Monday, June 20, 2016

AC-Free Ways to Keep Your Family and Animals Cool This Summer

I am a winter baby, dear readers. Pale and pasty by nature. I turn red in the sun, that's it. No loving mocha shade of brown here. Real red - red - peel - white. That's my summer skin cycle. I'm already feeling the sting of my third sunburn this year. And today is only the first day of summer.

Now I know what you're thinking. Buck up and deal Jen, it's sunny and beautiful outside. Stop whining!

And you may be on to something there. But first, allow me to remind you that I am a transparent, sweaty beast with a head full of hair that goes ZING in the heat. I, like my incredibly hairy dog, fully-feathered 10-week-old-chickens, and similarly sweaty-beast children, need ways to chill after being in hell the summer of satan outside.

Thankfully I have the internet....a beautiful tool that connects me to people who've been there, done that, long before I was doing anything at all. Here are my favorite, creative cool-down methods, brought to you by the beautiful bloggers and homesteaders around us.

Cooling the House
The Attic Fan - Stick a fan in the attic opening of your house with the "blow" side facing into the attic. Close all your windows and draw the shades in sunny rooms. Make sure the door to the basement is open and then turn the fan on - it will suck cool air from the basement into the attic, leaving a trail of cool in its wake. Instant breeze!

Plant Vines - Morning glory, ivy, and other fast-growing vines are easy to plant and spread rapidly. Grow them a few feet off the exterior wall on the sunny side of your house to cool it down by up to twenty degrees!

Cook Outside - Heating up your house with the oven is counterproductive when temperatures rise. Grill outside and if you're really craving meatloaf, consider building your own outdoor oven.

Implement Passive Cooling Strategies - Things like paint, roof overhangs, and ventilation are easy, affordable ways to cool your home without utilizing any crazy resources. The dude in the video I linked to obviously has the perfect example with his earthbag home, but some of these strategies can be applied to your standard suburban home, too....specifically the section where he talks about plants.

Cooling Your Body
Homemade Popsicles - My mouth is the quickest thing to fire off when I'm heated. Why not cool things down with a super-simple, budget-conscious popsicle? Cold foods are enjoyable, refreshing, and quite literally decrease your body temperature as you eat them.

Homemade Fudgsicles - And when popsicles don't work, try the sweet, soothing elixir that is cocoa all up in my mouf. These lovely little additions to my summertime snacking only have five ingredients.

Pools, Pools, Everywhere - You don't need to run to WalMart and spend $500 to create your own backyard swim zone. Check out these creative (and often hilarious) ways to build a pool without the crazy costs.

Get Up and Out - Early mornings are always cooler than blazing hot summer afternoons. If you have chores and outdoor activities you've gotta get done, do them bright and early before that sun gets too high.

Build a Portable Swamp Cooler - If you just can't beat the heat but aren't ready to fire up the air conditioner, try building one of these puppies. They're intended for smaller spaces but run off so little electricity/battery power, you could easily make one for each person in your family. Neato!

Clothes Matter! - Cotton, cotton, cotton. Wear breathable, loose fabrics. I personally love Pact, an organic cotton company that doesn't use any child labor or sweatshops and is Fair Trade Certified.

Drink - Now everyone knows alcohol dehydrates you.....but a single glass of homemade blackberry mead isn't gonna kill anyone.....might even help distract you from the heat. Ok maybe I just really wanted to link to homemade mead. You can always follow it up with a glass of water right? Eh? Ehh?

Cooling Your Animals
Freeze it for Chickens - Stick mint and strawberry tops into muffin tins, fill each muffin cup with water, and then freeze. Pop those suckers out and your little chickie babies will be happy (and cool!) as can be.

Freeze it for Pups - Mix a little bit of fruit, yogurt, broth, and scrap meat together and pour into popsicle molds. Stick dehydrated chicken feet into the top for the "stick" and freeze. Wah-lah! A delightful way to help your dog beat the heat this summer.

Freeze Water Bottles - Fill up water bottles (or any old container with a lid) with water and freeze them. When the temps climb take your frozen bottles into the coop to help your girls stay cool.

Baby Pools Are Cool - Drag out that cheapo $10 plastic pool and fill 'er up. Chances are someone, be it a feathered friend or a furry one, will be grateful for the effort and gladly jump in.

I'm relieved to know I'm not the only one who struggles with the heat. A long, long time ago, creativity around the household was vital, especially when it came to withstanding the elements. I am so grateful I can read about the many interesting and eco-friendly ways people beat the heat....hoping to employ a number of these tips and tricks this year to see which ones work best. Maybe I'll learn to love summer, after all! :)

Now I will stop whining, mkay? At least until next week ;)

What about you, dear readers? How do you beat the heat and keep your flocks and families cool? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!


Monday, June 13, 2016

Biscuit Pot Pie: A From-Scratch, Kid-Friendly Recipe

"Mama, I don't like this. I think I'll go to bed instead."

My four-year-old announces this to the dinner table at least three nights a week. I'll call her over to eat and she'll come running into the room, clambers up into her chair, her eyes always huge with anticipation...and then the minute a pepper, or tomato, or potato hits her little lips, she willingly puts herself to bed. 

"No, I don't think I like this, Mama. I'm going to bed."

