Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spring has returned... for good?

Today was a the most perfect spring day. Warm, the temperature hovering around 17C; sunny, but with pleasant cloud breaks; and the best part: a sweet warm breeze that just smelled of spring.

I never realize during the winter months just how much I miss the sun. But then we get a beautiful day like today and I realize I've been craving the sun's rays. I throw my arms up skyward and want to sing, and dance, and cry out thanks for the soft golden light.

The boys were loving it too, as were our newly planted flowers. Lucien was a great help today and together we planted, sunflowers, nasturtiums, snapdragons, stocks, cosmos, and a variety of other "flower garden" mixes. All the seeds were started in biodegradable coconut-husk planters, which will disintegrate once they are planted. And what's better; I can finally share it with you as I received a new camera for my birthday!

I didn't realize just how much of a difference a new camera would make, but the photos turned out much better than the ones I was taking with the old one. Shots such as this would never have been possible:

The first leaves just begin to open on our plum tree.

An unexpected surprise; lilies breaking up through the undergrowth....

Our onions, growing like weeds under the canopy of the "greenhouse." And what's that between them? Yes, that's right, weeds.

I still cannot believe how fast our rhubarb is growing. I just cannot wait for that strawberry-rhubarb jam!

It was wonderful to spend the afternoon outside with the boys, even though I spent more time chasing after Marcus than I did weeding. He's walking now, and doesn't understand why he has to stay in the yard, and not run after the leaves or sticks or other things that catch his fancy. Would that I could be like that, too!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Musings of a Working Mother

This post is long overdue. I know. I just haven't had the drive nor the energy to write; not so much because I've been tired (working, Easter-dinner cooking and being sick will do that to you!), but because there's been so much I've wanted to say that I think I became overwhelmed.

I've been back to work now since the first week of April, and I am still not sure how I feel about it. To be honest, in the few weeks leading up to going back to work was dreaded it so much. The idea kept me up at night; and whenever I thought about it during the day I would get a tightness in my chest and a knot in my stomach that I just couldn't shake. I wanted to weep, but couldn't; I wanted to scream, but wouldn't. I wanted to cry out to the world how unfair it was that I had to leave my little boys, my most precious and too young boys in the care of another just so we could afford to feed, clothe and house them. I will not even get into how I feel about a society that no longer supports a single-income family. Oh that I could return to the days of being a "home-maker," content to provide the warmth and support of a loving home, and leave the "working" world to my husband! Is there really anything wrong with wanting that?

I know I am not alone. I know there are many mothers (and fathers!) out there who feel the same way. We are quite fortunate, we have a dear friend who comes into our home to watch the boys while we are at work, and being at home in a comfortable, familiar environment has made the transition easier for them.
Knowing that does give me peace of mind to know the boys are safe at home during the day, though it doesn't make going to work that much easier. It's not that I don't want to work, trust me. It's actually been quite nice to be in the company of adults again, and to have a new set of challenges and goals to work towards that are not only home-oriented (and I even enjoy having to dress up and wear make-up again!). Yet there is still so much I want to accomplish at home, and the tasks are only going to get harder as we head into planting/gardening season.

I find that I just can't achieve a balance: either I spend my free time at home cleaning/catching up on chores such as laundry and then the boys suffer for my attention, or I spend the time catering to their needs and desires and the house becomes neglected. It seems lately that I can never spend enough time with them; when I have just finished playing "swords" with Lucien and go to start the dishes, he breaks down in tears because he wants to play with me longer.

And at the end of the day I am so exhausted that I do not have the energy to even knit, or the mental capacity to sit down and write or plan for the store. I can hear you all now: "you are crazy to be opening the store on top of this!" But that is my dream, my passion, and I am not willing to give up on it even if it kills me!

How does one do it? I keep coming back to the word balance, because that truly is my goal for the moment. I need to find balance between working at work and working at home. I need to find balance between my time spent with the boys, and Chris, and also myself. I need to be able to see what is really important (For example I am still adamant that making our baked goods from scratch, without the added preservatives and sugar/salt, is important. Time intensive yes, but important nevertheless!), and what can be put on the back burner, at least for now. But I am at a loss for how.

