This is why we do it!

There’s a bit of a back story and some story telling before I get to the point at the end…but I’ll get there.

Gifting my parents has always been a challenge, but Christmas 2016 had me stumped.  They have everything they want already and my dad will always and forever, for every occasion, tell me that I don’t need to get him anything.  I get it.  I really do.  I don’t need anything either…but I still want to do something nice and unexpected for him.  Mom collects Nativity related things and she likes different kinds of dishes and serving things for her dinner parties so at some point I do eventually manage to figure out what to get for her.   But for my dad, well, he’s still the hard one.  And no matter how much he loves the grand kids there are only so many personalized mugs, calendars, photo books, picture frames, and videos he’s going to want.  And since we do Homemade Christmas it’s a little trickier to think of what to make.

I was about ready to give up as I was packing up a box to mail off to them when I realized the most obvious gift was right in my back yard.  How did I not think of this sooner?

CHICKENS!!!

I pulled out my stash of Christmas cards and started writing him a note.  I  gave him a hard time about being hard to gift at first, but then I told him that I had found a gift that was useful and one that he would definitely use.  No I didn’t give my dad live chickens for Christmas.   We were going to raise chickens for him in the summer!  I was excited that I’d finally found “the perfect gift” but at the same time I felt like it was a non-gift because I hadn’t actually done anything yet.  Oh but we would.

As soon as I could, I put in my order for the first delivery of chickens in the spring.  I was so excited.  I would send mom and dad pictures all the time and talk about how big the chicks were getting and what we were doing with them.  As the summer went on we talked about how we were getting these chickens to my parents once they were all processed.  Plans were made and changed a half dozen times and the weeks went on.  We raised and processed our own chickens and the freezer was almost overflowing with them…and still no concrete plan to deliver their Christmas gift.  We thought about going home for the holidays and bringing them then but no go with an animal sitter with such short notice.

Then I got the phone call that made me so excited.  An old highschool friend was heading that way with an empty pick up truck and was more than happy to be our delivery guy.  Oh Hallelujah!  I honestly don’t know who was more excited, me or my parents.  So I packed up two big boxes full of chickens.  And it was a good thing Hubby was home because by the time I was done I couldn’t lift them myself.   When it was all said and done I managed to get 28 chickens into those boxes with some saw dust packed in around for some insulation, and at 6-8 lbs each, that’s some heavy boxes.

The evening they were delivered I got a text letting me know they had them and the next day I got a phone call letting me know that everything was still frozen and all ok.  They were amazed at the size of the chickens and already had one out thawing out for dinner that weekend.  They even called last night telling us about their dinner.  My mom said they could feed 6 people from that chicken that she roasted and it was as big as a turkey!  She has even been bragging to people about the hundreds of pounds of chickens we sent to them.

It might have taken months to get it done, but I could finally see that I made the right decision for my dad’s gift.   THIS IS WHY WE DO IT.

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One chicken, Three meals

I know, you’re wondering what kind of Franken-chicken I’m cooking to get three meals out of it.  We raise our own and they are pretty big, but I can still get two meals out of a smaller grocery store chicken.  It also depends on the size of your family and your serving sizes.  If you like, substitute one small turkey.  The principals are still the same.

I find it funny that as I write this one of our brave meat chickens is walking towards the house having no idea that he will be finding a home in our freezer in just a few weeks.  We are super lucky that we are able to let our birds roam the property just doing what chickens like to do and I am grateful that we have the opportunity to teach our children how to provide for themselves.

Anyway, back to our three meals.

The first thing I like to do with a whole chicken is roast it.  Since we started raising our own birds I’ve gotten quite skilled at a good old roast chicken.  Stuffed or not, it is a simple process that anyone can do.

First thing is to crank the oven up as high as it will go.  It’s a trick I learned from Jamie Oliver and it seems to work well for most poultry.  It won’t roast at this temp the whole time so don’t worry.  While the oven is preheating (and make sure there’s nothing left in the oven when you turn it on) we move on to prepping the chicken.

Next I line a roasting pan with carrots and quartered onions.  It doesn’t have to cover the entire bottom.  Just 2-3 carrots and an onion should be more than enough.  This keeps the chicken up off the bottom of the pan and adds great flavour.  I don’t peel the carrots most of the time but I do make sure they are clean and don’t have any bad spots.  Everyone has their preference for stuffing so I won’t go into that too much except to say that you shouldn’t pack the stuffing in too tight.  If I’m not using stuffing I will usually put a bit of onion and some garlic inside the chicken just for extra flavour.  Next I place the chicken in breast side down, add some of my favourite herbs, pepper, a couple of bay leaves, and some balsamic or red wine vinegar or even a splash of wine if I have an open bottle.  I add some water to the bottom of the roaster so things don’t dry out and we’re almost ready.

