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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Our Homestead Advent Journey to Christmas

Thanksgiving is over and many people have cleaned up the turkey and strung up the lights. This is something you won't see at our house. At first appearance you may think us to be worst than Scrooge or nastier than the Grinch. But just you wait until December 14 which is Gaudete Sunday our house is as bright as the next!

Advent reflections.
We weren't always like this, we felt the pressure to be just as cheery and decorative as the rest. We too would deck our halls and blast the carols as soon as the Thanksgiving feast was cleared.  Upon doing this there always seemed to be something lacking and by the time Christmas actually came we were sick of carols and tired of bumping into the mistletoe. 

About 12 years ago I wondered why instead of the holiday cheer I actually felt blue. I blamed this lack of peace and joy on the commercialization and gift exchange focus of this beautiful holiday. Although this was part of it something else seemed to be missing. Despite our efforts to focus on our Catholic tradition of Advent it seemed to be lost in tinsel, lights and Christmas confections. Like my usual self I did not want to seem defeated or just give in to what everyone else was doing. I had to do some soul searching and research. What is the purpose of Christmas joy if mom and dad were yelling Bah Humbug? Even though there seemed to be financial and social pressures around our family we needed to make it more personal and meaningful with the coming of our Savior. 
Our Celtic Advent wreath
on our dining room table.

Tomorrow is the official start of Advent. Advent is a time of penance. A time we Christians are suppose to prepare and wait patiently for the arrival of Christ on Earth. This is why in the Church you will see no decorations and the vestments are purple. The Advent wreath has 3 purple candles and 1 pink/rose candle. Advent is the counterpart of Lent. While the season seems to be filled with parties, food and shopping our home takes this time to pause. Things light up on Gaudete Sunday when we light the rose colored candle symbolizing the 1/2 way point of Advent. This special Sunday moment is to remind and encourage us to continue our preparations. Our preparations for that special day when God became man. Gaudete comes from the Latin "Gaudete in Domino Semper" from Philippians 4:4 meaning "Rejoice in the Lord Always".

Each year during each individual week we seem to grow in a deeper appreciation and joy of this wonderful feast day. It is way different than the old us and different from what the rest of the world is doing. This tradition does not have to be just for Catholics. Trying to make things simpler in a busy world is good isn't it?  I realized that the slow simple build up to that special day made for a more peaceful season.

While I am typing this I realize it may actually be easier for you readers and myself to actually show you our week by week journey from Advent to Christmas.

Week One: 
The girls prepare the Jesse Tree.
  • Clean and organize the house. Keep things simple. Meals remain simple it is almost like Thanksgiving was the Fat Tuesday of Advent. We eat a lot of soup and bread at this time.
  • Set up our Advent wreath on the dining room table (light the first purple candle). Select prayers or readings for the family prayer time. 
  • Set up our Jesse Tree (our is just a felt tree with felt ornaments) This starts on December 1 If you do not know what this is click on the word and it with explain it in the link.
  • We also draw names with our children. Each person is to do small sacrifices and secretly help that person throughout the Advent season. It is to help the children and us to focus on doing things for others that does not require money. 
  • Next is the hard part  - NO CHRISTMAS MUSIC yet. It is hard for us because it is fun and everywhere but we try to stay away for it for a little while longer (O Come O Come Emmanuel is allowed)
  • Get Christmas mass cards and picture of kids ready.
  • Go to Christmas Choir practice.

Week Two:
  • Continue our prayers and reading for the Advent wreath (light second purple candle)
  • By week two we should have several ornaments and have read your bible verses for our Jesse Tree.
  • Put up outdoor lights but DO NOT LIGHT them yet.
  • Still no Christmas music. (O Come O Come Emmanuel is allowed)
  • Bake cookies and get gifts ready.
  • Put up Christmas Tree but leave it bare for the next week. This is actually pretty cool to see a slow progression of the decorations. 
  • Go to Christmas Choir practice.
Week Three: Gaudete Sunday
  • Continue our prayers and readings for Advent wreath (light rose/pink candle).
  • Still continuing the Jesse Tree (starting to see more ornaments)
  • Outdoor lights on!
  • Decorate Christmas Tree!
  • Christmas Music focusing on hymns.
  • Continue baking and gift preparations.
  • Set up Nativity (DO NOT PUT BABY JESUS IN yet)
  • Go to Christmas Choir practice.
Week Four:
  • Final stretch for our prayers and readings for our Advent wreath (last purple candle lit)
  • Final stretch of our Jesse Tree.
  • Last of the Decorations completed (except for Jesus in the nativity)
  • Gift and meal preparations finalized.
  • Get ready to sing at midnight Mass.
Christmas Day: Music, lights, food and finally put Baby Jesus in the manger.

Hopefully by the end of Advent we will feel renewed and joyful about Christmas Day. I hope to focus on the special meaning this day brings. We will celebrate with family and friends. We will continue to leave our decorations up. When the radios and stores stop playing Christmas music you will be sure to hear it blaring from our house until January 6 (Epiphany - which I will leave for another post). 

Just to clarify things - we do not ban going to Christmas parties or protest people who hang up there lights before we do. We do go to Christmas parties before Christmas and exchange gifts with friends and family. We enjoy that time with friends and family being sure to take it easy. We than return to our home that just reflects more of who we are and the simple way we want to live out the way Christ came into the world.

Have a Blessed Advent Season!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, November 24, 2014

Goat Pedicures

Suzy waits to get her hoofs trimmed.

My job is to keep the goat still and distracted.
1st thing to do is brush away any debris.
Sometimes we have soaked hoof in warm, soapy water
if needed. 
One part of keeping a goat happy and healthy is trimming and cleaning their hoofs. The hoof is almost like our human nails where as they continue to grow long until trimmed. They curl under trapping dirt and feces underneath which can cause a lot of problems and possible hoof rot. 
Before trimming.

