it looked really easy — homemade sunflower butter

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That’s our garden.  The big plants on the end are mammoth grey sunflowers.  If all goes well, we will soon have mounds and mounds of healthy and delicious sunflower seeds to eat and enjoy.  I like sunflower seeds and all, but mounds and mounds?  So I was really excited when I came across a couple of recipes that called for sunflower butter.  I thought, no problem, I’ll just whip some up.  How hard can it be, I make my own peanut butter.  Well, apparently, it’s a little harder — for me anyway.  I’ll spare you all the details about what went wrong and just skip onto what I learned.

1 — Follow the recipe the first time you make something, get your feet wet and then tweak it. 

2 — Use the right equipment.  Most of the recipes out there tell you to use a food processor.  I figured my Vitamix would work just as well.  It probably would have if I had more patience.  Sunbutter requires a lot of mixing time which if you are using a food processor, is fine.  It doesn’t require a lot of attention.  The vitamix on the other hand requires tampering.  After five minutes or so, I was done. 

Just so you don’t feel like reading this post was a total waste of time, here are two tutorials that I thought were really helpful — Prudent Baby and Choosing Raw.  Doesn’t it look yummy?

In the end, I think I came up with something that is at least usable.  You’ll know tomorrow.  If it worked, I’ll have some kind of sunflower butter recipe to share.  If not, it will probably be something super lame because I don’t really have any contingency plans as far as this blog goes.  Stick with me though, I’m working on it.   

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lessons learned in and out of the classroom

Maybe I should just do my weekly wrap up on Monday since that’s when it seems to be getting done.  I keep using the “it’s been one of those weeks” excuse way too much.  All of my weeks are one of those weeks.  Anyway, here’s our week in review.

We sped through our daily studies this week.  I’m pretty sure Thomas has adopted my if you don’t like something just get it done as quickly as possible attitude.  I was worried that he wouldn’t retain anything, but daily he surprises me with his abilities.  It’s not uncommon for him to correct me on name pronunciation and little details about what we have read. 

This week we spent some time studying about Confucius.  After discussing his teachings, I asked, “Who taught us similar things?”  I was shooting for Jesus, but got the Buddha instead.   Hmm, A+ for the history teacher and a big old F for the Christian mother.  Boo, we’ll have to work on that.  I take solace in that fact that a certain sister who will remain nameless was very shaky on the birth of Jesus story until she took a religion class in college and she’s one of the best Christians I know. 

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Muffa was proud as proud could be when he presented me with a paper with his name written all over it.  For a while he’s had the letters of his name down, but didn’t always get them in the right order.  He seems to be well on his way now.

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The biggest lessons didn’t come in the classroom this week.  Rather they came from everyday life.  Thomas and Hunter were reminded that food doesn’t come from the grocery store as we picked our first zucchini.  We only planted five plants this spring, and already, I almost have more zucchinis than I know what do with — I feel a chocolate zucchini bread post coming on. 

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We also learned about the cycle of life.  Greg found one of our Rhode Island Reds laying down on the ground on Friday afternoon.  She was responsive, but unable to move her legs or put any weight on them.  We put her in one of the laying boxes hoping she might pep back up.  By Saturday afternoon, it was obvious something was really wrong and we had to put her out of her misery.  I’m surprised how emotional I got.  I really do like our chickens, even when they peck at my painted toenails. 

As we were getting ready to bury her, Muf looked down at her and said, “oh dear, I guess we’ll have to eat her.”  That night, we he said the dinner prayer, he thanked Heavenly Father for the chicken and asked that he would like it.  (Somehow he didn’t make the connection that we had buried her and we were not eating her for dinner.)  Muf’s attitude may seem odd for some, but it’s the attitude of a true homesteader that is learning early on what it means to take care of yourself and to be grateful to God that you can.

beans, beans, they’re good for your … you know how the song goes

Today, we’re talking dried beans — pinto, kidney, garbanzo, the list goes on.  For years, canned beans were are staple in our home.  High in protein and fiber, we used at least a couple of times a week.  When we started building up our food storage, we bought a bunch of dried beans.  I figured it was good to have them just in case, but continued to buy my canned beans.