Even now, I've hit a roadblock. I have more I'd like to say, but I cannot see past the mound of dishes in the sink, or the little boy tugging at my sleeve to come watch The Lord of the Rings. So I shall leave it at this, and hope that somewhere, out there in the vastness that is our universe, there in an answer to my plight of balance!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Onions, already?!?

Yesterday was a wonderful day.

We spent the better part of the afternoon outside; both boys, Chris, and I, and did so prepping the garden beds for planting. Planting! Can you believe it? For anyone living inside zone 4 as we do, they will agree that that is a pretty impressive accomplishment. At this time of the year, the ground in most places is still frozen solid.

What is even more remarkable is the fact that we also planted our first crop of the year: onions! We planted them in one of the covered raised beds, and the difference inside was astounding. The air is much warmer within the covering, and is so moist that the inside walls have beads of condensation on them. When we started tilling the earth we got another surprise: it was so warm much warmer than even the air inside that it released steam every time we turned the earth over, and is full of worms! I don't remember there being that many worms in the beds even in the summer, so they must have been drawn to the heat.

In other exciting news, we received our other vegetable seeds too! We ordered them from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, a company that works with smaller organic seed farmers, and even tests their seeds against GMO's. Now I am not sure how I feel about the GMO seed and food debate, and I am sure I will cover that in another post in the future. However, I do like the fact that the seeds are grown in a pesticide-free environment and that they are heirloom-variety (assuming we can figure out how to harvest our own seeds in the Fall). As an added bonus I appreciate that the seeds are collected in partnership with smaller community-based farms throughout the U.S. and developing countries, and are therefore helping to support the local farms and their inhabitants. It's just a shame none of them are Canadian! (Though I think I may need to start researching more local seed producers, or start learning how to harvesting the seeds ourselves!)

I also finally took some video, and will share it with everyone below. Unfortunately the "free" software I was using was only a 30-day trial version (though nowhere was that stated when I downloaded it!), so we're on the hunt for some new software that is decent enough yet will not cost us a small fortune. In the meantime you'll have to bear with us as we share our unedited version with you!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Signs of Spring

The snow is almost completely gone now.

The air is warmer, the sun stronger, and the bare earth has finally revealed itself in an array of browns, yellows, and if one looks close enough, faint greens.

Just in time for my least favourite chore ever: cleaning up the offerings our pooches have left us in the backyard. Hidden from sight for months under the pristine white banks, only to be revealed as the ground is left muddy, yucky, and brown. Hooray.

On a happier (and decidedly less-disguesting note), I've noticed some shoots coming up in the front flower beds and along the path of bamboo in the back yard! Even peeking up through the last remnants of snow are my crocuses, daffodils, and tulips. And just in time for some photos of the new additions to our nature table!

The new spring outfit I made for our Mother Nature doll.

Embroidery detail on the petticoat. Though it's difficult to see, the flowers are snowdrops and forget-me-nots.

Easter eggs and basket. The eggs were knit in the round and then embroidered, while the nest was made using a variation on the basketweave stitch.

Finally, some little rabbits will complete the nature table! As per a request from my eldest I even made little i-cord carrots for them; though they are currently lost in the realm of toys so I could not take a picture (as was the fourth little bunny!).

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bake of the Week: St. Patrick's Day Brisket

This past week was very busy in the kitchen. Friday was Chris' birthday so there were birthday cupcakes, fresh bread, and a big birthday dinner to make. And the day before, Thursday, was St. Patricks Day!

We always did something special on St. Patricks day in the past, but this was given greater meaning a few years ago when we discovered that Chris had an Irish lineage only a couple generations ago. So now, we do our best to honour Ireland's patron saint in style!

This year, I did my best to produce a truly Irish-inspired meal. I have never cooked a brisket before, so when I saw corned beef brisket on sale last week, I knew I had to give it a try. The recipe originally called to cook this on the stove though I used the slow cooker. And I have to say, it worked brilliantly!

Irish Beef Brisket

1 medium-sized beef brisket, corned or otherwise
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
half a head of cabbage, cut into eigths
4 medium potatoes, cubed
4 small turnips (or 1 large), cubed
3 large carrots, cut into 1cm long pieces
1 bottle/can of Kilkenny ale
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
enough water to cover

In a frying pan, fry the onions and garlic in the olive oil under the onions begin to go transluscent. Remove from heat.

