Archive for the ‘rural life’ Category

Welcome to the fifth week of our Fun in the Summer Sun event!

Each Monday until September 7th
Mama to 4 Blessings along with Harvest Moon By Hand,
Adventures of Mommydom, Sweet Diva, and Sweet Phenomena
will be hosting Fun in the Summer Fun link up events.

Here’s the line up:

1st Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer activities”
2nd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer crafts”
3rd Monday of each month: link up your “Kid-friendly summer recipes”
4th Monday of each month: link up your “How to stay cool in the summer heat”


This week the focus is on kid-friendly summer activities.  Some of the things we’ve enjoyed doing during the past week include:

Visiting a Buffalo Farm

Sophia sitting on the Eichten’s mouse.

On Wednesday, we visited Eichtens farm which is an all-natural artisan cheese company and buffalo farm. They produce a Dutch Gouda and a variety of other European-style cheeses.

Olivia sitting on the dairy cow statue.

The bison at Eichtens are totally free from any growth hormones, antibiotics, or other medications. Their animals are raised on native pasture grasses (grass fed), and hay/oats. They raise the feed the bison consume.

Some of the buffalo herd at Eichten’s.
There were quite a few young ones in the herd.

According to Eichtens’ website, “A strong relationship between the human and buffalo has existed for thousands of years. Bison sustained the lives of the explorers and settlers going west as well as the Native American.

The older and younger animals sat right next to one another.

“They were believed to be the most important of the wild animals in the development of North America. Once an integral part of the Native Americans’ way of life, the American Bison is again a central part of the lives of many Americans today.

The girls wanted to sit on the buffalo statue.
They weren’t the first one with the idea – there was a
well-worn path from the dirt road to the buffalo.

“The Bison stand as a symbol of the American West, an animal of survival and our American Heritage.”

Picking Strawberries

Olivia holding some strawberries she picked.

Also on Wednesday, we picked two flats of strawberries. 

Sophia looking for strawberries at the berry patch.

We’re going to make a variety of food from the strawberries as well as eat them plain.  This year, we’re going to try canning a strawberry-lemonade drink so the fresh strawberry taste can be enjoyed during the winter.

Providing an Abode for the Toads

We’ve been seeing hundreds of baby toads here, and came across an idea for helping the toads survive the hot, summer heat.

Olivia holding a baby toad.

In the May 2007 issue of Family Fun, one idea for children to enjoy their backyard is to make a home for toads.  As the article noted, “These hungry amphibians can be a big help in keeping garden pests, such as slugs, grubs, and potato beetles under control.  Entice them to hang out around your plot by creating a shady retreat.” 

American Toad Found While Gardening
American Toad that we found in the garden
when we were planting flowers.

The article continued, “Pick a spot that’s protected from the wind and where the soil is moist, and dig a few shallow depressions.  In each one, lay a terracotta flowerpot on its side and then fill it partway with sandy soil.”

Now it’s your turn!  What kid-friendly summer activities does your family enjoy doing?


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This week’s book for the 52 Books in 52 Weeks is Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry.  Ms. Henry has written a number of books about horses including the Album of Horses of which both Sophia and Olivia have a copy.  It’s an excellent resource that has information and illustrations about different breeds of horses. 

When we did a unit study on horses a couple of years ago, I read Justin Morgan had a Horse to the girls.  This book is part of Sonlight’s curriculum for Sophia, so I’m going to read it again to them.  Being that the girls are older, they may hear some things they didn’t hear the first time around.

The back cover summarizes this 170-page book:  Joel Goss knows that Little Bub is a special colt, even though he’s a runt. And when schoolteacher Justin Morgan asks Joel to break the colt in, Joel is thrilled!

Soon word about Little Bub has spread throughout the entire Northeast — this spirited colt can pull heavier loads than a pair of oxen. And run faster than thoroughbreds!

This is the story of the little runt who became the father of the world-famous breed of American horses — the Morgan.