Now without a cover on the roaster, pop it in the oven  (at that super high heat) close the oven door and then turn the temp down to 375F and roast it for about 15 mins per pound.  I can’t give you an exact time because I never actually use a timer for this.  I do use a meat thermometer and I suggest everyone pick one up because it is so important to make sure you are not eating raw poultry.  It is best to check the chicken by putting the thermometer in the thickest part of the breast and also the middle of the stuffing if you are stuffing the bird.  Its done when you get an internal temperature of 165F.

Once the bird is cooked it’s time to rest it.  Trust me on this, the bird needs to rest!  I thought that was foolishness for a long time but now I am a true convert.  Some cooks will say rest it for the same amount of time it was roasted, but in my opinion 20 minutes will be good if that’s all the time you have.

To rest a chicken I will usually put it on a warmed plate/platter and tent it with tinfoil.  It doesn’t need to be covered tightly.  This process lets the meat relax and makes it tender and juicy.

While I’m waiting for the chicken to rest I will usually make gravy.  Pan juices are perfect for this and if you season things properly when roasting you won’t need to do much.  I always remove the fat from the pan juices and you can use whatever method you like for this.  *Cooling the pan juices in the fridge lets the fat rise to the top and solidify so it can just be scraped off.*  Use your preferred thickener (corn starch, flour, tapioca, etc.) and season to taste.   If I’m not making gravy I will freeze the juices to be used later, but let’s be honest, I love a good gravy so that doesn’t happen very often.

So that’s the first meal, usually served with roasted veggies (done the same time as the chicken), rice or potato, and a salad.

Most people would stop there and be done with it all.  I know lots of people who won’t eat leftovers but that’s not me!

Next we use the leftover chicken.  Hot chicken sandwiches are a favorite in our house.  When I’m brave enough to make pastry and we have left over gravy (yeah I know funny right) I like to do chicken pot pie.  Sometimes there’s only enough for sandwiches for lunches but that’s still another meal that I don’t have to cook.  Whatever you have left, there are tons of recipes and lots of ideas online for what to do with it.

Depending on the size of the chicken or the size of your family there might not be any meat left after the first meal.  That doesn’t mean that you can’t still get more than one meal from a chicken.

For the third meal I make a soup stock.  Chicken bones, or any bones really, will make excellent stock.  Pick a pot big enough to hold the chicken carcass and add water to just cover it.  I put everything in the pot; skin, bones, and whatever bits are left after we’ve taken all the meat off as long as we haven’t eaten directly from the bones.  Throw in some onion, garlic, celery, bay leaf, pepper, some balsamic or apple cider vinegar, and simmer for an hour.  I like to bring the water up to the boil and then turn it way back so it’s just a little bubble.  SET A TIMER!  Alternatively you could put this all in a slow cooker and let it go for a few hours or 20-30 minutes in a pressure cooker.  If you are using a pressure cooker, make sure you know what you are doing and DON’T EVER TRY TO OPEN ONE UP WHEN IT IS STILL UNDER PRESSURE!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t add salt or too many spices  other than the usual aromatics when I’m making broth because I don’t usually have a final plan and if I make a basic stock I can change it up after the fact.  I just hate to waste good bones and stock of any kind will find a use in our house.   When it is done just strain it and, just like with my gravy, I like to remove any fat. With this stock I can make any number of different soups, use it to flavor rice, or add to mashed potato.   If you only have a couple of bones and it isn’t worth making a pot of soup, put them in a resalable bag and pop them in the freezer.   Do this a couple of times and you will have enough to make a decent amount of stock.

I love hearing about interesting ways other people stretch out their meals so please share your ideas and stories with me.  My hope is that this series of articles on food will become a regular part of my blog and contain input from my readers.

Buying and Sharing Groups

What is a buying group?

A buying group is a group of people who get together and buy in bulk.  A sharing group is a group of people who will share what they have with one another.

Why would you do this?

The main reason for doing this is for savings.  Buying in bulk usually gets you a better price per unit and therefore saves you in the long run.  For example, if I buy a small bag of oatmeal (500g)I pay $3.29 and so it costs me $6.58 per kg.  If I buy a big bag of oatmeal (20 kg) I pay $58.  That’s $2.90 per kg.  Even at your usual grocery store the price of a “family pack” of ground beef will be less expensive than a smaller pack of the exact same ground beef.  Why?  There is less packaging and less work to provide bulk packaging and so the stores are passing on their savings to the customer.

