Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Slushy

Our frozen, wintry weather has turned more Spring'is......for like a nanosecond.   Today's high is supposed to be around 55 degrees.  Yesterday topped 40 degrees.  But the next two days are in the lower 30's, and 2" - 4" of snow expected between tonight and tomorrow.  Wish Mother Nature would make up her mind.  It seems as soon as a thaw starts, a freeze comes right after it and returns everything back to an ice rink.  I wonder how the fruit trees are taking it.  They've been covered in ice three times now so I'm hoping the buds have survived.

The barnyard, and just about everywhere else around here, is one big slushy mess.  Remember when those Slushy drinks were all the rage?  I remember when they first came out.  My girlfriend and I would go to the local park and then with our saved up allowance in pocket, would walk across the "busy" road and fill up the largest "Super Slurpy" cup with an sugar-filled, icy, slushy Coca-Cola.  Much like the yard, except the caramel coloring of the slushy outside my door isn't so much from a cola beverage, but from mud and animal poop.  Yummy, hugh?


Time to go out and do the afternoon barn check.  Got to find my muck boots.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cold Winter & Winter Colds

Well, technically not a cold, but a stomach bug.  Both Rhiannon and I have been hit with what I can only assume is a nasty case of gastroenteritis, or the "Stomach Flu".  Paul, so far, has been spared the gut wrenching sickness and although I hope he's in the clear now, I'm still anticipating having to eventually dote upon him (as he did for me) if he turns ill.

I don't remember the last time I threw up.  It's been years, and I hope it's years again before I have that horrible, horrible feeling.  Rhiannon has been a real trooper; much more than I as a matter of fact.  She's already trained for the "puke bucket" so there aren't any big messes to clean up.  I remember the "puke bucket" we had at Dad's house when my sister and I were kids.  It was a yellow - no - Harvest Gold colored trash can, about the size of one you'd keep underneath your desk or in the bathroom.  And it was shaped like an upside down lampshade with the large pleats.  Not sure why that exact trash bin was designated as the receptacle for undigested stomach contents, but whenever someone in the house was ill, the bucket came out from wherever it was normally housed in non-sick times, and brought to the bedside of the poor, afflicted family member.
Imagine this in a Harvest Gold color, then flipped
upside down.  That's exactly what our puke bucket
looked like.  Does that give you a flashback, Christine?
When my Dad was sick, I don't recall the bucket so much as going into the kitchen to make him tea and dry toast.  When my sister or I were sick, Mom would bring us red jello and warm 7-up.  To this day, I can't drink 7-up, warm or cold.  Makes me want to, well, you know.

Anyways.  

I was about to write that being sick in the winter doesn't suck as much as being sick in the spring or summer, but then I'd have to take that back.  I hate being sick in warm weather because all I want to do is be outside and instead, am stuck inside.  But even though there isn't anything "fun" calling me to the outdoors during the winter, there are still the animals to take care of.  Even when horribly, horribly sick.

Luckily, I have Paul.  He's been the sole critter-caretaker for two days.  I went out the second day in the morning and totally exhausted myself just trying to pitch some hay.  So I came back inside, admitted defeat, and asked Paul to continue barn chores for me.

I've been on the mend since yesterday, but I still find myself out of breath after doing anything much more than get up to change the movie in the DVD player.  Rhiannon, of course, has thoroughly enjoyed the "DVD week".  We'll have to do double duty to catch up on our homeschooling studies.

I think this week's Science lesson will be on viruses, the digestive system....and good hygienic practices.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Twenty Days of......

.....posting things I need to do before Spring.

Yes dear humans living in the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox is just twenty days away!  And in anticipation of this glorious astrological event, I will attempt to blog every day until Spring cometh.

I'm not quite exactly sure what the theme of the next twenty days will be.  I was thinking of one of the following:

Twenty reasons that winter really, really sucks.
Twenty reasons I should have moved farther South.
Twenty days of pictures showing green grass, flowers and warm beaches.
Twenty days of pictures focusing on snow blower accidents.
Twenty items only a Northerner could identify. (Think roof rakes and snow shoes)
Twenty days of me cussing at the lack of warmth outside.
Twenty day pictorial showing the progression of the black & blue mark from me falling on the ice.