The girls received some past issues of Horse and Rider from one of the parents in their 4-H club whose family has and shows horses.  They have been cutting out pictures of their favorite horses and putting them aside for use in a project.  I’m not sure what they have in mind…so it will be interesting to see what they create.

This week, we’ll also be looking at the 4-H horse project booklets for Sophia and determining which activities she’d like to do between now and the County Fair (in July).  I’m also going to look at the curriculum for Cloverbuds (a 4-H program for children who are in second grade and younger) and see if there are any horse-related project that Olivia can do.

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About 14 years ago, in the middle of January, twin lambs were born here.  Having adopted the parents from a petting zoo (where they were neglected and maltreated), I was still working on developing trust with them.  They were reluctant to get too close to any human being.  Until Oreo was born…

Oreo – the first lamb born at Harvest Moon
It seemed like once Oreo was born, his ewe-mother (“Woolite”) allowed me to help her care for her newborn lamb.  It was critical that she accepted my help since the nights were well below zero. 
Keeping the sheep – “Dacron” (the ram) and Woolite – along with Oreo in the barn was the safest thing to do.  The trio learned very quickly that I was the food source (hay, water, and grain) and the one who made sure they were warm (with a heat lamp and lots of straw). 
Once the weather was warm enough again (above zero) and Oreo was a few days older, the sheep went outdoors again.  This trio – plus many who came after them – provided many hours of enjoyment not only to me but to family, friends, and others who visited the farm.
Woolite with another lamb, “Dali Lamba”
who was born in the spring one year
In looking at past pictures I had scanned and uploaded to my computer many years ago, I came across a few wonderful surprises:  pictures of my parents, niece, and nephew who participated in one of the Grandparent-Grandchild camps I coordinated here at the farm.
I forgot I had these pictures, and, in finding them, they brought back memories of some very happy times. I remember having up to about 50 chickens wandering around the yard and pasture – finding bugs and grass to eat; laying eggs; and taking dust baths in the dirt.
A mother hen watches and protects her chicks.

Some of my favorite memories are when a couple of the more “broody hens” would sit on some eggs for quite a long period of time.  Eventually, a bunch of little chicks would hatch, and then the mother hen would have a new job:  teaching the little ones where to find food and how to stay safe on the farm. 

A chicken coming to get a closer look at my parents, niece, and nephew
on one of the Grandparent-Grandchild Days at Harvest Moon.

As I looked at through some of the (many) pictures taken while I offered camp programs (some just for youth, others for grandparents with grandchildren), I feel incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to work with motivated and positive teenage camp counselors who wanted to make a difference in the lives of children. 

I am equally fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside talented artists who inspired children and teens to explore the arts – visual, dance, music, and theater.  The talent that was shared with youth – who would now be in high school or college, or be college graduates – was impressive.  I’m hoping that children and teens who were part of the camp program look back and have some good memories of their time at Harvest Moon.

Two generations working together to make a birdfeeder.

What was nice for me to see when I was looking at pictures from the Grandparent-Grandchild camp were of seniors working and learning with youth – both generations were having fun and learning together.  One of the activities that the grandparent-grandchild teams did was to learn about birds and how to feed them.

I found two pictures – one of my niece with my mom; and one of my nephew with my dad – working on a project together.  They were creating simple birdfeeders in which they spread peanut butter on a cardboard tube and then rolled it in birdseed.

Working together on a birdfeeder.

These feeders and other ones were sent home with the participants so they could put them in their trees and watch the birds eat.  A simple pleasure – feeding and watching the birds – but one that my dad instilled in me as a child.  It’s one that still lives on today.

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is food and lessening one’s carbon footprint. 

As a mother who homeschools her two daughters, I particularly appreciated this interesting article by Shannon Hayes about one homeschool family’s quest to eat locally and an educational trip they took where the children eagerly ate snails.  As Shannon said, “Each year at this time, we pack up the kids for a journey that is one part celebration of the close of the growing season, one part homeschool study.”

