Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Welcoming a New Year

And so the chapter closes on 2014 . . . with all of its joys, sorrows, special times and memories, heartaches, learning, growth, changes, fun times, new experiences, and more. I cannot put into words what all is on my heart as we leave this past year behind and enter the new year.  I never would have guessed where all God would end up leading me, or my family, in 2014 . . . and now another year is before us with only He knowing what lies ahead.

There is a passage from Proverbs that I have been thinking a lot about this past month . . .

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

If I were to pick a ‘theme verse’ for this coming year, I think this would be it! It is a very encouraging and convicting reminder to lean not on my own very limited understanding and perspective of things, and to trust instead in our all-knowing and wise Father, Who sees everything from the beginning to the end and Who knows what is best for us.

And as we trust in Him with all our heart and “acknowledge Him in all [our] ways”, then “He will make [our] paths straight.” Isn’t that an incredible and encouraging promise?

As I step into this empty new year that is just waiting to be filled, I look forward to wherever God will lead. It is my heart’s desire that with whatever lies ahead, to moment by moment, day by day, trust Him fully, acknowledging Him in all of my ways, and letting Him guide me down the paths He has for me, embracing whatever He gives “as from a Father’s hand”, as the old hymn goes.

 Already there are exciting opportunities for ministry and service which could end up being a big part of Leah’s and my year (I look forward to sharing more about these in the coming weeks!) . . . before long it will be time to start planning the garden and starting seeds (already?!) . . . spring and summer days with all their busyness will come again . . . and this precious life that God has given to each of us will, Lord willing, continue to be lived out in the coming weeks and months.

May each of us embrace whatever God gives us or allows in our lives in the year 2015 . . . using this year to grow in Him, to serve others and share His love, to be a bright light for Christ, and more . . . not getting caught up in the temporal, but having our hearts and minds fixed on “things above” and seeing every moment as a gift and as an opportunity to glorify our Lord.

Over this next year, I am looking forward to continuing to blog and share glimpses with all of you of some of what will take place in this next year for us . . . and I look forward to hearing from you all, too, and perhaps seeing in part as to how God will lead each of you in your lives as well!


From our family to yours . . . have a blessed New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Homestead Update

There was a lot that happened on our little 'homestead' the past months! Some of which was . . .

The winter squash and pumpkins were all harvested . . .

Some of them

The strawberries were mulched over with straw . . .


The garden was put to bed after a total of 216 jars of produce were canned (salsa, ketchup, tomato sauce, jellies, carrots, beets, pickles, and more), 232 + lbs. of potatoes were dug and stored, and many, many bags of beans, corn, etc. were put up in the freezer.

The remaining celery plants that were in the garden were covered with a makeshift cold frame . . .


They got hit a bit on some of the really cold days, but overall are doing well!

The beehives were all prepped for winter . . .


Five of the eight hives

. . . and much more.


A peach tree


Dad in the process of hauling woodchips (that we get for free!) to the goat pens

Some changes have taken place as well. For awhile, it had felt like we needed to cut something out of our lives as things were just so busy! When we began evaluating everything, the dairy goats were one of the top things we were considering. Not only was the time investment with them a factor, but when we considered how they tied us to home with needing to milk twice a day and how we were needing and/or wanting to travel more to visit family and friends, go to conferences, etc., we made the big decision to sell our dairy goat herd.

Leah's last doeling that we sold

My last doeling that we sold

The selling process started in August, and in November, the last goat went to its new home. It was bittersweet! While Leah and I miss our Alpines (they had such fun personalities!), we are enjoying having less on our plates and the new, less busy routine we have been able to settle into. As a family, we have also been enjoying being able to travel more when opportunity arises. Like when we went up to Nebraska for Thanksgiving as that wouldn't have been possible if we still had the dairy goats!  

(And in case anyone was wondering, as far as milk for my soaps, I froze enough to last me awhile, and then will be purchasing it locally. :)

One thing we really wanted to do, though, if we didn't have our own milk, was to find a source for raw milk. And . . . we did! Once a week we have fresh, raw Jersey milk delivered to our door from a family farm.



 There are many things we really like about it including that the milk is SO delicious (we like it better than the goat milk!), there are nearly 2 cups of cream per half gallon which means real ice cream :), and we are able to support a small family farm.

So the animals we currently have now on our little homestead are the Boer goats and here are some of them . . . .

Aurora

One of our bucks, Rimrock, 'asking' me somewhat politely for some attention

Sienna munching on fallen leaves

We also have our meat rabbits . . . 