But then I thought to myself, "Myself...Why so pessimistic?  Why not focus on the good that is to come?  Why not write about how wonderful it will be once Spring has sprung?"

And then I smacked myself because you all know darned well that I'm not that optimistic.  

So until March 20th, I will try to entertain you with pictures of cats peeing ice cubes in the snow:

Or tease you with the promise of the eventual return of warm weather and green things:

Or I will just bitch and moan about how stinking cold it still is here.  My daughter built this snowman on February 17th:

It is still with us, albeit a bit thinner, and it's March 1st:

But the fact that it is still here after twelve days is a chilling reminder that it is still Winter.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

How I Make Soap

Making my own soap, and occasionally lotion, was something I started waaaaaay back when I was still in the suburbs.  I bought the fancy molds, I bought the fancy fragrances, I bought the fancy oils.  And I later realized that I wasn't really into the fancy stuff so the supplies sit in my basement, packed up in boxes probably not opened in over ten years.

My soap making forays now involve as little of the "fancy" stuff as possible and I try to keep it simple.  Although I can appreciate the benefits of some of the fancier (i.e. more expensive) oils and enjoy looking at beautifully crafted bars with swirls of blues and greens, I'm just too lazy (and cheap) to do those kind of things.  When I can splurge and want a beautiful bar of Hippie-Dippie smelling soap, I get mine from Donna at The Midlife Farmwife when she isn't screwing off at frat parties.

Making soap is pretty darned easy, albeit a little time consuming if you're not specifically set up for it.  Contrary to what just about everybody says, I don't use soap-specific utensils and containers for soap making, I use my everyday kitchen stuff.  I'm assuming the "don't use your everyday kitchen items" warning is because the utensils and containers come in contact with lye but honestly I think it just gives my stuff an extra cleaning and has yet to harm any of my spoons or measuring cups.  Either that or there's some soap materials goody store that sells over-priced spoons, cups and containers that are "Soaper Approved".  The only thing I own that is soap-making-specific is the blender, and that is because it's not a really good one.
My soap blender.  Used only for soap. 
So, what does one need to make homemade soap?  The most basic of soaps would contain a mixture of oils or lard, lye (sodium hydroxide) and water, all in specific amounts.  You'll also need a non-aluminum container for heating the oils or melting the lard, non-aluminum stirring utensil, another container for mixing the lye and water, a mold for the soap to set in, and a means of stirring / blending / mixing the concoction until it's ready for pouring into a mold.

I use a plastic half-gallon jug for melting / combining the oils, used yogurt cups for measuring out the lye, my large Pyrex measuring cup for the water / lye mixture, a big spoon from my silverware drawer for mixing the lye or oils, and either my metal brownie pan or bread pan for the mold(s).  Oh, and my handy-dandy electronic 5-lb. scale that reads in increments of 1/8 oz. and in grams.  Which I use for things other than soap making.  

The first thing I do is measure out my oils.  For my brownie pan / loaf pan molds, I use: 16 ounces of Coconut Oil, 8 ounces of Olive Oil, 8 ounces of Soybean Oil.  These oils are put into my 1/2 gallon plastic jug....that I also use for making lemonade and iced tea, albeit not at the same time.
Coconut oil (the solid stuff), Olive and Soybean oils, before heating.
Next I measure 10 ounces of water into my big Pyrex measuring cup....that I also use to measure and mix brownies and cornbread, and put it aside.

NEXT I'LL BE WORKING WITH LYE.  For those of you who aren't familiar with lye, it's basically a dry, white powder that heats up really hot and really fast when exposed to a liquid or moisture.  So you HAVE to be careful.  Dip your still damp hand into the container of lye and you'll be getting some pretty nasty chemical burns on your skin.  And you can't just "wash" it off with water, it may only make it worse.  The only way to negate the lava-hot chemical reaction is to douse it with vinegar.  So when you're working with lye, it would behoove you to have some vinegar within reach.  You should also use rubber gloves and eye protection when working with lye.  Keep kids and pets out of the general area while soap making.  Do as I say, not as I do.  LYE WARNING over.  Don't forget it.