In our house the choices are: 
1. Eat
2. Go lie down until dinner is over

So you see I can't really get upset when she obeys by quietly getting down from her chair and padding her little bare feet down the hall to her bedroom. I don't get mad when I hear her quietly playing in her bed, either. But dear gosh, does it ever break my heart and annoy me to no end when she wakes up in the morning crying because her stomach hurts. That's not the way it's supposed to be, right? I'm supposed to make sure these kids eat, aren't I? I cooked for her though, secret Judgmental Jen who loves to judge herself! I cooked for her! I swear it!

Now I've developed a number of tricks to try and get my kids to eat healthy over the years. So far the most foolproof method is pretty simple: cook food they like. My youngest loves breads and cheese, just like her mama. My oldest prefers stuff with lots of flavor and predictable texture (no mushy noodles or soggy cereal for her). 

This recipe, this beautiful, golden, shining recipe of dinnertime peace and hope, fulfills both wish lists....and it is easy, affordable, healthy, and honestly delicious. Ready to read all about it? Of course you are. But first....

Disclaimer One: I try and use organic, source-conscious ingredients in all of my cooking and those types of ingredients are listed here....but at one point in my life I found such specificity obnoxious as hell and I wouldn't blame you for printing this off and crossing all the "organics" out. Plain ol' flour is just as fine and delicious as organic unbleached flour, especially when compared to the dough in a can.

Disclaimer Two: There are two parts to this dish - the biscuits and the filling. I make them both at the same time like a boss and I am not even graceful so don't be afraid. You can do this.

Ready? Let's go.

1. Start by getting all your ingredients out and prepped.

Ingredients for the Biscuits:
  • 2 cups organic unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold grass-fed butter or lard leftover from cooking your forest-foraged pork on your cast iron skillet (ok now I'm just being a brat)
  • 1 cup buttermilk***
***Side note about buttermilk - I never remember to buy the stuff in the store or I do and then it goes bad because I forgot I bought it. Instead I make my own buttermilk by combining a couple tablespoons of vinegar with some of my favorite fresh whole milk. Let it sit and stir it every now and then and it'll thicken up all buttermilk-like. For this recipe you just add the 2 tablespoons of vinegar to your measuring cup then fill it up to the 1 cup line with your milk. Easy-peasy. 

Ingredients for the Filling:
  • 1 pound of your favorite ground meat - I typically use ground turkey or pork - thawed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter or anything greasy, really, to cook your meat
  • 1 10-oz bag of frozen organic veggies (yep, you read that right - frozen veggies are cheap, even the organic ones, and will save you prep time on this dish)
  • 1/4 of an onion - purple, white, yellow, doesn't matter at all - diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic all mashed up 
  • 1/3 cup of organic unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups of chicken broth (learn how to make your own - it's so cheap!)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • Seasoned salt and pepper to taste
The great thing about this filling is you can change the non-base ingredients (meat and veggies) to match what you have. If you score a ton of peas and carrots at the farmers market, for example, but didn't have enough cash for onions, you can leave the onions out completely and just add peas and carrots. If your garden is hoppin' with corn and tomatoes, add them to the filling. Vegetarians can leave the meat out completely. The filling will still taste fantastic. On lazy nights I use meat and the frozen veggies that's it. Still good. 

2. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. If you're making buttermilk out of milk and vinegar get that started now, too. 

3. Heat your oil over medium heat in an oven safe pan - cast iron is honestly perfect for this but stainless steel works well, too. 

4. Add your meat, onions, and garlic to the pan. Some people say you need to sweat out your onions and garlic first (let them saute until brown) but I don't wanna and you don't have to, either.

5. While the meat is cooking stir the dry biscuit ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar, baking soda, and salt) together in a medium-sized bowl.

6. Take your cold butter or lard and cut it into the dry ingredients. To "cut" means to mix it up without making it so hot it want it you don't want to use your hands. I invested in a pastry cutter but a fork with nice big tines works too....*giggity.*  The dough should get crumbly - big chunks of butter is fine and fantastic and perfect so don't stress. Give your meat a quick flip and stir. 

7. Add your buttermilk and stir with a folk just until the ingredients are incorporated. Take your hands and knead the dough a couple times so it comes together.

8. Now this is the part where you'd typically roll this dough ball out and cut little circles out of it and have it be real pretty. That is not what we're doing here, but you're welcome to if you prefer a cleaner biscuit. Me? I prefer a biscuit in my belly. My belly does not give a crap. Set the bowl aside.

9. Flip your meat around and make sure it's nice and cooked. Add the 1/3 cup flour to the pan. Nope, don't drain your meat, that is blasphemy. Your meat/flour mixture will get real thick and you'll be afraid you're going to burn it. You will not, promise. Let the meat absorb the flour. Takes a minute or so.

10. Add your chicken broth and milk. Stir it all up and turn the heat up to medium-high. 

11. Add the frozen veggies and your seasoned salt and pepper. Mix it all up.

12. Now this is the best part. Let the mixture get real hot and bubbly. Keep stirring, don't let it sit. You're waiting for that flour to kick in and make the liquid go from watery to thick and tasty. If it's taking too long, realize you are the master of your kitchen and you can crank the heat up as high as you want to speed things up. Just be careful to keep stirring and scraping along the bottom and sides of the pan so nothing burns. When you can pull your spatula across the mixture and see the bottom of the pan, it's ready.

13. Slide the pan over, off the heat. Now grab that biscuit dough lump (or pretty little circles) and start plopping them on top. You can be as messy or as clean as you'd like.

