It’s too nice out to blog!

Easter lily I thought I would end my Easter weekend blogging break today, but when we had guests over late last night, produce shopping this morning, a spur of the moment lunch with family members at noon, and nice, sunny weather… I decided to take the day off. :)

I really need to take advantage of the great weather (after several days of rain and chill) to get the rest of my spring planting done, so I'm headed back out to the garden!

I should also mention that I had planned for my eBook, Healthy Homemaking: One Step at a Time, to be published today, but due to a small technical difficulty I've had to postpone it a week. But it's that close to being finished and available to you! Really, truly!!! Look forward to it's official announcement next Monday, God willing!

Hope you all had a wonderful long weekend celebrating our risen Lord and are maybe even enjoying one more day of vacation (even if it's self-appointed, like mine!). See you tomorrow with my menu plan and "Eating From the Pantry and Freezer" update!

I'd love to hear about your Easter weekend, though! What did you did? How did you celebrate?

Celebrating Our First Passover Supper

Eating-passover-dinner

Last night we had our first Passover/Seder Supper as a family (plus my friend's sweet little guy who was visiting us). It took a bit of extra effort to pull it all together, as I only came up with the idea to do it on Monday, but it was well worth it!

Passover-table

I tried my best to come up with a proper meal for the occasion, while sticking to my "Eating from the pantry and freezer" month (I confess- at the last moment, I asked my husband to pick up grape juice, because I couldn't come up with a suitable alternative. :)

Chicken-matzo-sop

We began eating our Jewish Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls, which actually turned out to be really delicious. While we ate our soup, Ryan very dramatically (if you knew my husband, this wouldn't surprise you in the slightest!) told us the story of the Exodus and how God protected and rescued His people, passing over them because of the blood of the Passover Lamb.

Next, we began to share the significance of the different foods and drink on our table:

Crown-of-thorns-candles

Being fresh out of bitter herbs *smile*, I substituted some kale I had in the fridge (though I liked Michele's idea of grabbing dandelion greens from my yard and that would have been my next option). We dipped pieces of it in salty water, and discussed the bitterness of the Israelites slavery and of our bondage to sin, and the saltiness of tears.

Unleavened-bread-and-haroset

The unleavened bread, like the Israelites would have made in haste as they prepared to leave Egypt. We reflected on the fact that our sin and pride puffs up our hearts, like yeast puffs up bread, but Jesus was sinless and pure, and He gave His body to be broken for us.

The haroset was eaten last, made with apples, nuts (which I thought I didn't have, but realized we had whole nuts for cracking in the freezer, so we spent over a 1/2 hour cracking nuts!), honey, cinnamon and apple juice. We rejoiced in the fact that Jesus gives us hope, and He is sweeter than anything else.

Glass-of-grape-juice

(Oops, I need to learn how to remove lip and finger smudges off wineglasses in Photoshop!)

Last, we enjoyed a special glass of grape juice and celebrated that Jesus became our Passover Lamb, atoning for our sins with his blood.

We all prayed together, and each person thanked Jesus for what He had done for us.

We finished the supper by reading the children the story of Jesus' crucifixion, seeing as we wouldn't be able to eat dinner together for Good Friday (my husband is acting and singing in our church's Easter production and will be at rehearsal before the play begins tonight).

It was a truly memorable evening, and one that I am so glad I went through the effort to pull together. We will definitely do this again next year, as it is such beautiful opportunity to share with our children the truth of the Gospel in a meaningful and very tangible way. I'm even more excited for Easter Sunday now, and so is my daughter especially, who understands what we are celebrating so much better than before!

I'm signing off until next week, in order to enjoy the rest of my husband's day off and a special weekend together with our family, celebrating that our Lord is risen indeed! Have a blessed Easter!

Do you (or have you ever) celebrated a Passover Supper? What did you think of the experience? How does your family celebrate Easter week and and how do you communicate it's meaning to your children?

It’s Planting Time!

As I alluded to Monday, this has been a busy week for gardening, but it's been so worthwhile. Starting on Sunday, I have put in over an hour every day up until today, and I am so glad that I did!