This article, 8 Ways to Join the Local Food Movement, by Sarah van Gelder offers some great ideas.  Some of them I’ve already done, and others I’m definitely going to try this spring and summer when the growing season begins again.  (Right now the ground is covered with a good foot of snow.)

From Lawn to Lunch

One idea offered in the article was to “convert your sunny lawn to a lunch box by removing the turf in long, 18-inch strips. Cut the edges of each strip with a sharp-bladed edging tool. While one partner rolls up the grass like a jellyroll, another slices through grass roots with the edging tool. Remove about an inch of rooty soil with the top growth. When the roll gets heavy, slice it off and load it in a wheelbarrow. 

“Make beds 10 to 20 feet long and six to eight feet wide (so you can reach the center from each side). Mulch three to four-foot wide paths between beds (grass left in the path will infiltrate your beds) to accommodate a wheelbarrow.”  The turf can be added to the compost pile. From there, prepare the garden beds for planting.  Further instructions are at the link above.

This is such a great idea!  The garden would be easily accessible from both sides and make weeding and harvesting so much easier. 

Olivia Holding Basil
Olivia holding some basil –
one of the many things harvested one night from the garden.

This past year, Sophia, Olivia, and I planted vegetable gardens in three spots: the existing raised beds next to the driveway, in the butterfly garden in the backyard, and in an old flower garden on the east side of the front yard.  The first two gardens did very well, but the last one was too shady and didn’t produce much. 

There are many sunny spots in the backyard, and this spring it would be good to add another spot where we can plant more vegetables. 

In the meantime, I’m thinking about the delicious salads and cornbread that I enjoyed for many lunches. The majority of the ingredients for the salads came right out of the garden:

Cornbread with Salad
One of the many lunches I enjoyed during Summer 2010
using fresh produce the girls and I grew in the garden.
This is something I’ve never done, but love the idea (it’s from the article noted above): 
Party with Your Preserves

Ten quarts of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and not a jar of tomato sauce left? Throw a canning swap party. Here are some tips and recommendations from foodroutes.org:
Plan ahead.

Gauge interest with your friends early on. Then remind them throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting season to set aside extras for canning and swapping.

Don’t be afraid to grow a lot of something.

If you’re a budding salsa artist, plant that extra row of tomatoes. Or if you see a good deal on a box of local pears—get them.

Try new recipes on your swappers.

Canned Peaches Pears and Applesauce
Canned applesauce, peaches, and pears.

Bust out that crazy 5-alarm salsa verde recipe you’ve always been scared to try. Make sure to can extra so you can pop a jar open for samples.

Be aware of what constitutes a “fair” trade.

This is simple. You’re all friends and canners who know how time-consuming canning can be. Be open and ask what your neighbor feels comfortable receiving in exchange for one jar of Grandma Edie’s apricot chutney.

Think outside the Ball Jar.

Not everything at the canning swap party has to be pressure-canned or boiled in a hot water bath. Dried items, homemade baked goods, and candies are all eligible. You’ll be amazed by what can be preserved from the season’s bounty.

Shop Outside of Supermarkets

The article suggested that you could “ask around at farmers markets, look for road-side food stands, and U-pick places. Watch for hand-painted signs. You may find a wide variety of freshly harvested foods and get to know new communities and regional traditions at the same time.”

One of my favorite memories of the past summer was visiting Amish farms in Cashton, Wisconsin.  My parents and daughters went to many different farms, and purchased fresh produce – much of it well under the price in the grocery store.

Following a Buggy
Following an Amish buggy on the way to different farms in the Cashton area.

Several years ago, we joined at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.  My daughters were a bit too young at the time to fully appreciate fresh vegetables on their plate, so (unfortunately) there was more food waste than I was comfortable with.  So, I’ve taken a break for a couple years now, but am thinking that 2011 would be a good year to begin again. 

