Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Homemade Tomato Sauce With No Peeling or Seeding!

Lately, I have been blessed with many, many tomatoes - far more than we could eat fresh. But throw them away? NEVER!  However, I do not have the time or mental stamina to sit around peeling and seeding tomatoes for hours upon end in order to make traditional recipes of tomato sauce.

The solution? Skip the peeling and seeding, of course! I found this great recipe and followed it - that plus another one that I can no longer find. Check out the above link for the awesome pictures and more detailed directions. My one change was to cook down the sauce so that it more closely resembled storebought canned sauce.

The result? Wonderful, super-easy sauce that has no unknown ingredients and no BPA from can linings!

This sauce was made with plum tomatoes, and we used it last night on Eggplant Parmesan. Yum! 

Easy, No-Peel, No-Seed Tomato Sauce


Tomatoes! Lots of them!

Optional ingredients: Olive oil, salt, onion.


Wash tomatoes well, core. Halve or quarter if you want to. Dump in a pot with some water and salt (opt.), and cook on low to medium for as long as you want, until your desired level of thickness is reached - once they are cooked, crack or remove the lid to let the sauce reduce. I cook mine for 24-36 hours. (Make sure to put on low for overnight!) Blend with a blender or immersion blender, and watch those skins disappear! Woo hoo! Cool and freeze.

* If desired, add olive oil and onion at the beginning. You can also saute the onion in the olive oil before adding the tomatoes in the beginning stages. Spices such as basil are also an option.

* You can also do this in a crockpot - turn the lid sideways (on an oval crockpot) when the time comes to reduce.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Five Ways to Make Christmas Awesome!

Are you surprised by the title? Yes, Christmas is over a month past... but here at our place, the tree and all the decorations are still up, I'm still playing Lawrence Welk CDs, and Christmas is still very much an ongoing reality! Not that that's anything new... our family once left our tree up till April. We don't plan to surpass that record this year. But having all the decorations still up has led me to ponder this past Christmas season to see what I can learn from it.

Cinnamon Ornaments! 
We really had an awesome Christmas season. It looked bad from the outside, because we spent all of November and December dealing with rolling illnesses - one or more of us would still be sick from the last illness when the next one moved in. We had to miss church for almost two months straight, and we had to cancel almost all of our Christmas season engagements (parties, concerts, etc.).

But despite all of that, we had a blast!

Our Advent Wreath!
 Because I had purposed to use Christmas as an educational tool, I did a TON of planning for crafts and activities, and we had a wonderful time with all of that. We decorated the house, played music continually, and did lots of crafts.

Elf on the Shelf, with a new book each day! 
We were able to be together (all the more so during this period of unemployment for DH), and we were able to learn so many wonderful things and build so many family memories.

Lepkuchen Day 2012!
It was only a few years ago that the extent of my Christmas season observations consisted of, "Come on, hon! We're late for Christmas Eve service and we forgot to get out our tree! Hurry!" True story. Having children and homeschooling them has been such a wonderful way for God to work in my life - Christmas decorating included!

Snow ice cream! 
We had a wonderful time, and I've learned so much that I hope to carry into next year.

Christmas Tree decorations, courtesy of The Happy Home Fairy
 Looking back on this Christmas season, here are a few things that I have learned about how I can work to make Christmas even better:

Crafts and Activities Need to be Planned for Early in the Month! 

Crafts and activities in early December = fun! Crafts and activities in late December, with family visiting and the schedule ramped up with cooking, cleaning, and gifty-stuff = a nightmare. This is one of the reasons that my idea of doing a "birthday cake for baby Jesus" has never worked out - I always plan it for too late in the month. I read of moms who make this a Christmas morning activity - frankly, either they are insane or have achieved parenting perfection, because the one time I tried that it was an utter disaster. "Stop looking at your presents and come over here RIGHT NOW to make this birthday cake! And you'd better have FUN doing it, buddy!" Nope. Never again. Sometime around December 1st would be ideal.

Shredded Wheat Christmas ornaments - these things are awesome! 
I Need to Let Go of Non-Essentials....

This year, I had a very short time slot to wrap presents (especially considering that I was wrapping presents for the entire family). When it came around, I grabbed my supplies and the wee Chublet, and dove into the bathroom for a frenzied hour and a half of gift-wrapping.

