Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goals for 2015

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

I have been reading about the wonderful goals people set for themselves and decided I am going to go out on a limb and put my goals out there for everyone to see! It makes me kind of nervous to set concrete goals because I fear failure, but that's all the more reason to conquer that fear! I have thought a lot about these and the order is of no importance. I feel like I have been pretty detatched in the last year and a half, just trying to find a way to re-engage life. Sounds weird as I really have accomplished quite a bit in the last year, but it's what you can't see that I have been working on. I have been so easily discouraged, have needed much more affirmation than I normally do, been very sensitive, not been receptive to constructive criticism, and have let destructive criticism destroy pieces of me. All this has affected every aspect of my life and I have felt helpless about it much of the time.


I'm not sure of God's plan in all this, but I trust that He has one and I have struggled to keep my faith in that. I can see the big picture, but have often lost sight of it for extended lengths of time. It has been hard to reach out to others, partly because that in itself can be tough:  "hello, I've never talked to you outside of church/work/school before, but can you all of a sudden come over and share my burdens with me?" Or I call and leave messages and/or texts, or even online, that don't get returned and I'm never sure of what to do then. Keep harassing them or take it that they are too busy? After enough tries, I get too timid.

To be honest, this is partly why I started this blog. It's not the original reason, mind you, but I suspect that if someone takes the time to read my articles and posts, then they must have some real interest and I don't have to feel like I'm pushing myself on anyone. Same deal with my Facebook page. I get much more feedback and encouraging words on my blog page than I ever have on my personal page. You all have no idea how much I truly appreciate that! People I've never even met, and probably never will, reaching their hand out in kindness. It's a huge breath of fresh air especially when there are times that the only folks I can get a hold of are those that are typically critical or negative and tell me to "suck it up and deal with it." I have to say, that has never helped me.

Well, anyway, for a goal article, this went much deeper than I planned, but it goes to explain my fear in doing this and where I am coming from with it. Also as to why I can and want to share this with you. I suspect that the majority of you will be encouraging, even if I don't accomplish everything I want to. Again, I wholeheartedly appreciate that. So, with that said...

Goal #1. Get below 200 pounds by the end of the year. Including baby, this will be about 50 pounds which will be about one pound a week. I don't want to binge diet or do anything that I can't maintain over an extended period of time. I have confessed before that I am a sugar addict, so that will be my first battle in this journey. Cut a lot of that down, but not out completely and add more physical activity in my daily routine. Of course, the physical part will depend a lot on pregnancy and post-partum conditions, but I can be more active without killing myself. Plus, my weight is just going to go up in the next couple weeks as Baby Girl grows, so obviously losing weight right at this moment wouldn't be okay with my doctor.


Goal #2. Finish the garage. This is on it's way and I plan to help my Knight out more after Baby Girl is born and I can actually lift things and climb ladders again. We hope this will create a domino effect with the rest of the organization in the house as we will finally have some real storage!


Goal #3. Start eating at the dinner table. Right now, the dining room is anything but. It's the craft/sewing/gardening/storage/chicken/mish mash room right now. We haven't eaten at the dinner table in months, maybe longer. Again, this will depend on the garage and what happens there.


Goal #4. Build a nicer and sturdier chicken pen. The eyesore of chicken wire and bird netting needs to go and I want to start getting cattle panels and create some chicken-friendly landscaping. This will go hand-in-hand with the decluttering I have been doing because I will sell things and make a few bucks here and there to help out along with the couple of cartons of eggs I sell every week. We are talking ones of dollars here, but they do add up over time. I think it's a resonable time frame for this.


Goal #5. Pay off the credit card for good and never let it acrue again. Some of you may have caught wind of our get-out-of-debt plan, but if you haven't, I'll post a link to it here soon. This will leave us with 3 debts left which is a far cry from the many we had before. Each one gone is like another boulder removed from our shoulders.
Picture taken from http://kittybarrow.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/im-debt-free/


Goal #6. Get the van fixed. It has some weird electrical problems and we pray they can be fixed for less than an arm and leg.


Goal #7. Have a more productive garden. This is a flighty goal and very ambiguous, but I have higher hopes with the garden this year since we have chickens. I'm hoping the work the chickens are doing over the winter along with having their poo to use for fertilizer will help my garden along. Plus I am narrowing down what I grow and grow more of it instead of having so many different tidbits. My long-term goal is to be able to grow and preserve certain crops to last us all year. Also perhaps have enough to sell and/or trade for the items that I don't or can't grow.


