Monday, September 1, 2014

Getting the new school year started...

They grow so fast!

When this is published, it will be Memorial Day, the day before we start school every year. I get mixed feelings over starting but for the most part, I am pretty psyched. Routine and structure make me happy and sometimes summer lacks routine so much that I am just really ready to dig into my planning materials and get some scheduling on! I homeschool the troops, so it is a different kind of getting ready but it is still work. I have been reorganizing shelves and drawers and making room for things and just generally being all smiley about using my label maker. I love my label maker. It makes me happy. I know it is sick but a good kind of sick and you wish I would come label your house, too.

Anyway, since I am thinking about school, I thought I might put some stuff together for you, just pull together everything I have done on homeschooling before so it is in one place. So, if you are getting ready to homeschool, then I have a whole set of blog posts and tips for you to comb through! Check them out HERE!

But if I can leave you with one giant pro-tip to get your started off to a good year, that is to have each kid pick out a "just right book", that is one that is pretty easy to read but still keeps their attention. Every time you are working with someone else, running to switch laundry, or are practicing cleansing breaths on the front porch before some wreck of an experiment, tell the kids who aren't sure what to do next just to start reading. That will buy you a couple of minutes while you consider how to handle the shaving of the dog.

I am off to celebrate Sophia's birthday and to celebrate Labor Day!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sunflower hummus...

I love hummus. When done right, it is so creamy and light and delicious! I never buy it in the store because the ingredients almost always make me want to cry. When I have hummus, I want real olive oil and not soybean oil. This means that I am always sad when I try fast friendly recipes for hummus. I have also seen a lot of recipes for hummus that call for peanut butter because is some smaller markets, it is easier to come by than the standard tahini. In case you might not know, tahini is ground sesame seeds that makes a delicious oily paste that is dripping with gorgeous flavor. It can be slightly bitter, especially if it is processed at too high a temperature and it is considered somewhat exotic so peanut butter is given as a suggested substitution. Even if people use peanut butter, they often still use olive oil. Because, really, olive oil. It makes everything yummy.

This makes hummus a food that is not always appropriate. Peanut allergies abound because we have gotten really good at helping those people not die so I try to never bring anything with peanuts in it to functions. Killing people with food is never on my to-do list. The other ingredient which can be challenging is the olive oil, it is not fast-friendly for people who are on Eastern Christian fasts. This is not to say I have not seen fast-friendly recipes, just that they might use the oil anyway or use another crappy oil which makes me cry. I like to eat so it had better be good. So I started playing with the recipe and I think we have a winner. We love it so much that we are eating a crazy amount of it. I think you will like it, too! The secret is sunflower seeds.

A lot of people on peanut free diets use sunflower butter which is good but not as thick as peanut butter so it makes a poor substitute, it kind of leaks out of sandwiches and even through them, sometimes. But it is an amazing substitute for tahini and has amazing flavor! Tahini lends a smoothness to hummus and sunflower butter does the same thing and though the flavor is slightly different, it is still amazing and really good. Not jolting the way some substitutions can be. Try it and let me know what you think!

Oh, as a quick note, when people talk about making smooth hummus there are a couple of suggestion. Often they suggest slipping the skins. If you have all day and eat tiny portions, go ahead. Not the way I want to spend my day! The answer is two fold. Firstly, you want to increase the tahini or sunflower butter. The silky texture will smooth out your final product. Secondly, you want to slowly add the oil so it can be incorporated though if you have a high power blender like a Vitamix or a Blendtek, do what you want, the machine will take care of it for you.

Also as a quick note, use the water from the cans of garbanzo beans because it is thick and starchy and makes for great hummus or use the water from beans you cook yourself. When cooking beans for hummus, they double in volume so that one cup equals two cups which also happens to equal a can's worth if you add one half cup of water.