Seeds-to-be-planted

Here are some of the seeds that we planted on Wednesday. In the last several days, we have planted snow and shelling peas, turnips, beets, a bit of radishes (more to be planted yet), multiple lettuce varieties, spinach, carrots, onions (red, white and yellow, with more red and white still to be planted), and a few sunflowers.

Early-april-garden-being-planted

You can see how the garden is starting to take shape. The green stuff growing in the last two rows is garlic that I planted in the fall. The middle row was planted today with carrots, onions, lettuce and spinach. The second row has peas under the dark soil, and will soon have herbs and zucchini in the bottom half. Above the second row (along the fence) is the turnips and beets. The first row (far left) is waiting for my broccoli and cauliflower transplants.

Broc-and-caul-seedlings-hardening

Here they are, hardening off on my patio. A little bit leggy, but they've all got a third set of leaves now, so I think they should do okay if I plant them deeply enough.

It's been a ton of hard work, getting this much done in a few days- all that tilling, fertilizing, and planting. Who knew how strenuous it was to do when you're 5 months pregnant? Whew! I am grateful, though, to be doing it now and not in another month or two! :)

One change I've made this year is that I'm trying out some slightly different gardening techniques, a la the book Joy of Gardening. It was given to me last summer, and I think many of the ideas are really worth trying. He advocates heavier seeding in wider rows, to provide more of a living, green mulch and to help keep weeds at bay. With the heavier seeding comes some thinning (he recommends using a rake to do it when the seedlings are young, for most crops), and also lots of early picking and eating (this part I really like!). All the early picking helps to aerate the soil and then provide more room for the remaining veggies to grow nice and big, and overall it is supposed to give a much bigger yield in the same amount of space. I'll keep you updated during the season on how I'm finding these new methods!

Just as soon as our nice weather comes back (it stuck around from Sunday to Wednesday and is supposed to be back the middle of next week), I'll be finishing up the rest, which will include some cucumbers, zucchini, the seedlings, some herbs and the remaining onions. After that is corn, and then my spring garden is all planted up! I know that I might lose the cucumbers and zucchini if it gets too cold (I'll be right around the last frost date this week or next), but it's worth a try to get a jump on the season. I can always replant.

I've got my spring and summer garden layouts all finished as well, and I'll get those posted up real soon!

Where are the rest of you at in your gardening? Have you gotten started yet, or are you still planning and preparing? (I'm so sorry to those of you with snow still… it will go away soon, really it will!)

Eczema: Bringing Relief to the Discomfort

Hands

For those who missed it, last week I shared the first part of a series on Eczema.

We've talked about some of the causes. Now, what can be done about it?

Obviously, one of the
first concerns is to bring down the level of discomfort. As an eczema
sufferer myself, I understand this well.

For me, my eczema comes in two
forms- in extremely dry, cracked and bleeding fingertips (that barely
feel like skin anymore- electronic sensors that respond to the touch of
a finger sometimes will not register when I touch them!). The other
form is in very itchy, scaly, red patches along the sides and bases of
my fingers and the upper part of my palms, with very small fluid filled
bumps that develop. It is not fun, so believe me when I say that I
sympathize and feel your pain! :)

A few basic things that have brought me (and my kids) comfort and just might help to bring some relief to you and your loved ones as well:

Constant moisturizing.

One of my current favorites is coconut oil. Yes,
the stuff I cook with- it only takes a very small amount and it has
anti-bacterial qualities. It rubs in well, isn't particularly greasy and really does feel good on the skin

Herbs mortar pestle
I also use a wonderfully soothing
Calendula/Chickweed herbal cream that my naturopath recommended for my
son, but I found it so helpful that I started asking for my own. Most
health food stores carry some version of a Calendula cream, and here is a link
to a homeopathic one I found on Vitacost. It even helps, though, just
to use any more natural lotion (try to avoid chemicals, fragrances and
color as much as possible) to keep the skin more protected and comfortable.

Aloe Vera is another great and simple choice. You can either use it straight from the plant, or buy a high quality gel. I have used JASON's 98% Aloe Vera Gel, though I am hoping to get myself a plant, because I would prefer to just use it that way.