And what did I find myself stressing over? Ribbon! I did not have time to do "proper" ribbon around each and every (or any) package, but I was beating myself up about it - real presents have real ribbon on them or they don't count!

Thankfully, I came to my senses. The ultimate truth = Ribbon does not matter. No one will notice, and trying to keep up with my childhood standards will only stress me out for no good purpose. So I started slapping on ready-made bows with vigor, and released that self-imposed expectation to the winds. Ribbon may never again appear at our house.

When it's unnecessary expectations vs. our family happiness or personal peace, the former has to go to the wall. And quickly, lest we get caught up in the dreaded Merry Christmas Madness.

... But Keep Up With the Important Things!

While letting go of non-essentials is important, I find that there are some traditions that I (or our children) especially cherish, and those are worth fighting for! 

For our eldest, those things are our advent calendar, our Elf on the Shelf, driving to see lights, and similar things. 

For myself, the especially-treasured things include mailing Christmas cards, celebrating Lepkuchen Day and making decorated sugar cookies, having traditional Christmas foods (or at least cooking them!), Christmas Eve service, and going out to look at Christmas lights. 

I also especially love involving our neighbors in our celebrations. My dream is to have neighbors who have the same amount of intimacy and friendship that I experienced in my childhood neighborhood. Though I am too miserably introverted to do this well or quickly, I work toward that goal steadily, which includes our annual open house for our neighbors (and friends!), and handing out Christmas cookies and cards (this year we gave cards and cookies to our entire neighborhood, rather than just our adjoining neighbors). 

Those things are worth the work! 

Santa Lucia Bread! 
Gift Stuff Needs to Happen Early

I'm about to disclose a dirty little secret - are you ready? Here it is: We don't usually buy our children Christmas gifts. (*Gasp!*) Or rather, not many gifts. They may get one present from us on Christmas, but that's about it. The reason? Simply that because our children are the only grandchildren (and nephews) on both sides of the family, they are absolutely inundated with gifts on Christmas and birthdays. Add to that the fact that we are usually strapped for cash and that I do not enjoy shopping, it has never made sense to spend money that we don't have doing something we don't enjoy to add gifts to the pile that the kids don't need.

(*Feel free to send venomous emails about how we are ruthless child-abusers.*)

This year, however, multiple life circumstances brought around a curious set of circumstances - every set of extended family gave us money instead of gifts, and said, "Because of such-and-such, we can't do the shopping this year - would you do it for us?"

And so, behold! - My first experience with major Christmas shopping.

May I say that I hope it goes back to normal  next year? My goodness! Keeping track of orders, making orders, trying to avoid imbalances in gift-buying - it was exhausting! And because I waited far too late to do it all, it was crazy. (Though I must credit The Vision Forum with coming to our rescue, as almost all of our gifts came from there - highly recommended!)

The next time I have to do major gift-buying, I really need to do it earlier - and even more so with wrapping (though one presupposes the other!).

Our family's first snowman, all four inches of him! 
The More Children, the Fewer Plans

I need to be realistic and realize that the more children we have, the fewer things that I can plan (at least until the children get older). Several times this season I looked around and saw catastrophic messes, piles of dishes, three cranky and needing-to-eat children, and thought... "And I'm supposed to be making Christmas cookies? You've got to be kidding!" And frankly, that's just the truth. Life needs to slow down. We can't attend every function, do every craft, and make every cookie. I want to do Christmas well, but that means paring down activities to what we can do while maintaining family unity and cheerfulness. Anything more is too much for this season of life.

I am very much looking forward to next year's Christmas season, though this year's will be hard to beat. And I might even take down the tree before it's time to put it up again! (No promises.)

I'd love to hear about your lessons that you've learned for doing Christmas with kidlets!

Why Unemployment Seriously Rocks!

As I write this, DH has been without a job for three and a half months - far longer than we anticipated (especially considering that this layoff truly took us by surprise). It's been a long three months!