Sunflower Hummus

Two cans or four loosely filled cups of garbanzo (chickpeas)
1/2 Cup of bean water or the liquid from one can
1/4 Cup lemon juice
1-2 tsp minced garlic (3-4 cloves, or to taste, roasted is fabulous!)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp smoked paprika (smoked is really best, sweet if you can't find it)
1/8-1/4 tsp ground cayenne
1/4 C sunflower oil (expeller pressed is best)
2/3 C sunflower butter (if using a high power blender, you can use the same amount of sunflower seeds)

Add everything but the sunflower oil and butter to the blender or food processor and process until smooth. Combine these last two ingredients and stir well. Pour slowly into working bowl or carafe with machine running to slowly incorporate the oily ingredients. This is the the real trick and is what makes it smooth and delicious and light. Not like wood putty. Soooo not like wood putty at all. If you have a mega blender, dump in the ingredients at the same time. You might need the pushing stick but it will be great.

Optional: garnish with whole garbazno beans and sunflower seeds and if you are really missing the sesame kick, drizzle on some toasted sesame oil. Amazing!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One step backwards...

Those antibiotics there? Those are mine. *Sigh* The day we went to the fair, I woke up not feeling very well. I had gone to bed the night before with a small hard spot in the breast, one which I rightly assumed was a blocked duct. I was trying to my seventeen month old baby to drink from a cup and I bought her a transitional glass bottle and it went far too well. She went from running to me every time she was thirsty to asking for drinks. The older children helped by teaching her how to use the Berkey. In the warm August, she had been nursing a great deal and suddenly, she didn't need me as much. I was miserable but I was going to avoid medical doctors (of whom I have a deep and abiding distrust after being injured by a surgical error).

The first full day at the fair, with decorating the 4-H booth (they got another Blue Ribbon) and all the practices and performances for the Finnish Folk Dance group, I knew I would be busy I decided I was too busy to be sick. I was going to muscle through the whole thing. In the afternoon, between event times, I nursed the baby a little bit and took a nap. I was hitting hard using all the natural techniques I knew, I even asked some friends and garnered some I had never heard of (potato slices, anyone?). I was starting to feel worse so I pulled out the Advil (something I do very, very seldom) and went to the fair. As the evening events were winding down, I was trembling and had developed a fever despite taking the OTC meds. I had a sore neck and a headache. By the time we piled the tired performers and cranky little ones into the van, I was getting confused and clumsy. No good.

So Ben dropped me at the emergency department, drove all the way out to the farm to leave the kids, and then came back for me. Poor guy, he worries so much and he did not like leaving me there, but really, we had no choice. I was pretty sick after all. I had a fever of 103 and the infection from the blocked duct in the breast had spread to the lymph nodes in the neck and the armpit. There was no way I was getting away from the doctors and the dreaded antibiotics. I also needed to get a quick check for clots since I have a clotting disorder and infections increase the risks, but I was fine. In the end, I got a shot of antibiotics and a morning dose and a prescription for the rest of my course. There are no 24 hour pharmacies here, so I needed to be able to get through until the they opened. The told me that it was clearly an aggressive bacteria and so they used an aggressive antibiotic. I was so sick and miserable that I do not even remember what it was. Ben came back for me and took me home. I crawled right into bed so sore, I could not sleep on my right side or turn my head.

But in the morning, I felt amazingly better. I had agreed to stay off my feet for the day, so I sat in bed all day. We live far from a hospital so Ben made sure that I was medically compliant and that the signs of infections were abating, and they did. Fast and furious. I was able to knit and work on my Erin Condren teacher's planner and start planning the school year, fortunately it came while I was bed. By Saturday morning, I was running at 90%. I hate doctors, I hate antibiotics even more, but I was clearly better. Allopathic medicine is good sometimes.

So now I am hitting the probiotics hard and trying to keep up on my fluid intake to keep flushing out my system. I know that I will need to reset my system again after I get done with this course. I wish I did not need to worry about it but I am sincerely glad that I went to the E/R. A hundred years ago, people just died after developing infections. Today we can recover and move on. I know that some of you will disagree and think that I should have refused them. I am not going to risk dying for anything. I have been there (see HERE) and I am not going back.