Goal #8. Goes along with #7...get a pressure canner and grow enough produce to need it! I do some water bath canning right now, but that limits me to just the high-acid foods. I'd like to be able to can things like potatoes, beans, peas, corn, etc. Not to mention grow enough to be able to do that.


Goal #9. Get meat rabbits. Since we have very little space and city ordinance to comply with, we are very limited on our livestock options. We originally wanted to raise meat chickens, but after a lot of research and recommendations from folks who have raised both, we decided rabbits were more efficient for us. We'll still have chickens for eggs and eat the occasional rooster or un-laying hen, but they won't be primarily for meat. Now, this is a goal more directed at my Knight as he is all excited to have his own homesteading project and, to be honest, I am going to have to get over the "cute" factor of rabbits, so I will be less "hands-on" with this project.
Picture taken from http://www.thebackyardpioneer.com/2013/07/13/10-reasons-why-you-should-eat-rabbit-meat/


Goal #10. Get my sewing machine up and running again and organize a usable sewing space. This goes along with goals 2 and 3, since all my sewing stuff is currently in the dining room.


Goal #11. Organize my kitchen, clear off the counters and create a storage space for small appliances and home-canned goods. This also goes along with goal 2. This MAY involve buying a microhood that we don't really NEED as our microwave and our vent hood both work very well, We will prayerfully see what God has in store for us this year in that regard.


I will be decluttering along the way and the rest of the house will have areas of organization and rearranging as the year goes on, but these are my biggest areas to tackle. We are hitting the house hard this year. With child #4 on the way and 5 of us living here full time in a 1,500 square foot, 3 bedroom house, and no basement or attic, we need to get creative! It can be done. Ironically, I discovered we have one of the bigger houses in our neighborhood. Many of them are 1,000 to 1,200 square feet!

We eventually want to build a couple of small sheds, one for things like the lawnmower, gas cans, etc, and a potting shed for the garden tools and such. But I'm not setting that as an official goal. We pray it can be done this year, but if not, it will certainly be a goal for next year. Keep in mind our entire lot is .17 of an acre, so even finding a spot for a small shed will be creative indeed!

Plus we will still have an entire unfinished room and some other repairs around the house: a spot of rotted siding that needs replaced, a post that needs replaced, some painting, repairs on the rain gutters, and other things like that. It helps to set goals because all this has been so overwhelming, I think that has hindered our progress more than anything. Now that we have some momentum, I pray we can keep going! Onward into 2015...I'm hitting it head on!

Happy New Year Everyone!

Jen Hen

Monday, December 8, 2014

Re-learning Crochet

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

If you follow my Facebook page you know that I have been promising this post for quite some time! I have learned how to crochet! Well, I have actually re-learned it because my grandmother taught me a long time ago, but I didn't kept up with it. Never finished a project because I didn't have the patience for it as a teen. But I do now. I was tired and sick for the better part of the first 6 month of my pregnancy, but still needed something I could do. So, I got the idea to crochet and took off with it! I have had a very generous person give me quite a bit of yarn out of her stash over the last few months as well as had a friend gift me some very nice new baby yarn. Thanks to YouTube, I watched a few tutorials to get me started. 

My first goal was to get good at keeping the same tension and stitch size through a whole project, so I made a couple of blankets; one is single crochet, the other is half-double crochet. Mind you, I am still learning all the terms, so I may not get them all right. I found out after I had finished the half-double crochet blanket that I had actually been doing the stitch wrong making it more difficult. Well, that's how you learn I guess! I am going to give one to each of the boys for Christmas. They won't care that the edges and stitches aren't even.


Next I thought I'd try my hand at hats. I used this Simple Baby Beanie tutorial. My yarn was different, so I made one hat with a single strand, on the left, and the other with a double strand, on the right. I ran out of the baby yarn, so I finished it off with a similar type of yarn. Baby Girl isn't going to care if her hats aren't perfect. She just wants to be warm and loved. I also tried my hand at baby booties. Wow, I will never underestimate those again!! That was super hard and I didn't have a prayer of getting them even! They seem way too wide and 2 different sizes. I can't even tell you how many times I ripped it out and started over. I tried several similar tutorials and didn't have much success with any of them, so I chalk that up to practice practice practice and perhaps I will try again.


