead of disposable (there are some nasty chemicals and processes used to manufacture disposable diapers, not to mention how many billions of them go into landfills every year).

In order to reduce the messes our family makes, we’ll be starting a compost pile (will also benefit our garden!), switching to homemade laundry detergent (without phosphates), as well as replacing more household cleaners with natural/lower impact options.  And after lunch, Brody will be turning these bits of old construction paper and comics into paper we can use for other crafts!

We stopped by the garden today to check on things, and I remembered the camera so we snapped a few pictures of our tiny little veggies.  This is our first attempt at a winter garden (and only my second attempt at gardening, period :oO) so it’s definitely been a learning adventure!  I’m just so glad to see little spurts of green beneath the hay (laid that out to protect the sprouts since we got such a late start).  We do have an ‘arctic cold front’ forecast to visit us next week, so I’m hoping to find a way to protect the little guys through that.  Luckily the nice people in charge of the community garden project are very knowledgeable and helpful, so I’m sure they can help me come up with something.  And now, without further ado…

all covered in hay to keep it cozy on cold nights

clockwise from top left: spinach, garlic, green lettuce, red lettuce

clockwise from top left: beet, tiny carrot, and cauliflower

There were also some leeks, scallions, and onions growing, but they were all too small to photograph!  We planted broccoli and cabbage as well, but I don’t think any of them sprouted.  They were on the far end of the garden and the hay was constantly getting blown off, so if they did sprout they may not have made it due to the weather.

As we were getting ready to start school this morning, Brody informed me that one of his guys was going to be joining us.  At first I was a little reluctant and in my head thought, “What??  No!  No toys at the table during school, absolutely not!”.  But then I took a second to breathe and laid down some ground rules…as long as he sat quietly and didn’t disturb Brody while he was working then he was allowed to stay, if he didn’t follow the rules then he’d have to go back to the playroom.  Brody agreed and we went ahead and got started.  Turns out he did sit quietly while we were working, and actually helped by keeping Brody from wandering away from the table when I needed to tend to Adelyn for a second.  The moral of the story is that sometimes it pays to listen to your kids and make a little extra room in your plans for their ideas!  ;o)

I couldn’t resist taking a picture of them working…♥

I just mixed up a batch of dishwasher detergent and realized it would be fun to share the recipe here, in case anyone else could put it to good use!  There are quite a few recipes floating around on the internet and in magazines, but I fiddled with them until I came up with a recipe that works for us.  The beauty of this recipe is that you can do just that, add a little more of this or a little less of that instead of trying brand after brand at the grocery store (because that can get expensive quickly!).

The ingredients are: 2 parts washing soda, 2 parts borax, 1 part baking soda, and 1 part kosher salt.

Add all ingredients to a jar or reusable plastic container (large yogurt container, empty juice jug, etc) and mix thoroughly.  Add the detergent to your dishwasher, just as you would with commercial powder detergents.  If you have hard water, or notice a powdery film on your glassware you can reduce the amount of baking soda or add some citric acid/lemishine.  Also, a powdery residue can indicate that you are using too much detergent.  Detergent manufacturers like to encourage us to use WAY more than is actually needed (use more = buy more = higher profits for them, right?) so don’t be afraid to scale back on the amount until it’s just right for your water and machine.  Using this recipe only costs you about 10 cents per load of dishes!  And the added bonus, no phosphates or other dangerous chemicals that are present in most commercial brands.  You can also use white vinegar in the rinse aid compartment, instead of Jet Dry and other similar expensive products.

The technical info: washing soda works its magic on greasy or crusty messes, borax enhances the cleaning power of washing soda and also attacks grease, baking soda acts as an abrasive for scrubbing, and the salt helps soften the water for easier cleaning.  If you’re curious about the safety of any of these products, please take a look at this site as it has very extensive information on using natural cleaners in your home.

Next up, I’m going to start making our own laundry detergent, so stay tuned!

Well, I knew these days would come but I honestly didn’t expect to be introduced so soon!  We had a crummy morning and a ‘less than magical’ school day.  :oO  We have a head cold going around so I overslept, Adelyn wasn’t feeling well, and Brody was what we call ‘melty’ from the moment he got out of bed.  He wasn’t grumpy per se, just teetering on the edge of falling to pieces over most everything.  And for some reason, whenever he’s in one of those moods, he also tends to forget the house rules which leads to getting in trouble more often, which then results in more meltiness.  Don’t worry, I know that’s not a real word, but just go with me here…I’ve had a rough morning.  ;o)

Ok, are you ready for the silver lining part?  We survived!  We accomplished what I had set out in the lesson plan, albeit it was a little later in the morning and technically behind ‘schedule’, but we were still able to have some fun and learn a few things.  And it looks like the sun is trying to peek out from behind the clouds, so some afternoon bounce time on the trampoline should be enough to shake the rest of the funk.

So to you, Mr. Bad Day, I say “Hello, nice to meet you…now skedaddle and don’t come back around for a while!”

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