14. Take the entire pan and put it into the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes - you want the biscuits to get a nice golden brown on top. You might get impatient and take the pan out when they're only a little brown on top and that's ok. It will smell real good so I don't blame you. 

15. Let it sit for a minute as it will be super bubbly and hot....or, be like Jen and burn yourself a little trying to shovel it out onto plates as fast as you possibly can so you can finally eat it. 

Wa-lah :) A healthy, easy, from-scratch dinner that Mamas and Kiddos and Doggies love. Enjoy!

What is your favorite homemade recipe? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

**Can't get enough homesteading? Check out the Homestead Blog Hop, hosted by some of the best and most beautiful bloggers in the self-sufficiency world. This post, and many of my others, are shared on the Homestead Blog Hop each week. From breadmaking to seed selection, home-grown recipes to herbal health, the Homestead Blog Hop has it all! Enjoy! :)

Monday, June 6, 2016

Chipmunks in the Garden: Wildlife Warfare

Birds and sunshine and thunderstorms, oh my! Early summer has arrived, dear readers. My newly-expanded cinder block garden is finally starting to see some action and I am overjoyed to say most of my transplants are kinda sorta growing. 

Now typically this would be my favorite part of the gardening season - it's direct sow time! I love direct sow seeds. Just pop 'em in the ground and bam, you are golden. Well. Kinda. Last year I may have direct sown some sweet corn with popcorn and ruined my harvest by cross breeding the crud out of them BUT we don't need to talk about that! It's a new year :)

And that means, of course, new garden issues. My backyard chipmunk population has exploded. I don't know what these little guys were doing all winter but I swear I cannot step outside without seeing at least five of them at any given time. Their chirps wake me up in the morning. Their scratching in my garage scares the crap out of me when I let the puppy out at night. And during the day? During the day they wage war against my garden.

That's right. The chipmunks are tearing my garden, and consequently my heart, apart.

I had visions of planting enough sweet corn this year to last me the winter. I planned it all out, ordered the very best seeds, and made sure to design the beds so they wouldn't cross-pollinate like they did last year. I went outside a few weeks ago and gently planted well over 100 corn kernels into my raised beds. They sprouted and I rejoiced.

And then. *sniffle* And then.....this. 

One bed, the popcorn, was destroyed. The sweet corn was intact...but my precious multi-colored popcorn was gone. 

I scoured the internet. Squirrels! it said. Squirrels! Or birds! Just cover your seeds!

I went out and spend $150 on hardware cloth and chicken wire. I couldn't bear to start with the expensive stuff first, so I replanted the popcorn and installed a chicken-wire cover with a bamboo rod to keep it from sagging under the weight of a bird or squirrel. Because that's definitely what it was that was eating my corn, right? A bird or squirrel! Yes, yes, that's what the internet told me. A bird or squirrel. I deny being in denial.

There, I remember thinking. I checked the sweet corn beds....they were untouched so I left them alone. Again, my wishful thinking blinded me to the obvious. Maybe they don't like sweet corn, I thought. No Jen. No. You and I both know that is a load of rainbows you're telling yourself so you don't need to face the reality of your situation.

Sure enough, the next morning my sweet corn was gone. Both sweet corn beds, destroyed. I sniffled and checked the popcorn bed. Still good. Whew, those covers must work! I thought. So I replanted and installed covers over the sweet corn beds, too. That awtta fix 'em

By the afternoon the popcorn bed was dug up again. They'd managed to get under my screen, obviously with the use of devil magic. I wasn't ready to accept what was happening so I replanted and weighted down the screen, then left to get groceries. By the time I came home all three beds were dug up in their entirety. 

I'm not going to lie to you here, this is a safe place. I cried. I cried my sweet little eyes out. 

Then I went back online. I found a recipe for homemade chipmunk repellent made from hot peppers, garlic, and water/oil/soap. I mixed up two batches. I replanted all three beds and sprayed the crap out of them. I even sprayed the outside of the beds. When my sprayers got clogged I ripped the lids off and shook the bottles all around like I was shaking gasoline on a cheating lover's nicest dress shirts. I danced with that pepper spray. Then I put my covers back on.....not like I needed 'em, I was sure of it!...and went to bed.

The next morning everything was gone. Again. I felt my heartbeat in my temples, people. 

There comes a time when every gardener, especially one with a short growing season, must admit defeat. After planting over 300 seeds, spending hours concocting ways to secure my beds, and burning the crap outta my hands, eyes, and ego with hot pepper spray, this was absolutely one of those times. My local farmers will be supplying my sweet corn this season.

But I still want to use these beds, you see. And I have other things I need to plant, like my beans and squash. Chipmunks, however, like all seeds. All of them. If my screen weights don't work I am down to two final options....1) trap those buggers or 2) provide them with a food source away from my garden. I don't like either option, to be honest. I'm kinda hoping my chickie babies grow up fast so they can act as my infantry and just go to town on the entire thieving lot. 

And yes, of course there's a little part of me that truly believes they won't like beans..... :)

What would you do, dear readers? Ever had chipmunks in the garden? What did you do to control them? I'd love to hear about your garden pest experiences in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Monday, May 23, 2016

10 Fantastic (and Frugal) Things to Do Alone

I had my very first night alone on Friday. Oh yes. And I don't mean I had a night without the kids, no. I had plenty of those when I was married. What I mean is, I had a night alone. No kids, no man, nobody. That's right. It was just me.