It takes us about 1-2 hours to do all of our 10 goats.
This routine of hoof trimming happens about every 3-4 months. Besides our everyday interaction with our goats this is also a good time for me to examine them for any cuts or lumps. I can also take the time to administer any medications or vaccines. I keep all records in a notebook. 

Rob makes sure to inspect
for any splitting or rot. 
For the actual hoof trimming one needs a scrub brush, hoof trimmers (they look like small hedge scissors) and a sharp knife or razor. Rob is much more skilled at trimming than I am .  . . so it has become his job. When your on a homestead it is just more efficient to find out who is best at what and that job becomes theirs. We each learn the others job though just in case of any absence or illness. My daughter and I usually do the daily milking but everyone in our homestead has learned and can milk if needed. 

It looks good and the goat feels better walking.
If a goat's hoofs become to long or something is caught under the overgrowth it can irritate the goat and make for difficult walking.

Daisy is happy with her pedicure!
It is well worth a couple of hours every few months to be sure you have a happy and healthy goat.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Cut the Fat

Freshly made lard.
Okay, so cut the fat are three words you would probably not hear from a homesteader unless they were actually telling you to cut up fat. Yes, cut it into small cubes to put in the crock pot. Rendering your own lard is pretty awesome.

   Now, some people may have friends in high or low places but I have friends in farm places. I'm talking about my friend Steph at Tomcova Farm. I have lots of goat milk around here, but good quality pork and fat are not easy to find. I asked if she was interested in bartering soap/milk for fat that I could render into lard. This is good lard not the nasty stuff sold in stores. She insisted just letting me have the pig fat she had in her freezer. Much obliged!

I was so happy because these pigs are raised in a healthy way with no antibotics or steriods. They interact with a whole family of kids. I know their life was great before they became the yummy meal later. This is where I want my food to come from. When the lard that I use is not hydrogenated I feel a whole lot better cooking/baking with it. It can be used in pastries, biscuits, frying stuff and of course I use it in soap making. 

The rendering process is actually quit simple. If you have a crock pot and some pig fat you can do this at home too! 

The first thing I did was leave the pig fat mostly frozen (only partially thawed- for easier cutting). I cut the fat into cubes. I placed just a small amount of water at the bottom of my crock pot (to prevent initial sticking). I then put the fat cubes into the crock pot. After my crock pot was full I put it on the low setting. My low setting worked perfect but I have read to be careful that your crock pot does not run to high or low. You want the fat to start melting but you do not want to cook it.

I went to bed quite late that night so I left it for at least 6 hours before checking it in the morning. When I woke up and checked it it looked like clear yellowish liquid floating on top. Most of the cubes had started to sink. I drained the liquid with a spoon and poured it through a strainer into a jar. 

After I removed all the possible liquid I put the crock pot lid back on and repeated this process. Each time the small cubes got smaller and browner. I ended up filling 3 quart sized jars and 1 pint. We were left with all the little golden bits at the bottom. Of course I could not resist myself. We fried them up and  made crackling. Yum. Sorry no pics of that . . . I guess I'll have to do another post the next batch of lard I render. 

I stored it in the refrigerator which should keep well for at least a year. You can also freeze it.
If your interested in rendering your own lard I hope this helped!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Expanding an Old Farmhouse and Getting Ready for Winter - Part Three - Conclusion - Well Somewhat

Rob putting in the insulation.
Wow, it has been a very busy summer and fall. I am so glad that I blog because when I am thinking of all the things we still have to do to this little house. I sit back, take a breathe, look at the pictures and blog posts and realize how much we have done.
In this pic you can see the rustic
beams Rob reclaimed
from one of the barns.

The last few weeks I have been so busy - planting garlic, clearing out and prepping our raised beds for next year, getting my children deep into the homeschool year and sitting by the wood stove. Wait, what? Yep that is when I remembered I hadn't posted the final pics of the wood stove actually going into place. So here you have it.

Sheet rock going into place.

After we had the hearth in place. We had already picked out our stove at Superior Hearth and Spa in Marlborough, CT. Choosing the right stove was a task of it's own. Rob wanted something that put out the most heat with the least wood. So he picked out the Pacific Energy Super 27. Of course I wanted the heat as well, but I thought the Super 27 looked a little too industrial and not enough homey. I wanted something that looked more like a Vermont Casting Resolute Acclaim. "I understand you wanting a workhorse but does it have to be so ugly" I pleaded. "It is just decoration who cares" he defended. We finally decided on a Pacific Energy Alderlea. It was pretty much the Super 27 with a pretty casting on the outside. It was more money but we turned in our old wood stove for a American Lung Association program that gave us money towards the purchase of a new stove. We could have put the wood stove into place ourselves but we decided to have Superior Hearth and Spa do it for us. 
Kolbe could not resist
taking a pic up the flue pipe.

The shiny flue from outside.
Before they came Rob made sure the insulation, mantle and sheet rock was in place. Since we had such an insulated flue we did not have to be too far from the wall. It also did not have to be fire board or stone but could be regular sheet rock. 

The crew from Superior Hearth worked with us to have the stove put in the perfect spot on the hearth. Then they adjusted the stove to be sure it was level. They then added the flue and connected it to the stove. And there you have it. Warmth!

As you can see we still have much work to do. But as goes with homesteading cosmetics are usually the last thing to be completed. I will keep you updated on further upcoming projects . . . but for now we are going to enjoy the fire.

Pacific Energy Alderlea

I just love the top
stove part that can swivel open.
It works perfect for making yogurt.

Rob still working on the project.

Any questions . . . 
 . . . be sure to
ask us in the comments.

So cozy and warm.