What’s on the menu today?

This is what I sent to school with my 5 year old (going on 6) son today. I try not to use too many baggies but containers with matching lids are in short supply lately so baggies are a temporary fix.

lunch bag

The kids usually get the same things so no pic of Little Miss’ lunch bag. They eat breakfast at home and I drive them to school so breakfast/before school snack isn’t an issue for my kids but they are there from 9am to 3pm and I always want to be sure that they have a good healthy lunch and snack and that they aren’t hungry. Our school is lucky enough to have a breakfast program that’s run by teacher volunteers each morning for those kids that don’t get breakfast or who have to spend quite a long time on the bus.

The ribbon on the thermos isn’t a usual lunch box thing. Birthdays are coming up and a new thermos each is an early birthday surprise…and some piece of mind for me. The lineups for microwaves in the school get quite long and lunch times are quite short so to make sure Little Miss and Mister get to eat what I send I’ve invested in a good thermos for each. They are actually Thermos brand only because we’ve used several and we like those. Also I got a smokin deal on them and they have some of the kids favorite characters on them. I’m not getting paid to say that we like them…although if Thermos or any other company would like to send some things for me to try out I’d be more than happy to blog about the experience!!!!

So today the munchkins have leftovers from last nights supper. Mashed potato, roast chicken, steamed carrots, gravy and that’s what’s in the container. That along with an apple will probably be lunch. Snack is cucumber and cheese and they decide when they want to drink their orange juice and water. The pack of crackers and gummies are only to be eaten after all the “good food” is gone. The processed foods aren’t always there but I don’t always have time to make granola bars or fruit leather and I’m not always the most organized.  They do get homemade and whole foods most of the time.

We also have rules about lunches in our house. I know exactly what I give the kids and they know that if anything is left over from their lunches it’s going to be the extras I put in. Gummies don’t get eaten before mashed potato and chicken. If the healthy foods come home but the treats are eaten already, there’s no treat in the lunch the next day. The only time I don’t worry about that rule is when there is a special activity at their school like Halloween, winter fun day, or Christmas party.

Most of the time lunches are simple though. A sandwich or wrap with meat and cheese, homemade granola bars, an apple or other fruit in season, sliced cucumbers, sliced cheese and crackers, homemade cookies, or leftovers from supper the night before (as long as there’s no nuts in it). I find that making sandwiches different shapes helps. You can get lots of different shapes of cookie cutters for not very much money. Pinterest has tons of lunch ideas! I try to mix things up so they don’t get bored and that goes a long way to getting them to finish what I pack. I also know that they aren’t going to eat a lot every day and that’s fine with me.

I do still struggle with being organized and being tempted to grab a box of granola bars and other processed snacks when I’m at the grocery store. Don’t be under any illusion that I’ve got it all together. Of course it would be easier to grab boxes of prepackaged individually wrapped stuff all the time but if I do batches of lunch supplies I can be organized for a week or more.

Weekends are a great time to get the family involved in lunch planning and organizing. The more involved they are with picking their lunches the less I have to try to convince them to eat it. The kids like helping me make…anything really. It’s easy to get them to dump granola bar ingredients in a bowl and give it a stir. Little Miss is starting to use the stove with me so she can even do some of the cooking parts of lunch prep. A batch of granola bars are good for a week and once they are cut I wrap them individually and put in a container. Except for the cooling part, the whole process of making granola bars is only about 15 mins and there are lots of good recipes online. Look for lower sugar and higher protein versions so they keep their little bellies full longer.

In the fall after we go apple picking I make a big batch of apple sauce that will last for months in the freezer. I do the same thing with rice pudding . We put it in single serving containers that we can reuse. The night before we just take out what we will need, tuck it in the fridge, and it’s thawed out and ready to go into lunch boxes the next morning. If I am really adventurous I will make juice from some of the berries we pick in the summertime and some of that is made into jelly that will last in the fridge a week or two (if we can resist it that long). For the jelly just follow the directions on whatever gelatin you are using. Not much harder than making a box of over sweetened jelly powder. Again we just put it in single serving reusable containers.

Another use for the berries and fruit that we have is to make fruit leather. I invested in an inexpensive dehydrator last year and it was $25 well spent. I’ve tried several recipes and the kids really like it. I line the dehydrator tray with parchment paper and when it’s done I just cut into pieces and roll it up with the paper just like the ones from the store. They will last several weeks in the pantry.

If you buy fruit and veggies seasonally and from local farmers you are going to get a much better fresher product with more nutrients and you can find out first hand exactly how it was grown. You will get a good price as well. I buy organic fruits and veggies at our local farmers market every week and I pay much less than what I can get at a supermarket. A dehydrator will make those seasonal fruits last through the winter as well. I give my kids dried fruits as a snack, just be careful of how much since the sugars are concentrated when you dehydrate. We wouldn’t feed our kids 5-6 apricots at once, but it’s so easy to eat 5-6 dried apricots without even thinking about it.