In many ways, it's been a rocky road. Firstly, the beginning of the job hunt was confused by the "should we look for a job, or strike out something on our own?" question - each side hijacking the other as DH considered possibilities. Secondly, there was the business that "hired" him - gave him the verbal promise of a job and said that they "just needed a week or two to work out salary and start date" - and then quietly faded into the distance (we haven't heard from them in two months). We finally realized the truth, but not before a good long stretch of time had been wasted. Then there's been the realization that our savings is quickly dwindling while possibility after possibility is exhausted.

But in many ways, unemployment has been wonderful. We haven't gone through a period of unemployment for more than five years, back when we only had one baby, so this was a completely different experience, and we actually had a ton of fun. Here are some of the ways in which unemployment has rocked for our family!

Keeping the Family Together

Let's face it - having fathers gone for a majority of the day is NOT the ideal situation for human families and human children. It's not natural or healthy for children to miss out on their daddies for so much of their lives. Unfortunately, that's just the way our society is currently oriented, and almost all of us live in this way - even those of us who make the commitment to have mommy at home. So this dedicated time of having the family together 24/7 for a quarter-year has been absolutely wonderful. The boys have thrived with having more daddy-time, and I love having our family completely together, rather than mom+kids and daddy-at-work.

Not to say that it hasn't had its challenges! We've had to adjust to a whole new way of living (and will have to adjust back), and it's taken some getting used to - especially with the need to fit lessons into the schedule. But it's been worth the work.

Although DH is most likely soon to be heading back into the corporate world, this time of being together has given us a vision for what we'd like our family to look like eventually (i.e. having dad at home more often), and I hope that that vision will transfer into future realities.


The past six months has been an absolutely amazing time for our family. Starting last July, God began doing some serious housecleaning in our family life. Some of the changes are things that I have been praying for for years; some took me completely off-guard (in a good way!). Our family has completely changed in so many ways, practically and spiritually. While this has been really good for us, it's also been a bit unsettling as we adjust to so many new changes in our family. Unemployment has blessed our family greatly in giving DH so much more time to be together to discuss things and hash through topics conversationally, and time to be together to adjust to new directions for our family. Awesome stuff.


Thankfully, our savings has tided us over this time (for which we praise the Lord!), but this period of not having an income has blessed us greatly in helping us to tighten up loose areas in our finances. Though neither of us is wild with money, having a steady income for the past five years has allowed both of us to slip into habits of purchasing unnecessary indulgences (cooking ingredients, books, fast food, etc.). Having a sense of "we only have THIS amount of money before it is GONE" has been really good for us. We've nixed book buying and fast food purchases, have cut all unnecessary spending, and made some cuts that were good for us both financially and spiritually (goodbye, DirecTV!!).

For me, it has also given me a wonderful impetus to do all those grocery-bill cuts that I've been meaning to get around to for years. I've started visiting our local discount store for some groceries, started getting into Azure Standard, and have begun using our local throw-away produce market - all things that I've needed to do for years but have procrastinated on because the matter wasn't urgent. Now that the urgency of the situation has forced those reforms, I'm happy to be in new habits which will hopefully persist past the period of unemployment!

As I write, DH is beginning the process of signing papers for a job which will begin this Wednesday. It will definitely be nice to have a source of income again, and not to have to worry about the upcoming deadline of "What do we do when we have no more money?"

And yet... it is with definite sadness that I see this period of our lives come to a close. Despite the worry, it has been an unforgettably wonderful time, and I will miss it. Hopefully the good effects will last, and the vision for the future will bear fruit over coming years.

Unemployment has been a wonderful time!

How about you, dear readers? Any fond memories of times out-of-work?

Blurry, but cute - the littlest one with his daddy! 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Roe v. Wade: Observing the 40-Year Anniversary

Fifty-five million.

That's a lot, isn't it? It's more than the human mind can fathom. But it's the number of babies who have died in American abortion clinics since Roe v. Wade declared open season on our precious and innocent wee ones.