I didn't know what to do with myself at first. I made dinner plans with friends ahead of time, so that was good. Kept me busy Friday night. Saturday morning rolled around though and I thought I would sleep in a little but the new puppy had other ideas. So there I my house....alone.

I went about my business, you know, the standard. Did some yoga. Ate some leftovers while watching House Hunters Renovation on Netflix. Fed the chickens. Fed the puppy. I tried to soak up my alone time. I felt so lucky and free. But then 8AM came and I started to panic. Only a few hours left. Am I using my time wisely? What should I do? What do people do?

Now I know what some of you are thinking. Chick, you are free. Just go do something. Be happy. And I am with you! I was so happy! I'd been waiting for this moment for months! But where does one begin? How does someone who's constantly surrounded by people learn to feel comfortable alone? And if you're like me, how does someone who struggles with anxiety deal with running around public places all by her big-girl self without her cloak of kids? How do I dodge the infamous "Netflix series all day!" black hole that definitely has its place but won't help me grow like I wanna while I have this precious free time?

I'll tell you how I did it. And how I'll do it again. And how you can do it too.

1. Walk
Outside is your best friend. I mean it. You are never alone when you are outside because the outdoors will surround you and swallow you whole. I don't care if you live in the city and are surrounded by steel and people or if you're in the country and are engulfed by fields and flies, the minute you leave the house something visceral just happens to your mind and your body. You notice insects, birds, cars, noises, smells, and even the air as it moves around you. You are not alone when you are outside. You are part of it all.

Saturday morning I packed up the doggy and headed on over to my very favorite nature preserve. We walked the trails all by ourselves. It was glorious. I walked whatever way I wanted. No one needed to use the bathroom or complained about the weather or the bugs. I even stood in one spot and just listened without hearing a single voice. It's good for the soul, walking. Give it a try.

2. Sit still
Sometimes sitting and doing absolutely nothing is the best use of time. I took time on Saturday morning to just sit in my backyard and listen to the birds. I tried to relax and lean my head back and not let my mind wander. I watched the leaves and flowers blow around, I watched my chickens peck at the ground, I watched the light shift slowly from one area of the yard to the next. It was supremely relaxing and gave me time to just wipe my mind clean of the various things I stress over. Kinda like meditating without closing my eyes.

You can do this in town too - more like people-watching than nature-watching but the concept still applies. Allow yourself to think your thoughts but then let them go and immerse yourself in your surroundings. Breath it in and give yourself permission to be still. It's incredibly hard to do at first...almost annoying....but I've heard with practice it gets better and better.

3. Sip at a coffee shop one town over
Everyone has their favorite coffee shop. I don't even drink coffee and I have a preferred place to sit and sip. When you're not meeting someone and you have nobody else's preferences to worry about other than your own, take a risk and head out of town. Allow yourself to learn a new menu, try something for the first time, and don't forget to ask the person behind the counter about the local favorites. Coffee shops are perfect for anxiously-alone-type-people like myself because nobody looks at you. Everyone is either talking or working, so you're the farthest thing from their minds. It's glorious. And delicious.

4. Visit animal shelters
Almost every animal shelter has a need for attention. If you can't contribute your money, see if the shelters in your area need help with animal interaction. Offer to take the dogs for a walk or to play with the cats or clean out the kitten pens. Animals provide an instant jolt of energy and life, one that is unmatched by human interaction. When you've earned their trust they love you for life; it's reflected in every move they make. Therapy-via-animal is a real thing!

5. Explore other libraries
They have this cool library network in my area - if you hold a library card, you're welcome to borrow from any of the surrounding libraries in the area. All libraries, whether you're a cardholder or not, will allow you inside, however. Try checking out a library you've never been to before. Figure out where the best seating areas are. See which giant nonfiction art books they have. Visit the children's section and try and find a favorite book you loved to read as a kid. Libraries are intricate and welcoming and they smell good. A definite must-do if you're alone, it's raining, and you don't need to worry about rushing.

6. Test drive cars
I have yet to do this but it's on my list. Car dealerships are intimidating so this might take some guts, but the payoff is your booty behind the wheel of a 2017 Camaro ZL1. That, my dear readers, is called "rewarded risk." Go in with a plan, a story, and stick with it. I'm checking out cars for my teenage daughter, sir. I just got married and my husband is flying back from business in LA so he told me to come decide what I wanted, sir. I know nothing about cars but really like that red one, sir. I mean really play it up. No car seats to move. No husbands or passengers to scream "oh shit!" Just you, a new car, possibly a creepy car dealer, and the open road.

7. Go on a photo shoot
I love taking pictures. One of my favorite classes in high school was photography. My teacher was the best. He showed me how just shooting something off-center completely changes the way the image makes you feel. Light, angles, perspective - each one invokes a different reaction from the person viewing the photo and I am obsessed with how 10 pictures of the same flower could create 10 different emotions in the same person. So grab yo camera, grab yo phone, and go take some still-life shots. Nature, again, is perfect for this....but so is architecture. You can photograph a mailbox from 3 different angles and end up with a completely different shot. Go nuts!

8. Try your hand a new, time-honored skill
I want to make cheese so bad, it's stupid. I'm always afraid to get started, though, when my kids are running around. I can never find the time. Same thing with soap making. Soap making chemicals are no joke and I don't want to bust those things out around little fingers when I don't know what I'm doing. Alone time is the perfect time to try something for the first time. Nobody is around to laugh at you or scream when you mess up and you have nothing to distract you from the job at hand. Old-school skills like chopping wood, canning food, and even sewing a dress can be incredible learning opportunities.