In a crock pot/slow cooker, place the brisket and arrange the vegetables around and on top of the meat. Add the fried onions and bay leaves, and the salt and pepper. Pour over the ale, and then enough water to completely cover.

I cooked the brisket for about 5 1/2 hours on high, but you just want to cook it until the topmost vegetables are tender.

Once cooked, transfer the vegetables to a glass baking dish, the meat to another. Bake for 20-30 minutes at 350 F to just crisp the edges of the meat and get rid of some of the moisture in the vegetables. I then used the remaining liquid from the pot to create a gravy, simply by adding a bit of cornstarch to the broth! Enjoy with a cold glass of Guiness!

Cleaning without chemicals - Part Two: Essential Oil Properties

Though I'll admit I do not like the work involved in cleaning, one thing I do love is the way the house smells after I've just spend the day washing the floors, wiping the counters and polishing the wood. A fresh mix of orange and lavender, with just some underlying hints of tea-tree please the senses.

Yet using essential oils for cleaning is fairly new to me. And as I become more comfortable with making my own cleaners, I want to become more adventurous with the scents combinations I use.

Though for scent alone essential oils are wonderful, they also have many tested benefits for health as well as cleaning. I promised last post that I would cover some of the ingredients that I use in my cleaners, but on second thought was afraid I would insult my reader's intelligence if I started listing what common household items like vinegar and baking soda were good for. So instead, I'll focus on the essential oils and their properties.

I am not going to list all the available oils or even perhaps the most popular, but the ones that I personally like the scents of and that I have used before (or the ones I would like to try!).

Lavender - In lab tests this oil has proven to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. It is important to remember though that the lab tests were most likely performed un-diluted, so when making your cleaners do not expect them to be 100% disinfecting. Lavender has also been thought to have many health benefits; from relieving pain and depression, to helping with headaches. I have also read that putting a small sachet of dried lavender under your pillow helps aid sleep, though I've never tried it. I use this oil in all my bathroom and kitchen cleaners, particularly near the kitchen garbage. I also use it in my air-freshening spray/soft surface deodorizer. Though this has a very pleasant scent, I find it can become overpowering, and usually use half the amount as I do the other oils. This oil blends very well with clary sage, orange, and patchouli.

Orange - This is by far my favourite scent, though I must warn you to only ever use sweet orange, as opposed to orange blossom or other orange variations. Sweet orange has the true "orange" scent, while orange blossom comes off as "perfume-y" if that makes any sense. I find the scent of orange so bright and fresh without the unpleasant after-scent that citruses like lemon can have once they start to fade. Like other citruses orange is great as a de-greaser, and I use it to boost my dish washing liquid and to clean my kitchen counters. And because we have so much wood and laminate in the house, I also use this as a floor cleaner: it brightens and polishes the wood beautifully. Yet even if this had no cleaning properties whatsoever, I would still use it as I just love the smell! Blends well with lavender, clary sage, patchouli, and sandalwood.

Tea Tree - This oil is one of the strongest antiseptics, and also has the benefit of being non-allergenic. I remember as a child whenever there was a note sent home from school that there had been a case of head lice, my mother would put small dabs of tea tree oil along my scalp to act as a deterrent. It certainly seemed to work! This also works to kill mould and mildew if diluted with water and then sprayed on the source, though I have not yet tried it. Apparently it will permanently take away the mildew smell too. From everything I've read, the recommended type to use for cleaning is the Australian tea tree oil. This blends well with lavender and clary sage.

Patchouli - Before I had any other essential oils, this was what I used to boost all my commercial cleaning products. I purchased it originally as a personal fragrance, yet I like the smell enough to use in cleaning, too. Use this sparingly though as it is quite strong and if used in too great a dose, I find can cause a headache. This is commonly used as an antiseptic and anti-fungal cleaner, and when used in small amounts, is known to boost your mood. This works well with orange and sandalwood.

Peppermint - Peppermint has been used to repel pests such as rodents (mice and rats), but also for bathroom cleaners because of it's disinfecting properties. I used to purchase a "natural'' cleaner that's main base was peppermint but I did find that when used in large quantities the scent became a little overpowering. So when making my own mixes, I would dilute it with some complimentary oils. Such oils would be lemon, lime, thyme, or bergamot. Lemon or lime I am not too crazy about, and I have not tried the others. Thyme I do know is also supposed to be a great bathroom cleaner and I am curious as to what the two scents would be like blended. Perhaps that will be the next combination I try.