One of the CSA farms also had a gleaning program where we could pick all the tomatoes we wanted that were not being used so they wouldn’t go to waste.  This was wonderful – and a huge source of savings.  I ended up canning and drying a considerable amount of tomatoes. 

This website helps locate CSAs across the United States.  I was happy to find 43 listings near me for a variety of CSA farms as well as ones that offer organic or natural products – some even year round! 

Share Your Table

The article also suggested that “the best antidote to fast-food culture is as close as your table. Invite friends and a few strangers to a local-foods potluck. In good weather, eat outside. Share an evening of conversation and enjoy the good life.” 

There was also an interesting article about a man who lives in Paris and invites people over every Sunday evening.  A changing group of about 50-60 people from around the world have joined him over the past 40 years.  Here’s the article.

One of the steps suggested today is to eat locally.  In January in Minnesota, there’s not a lot growing naturally.  Out of curiousity, I wanted to see the NRDC’s (National Resoures Defense Council) list of local food and produce available in early-January in Minnesota.

Supposedly, the following are growing in Minnesota: Apples, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Mushrooms, Onions, Raspberries, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, and Turnips.  These are all summer and late-fall crops – not middle of January crops.  So much for that idea.

One Evening's Harvest
Ingredients from the garden that were used
to make dinner one night this past summer.

Next recommended step:  look at the Sierra Club’s list of ways to eat well.  My favorite suggestion from the list is:

Make Your Own and Try New Recipes

As the article said, “Most of the best recipes on Earth were created by peasants who wouldn’t be able to read the directions on a modern food package…The truth is that cheap, healthy, and tasty meals, from cereals to sautés to soups, can easily be made from scratch.”

I agree!  Last night for dinner I made some homemade pumpkin spice bread and a pastry filled with a variety of ingredients – including sauteed onions and fresh parsley.  It takes a bit longer to prepare items from scratch, but the good thing is that I know (and can pronounce) all the ingredients that are being consumed.  There were no chemicals or preservatives in any of the ingredients.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Spice Bread with Cranberries

The pastry was a new recipe from a Russian cookbook.  The girls learned about Russia (as part of a homeschool unit study I’m doing with them where they learn about a different country each month…they’re on “T” now), and there are still a couple of Russian recipes we want to try.

The No Impact Week Experiment Challenge had the following ideas for making a change in one’s eating habits:

Eat More Vegetarian Meals

It was suggested to try vegetarian meals for the entire week, for one day, or even just 2/3 of the meals in one day. 

Vegetarian Lasagna Rolls
Vegetarian lasagna rolls with spinach and homemade tomato sauce

Find Ways to Use Your Oven For Shorter Time Periods

I already try to make multiple items at one time when I have the oven on.  However, it was suggested to put the food in during the preheating stage and turn off the oven early and let the food continue to cook in the warm oven.  That’s a great idea!  I’ve done that with homemade rolls (made from yeast) and it helps speed along the rising process. 

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Homemade sourdough cinnamon and raisin rolls

Save Money and Can Your Food

This is something I do each summer and fall.  A couple years ago, I even tried canning my own ketchup and apple pie filling in addition to canning the regular items (peaches, pears, jams, salsa, tomatoes, applesauce).  I’d like to try more recipes this year; and invest in a pressure cooker so I can can vegetables.

Apple Pie Filling
Canned Apple Pie Filling

When Eating Out, Ask for Tap Water

Instead of asking for bottled water, request tap water when eating out.  This is such a simple action, but one that does make a difference.

According to an article by YES! Magazine, “Bottled water is marketed as superior to tap, but public water supplies are actually cleaner, less expensive, and more environmentally responsible, according to organizations like Take Back the Tap, Food and Water Watch, and Stop Corporate Abuse.” 

“The 38 billion plastic bottles sold in 2005 used 900,000 tons of plastic,
which required more than 1.7 million barrels of oil for transport.
More than 75 percent of discarded water bottles end up in landfills
where they take up to 1,000 years to decompose.”
~ The Pacific Institute

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This week I’m participating in the No Impact Week Experiment – a one-week carbon cleanse. It is a chance to see what a difference no-impact living can have on one’s quality of life.