A friend of mine mentioned that her pressure cooker could cook beans in no time flat.  Pressure cookers scare me a bit, but I decided to give it a whirl.  I gave it a few tries, but my beans were always either mushy or totally undercooked.  I kind of gave up until I read Katie’s tips over at Kitchen Stewardship.  It seemed easy enough, and truly it is.

Dried beans are way cheaper than canned beans.  They also don’t have any extra additives like sodium and corn syrup — yes corn syrup.  That’s the good.  Here’s the not so good.  They take time.  You can’t just throw them on the stove and come back in a couple of minutes and have they all ready to go.  You have to plan ahead.  For example, this morning, I realized we needed to have some kind of slow cooker meal today since we’re going to be running here and there all afternoon.  Chili would be great, but no beans on hand.  I threw some in to soak and they’re cooking right now.  As soon as I finish this up, they’ll be ready to be thrown into the chili pot.  If I was really good, I would have made them over the weekend knowing I would be having chili tonight and just popped them out the freezer, but meal planning is another lesson for another day.  Long story short — as in almost every situation, planning ahead is helpful, but you do have some wiggle room. I digress, back to the beans, here’s what you do.

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Measure out your dried beans and rinse them thoroughly in water.  Every once in a while you find a clump or two of dirt in your beans.  One cup of dried beans will give you about 2 to 2 1/2 cups of cooked beans.

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Put your beans in a large bowl and add water.  I usually do a 2:1 ratio.  Two cups of water for every one cup of beans.  Allow your beans to soak at least 4 hours.

Take them out of the bowl and rinse again.  Move them into a large pot and add twice as much water as beans (same 2:1 ratio).  Your beans will have plumped up so don’t go by your initial measurement.

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Bring the beans to a rolling boil without a lid on the pot.  DO NOT USE SALT to help the water boil faster.  Let boil for 10 minutes.  Reduce the heat, cover and allow to simmer anywhere from an hour to two hours.  You can add salt after the first hour.  I usually check after an hour and then every 15 minutes until they are done.

Use them right away or let them cool off and store them in the fridge or freezer for later use.  So easy and no scary pressure cookers.

some thoughts on self reliance

I’m feeling a little philosophical today.  Our life is nothing like it was five years ago, even two years ago.  I’m sure there is at least one person out their scratching their head and saying, “weirdoes.”  There are a slew of reasons I could give for every little change we have made — homeschooling, homesteading, but really, it all boils down to one principle — self reliance.  Greg came across this video a while back.  The message it presents is timeless.

When we first embarked on our journey toward self reliance, I thought it was just about being prepared for end of the world type stuff.  It’s really not though.  It’s about protecting the greatest gift God has given us next to life itself, the ability to direct that life.  As we become more self reliant, we are better able to love and serve God.  The more we allow others to direct our lives, the less able we are to love and serve God.

Self reliance truly is a journey, and it’s been a wonderful journey thus far.  Thanks for sharing it with us. 

homemade toothpaste — nasty, but works great

When I was a kid, my dad used to brush his teeth with baking soda and hydrogen peroxide.  I thought he was a nut, but actually, he was really onto something.  I started making my own toothpaste about a year and a half ago after doing some research on fluoride.  Long story short, not good for the body. 

At first, Greg and I were the only ones using it.  Then one day, Hayden gave it a whirl and asked me to make some for him.  I was really surprised because it tastes so yucky, but he went on and on about how clean his teeth felt after brushing with the homemade toothpaste compared to the store bought toothpaste.  Then I asked Hailey to make some and the process of making it herself got her on board.  Now it’s what we have in the kids’ bathroom as well.  I haven’t been able to sell the little guys on it, so for now, they’re using Nature’s Gate Natural Toothpaste

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I know you’re thinking — I need my fluoride.  Here’s my story.  All of my life I’ve used fluoride toothpaste, and my teeth are horrible.  I hate going to the dentist.  Well, the last two times I’ve gone, no new cavities and my gum scores have significantly improved.  I still don’t enjoy going to the dentist, but having healthy teeth definitely makes it easier.  So if you want to take a walk on the hippie side of the life, here’s an easy way to start.

