Sunday, November 29, 2009

***WARNING*** Graphic Images...

Do not scroll down if you're sensitive to the sight of blood, or images of dead things.










Still here? Good. My son killed a deer yesterday. If you've been here lately, you'll know that means he brought home a hide for me to tan. In the book I bought, the author called the process of prepping the brains for use in the tanning process making "brain soup" .. and that was enough to make me run screaming from the whole mess. I had intended to use the brains, because it's the most natural and authentic you see, but decided on an less disgusting easier method.

This is the package that Chad brought home:

See how neat and tidy it all is? I figured it wouldn't stay that way, so I made an "apron" out of a garbage bag.

The head was included in our little gift package, but since we wouldn't be using any part of that now, I had to remove it along with the tail.

Peeling off the nasty bits.

Scraping off the rest of the nasty bits. I didn't have a proper scraping tool, so this part was a real bitch. If I do this again, I'll be looking into some better tools.

And then, into the drink. Weighed down with some rocks, it will soak in a lye solution in a plastic garbage can (outside) for the next few days, stirring occasionally, until it's spongy and the hairs are loose and easier to remove.

The most exciting part for me was that I handled this whole thing without a single gag reflex. I'm not sure if it was because it was fresh and not all that bloody, so there was very little smell. Or maybe because I wore gloves, eliminating the problems caused by my texture issues. Or maybe because I had to do it in the dark, in 40 degree weather and was more concerned with just getting-done-for-chrissake-so-we-can-get-in-the-house. It didn't bother the kids much either. As Cadence and I scraped, Riley played with the head. "Look, Mama, I closed his eye." "Look, Mama, I made his ears point up/back/sideways." **shudder**

There are harder steps ahead, as far as actual work and time spent on the hide, but the grossest part is over, and we all handled it really well. More photos and updates soon!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Who needs building plans?

The chicken coop plans that I spent a good hour on, carefully drawing and measuring, have been scrapped. The early dark (thanks, time change) and the rainy cold weather have been a big deterrent in getting the coop built this last week. But I had a backup plan, and by the looks of it, it should have been our plan in the first place.

This is the kids' clubhouse:

(This picture was taken last winter, no actual snow around here yet. The apparent tilt is the result of the camera-operator - likely me.)

When the clubhouse was new, it was a place for reading, a lookout, an advantage spot in a water gun fight, and a place to keep the toy kitchen and all the bazillions of dishes and plastic food. In the last year, it's become an ignored and empty waste of space. The kids still climb up in there, but now it's just to sit and chat for a few minutes, or stop off on the way further up the tree.

So really the only thing making the difference between a clubhouse and a chicken coop are a door and some insulating. I'll post more pictures of those, the fence, etc. as we go.

Friday, November 13, 2009

More on satisfying projects...

So, I'm getting some chickens. 25 of them to be exact, because the hatchery has a minimum order. The plan is to keep them in the kitchen for a couple of weeks, then divide those we're keeping to move outside (just three of them), and move the rest to my country friend's place for the next 4-6 weeks until they're big enough to sell (craigslist, anyone?) or eat (umm.. we might pass on that one). We've had a house chicken before, what's another couple of dozen right?

As usual, I am jumping into this with both feet. But as usual, I am researching and learning as much as I can before said jumping. Keeping chickens is much easier than it may seem, and so much information about health, potential issues, housing, etc. is available online for free - no need to even buy a book. But I still bought this one. First things first, though: My chickens need a home.

I've googled a zillion chicken coops and drawn up a design that I'm happy with. Because money is an issue, the majority of materials we'll be using are recycled scraps gathered from friends and family. This is what it looks like right now:

A pile of old fence pieces and some random boards. I'll be taking more pictures as we build. Just hoping to get done and get those chickens settled (wherever they're settled) before I have a hide to tan.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Satisfying Life

How much do we hear, in some version or another while talking with people, "My life is so unsatisfying." People are lonely and depressed. As a culture, we are bored. We spend so much time and money; buying things, joining clubs, playing games, chatting and texting and facebooking - desperate to get some kind of enjoyment out of our lives. And one thing I am so guilty of myself: complaining about the monotony and just overall dissatisfaction. I also have heard a lot, and seen in practice, that the more you involve yourself in daily activities, the less negativity you feel, and the happier you are in life. I've always thought this was because if I'm busy all the time, I don't have time to think about how bad my life sucks. This was a depressing thought all it's own, because my life isn't any better, I'm just ignoring it. It felt like a form of denial.