It’s not about giving up creature comforts, but an opportunity to test whether the modern “conveniences” one takes for granted are actually making one happier or just eating away at one’s time and money. 

If you’d like to participate as well, click HERE and you’ll be taken to a page where you can register for free and receive an online book that gives lots of great ideas and links.

Today’s challenge is doing more with less.  There’s a video called The Story of Stuff which is an interesting look at how to live a lower-impact life.

In the online book, there’s a series of activities that are suggested for each day.  The first activity was to list the things I need to buy this week. Here’s what comes to mind:

– Classes and enrichment activities for Sophia and Olivia.
– Gasoline for the car.
– Movie tickets for Mom, Dad, and me to celebrate Dad’s 79th birthday.
– Gift and card for Dad’s birthday.
– Milk.
– Dog food for Gretel.
– Hay for Bailey and Hoss.
– Bark chips for Bailey and Hoss.
– Washer and dryer.
– Homeschool conference fee and hotel reservation.

The next step was to list the things that I can wait a week to buy.  Here’s what I can wait on:

Classes and enrichment activities for Sophia and Olivia – the classes don’t begin until next month, so I can wait a bit longer before enrolling them.  Who knows…perhaps by waiting, I’ll change my mind and decide that we could do something else together that is equally as fun and educational.

Washer and dryer – I can wait until January 15th when a coupon expires that would save quite a bit of money. In the long-run, a new washer and dryer will use less water and propane since they will be more energy-efficient and have a larger capacity than the small washer and dryer I’m currently using (and have since 1996).

Homeschool conference fee and hotel reservation – I can fill out the registration form and book the hotel, but wait to pay for both until closer to the conference time.

Milk – I don’t have a cow to milk. I have some powdered milk in the cupboard that Olivia will drink. I’ll use that for the week.

The third step was to look at the list of things that I will need to get this week. The challenge of the No Impact Week Experiment is to figure out how to get the items second-hand, borrow, or make them myself. 

Movie tickets for Mom, Dad, and me to celebrate Dad’s 79th birthday. I have a gift card that my mom and dad gave me for the movie theater. I’ll use that instead of paying with cash.

Gift and card for Dad’s birthday – Perhaps I can make a gift and card for him rather than purchasing something he doesn’t need. He loves to watch the birds, so I could easily make some batches of suet for the birds and put them in his feeders when I visit on Thursday.  He also loves music, so I could play some songs on the piano for him (he and my mom gave me ten years of piano lessons when I was growing up).  I’d like to make something else…but I’m not sure what yet.

Out of the list of things that I need to get this week, some things I must purchase:

Dog food for Gretel – Changing her food abruptly to homemade dog food could result in stomach and digestion issues. This would be something that could be transitioned to if I felt it would be cost-effective and healthier for she and Montague.

Hay for Bailey and Hoss – Hay is a consumable product, so there’s no purchasing it second-hand or borrowing it. Making bales of hay is something I don’t have the land or equipment to do. I can purchase it from my neighbor, though, which saves money and transportation costs since He lives right next door.

Bark chips for Bailey and Hoss – Same thing as hay…it’s a consumable product. What I can do is purchase the bark chips when I’m on my way to do other errands and from a local small business. In that way, I save money and transportation costs by grouping errands together.

Gasoline for the car – Wish I didn’t have to purchase gasoline this week. However, I’m going to be taking my parents out to celebrate my dad’s birthday. They live 50 miles away, so it does take a good amount of gasoline to visit them.

Other activities and ideas that the No Impact Week Experiment suggested for today include:

Shop Less, Live More

One idea was that instead of shopping to do something enjoyable or clean a closet. Today, I started putting away the Christmas decorations. Although I like the holidays and Christmas decorations, I also enjoy seeing counter-tops, bookcases, and shelves cleared off. Honestly, I rather have them bare than cluttered with things.