After the bootie frustration (lol) I decided to go back to blankets and make one for Baby Girl. I found what they call a C2C, Corner to Corner, blanket. This was a lot of fun and went fast. There are a lot of YouTube videos on this. I watched a few of them in the making of this. I feel like this turned out pretty well.


I had so much fun making that and started looking at baby sleepers and swaddlers. There are tons and it was very hard to decide but I started out with one called Easy Crochet Baby Swaddler. It's very good. She takes it slow and goes step by step. Of course, if you already know how to crochet well, it may be a bit tedious to watch, but it helped this newbie out a lot. I used a different color for each section just for fun. Also I made parts of it smaller because I probably won't use this much after the newborn stage.


Next we have a baby cocoon. Pretty much just a giant stocking cap! Notice my seam is pretty straight; I'm getting better at this! One thing I am wondering though. Every time I mention this, people talk about getting pictures taken in it and that I need to make a cute hat to go along with it for that. I suppose so, but I am going to use it like a blanket sleeper.


Time to tackle clothes! I found some cute ones at Karen's X Stitch Pattern. I made the sweater and hat, then decided to make pants to match. I found some very simple pant tutorials/patterns, then utilized them with the X stitch pattern. I feel like they all came out really well! Then I decided to try more booties. This was a different type of pattern and I feel like it was much easier than the other type. They actually look like the picture! Lastly, I made some Thumb-less Baby Mittens. I did about as well with these as my first set of booties, but hopefully they'll stay on and keep Baby Girl's hands warm. I ran out of the light pink, so it's a bit different shade. But I think it all came out cute anyway.


Lastly, I wanted to make toys for the kids. I found several security blanket patterns, but most of them seemed over my head. But then I found this one that seemed like I could handle it. My first one, the pink bunny on the right didn't turn out too well. I used thicker yarn than it called for so I just used a single strand. It came out really stretchy and I overstuffed the head. Then I made a chicken for Stitch and a zebra for Little Buddy. They all came out a bit scary looking, but I'm hoping they'll like them anyway.



Lastly, I found these patterns for chicken toys...Momma Chicken and Little Chick Bean Bag. I couldn't quite figure out the first pattern, but I loved the idea, so I looked around until I found the second pattern then kind of combined them to get what I wanted. I ended up with this...


I feel like it came out pretty well. Here is Momma Hen stuffed with her chicks...


And here is the picture of the pocket opening...


I really hope he's thrilled with this and it was easier and faster to make than I thought it would be. I used a double strand of brown and tan to make the Momma Hen so, hopefully, she'll be able to stand a lot of playing and abuse without falling apart too fast. Also, I stuffed the chicks with poly-fill instead of beans. I wasn't sure my stitches were tight enough to keep beans from spilling out everywhere and I'm pretty sure these will become projectiles, so they aren't as heavy as they would be if filled with beans.

So, that's what I have been up to! There are a couple of other projects that I can't talk about yet because they are gifts. I don't think any family members read my blog, but just in case. Right now I am working on a hat, mitten, and scarf set for Little Buddy to go with his new Cars coat. Then I hope to make him a stuffed car pillow toy.

I had no idea I'd get so addicted to crochet! Now that I have been feeling better, it's sometimes hard to pull myself away from it to get some work done! It has helped that I've been working on gifts for the boys because I obviously can't do that in front of them. Do you crochet and have you been working on Christmas gifts also? I'd love to see your work and your patterns! Feel free to share in the comments or on my facebook page.

Happy Crocheting!

Jen Hen

This post was shared on Our Simple Homestead HomeAcre Hope

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Preserving Potatoes: Day Two

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

Well, here is day two of my potato preservation with more tutorials and some comedy for your entertainment! (Here is Day One if you missed it.) I did all this in record time. It was all on a Monday morning! More on that later...but now...

Here are the dried potatoes, and here is the browning and discoloration I said could happen if the starch isn't blanched out all the way. These are still good to eat, just not as pretty. I probably should have stirred these a bit better in the blanching process.


Here is a tray of yummy looking slices! You can see how much dehydrated slices shrink down. This tray was full with the edges just barely touching.


I put them all in jars to store. I'll cover how to do that on a later day.


Just in case you have never blanched anything before, I decided to show you how step-by-step. I'm guessing if you follow me it's because you are a newbie too, or you enjoy the comedy, either way, I don't want to insult your intelligence, nor do I want to leave you hanging if you want more instruction. So, here's how to blanch the potato slices...