Observing the 40-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade is, for me, a day of mourning. Mourning for the babes whose lives have ended in fear and pain, in a manner that is truly unspeakable in nature and whose precious bodies have ended in the shameful grave of medical waste buckets.
"And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground." (Gen.4)
Currently, we sacrifice an average of 22% of our babies to our convenience. Babies who would inconvenience us. Babies who are not "perfect." Babies who do not fit our lifestyle.
"Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?" (Prov. 24)
Abortion is truly the tragedy of our age, and I mourn greatly for all of the babies whose sweet lives have been cut short.
"For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.... My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." (Ps. 139)
All of us bear responsibility for this travesty of human rights and human dignity. And we within the Christian church bear a great responsibility as well. We have often acted with passivity, not devoting the time and resources necessary to combat this evil. And even worse, we often harbor attitudes and ethical philosophies which, though not actively supporting abortion, have led to society's abortion mindset.
"As the church, we can examine our own posture toward children. So often we condemn women for aborting their babies when we hold the exact same posture toward children that leads to abortion. Our excuse is that, “We would never do that!” But if we are looking at children as a burden rather than a blessing maybe we are part of the problem." ("Bloody Hands" by Heather at "A Mother's Calling")
For those of you ladies out there who consider abortion a fundamental human right, please consider whether or not you want the slaughter of our most innocent and defenseless to be something you set your heart on.
"Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Prov. 4)
Dear friends, our sweet babies deserve better than this.  

(*While I welcome calm discussion and honest questions, I immediately delete all combative or hurtful comments. Please keep the conversation polite and based in the desire for loving communication, not the desire to hurt others or start a fight.)

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Post in Which I Do NOT Get Political

This morning, upon my suggestion, our entire family sat down to watch the presidential inauguration. Not that I'm thrilled about the political state of our country, but I want our family's education to include a thorough knowledge of the political process. Earlier in the fall we did a mock election to show our son the basics of the election process, and now I wanted to show him the culmination of the process.

It was a big mistake.

First of all, our 6yo was bored stiff. And that's an understatement, frankly. Let's just say that he was so completely unimpressed that he spent the entire time playing with LEGOs and asking if we could do something else.

Alert! Alert! Homeschool fail!

Seriously, though, I wasn't too upset - he is really too young to be interested in political speeches and parades. I don't remember being interested in the political process until I was at least ten years old. There's time.

Secondarily, I found the entire thing so completely depressing that I have been in a very down mood ever since. Needless to say, I am not happy about the way our country is going politically and spiritually (not that I would have been particularly elated had the opposite candidate won!). And for all of today, I have been fighting the urge to come over to my blog and write an extremely biting political commentary to express my feelings.

But I'm not going to.

For one thing, I am not a skilled debater. Even though my politics are just as red-hot as the next fellow (probably hotter!), anyone with really good debate skills can spin me into a philosophical dizzy spell in no time. Additionally, I do not have the thick skin necessary to be a political commentator and to handle the vitriolic comments and hate mail that the internet community chooses to shower upon political bloggers. I am ridiculously thin-skinned.

Furthermore, this is not particularly a political blog. Though I am not immune to throwing out little political comments from time to time, the focus of this blog is just different, and I want to keep it that way.

But most of all, my source of depression over today was not anger over the candidate who was sworn into office. It is, instead, grief over the spiritual direction in which this country has chosen to go. I am intensely grieved over America's self-chosen destiny.

I am grieved that America has chosen to hold human life cheaply - that we now choose to slaughter 22% of our children in abortion clinics, for our own convenience. Our sweet babies deserve better.

I am grieved that America has chosen to abandon the Bible and the God of the Bible. I believe that the Bible contains everything we need "for life and godliness," and that in jettisoning them we are doing inestimable evil to ourselves.

I am grieved that America is choosing to give up more and more civil liberties in exchange for government handouts, and at the price of increasing governmental control in every area of our lives.

I am indeed grieved.

If anyone is tempted to come and leave any "You are a stupid idiot!" comments, please don't. I am not trying to start a fight. I am not trying to start a debate (I would lose!). I am simply expressing feelings and sorting out my own thoughts.

I will be praying constantly and fervently for God's leadership over our nation, and guidance for our newly elected president (and protection for him and his family). Please join me.

(And for those dear readers who are of opposite political persuasion, please know that I love you dearly!)

Love to all.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Article: The Link Between High-Carb and Morning Sickness

Good morning, everyone! Happy Sabbath!

Jump on over to The Primal Parent to take a look at her article, "High Carb Diets Can Cause Morning Sickness." (With a hat tip and big thank-you to reader A. who alerted me to this article!)