9. Browse a farmers market
If I had a million dollars it would all be gone after visiting a farmers market. I love buying produce and supporting local vendors. What I don't love is how broke I am afterward. So instead of heading to the market with my usual wad of cash, I like to go empty handed and just check it out. I make mental notes in my head of which booths I like the most and how I could effectively stop using the grocery store and make all my meals from items purchased from the farmers market, instead. It's challenging but fun, especially when you're alone and you can take all the time you want to really figure out what you can cook and spend.

10. Visit 5 National Historic Landmarks
Did you know that every state has a slew of National Historic Landmarks? These places are, according to the National Park Service, "nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States." My state alone has 88 places delegated as a National Historic Landmark. Some of them may be boring, some may be awesome, some may be far, others close, but who cares? You have nobody to answer to but yourself.

Time alone doesn't need to be anxious, or rushed, or filled with chores and visiting others. Time alone can and should be used as just that....time alone. It's time to reconnect with yourself and your surroundings, time to expand your realm of possibilities and interact with the world as an independent individual free of outside influence. Time alone doesn't need be scary, or expensive, or even productive. It just needs to be.

How do you reconnect with yourself, dear readers? Any of you feel anxiety at being alone or are you in your happy place when you get some privacy? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Monday, May 16, 2016

A Great Pyrenees Puppy - Companion, Protector, or Both?

Let's go ahead and talk this out. What should a newly-single, grow-your-own-obsessed, working, writing, and worrying mom of two girls and 12 chickens do to calm down and add a little balance to life?

Well if that woman's name is Jen, the answer is to pile on more stuff.

We adopted a puppy.

Meet Delmi, our "noble protector." We call her Mimi for short. She was born to a purebred Great Pyrenees mama and daddy, both relinquished by their owner to Rescue Me Clifford, a fantastic shelter in southeastern Illinois. 

Now some of you, including myself most days, are asking, "Why?? Why would you get a puppy at this juncture of your life?" And to that I say - I am insane! Oh and also for these reasons:

1. My chickens are good eatin'.
I love my birds. I raise them up and hold them and coo at them and let them poo on my shoes and jeans. I name them and sweet talk them and carry them around and train them to come when called. I put lavender in their nesting boxes and the absolute best apple cider vinegar in their water. I am tired of losing them to predators and would love a protective animal to help guard my substantial backyard.

2. There's a hole in our bucket.
Divorce means different things to different people. To me and my family, it means quite a bit of loss. There's a hole. A hole at the dinner table, a hole in the weekends, a hole in the car, a hole in our lives. My oldest is particularly struggling and I decided therapy-via-fluffball would be a good route to take. So far she is loving her little puppy and I think I've made the right choice. What I didn't expect was how much that hole in my own heart would be filled by Delmi's presence. Her Pyr smile and wiggle butt and sweet smell makes my morning and my night. I feel better every time I look at her....and that, considering my traditionally-utilitarian viewpoint on animals, is quite magical. 

So with those two driving factors in mind, I'd started checking my local resources back in February and trying to figure out a way to get a livestock guardian dog without paying out the yim-yam and needing to fall back on a breeder. Side note: I believe breeders have their place in this world, but I've always been a rescue mama, and I will always be a rescue mama. It's just how I roll. The way I finally stumbled upon Delmi was actually quite divine.

I was scanning my Facebook feed one day when I noticed a post from my Sustainability Group's feed. A lady had written something like, "I don't know where my previous post went and I'm sorry if I broke the rules, but I thought I'd repost in case it was an accident - purebred Great Pyrenees pups were just born and given to Rescue Me Clifford, they have great transportation too, just thought I'd mention it...."

I obviously freaked out and applied for a puppy right then and there, without even reading the full requirements from the shelter. I later apologized....then sent them an email.....then a couple Facebook messages....then eventually called (4 times)...because when I want something, I go gaga psycho stupid a little over-the-top. 

I didn't think I would be chosen. I watched the Rescue Me Clifford Facebook Page like a hawk day in and day out, waiting for updates, and watched as litter after litter of other puppies were featured and snatched up quicker than you could say "awwww!" I figured by the time the Pry pups were ready to go home, there was no way I'd be chosen. I went over my application answers in my head over and over. I had chickens! And small kids! Maybe they didn't like that I put Zeus down last spring? Maybe they were worried about the cat? Maybe my fence wasn't high enough? Maybe they wanted someone more local?

My mama and my best friend didn't hear the end of it for a good three days straight. And then...finally.....I got the call. My application was accepted! They wanted to know which puppy I wanted and suggested taking either a female or the smallest male as they would likely be the last to get adopted out. I remembered my big girl liking one of the small white females. I was granted my request. When my big girl came home from school, the shelter had updated the female puppy's online pictures with a tag that said, "I am Anya's dog." I had not seen my daughter smile like that in a long, long time. We drove out to get the wee little white marshmallow and we've been loving on her ever since.

But here is where my story really gets unique. 

In all of my research, I had yet to read anything about training a Great Pyrenees to be both companion (indoor) and guardian (outdoor). Matter of fact, everyone shared very strong opinions against allowing a livestock guardian dog into the house. Also, pet-only-proponents specifically state Great Pyrenees cannot be trained because they are stubborn and you just have to deal with their bad habits. Here are, according to the internet, some of the rules....and then of course, Jen's Rebuttals. Where would a Flaws Forgiven post be without some of those ;)

1. Make the pup sleep with the stock from Day 1.
Jen's Rebuttal: I can't have a puppy sleep with my chickens because my chicken home is not large enough for the puppy. I do not have a nice warm barn, I have a hoop house. Plus, I am certain it would anger my hens and I simply cannot have them all worked up. It scrambles the eggs.