Some of the rabbits

And Leah's two dogs . . .

Mandy and Kymber . . . Kymber stays outside during most of the day and then comes inside during the evening and night.

And a small flock of twelve laying hens . . .



Earlier this year when we reduced the number of hens we had, we moved the ones we kept to a smaller place, and Dad built nestboxes to go on the outside . . .


One of the hens in the nestbox . . . this fall, the egg laying had gone down to only one or two a day (and sometimes none!), but thankfully, it has picked back up again.

This new setup has been really nice! Their previous, big coop is now used for storage of feed, the beekeeping equipment, etc. 

Whenever I go over by the chickens to take care of them, Kymber always wants to play! 

 And of course, we still have tens of thousands of honeybees, too. :)

Speaking of honeybees . . . on the warmer days that we had this month, they were busy out and about bringing in water and cleaning out their hives . . .


Last week, I took the last feeder off of one of the hives, put dry sugar on the inner cover, checked a few of the other hives, and now we just wait until spring! (Though on the warm days, I'll check periodically to see if they need any more dry sugar.) So far, all eight hives are looking great!

This time of year, not nearly as much is happening here homestead related, other than routine chores . . . but before long, garden planning will begin, it will be time to start seeds, in the spring it will be kidding season, and more. In the meantime, we are working on many different indoor projects and some outdoor ones, too, and are enjoying this somewhat more 'restful' season!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

"Hallelujah"

There was a music video that had been circulating on facebook awhile back, and my family and I watched it (many times!) and really liked it. Each time I watch it and listen to the song, my heart fills with thanksgiving to the Lord for what He has done. What an incredible gift Jesus Christ gave of Himself!

Leaving heaven, being born of a virgin, growing up, and living as a man . . . fully man, yet fully God . . . perfect, yet still was tempted in all things . . . serving, loving, healing, teaching, testifying . . . and eventually, dying on the cross. And for what purpose? Amazing, unfathomable love for each one of us . . . for every man . . . that we may be redeemed.

I am so very thankful that Jesus came to this earth, and lived and died, taking the punishment of all of our sin upon Himself, and rose again so that all who believe in Him will be forgiven their sins and receive eternal life. He truly is worthy of all praise and adoration! 



"For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

"Christ Jesus who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." Philippians 2:5b-8

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal live." John 3:16

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;” Romans 3:23-24

Indeed . . . "Hallelujah" . . . Praise the Lord!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Few Recipes to Share

As mentioned in this post, baking and cooking are things that my Mom, sister, and I enjoy! Whether it be making the every day meals, special breakfasts, desserts, breads, etc., we love making things for our family or to share with others. And we each have certain types of things that are more our favorites to make. :) 

For me, breads are one of those things that I really enjoy making, and here is a recipe for one that was made recently . . .


Sunflower Oat Bread

- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats, divided
- 1/4 cup evaporated cane juice (or sugar)
- 4 tablespoons plain sunflower kernels
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup water
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 Tbsp. lemon juice in a 1/4 cup of milk - let sit for 5 min. before using.)
- 2 eggs
- 1 3/4 to 2 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon cold water

In a mixing bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 3/4 cup oats, cane juice (or sugar), plain sunflower kernels, yeast and salt. In a saucepan, heat the water, oil, buttermilk, and honey to 120°-130°. Add to dry ingredients; beat until well blended. Beat in 1 egg until smooth. Stir in enough of the whole wheat flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down; turn onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half; shape into round loaves. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons oats on a greased baking sheet; place loaves over oats. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Beat remaining egg and cold water; brush over loaves. Sprinkle with remaining oats. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire racks.  Yield: 2 loaves.

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Recently when wanting to make fudge and not having any Marshmallow Creme, Leah got adventurous and found a recipe for homemade Marshmallow Creme. But it called for corn syrup which we don't use so she found a substitute for that . . . honey! Unsure if her much adjusted fudge recipe would turn out like fudge or not, she made a batch and after it set, we all tried it, and it was delicious! This recipe is definitely a keeper . .