But now I'm starting to understand that it's not doing things; it's the things you do. Busying yourself with unfulfilling things still leaves you feeling unfulfilled. Facebook is fun, online games are entertaining and doing those things seem like ways to enjoy my life, but all they do is take up some time - my life is not changed by them in any way, just put off. Cleaning the house for half the day makes me feel better; not because it's taken up half the day, but because my house is clean. Because I've worked diligently, and can see and enjoy the benefit of that work. If my daily activities don't change anything, benefit anything, or provide anything useful, it's not a wonder I start feeling useless and unsatisfied with my life.

When I first started knitting, I was excited about it, but I also felt more upbeat and positive - I was using my free time and talent to create something beautiful and useful for my family. After a while though, the slow, slow stitches seemed like a chore, and I thought, "Well, I was just doing it for fun, so I can quit if I want to." As soon as I started viewing it as "just for fun" it was no different than wasting an hour on the computer - unimportant, unsatisfying. But mostly I'm seeing that putting in that extra effort - like cleaning the house - really pays off in the satisfaction with the completed project. I think that effort might even be one of the most important parts of the equation. I worked for this, it benefits me/my family/the world; I did this hard thing, and it was worth it. How empowering and satisfying and rewarding!

I'm not giving up my FarmVille any time soon, nor am I willing to exhaust myself with busy things, but I am making a point to fill the gaps in my time with more useful activities, even those that require a lot of work. The more difficult projects, new skills, and even little (but still a mountain) jobs I take on, the more satisfied I feel with my life, my home, my family, myself. It is self-sacrifice, when you think of the work involved, but it doesn't feel like a sacrifice at all when you reap the joys and benefits of your hard work. Kind of like parenting, isn't it? I'm parenting my life.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Deer Season

Deer hunting season is upon us - bowhunting now, shotgun next month. Normally deer season comes and goes with me remaining oblivious to its passing, aside from the occasional gift of deer meat from friends. This year is different.

My son, all of his life, rejected his dad's offers to go hunting together. Refused to eat fresh-caught fish and said he'd sooner eat dirt than a rabbit. He told me in no uncertain terms that he could never hunt, could never even support hunting, because it was stupid to kill a wild animal when there were animals raised specifically for food. And come to think of it, he wasn't so sure he was okay with that either. I was bracing myself for a declaration of vegetarianism. I even went as far as researching vegetarian diets, variations on meals we already eat.. the whole deal.

Then something strange happened. Suddenly he was eating all the beef he could get his hands on, and a few deer burgers convinced him deer was the Best Meat Ever. He thought maybe he'd like to try hunting for NON-food animals, so my country friend took him prairie dog hunting in SD for a few days. You could almost smell the change on him when he came home. It happened one step at a time, but it felt like a flash to me. Now he's gun-crazy, scanning guns & ammo magazines, visiting the local Bass Pro and drooling over the rifles. He can't stop talking about how much meat we can get "for free" (ha! hasn't bought a hunting license lately, I see).

Then there was this crazy thing I did. I went and bought a book on brain tanning, hoping to try making buckskins. Call it a homeschool project. I bought the book before my son's drastic transformation from border-veggie to hunter-killer, and had asked several of my hunting friends, "Hey, when you get a deer, save me the hide and brains, k? And it has to be fresh, so call me right away. Cuz I'm doin this thing.." They shook their heads, because they know how weird adventurous I am, but they all promised me the hide.