On a brighter note, my knitted shawl took second at the fair in the lace category. The winner was a very lovely shawl so I am not disappointed. It was a fair fight. Now I am mailing it to a very dear friend who is also moving from Colorado. This week is going to be hard for her. Now she will have something bright and cheerful and warm (it is merino wool, after all) so that when she misses home, she can feel all the love that is going with her to North Carolina.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Fair's fair...

The fair is always the highlight of the year in rural area. People line up with their best creations and produce and animals and proudly show their skills. Children, and even adults, can learn a lot of lessons from working towards their fair entries but there are also a lot of lessons to be learned at the fair itself. Competition can suck. It can suck all your time, all your joy, and even your pride. My family had a total of twenty entries and we had a one best of show and twelve blue ribbons; we should be very proud. But it is not the blues that teach us, we learn far more when we don't get the blue.

We all take enormous pride in our work and feel like the blue was just given at the fair but earned well before which makes it so much harder when we don't win. I will be honest with you, I don't like losing. I'll be more honest with you, I feel like a second place ribbon is losing. I can swallow the bitter disappointment so much better if I lose to someone who's work was beautifully and excellently executed, but when it is for reasons that simply aren't clear, then I am mad. I know I have a competitive streak and it is my Achilles heel but the challenge is really seeing this trait in my children. My oldest daughter worked for months on her fondant skills and made a grand total of six dozen cupcakes before settling on her final recipe for rosewater and cardamom cupcakes with pistachios. They were gorgeous, they were elegant, they smelled so fragrant and so beautiful and all my friends and relatives oooh'ed and ahhhh'ed over them. They also came in second place to a very simply decorated plain chocolate cupcake. Adding insult to injury was that it also received the best of show award. I can't say what the judges were thinking and how the discussion went, I have no idea what their impressions were. I do know that we were a little worried that she would be accused of cheating when we saw what the other entries were, and we told ourselves if she was disqualified that we would bring her extensive fondant tools to the fair and show them how she makes her things. The stand alone fondant won a blue ribbon so they must have seen what else she did.

I can't tell her anything other than taste is subjective and that aesthetic varies by region. The cheddar-jalapeno bread I make was wildly popular in Denver but people won't touch it here. It does not matter how beautiful it looks or how marvelous we think it tastes, people here won't touch it and don't like it. If I make it for a potluck, I will have to bring the whole thing home. It is very hard for me to swallow my pride and accept that what is popular here just isn't my taste. The palate here is accustomed to simple, lightly seasoned food that is not spicy and does not have other seasoning and is not considered "fancy". What is even harder is to tell my one of my children that her take on classic Iranian flavors is both refined and elegant as well s having perfect technical execution. She could get a job with the skills she has been honing using books and videos and online classes. I love her treats and in the big city, they would be exceedingly popular. They are still good, fantastic even, though here they like shortening and vinegar in their cakes.

In the end it is not about the ribbon, it is about the improvement in your execution, your widening skill set and the mastery that you demonstrate. The fair is an opportunity to display your work and it doesn't take away from your work, nor does it add to it, to have it recognized. In the end it is not about the ribbon, in the end it is about her. I love her and I loved her cupcakes, and gosh darn, that is enough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Online grocery shopping...

Ben bought the kids a bubble machine. Totally not
about shopping but totally fun. I love this photo!
My super nice UPS driver thinks it is crazy that I grocery shop on the internet, it just seems weird to him, but the truth is that there are things that are not otherwise available here. Like at all. When I moved here, I remember my mother and I discussed an article I had read (I believe it was in National Geographic) about families who live at the research facility on Antarctica. One of the women they spoke to said that she orders things that she needs from Amazon. I told my mom that if Amazon can deliver to Antarctica, they can surely deliver to the Keweenaw!

