Monday, 28 November 2011

Bon Voyage, Ian!

Ian just left for Australia.  

The tears are flowing but I'm smiling.  

I thought it was just yesterday

that I welcomed him into my arms and held him close...

...but it wasn't. 

  What a fine man he has become.  Strong, independent, caring, thoughtful, loving and adventurous.  We are so amazed that at the tender age of 18, he organized and saved for his own international travel.  For many, the dream would have stayed a dream and never taken wings.

I'm a jumble of emotions... excited, anxious, worried, supportive...  

What a strange combination of feelings.  

We had a lovely turkey dinner last night with our whole family together. It was the best feeling to have my family all at the table one last time before Ian left.  I'm looking forward to the day that he comes home and we can all sit together again, listening to Ian's travel tales long into the wee hours of the night...

...until then, safe travels my son.

We love you and are so proud of you!

XO Mom and Dad

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Winter Crafting

These winter days have us all in the mood for a little crafting :)  

I'm working on a few sewing projects (top secret - shhhh!!!!) 

 Megan and Reece found an ingenious way to create winter scenes in canning jars using marshmallows and icing sugar.

           and Paige worked on decorating candles for the table with coloured beeswax....

                                 Lincoln?  Well, he just looked handsome :)

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Flo Flo's Grandma's Almond Butter Cookies

Oh my...  is there anything more delicious than a decadently rich, buttery cookie that absolutely melts in your mouth?

This is the cookie that EVERY child of mine requests EVERY year.  This is the recipe that wills people to call you (usually with a mouth full of cookie) to beg for the recipe.  This, my friends, is THE "go to" seasonal WOW but easy cookie.

This cookie is loaded with butter so it's not something we make all through the year.  We save the recipe for Christmas so that we have something special to look forward to!  Because Ian is leaving for Australia on Monday, I made him a batch now so that he doesn't miss out  XO

Flo Flo's Grandma's Almond Butter Cookies

1 lb soft butter (no substitutes and do NOT reduce quantity)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup granulated white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp almond extract (do NOT omit!)
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda (bicarb)
4 cups white flour
red glace cherries

Preheat oven to 300 deg.   Cut whole glace cherries in half and leave them cut side down on a clean tea towel or paper towel to drain while you make the dough.  Cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs and beat together.  Add remaining ingredients and beat until just blended.  Don't overwork the dough or the cookies will be tough.   Roll into walnut sized balls and place on un-greased cookie sheets.  Press half of a glace cherry (cut side down) into the top of each ball.  Bake 12-14 minutes or just until barely starting to turn light brown around the edges.  It's VITAL that you don't over bake them, as they are meant to be chewy and tender, not brown and crispy.  Leave the cookies to set for a few minutes on the cookie sheet before you move them to a cooling rack or they'll fall apart.

We came across this recipe about 16 years ago when our old neighbour, Florence gave us some of these cookies for Christmas.  As soon as we ate ONE cookie we KNEW we had to have the recipe!  Thankfully, Florence willingly shared it, saying her Grandma would have loved everyone baking them and enjoying them.  We have made these cookies every single Christmas since and we have given them as gifts to eagerly expectant neighbors and friends nearly every year!

When our oldest boys (now 20 and 18) were just little, they couldn't say Florence very well, so her name got shortened to FloFlo and it stuck :)  Thanks, FloFlo for sharing your Grandma's delicious cookies!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Update on Natural Hair Washing

Nearly 2 months ago, I started experimenting with using baking soda (bicarb) and vinegar for hair washing and I promised to update with my findings.  The "jury" was out for a long time as I muddled through various combinations.

Let's just say that my experiment with baking soda (bicarb) taught me one thing.  I don't like it!  My hair was really stringy and dry in spite of reducing the amount of baking soda dramatically.  We are on well water, so perhaps that was the determining factor ~ I'll never know.  I brushed my hair well, I rinsed it well, I tried everything.  Blech.

What I DID really like using was my homemade cold pressed soap!  It lathers luxuriously, cleans well, rinses well, and doesn't irritate my sensitive skin.  I usually suffer from a dry itchy scalp (especially in winter as it's so dry here) but that problem has totally resolved with the use of my soap.

Additionally, my hair seems less greasy the next day.  Using shampoo somehow stimulated my scalp to produce a lot of oil in spite of being dry and itchy.  What a weird combination!  All that is gone - I wake up to hair that is not in dire need of another wash.

Having one bar in the shower to wash hair and body with is pure simplicity at it's finest and THAT is not to be underestimated!  Easy on the budget, natural, self made so I know what's in it, and pleasant to use - what could be better?