Most people can’t afford to buy in bulk all the time.  And how many of us have the room to stockpile this stuff?  The tiny house movement is just one example of how money and space are not the norm for a lot of people and so things like buying or sharing groups are becoming more popular.

The sharing aspect of these types of groups is basically a barter system.  I have tomatoes, you have cucumbers, that guy has lettuce.  Lets make a salad together.  Or you have carrots and I have chickens, Want to trade some?    Or you have honey bees and grow blueberries and I am a good pie maker. How about you bring berries and honey, I’ll provide the rest of the ingredients and we will make pies together?

 

How do they work?

The how is really simple and the organization of it can be anything you want it to be, but basically, it is a group of two or more people who shop together to get the best prices they can on items they all want.  It could be a couple of friends  doing this together, people all living in the same apartment building, coworkers, or strangers who find each other on the internet.

The group has to decide what will be purchased and how much (based on each members request) , know what the price is before hand, and decide on a distribution method.  One more members will then make the purchase and the rest of the members will get their items from that person or people.   The distribution of items is up to each group but should be something simple.  A lot of the groups I see will decide on a pick up day and the members go to a central area to gather their items, bringing their own bags/containers for items that need to be split up.  If there is a large item that needs to be broken up, the group should have a scale and something to measure volume so that everyone gets the proper amount.

A tip I would like to offer for people considering a buying group is to invest in a vacuum sealer or canning equipment.  You don’t have to spend a lot of money and it will save you lots in the long run.  Lets say a group gets a good deal on cheese but it’s a 5 kg block.  Depending on how big my portion is, I might not use all of it before it would go bad, so if I split it up into smaller portions and vacuum seal it I can pop individual portions in the freezer without fear of it being freezer burned before I got to use it.  Also, if  your group got a good deal on tomatoes and peppers you might want to make your own salsa or even make it as a group which would help save money and time.  Pennies on the dollar and everyone knows what has gone into it.

Money is also something that needs to be decided on before the purchases are made.  It isn’t fair for one person to be stuck with the cost or product if another member decides they don’t really want what they’ve asked for.  Collecting money before the purchase and having two people accountable for it provides peace of mind for everyone involved.

It is that simple and buying groups can be for almost anything you can think of.  Simple weekly grocery store sales, online deals, bulk dry goods, etc.

You could also do this for services and that’s how businesses like Groupon gives such good deals.  They offer a good deal to a large group of people and offer the business a large group of customers.

The sharing groups could be set up similarly.  A group of friends, an apartment complex, members of the PTA, members of a community garden, etc.  As long as each person has something (a tangible item or a skill) that they offer to the group and everyone is clear what the offer and expectation is you can make it whatever you want and it can be a wonderful experience.

The possibilities are endless with these groups and a sharing mentality.  Sometimes it really does take a village.

Saving on Groceries

Who doesn’t need to save on groceries these days? I know I certainly do.  We hear so much these days about food security and after being inspired by my friend Jodi Brown, (see more about Jodi here) I decided to share ways to save on your grocery bill.

⊗ Make a list! How many times do we go shopping and just pick up what looks good at the time and end up overspending? I used to do it all the time. And still do when I don’t bring a list. If we think about what we need, have a plan, and stick to the plan we can get in and get out with what we need. When I have time I will also make my list based on the layout of each store that I am going to. I know how I like to walk around my usual grocery store and what order I pick things up in so I can write my list in that order. It keeps me from overlooking items and having to retrace my steps potentially seeing something I don’t need. Oh and don’t go when you’re hungry.  It really does make you pick up stuff you don’t need.Know your prices. I know when I am looking for bathroom tissue that 25 cents or less per roll is a good deal. When I go shopping I use that as a benchmark. There are times that I just can’t find it for that price but I try to get as close to that as possible. I also know that anything less than a $1.30/pound for tomatoes is a good price. If I go to a store that has them for $3/pound I am certainly not getting those. Recently I have started keeping a spreadsheet on my phone of some new items so that I can track the usual prices at different stores. Because of this I know the place for me to get sunflower seeds so far is Costco…and I try to get enough to last me until my next planned trip there.