I start off by boiling a pot of water to a full rolling boil. Then add all the potatoes at once, and very carefully to keep from splashing scalding water on yourself (especially if you have a giant pregnant belly in the way!) I let this boil for 2 minutes. Sometimes you need to let it get back to a boil first. All that foam is the starch coming out of the potatoes. This is also why you don't want to blanch more than one batch at a time in the same pot of water. I know it seems a waste, but, you can pour it on the weeds outside to kill them, or let it cool down and use it to water your plants. (Truth be told, I just dumped it down the drain since it's winter. I know, wasteful...shame shame!)


Then I strained them in a colander while running cold tap water to help cool the water going down the pipes. You can also rinse the potatoes in order to help the cooling process.


Then put them in ice water right away to stop the cooking process. Blanch does not mean cook. These aren't actually fully cooked and you wouldn't want to eat them at this point. I hope that makes sense!


After they cool for a couple of minutes, then they are ready to go into the dehydrator. As you can see, these are all touching and will shrink up quite a bit as shown in the pictures at the top of the page. Then I set the dehydrator at 115 degrees (as explained in Day One) and let it run until all the potatoes are completely dry.


Next it's time to do something with all the tator tots I froze up. Here are the rounds, which on day one I decided was the way to go. Less time consuming to make.


Then when I went to get the other tots out, I found this...lol! I guess I got the pan too close to the middle part of the lid that sticks down farther than the rest of it! Hey, I bagged these up with the rest of them anyway!


And here it is! This is a gallon-sized bag. I always put cooking instructions on the foods I freeze. (Well, if I remember anyway!) Even though I think I'll remember, it never fails...I don't. Plus it frustrates my Knight to no end when he has no idea what to do with this stuff...lol!


I decided I loved making the tots so much, perhaps I'd try hashbrowns in my regular-sized muffin pans. If you have a mini-loaf pan, this would be excellent! But, alas, I do not.


While I am in the process of preserving these, I always keep a pot of cooked potatoes in the fridge for the next day. So here I started one up. It will sit in the fridge overnight and I won't burn my fingers when I go to use them.


Next I prepared raw potatoes to freeze into loose hashbrowns. I don't often use my food processor because it is insanely loud, but it was perfect to shred a bunch of potatoes in a short amount of time. Notice I left the peel on. Make them however you prefer. I do a bit of both to switch it up.


With shredded potatoes, the blanching process is a bit different. You can do them the same way as sliced potatoes, but since the pieces are smaller, they don't need to be boiled nearly as long to get them blanched. I put them in a colander and poured a couple of pots of boiling water over them. You'll know they are blanched when they start to get a little bit translucent.


Then I drop them all into ice water also.


Now, here comes the down-side to freezing them. You need to dry them off. So, I use a couple of bath towels lined with lint-free towels, like a flour-sack towel or flat diaper. You can also use paper towels of course, but I started using cloth quite some time ago and no longer keep paper towels around. (In case you are wondering, I keep my worn out lint-free towels around for draining bacon or fried foods on, cleaning up oil, etc, then throw them out directly in the dumpster. Don't ever let cloth with oil on in sit in your house! It can create enough heat to build up and start a fire. If you decide to try to wash oil-stained cloth, wash it several times in the hottest water you can before you dry it. But you have to get all the oil out or it could catch the dryer on fire! So, that's why I just don't mess with it and throw them out after they touch oil. Ok, done with the safety speech...)


After your shredded taters/hashbrowns are dried pretty well, time to lay them out and freeze them. Don't freeze them in a bag or you will end up with a giant brick! Spread them out as much as you can so they'll break apart easily to fit into a freezer bag after they are frozen. Trust me, this will save you a lot of heartache later on. Don't ask me how I know. ;)


So, now how did I do all this in one morning while my Knight was at work and I was solo with my two small crazies? This is how... Little Buddy being sweet!


And Stitch being precious! Seriously, I was shocked and proud at their behavior that morning! Even when they are well-behaved, it's rarely to this degree!


Well, I hope you are having success in the food preservation department as well as the child behavior department! Tell me what you are preserving and how you are doing it! I'd love to know!

Happy Preserving!

Jen Hen

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Preserving Potatoes: Day One

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

A great thing about homesteading is finding a bargain and making use of it! I have been waiting on the fall sale of potatoes and it's finally here! These were a buck and a half per 10 lb bag! They have been $4 each most of the year.