As for rinsing, with short hair I'd imagine not needing any conditioner or rinses.  My hair is currently shoulder length and it benefits from a weak vinegar and water rinse.  I have scented mine with rosemary essential oil but you could use anything you like.  Every few days, I am using a very small amount of conditioner ONLY on the ends because they are dry from using the baking soda (bicarb).  One I get my ends trimmed in a few days, I'll probably be able to abolish that practice all together.

So, my friends, who knew the best solution is practically free and right under my nose?!   Thanks, Rhonda for a versatile and simple soap recipe - it has truly transformed how we clean our hands, hair and bodies :)

Sunday, 20 November 2011

A Wee Bit Of Sewing

Another cold day, but sunny at last!

I'm still working away at the dining chairs. 6 are totally finished and 2 more covers are sewn together and ready to go.  I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel... Have you EVER seen so many staples to undo?  The black cover ALSO had an equal number of staples attaching it... why I'll never know.

                                             Now, for FUN sewing!

I made a Christmas ornament for a swap that I'm participating in at Down To Earth   I don't want to give away the surprise in case my swap partner peeks here, so this teaser pic will have to suffice.  It's made of 100% wool felt, and the trim is from my recent find at the Thrift Store.  The buttons are all vintage from my Grandmother's stash that I inherited when she moved here and decided that she would not be doing any more sewing (she's 91!).   The ornament turned out rather nicely but the trouble is... now all I want to do is sew for fun never mind finishing those blasted chairs!

This buckwheat bag for natural headache treatment is for a gift.  It's scented with peppermint oil and it does a spectacular job of getting rid of headaches.  30-60 seconds in the microwave while you drink a large glass of water (don't over heat it or it smells BAD), and a 15 minute rest with it over your eyes and forehead does the trick to chase a headache away.  It's re-usable and can be refreshed with any essential oil once the peppermint has faded. The fabric is a scrap from my stash (circa 90's), and is simply sewn into a rectangle, leaving one end open to fill, then top stitched closed.  I triple stitched the seams eliminating the chance of a buckwheat leak :)

I've got plenty of Christmas gift sewing to do, so must get busy to finish those chairs...

What are you sewing?

Friday, 18 November 2011

Winter Has Arrived

Oh yes, indeed. Old Man Winter blew in on Wednesday night with a whopper of a storm. Strong gale force winds coming from the NE assaulted us for over 12 hours and when it was all over, this is what we saw.  Notice the bluish light - so common in winter particularly in the late afternoon ~ especially when more snow is in the forecast! 

This is the view of my garden that was previously lush and filled with this just a few short months ago:

The coop was starting to ice up inside (especially on the inside of the door), so I plugged in the heat lamp to take the chill off for the chickens.

I spent an hour with the walk behind snowblower clearing paths to the cars, the coop and the garage.  The driveway needs clearing, but it's too big to use the walk behind, so I'm waiting for our oldest son to run the tractor this weekend to clear it for us.  With Kelly away, we have all had to pitch in to take over his usual duties.

With winter here, I've got more time for baking, and out come favourite recipes that we haven't had for months.  This is a refrigerator dough which is super quick to make and it is very versatile.  It keeps for a long time in the fridge, but we usually end up using it all up in one go.  The photos are yellowish as it's dark now and my halogen lights make all the night time pictures look very sallow.

I had hungry teens to fill up this evening, so I rolled the dough out, cut it into triangles,

and then added some pepperoni and cheese to each piece.  I also use ham and cheddar which tastes equally delicious.

Roll from the wide end toward the pointed end and pinch the ends together to keep the cheese from oozing out when it melts.  I'm really not very careful during the rolling, I tend to really stretch them and manhandle them to try to fit everything in.  This dough IS very stretchy and it's REALLY easy to work with.

Bake at 350 for about 20 minute or until golden brown and when pressed, they spring back.

Recipe makes enough to fill 2 large cookie sheets and is guaranteed to fill up a hungry gaggle of teens lickety split.  It's much healthier when made with some whole wheat flour (and I often do that) plus it's frugal.  Buying this type of teen friendly snack in the frozen aisle at the store would cost a lot of money and packaged food isn't that nutritious.  This is super fast and easy as you can get this in the oven from start to finish in about 10 -15 minutes.