Clary Sage - Many of the recipes I have come across online have called for clary sage. Because of the warm relaxing, yet uplifting scent, it is highly recommended for women, and has been used to help relieve PMS symptoms and anxiety, as well as those for pre-menopause. Though I could not find much information on the cleaning properties of Clary Sage, I suppose because of the many health benefits (particularly for females) it is often used simply for it's scent in cleaning products. This is one oil I am very excited to try! In addition to using it on its own, it also blends well with lavender, orange, tea tree, and sandalwood.

Sandalwood - One of my earliest memories of this scent is of soap my mother used to buy in Chinatown. The soap had a wonderful warm, earthy smell, and I used to love using it to bathe. As an essential oil I have not tried it, but I plan to in the near future. Because the scent is an undertone, it lasts longer yet is not as powerful as the other scents I have written about. This makes it a great addition to recipes with blended essential oils, and one that I would love to try. This blends especially well with patchouli, though I plan on trying it with all the essential oils listed above in small quantities to make the scents last longer.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Yarn Store Logo

We now have a logo for the yarn store:

It was so much fun to design, and it really captures the feeling I wanted. I am quite happy with it if I do say so myself!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Cleaning without harsh chemicals - Part one

Over the past few weeks, we've had some beautiful weather. We got what I thought was our Spring thaw on Friday and Saturday, only to be unpleasantly surprised when Winter re-established his rule Saturday night. It was a great reminder that until the crocuses, snowdrops, and daffodils begin to sprout, Spring is still a ways away (and even then, we often get one more snowstorm just for good measure!). But it go me thinking.

The house is almost due for it's thorough Spring-cleaning, but there's something I've wanted to try for a few years now: to make my own cleaning products from scratch. There are several reasons for this. For starters, I hate the idea of using any harsh chemicals because of the impact they have on our health and the environment. And secondly, so many cleaners can be made out of common household items (such as salt, baking soda, and vinegar) which end up costing less than purchasing pre-made cleaners.

Now we already use cleaners such as vinegar for glass, and baking soda as an abrasive counter and surface cleaners, and make sure that those cleaners we do purchase are phosphate-free and are made with plant-derived surfactants, but I've wanted to try my hand at making more complex solutions.

This has also been coupled with the fact that I've wanted to introduce essential oils into our home as well, but for the longest time didn't know where to get them in our area. I've since established a couple suppliers: If you want smaller two-dram bottles to try out new scents, or if you will not be using large quantities, check out my friend Bonnie over at The Hocus Pocus room. If you require larger quantities, Poya Naturals is a great place to get bottles as large as 500ml (that's two cups!).

So after a little research, I've put together a few recipes for general household cleaning. Now, I will mention that I still have not found substitutes for a few store-bought cleaners. Though salt and baking soda are great abrasives (especially on items that you do not want to use harsh chemicals on such as food preparation surfaces), I find that they still do not work as well as Vim or Comet on tough surfaces such as bathroom tile and counters. I do my best to use them sparingly, but I'll be honest; sometimes they're the only thing that will get the bathroom clean again!)

But apart from that, most of your daily cleaning can be easily accomplished with just these common household items:

All-purpose spray cleaner
1/2 tsp borax
1/2 tsp vegetable oil-based soap
2 tbsp vinegar
10 ml essential oil (use whatever one you prefer, I'll go into the benefits and properties of some common ones in the next post)
2 cups hot water
Combine into a spray bottle, and shake vigorously until all the solids are combined. Simply spray and wipe clean with a damp cloth or sponge.

Air freshener/deodorizer
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 tsp tea tree essential oil
1/4 tsp lavender essential oil
2 cups warm water
Combine and place in a spray bottle, and lightly mist the air or soft surfaces (furniture etc.), shaking before each use. Some say the tea tree and lavender have disinfectant properties, though I am unsure of this in such diluted proportions. It certainly cannot hurt, at least!

Floor cleaner (especially hardwood/laminate)
2 cups white vinegar
10 ml sweet orange essential oil
5 ml lavender essential oil
4 litres hot water
Though this works especially well for hardwood floors (because of the orange oil), it is safe for all floors, and works remarkably well. It also leaves your house smelling wonderful!