This is obviously (as you'll see when reading) an article geared toward normal morning sickness and not HG. The two are quite different in what works and what doesn't work - as we all know! (It's just not possible for a mama in active HG to 'tough it out.') But there's some good info here, and I was excited to see someone doing work that parallels what I am currently investigating.

Thank you very much to the author of this article for sharing!

Friday, January 18, 2013

An HG Mama's Beautiful New Baby!

Hop on over to "Prisoner in My Own Body" to see Mimi's beautiful new baby, Katelynn - born on January 8th! Congratulations to another HG mama for making it through a pregnancy to meet her beautiful new little one!

I love what she has to say at the end:
"To all my fellow HG mamas out there, please don’t give up and hang in there. It’s such a long, difficult road to be on but the reward is so worth it! When I look into Kate’s precious face, I fall in love over and over again."
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is a precious baby! Congrats, Mimi!

The Big Day Has Arrived!

This Thursday was a big day, folks.... I celebrated Day #150 on the Very Low Carb (VLC) Diet!
Woo hoo! It's time to party!! And what better way to party than with....

Squash Nachos!!!

To make: Slice yellow squash thinly, put on oiled cookie sheet, brush with oil and salt (I forgot that part), then bake at 225 for 1-3 hours or till slightly brown and crisp. Add usual nacho accoutrements. 

You know you want some!!

Actually, they weren't bad, and when covered with salsa the taste of squash pretty much disappeared! I'm not saying anything, but there's another squash in the kitchen that is calling my name!

I am really excited to have been on the diet so long! Last time I was only on it for something like 24 days before getting pregnant, so I wasn't able to experience the long-term effects of the diet. This time I am experiencing the full effects... and I love it! It's not easy to be sugar-free and grain-free, but I love the effects. Let me summarize....

Observed Health Benefits of the Very Low Carb Diet (Days 1-150)

- Better energy. I have always struggled with fatigue and low energy, so this is a wonderful boon!! LOVE it!!!

- My complexion has cleared up. Unexpected, but nice!

- Fewer allergies. I have noticed this before, so this was somewhat expected. I started developing seasonal allergies two or three years ago, and I have noticed that they disappear whenever I am grain-free. I'm guessing this is because non-traditionally-prepared grains can be a gut irritant, and allergies often stem from gut health.

- Better sleep and less insomnia.

- This is a BIG one - my postpartum nausea level has dropped to a big, fat, zero. This is amazing!!! I usually deal with multiple daily waves of postpartum nausea for the first 1-2 years postpartum. As soon as I got on the diet (after dealing with the initial mistake of doing low-fat), my postpartum nausea vanished. This is nothing short of astounding!

- Weight loss. I have now lost baby weight from our last baby and our next-to-last baby, and am working on that from our next-to-next-to-last baby. After that I'll only have post-wedding and college weight to deal with! This is a nice benefit, and I feel much better.

Moving On...

My next milestone will be the six-month mark, which will be a lot of fun! I am having a great time. Though I do miss grains and sugar (fruit and starchy vegetables and legumes...) the benefits have been too awesome to make me want to quit. I just love feeling so much better! And developing a completely new repertoire of recipes has been a fun adventure too, though it's a challenge.

Does anyone have any comments or questions? I'd love to discuss what I'm doing or answer any questions. Feel free to shoot questions this way!

Have a wonderful night, everyone!

We Made Taffy! (Or "The Blob Has Invaded")

This week our homeschool cooking project was something that I have wanted to make for my entire life (or at least since I read the "Little House" and "Grandma's Attic" books)....

Homemade Pulled Taffy!

So much fun! It was easy to put together, cooled quickly, and was fun to pull.

There was only one problem... The stuff absolutely refused to stiffen up! It is supposed to stiffen as it cools and is pulled, but after 40+ minutes of pulling (and pulling... and pulling...) I finally gave up and admitted defeat.

However, they tell me it still tasted good, and it has stiffened up a bit over time. I figure that I either added too much butter during the pulling, or I didn't get the temp high enough (though I used a candy thermometer to ensure proper temps).

But it was fun nonetheless, and I hope to try it again sometime!