2. Ensure the pup's parents are livestock guardian dogs.
Jen's Rebuttal: I adopted my puppy and am so, so happy I did. Too many doggies born and tossed, in my humble opinion. So I have no idea what her parents did - and that is not her fault. Sometimes parents are terrible and kids are great! Or kids are great and parents are terrible...right? 

3. Keep them outside.
Jen's Rebuttal: An isolated dog is an unsocialized dog. An unsocialized dog, especially around children, is a dangerous dog. I cannot possibly expect a dog that does not spend time with me and my kids to listen to me and my kids. I want her to bond to me so she listens to me. Would it be great for her to bond with the chickens too? Yes....but you know what would be better? Earning her trust and respect so she will listen to me. Thousands of animals are trained each year to override their instincts....the key? Training. And since I don't live outside...that means she stays indoors.

4. Never leave them alone with your livestock until they are at least a year to two years old
Jen's Rebuttal: This is just a huge contradiction to rule number 1. So should we all sleep in a hoop house together? Or....should I keep the puppy kenneled all the time? Or.....should I keep them separate? Here's what I've been doing - puppy stays by my side, always. She comes with me to the chicken house. She comes with me inside. She comes with me when I feed the chicks and change their bedding. She is always with me and supervised....but that means we break rule #1. 

5. Tie chickens around the pup's neck if she kills one.
Jen's Rebuttal: I sought out this dog for two reasons - I love my chickens and I wanted some love for my oldest baby. There is no way on God's green earth she will ever be ok with seeing one of her dead chickens tied and rotting around her puppy's neck. Talk about reversing the therapy!

6. Your Great Pyrenees will never listen to you or will do so rarely because it is their breed and their nature and that is that so don't fight it. 
Jen's Rebuttal: I think this is kinda crap. I hate breed profiling. Can we agree that every dog is different and that predispositions are great and all, but not the say-all, end-all of dog ownership? I've noticed people in this camp like to only point out the, "Great Pyrenees are stubborn and aloof and don't care so you better watch it," instead of "Great Pyrenees were bred to guard animals and you will be fine." Don't come at me with yo drama, dawg!

7. If you love your dog, you cannot leave it outside. It's abuse.
Jen's Rebuttal: I think leaving a dog outside who is visibly disturbed and suffering is abuse. I also think, however, some dogs love being outside and prefer it to being indoors. I have no idea which way Delmi will swing as she's still so small, but my hope is that I can create a sense of security both inside and outside so she may enjoy both. 

What's a Jen to do? I can't follow the livestock guardian dog "rules,".....but I'm also expecting her to protect my birds, which means I don't follow the standard "pet dog" rules, either. 

So you know what I'm going to do instead? I'm going to blaze my own trail. I am going to love on my pup and teach her right from wrong and strive to create a relationship with my doggy that results in both companion and protector, love and strength. I will teach her to stay away from my chickens (because everything we teach dogs goes against "instincts," people) and I will teach her to love on my kiddos. I will teach her where she can poop and I will teach her how to walk on a leash. I will work with this baby girl each and every day until we get it right. I will earn her respect and I will learn to trust her. I will teach her to be an indoor livestock guardian dog....something as rare as a unicorn....and I will do it with love and affection. I don't know about you, but she looks like she has what it takes :) 

Get ready to hear all about my attempt to bridge the two sides, dear readers, because this is sure to be a learning experience. Welcome to the family, little Mimi. We love you.

What is your favorite dog-training technique? Any Great Pyr owners out there? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)

Monday, May 9, 2016

My Buckwheat Hull Bed Adventure: A Review

So as some of you know, my girls have two homes with Daddy, one with Mommy. We've had to divide and conquer stacks of belongings and weed our way through countless online ads for used furniture. All of this administrative busy work is necessary, though, to keep me from getting lost in my own thoughts. I welcome it. I welcome the craziness of moving toys and searching for sustainable home furnishings.

And can I please tell you, if you're ever looking for a great way to keep yourself busy for countless (and I mean countless) hours, look no further than researching an affordable, eco-friendly, organic mattress.

I think I've read close to 50 articles on peace-love-dope hippie bed options. I've scoured website after website and my eyes are still blurry from the seemingly-endless array of latex, rubber, cotton, and of course, foam mattresses available on the market today. Each of them had a price tag well over $1k for a twin. I was checking out full sizes's just me now. And my Daryl Dixon pillow. I'm strangely ok with that.

Just as I thought I would need to resort to toxic, off-gassing mattresses, the glory of all glories fell upon me and I read about buckwheat hull mattresses.

Buckwheat what?

Buckwheat hulls.

So get this - buckwheat is a grain, right? People eat it kinda like quinoa or amaranth. You can bake bread with it. It's a great cover crop - farmers can use it between growing seasons to keep soil healthy and weeds at bay. The little tiny black outer shell on the buckwheat grain (seed) is called the hull. They are shells, that's it. They smell like bread. And they make a "swish" noise when you put a bunch together in a bag.

Now why would anyone want to sleep on buckwheat? 