Another homeopathic cream that I haven't used in a while, but I
found very helpful as well, called DermaMed. It's a little bit pricier,
which is why I don't buy it often, but check out the website
and you can see what it contains and why it's effective. I really did
find this cream to be so relieving on my worst days. I used the
All-Purpose, but they have several other types for specific conditions.

Avoid hot water and too-frequent bathing.

I know there are lots of you out there who are cringing at those words- not shower everyday? Ditch my kids nightly bath?

In my experience, the more I avoid water, especially hot water, the better. Limiting my showers (I do every second day) and also my kids baths is very helpful. In fact, my daughter in particular seemed very sensitive to the chlorine in the shower, but once we cut her baths/showers down to twice a week, things really cleared up. Part of the issue is that the warm water opens up the pores in our skin, and the heat also releases chemicals such as chlorine that are in the water. This means that chlorine and it's other buddies have very easy access right through our skin barrier, and this is not a good thing!

I am also adamant about using rubber gloves for all household cleaning, dish washing, etc as well as gloves for gardening. Even though I use natural cleaning products and do my gardening organically, there are still so many things that can irritate already tender, dry or itchy skin. Since I already struggle with eczema on my hands, it only makes sense to protect them as much as possible, so that I don't exacerbate what's already going on.

Pile of oatmealWhen you do bathe…

(See, I still recommend bathing :)

There are many things you can add to a bath, that will help to soothe and nourish that dry, itchy skin:

  • Evening Primrose Oil – Just pop open a few capsules into the bath, as this oil is particularly soothing for eczema and other forms of dermatitis
  • Olive, Almond or Coconut oil– A few teaspoons will help to add moisture and softness to dry skin
  • Oatmeal– Traditionally known for soothing itchiness and calming down inflamed skin, it's a bit more effective if you grind it up in your food processor or coffee grinder first, rather than just dumping in the flakes
  • Baking Soda– Isn't it amazing just how many different uses baking soda has? Sprinkle some in to relieve irritation and itching plus add softness to skin
  • Essential Oils– A few drops of any of these oils can be helpful, as they are all noted for healing and soothing skin conditions: Rosemary, Chamomile, Hyssop, Pine (note- avoid rosemary if pregnant)

Those are just a few of my suggestions for relieving some of the discomfort that goes along with eczema and other skin conditions. Next, I'll begin to talk about some ways to address more of the deeper issues with long-term solutions.

What are some of the best, natural ways that you have been able to bring relief to eczema?

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

quotes from chaper "6 impossible things"
very interesting downplay of feminist ideals, and how they're missing out

You Tell Me: Homeschooling Math Curriculum and Read-Alouds

After mentioning some of the homeschool resources I'm looking for, several of you responded with suggestions in the comments. I realized just how helpful it might be to put these questions out to you a bit more formally. You ladies are always such an incredible resource for me, and I hope you know how much I value the input that you give on this blog! :)

Here's what I'm wondering about:

Learning math

1) I am trying to choose a math curriculum. Though I know that I could still switch at a later point if I really don't like what I choose, I known that it would be better to choose something and just stick with it. I'm working hard to really do my research and make a good decision, and this is where you come in!

Would you share with me which curriculum you have used, and what you thought of it? How did your kids do with it? Did you find the built-in review sufficient? Did it move too fast? Was it too repetitious? And how about your work load, Mom? I would be really interested to know how much prep time and instruction time the different curriculums (curricula?) required of you (and I know that the child using them makes a big difference)?

**A few specific ones that I am looking at are Horizons, Math-U-See and Saxon, so I would especially love to hear your opinions on those, but also on any others that I might not have considered yet.

2) I am looking for books for our read-aloud times. Specifically, I would like to find books about missionaries and about other cultures, that are appropriate for very young children (mine are about 4 1/2 and almost 2). Any suggestions of great books that you've read with your children? And, are there any good resources that have lists of read-aloud books (for different age/skill levels) that you would recommend?

Thanks so much for your suggestions!

