31 August 2012

A Special Occasion

Yesterday was a day like most others.  We worked hard, fed the animals, tried to keep cool.  To our surprise though, Jack came home a bit early and that was the start of a special occasion.

There wasn't any real reason for our fun-filled afternoon and evening other than Jack's early arrival.  Usually we don't see him until dinnertime when his classes and homework are complete so we decided to venture to the antique carousel and take one last ride before it closes for the season.
Jack also borrowed some movie equipment from school for a Labor day party and we decided to test it out.  I'm sure I'll regret it today since the girls were allowed to stay up an hour past their bedtime but they were too young to enjoy an outdoor movie the last time we had one.  Still, we had fun lounging on our lawn, listening to the honking flocks of Canadian geese fly by light of the bright moon .
Even the cats mosied over to join us, even if it was just to try to steal some ice cream and take advantage of little kids willing to scratch their backs.
As I said, there wasn't any real reason for our special occasion.  It was, however, a much needed break from routine.  Definitely something we should do more often.

Tips: Drywall Sanding

If you're like me, you tend to sand drywall in  fairly random fashion, sometimes in more than one room in a day.  That makes it hard to keep track of (I think I get bored sanding the same wall and keep it interesting by moving around a lot, haha!).  I've found the easiest solution to remember what has or hasn't been sanded or needs to be fixed is with a simple mark of a pencil.  A small check means it's finished or a circle around a problem area that needs to be re-puttied.  The graphite is easily hidden once the paint goes up and won't seep through like pen ink or marker.

Hope it's a helpful tip the next time you're drywalling!

30 August 2012

Chicken and Vegetable Bake

This is a quick, healthy dinner that can be ready in under thirty minutes.  Plus, it's got a bit of a kick so it's not just any ordinary meal of chicken and veggies.  Serve it with buttered pasta, mashed potatoes or rice and some cut fruit and you've got a complete meal!


4 chicken breasts
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon fennel
1 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 green onion sprigs, chopped
1 bag frozen vegetables

Preheat the oven to 450F.  Mix all the ingredients except the chicken and veggies.  After combined, place chicken in marinade and coat thoroughly.
Run the frozen veggies in a colander under hot water for a minute to thaw.  Place in the bottom of a buttered baking dish.  Pour the chicken and marinade over the top.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.

29 August 2012

A Few Goodbyes

Murphy, Aloysius and some of the hens
The past few weeks has seen a few goodbyes, some intentional, some an unwelcome surprise.
It looks like we've had a repeat customer.  Whoever ate Jelly Bean a few weeks back returned and stole Aloysius from us.  I noticed his absence early after a strangely quite morning devoid of repeated crowing.  Though he was starting to act like a rooster, harassing the hens and occasionally pretending he was going to spar with someone, he was pretty well liked.  And unlike our second rooster, Robbie who was a coward (he let twenty hens get eaten before he went missing) and a bully (he would stalk me across the property to spur my legs when I wasn't paying attention and also loved kicking little kids in the back--what a jerk), Aloysius did a pretty good job watching over the flock and making our farm feel a bit more quaint with his random crows.
Claire trying to untangle a skiddish Murphy.
I have also been debating lately whether or not to cull our animal population.  With a move at the end of the year most likely imminent, I've been trying to figure out the logistics of moving a small herd of animals.  I decided to go ahead and place an ad for Murphy on Craigslist.  Though he was handsome like his father, Magnus, he had become too much to handle.  Remember the Skip It toy?  He was an extreme version for anyone who walked too close.  He'd tear around like a pride of lions was after him and if someone didn't jump over his line, he'd knock them flat on their backs.  I felt a twinge of sadness going out in the early morning to load him into the truck.  Then he managed to whip my hand with the end of his line, leaving a bloody bruise with a tender, swollen hematoma on my hand.  It was a stinging confirmation that I'd made the right decision.  A Hispanic family bought him for his wool, so he will have a fairly easy life after living here with us.
We are getting close to saying farewell to our big red barn.  Like the house, it was in sad shape when we bought the property and without thousands of dollars, we were unable to save it.  It will live on though in our house--we have used it for everything from our kitchen floor to our stairway banister, decorative support beams and homemade crafts.  We've also been selling truckloads to all kinds of people who appreciate the history behind the structure.  The wood has been bought for everything from crafts to furniture making and decorative walls.  One man even took a truckload to use in an indie music video he was directing.  Most of the barn wood will find a good home after we pull the edifice down in a week or two.