I’ve always tried to cook more for dinner than what we would eat just so we have leftover for lunches and this also helps to break up lunch time boredom. Sometimes I’ll double or triple a recipe of chili, soup, or mac and cheese, and freeze individual portions for those weeks that we get super busy. There are all kinds and sizes of reusable containers so you can find exactly what would work for your own family. Just like the apple sauce, we just take a container out of the freezer the night before and we’re ready for the next morning.

These suggestions aren’t just for the kids either. Lots of times what the kids take is exactly the same as Hubby takes for his lunch and what I eat at home during the day (although different portion sizes).

Hope some of this helps with your own lunch planning.  I’d love to hear the things that help you get organized  and help you feed your families.

Have a beautiful day  and make sure you do something that makes you smile.

A

Where do I go now?

As I’m waiting for my video to download this morning my mind wanders and I think about what direction I want this blog to go in.  What’s the ” ‘n’ stuff ” that I’ll write about?  What will people find interesting?  What bits of my life do I want to share?  How do I organize those thoughts?

My first post was read, reread, edited, reread, changed, reread, almost posted, changed again, and then finally after  a few days I figured it was time to just put it out there…as lengthy as it was…but still not completely happy with content and structure.

So here I am now with a list of…goals?  Topics?  Anecdotes?  Whatever they are I may as well lay them all out so I’ll have a list to work from.

  • The good, bad, ugly, but amazing things on a small farm.
  • Hunting
  • Butchering
  • Healthy Eating  – whole foods, cooking from scratch
  • School lunches – what I give my family, what the school cafeteria provides
  • Baking
  • Apple Picking in the fall
  • Pumpkin time/Halloween
  • Farmers Markets
  • Holiday traditions
  • My desire to homeschool
  • Photography
  • Crafts
  • Funny things about my family
  • More about where I live – our house and our community

I’ve taken lots of pics this weekend and will use them in some later posts. Thanks to Hubby for being my photography assistant this weekend.  And by assistant I mean he held up a dishtowel in front of the patio door to keep the glare off the veggies I was photographing.  He’s such a good boy. I also got some from apple picking and the 50lbs of apples on my dining room table, farmers market buys, tools that I use in the kitchen, my crazy kids, etc.  As soon as I’m done editing I will be ready to post , but don’t hold your breath, I haven’t done any Photoshop work in a while so I’m pretty rusty.  Maybe a blog post about relearning Photoshop will show up some day. Or maybe you’ll get some unedited shots in the first few posts…don’t look at any junk in the backgrounds of my pics 😛

For now though, I’d love to hear thoughts on any topics I’ve listed as well as other ideas for blog posts.

Have a beautiful day and take some time to enjoy the great outdoors wherever you are.

A

A new day, a new blog.

Grab a cup of tea.  This is a long one.

It’s fall here in northern Nova Scotia and as I look out my living room window I can see orange leaves fluttering from the trees and it’s a pretty little scene.  I love the fall!  Shorts and t-shirts switching to jeans and sweaters, food changing from bright summer veggies to hearty fall  fare, and filling our freezer and pantry with staples we need through the winter.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some parts of summer that I love, but anyone who knows me knows that I’m not made for the heat and I’ve developed an infatuation with sweaters and scarves.

My last blog wasn’t working out so well and I was having a lot of technical issues so I’ve decided to try a new platform, hence the title of my post today, and I hope that WordPress.com will be the answer for me and I hope that I can bring you all on a little journey of my foray into farming.

Being a farmer wasn’t something I had ever aspired to.  I grew up with my parents planting a garden every summer but livestock, no way.  If someone had told me even 5 years ago that this would be my life I would have laughed at them.

At the time we lived in an 1100 square foot house on a tiny bit of rented land.  Not ideal for our growing family but it worked and we could afford it and we were….content.  Then about 4 years ago we needed a change and wanted something different for our family so we started looking for another house.  And looking.  And looking. And looking.  Boy did we look at a lot of houses.

So we ended up finding a fixer upper in our price range with lots of potential and what seemed like a huge piece of land.  2 acres was the world to us after living on such a small little speck of land for the past 5 years.  It was only made better by the acres and acres of unused field that surrounded us. We jumped in feet first and have never looked back.

Which brings me up to present day and our backyard livestock.  Looking at that sentence  and the word livestock makes me think cows, sheep, and other larger animals, but on our little “farm” we raise birds (along with our munchkins who are growing almost as fast as the backyard animals).  Once we were established and got a grasp on some of the things around the house and property Hubby decided he wanted to raise chickens for meat.  Research followed and we found out that we could raise a fair number of meat birds in a not to big space.