Buckwheat hulls are strong...they don't squish under your weight when you sleep. Your body, with all of its curves and corners, is supported. They're also great for those with allergies. No synthetic fibers or feathers or chemicals or flame retardants. The hulls allow a ton of air to pass through, too - dust mites don't like airy quarters. Last cool little tidbit? Buckwheat hulls do not retain heat. That means if you turn into a sweaty hog like I do sometimes, you won't need to worry about it while sleeping :)

But the real question - is it comfortable? Like, in real life, Kevin? Well dear readers, I'm about to tell you. That's right. I bought a buckwheat hull mattress kit and I've been sleeping on it for two weeks.

So first, I need to note, I was not paid a dime for this review. I did not get any discounts or perks or any special treatment .... it's just been such a cool experience, I had to write about it. Of course. 

I ordered my DIY mattress kit and buckwheat hulls from Open Your Eyes Bedding.

The kit comes with organic cotton sleeves to put the hulls in. My hulls came in 5 large white bags, all delivered to my house via a sweaty UPS driver (giggity). I had my sleeves, I had my buckwheat, all I needed was a partner to help me build the mattress.

So I called upon the power of my sweet little 4th grader :) She helped me every step of the way.

We filled the little pod sleeves.

Wove them together one by one.

Row by row.

And then - done! :)

That's great Jen, but how does it feel?

In two words? Freaking fantastic. 

It is VERY different from a traditional mattress. You know all those times you've ran into a room and took a flying leap onto the bed? Yeah, well if you try and do that with this mattress, you'll break a hip. There is absolutely zero squish factor. If you punch it, it punches back. That being said, when you get into bed you kinda wriggle into your space and it's awesome. I wriggle my butt and shoulders into the hulls and make little grooves and it is glorious because the rest of the hulls form to my body. Like a lil' buckwheat hug.

Also the hulls smell fantastic. Reminds me of the bakeries in Germany. I love it. I wake up and smell like bread and I love every single minute of it.

It's been two weeks of awesomeness and I'll never go back. I'm getting one for my allergy-suffering big girl. Organic, affordable in comparison to the other options out there, and sold by a small business owner who actually does her own customer service. Could not be more happy with my decision to go buckwheat.

Have you ever considered alternative mattresses? What's holding you back? I'd love to hear about it and your experiences in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)


Monday, April 25, 2016

Growing a Garden: What to Do With Your Bounty (Recipe Included!)

We've done it, dear readers! We've made it through April, traditionally one of the wackiest weather months of springtime. The worst of winter's frigidity is behind us and we can finally take a long, lasting look at campfires, tank tops, and of course, our gardens.

We've talked about it all in this series - planning our gardens, some of our very best garden helpers, and even what to do while we wait for seedlings to sprout. We've gone from seed to sprout to outdoor living tapestry and soon, very soon, our plants will reward our efforts with a bountiful harvest.

Now if you're anything like me, you have visions of homemade soups and pies, fresh salads everyday, and hand-stirred sauces all summer. I remember the first time I planted my garden.....the minute the seeds were in I immediately started daydreaming about how fantastic life was gonna be when I didn't need to buy groceries. I predicted my garden would produce enough to feed me and my girls from May to October.

That, I quickly learned, is not the way a garden works. Unlike JenDreamland, tomatoes don't pop off the vine for months at a time. They all ripen at once, fast and furious, filling your counters and shelves and baskets and buckets. An avalanche of tomatoes. Tomatoes for days. Tomato parades.

If this is your first year gardening, be prepared to truly be blown away by how short a particular vegetable is actually "in season." Most of us are truly privileged to have 24/7 produce access in our grocery stores - but that is not the real world. Such year-round veggie and fruit access comes at a huge cost, mostly in terms of non-renewable resources like fuel, farmers, community, and our ozone layer....and this is why I garden, you see. I want to stop needing the grocery store completely.

But that means learning how to manage my harvest and preparing for an overabundance of one or two particular vegetables every few weeks.

Preservation is awesome and a necessary part of stashing away your fruits and veggies - you can extend your harvest by making big batches of your tomato sauce, for example, and then freezing or canning it for consumption later. I talk about food preservation at length in my Self Sufficiency series - you can check out my very best preservation tips here in my "5 Final Tips" post and here in my Self-Sufficiency with Food post. I'm also completely gaga about canning my own bone broth. This stuff barely lasts a season at my house because when winter hits, all I want is to make soups, soups, and more soups.

But hands-down, my absolute #1 primo favorite star-player numero uno harvest management technique?

Eat it.

EAT your food!

We talked in the very beginning of this series about how important it is to grow foods you love to eat.....well, this is why! When the harvest comes in, you need to love the food you created because you'll be eating it with every meal, every day, until the harvest has ended and moved on to another one of your veggies or fruits.

Have an abundance of cucumbers? Make sure every single meal has a cucumber involved. Snack on cucumbers. Add cucumbers to drinks and smoothies. Fill your belly with the fruit of the season and get full on food from your own backyard! This was the way of our ancestors and of farmers everywhere before the invention of refrigeration changed our world. When it was pepper season, that's what you ate...weeks and weeks of peppers. Each plant's harvesting season was once as important to life and mind and body and soul as Christmas or springtime - you looked forward to it, relished it, waited with bated breath for the day when your table would again be covered in strawberries.