Leah's Fudge

- 3 cups evaporated cane juice (or sugar)
- 3/4 cup butter
- 2/3 cup evaporated milk
- 1 (12 oz.) package semisweet chocolate chips
- 7 oz. (approximately 7/8 cup) of homemade Marshmallow Creme
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract

Homemade Marshmallow Creme
 - 1 egg white at room temperature
- 3/4 cup honey (she used our light spring honey)
-1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup sifted powdered sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

To make Marshmallow Creme:

Beat egg white, honey, and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer on high speed until mixture is thick and doubled in volume, about 5-8 minutes. Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in powdered sugar until thoroughly combined. Beat in vanilla extract just until incorporated. (Note, mixture will be thinner than store bought Marshmallow Creme.) Can be refrigerated in a covered container up to 2 weeks or frozen for 1 month.

To make Fudge:

Grease a 9x13 inch pan. Mix together cane juice (or sugar), butter, and evaporated milk in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Bring mixture to a full boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in chocolate chips until melted and thoroughly combined. Beat in homemade marshmallow creme and vanilla extract. Transfer fudge to the prepared pan and let cool before cutting into squares.

  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you try either of these, hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Soapmaking

This post has been sitting in my draft folder for quite awhile, and I am finally finishing it up and getting it posted! 

~~~~~~~~~~~

As I have been doing various soap related things the past month or so, I have been taking some photos with the intention of eventually doing a 'soaping' blogpost. And now, here it is!

When I first started making soap, a friend gave me a basic recipe for a non-goat milk soap. I altered the recipe to include goat milk and then tweaked it a bit more to get the ratio of bar-hardness and lather that I was wanting. Then came the fun of developing my own recipes for each different variety!

I do not know how many hundreds of bars of soap I have made so far, but I do know that I still very much enjoy the process! There are many various steps involved and here is a glimpse into some of them . . .

Measuring the paper that is used to line the mold in preparation for cutting the pieces

 Some of the main supplies . . . I order most of my oils in bulk in 35-50 lb. containers

At the very beginning, getting ready to start measuring oils, water, goat milk, etc.

Measuring the essential oils . . . here, it is the blend for the Citrus Bar. The notebook in the background is where I have all of my recipes.

After adding the lye/water mixture (which I always mix together outdoors) to the oils, I use an immersion blender to blend and bring the soap to trace (and at a certain point in this process, the goat milk is added.) No infused oils were used in this recipe which is why the soap mixture is white.

Once the soap reaches 'trace' (about the consistency of pudding), it is time to add the essential oils, additives, colorants (unless I am using infused oils - those are added at the beginning), etc. This particular soap, Lavender Orange, only had the blend of lavender and orange essential oils added to it so it was pretty simple. The orange is what gives it the bright yellow color. 

When using infused oils, the process is a bit different . . . at the beginning, I will measure out how much of each of the infused olive oil combinations that are to be used . . .

Regular olive oil with two different infused olive oils (paprika and annatto seed powder - both of which I use in the Citrus Bar.)

The olive oil mixture is then added to the other oils and instead of a white soap mixture, it is now colored , and this time, it is orange for the Citrus Bar . . .

At the beginning of the blending process . . . it has a ways to go yet before reaching trace.

Another way I color soaps besides using infused oils, is to add things such as paprika powder, cocoa powder, etc. after the soap reaches trace.

Once the soap reaches trace, has all of the colorants and additives added, then it is poured into the lined mold . . .

Lavender Orange soap in the lined mold and ready to be insulated and left for 24-48 hours to finish saponifying. Then it will be cut into bars which will cure for 4-6 weeks.

So that's some of the process!

Another part of soapmaking is developing different scent blends and figuring out what colorants to use. That is one of my favorite parts! I had been working with a blend of lavender, orange, and ylang ylang essential oils, and got it to the point that it was ready to try in a batch of soap. I really like the finished result . . . .

This is it curing. Swirled soaps are one of my favorites to make, though they do take a bit longer. This one had paprika powder mixed into half of the soap mixture which was then swirled into the remaining soap mixture.

Once the new varieties of soap are cured, it is time to photograph them, edit the photos, write a listing for them, and then list them in my shop . . .

"Orange Blossom"

Packaging up orders is another part of the process. The photos below are of soaps that are for baby shower favors, hence why each one is tied with twine. It is especially enjoyable putting together orders like this knowing what they are for!


All ready to be packaged up and mailed

There are also parts of the business that do not come easily to me . . . anything that has to do with design, whether it be business cards, soap labels, banners, websites, takes me awhile! It is rare for me to simply have inspiration, but I instead need to work and experiment and delete and add and change and get my family's opinions and sometimes start all over again before I have an end product that I am happy with.