⊗  In addition to knowing your prices, you need to keep an eye on the register. Most places have a scanning code of practice and it means that you get a discount or even get the item for free in some cases if the scanned price is not what the shelf sticker (or price tag) says it should be.  For example, at the supermarket the other day chocolate milk was on sale.  The tag on the shelf was $1.99.  When it was scanned it came up at regular price of $3.59.  At the store I was at the scanning code of practice says that I am to get that item for free, up to a $10 value.  If I buy more than one, the first one is free and the rest are then given at the corrected price.  Most stores don’t like you to know this and you have to be bold and make sure you tell the cashier about the mistake.  I have even gone as far as printing off the information for a particular store and bringing it with me.  If you do your research for stores you frequent and know what their specific policy is (often listed on their web sites) then you will most likely get several free items in the run of a year.

⊗  Coupons.  This is something that most people think about when I bring up saving on groceries. I’m not talking about extreme couponing because very few of us have the time for that and let’s face it, it’s hard to get some of those deals in Canada…especially small towns.

Just keep an eye out for coupons when you are doing your usual routine. Weekend newspapers and magazines always have coupons but don’t run out and get a subscription right away. Ask around and see if anyone you know has a subscription and doesn’t use the coupons already. There are lots of online manufacturer coupons, web sites dedicated to coupons and savings, and even apps that will get you money off or money back. Be careful of the money back deals though. You have to make sure you are actually going to submit your receipt to get your refund or else you haven’t saved a thing!  There are also coupon swapping groups that you can join or even start your own.  If I come across coupons for a particular kind of detergent that I don’t use I might be able to swap those with someone who has found some for yoghurt they won’t use.

Make sure your coupon is for a product you are going to use. If you don’t like a particular type of cereal it doesn’t matter how much you will “save” if you aren’t going to eat it.

⊗  Every week on the same day I get flyers delivered to my house. I spend a few minutes looking through most of them to see if there are any discounts on things I buy regularly. I either mark items right in the flyer or jot down a note (including store). If you don’t get flyers delivered to your house you can get apps for your phone that will have lots if flyers for your area. You can also pick them up in store or from the stores web site.   Still get to know your regular prices and make sure the sale price is actually a good deal.

⊗  Half price/end of line/discontinued/short date.   I scan my usual grocery store looking for pink stickers on items we use all the time. These stickers mean discounts of 50% or more. Sometimes they are end of line items that won’t be offered again or the package is changing. Sometimes the store has too many and need to get rid of stuff quickly. And sometimes items are short dated.

Now I want to take a second to talk about short dates, best before dates, sell by dates, and expiry dates because there is a lot of confusion about what they mean.
Short dated means it’s getting close to the date on the package. Sell by date and best before date is a date picked by the manufacturer of a product. They have had people figure out how long their product is absolutely perfect and the same shape smell taste look (and any other descriptor you can think of) as the day it went into the package. It doesn’t mean the food isn’t good to eat any more. It is their way of ensuring resale of their product on a regular basis.

There are products that have a set shelf life (I will caution you when buying short dated or best before meats and fish) and it’s up to you as a consumer to research these things but when it comes to most packaged food it’s perfectly safe to go beyond the “sell by” or “best before” date.  How bad can a box of crackers really go a week or two after a best before date?

Be careful with how much discounted items you pick up though. Like the coupon scenario it’s only a deal if you use the stuff.

⊗  Sharing buddy/bulk buying groups.
Sometimes the best deals come in bulk. I get much better prices on meat when I buy the “family pack”. And I get it. Less packaging for the store and less work for the butchers. It makes sense, unless a bulk package is too expensive or would go to waste. Here’s where a sharing buddy or a bulk buying group comes in handy.

Having someone to split larger purchases with solves the problem of “too expensive” and also “too much”. If steak was $5/kg less in a family pack, you and your buddy could get those savings and still only buy as much as you could use yourself. Same as a bulk buying group, if four people wanted to buy oatmeal and the 20 lb bag was less than the same amount in smaller bags each person would save on that particular item. Some of these groups will wait until they have a minimum order size and will give a % discount for greater savings to each person. You could even start your own group for an apartment complex or on your street.   More information on buying groups here.

⊗  Rain cheques. How many times have you gone looking for a great deal and it’s not in stock or there is a limit to how much you can get.  Most stores will do rain cheques unless the sale stated “while quantities last”. But be sure to use it before the expiry date or you could be very disappointed. I usually pick up sale items early in the week so I don’t miss out but if it’s a really good sale and they run out I will pick up a rain cheque anyway and that way I can use it later in the month. Usually if a sale is good enough stores will only have a limited amount they put out on the shelves and lots of times customers don’t think to ask if there’s more or don’t ask for rain cheques.