Some of these recipes were variations of ones found in the green clean recipe book, a great little go-to for cleaning that I found on sale at our local Coles a few years ago. Most of it is pretty basic, though it does have some neat recipes, organized into the various rooms of your home.

Certainly give these a try, and I'll work on a post that covers the basic ingredients and their properties (including the most common essential oils) to take the thinking right out of environmentally (and human!)-friendly cleaning!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do what you love!

I have to be honest, the blog has been one of the furthest things from my mind the past few weeks. It started with the flood in our basement, but that was cleaned up within a few days. Though we're still dealing with the aftermath of the insurance and cleaning company (and trying to figure out what happens now with everything that was destroyed), it is no longer the urgent disaster that it was.

But what has been all-consuming for me has been a new venture that I (and by exstention; our family) am starting. I'll admit it, I get distracted easily. As soon as something new and shiny comes along, I have difficulty not becoming all-consumed to the exclusion of everything else. It's something I'm working on!

The new venture is something I have been dreaming of for a few years now. I've talked of it often to family and friends, but it was always along the lines of "what if...?" or "if we ever won the lottery..." Chris a few weeks ago began to encourage me to look at the numbers and begin research to see if it would be viable, and the result is:

I am opening up my own yarn store!

Now, my research is not complete. One of the largest unknowns is on the market research end of things; at the moment I do not know just how much of a demand and interest there is to support such a store. I know our community has many knitters, crocheters, and fiber artists, but not if there is enough to support a full-fledged store.

There are several considerations, the first being that the store must be successful enough to allow me to hire a full time manager. I will not work in the store, for several reasons. For one; it will allow me to focus on being an entrepreneur, and not on the day-to-day operations, and second; it will allow me to continue to work at my day job without wearing myself out (or taking too much away from family time). Especially for the first few years I believe it's important to not throw all my eggs in one basket, and if the store turns out to not be financially successful, I will still have been working throughout it all.

So to test out the market I will operate the store at first on a smaller scale. Starting this June, the pilot project, operated out of our home, will open. It will be a part-time venture that will run for 12 months, at the end of which I will have a much better idea of what kind of market there is in the area. I am so excited!

Many people will tell you to find what you love or where your passion lies, and use that to make your living. So in my own way, that's what I am trying to do!

So I must ask for the pardon of my readers. Things are not the planning frenzy they once were, so I can now focus once more on this blog, and the home and garden aspects of my writing.

I am also working on a website for the store. Once it is complete, I will be moving any of the knitting and crafting patterns/tutorials over there (of course links will be posted!), and this site will once more focus on the "homesteading" parts of our lives.

Oh, and for anyone following the news, I refuse to omit the words "urban homestead" from the blog. I will continue to use, and encourage others to do so as well and not back down. If you have no idea what I am talking about, check it out here.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Swimming, anyone?

In the works are posts about:
  • Ordering seeds
  • Two Bakes of the Week
  • Lunar New Year
However, since our basement decided to become a swimming pool this week, things are going to be on hiatus for a while. 25 cubic metres of water will do that to you!

So please be patient while we work with the cleanup crews/insurance company, and I'll start posting again as soon as I can!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


I am not a morning person.

Or at least, I am not right now. I find that I go through phases in my life when I do enjoy waking early, and others when I most decidedly do not.

There was a time, just before the boys were born (particularly the summer before I had Lucien) when I would get up early with Chris, see him off to work, and be outside in our little apartment patio to enjoy the view, fresh air, and my tea. All this before a quarter to eight. It was so peaceful, so beautiful; I would spend the first few hours of my day puttering in our little garden before the sun became too hot, and just relish in the silence and beauty that is early morning in this town.

Even when we still lived in Toronto there were times when I was able to enjoy and appreciate mornings for what they are. This time however, I was up early due to necessity. I worked at a local cafe which had to be open on Saturdays before seven o 'clock. It was the most amazing thing to witness; the city as I'd never seen before. It was winter; and before the sun had even begun to rise above the horizon, everything had a pale blue cast to it. The snow sparked, there was silence (at least as silent as a large city can be!), and not a soul to be seen. It was not eerie as it is late at night, when even though no one is in sight you half expect them to be there, hiding in some unseen shadows. Instead, there was a calmness in the air, a quiet breathe before the city began its day.