Before we go any farther let me warn you.  CHICKENS ARE A GATEWAY BIRD.  You might be just like I was at the time and say “oh, we’ll just do chickens and that’ll be it.”  Chances are that won’t be it…it wasn’t for us.

The chickens were super easy to raise.  We set up a brooder (chick nursery) in the corner of the kitchen and our kids got to watch day old babies grow at an enormous rate.  After just a few days they would remark on how big they were getting and that their “big feathers” were coming out on their wings.  They got to help feed and water the babies, clean out the shavings, and hold the little fluff balls.  All the while knowing that in just a few weeks these birds would end up as dinner.  Nope, they weren’t pets, but that didn’t take away from the experience of raising them humanely and the chance to teach our kids that animals should be shown respect.

After just a short time the chicks were ready for the big outdoors.  We built a new chicken house for them, fenced in a nice big yard, and bought a new waterer and big feed container.  They loved it!  Lots of grass and bugs to munch on, treats from the garden and scraps from the kitchen.  And boy did they grow.  10 weeks went by very quickly and soon the birds were ready to be harvested.

***THIS IS WHERE I TALK ABOUT THE NOT SO FUN PART OF FARMING***

Butchering day came and I didn’t know how I (or the kids) would handle it.  The thought of taking a life, however big or small, had always bothered me.  I once stopped talking to my dad for a while when I was a kid for dispatching a squirrel that was destroying part of our cabin.  Yes, that squirrel is still brought up some 30 years later.  But here I was on the cusp of dispatching my own hand raised birds.  We decided, again after much research, that we would slaughter and butcher our own birds and thankfully Hubby was the one who did the slaughtering.  I just wasn’t ready for that part.  It was quick and as humane as possible and we let the kids decide if they wanted to be a part of that or not.  Junior was right in there wanting to know about the process but Little Miss (like myself) didn’t want to watch the actual killing part of this journey.

It all was really quite easy and we quickly found a rhythm.  No plucker meant A LOT of extra work this time around so we skinned and gutted and voila.  ***Yes, we took precautions to make sure we chilled and didn’t contaminate and all that other stuff that goes along with butchering…remember the research part?!***  Our great grandparents were doing this kind of thing on a weekly basis and we can too but since most of us have gotten away from producing our own foods on a regular basis I do recommend researching and learning BEFORE you take on butchering your own animals.  Maybe next time I’ll get Little Miss to take some pics and do my own blog post…I’m usually too messy to think about touching the camera by the time I think that we should have some pics.

Once we had all that done and had the birds vacuum packed and in the freezer we knew that we could do it again…and so we did.  Another batch of baby birds arrived and we started the process all over again that summer, despite the “ewww”s and “oh how can you do that” comments we received from some people.  And to those people, and all the other nay sayers out there, I say this.  We know where our birds come from.  We know how they were housed.  We know what they ate.  We know that they were treated well, right up to the end.  We know that our family is being fed good wholesome food that I am proud to have had a hand in.

I’m proud of what we have accomplished and what we have  been able to teach our kids through this process and I want to thank the people who have supported our decision to do this…it means a lot to us.

At this point we are only raising chickens for our own freezer.  There are provincially certified abattoirs we could use (and another post will come about that issue later) if we wanted to sell the birds but since we just do it for ourselves we don’t mind doing the whole process ourselves.

Once our chickens were all done for the season and we had everything cleaned up and put away I realized that we missed those little cluckers.  I told you, chickens are a gateway bird.  I found myself online trolling buy and sell sites while the children were gone to school (maybe it was a bit of empty nest syndrome…pun intended) and in the wee hours of the morning when I should have been sleeping.  Now I wanted laying hens which meant a year round commitment.  Was I ready for that?  Yup I was.

But it wasn’t just chickens I was looking at ads for.  I would check out ads for pigs, goats, sheep, ducks, turkeys, rabbits.  I even found myself reading over ads for emu, but where in heavens was I going to keep an emu?!

That’s when we got the opportunity to get some muscovy ducks.  What are muscovys you ask.  This Wikipedia article will give you some info.  We started out with about 22-24.  Man it’s hard to count those ducks when they are flapping and moving around so much.  I know, I know, bad farmer, not being able to keep track of the number of birds. We soldiered on though, counting (or trying) every day and we consistently came up with 22 for a few days so that’s what we went with.  Hubby insists there were more than that and they flew away.  We had some older ducks and some fledglings and a good mix of males and females and we were happy with our flock.

Over the winter they grew and enchanted us and I was quite happy with our decision, despite having to get up and head out on freezing cold days to feed, water, change bedding, chip ice off water buckets, corral rogue ducks that wanted to be outside the fence, chip ice off water buckets, clear paths through the snow, face storms, chip ice off water buckets,  etc.  Oh yes, there were many trips to the pen to chip out water buckets.