⊗  Points cards. Not all points cards are created equal and not all points are worth it…but some definitely are. If you don’t usually shop somewhere I wouldn’t bother getting a points or loyalty card. It has to be of some benefit to you for it to be worth carrying around. I have a grocery store points card and it is for a store that I go to all the time. I also have a debit card that gives me points for this store no matter where I shop. I also get points for having my reusable bags. It works for me so I keep that handy all the time and I end up with some free groceries almost every month. Just the other day I picked up groceries where everything in my cart was things I use on a regular basis and were half price. The total was $84 and some change. Then I had $40 worth of points I could use. What would have cost me over $160 now cost me $46! What I don’t do anymore is buy things just to get points. If I’m not going to eat a particular brand of tuna or if it’s expensive it’s not worth the points I would get from the purchase. The store also has a credit card available which will give me points too but unless I’m going to pay off the balance right away it’s going to cost me more than it saves me so beware of those types of points.

⊗  Food swap/barter. I’m great at raising chickens, ducks, and rabbits. We’ve even had a successful year with pigs. Veggies, not so much. I definitely didn’t inherit my mom’s green thumb. I know lots of other people who do gave a green thumb and have an abundance of vegetables every summer but don’t want to or can’t raise animals on their property. For us, setting up a meat/vegetable swap is a great way for everyone involved to get great quality food. Or maybe you are great at making pies and someone you know has a big blackberry patch. Why not offer to bake some pies for them from half of the berries they would let you pick. Or bake bread in exchange for pickles someone has made. The possibilities are endless.

⊗  Grow your own. Not everyone has space for a garden but container gardening is doable in most spaces.  Whether it’s just a small pot of basil in your kitchen or a few trays of bean sprouts in your front porch, it is going to help with the cost of having those things on a regular basis.  My husband loves spicy food and we found a cute little hot pepper plant a few weeks ago that was just $2.  It’s sitting on a table in our living room and every now and then we snip one or two off.  My son also learned about gardening in his 4H club and is thrilled to be growing basil and chives that we use in salads and sauces, and wants to grow lots more things so he’s added onions to his tiny living room garden.   You can also ask around to see if there is a community garden in your area.  There may be a fee or it might be a “use the space and help out when things need to be done” kind of deal.  Or you might know someone with some extra garden space that wouldn’t mind letting you plant some stuff.  Harvesting and preserving peas, beans, carrots, onions, squash, and other staples will save a ton of money through the winter.  Get your sharing buddies involved and cut down on the cost of canning supplies and other ingredients.

Raising animals for eggs and meat is also a good idea if you do it right.  Lots of municipalities are now letting residents raise a few chickens within town/city limits so even if you don’t live in the country you can have an amazing source of protein for your family..  They are not only a source of food but entertainment as well.  Ok, well they are at our house anyway.  Rabbits are also an often forgotten protein source.  We raise rabbits and it is super simple and oftentimes rabbits aren’t considered “livestock” and don’t fall under the same rules as traditional farm animals in towns.  A breeding pair of rabbits will provide quite a bit of meat in a single year and the right set up could provide for several families at a fraction of the cost of buying meat at a grocery store.  I know lots of people can’t get past the cute factor  but raising and butchering our own animals is a skill that I value and am teaching my own children.  Don’t worry though, there are enough butchers around that I am sure you could outsource that task.

 

⊗  Freecycle/free online groups. These online groups are all about FREE. No money. No selling. No buying. If you need you ask. If you have you offer. I ended up with a big box of cucumbers a while back from a Facebook free page. A lady planted a huge garden and didn’t have a use for all the cucumbers she ended up with. All I had to do was pick them up when it was convenient for her. No problem. It was probably $40 or more worth of cucumbers and a 10 minute drive from my house. Those fresh just picked cucumbers lasted us a few weeks.

 

⊗  Buy whole foods. Buying whole foods and skipping the pre-packaged items will be less expensive in the long run. This of course means knowing how to prepare these foods so a basic knowledge in the kitchen (aside from knowing where the popcorn button is on the microwave) is a must. Read my article One Chicken Three Meals to see how I stretch ingredients.

 

⊗  Shop the perimeter. This is where you will find the whole foods and the “real food”. The middle of your grocery store is going to have pre-packaged / over-packaged and processed foods that won’t give you as much nutrition as whole unprocessed foods. There are still things that we get in the middle isles of the grocery store but it’s certainly not the bulk of our purchases.