Refrigerator Dough from the MOMYS cookbook

3/4 c sugar
3/4 c shortening (don't substitute as it isn't as good)
1 c boiling water
1 c warm water
1 pkg yeast
2 large eggs
6 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt

Combine shortening, sugar and boiling water, stirring until dissolved. Add warm water and eggs. Add dry ingredients and knead for a few minutes until smooth and elastic.  I use a mixer.  I always use the dough right away although the recipe calls for it to be chilled first.

This is a fairly sweet, tender dough (like a crescent roll dough) and it can be made into all sorts of things, so it's great to keep some ready in the fridge.

Happy baking!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Good Management

Home is where it all is...   Love and warmth, food and nourishment, rest and rejuvenation, comfort and support, belonging and connection.  

It makes perfect sense that having a managerial position in such a powerful place would be rewarding and desirable.  Indeed, as Rhonda has said, Homemaking IS the Power Career ~ it's just that not everyone knows it yet!

If we accept the challenge, being a Homemaker is full of opportunities to grow, learn and thrive.  I am constantly challenged to increase my knowledge and hone my skills.  There is NEVER a day where I can say (with honesty) that there is nothing to do and no challenge to face.

These past few weeks have been extremely busy for me and that busy period has prevented me from doing my usual job at home.  BOY do we all notice the difference!  My husband and my children all work to contribute to the keeping of our home and property and no, I don't do *everything* here at home - I am not a servant!

The house isn't falling apart, nor is it truly filthy, it just looks sad and neglected.   It lacks the welcoming energy that it usually has and that feeling of our home being a haven has greatly diminished over the past few weeks.  Not any one definable thing is missing, it's more of a vibe that I can't tangibly see.

Hmmmm....  a house having a vibe?  An energy?   Oh, yes it does!

These past 2 weeks have taught me that having a capable, attentive home manager present and in charge is priceless.  Someone to guide and delegate, to problem solve and encourage, to look with a critical eye toward improvement, to change things that aren't working, to implement new ideas when needed and basically to "steer the ship" toward the family goals.  Someone to stay the course, so to speak.

Imagine a company running without a manager.   That business might stay afloat for a few weeks, or in good times, a few months even... but long term?  No.  Without a manager to oversee daily operations and MORE IMPORTANTLY, predict future events, trends, needs and changes, that business is at best plagued with problems, at worst, doomed to fail.

Keeping a home and caring for a family is much like running a business.  Changes are always occurring and a good business manager responds intuitively and intelligently to it.   A good business manager wouldn't intentionally introduce a new computer system just when the company is experiencing it's busiest sales period of the year.  A good manager would anticipate the upcoming busy season and plan ahead, giving lots of time for employees to train and get used to a new system BEFORE the busy season started.    

The same is so true in a home.  Managing a home effectively takes skill.  We aren't born into this skill, we acquire it over time through trial an error,  mentorship, reading and research, asking questions, watching others and trying new methods.   If we treat this job like a career, we seek continuing education like any effective and progressive business manager would.  Does that mean re-inventing the wheel and tossing out old ideas?  No.  It means that we seek knowledge in order to enhance our careers and to truly shine in our profession.

As CEO of our home, the list of my responsibilities is varied and long.  I spend my days in this management position watching, listening and responding.   Watching my home, listening to my family and responding to it all with discernment and skill.  It sounds simple but it is not always EASY.  Challenges abound.

In my life, I have worked long hours in middle and upper management and I have owned 2 profitable businesses.  I have been successful in all of those positions, but NOT ONE of them have I enjoyed as much as or felt as challenged in as I do as a Homemaker.   Creating a HOME from a house is truly the new power career and let me tell you, I am climbing this corporate ladder proudly and confidently with my apron ON, baby!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011


  One of the things we love about Home Education is the opportunity to take in community events and field trips whenever the opportunity & mood strikes us.   Nurturing a sense of community is really about nurturing PEOPLE.  

Recently, we went with a group of homeschool students and their parents to the local Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment for an in depth tour.  We learned a lot about the daily work that our local police officers do and even a little bit about the laws within our province and country.  It was an incredible learning experience for all of us (parents included) and it certainly gave us a strong appreciation for the R.C.M.P. in our community.   An excellent connection was made for the kids - gone is the fear of the unknown... the police station really is a friendly place to be! 

Another place that we get the kids involved in great activities is the library.  We are so fortunate to have a library that is rich in quality, low cost (or free) programming for children.  Reece just finished a Reading Buddy program where grade 2 students were paired up with volunteer high school students in a group setting for reading, games and activities.  What a fun program!  His reading has improved and he had an absolutely fantastic time with his buddy ~ a strong connection was formed and Reece feels like he BELONGS more than ever to the richly nurturing library community.  The kids often attend holiday and seasonally themed events there filled with crafts, stories and plenty of games and fun.  The library truly feels like an extension of our home - we are that strongly connected to it.