Anyways, I measure just a pinch over 5 ounces of lye into my used yogurt cup (which will be used again and again for some other non-soap project) and carefully pour that into the 10 ounces of water, stirring until it is dissolved (while wearing gloves and eye protection - cough, cough).  The lye / water will be really, really hot.  And BE CAREFUL that you don't inhale the fumes because it will burn.  Or at least give you a good coughing fit and make you realize that yeah, you're working with a seriously caustic material, and yeah, you should probably have locked the cats up in the bedroom.  Once it's stirred up, I usually put it outside (where NObody or NOthing can get to it) to cool it off.

Three batches of water and lye ready to be mixed together.
While the lye water mixture is cooling off, I put my plastic jug of oils into the microwave and heat it up to 120-130 degrees.  There's a lye water / melted oil mixture Temperature Ballet going on here; you want both to be about the same temperature when you mix them together.
Heated oils.  In my Lemonade pitcher and the container I usually
make my chicken salad in.  And I haven't died.
Next the heated oils go into the blender, and then the lye water is carefully poured into the blender.  Lid goes on and I turn the blender on to the fastest setting.  The blending goes on for anywhere from two to five minutes, depending on a crapload of variables that I have yet to comprehend, but probably has something to do with the types of oils used.  You are attempting to blend the gonna-be-soap concoction into what soaping people call "trace".  It's the point where the glop in your blender starts to become, "glop".  Kind'a like cake batter.  But be mindful, because when it happens, it can happen like "BAM!", and I'd be a liar if I said I never blended my soap too long.  It's not fun trying to scoop out a bunch of "this stuff will burn my hand off" goo from your blender that doesn't want to pour out.

Once the soap concoction hits that magical point called "trace", I pour my essential oils in.  For my three-ish pound recipe, I use 1 1/2 ounces Patchouli, 1/2 ounce Lavender and 1/2 ounce Orange essential oils.  Yes, it smells like an old (but clean) Hippie.  The essential oils get mixed in quickly but thoroughly and then the entire hopefully-not-too thick soap concoction gets poured into my plastic-wrap-lined loaf pan.  Technically, I don't need to line the pan with plastic, but my pans tend to occasionally have a bit of rust on them and lining them with the wrap prevents any rust from staining my soap.  But if I don't use the wrap, then no biggie.  And as a bonus, my pans are extra clean afterwards.  To bake my bread in.  Because I'm too cheap to buy a dedicated soap mold.
Brownie and loaf pans.
Soap mold today, onion-dill loaf of bread tomorrow.
Anyways.  Homemade Soap Specialists will tell you that after you pour the soap into your approved soap-making mold, you're supposed to wrap it up in a blanket and keep it someplace warm.  Which I don't.  Because I'm lazy.  And have found that just leaving it on my kitchen counter (and telling my husband that it is NOT some pudding cake so don't for the love of gawd, take a slice and eat it) works just as well.

After the soap sits for about 24 hours, it will solidify and I pop it out of my bread pan and slice it up into whatever sized pieces I want.  I tend to like more of a chunky sized bar vs. your run-of-the-mill bar.  The bars are then placed on a cardboard tray or paper plate, and set up out of the way to cure for the suggested 4 week curing time.  Technically, you can use the soap after a few days, but it will probably still be a bit soft and won't last as long nor lather up as much, so if you can manage to wait the four weeks it's a good idea.  I currently have a bar in the shower that has only cured for ten days and the skin on my face hasn't fallen off.  And I smell like a clean Hippie when I get out.
Bars of soap curing.
So there's how I make soap.  It may not be how you make it, but I'm not you.  And I should probably put in another disclaimer about lye in here, but I'm too lazy to write out an entire "Don't be a Moron" section on the dangers of working with highly caustic chemicals.  So when you're working with lye.....Don't be a Moron, OK?  Good.

Well then.  Are you going to jump into soap making?  It's really not that difficult, and the results can be both satisfying and amazing.  But honestly, do some online research and you'll probably find a better How-To tutorial on soap making than the one I wrote here.  And then you can brag to people that "I made that and it hasn't killed me!"  And maybe give some of it to your family and friends.  Assuming that they believe you that it won't kill them.

And if YOU can believe that it won't kill you, remind me to have a soap giveaway in four weeks and you can find out for yourself!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ice Pics

Not Ice Picks:

But Ice Pics:

Just wanted to share a couple of pictures from the ice we got Friday night.



Luckily we didn't get slammed too hard and yesterday afternoon the temps crept up to 39 degrees and melted the accumulated ice off the trees.  That made a nice, slick pool of slush/water on top of everything.  Which means that this morning the entire homestead was an ice skating rink.