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Mix equal parts coconut oil and baking soda.  It’s best if the coconut oil is in at least a semi-solid state, but it doesn’t have to be.  I generally start with 1/3 cup each.  Mix it together.

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You can actually stop right there if you want.  The other ingredients are optional, but I do recommend them.  To the baking soda coconut oil mixture, add two teaspoons hydrogen peroxide (the regular stuff you find at the drugstore) for whitening, 8 drops of stevia and five or six drops of your favorite essential oil to make it not so nasty tasting.  I like to use Thieves for another layer of germ killing as well as for the flavor.  Peppermint would be great.  I’ve also known others to use lavender oil although that does not appeal to me at all.  Mix it all up, and you are ready to go. 

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Dip your toothbrush in and brush away.  No need to worry about spreading germs while sharing the same container.  The coconut oil will take care of that.  Just a couple of notes, you may need to stir things up a bit when the temperature increases.  Also, because of the oil, your sink will get kind of yucky, so be prepared to scrub just a bit harder and maybe a bit more often to keep things nice and clean.  There you have it.  Here’s to a bright, healthy, hippie smile.

another week down

I’m not sure what happened to Thomas this week, but he was on his game — even phonics went smoothly.  In fact, I sneaked (yup that’s the official past tense of sneak, I looked it up) a few extra pages in so we could wrap it up early this year.  Of course, when I asked Thomas what was the best part of his week, he said science.  Our human body encyclopedia is very well loved.  I hope it survives long enough that Muffa can use it in a couple of years. 

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For Muf, the highlight was using his new magnetic letters to match up big and little letters.  The first night we got them, he asked if he could take them to bed. 

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He also worked on recreating patterns with his build a flower set.  I mark it down as a success if I can get him to actually work on things for about a half an hour.  Mind you, that’s definitely not all at once.  Like most three year olds, he has the attention span of a kidney bean and that’s okay.

For me, the highlight was going to the Arizona Science Center.  We bought an annual membership through Living Social.  It was a super sweet deal.  While it wasn’t the museum I thought it was (I’m an idiot), I loved it.  We spent a couple of hours there on Thursday afternoon and only made it about halfway through the exhibit on the human body.  In fact, I was so captivated with everything that was going on, I forgot to take pictures.  Woops. 

Most favorite — the wheelchair race simulator.  Thomas could have done that all day.

Least favorite — it’s a toss up between the three foot nose and the ginormous model of the digestive system.  For Thomas, it was the nose.  We tossed foam balls up into the nostril representing germs and dust particles.  It seemed like a fun game until the giant nose sneezed them back at us.  I was totally not expecting it and screamed.  I thought it was funny, Thomas, not so much.  For Muf, it was the digestive system.  They were walking around inside and going toward the slide that represented waste coming out of the anus when a huge toot (we don’t say fart at our house, well, not without getting a look from mom) sound echoed throughout exhibit.  Muf came running out crying and wouldn’t let go of my legs for a couple of minutes.  Funny, potty humor is usually a big hit at our house. 

So that was our week.  I can’t wait to see what next week will bring.

strawberry butter

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Nothing says summer is coming like strawberries.  I love all things strawberry — jam, shortcake, syrup, you name it I love it.  That’s why I was so excited to try Ellen’s strawberry butter recipe from her blog Confessions of an Overworked Mom.  It’s really good and has been a huge hit in our home.  I pretty much followed her recipe with just a change or two.  It’s super simple.

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5 large strawberries

1 stick of butter at room temperature (a little squishy is good)

1/4 cup powdered sugar

2 drops orange essential oil (you can skip this, but wow, it’s really good)

Cut up your butter and put all your ingredients into a food processor.  (Someday maybe I’ll get one, but for now I just used my little chopper that goes with my immersion blender.)