Reece connected with his friends for his birthday party over the weekend and tremendous fun was had by all.   We held the party at our local gymnastics studio and the kids ran jumped, flipped and climbed to their heart's content..  Such a treat to do something much anticipated...  he looked forward to this party for many long weeks :)

Last but not least ~ Family.   Kelly was home for the week and we enjoyed lots of time connecting with him and plugging our family back together.  Our older boys are so busy with their own lives out of the home, that the younger kids sometimes feel disconnected from them.  I'm thankful that both boys have taken just a wee bit of time of late to connect with the younger members of the family.  

Ian leaves in 2 weeks for an 8 month trip to Australia and Mitchell will be spending Christmas in BC with his future Parents-In-Law, so this will be the first Christmas that our family has not been all together.  It's bittersweet.  I'm realizing now (more than ever), the incredible importance of staying connected as a family.  It's a challenge as they grow up and branch out into their own lives away from the home.  They also are forming connections with friends, future family, other countries, and new communities.  As a parent, it's exactly what I want them to be doing... it's what we've modelled for years.  It's just for the first time ever ~ it's not with ME.   

That is good, no?  Of course it is :)  It's just going to take a wee bit of getting used to...


Friday, 11 November 2011


After months of intense hard work, the garden is officially finished for the year.  I'm elated and sad all at the same time if such a combination of emotions can truly co-exist simultaneously :)  I'm elated that we were mostly successful in doubling our harvest but I'm tired of trying to beat the calendar (and consequently, the odds against me).   I'm also oddly enough, a little sad...  mourning the loss of warm breezy days spent tending to my garden... the fresh air, the exercise, the feeling of accomplishment...  it's all done for another year.

After some reflection, I've realized that twice of Everything proved to be my absolute limit while simultaneously raising a family, home educating and finishing a renovation.  I learned a lot this season about priorities and personal limitations but most importantly, I learned that doubling a garden is most certainly NOT like doubling a recipe :)  It is most definitely double the work.  Oh yes.  Was it worth it?  Yes.  Would I do it again?  Yes, although perhaps a little differently ~ with more efficiency in mind.

As I ponder how to be more efficient in my garden next year, so begins this welcome season of rest and warmth.  I've dusted off my sewing machine, and I've returned to the kitchen, not to can or blanch, but to bake.  For now, at long last, there is Time.   Time to clean out closets, time to dust (ahem) and time to tackle indoor projects that have long been neglected.  There is finally Time to read and craft.

Yes, it's getting cold....and no, we don't like it one little bit, but the gift ~ the precious silver lining in what is our long, harsh winter ~ is Time.

At long last...  there is finally, Time


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Fire and Ice

Old Man Winter begins the descent.

                       Hoar Frost to remind us that November is the End of Autumn.

                            Glass panes laced in fractal art sparkle like Christmas

 and the orange glow of the rising sun looked like fire through the ice.

* Edited to add these pictures of hoar frost on our trees from last winter...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

One Down, Nine To Go...

I'm thrilled to report that I purchased my fabric and chair batting at 50% off today!  The total cost for materials for this project was $83.97 (tax included).  The total also included a spool of upholstery thread that I purchased a few weeks ago for the project (not on sale).  Not bad for everything to recover 10 chairs (including adding the extra padding!).  We already own a staple gun and my husband has a huge stash of staples that he got for free years ago, so no additional cost for those :)

New chair batting to add more cushioning on top of the foam

The fabric is like a thick ultrasuede - not thin microfibre.  It sewed beautifully with minimal fraying and no slipping (essential with these persnickety back corners to deal with!).  The front corners were very easy - just a right angle (one easy seam).

 The finished back corner stretched overtop the seat cushion...  not perfect, but not too bad, either...

Top view of the pesky corner...  Looks pretty good from on top...

Old upholstery - back corner view

New upholstery, back corner view.  I think on the next ones, I'll turn the seam to the inside of the corner.  I had turned them out thinking that too much bulk in the corner would make it hard to position them securely but I'm sure that it will be fine to do that for the rest of the chairs.

 Old and new (notice the extra padding on the seat - so much comfier!)

The learning curve was steep on the first chair - I had to redo a few things before it all pulled together, but now that all that figuring is out of the way, I can get going with an assembly line and get the rest done :)  It's going to feel so good to get this job finished - it's been hanging over my head for months...