This is the last week the Story City antique carousel is open.  It has been restored down to the last detail and has been thrilling our family since Evelyn could sit up.  It's not a tame shopping mall carousel either--it goes high and fast to the old-timey tunes of an old music box and banging drum.  This year we even went ahead and bought a pass since the girls enjoy it so much.  It will be sad to leave such a beautiful, fun and unique part of Iowa history that's only ten minutes from us.
I think I'm getting nostalgic before we've even left but when I'm not rushing to finish the next work project, I frequently tear up, thinking how much I'll miss this place when we move on.  For now, we'll just try and enjoy it and make the best of our goodbyes.

28 August 2012

Oatmeal Crunchies

These slender little cookies are crunchy and are able to satisfy any sweet tooth, sans chocolate if that's what you're looking for (for one, it's a lot easier letting kids have a treat without resulting in a big chocolately mess in the end, haha!).  Hope you enjoy them!

1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup butter (can substitute shortening)
1/2 Tablespoon vanilla

Cream ingredients together.

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 Tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon powder
Add in to the creamed sugar mix.  Blend well.

1 1/2 cups regular oatmeal
1/2 cup toffee bits
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Combine with the previous ingredients.  Form into small balls, dip tops in sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake at 375F for 8 to 12 minutes.  Be careful not to overbake (the cookies will be thin and slightly soft when pulled from the oven but will crisp up when cooled).  Place on a cooling rack or paper bag immediately.
Don't forget the milk!

27 August 2012

What Color?

We are down to painting the final room!  The question is: What color?
Um...don't mind the mess.
I've admitted before that I do not have a knack for decorating and would appreciate advice or input anyone may offer.  The bedroom directly attached to the front room is a subtle but cheery green and the dining room is a neutral cream color.
Um...don't mind the mess in the girls' room either.
Should we carry the green over?  The inside front door will be repainted white but when open will be red--will it be too "Christmasy"?  Or would the cream look better?  Or maybe another color all together?

We'd like to stick with something light since the room isn't enormous and would help the house feel more airy.  Any suggestions?

(pretty please)

The Last Mess

Saturday started with some visiting family helping tear down the barn but the weather surprised us and actually started to rain.  So, we just moved the demolition inside (can't pass up good help when it's here!).
The front room needs the most attention.  All twelve other rooms have been painstakingly drywalled, sanded, painted, floored, re-windowed, trimmed, etc and now it's time for one final room.    Before I painted though, we decided to open the area up a bit and get rid of the rundown old "front" door.  It went to good use and was actually traded for a pair of springy dwarf Nigerian goats.
Waiting while the girls hurried and grabbed a few toys out of their room.
The whole process really didn't take all that long.  It was just a matter of figuring out where to cut and making sure there were no electrical wires crossing the blade's path.  Then he sawzalled away.
Not sure what was so funny but they got the last of the wall sections down in one piece!
I'm amazed the girls slept for three hours next to the pounding and sawing but there wasn't much left to do once they roused from their slumber.  Evelyn didn't care much for the saw but plugging her ears is more of a fad at her age--she claps her hands over her ears when she hears a train whistle blow a mile away.
Once the hole was chopped out of the wall, we used a sturdy beam from the barn for decoration and support.  It'll take a bit of hand planing, a lot of sanding and some varnish to bring out the natural beauty of the wood underneath the 100+ years of weathering but it will be worth the effort in the end.
I love that both the dining room and the front room--destined to be a sewing/craft area--are so open.  The girls obviously love it too--they keep tearing from one end of the house to the other, shrieking and giggling the entire length.
Tearing down the wall was the last big mess requiring me to tote out muck buckets full of rubble.  Though sometimes doing "the last ____" is bittersweet, like enjoying our last summer here, there is nothing even remotely sad about the last mess.

Nope.  We're happy as could be!

26 August 2012

It's Been A While

Yesterday we finally saw enough rainfall to produce puddles.  While Evelyn used to love tearing around in the rainfall, it was Claire's first time.  They went out with Aunt Holly and had a grand ol' time.
It's been a while since we've been able to play in the rain and were grateful for it.

24 August 2012

Ready, Set, Paint!

I've moved most of the home improvements to the main floor and yesterday, focused on our downstairs bathroom.  I'm always amazed what a fresh coat of paint pre-dirty-little-children-fingers-smeared-all-over-the-wall will do for a room.

Here's a better photo of the color, which was a mistinted can we snagged for $5.  Oh, and the giant grass spider that decided he also liked my paint job.
Only one more room to paint, knocking our to-do list down from a million and one to just a million things left to do!

23 August 2012

Difficult Decisions

With a move at the end of the year looking more and more inevitable, we are facing some difficult decisions.  We always knew our time at this farmstead would be temporary but I am surprised how much I have grown to love it.  At times I have been known to monologue to Jack that I wouldn't sell this place to just anybody--they'd have to be the kind of people that would take good care of the property.  Really though, it'll most likely come down to whoever offers the highest bid.  They could level the entire place and grow seven more acres of corn and I wouldn't have any say about it.