This is what it looked like when we started... and what it looked like at the end when I gave up. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Okay, So I Was Wrong! (Part One of Many)

When we first started homeschooling, I considered making lesson plans to be somewhat unnecessary. What's to plan? Just do the next page!

But over the past few months, a couple of things have become clear:

First - Things go better when I plan ahead. Right now I'm only doing a bit of planning for our "extras" - field trips, science experiments, cooking projects, crafts, etc. Our academics, for the most part, still follow the "do the next page" plan - though I know that we will need to become more formally planned in the future.

Second - Having tallied up our remaining work pages for the year and done some math to figure out how long we will take to finish, it turns out that (due to our more laissez-faire approach during the first half of the year), we will be working far past my target end-date. Yikes! I hadn't realized that we had fallen behind, but I am now having to be much more strict in our weekly schedule to ensure that we will finish our kindergarten curriculum by the end of the school year.

And so... here is my first lesson-planning sheet! Again, this is just for our extras:

For our workbook-type academics, I'm using a "schedule" but not specifically a "lesson plan":

And for our non-scheduled academics (and to record our extras), I just keep records as we go along:

And so... my introduction to lesson-planning begins! I don't know where I'll go from here, but it's a constant adventure in learning, in trying new things, and in making mistakes and trying again. Things are never dull when learning about home education!

How much lesson planning do you do for your homeschool?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Snowmen: The Good, the Great, and the Really Ugly

For the past few months, I have committed to include at least one planned craft per week into our homeschool curriculum. None of us is particularly crazy about crafts, but I think it's good for us - and we do end up having fun!

This week I planned to make the Giant Snowman Craft from The Happy Home Fairy blog. It came out fairly nicely, if I do say so myself!

If you don't subscribe to this blog, mamas, check it out! She has so many great ideas for crafts and family activities - and most use materials that I already have at home! Next week I am going to try her Popsicle Stick Snowman Door Hanger for our craft!

I am finding that one great boon to our craft times is massive amounts of advance preparation. Our son has very little patience with crafts - and the possibilities for intense frustration increase exponentially during long crafts - so when I take the time to set out every needed material and do a bit of mise en place, our crafts are much happier events than our former, "You WILL enjoy this craft! NOW!" events.

Of course, then I got carried away and decided to try another snowman craft on the site, her cute little Easy Snowman Snack. There was the slight issue of having almost none of the needed ingredients, but by golly I wanted to do it anyway! The results were not pretty.

He may look like an evil paint-balling snowman from a Christmas horror film, but he's supposed to be cute. Really. 
Oh well, at least our son enjoyed eating him! (All but the chlorophyll I used for painting - that didn't go down too well. I usually use chlorophyll to dye our Christmas cookie frosting green, but I guess in this case it was a bit too concentrated.)

I'm always learning something new on this homeschooling journey!

(Next week I'll refrain from horror-film snowmen, though I may think of something worse!)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Wading Through Armadillos, Giant Rabits, and Rodents of Unusual Size

One of the many things that I love about home education is the plethora of opportunities that we have for field trips and extracurricular activities! We participate in at least one field trip per week - and what's even better, we experience them as a complete family unit! These field trips are quickly becoming part of our family memories and our family experience - all the more so as DH is able to come with us during this time of unemployment.

I love homeschooling.

And if you know anything about my history, you will know that my saying that is nothing short of a miracle.

This past week, we were blessed by a wonderful field trip to a local traveling petting zoo, led by a woman who rescues and rehabilitates all kinds of animals, from pets to exotics.

The armadillo! Boy, this little fellow was incredible, especially when he did his rolling-into-a-ball act. Adorable!
The lady in charge gave a brief talk about her various animals, as well as how to hold them safely, and then let the kids loose upon them. Frankly, I was a lot more nervous about everything than she was! (I was the one following our son about nervously, muttering "Don't drop the turtle!!" etc.)

Our littlest one was extremely fond of the baby alpaca, but unfortunately for him, the alpaca is still people-shy.

Our middle baby loved everything! He had a great time.

Our eldest's favorite was the gecko! The owner explained that the gecko has an unsettling habit of jumping unexpectedly onto people's faces - which the gecko promptly did to our son! He spent the rest of the time telling everyone about his adventures with the gecko (and trying to get it to jump on him again, which it obligingly did).