 

⊗  Make a menu. This is just as important as #1. Making a list.  Your menu could be based around what is on sale that particular week or something your buying group/shopping partner are going to pick up.    Also buy foods that are versatile.  If I do it right I can turn a chicken or turkey into many different meals.  Roasted with veggies for one meal, leftover meat on a sandwich for lunches or with gravy for dinner the next night (or frozen for another time), and then broth made from the bones for another meal.  Or I can piece it out and cook the different pieces different ways.   I also like to pick up roasts which I can cook whole and use for a dinner or slice into sandwich meat.  Sometimes I will cut one in half so I can roast one part and either grind the other half or cut it into steaks.  I am always scanning Youtube for butchering videos, checking out food books from the library, or looking through thrift stores for good food reference books.  Just the other day I found a beef butchering book at a local thrift store and with my store points discount it was almost free!!!

Hopefully some of these ideas help you and I would love to hear stories and ideas about how you keep your own food costs down.

Reconnecting

A little while ago I reconnected with a friend from my home town.  Not something incredible in this day and age of the Internet, but what I didn’t know about my friend Jodi Brown at that time was that she is now a very vocal advocate for social change.

Life’s up and downs have given Jodi a very real and very personal view at how the social programs in our province work…and some of the ways they don’t work.  So now one of Jodi’s goals is to see positive changes made to public housing and Social Assistance programs and her work is already making a difference.  Aside from getting the ball rolling on housing inspections, that will help get long overdue maintenance issues taken care of in her area, Jodi is making a documentary which will show the stories of Nova Scotians dealing with some of these social program issues.  She has also started a Facebook group called Nova Scotia Housing Tenants where stories can be shared and she is on YouTube as Social Butterfly or twitter as @JbJodi.

One particular part of Jodi’s own story that really got to me was her monthly grocery budget.

 $56.

Look at that number again.  That’s not a typo.  I didn’t forget any digits there.  Her entire grocery budget, for her and two children for the month, was $56!  I’m sure I spend that on milk and school snacks in a month. I seriously can’t even wrap my brain around that number as a total food budget for a month.

I started thinking about all of the people that struggle to provide food for their families and was inspired by Jodi to do something.  I’m no social butterfly but I can write and my parents taught me to be frugal, so I combined those skills and am writing a series focusing on food; ways to bring down food costs, ways to provide better food for ourselves and our families, and how to make the food we have go farther.

I talked to Jodi before I published this article and she thanked me for what I was doing, but I think the thanks has to go to Jodi for speaking out and getting the ball rolling.  If you have a story to share with Jodi, please get in touch with her through one of her social media platforms that I’ve shared above.

Read my latest article and my suggestions for ways to save on your grocery bill here.  I hope it helps and inspires and starts some serious conversations.

Cause it’s hard out here for a …4H parent?!

Learn To Do By Doing.  That’s what we hear all year from 4H leaders.  Yup.  Got it.  This program isn’t just about theory, it’s about getting out there and putting their skills into action.  Great.  Kids are going to gain skills.  Awesome.

Awesome until its time for them to put those skills into action, and struggle, and make their own mistakes, and for moms and dads and leaders and everyone who wants to “give them a hand”  to stand back and offer them nothing more than support and encouragement.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love that they are doing these things.  I love that they are doing them on their own.  I love that they get to see how much work goes into the projects that they chose to do.   I love that this makes them responsible for something and that there is a hard deadline for them to meet. My goal as a parent, after all, is for them to learn, to achieve things on their own and to be responsible for things.

BUT

Today was hard for me.  It was hard to stand there and watch Little Miss struggle with her icing on this hot humid day.  It was hard for me to watch Little Man struggle to write up his project sheets because writing is something that he hates doing.

It was hard for me to watch them at Woodsman practices in the winter struggling to get the shavings made or to get the matches lit.  It was hard for me to sit in the audience during speeches and not give reminders to make eye contact more.

It’s hard knowing that after we teach them what they need to know that we have to push them out of the nest and hope they fly.

And boy do they fly!  Win or lose.  First place or last place.  They fly.  Every time they fly higher and stronger.  They cheer one another on and encourage each other to work harder and never give up.  

In the end its not so hard after all.  When they have the skills they need and the tools to do the job it gets easier for us to stand back and say “You’ve got this.” Not just with their 4H projects but in life.  

 

For every action, there’s an equal but oposite reaction…

…there are also consequences to our own actions.

A while ago, and like I do nearly every day, I found something I thought was thought-worthy on Facebook so i shared it.  I didn’t tag anyone.  I didn’t make any comments or notes on it.  I just posted it and people could get from it what they wanted.  Most of what I share on Facebook is something I think someone else will like, something I think is funny, something that looks yummy, something that is just really cool, or maybe something that could help someone.  If a post reminds me of someone I will tag them in it and sometimes I will make a comment about the content if I want to clarify anything or add to what is in the post.