I was originally incredibly intimidated by this theory of eating according to these food seasons. In-season-only produce from my garden or from farmers around me? On TOP of organic and truly natural and not covered, coated, or mixed with other ingredients? It was overwhelming. How could I make spinach palatable for my kiddos? How many recipes could I actually find for apples or corn? When were my plants supposed to be ready for harvest, anyway? What if nothing was ready for harvest until September?

Valid concerns, right? Let me address....well.....myself.

This past Christmas I was gifted an amazing book called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. In it she beautifully and creatively describes the natural progression of our yearly harvests *cue Forrest Gump voice* in a way that I can understand them. Check this out.

The order in which our garden will mature and be ready for harvest follows the order in which a plant (any plant) grows.

Let me explain. Picture a crabapple tree, mkay? Picture this progression of events:

1. Her branches start each spring with little leaves.
2. The leaves are soon accompanied by pink flower heads.
3. Soft fruits start to bud.
4. The soft fruits start to grow and ripen into tart orbs.
5. The fruits grow large, hard, and mature (giggity) before falling away.
6. The tree begins to dedicate her energy to her roots, saving up nutrients for the winter.

Now take that image and overlap it with your garden.

What are the first things to grow on the tree? The leaves. What types of plants are grown for their edible leaves? Spinach. Kale. Lettuce. And wouldn't you know it.....these are the first plants ready for harvest each and every year. Leafy plants. Leaves emerge first and are therefore the first to mature. Early springtime is leaf time. Get your dinner menus ready for leafy greens!

Next we see flower heads. Big, bountiful flower heads. What types of veggies are compact, delicious flower heads (and also coincidentally kinda resemble....heads)? Cauliflower! Broccoli! Cabbage! I love me some cauliflower mash!

Then we see those cute, little, soft-skinned fruits start to form. Cucumbers. Zucchini. Cherries. Peas. Green beans. Strawberries.

The tree's fruit gets a little bigger and a little more mature. Peppers. Peaches. Eggplant. Grapes. Tomatoes. Corn. Summery, delicious foods - from flower to fork.

And then the fruits ripen to full maturity and their skin hardens to protect the seeds within them. Apples. Pumpkins. Melons. Dried beans.

Finally, the fruits fall away and the roots become the focus. Potatoes. Carrots. Turnips. Radishes.

The harvest cycle of your garden follows the life cycle of our plants. Isn't that the coolest thing? I am a huge, huge fan of Barbara's book. Check it out if you're interested in eating seasonally. And no I did not get paid to say that. The book is just that good.

Once I figured out how to kinda predict when my plants would harvest (or at least in which order), I needed to figure out how I was going to cook them. I love seeing those kids who bite into tomatoes like they're apples, but mine would rather donate all their toys to charity than bite into any vegetable like it's a fruit. I needed to get creative.

I have three secret weapons.

#1: Farm Fresh and Fast: This book was designed for people who sign up to receive CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) boxes. These boxes of produce often vary in content and follow the naturally, a cookbook designed with that in mind is quite priceless indeed for our situation. The authors organize every recipe according to the recipe's primary vegetable or fruit. They also break down different sauces and ways of combining spices so you become more in-tune with cooking in general and can cook on the fly when needed.

#2: The Moosewood Cookbook: The author took her real-life recipes from her real-life restaurant and hand copied them (for real) into this glorious book. She included tons of fresh recipes using healthy ingredients and easy-to-follow instructions. The sketches throughout the book make the process of cooking just that much more enjoyable. A fantastic way to create veggie-based dishes from scratch is to simply open this book up to any page. Live on the edge!

#3: Veggie Rice Skillet: This is my standby recipe for extra veggies. It is super cheap, especially if you omit the meat or use ground organic turkey instead of pork.

Jen's Veggie Rice Skillet

  • Organic brown rice (I use about 2 cups of dry rice - it comes out to about 4-5 cups of rice when cooked)
  • 1 lb of meat (I use pasture-raised, local ground pork or ground turkey)
  • Veggies of choice (My favorites include garlic, bell peppers, onions, carrots, corn, tomatoes, beans, spinach, and cauliflower)
  • Seasoned salt
  • About 2 tablespoons of butter or oil
  • Cheese! Cheddar, Parmesan, feta, whatever you'd like! (optional)
  1. Cook the rice first (it takes the longest). You can cook brown rice by adding 2 cups of water for every 1 cup of dry rice, then bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and let it cook for 40-ish minutes. Check a little rice grain to make sure it's done...when it's at that perfect texture, take the pot off the heat, cover it again, and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Wa-lah! Set aside.
  2. While the rice is resting, cook the meat over medium heat. 
  3. While the meat is cooking chop your veggies up.
  4. Add your chopped veggies and your oil or butter to your meat. Let it all simmer and sizzle and get nice and soft. 
  5. Mix your rice into the meat and veggie mixture. Taste it!
  6. Add seasoned salt to your preferred level of saltiness.
  7. Remove from heat, put on some plates, add some cheese on top, and then eat it!
And with that, we're at the conclusion of our Growing a Garden series. I've truly enjoyed our journey from seed to supper table, my lovely readers. I cannot wait to hear about your gardening adventures this year and if you haven't yet taken the plunge, I hope I've inspired you to reconsider. Gardening, eating, cooking - they are the simple, but beautiful pleasures in life. I promise if you try it, Sam I Am, you will like it. 

Did you miss a Growing a Garden series post? Don't worry! Click the links below to catch up!

I would love to hear about your favorite seasonal recipe! Have you considered eating according to the seasons? What challenges have you faced? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)