The incredible jumping gecko!
This was an awesome experience for all of us, and our entire homeschool fellowship group greatly enjoyed it.

Have I mentioned how much I am enjoying home education?

'Night, all!

Guinea pigs! 

A Patagonian Cavy - one of the world's largest rodents! (A relative of the capybara)

A Giant Flemish Rabbit (the pic doesn't do it justice - this thing was huge!)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Winter Miracles, Winter Disasters, and Asking Reader Input

Good morning, dear readers! I hope that each of you has survived the Christmas season with health, reason, and finances intact!

We have had a lovely Christmas season. Despite having had countless illnesses rolling through the house repeatedly since early November (the latest of which being the reason that I'm not at church right now), we have had a wonderful couple of months celebrating the birth of our Savior and enjoying the season.

For New Year's, we spent a week in northern Arizona, visiting two sets of relatives and trying not to freeze to death. It was great!

While we were visiting the frozen north, though, we had one really rotten day. Yikes. It all started the day before, when our eldest spent the day consuming every kind of junk food known to man (long story), ending the day with eating five pickles. Ick. The next morning, he awoke with a hurting tummy and spent the entire day in intense discomfort (plus throwing up twice). Which leads me to two questions:

Question #1 for my amiable readers: Can overindulgence in junk food cause a day-long tummy-ache in a child?

We have not really experienced too many stomach illnesses in our family, and almost no serious ones. At first we concluded that this must be a run-of-the-mill stomach bug, but based on the facts of (1) our child's absolutely hideous diet the day before, as compared to his usually healthy diet, and (2) the fact that he only threw up twice during the day, we wondered if it might have been diet-based (but don't know if that's possible).

Any reader input?

One puzzling thing that we ran into with this bug(?) was the issue that despite our efforts to give our child tummy-ache remedies (both natural and OTC), he somewhat hysterically refused all of them ("No! I can't! My stomach hurts!" etc.). And frankly, I found myself not knowing what to do. We felt that he needed something, but we also didn't want to make a discipline issue out of it with a child who was already miserable. So while we (unsuccessfully) tried persuasion, we didn't force the issue. I know, I know - BAD PARENT ALERT! But I would like to ask my readers, again...

Question #2: When you feel that a sick child needs medicine but the child is adamantly refusing it, what do YOU do? Do you try to persist, or just accept that the child needs to wait out the illness?

One thing or another, it was a rotten day for all of us! Especially since all seven of us (plus a dog and a bird) were crowded into a tiny single-wide mobile home. We were all exhausted by the end of the day!

Is he cute, or what? (This is the younger brother, not the sick one.)
However, we had a lovely end to a horrible day - snow! DH and I went for a quick breather-walk, and we started seeing tiny flakes of snow falling. For all you out there who are used to snow, this won't sound like much, but in my 31 years on the planet, this was the first time I had ever seen snow fall in person! I have been to places where there was snow, but never where there was snow falling. I can't even express how unutterably lovely and wonderful it was!

It felt like the most wonderful of rewards for making it through a truly trying day.

The next morning, we all went out to experience the snow. It was lovely packing snow, and DS (feeling much better) and I worked up a creditable snowball fight.

Anyone wondering about my oh-so-stylish footwear? They're gen-yoo-wine G.I. boots, straight from the Vietnam War via my dad. They nearly killed my feet, but when it's freezing outside, flip-flops (my usual gear) are, alas, not a viable option. 
We also, for the first time, made a snowman!

He may be only four inches high, but by golly, he's cute. 
All in all, we had a great week - though I was beyond thankful to be home at the end of it.

But I sure hope that I can experience snow fall many, many more times over my lifetime! Loved it!

Happy Sabbath, dear friends! Love to all!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Snow-Made Yumminess!

This past week, while we were up north... it snowed! So fun! So, in proper homeschool-mom mode (woo hoo!), I immediately set about finding projects to do with the snow (which is indeed a rarity for us). 

I've wanted for years to make snow candy, a la "Little House in the Big Woods," but most of those recipes call for masses of real maple syrup, which is slightly less expensive than molten gold - so I eventually found this recipe which calls for common household ingredients. Alas, it did not get made (the weather wouldn't cooperate), but it's on the list for next time.