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Mix unitl smooth.  Store in an airtight container in the fridge.  Super quick and really yummy on toast.  I hope you enjoy.

cheese louise

We eat a lot of cheese in this house, I mean a lot.  Here’s what I buy when I go to Costco.  Yes, that’s 10 pounds of cheese.

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Oh, not included in the picture in the block of colby jack that I get to use for sandwiches.  The cheddar and monterey jack in the picture I use for shredding.  I used to buy the small packages of shredded cheese just at the grocery store, but that was pretty expensive, so I got a huge bag of shredded cheese from Costco and separated it into smaller portions and threw them in the freezer.  When it came out of the freezer, I had a block of shredded cheese that had to be broken up before I could use it.  Boo.  It was back to the smaller bags of shredded cheese from the grocery store. 

One day, I looked at the ingredients on those small bags.  Along with the cheese were a bunch of “anti-caking” chemicals.  Oh heck.  I didn’t want my family eating those.  I was left with one option.  Shredding cheese every time I needed it.  That wasn’t that much fun either.  Then I came across two tips that have made life so much easier cheese-wise around here. 

1.  Sprinkle a little flour on your shredded cheese prior to freezing it.

2.  Allow the cheese to thaw at room temperature.

Simple, that’s it.  Now I buy those big blocks of cheese, shred them up using my kitchen-aide shredder attachment.

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Sprinkle a little flour on them (you can use whole wheat flour, but be warned, your cheese will look brown when it melts), and throw them in freezer bags. 

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Thaw a bag out on the counter when needed and I have perfectly shredded cheese without any nasty chemicals.  Hurray.

poppy seed dressing — our absolute favorite

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We really like salad around here, and we are in heaven right now as all we have to do is walk out the back door to our garden, pick a few lettuce leaves, and we’re ready to go.  Our absolute salad dressing comes from Our Best Bites.  It never fails to please, and I get asked for the recipe all the time, so I thought I’d share.  I follow the recipe almost exactly with only a few minor tweaks.

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1/3 cup white vinegar

1 tsp salt

a dash of ground black pepper

3/4 cup organic evaporated cane juice

1 tsp prepared mustard

2 Tbsp sliced green onions

1/2 cup coconut oil

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

Combine the vinegar, salt, pepper, sugar and mustard.  I use my immersion blender, but you can easily use a regular blender as well.  While the blender is running, add the green onion and then oil (make sure your coconut oil is in its liquid state, seems obvious, but I cook with kids and apparently, it’s not.)  If you are using a regular blender, add the oil slowly until it is completely mixed.

Whisk in the poppy seeds.  Put it in a cute little container and you are done.  (ooh, that’s a really bad picture, sorry about that.)

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Just a quick note, it has to be refrigerated so the oil will solidify.  You’ll need to make sure you get it out early enough to let it go back to it’s liquid state.  If you forget, you can put it in a hot water bath or on your white trash toaster oven to help speed the process along, not that I have a toaster oven or have ever had to do this.

I hope you enjoy this as much as we do.

 

pretend like it’s friday afternoon and not monday morning

We had one of those weekends around here when you feel like you’re always one step behind what needs to be done.  So here I am Monday morning rather than Friday afternoon writing a review of last week and that’s okay.

It was actually a good week, although Thomas is definitely getting ansty pantsy.  We’re in the 70s and 80s until about 11:30 and it’s just so hard not to run outside and play baseball.  Whereas in the past we could sit down and plug away at school and be done in a couple of hours, now we are taking about three hours to get everything finished up due to more frequent and longer breaks.  Allowing the boys to actually be boys is definitely one of the benefits of homeschooling.

In science, we finished up learning about the five senses.  Along with our reading, we labeled parts of the eye and ear (well, we will finish that up today) and performed a few experiments.  I have to admit that twirling around and getting super dizzy is not as much fun at 40 as it was at 4, but the boys had fun.  We plugged along through phonics (yes, we’re going to stick it out) and math -8.  We learned about Buddha in history and some of the miracles of Jesus in our gospel study.

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By far, the highlight of our school week was when Thomas finished up his grammar test and aced the section on contractions.  He was so very proud of himself as well he should be.  And that was our ordinarily wonderful week.