I have a list of ways I am wanting to preserve these and thought I'd share the processes with you! I can't can them because I don't have a pressure canner and that is the only safe way to do it. But I can freeze and dehydrate them, so that's just what I'm going to do!

First up...dehydrating potato slices. I use a mandolin to get them thin and evenly sliced. My food processor does have a slicer attachment, but it's extremely loud and it runs so fast that the slices don't come out even. Really, this process doesn't take all that long anyway.


Then they need to be blanched. Well, they don't "need" to be, but it helps to remove some of the starch so the potatoes won't turn black when dehydrated. If you don't care about that, then you don't have to worry about blanching them. The color doesn't affect the taste or the nutrients as far as I know.  I tried to rig up a removable strainer, but it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. Just as well because you can't use the water over and over. It will get full of starch and then starch won't leach out of the potatoes anymore causing your potatoes to still be black even after all that work!


After 2 minutes in boiling water, I plunged the tater slices into ice water to stop the cooking process. Then I placed them in the dehydrator. I estimated I could fit 6 potatoes in it and I was pretty accurate! The last tray still has a bit of space, but it wasn't enough for me to slice and blanch another potato for that. I'll leave these in overnight. I want them completely dry, so no need for a timer. I'll check them in the morning and/or whenever I get around to it. ;)


Even though most everything you read will tell you to dehydrate fruits and veggies at 135 degrees, I choose to set mine at 115. That's the highest temp you can dry something at and it still be considered raw food. Not that it really matters with potatoes since I will be cooking them when I use them, but I like to stay consistent. Plus I have had to deal with case hardening: when something dries too fast and the outside gets too hard to effectively soak up water. I made a batch of scalloped potatoes with case hardened potatoes and it was not good; very chewy and rubbery. I learned my lesson the hard way there. I'd rather take a couple extra hours of drying time than risk losing an entire batch of food.


Next I made tater tots. I have never made these before and was excited to try them. After looking at several recipes online, I sort of came up with my own. I wanted oven baked instead of fried.

I boiled an entire pot of potatoes the night before so they could cool in the fridge overnight.


Then I peeled them...easy peasy!


I gathered up some spices I thought may be tasty: salt and pepper; garlic and onion; and paprika. I love paprika, I put it in all sorts of stuff! It's a wonder I don't use it like pepper. Though, now that I think of it, maybe I will! I also added a bit of flour. Some of the recipes I read called for it, so I made half with flour and half without. I didn't measure anything, just tossed it in, but after tasting the end result, I'd say less is better. Plus the flour didn't seem to make much of a difference.


Then I started shaping them. Wow, is that a tedious job! But, no more than rolling dough balls for cookies. But, I realized, I don't make cookies very often for that reason...lol! It took me about 15 minutes to do this many. This is also the yield from five potatoes. I tried to make them all the same size; I don't think they're too bad. You can tell towards the end I was tired because they got a bit bigger. I put this pan in the freezer, then when they are frozen, I will put them in a freezer bag.


I tried to make the medallion-shaped tots, but I was really bad at that! So, I thought, why not try a mini-muffin pan? All the recipes I read said to heavily grease your pan or use some sort of non-stick paper/silicone covering. So I sprayed the mini-muffin pan like crazy and used parchment paper on the cookie sheet. I like extra crispy tots, so I gave them plenty of space.


Most recipes called for a temperature between 400 and 450 degrees. I thought I'd start with 450 since I like my tots super crispy. Plus most called for the tots to be drizzled in oil. Well, I ended up forgetting that part, so they were a bit dry, but still tasty. I baked these tots for 30 minutes, turning half way through. I baked the medallions for 20 minutes, turning them halfway through. My boys ate the medallions before I could take a picture, but they worked out well. I think this is how I will make tots in the future as it took much less time to make them and bake them.


Sometimes preserving food can seem more trouble than it's worth, especially when you can buy the mass-produced equivalent in the store for a pretty cheap price. But I enjoy it because I know exactly what goes into our food; plus I can teach our kids valuable skills in the process. I love showing them how a potato can be turned into a tot. It just takes a little time and a lot of love! 

In the next article(s) I will cover more dehydrating as well as recipes on how to make your own boxed potato bake! Plus I will be freezing potatoes in different forms. Feel free to share your tips as we go along as well! There are many ways to accomplish the same thing and I enjoy hearing about different methods!

Have a wonderful day and preserve on!

Jen Hen