When I was checking email and messages later on I got a note from a friend asking to me to take a post down and giving me yhe reason they wanted this done.  At first I thought this was kind of a bold thing to do.  After all, it’s my Facebook feed and they can just skip over it or choose not to see that kind of thing, but then I got to thinking about how this person approached me and what they said.  They actually took the time to share their feelings with me!  They actually started a dialogue about what was going on instead of making rude comments, or unfollowing or unfriending me (which happens a lot more than some people think).  I know a lot of people who would see something on social media and react in a negative childish way because they aren’t face to face with a person but just looking at a computer screen.

Some of you might be thinking ‘big whoopdeedoo’, but this situation is about respecting one another and discussing things like adults…and there doesn’t seem to be enough of that going on these days.

SLACKER! SLACKER! YELL IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!

Ok I get it. I’m 5 days late on the new year greetings, but if you know anything about me its that I’m not the most organized…not by a long shot. I almost missed the kids first day back to school except that I saw another parent asking about the date. I was pretty bummed when I found out that I had one less day at home with The Littles. Yesterday made up for that with a “storm day” that turned out to be a pretty nice day after all.

It was also an exciting day for us because we have another addition to the farm. Little Miss came into our room yesterday morning and said “either Bonnie is shedding REALLY BAD or she’s having babies”. Sure enough there was a ton of fur in the corner of her cage but on a quick inspection I didn’t see anything moving so I left her alone and let her do her thing. About an hour later Hubby says “I think there’s babies down in there already”. I dug around and gathered up 8 pink healthy babies to put in the nesting box. We discovered a little while later that momma was having nothing to do with that nesting box and she preferred her babies to be snuggled into the corner of the cage so that’s where they will stay (until they can move around on their own). I still can’t get used to her not being snuggled with them all the time but I know it’s their way of keeping predators away. As long as I see her nursing at night and the babies have round little bellies I know they are ok.

The holidays seemed to go by extremely fast this year and other parents from the area said the same thing.  Maybe it’s because none of us were ready for school to be back in a day early.  Lol  Aside from being sick, we had a really nice quiet break.  Hubby was off the same time as the kids so we had no schedule and we spent a lot of time sleeping in.  We did our annual Christmas Tree hunt at a local tree farm.  They spend time each year shaping the trees which makes it so easy to find the perfect tree.  I think we are getting a little too good at the process because we were in and out in less than an hour…and that included having hot chocolate and cider.  The Littles wanted a tree in their room so they got to pick out and cut their own this year.  Now that I think about it, they cut most of the big tree too.

We managed to pull off our Homemade Christmas this year, by the skin of our teeth.  I wasn’t sure if I could do it but we finished the kids stuff (which was the most important thing for us) and have the supplies to make our gifts for each other.  The Littles finished all of their gifts too and were super excited to give them out.  Little Miss used her new sewing skills to make a mug cosy for me, a lego bag for Little Man, and a rubgy ball bag for Hubby.  Little man made a gun sling for Hubby, and got hubby to help with some woodworking to make an AG wardrobe for Little Miss, and a kitchen shelf for me.  I made some AG doll clothes for Little Miss and a back quiver for Little Man.  And Hubby made both kids archery arm guards and the beginning supplies to make a forge.  They have been bugging to have a forge for months now so Hubby found a video on YouTube about how to make a small one.   Hubby has been wanting a utilikilt for quite a while so and I want a solar heater for the living room so my plan is to leave the supplies for both of these things out in the way until they get done.  Shaming ourselves into getting projects done is ok right?!

We also introduced the Faverolles to the rest of the flock on New Years day.  They were quarantined since we got them and showed no signs of any sickness or anything that would transfer to the rest of the flock.  We left them in a smaller pen that joined onto the big bird yard so that they could see each other but not actually mingle yet.  We have more roosters than we want right now (ended up with three from our hatch last year) so aggression is a concern when adding new roosters.  There was a lot of puffing and posturing but no jumping at the fence which we’ve seen in the past.  This weekend we will let them all into the same yard and then house them all together.  I know there will be some fighting but as long as there is no blood shed I’m pretty sure they will be ok and set a new pecking order quite quickly.   We are looking to rehome some of our Americauna roosters because we really have too many and in addition to fighting amongst themselves they will start hurting the hens.  If we cant’ find good homes, into the stock pot they will go.

That’s about all the updating for now. I know lots of bloggers/writers like to give an update on the year past, but right now I figure you can read past posts if you come across something that interests you.