Well, without me even noticing, it's Deer Season. The day of reckoning approaches. I, one who can barely handle boiling a chicken, will very likely have a large - and freshly killed by my firstborn child - animal in my back yard being cleaned (why is such a bloody messy job called "cleaning"?) I will, regardless of my son's success, have someone's deer hide with bits of .. you can imagine what.. on it, waiting for me to soak and scrape, stretch and oil. And brains?!?! What the hell was I thinking??

Please keep me in your thoughts. I have made my bed, so to speak. It would harm my pride be wrong not to lie in it. I'm just hoping I can do this with a smile.

**sniff** that's my baby

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Trick or Treat!

We approached Beggar's Night this year the same as we always do, by putting off making or buying any costumes or accessories until the last minute, to ensure the highest stress level possible. Cadence remained undecided about what thing/person she intended to dress up as until 2 days before. Chad skipped this year, he's "too grown" for it I guess, but kept saying things like, "Well maybe I'll go, just for a while," and, "Well I could just do some simple costume." Riley has wanted to be a cheetah since August.

So 2 days before the big begging day, we shopped for materials and accessories. Cat ears on the list, but all they had were black and striped - no spots. Hell, I'll just make some, I thought. After an hour at Walmart, Cadence settled on "Reaper" and I figured what we couldn't make, we could do with makeup. I bought some cheetah-print material and two small makeup kits. By then, Chad was insisting I told him he wasn't allowed to go begging, and refused to do so. (Whatever?)

Of course I couldn't get to any actual sewing that night, or the next day. So there I was, on The Day Of, Googling some easy sewing instructions for a hooded robe and wondering if I could use a pajama pattern (or SOMEthing) for Riley's cheetah. That's when I found this page - it's a Jedi robe, but a robe is a robe right? The "pattern" amounted to body-tracing, no real measuring or anything. This worked so well for Cadence's robe, I repeated the process with the cheetah fabric, tracing around the legs instead of leaving it open. Stick on a tail and sew a couple triangle ears to a headband, and voila! Halloween costumes were done in less than an hour.(Cardboard scythe and candy buckets not shown)

Now, before you go thinking the whole thing came off without a hitch, this photo was taken AFTER a night of trick or treating, because, as usual, we left about a half hour late. And froze our butts off in the first 20 minutes (it was 36 degrees!!), and drove instead to a "safe, indoor trick or treat" at a local mall. And wandered the entire mall for an hour, just for 5 tootsie rolls and 3 stickers, so that whole thing was a huge disappointment. The kids only got about 1/4 of their little buckets filled during the whole night.

After we got home, Vic told me to get the kids cleaned up and into pajamas and said he'd be right back. Too tired and frozen to care where he was going, I set about taking pictures and washing off makeup. 20 minutes later, Vic came in with a grocery bag full of candy. "Wow, you kids should have taken the car trick or treating!" he told them. "I was only out a few minutes and look at how much I got!" So I still got my chocolate fix the kids still got some candy, and all is right with the world again.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Tough Stuff...

Every month, I pick up a box of food from Angel Food Ministries. $30 for a box of bulk-purchased food that they say will feed a family of 4 for a week, but I have no problem stretching it out for my family of 5, even if some smaller people are eating more than the bigger people. It's easy to incorporate the contents of one of these boxes into our monthly meals, and makes a huge difference for our food budget. Often there is an ... interesting... package of chicken in the box. One month the was a frozen package of "chicken breast pieces" that was exactly that - pieces and bits of breasts, scraps I imagine, but all good meat. This month it was bone-in leg quarters. Usually when we get the bone-in chicken, I just fry it in whatever odd cut comes out of the package. This time I decided I'd boil it down for meat and broth.

Now, I'd never done this before, as much as I'd heard how much money can be saved by buying whole chickens or irregular cuts and boiling them. I'd never done it because I get a bit squeamish with meat, especially when bones are involved. I had the same problem last summer when we were bringing home fresh-caught catfish every week or so. After seeing the fish alive, then picking out bits of bone or skin missed in cleaning, soaking (and smelling) the fish overnight, and handling it repeatedly, I was so grossed out I'd convinced myself the fish was nasty. I couldn't make myself swallow it.