Week 2 Plan- “Eating From the Pantry and Freezer” Month

Mpm12

Welcome to my second week of "Eating from the pantry and freezer"! Despite a few changes in my plans for last week, we ate well with only a minimal grocery shop (just to get fresh produce for the next couple of weeks), and mostly just food from the stash in my pantry and freezer.

Even with an unplanned weekend guest, I was able to pull together some nice meals. I created a wild rice and chicken casserole, which I will have to share the recipe for soon, as we all thought it turned out great! I was afraid I wouldn't be able to make a suitable, impromptu lunch on Saturday (I didn't want to serve our guest leftovers, as we usually eat), but I managed to come up with a hearty tray of nachos and cheese instead, with red peppers and tomatoes on top and some leftover meatloaf on the side. For dinner that night I made my planned stromboli, and paired it with steamed broccoli, for a very yummy meal.

This week threw a couple of wrenches into my previous plans, as I clued in that it is Passover and Easter Sunday. We've never celebrated a Passover/Seder meal, but I am thinking that it would be something really neat to try. Read the post that inspired me, and another post with some great info for those interested in having a Passover dinner.

So, here is the menu plan I've come up with:

Breakfasts

  • Oatmeal x2
  • Raspberry-banana muffins (supposed to be cranberry, but I used mine up to float in a punch last week :)
  • Toast and eggs
  • Breakfast wraps (scrambled egg, cheese, tomato, potato)
  • Coffee cake (leftovers from a snack I'm making)
  • Cinnamon Rolls (Easter morning)
  • Plus fruit smoothies or green smoothies most mornings

Dinners

  • Beef Stir Fry over brown rice
  • Spaghetti squash with sauce (bumped from last week)
  • Samosas (chicken) with yogurt-cucumber sauce
  • Passover Dinner- Jewish Chicken Soup, with some Egg and Onion Matza, plus I'm trying to figure out what to do for bitter herbs and Haroset (without going grocery shopping!)
  • Chicken Salad sandwiches with fresh sprouts
  • Baked potatoes with broccoli and cheese sauce
  • Easter Dinner- Roast Beef, scalloped poatoes, honey glazed carrots, corn, yorkshire puddings and gravy, plus some apple/berry crisp for dessert

How is everyone else faring with their menus while eating from the pantry and freezer, especially with a special meal like Easter dinner coming up? Have any of you celebrated a Christian Passover meal, and do you have any ideas for me as far as bitter herbs or a dessert?

Meun Plan Mondays are hosted by Organizing Junkie!

A Peaceful House

Field of orange tulips

What a wonderful weekend… ahhhh.

First of all, our tenant issues have finally been resolved. She moved out this Saturday, praise God! Though we are sad that it had to end that way, as we recognize that she simply needs Christ just as we do, it was necessary for both safety and health reasons. We are grateful that it went on only as long as it did, and I can barely express to you the sense of peace and rest that came over me and our home that day.

If there is one thing that I always feel whenever a trial comes to an end, it is that I wished I had trusted God more. Can anyone relate? It is rare that I feel that I have truly put all of my hope and trust in Him, rather than allowing some anxiety and worry to creep up into my heart. It is so helpful for me to remember circumstances like this, and how faithful God was to care for us and provide for our needs, for the next time I am a similarly trying situation.

We had a somewhat expected guest arrive a bit unexpectedly this weekend (the dates had been a little unsure). I was worried about what I would serve, since I hadn't planned anything special and we are having an "Eating from the pantry and freezer" month, but all was well. I was able to serve up some great dishes and no one was the wiser. :)

We were invited out for both Sunday lunch and dinner, which was so nice. For lunch, we had an impromptu time with friends we haven't seen much of lately, and it was so good to reconnect and enjoy their hospitality. Dinner was a birthday party for one of my husband's childhood friends, and as always, his wife went all out with an incredible dinner and dessert that left us happily stuffed! :)

On Saturday I was also able to get out in the morning to a used homeschool curriculum booksale, which was so fun for me! I found several excellent books that should do us for science over the next year, and I will supplement them with library books and internet projects. We're going to focus mostly on weather (clouds, water, natural disasters, precipitation, etc.), doing fun experiments and making some lapbooks. We're also going to mix in some geography, studying a bit about land, oceans and seas and rivers, climates and what different parts of the world are like (hot, cold, desert, icy, forest, etc.).