Saving $700.00

That is my goal this weekend :)

Our dining table is the hub of our home.  We eat at it 3 times per day oh yes, but also, it's our school desk, our craft and art table and generally where all things good happen in our home.  Consequently, the chairs are worn to threads....  

How many people have sat upon them I'll never know.  These chairs are the true workhorses in our home, faithfully seating us and our guests for 8 years...  They look terrible don't they - especially the two arm/end chairs (pictured) as we all favour those chairs.

In the Spring, I called the company where we bought the furniture and the quote to re-upholster the 10 chairs was $800.00 plus tax.   That money could be put to much better use around the homestead, so I abandoned my fantasy of having them done professionally, covered the worst chair seats with towels and put off the recovering job until fall when time would be on my side for a project such as this...

Well, Fall is here and the time has come - no more procrastinating, lol.   I found some upholstery fabric that I liked this week and I bought .6 of a metre to bring it home and try it before committing to buying the yardage I needed for all 10 chairs.  It's looks great and when I test sewed a few seams, it sewed up beautifully and didn't fray - all systems go!  The fabric shop agreed to hold the bolt for me until today when a huge sale starts so I'll be able to get the fabric very inexpensively.  I also need to replace the foam on the 2 arm chairs, and buy new batting, but even with those purchases, I'm confident that I'll be saving $700.00 by the time it's all said and done :)

Wish me luck - I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Organizing for Christmas

With Christmas just under 8 weeks away, it's time for us to think and dream of how we will celebrate this year... so much discussion, so much excitement!

In our home, we don't focus on receiving.  Instead, we focus A LOT on the joy of giving!  There's always plenty of lively discussion about the perfect gifts for those who mean so much to us.

Advance Christmas planning is essential for me if we are to stick to a budget.  I really despise shopping in December as the shops are way too busy for my liking.  Long lineups full of grumpy people, and plenty of frenzied chaos all sap my energy and my Christmas spirit.  Blah!   My plan is very simple but very effective.  I make 6 lists:

ACTIVITIES - This is for all the must do activities that the kids want to do such as a drive to see Christmas lights, sledding together, making gingerbread houses, a Christmas Eve walk, a family potluck, a cookie making party, etc.

FOOD/MENU PLAN - This is my list of the family's requested special treats for the holiday season.  The list is pretty predictable, but every once in a while, they request something new or something that we haven't made for a long time.  I try to ensure that we make each child's top pick :)   I also record my menu plan for whatever meals we are hosting/preparing over the season on this list.

GIFT LIST - pretty self explanatory.  A list of the people we give to and what we are giving them.  This list evolves as we think of things to make/buy.

TO DO - this is for jobs that we need to do such as address & mail cards, put up lights, prepare for guests, decorate, etc.

TO MAKE - This is the list of things that we need to make.  Many of my gifts are made this year already as I worked hard all summer making jam and soap to give in my gift baskets.  I do need to get busy and make more soap, though!

TO BUY - This is my list of things that we need to purchase.  I divide this list in two main lists and then, into several sub-categories.

     1)  Food
          a)  to buy in advance (for advance cooking/baking or items that are not perishable)
          b)  to buy last minute (perishables)

     2)  Other
           * this list is always in flux depending on funds available, timeline, and what I'm working on.  Items on this list could be things like craft supplies, gift items, clothing for the family, etc.

Now is a good time to quickly review our wardrobes to see if I need to make or buy something for wear over the Christmas season.  I like to do this pretty early so that I have time to look in the thrift shops first before I spend money buying something new.  I like to have 2 nice outfits for everyone (preferably mix and match separates) as we usually attend and host a few gatherings over the season.

Historically, I've kept these lists all together in a duotang or notebook, but this year, I'm going to try using my phone as it's always with me when I'm out.  I'll let you know how that goes - I'm thinking that the portability will be really helpful.

Now is also the time for me to start loading the freezer with one dish meals.  I like to double cook as much as I can in November, so that when December hits, I have more time for whatever the season brings our way :)  It takes NO extra time to double a recipe 2 or 3 times/week in November, but ironically, it saves me HOURS of cooking in the busy month leading up to Christmas when I am working on gifts or having fun with my family.

The most important thing to mention is that we view our lists as guides as to how we want to spend the holiday together. Some years, we never get through even half the list, and other years, we do it all.  Finances, available time, works schedules, family dynamics, travel, house guests, illness...   so many things affect our planning and preparations.   I aim to be flexible, because when the wind comes (and oh, it usually does), I'd rather bend and sway in it than snap in two :)

Most importantly, we aim to put people before things...

....ALWAYS people before things :)