But as I said, I am not a morning person. Right now. I get up as early as I need to, or after as many times as I can hit the snooze button. I stumble down the stairs; trying to keep up with the dogs anxious to be let outside, but not so fast as to risk my still-asleep body falling down them.

Water is put on for tea and coffee, dogs are let outside, breakfast is made. Breakfast is eaten, Chris' lunch prepared, and somewhere in between babies are collected from beds. It is the same routine, with only minor variables, but I just don't enjoy it the way I have in the past.

There have been a couple mornings, here and there, when I did feel rested enough to get up a little early. I was able to get in a few minutes of reading or knitting before the morning started, and that was special. But on the whole; mornings and I do not agree.

Perhaps it is the fact that I am still waking up twice a night to feed or settle Marcus. I am only ever up for perhaps 20 minutes at a time, yet it is amazing how much that disturbs your sleep. It is easy to forget what it was like to get a full, uninterrupted night's sleep, and I fear it will be years before I am able to experience that again!

I know that is not true. By the time Lucien was a year and a half, he was sleeping through the night, almost 10 hours straight. So there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is just hard to see...

So for days like today, when every cell in my body cries out for me to curl back into bed, I need to keep my head up, my eyes open, and drink another tea.

I suppose I better go put on more water.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chili for a chilly day

Chilly is one of those magical foods alongside with stews and soups that no matter what type of cold day it is, it will warm you straight to the bone Yet is hearty enough to provide you with the energy for any type of adventure.

It is perfect on those crisp cool September days; dreary soak-you-to-the-bone November ones; and is equally warming on those days in January when the cold can suck the breath right out of you.

Yesterday was the perfect day for chili: not only was it freezing cold, but what should have been a short errand run became almost a two hour long ordeal when I locked us out of the house!

So the chili was the perfect ending to our adventure, and was very easy to make!

Homestead Chili
1 medium package of lean ground beef
1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 small green peppers, diced
4-6 medium white mushrooms, diced
2 cans red kidney beans (or one white, one red) drained and rinsed
1 large can diced tomatoes, drained
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp salt
3 heaping tbsp chili powder (or to taste)
1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)

In a large pot, saute the garlic and onions with a bit of water until the onions are translucent (I have been using water to saute my meat/vegetables for a while now, and only add a little olive/sesame oil for taste if a recipe calls for it). Add the salt, chili, and ground beef, and saute until the meat is fully cooked, then add the mushrooms and green peppers and continue to cook until they just turn soft.

Pour in the beans and tomatoes and while stirring, turn down the heat so that the chili stays at a nice low simmer. Simmer with the lid on for half an hour to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve on top of steamed rice or with garlic bread, and enjoy!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Bake of the Week: Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits

When we made the decision to avoid processed food as much as possible for our family, that included all members; furry or not.

However, it has taken this long for me to actually start making their treats myself. I am not sure why. Perhaps I imagined them to be more difficult than cookies designed for human consumption, or perhaps I just didn't know where to start looking for recipes.

Either way, I decided that I'd waited long enough; and that it was time I started making healthy and cost effective treats for our pets (with the added bonus of knowing exactly what I was feeding them!).

For the recipe, I knew I wanted one that was peanut butter-based. Both dogs go crazy over the stuff, and we still had almost a full jar of it that we were not going to eat ourselves (it was left a little too close to the edge of the counter and was "found" by the dogs - I never threw it in the compost though because I knew such an occasion would arise where I could use it!). I eventually found one and modified it slightly (substituting eggs for oil, and adding rolled oats), and the end result is a crunchy, yummy-smelling cookie that the dogs will do anything for!

Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits
Makes 50 medium sized biscuits
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpous flour
3/4 cups whole wheat flour/or any stoneground grain flour (I used a seven grain flour)
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup cold water
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg, beaten

In a large bowl, mix together dry ingredients. Quickly stir in the water, egg and peanut butter.

Transfer to a well floured surface, and after adding a couple handfuls of flour (I had to add about 4 in total to get a dough that was pliable but no longer sticky), begin to knead.

Once the dough is the right consistency, roll out to 1/4 of an inch thick. Cut with a cookie cutter appropriate for the dog consuming these (I have two medium dogs, but usually ere on the side of smaller, to make the treats last longer and give them less at a time).

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes, or until they are a nice golden brown.