Our little flock did dwindle over the winter though.  Since our goal was to have a perpetual meat source, we butchered some of them and were thankful to have another great source of meat for the family, and we also lost some to predators.  We live in the country and wildlife like foxes, coyotes, and bears are a way of life but we did what we could to secure the duck pen and keep them as safe as possible.

With spring came a new delight for our family.  Eggs!  Our ladies slowly began laying eggs.  The daylight hours were getting longer and for those of you that don’t know, birds need a certain amount of light to produce eggs.  It’s quite normal for them to slow down or even stop production in the winter time.  Birds in factories are given almost constant light so that they will lay every day without any break to let their bodies recover, which is why their egg laying abilities only last a couple of years.

Farm fresh eggs are amazing anyway, but the duck eggs were something else again.  The shells were super hard, yolks thick and almost waxy, and even the whites were thicker than any chicken egg I’ve ever seen.  And they are BIG.  Most of what we get are as big or bigger than an extra large chicken egg so they go farther than eggs we were buying.  With 5 ducks laying every day we were able to stop buying eggs altogether and were even able to share with friends.  Again, I’m not interesting in selling what we produce at this point.  It’s about sustainability for us, not profitability, and if we have enough to share, that’s what we’ll do.

Since our chickens were only for meat and we hadn’t intended to raise birds for eggs we didn’t build nesting boxes into the bird house so I improvised one out of an empty plastic tote that we had kicking around the house.  Not the prettiest thing in the world but it did the trick.  Before we knew it two of our ladies were sitting on a nice clutch of eggs in my improvised nesting box and we anxiously watched them and the calendar so we would be ready when the babies came.  Part of the preparations were to build a new bird house for the ducks so we could have room for another round of meat chickens.  Bigger and better than the first was the way we went with this one so everyducky would have lots of room to nest and perch.  I don’t see any evidence of them perching despite the lovely perches I put in the house.

When the time came for the ducklings to come into the world we were super lucky to be able to watch a duckling hatch.  The kids and I stood just outside the special baby pen we made and watched the little darling peck its way out of the shell.  HOW INCREDIBLE.  I still get choked up thinking about getting to share that with the kids.  I felt really bad for Hubby who was at work and missed it.  He kept faithful watch over the next two days though hoping to catch a glimpse of another one hatching.  We ended up with 11 ducklings from that clutch and have doubled our flock.

It’s been about 6 weeks now since the first hatch and they are growing like crazy.  By the end of November we expect them to be nearly full size and by December we will be deciding which ones will be dinner and which ones we will keep through the winter.  Hubby is pretty excited that we ended up with a chocolate colored duck and Little Miss is partial to a mostly black one so I’m sure those ones will end up On the “don’t kill” list along with Smooshy Face. (I’ll write about him another time)  We weren’t sure of the history/lineage of the ducks when we got them so we never knew what we would get when we let them breed but we are quite happy with the selection.  The banner picture on the blog is of some of these ducklings.

We’ve got another momma sitting on a clutch of 8 eggs and I am ever more anxious every day waiting for the little critters to show themselves.  Hubby designated this week as our hatch week and I hope his timeline is right on.  I don’t know how much longer I can wait.

The other new development this year is that Hubby finally went hunting.  We’ve been together now for……yup, 12 big years, and every year he says “I’m going hunting next year.” but he never went.  This year, at the first mention of hunting, my response was “If you don’t go hunting this year you can NEVER bring it up again.” 12 years of saying it was enough!  He already had the bow, arrows, camo clothes, new Mucks hunting boots, all the deer apples he could ever want right in our own yard, hunter safety course (and whatever other courses he needed).  I was thoroughly surprised when he booked a week off work and bought his hunting license.  And after not too long Hubby brought home a deer.  I’m proud to say that we even butchered it ourselves too.  The next one will be butchered at an approved abattoir so that we can donate some of it to the food bank.  If you are a hunter, check out the information book you get from DNR to see if you can donate a part of your meat to food banks in your area.

Venison is something fairly new to me.  Growing up in Labrador meant that caribou, trout, ptarmigan, and moose were the usual wild game that we ate but I’m liking the venison so far.  And my kids LOVE IT!  If Hubby had gone hunting years ago we wouldn’t have had to encourage the kids as often to eat their dinner.

So that’s where we are on our little farm for now.  Later blog posts will have some pictures from around our property so you can all see where we started, how we’ve changed, and the babies and duckies that motivate us to do what we do.  I’ll try to throw in a few recipes here and then too.  Hopefully I can stay motivated to write at least once a week (maybe more, and with more organized thoughts) and get myself on a schedule that I haven’t been able to do up to this point.

Have a beautiful day and don’t forget to do something nice for someone.

A