I'm still looking for my Rod and Staff readers (I need the entire Gr.1 set, and I picked up the first Gr.2 reader at the sale), and my next challenge is settling on a math curriculum to begin this spring. I would also like to find some appropriate missionary and/or stories from different cultures for our read-alouds (once we finish the Little House on the Prairie series, which we're half done).

Saturday night was as relaxing as they come… with my husband out visiting with our guest and a few other guys, I stayed home and determined I would not work on my ebook (as I've spent most of my free nights doing the last month or two). Instead, I ran out after dinner to a local bookstore where I had a gift certificate and purchased a book I've been wanting to read for over a year, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. I made myself some incredible raw milk/raspberry/blackberry ice cream and sat down for a simple night of reading. Oh, it felt soooo good!!!

Sunday we heard an excellent sermon on withstanding temptation, and I was so encouraged by the reminder to fill ourselves up with Christ, not leaving empty, needy places where temptations can so easily overpower us.

And to top it all off, I spent an hour on Sunday afternoon (between friends houses- busy, busy!) doing one of the things I love so much… gardening!

I've had to avoid gardening so far this season, for safety reasons (my husband didn't want the children or I in the backyard without him). I sadly agreed that it was a good decision, but oh, to finally get out to my garden and start digging was sheer bliss! Not only that, but it feels as though spring has truly come, and the whole weekend was just beautiful, sunny and fairly warm during the daytime. Does it get any better than this??? :)

I may be busy this week, what with tilling up the garden and getting a lot of my seeds in, but it will be such a good sort of busy. I'll make sure that I get back this afternoon to post up my meal plan for this week, and to let you know how we're doing with our "Eating from the pantry and freezer" challenge!

Until then, my garden is calling me…

Who Says You Need To Can Beans?

Black-bean-bags

While I'm on the topic of beans and legumes, I thought I'd show you the bags of black beans I prepared for the freezer last night.

For those who find it a bit too much to constantly prepare dry beans (or find that they end up eating less beans because they forget to soak and cook them ahead of time), here is my simple solution:

Cook extra and freeze them!

Whenever I am preparing dried beans, I always make at least 2-3 times the amount I need (or even more). Once they're cooked and cooled, I just scoop them into baggies in 1 cup portions. Then I toss them in the freezer. Done.

I initially thought that the texture of these beans would be really strange, but was very surprised to find that they're just fine! I have done this with pintos, kidneys and black beans quite frequently (I think I've also done it with chickpeas on occasion, though my vague recollection is that they don't freeze quite as nicely) and have never noticed any significant difference once they've been thawed.

This makes it so easy to use my frugal, healthy dried beans as a "convenience" food, to whip up some kind of wraps or taco salad or fast soup.

Black-bean-brownie

Or, if you're in the mood for something sweet, why don't you try these unique but delicious Black Bean Brownies that I made again this week? Don't knock it til you've tried it (my husband wasn't so sure, but he thinks they're amazing).

Does anyone else freeze their cooked beans? If so, how do you find them once they're thawed and which varieties have you tried freezing?

Gardening Plans (And Getting Realistic!)

I'm pretty sure I promised to have these up ages ago, but for some reason or other, this post ended up on the backburner. Such is life! 

Since I wrote up these plans, most of my garden has been planted and things have changed just slightly, though they've stayed mostly the same so far.

Spring-09


Here's my spring garden layout.

Row #1: It's a bit difficult to see, but the first row is entirely taken up with broccoli and cauliflower. The broccoli plants haven't done well (only 2 are surviving nicely, though the cauliflower looks fantastic), so I have added in a bunch of potato plants with the extra seed potatoes that I had after planting my garbage can

Back by the fence on that row (my upper line is a fence), are potted flowers, because there is gravel under the soil and it's not really plantable. I figure I can make use of it by trying to attract more bees- please, come pollinate my garden this year!!!