I thawed this chicken and cooked it for a couple of hours in a big pot full of water with a lid. After it had cooled for a while, I pulled the chicken out of the stock to find the meat "falling off the bone". (This term might make a lot of people's mouth water, but in my case, it makes me a bit ill to think about.) I stripped off the skin and picked the meat from the bones with my hands, and for the first several minutes I really thought I might hurl. I was a bit surprised (and not pleasantly, I can tell you) to find other stuff with the meat. Like a bit of spinal bones and a couple of unidentifiable (to me anyway) organs. When I started to feel faint, I called Vic in to help me.

The work was tedious, because I was being extremely careful not to leave any teeny bits of bone or cartilage in with the meat. But I noticed after a while that it was getting easier and easier for me to handle. I was no longer fighting my gag reflex. I realized it was because the more I focused on the job at hand and its benefits, I was thinking less about the gory details. I happily realized I had enough meat and broth for two or three meals here, instead of just the one meal of fried chicken I was used to. I was chatting with my husband, laughing even, feeding bits of skin or whatever to the desperately begging cats at my feet. Holy crap, I was actually having fun. Considering the amount of meat and broth I'd gotten out of the deal, heck.. this was easy. I should do this every time.

There is a homeschooling lesson here. A life lesson, even. If you keep your eyes open, there is always a lesson, isn't there? Because sometimes the idea of doing something you're not used to, have never done, or don't know much about, sounds horrifying. You can pretty easily become overwhelmed with the details, even if it seemed like a good idea when you started. If you focus on all the nasty bits, you become so disgusted that you completely miss the point of doing it in the first place. But when you concentrate on the job at hand, focus on the benefits, all the negatives are at least worth dealing with. If you're lucky, you'll stop seeing them as negatives at all. Just tiny details in a bigger picture - the benefits are what matter.

So now I have about 3 pounds of meat and enough broth for a few meals tucked away in my freezer. I have 3 kids growing into intelligent, wonderful people, even if raising them sometimes seems hard and homeschooling them sometimes doesn't seem worth it. I have a great marriage, even when the stress of inlaws and disagreements make it seem unbearable. The benefits are what matter. We're doing great, and it was easy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A new way to burn down your house...

Chad has been obsessing for months over survivalism (if there is such a word). I don't know where on earth he gets his obsessive nature. ;) First he went through catalogues, sports stores, and camping websites looking for The Perfect Backpack. Then he started comparing nutritional content of different foods, trying to find The Perfect Foods to pack in his backpack in case of... alien attack or nuclear winter or something. He compared water bottles for volume, weight, and shape. Somewhere in the midst of all that, he was looking into kerosene lanterns. The biggest turnoff there was that you had to buy the kerosene. But he knew that other things burn, and we set about finding household things that would work. Cooking oils (corn, olive, canola) turned out to be the best, because it takes a pretty hot flame to start the oil itself burning, but will burn nicely for a long time when soaked into paper or cloth.
After a couple of quick internet searches, notes written down and gathering of supplies....
....he made this:

Corn oil in a beer bottle. (Yeah, it's a 40. Don't judge me.) Wick made from strands of white cotton Sugar'N Cream yarn, fed through a small hole in the metal lid. You might be able to see in the picture that the bottom of the bottle is filled with water, and oil for only the top 4 inches or so. This is to save on the amount of oil used in such a large bottle, but it also looks pretty cool. You could use any glass bottle with a screw-on lid, and if you used a clear bottle (Vodka maybe?), you could even add food coloring to the water for a pretty neat effect.
Chad spent hours and hours working out the best wick arrangement; first trying different lengths of exposed wick and settling on 1/2 inch, then timing how long it took to burn that 1/2 inch of wick and multiplying by 12 (6 inches total length). He was most satisfied with 3 strands of yarn, braided tightly, which worked out to about 15 hours of burn time.
Then he tossed everything on the counter and went online to look for a new tent. Because the one he just bought won't fit into the super-deluxe backpack he's eyeing. Gah.
*I might mention that all the above was done completely on his own, with me playing the part of Question Answerer occasionally. Who needs textbooks and lesson plans?