The real agonizing decisions have to be made in regards to some of our animals.  Though we don't know where we are headed just yet, Jack and I both have our fingers crossed and are fervently praying we can find another little acreage to support our desired lifestyle.  The problem is whether or not we'll be able to find it by the time Jack starts a job after graduation.
Having farm animals complicates life in a lot of ways.  Other than the day to day drama and entertainment they provide, we can't exactly pack up goats and chickens and sheep the way dogs and cats or even horses can travel.  So, the question becomes what to do with them while we transition?  The chickens could stay at either my mother's or mother-in-law's and horses can easily be boarded but what about four flighty sheep and two incredibly athletic goats that can escape just about any enclosure?  I toss back and forth, depending on the day and how the animals behave on either selling them or keeping them until we know our exact plans.  Having a baby nearly due and racing to finish home improvements doesn't help much either.  On the plus side, we're lucky that five of the six ruminants are female and if anyone values females, it's people raising livestock.  It most likely wouldn't be difficult to find a suitable home for them.  Still, it would be weird to wake up in the morning without an alarm clock made of bleating and baa-hing accompanied by the occasional shrill crow.
Does anyone have any input?  Are you rooting for us to figure out a way to keep the animals or do you think we'd be wiser to place them in good homes and start over when we have another acreage?  We're wringing our hands over here, fretting about what to do--HELP!

21 August 2012

Don't Kid Yourself

Yep, that's construction adhesive smeared and dried on my couch.  Good thing the couch was free...
I think sometimes I give off the wrong impression about living on our acreage, like it's glamorous and all flowers blooming and happy little animals skipping about like they do for animated princesses.

Don't kid yourself.
Lately, this is an example of a typical meal for us.  Without a garage to store our tools, the dining room table almost always is a home improvement materials hot spot because every day (save for Sundays when we take a day of rest), we're going to need access to the items.  More than once, Evelyn has run to the table and shouted at me to move the drill out of her way.  Honestly, I don't blame her.  I am looking forward to the day when I can eat a meal without a paint bucket as the centerpiece.

Then there are the few rooms that remain as of yet unfinished.  I am so grateful for places like our master bedroom, nursery or upstairs bath that are completed.  However, there are a few rooms that remain in dire need of attention like the downstairs bathroom and the front porch room, destined to be my sewing area.  It's incredibly difficult to look at all of the nice trim work and painting I've done in one room only to see out of the corner of my eye the ragged edges of an incomplete doorway that still needs to be fixed.  I'm trying to see the progress we've made rather than the work that still needs to be done.
I could go on and on about the constant dust and dirty home, the date nights spent at a home improvement stores or being constantly scratched up, bruised, sore and having all my fingernails broken from wrestling unruly or scared animals but that's not really the point.  The point is, whenever I feel the urge to rant about the hardships about living on this modest acreage, I remember that every lifestyle has its challenges.

I once lived in a huge city in a rundown apartment where there are barely even scruffy patches of grass to enjoy.  The lack of open space or anything green was incredibly difficult for me.  And as much as my animals drive me nuts at times, the only animal I befriended there was a scraggly stray cat I named Root Beer.  Life in the suburbs can be equally frustrating trying to keep up with the Jones', hearing your neighbor's every conversation or worrying that they might do something drastic, like paint their house a vibrant lilac purple.
Of all the difficulties this lifestyle can have, I'd choose rural living any day.

Okay, almost any day.

19 August 2012

Year of the Baby

I said it once and will say it again: this is the year of the baby.
Not only are dozens of friends and family (and myself!) expecting or have had a baby this year, our homestead has seen its own increase in animals.
Milly had Murphy earlier this year, about a month before we returned from Jack's Texas internship and when Matilda didn't quickly follow suite, we figured she'd had a miscarriage or simply hadn't conceived.  Imagine our surprise to find a new little lamb at the house when we returned home from a quick out-of-town trip this weekend!
To add to our delight, the little lamb is snowy white with a prominent inky black mark on her back AND it's another ewe.  I enjoyed Magnus and Murphy is a laughable psycho but I really do prefer ewes.
The lamb is practically helpless to our affection.  She can't even outrun the girls but in a few weeks, she'll be able to sprint past them with ease.  It's amazing how fast sheep grow--Murphy is only four months older than the new lamb but easily outweighs her by fifty pounds.
We'll call her Marny in keeping with tradition in using uncommon, sometimes slightly ridiculous 'M' names for our sheep.  Marny's another mouth to feed but is also good practice in being gentle for the girls who will have a new sister within a matter of weeks.  After the past few days of dealing with naughty animals, a healthy baby lamb is a welcome surprise.
And as my Aunt Michele wisely pointed out the spirit of Jelly Bean (and Magnus for that matter) lives on in our tiny white lamb.


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