Row #2: The next row starts with 4 year old Abbie's own little plot, where she's going to start a couple sunflowers (a favorite from last year) and she's also growing my beets and turnips and a few radishes, because I ran out of space for them! I figure they're nice easy crops for her, and they also grow quickly so they'll be rewarding as well. After that, there's a nice wide row with half snow peas and half shelling peas. The rest of that row will be my herbs (this year I'm doing oregano, thyme, basil, chives, cilantro, and dill), and finally, I need to put some zucchini seeds in at the very end.

Row #3:  There will be cucumbers along the fence, which need to be planted NOW, and I will have long, lemon and pickling. Next to them is a carrot patch, then some onions (yellow, white and red), all my lettuce varieties, and finally my spinach.

Row #4: Next you see a whole big strip called Garlic. Ummm, about all that garlic… I didn't do my research before I planted it last fall, and assumed that because it goes through the winter and early spring, that it would be finished by spring planting time. Apparently not. More like JULY! Had I known, I would never have planted soooo much garlic, which is now taking up this entire row, plus about half of the one next to it!

Row #5:  I've fit a nice little patch of kale in at the top where it says onions, and then really did plant more onions partway into the half of the row that the garlic isn't eating up. Ahem. The rest of that row will go to corn, which I am bravely attempting again despite a complete and total failure last year. :) The corn should go in any day now.

Down at the end of that row, beside my composter, I will be trying to grow potatoes in a garbage can, a first for me. I figure it saves me garden space, and hey, it just might work! I'll keep you posted! (Anyone ever tried it with success?)

Also, along the edges of my broccoli and cauliflower, I've written "radishes" all the way down both sides. I absolutely ran out of garden space (silly garlic) and figured that radishes would grow well there. The broc/caul will take a while before they get really big and leafy, and in the meantime, radishes are small and grow very rapidly. I've already been getting some radishes, and it's working very nicely!

Summer-09

Because it always, always pays to be at least a season ahead in your garden planning, here is my Summer garden layout. This is also where the realism kicks in.

Reality Check:
I am currently 7 months pregnant. I will be having a baby in early August, during the real push of summer gardening (ie. much weeding!) and also much of the harvesting.

So, I finally realized that I need to simmer down on my plans a bit. It may not look simmered down, but here's the deal. Last year I planted 12 tomato plants and 8 pepper plants. This year I'm doing 6 tomato, 1 pepper. Last year I had two each of butternut, spaghetti and pumpkin. This year, one of each, with a push on squash that merely need to be harvested and stored, not canned (ie. butternut and my new addition, delicata).

Honestly, I'm not even sure that all of my spring crops will be finished in time to allow for these new crops to go in. My tomatoes should be fine, as they are replacing my peas, which just began to flower today. By the time I get the tomatoes hardened

Cucumbers are still a big feature, because make fermented and cold-pack pickles is just so easy, and we can't get enough fresh cucumbers to eat. The garlic will continue until June/July, at which point it's being replaced by a pumpkin and spaghetti squash transplant (one each), and carrots (ahhh, easy).

The herbs and zucchini will remain, the onions will keep going til mid summer, I'll swap the Row 3 lettuce and carrots around, and add in some watermelons, just for fun (they didn't work last year, but hey, why not try again?).

Notice that there is no Fall garden layout. Hmmm…

Though I may still do a little fall planting (more greens, maybe a bit more root veggies and radishes, etc.) it will be very, very simple. The lack of tomato plants will mean very little canning, mostly just fresh eating and dehydrating as I go during the summer. I'll have to deal with my herbs and squash still, but those are relatively simple.

All in all, it's still ambitious, but it's certainly not the truly ambitious garden I was dreaming of last fall. It will provide lots of fresh food in season, and some to be frozen, dehydrated, stored and (just a bit) canned as well.

I've gone a bit heavier on my spring and early summer crops, and things that can mostly be dealt with before baby comes, or a month or two after. If it gets overwhelming in the midst of it all, I can always walk away and see what still grows without my help. Hey, that might even be a fun experiment! :)

Have you planned out your spring and summer garden layout? Are you ahead of me and already planting (I'm a bit behind)? Have you needed to adjust your original plans due to any life circumstances?