Transfer to racks to cool completely before storing in an airtight container, and just watch for the tail wagging to begin!

Painting Pianos?!?

One of our readers had asked if we would share some pictures of the creative painting and  crafting space I made for Chris. As I had already filmed footage of our new piano to share, I thought it would also be a great idea to film the new room as well!

So here is our family's second vlog; showcasing the new piano and crafting room!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A New Year's Suprise!

There are many changes that are going to take place over the next year here at the Homestead, and just now the first one has become a reality!

For a while now I've wanted to start taking footage and create some videos to suppliment the blog (which became even more important once we stopped having use of our camera!), but that has been exeedingly difficult considering we didn't own a video recorder.

But no longer! One of my gifts from Chris this year was a beautiful little Flip camera, and since Christmas Day I've been wanting to share that footage with you!

Alas, editing (and filming oneself for that matter) is much more difficult than I imagined. For starters, I find I am still quite self concience speaking into the camera. Me. Camera shy. I know, it's hard to imagine. But this strange phenomenom occurs whenever the little red light goes on: suddenly I forget everything I planned to say, I get nervous, and my voice gets high and sqeaky.

I know it will pass; the more I film the more comfortable and less self concious I'l become, but in the meantime, please bear with me!

This was also my very first attempt at film editing ever. I just know that in a year or so I'll look back at this video and loath it, but I also know that's just the learning experience right there. But for the almost two hours of footage shot, I still couldn't believe the end result was under 9 minutes!

Though I want the vlogs to be regular, at this point I am not sure what regular means. I still have footage from Boxing Day and New Years to edit, and a short vlog about our piano and painting space. What I do know is that the vlogs will vary in content, including but not limited to:
  • Cooking and baking recipes
  • Family antics and special events at the homestead
  • Knitting, sewing, and crafting tutorials
So before this gets too long, here it is: Christmas Day at the Homestead!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Bread Tutorial Evolution

Our goal of not buying bread on a regular basis and of making it ourselves is still going strong. I can only think of one instance since Autumn that I've broken down and purchased some and if I remember correctly, it was because we were all sick.

So when my sister asked for the recipe and I had a look at what I had written all those months ago, I realised that the recipe needed some revamping.

If I've said it once, I've say it a thousand times: making bread is more of an art than it is a science. Once you become practised, the exact measurements become less important than the texture of the dough when you've added just the right amount of flour; the way the starter and dough look when they've just risen enough (though it does help to know what it looks like when it has risen too long - then you'll know what to avoid!); or the colour of the bread once it has baked for the perfect amount of time.

I have tried to add some notes where I can; things that were left out in the original recipe but that I've discovered are paramount to creating a delicious and airy loaf of bread. That being said; home-made breads are (in my experience, at least!) more dense than their commercial counterparts. It takes a little getting used to, but now I dislike how "squishy" store-bought bread is.

When we last bought bread (and I bought a fresh loaf from the Foodland bakery, hoping for an improvement over the packaged commercial kind) we had such a hard time cutting it and we ended up with flattened slices of toast!

Because home-made bread is a little heavier, smaller loaves are perfect. The smaller slices are just as filling as a slice from the store!

One thing I do want to mention is what happens when you either let your starter or your dough rise to long:

An over-risen starter is easier to fix; simply add a few tablespoons more of flour (and water, if necessary), mix, and let stand a little longer until it has risen up again.

If your dough has over-risen and fallen, there is not much you can do. Continue to form the loaves or, if the loaves are what have fallen, just bake as usual. Just be prepared for bread that is crunchy and not as soft. Do not despair though: this bread if cubed and mixed with a little salt, olive oil, and seasoning makes great croutons. Bake the cubes at 300 F until golden brown and enjoy on Caesar salad!

Here is the link to the bread tutorial, and I encourage you all to give it a try! It is well worth the effort, and after a few successes, you'll be hard pressed to find a loaf that tastes as great, uses as simple ingredients, or keeps as well as this one!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Resolution Time

It seems as if every New Years I make the same type of resolutions: to loose weight; get in better shape; or just to eat healthier (though I do remember one year while still in school resolving to make smarter financial decisions - IE. not to spend so much frivolously!). This year however, my resolutions are much more family-oriented.

