Saturday, January 30, 2016

Wisconsin With Kids ~ Standing Rocks Park {Portage County}

 Winters in Wisconsin can get long if you don't embrace winter.  We had an awesome opportunity to use the Standing Rocks ski area through a nearby homeschool coop.  For $5 a person we were able to rent any and all equipment needed for downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing.  Some of us took advantage of this opportunity and had a great day skiing with fellow homeschoolers.

This was Peter's first time on skis.  His favorite "hill" was just outside the warming lodge.  He skied around the tree many, many times.  I did get him down a gentle, short bunny hill, but he screamed the entire way, so back to "his hill" he went.  He loved it!

After trying cross-country skiing, Amber helped Peter for a bit.

Sam's a snowboarder and really got some speed this year.

Taking a rest.

I didn't get any pictures of the girls downhill skiing or cross-country skiing, but I do have one us eating lunch in the warming house.  No matter how cold it is, the warming house - with two fireplaces - is toasty warm.  As you can tell from the picture we took bread, PB & J, cheese, carrots, crackers, some nuts, water......a very basic picnic lunch.  I overheard a conversation between a mother and son sitting next to us which reminded me just how similar families are.  A boy of about 12 came in and told his mom he was starving.  She pointed to the table and said, "well, we have bread, PB, cheese, carrots, Vitamin waters."  Her son cut in saying he didn't want any of that.  Guess what her response was?  "Then you must not be that hungry."  And back out to the slopes he went.  I smiled and thought how familiar that sounded.

Standing Rocks doesn't have the biggest or most hills in the area, but for beginners like us, it's just perfect.

For more of our travels around Wisconsin With Kids click here.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Simple Planner

I know we're coming up on the third week of January, so I might be late to the "getting organized for 2016" party, however, I still want to share my planner with you and encourage you to KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid......or silly......or scruffy).  I'm not calling you stupid; it's just a phrase and if you don't like being referred to as stupid, then substitute silly or scruffy, your choice.  Anyway, I've seen many elaborate planning notebooks around the web.  Some are homemade and boy do those look like they took hours to complete.  The fonts, the graphics, the quotes, the washi tape.  It's all too much for me.  Then I found the traditional day planners.  Too many pages.  Too many calendars.  Too many lists of tipping percents, states and capitols, stuff I simply never refer to.  I've also found some beautiful Catholic planners, but again all the different calendars:  daily, weekly, monthly.  I don't have time to enter my appointments that many times.

I've tried each and every one of these planner styles.  And you know what?  My favorite is a $3.00 notebook from Walmart.  We have a giant master calendar on our refrigerator, so I don't need another one.  Again, I find adding info to multiple calendars a waste of time.  The three things I need to keep track of are:

1.  my shopping list
2.  my to do list
3.  the menu plan

It's very important that my planning notebook fit into my purse.  Trying to hold hands, carry a purse, and a notebook gets a bit tenuous and I've dropped mine in slush before.  Yuk.  Learn from my mistake.  Make sure it fits in your purse.  Since I have 3 categories, I found a notebook divided in 3 sections.  I simply labeled the tabs, and can easily open up to the section needed.

The first section is Shopping List.  I think it's self explanatory.  I make two columns.  On the left I keep a running list of food/grocery store items we run out of or need.  On the right is the miscellaneous list.  Things that make this list include:  stamps, clothing items, animal needs, gifts, etc.  I think you get the picture.  I just grab the notebook before heading to the store and cross off what I buy.  I don't always buy everything on the list in one shopping trip, so I continue adding to this list, buying, and crossing off until the page is used up.  Then I rip it out.  One huge benefit of having one single, identifiable notebook is that when the kids use up the last of ________, they know the exact notebook and list in which to add the item.

The second section is To Do.  I keep a running list of things to do, obviously.  This includes home repair/improvement, blog post ideas, calls to make.  Anything that I have "to do".  I cross off and add until the page is used up, then rip it out.  You might notice this is not a daily to do list.  I've tried that before, but it seemed silly to write laundry, homeschool, prepare lunch, etc. just to cross off.  Over the years I've fallen into a daily schedule that works for me.  I keep a mental note of daily tasks to do.

The third section and the most important to my family is Menus.  If the notebook is open, most likely it's open to this section.  Here is where I plan our lunch and supper meals.  I plan for about 10 days at a time.  Even though we rarely have the meal planned for Tuesday on Tuesday, I still plan this way.  Sometimes I've forgotten to thaw the meat or sometimes other plans come up.  So this is a loose plan.  It's a list of available ingredients (if the teenagers haven't eaten them yet) for these meals.  I also note where to find the recipe, if needed.