I also worked a lot in the kitchen; and washed and put away the dishes. Throughout the month of December, it seemed like I couldn’t keep up with things because of the activities I was doing with the girls. Taking a block of time and cleaning was good for me today. Seeing things put away and the counters clean is less stressful…and much more peaceful for me to look at.

Make Your Own Body and Cleaning Products

It’s interesting this was suggested because Sophia, Olivia, and I started making bath salts this weekend. A line of bath products will be introduced through Harvest Moon by Hand (my shop) within the week. I’m excited about this because it is aligned with what I enjoy doing, what I have been trained to do (I’m a certified aromatherapist), and something that is fun to do with my daughters.

Use Hand-Me-Downs

Yesterday, Sophia, Olivia, and I went through their rooms and collected a huge trash bag of items that can be donated to the local second-hand shop. Today, we went through a closet and found another trash bag of clothing to donate. The items that are sold at the second-hand shop fund a non-profit organization’s programs that help support families and individuals in need.

Just as I donate to the store, I also shop there and have found some great deals on clothing (most recently a beautiful Liz Claiborne sweater for only $4), clothing for the girls’ dolls (often times only $1-$2 compared to $5-10), and books (only 25-50 cents).

For Must-Have Purchases, Buy Locally

For a couple of the items on the list (the hay and bark chips), I plan to purchase them locally as I normally do. The hay is from my next door neighbor who is a farmer. The bark chips are from a small, local business that provides feed and agricultural needs to farms and families in the area.

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About a year ago, I made a quilt for my Dad who has Alzheimer’s Disease.  It had a variety of images on it – photographs that he and I picked out that were meaningful for him. 

Finished Sensory and Memory Quilt (for my Dad's Christmas Gift)

The black and white picture at the top of this post is one of the photographs that he picked out.  He’s riding a cart attached to his goat at one of the farms where he grew up. 

I can only imagine how much fun that would have been for a child to be riding around in the country with not a care in the world.  Through the years, my dad shared many memories of times that were spent at farms.  It seemed like these some of the best memories that helped sustain him…even as an adult.

Memory is a way of holding onto the things you love,
the things you are,
the things you never want to lose.
~From the television show “The Wonder Years”

Now, as an adult, I live on a small hobby farm.  Many years ago, I had sheep, chickens, horse, and turkeys.  When Sophia and Olivia were adopted, the animals were here. 

Sophia watching the sheep in the pasture.

However, circumstances changed and a farm auction was the end of the livestock.  They went to new homes.  It was a difficult and painful day.

Thankfully, in 2008, a miniature horse and pony came to live at the farm.  The girls are thrilled to have “outdoor animals” again. 

Horses Getting to Know One Another
Olivia introducing Bailey and Hoss to one another. 
They were adopted from the Minnesota Hooved Animal Rescue Foundation
and did not know each other prior to living here. 

I’m hoping that the experiences Sophia and Olivia are having now will be pleasant memories when they are adults…and sustain them on days that easy as well as those that are more challenging.

And even if you were in some prison,
the walls of which let none of the sounds of the world come to your senses –
would you not then still have your childhood,
that precious, kingly possession,
that treasure-house of memories?
~Rainer Maria Rilke

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The tomatoes and cucumbers are doing very well. Wish there were more beans. The amount of beans and carrots picked was just right for the girls and I to enjoy at dinner tonight.

There are actually three more cucumbers that the girls picked, but not on this tray. We brought them to keep them cool (since is was in the mid-90s).

It’s fun for Sophia and Olivia to see the results of planting and weeding the gardens. It’s one of the many parts of homeschooling that I enjoy – being able to do hands-on learning with the girls so that what they do they are more likely to learn and retain.

Sophia enjoys finding the cucumbers hiding in the vines;

Sophia Harvesting a Cucumber

Olivia's First Carrot
and Olivia was thrilled when she pulled her first carrot out of the ground.

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