For starters, I need to seriously tackle Lucien's potty training. Over the summer I started (but not with much earnest) and then when the holidays approached it was abandoned entirely. I know Lucien is ready, at this point his main set back has been a lack of consistency from me. He got some brand new Spiderman briefs from Santa this Christmas, now it's time to put them to work.

All you mothers reading this; wish me good luck and infinite patience!

Secondly, now that it's January, I am starting to look ahead to April when I will be going back to work. I'll be honest: I am still unsure of how I feel about that. I miss my coworkers, and even like the idea of spending time in adult company again. Yet I am saddened that I will no longer be home all the time with my boys.

I am sure this is something every working mother goes through, no matter how old her children are when she re-enters the workforce. I find it comical that I feel this way now though; by the time Lucien was 4 months I was already back at work.

Perhaps it's because I've had this past year spending 24/7 with both boys, but I feel like Marcus is still too young to be left in the care of someone else. And the fact that breastfeeding is still going strong, I don't want to give up that special bond that he and I share.

And there are other considerations. Being at home, I've slowly built up a great routine over the past months in which I've included art and activity time with Lucien, a some-what regular cleaning schedule, and increased the amount of made-from-scratch foods exponentially. In fact, apart from crackers, all the baked goods we consume are made from raw ingredients; cookies, breads, pizza, snack foods... not to mention the canned goods I've made as well. We have been able to limit the amount of processed foods our family consumes to a bare minimum and I am sure we are all healthier because of it. However, I worry that I will not be able to maintain this once I am back at work. Or, I'll maintain it, but wear myself out. Not sure which is worse!

My head tells me that everything will work out, and it will just be the next chapter in our family's day-to-day routine. But my heart doesn't really believe it. So for the next three months, my second resolution is to prepare our family (and myself!) for the return to work.

Things are going to be busy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holiday Time is Family Time


Things here have been crazy since a couple weeks before Christmas. It was a flurry of activity; baking, cleaning, knitting, sewing, painting, and I can't even remember what else. But it is now over, and we are left with feeling very full, very warm, very loved, and yes, very exhausted.

For us the holidays are always special because they are first and foremost family time. After the chaos and activity of the weeks preceding, we can finally sit back, relax, and enjoy the warmth and company of our loved ones. It is a time to enjoy and reflect on our wealth, both in material and non-material terms, and give thanks for how blessed we truly are.

The weeks of festivities (for with the amount of extended family we have, it truly takes weeks to get in visits with everyone!) started off with Yule (December 21). I made a special dinner, and we celebrated with just the four of us the Return of the Sun. (For anyone not aware, Yule is also the winter solstice; and though it is the longest night of the year, it also marks the point in which the days will start getting longer.) I lit candles around the house, and the first gift of the season was given: two new bookcases for the family to enjoy in the living room that I put together all by myself!
Christmas Eve was a quiet evening in with one of our best friends; I made pizzas, we played the piano, and then the little ones were ushered up to bed.

It was peaceful, serene: everything you could hope for the Night before Christmas.

After weeks of scheming, Christmas morning arrived. I was able to give Chris the big gift I'd been planning and working on in secret: his painting and craft space.

We have a beautiful sun room at the front of the house that up to this point has been filled with unopened boxes in various amounts since the day we moved in. Our goal was to have the room turned into a knitting/painting/sewing/crafting room for us adults (because it has the wonderful benefit of having french doors that lock!), but neither of us had the time nor storage options to make that goal a reality.

So I knew that would make the perfect gift.

After a few setbacks the room finally took shape, and it is now a sanctuary where both Chris and I can be creative and little ones are kept at bay until they are old enough to get into the hobby knives, paints, knitting needles and crazy glue!

We spent Christmas day with Chris' family at his parents house, and enjoyed the first of the turkey dinners. The boys got to play with their cousins, and there was more laughter and great food to be had by all.

Boxing day was another turkey dinner, this time with Chris' birth mother and her family. The boys were spoiled by all their aunts and uncles, and we left afraid to eat another morsel lest we explode. I think I am still full with turkey!

This week was a little quieter, though both Chris and I became sick. Whether we actually had a virus, or whether we finally succumbed to sheer exhaustion I don't know. We went back down to the in-laws for New Years, had very long naps, and went to bed early. I did get to attend my first fondue party there, and that was quite something!

I do have something special planned to share with you all, and once I overcome some technical difficulties, it'll be up and running!
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