I may have to put the goats in costumes and have a Caprine Icecapades show.  Bet people would pay money to see that.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Toasty and Warm (Inside)

Since I have nothing much else to talk about besides how freaking cold it is outside, and I'm sure you are all painfully aware of this fact, I'll show you what has been going on INside.

Where it's toasty warm.  Where there is no snow or sleet or ice.  Where my eyeballs don't frost over.  Where the cats and the GSD have taken up residence in front of the wood stove.  I need to burn some incense or put some of those carpet sprinkles on Charlie because just his exhaling (from both ends) is making the house smell like stale dog food and farts.  I'm a little concerned about his close proximity to the stove as there is the distinct possibility of the dogbutt gasses having concentrated enough to explode into a ball of fire and blast my flaming and charred body across the room if I were to open the door to the wood stove.
Split pea soup with a chunk o' ham bone and a smelly, slow roasting dog.
What else is going on INside?  Well, I've got a pot o' split pea soup on the wood stove.  And we just finished leftover BBQ'd pork ribs and asparagus.  So yeah, imagine the amazing cornucopia of odors that would smack you in the face if you were to walk in here right now.

On to more pleasant, and less offensive to the nose, things going on INside.

A month (or so) ago, Paul got me my wonderful, beautiful, super-dooper double oven.  And he also started working on the counter tops and back splash.
Cabinet above the stove had to be moved up for microwave.
The white, ugly, delaminating laminate counter tops had to go.
The wall behind the stove / fridge needed some finishing.
Even though we're in semi-austerity mode right now, we needed a new microwave.  So that was purchased and Paul installed it.  The counter tops were yanked off and replaced with an oak butcher block.  We purchased it in an 8' unfinished slab and Paul cut it to size, rounded off the edges oiled and sanded it.  Instead of just painting the back wall, I convinced Paul that corrugated roofing material would look cool behind the stove & refrigerator.  And the fact that it was cheaper than buying and installing tile was a bonus.  Although I liked the look of the metal back splash, I still painted up above to bring some color into the kitchen.


Now that I'm pretty sure I'm happy with how the counter tops came out (and their cost-effectiveness), there's the OTHER side of the kitchen to work on:
Yes, there's a cat on my kitchen counter top.  Yes, cat hair is
a recurring ingredient in my cooking.  Deal with it.
That's a LOT of counter top real estate to work with.  We're still undecided if we'll put the butcher block on there or tile it with a terra cotta colored tile.  In all honestly, it probably won't done before next Christmas anyhow so at least it gives me more time to think about it.  At least that's what I'm telling myself.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fifty Shades of Sleet

Everybody on Facebook is talking about this fifty shades movie and I'm outside trying to keep myself from slipping on the stinking snow covered sheet of ice and getting fifty shades of black and blue.

It started sleeting around 8:30 last night and was on again / off again for hours.  Then came the snow, all three inches of it.  Oh, I know, the horror!  MamaPea, Susan and my other Northern Tundra blogging buddies are probably rolling their eyes and playing the world's tiniest violin for me.


The normal pre-storm preparations were made earlier yesterday afternoon; vacuuming, dishes, laundry, showers, extra hay & bedding for the animals, etc.  Basically anything that would require the use of water or electricity needed to be done before the sleet pounded us.  We haven't been hit recently with any extended periods of power outages, but the ice storm in 2009 is still fresh in our minds.  Thirteen days without power = No Fun.

I'm assuming we'll be stuck in this Ice Encrusted Hell Winter Wonderland until at least Saturday when it finally creeps up past the freezing mark during the day.  Momma doesn't do snow & cold, but at least Rhiannon is happy, albeit a bit chilled when she comes inside:

But it seems that we're in the clear for now as the electricity, and internet (yay for cat videos!), is still on.  If you don't hear from me for a few days, it's because A) the power did go off, B) I'm busy continuing to fight Evil or C) The goats have orchestrated an elaborate kidnapping, have me tied up in the basement and they are sitting around the wood stove and chewing on my curtains.

Hopefully you've prepared for the storm(s) and are snug in your home and all the critters are faring well.  We're stuck with it for a while, so may as well grab a hot cocoa and schooch a little closer to the fire.