To be honest, I have options that they do not have. There is a small Mennonite feed and salvaged food shop 22 miles away but they are limited in terms of what they carry for people though they have a lot of animal feed. There is a few smaller family owned stores (all owned by just three families) and the closest is exactly 21 miles from here. The best options for variety of food and miscellaneous household needs is Walmart (whose door I never darkened until I moved here) and it is across the highway from the Walmart. But while it is more than anyone in Antarctica has, it is definitely far less than most Americans. Sometimes we have to travel pretty far, or what I consider far. The folks here just think of it it as routine trips. There is a Lowe's and a Michael's about 110 miles to the east and a Home Depot about 125 miles to the south and the closest big box store is Costco about 230 miles from here. The store I miss most is Ikea and I used to go have lunch and window shop at but the closest one to here (and people go all the time) is 356 miles from my house.

The hardest thing to come by in isolated rural areas is produce. Since we are not near any large cities and not on the way to anywhere, that makes this place an intentional destination. Food prices are high here and most people I know try to grow and hunt as much as they can to stretch their budgets. My grocery bill went up 32% when we moved here and the bulk of that is produce cost. In the long winters here (honestly there is snow on the ground seven months of the year), buying produce is the only option. This means that I have to pinch pennies elsewhere to accommodate produce. This means that I buy shelf stable food online.

Online grocery prices fluctuate a good deal so I am not going to include links. What works today or was a super buy yesterday could be insanely expensive tomorrow. I keep a list of the regular things that I buy and the price I paid for it the last time that I bought it. Amazon has a subscribe and save feature which is great in that it comes regularly but you should really know just how often you are using a product before you sign up. I would write down (or go through your recent orders online) to see how often you are buying it and if it is pretty regular, then sign up. If it is sporadic, just watch the prices.

For example, we use Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds, diluted with water, as a general all purpose cleaner. We don't need to buy it very often so the subscribe and save feature would not be the best deal. But since we go through a gallon of regular liquid Dr Bronner's every month, that is the way to go for us. There are somethings that we go through irregularly, for instance during a month long fasting period we will go through a half gallon of Cholula hot sauce. Ordinarily, this will last us two months. Because there is not a regular pattern to how we use it, we need to buy as we use it. So here is the list of things that I buy through Amazon and I keep track of the prices for:

Food Items:
  • Organic rolled oats
  • Organic steel cut oats
  • Organic brown rice
  • Organic full fat coconut milk
  • Organic mushroom broth
  • Thai Kitchen Red Curry Paste
  • Pomona's Pectin (I can hundreds of pounds of produce a year and only use this brand)
  • Kamut wheat berries
  • Cholula hot sauce
  • Nutritional yeast


Cleaning Supplies:
  • Sal Suds
  • Dr Bronner
  • Country Save laundry soap
  • LemiShine dishwasher booster (we have hard water)
  • LemiShine machine cleaner (we need to clean all the machines because of the hard water)
  • Biodegradable kitchen garbage bags
  • Scott Naturals Tube Free toilet paper
  • Construction bags (for the things that need to be hauled out)
  • Earth Friendly Oxo Brite laundry booster
  • Earth Friendly Zainz! (the world's best laundry strain treatment!!)


I know toilet paper seems like a weird thing but since it can be ordered on subscribe and save, it can be a real deal. We are using the tube free variety. I know, sounds weird. Ben thought so, too. But they are not individually wrapped and they do not have a cardboard tube in the middle which cuts down on the waste. Since we have to handle our waste here very carefully, we think twice before we bring anything out here. We have three options: compost it, burn it, or haul it out to the transfer station. We prefer the first two. In order to be ecologically responsible, we are careful about what we burn which means only paper and cardboard, no plastics.

I really like Earth Friendly products and I like their dish detergent for either machines or for using in the sink and I keep an eye on the price of all their products. It makes a huge difference since we have a gray water system and a septic and I do not want to risk the bacterial balance. We use LemiShine as the rinse agent in the dishwasher because it keeps the glasses really clean and it prevents too much build up from all the minerals without being toxic. In case you did not know, LemiShine machine cleaner makes an awesome and totally safe drain cleaner. We just empty a package down into the drains that are slow and it keep them running. We also run it through the dishwasher and the clothes washer once a month to prevent any mineral build up.

Do you grocery shop online? What do you buy? What are your best tips?
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