Instead, we made snow ice cream! I used this recipe, and as we had a hard enough time finding enough snow to fill a quart measure, let alone a gallon, we made a quarter-recipe.

Adding the sugar in....

The 6yo, whose interest in cooking usually lies in waiting ever-so-impatiently for the end results, looks on as we add the vanilla...

Notice the plate of MY FAVORITE FRUITCAKE in the background. The fruitcake that I COULDN'T EAT. Just wrong!! 

Be careful adding the milk - it is very careful to go overboard (it turns quickly from snow to "snow ice cream" to "snow soup").

We ended up with "ice cream soup," but I'm told it tasted good anyway. 

It's not like normal ice cream, but it's a great and easy craft! 
We almost never manage to visit north when there's snow, but this was one of those wonderful times! I think snow ice cream is a tradition that will stick - easy, fast, delicious, kid-friendly! What more could I ask? And hopefully we'll get around to snow candy next time as well!

 I hope each and every one of you has had a blessed holiday season! Love to all! 

Because every blog post should end with an adorable baby flopped in a cat bed! 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Overcome by a League of Incredible Vegetables!

One of my (many many many) life-aspects that I am working on improving is our out-of-control food bill. Yikes! I plan our meals, shop sales, and use up everything, but we are still spending a TON of money on food. And we don't even buy free-range or organic anything yet! (I'm embarrassed to admit that... but I promise to work on it. That will be a separate project.)

Recently, I went to a local market that sells supermarket excess - stuff that would otherwise go in the trash. It's not perfect-quality, but it's quite acceptable. The only downside (beside it not being organic) is the PROCESSING TIME! Wow! I only got half of it processed today - the other half is going to be done post-Sabbath, tomorrow evening. 

Here's what I got: 

Tomatillos, 3# -  These have now been cooked and are waiting to be made into salsa verde. 

Green peppers, 10 each. These are being eaten raw and frozen for pizza and fajitas. 

Poblano chiles. I followed the directions (really!), but apparently I did something wrong, because they were utterly destroyed in the process of cooking them. Farewell, sweet poblanos! 

Roma Tomatoes, a ridiculous amount. These are destined to become crockpot salsa tomorrow night! 

Grape tomatoes - These are being eaten out of hand, with another big batch drying overnight in the oven. Wish I'd gotten more! (I could have, but I thought I had enough. I didn't.)

Pickling cucumbers, 5# - I hadn't planned to learn pickling right now, but apparently I'm destined for it anyway! Pickling lessons, tomorrow night. Since I don't have a pickling crock, my sugar and white beans are going to be evicted from their containers so that I can have somewhere to pickle these! 

Four melons, type unknown. Hopefully they're good! But I'm guessing they'll end up as baby food anyway, so it won't much matter!

And there you have it! My latest effort at bringing down our food bill. We'll see if I can keep it up!

Happy New Year, everybody! And Happy Sabbath!

Friday, January 4, 2013

We're Famous at Last!

My midwife does an incredibly sweet year-end round-up blog entry in which she summarizes each and every one of her births for the year. This year, we are included! Visit her blog to see her list of 2012 babies. Here is her summary of our latest baby's birth!
"Giles – Such a sweet family you joined that beautiful morning! Being born in the bathtub has sort of become a tradition to your mother as you joined your two big brothers as a waterbaby. This soft-spoken gentle soul that is your mother was a pillar of strength and inspiration as she quietly labored and then, with two roars, birthed you and brought you up into her arms. She was so peaceful that your daddy almost didn’t make it in the room as he was busy feeding your brother breakfast! (when we called for him because you were coming out, we scared him because the urgency in our voice for him to hurry made me think something might be wrong! Poor guy…) But everything was very right and you are a perfect little boy!"
And I especially love her loving tribute to those babies whose stay on earth ended before birth, leaving their parents with empty arms:
"And to the 11 babies who couldn’t be here with us, who had to leave before they could be held…..I will never forget you either. I shared tears with your parents who yearned to see you and hold you. Thank you for the gifts you could share with me, and I’m just sorry it couldn’t be for longer."
We have such a sweet midwife, and we appreciate this blog entry! Printing this one for the baby book, for sure!