Before I sign off I wanted to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who reads my blog, shares my post and page, and is involved in this journey with me.  I love sharing what we do!  Feel free to leave messages, tag, comment, and share with your friends and family. I wish you all the best that 2017 has to offer.

Thrifty Thursday Tip

I wanted to get my Thrifty Thursday Tip out to you though because this is something I think everyone can do and it has to do with food. You all know that I LOVE FOOD!
 
I roasted a chicken yesterday. If it had been a turkey this would be a Thrifty Thursday Turkey Tip but that’s too much alliteration for this page…so back on track. Roast chicken. It was Little Man’s idea since he was saying “winner winner chicken dinner” and I happen to have lots of chickens in the freezer. Just about everyone has their own way to roast chicken so I won’t post an actual recipe on here, but I like to line the pan with carrots and onions, place the chicken breast side down, and then add garlic and spices and a bit of water. Then pop it into a 550F degree oven for 30 mins before turning it back to 375F. It’s done when it reaches 160F. Resting your chicken is as important as how you cook it so aim for at least 20-30 mins.  There’s a formula for figuring out how long to roast depending on stuffing or not but I’ll let you get that info from someone who is a little more precise than I am.
 
How does this relate to being thrifty you ask? well, depending on the size of the chicken, this will do us for 3-4 meals. Yup, you read that right, 3-4 meals for a family of 4 on one roast chicken.
The first night is the chicken dinner with veggies. When we are finished dinner and we are cleaning up I will strip all the meat off of the chicken bones. Meat goes into one container. Bones/skin goes into another. Off to the fridge that goes.
 
Second night is usually hot chicken sandwiches or tonight it’s chicken pot pie. I always make gravy when I roast chicken (whole or pieces) and I make enough so that there’s some leftover. If there’s not enough gravy for that I will make a chicken stirfry or quesadillas. So there’s two meals.
 
I know everyone is going to have a different size chicken but the principals are the same so stick with me.
 
By this time there’s not much meat (if any) left. If it’s not eaten in these two meals there are normally sandwiches made for lunch (which I will count as 3 meals) and of course the grazing that happens in our house. A piece here and a piece there and that chicken pile gets smaller and smaller by the hour. This leaves us with a container of bones (and possibly a bit of gravy).
 
Pop those bones into a stock pot, add some pepper, bay leaves, whatever other spices and vinegar you happen to like, top it up with water to just cover the bones and get that baby boiling. If I have no other uses for gravy and there’s only a bit left I’ll throw that in the pot as well.   Waste Not Want Not.  (but you can always pop the extra gravy into the freezer to use for another time)  Once it comes to a boil, cover it and turn it down on low, kind of like making rice. Now pour yourself a cup of tea, grab a good book, set your timer for an hour and relax. *Alternatively you could put all of this into a pressure cooker for 20-30 minutes and you will get the same result just not as much reading time.*
 
When you are done you will have nummy chicken stock that you can use in another recipe(4 meals) that evening or freeze it or pressure can it.  I tried pressure canning once before and it didn’t turn out so well so I’ve steered away from it but I do know of lots of people who are very successful with it so if you’re so inclined, give it a try! 
I thought I had a post about quick chicken soup but I’ll have to find that and post it later.  Ugh, maybe I need a week added to my organization challenge to deal with online clutter.  I’m sure you all will find lots to do with that delicious chicken stock.
Give this a try and see how far you can stretch your meals.

Time is flying!

The summer just flew by and we are full swing into a new school year.  Today is also the first day of FALL!!!!!  I am an autumn girl all the way.  Cool days.  Sweaters.  Leaves changing.  Fall harvest.  And I still get to wear my sandals.

This is usually the time of year when I really notice how much my kids have grown.  Back to school means wearing more pants than shorts and I see just how much they have sprouted up when last yeas school clothes are leaving a bit more exposed ankle than before.

Recently I’ve been seeing new posts on Facebook about a song that apparently moms everywhere are calling the best song ever.  It’s all about wanting kids to stay little for a while longer.  While I tease my kids about growing up so fast and we joke about their ability (or inability) to stay little, I am not one of those moms who spends tons of time wishing my kids were littler than they are.

Nothing wrong with feeling the way you feel and there are times when I miss baby snuggles and napping with toddlers on the sofa, but more times than not I am happy being in the moment with my kids.  When we reminisce about their earlier years it is mostly with joy and laughter.  We are too busy experiencing new things and really being present in each stage that our entire family goes through to long for days gone by.

Be present with the people in your life.  Live in the moment and experience everything good that you can now.  Enjoying the special things that life has to offer now means less regrets later.