Lately I have been working on one of these 'not so easy parts' which is designing new soap labels. After quite a few hours of work and a lot of the aforementioned experimenting, deleting, etc., I am finally liking how they are coming together!

Until the new labels are ready, though, I will keep printing and using the old ones . . .
Cutting more labels

So there is a glimpse into some aspects of my soap business!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Chair Restoration ~ Sanding

Last weekend it was beautiful outdoors with warm temperatures and a gentle breeze. I took advantage of the pleasant weather and set up a table outside and sanded nearly all of the chair pieces which was fun! It took quite a long time as the chairs were in pretty rough shape. They have not only been well-used, but have also been ill-used so it took a lot of sanding to clean them up.

It looks like they spent some time out in the elements and perhaps sat in water for a bit as well. Before stripping them, quite a bit of the finish had already worn off, and in many spots, the grain was raised and was quite rough.

Some parts of the wood also looked like this . . .

Before sanding

You can see the grooves running along the grain where some of the softer parts of the wood are missing. There are also quite a few places where there are/were small scrapes and gouges in the wood and a few small splits as well. I sanded smooth everything that I could, and what is left will just add character to the chairs. :)

The back of one of the chairs after the initial sanding . . . it still needed to be fine-sanded when this photo was taken.

I really enjoyed working on this step! I think sanding just might be my favorite part of the refinishing process. I love the feel of the wood underneath my hands as it slowly transforms from rough to smooth!

The dowels and front chair legs to one of the chairs

 I didn't quite get all of the sanding done over the weekend so finished the last chair seat a few days ago. Now the pieces are all ready to be put back together again!

I am glad I was able to get most of the sanding done when I did as the warm, dry weather didn't last long. Just a few days later it looked like this outdoors . . .

A Black-Capped Chickadee on the feeder

We got a little bit of snow! Not much, but it certainly was pretty while it lasted. :)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Little Bits of Life

Over the summer and fall months, I wasn't exactly a faithful blogger . . . though I am working on changing that now. :) (Which you may have noticed!)

There are many post ideas that I have in mind to share . . . cooking/baking recipes as well as household cleaner recipes, projects we are working on, a homestead update (which is long overdue!), and more. I am looking forward to sharing about these things over the coming weeks and months!

And here is a little glimpse into some of the things that have been taking place here recently . . .


~ Baking ~

'Tis the season for the kitchen to be busy! Well, it's usually rather busy year round with each season having its own kitchen activities  and with having three women in our household who love to cook and bake :), but it is especially busy now with baking wintertime treats . . .

Leah making her own version of fudge with homemade Marshmallow Creme . . . and it was delicious! And the recipe will be coming soon.

 Mom making cookies . . . and the photo was taken with Leah's 
new smartphone which is why it is a little blurry.


~ Letter Writing ~

 This is another thing that happens year-round, but this time of year it is especially pleasant. Leah and I rearranged our room yet again trying to make things more conducive for each of our businesses (which was a success!), and a by-product of that was having a better place for my writing desk . . .

If you get a hand-written letter from me, this is where it would have been written. :)
The chair is a recent addition as I found a set of four of these sturdy oak chairs at an antique store for very little. They were originally library chairs and still have the manufacturer's label on the back of them!

A letter in progress to a sweet little friend who sent me the card on the left. Which had included the thoughtful gift of a dime. :) 


~ Mom's Project ~

This fall one of my mom's projects has been transferring all of our family home videos that are on VHS onto DVD. It has been fun to see parts of them as she has been doing that! One day when she was working on it, I happened to have my camera nearby so snapped a few photos from the one she was transferring . . .

Leah and I 'cleaning' out the kitchen drawers

All three of us kids out playing in the snow

Dad surprising Leah

All three of us together unwrapping the gifts on my birthday

Watching these and/or listening to them sure brings back special and fun memories! And reminds me how very quickly time goes by and how things change, and how important it is to cherish every moment.


~ Crocheting ~

Filling orders has been keeping Leah busy!

Here she is crocheting a little boot

It has been a busy crochet year for her,  and she has added many new and adorable items since I last posted about her shop. She is so talented!


~ Trip to the Bulk Food Store ~ 

We always enjoy doing this together! The drive is about an hour, and it is a beautiful one . . . .

An old barn alongside the road

Cattle grazing

  And the old farmhouse that Leah and I always admire . . . up until this year, it was steadily getting in worse and worse shape and no one lived in it. We were glad to see when driving by this time that someone has really been fixing it up!

So there is a glimpse into a few of the 'little' things that have been happening around here lately!