Once a meal has been made, I cross it off the plan.  Easy peasy.

If you're feeling a bit overwhelmed with all you have to keep track of, I urge you to start simply.  Buy a cheap notebook, maybe one with dividers and start making some lists.  Even Santa, as magical as he is, makes a list and checks it twice.

But all things should be done decently and in order.
1 Corinthians 14:40

Sunday, January 10, 2016

The Making of Cranberry Sauce....(in pictures)

Did you stock up on cranberries in October?  Did you toss them in your freezer with big plans for using them in muffins and breads and salad fluffs?  Are they still there?  Right where they landed?

Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Yes.  Since we grow cranberries, my idea of stocking up means 225 pounds of cranberries fill my freezer(s).  It was time to use some up, so I pulled out the stockpot and Back to Basics Strainer and Berry Screen.  Time to make some cranberry sauce.  I like making a large batch of cranberry sauce.  One, because we like it.  Two, because there's a lot of us.  Three, because I don't like washing the food strainer very often. 

 Here's what I do:

Bring 8 cups water and almost 8 cups sugar to a hard boil over high heat.  Boil for 5 minutes.  Now, I understand that 8 cups of sugar is A LOT, however, when it comes to fruit gelling, sugar is a necessary component.  If you do want to cut back on the sugar, do so in 1/4 cup increments and expect your sauce to be softer set.  

As the sugar solution is boiling, measure out 16 FULL cups of cranberries.  I always use frozen fruit.

Add cranberries to sugar water.

Stir in the fruit with a wooden spoon.  The frozen cranberries will be coated in sugar water and be very shiny and beautiful.  Return to boil.  Reduce heat to a slow boil and cook for 15-20 minutes.  

 The berries should pop (skins are split) and the mixture should be slightly thickened.  It will also look frothy.  This is completely normal.  I don't bother with skimming this off, even though many recipes call for it.  Stir once every 5 minutes or so.

While the cranberries are cooking, set up the strainer.  If you don't want to invest in a food strainer, a mesh strainer and wooden spoon work well, albeit much slower, but less to wash up in the end.  I'm able to fit half of the sauce in the hopper at a time.  Strain into large bowl.

Repeat with remaining sauce.  Stir well to combine liquid and pulp.

 Pour prepared sauce into wide mouth canning jars.  

Place lids and rings on jars.  Place in rack.  Process 10 minutes in boiling water bath.  The cranberry sauce is now shelf stable and can be stored in a cool, dry location for up to 1 year (or more).  Or, even easier is to just store jars in your refrigerator.  This will stay fresh just as long as any jelly. I'm guessing 3-4 months.

There's always a little sauce that can be scraped from the bowl.  Don't waste this warm, sweet, yet tart, goodness.  Spread it on a slice of buttered bread and enjoy.  I had freshly made poppyseed egg bread on the counter.  Yum!

My sauce if fully gelled by the next morning.  Ready to enjoy!

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

A Weekend With Only Half.....(the family home)

What in the world does one mom, two teenage daughters, and one toddler daughter do for lunch?  Mind you, there are NO boys at home waiting on meat and potatoes or pizza.  We make Chinese food of course!  We made Orange Chicken from The Pioneer Woman Cooks:  Dinnertime and Easy Lo Mein from Damn Delicious, brown rice, and frozen egg rolls.  With all of us working together we managed to get it all made in about an hour.
Emily fries chicken for Orange Chicken.

Amber prepares veggies for Lo Mein.

The finished product.  Delish.

Maybe you're wondering where all the men and boys were?  They were ice fishing and eating pizza for lunch.  And since they're gone I had a morning almost to myself. The girls and Joe were snuggled up watching Heartland episodes, while I made Chocolate Chip Muffins, substituting coconut oil for the vegetable oil.  Wow!!! is all I can say.  Definitely doing that again.  I made an egg, cheese, and spinach omelet, sneaked out to the school room, and watched the birds.  It's amazing how active the birds are in the morning.  I could hardly focus on one at a time because my eyes were flitting from one to another as they flew from the ash tree to the feeders to the spruce trees and back to the feeder again.
Blue Jay in the Ash tree.
Looking out across the cranberry marsh; all tucked in for winter.

Black-capped chickadee and a couple of Goldfinches.

Enjoy the winter weather if you're able.  Time for me to head out and load the wood burner.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Wisconsin With Kids ~ Ice Fishing Up North

If you can remember back to the sunny days of summer, I started a series of posts:  Wisconsin With Kids.  It's been a while since the last addition to that series and since ice fishing and Wisconsin winters go together like.....say, bread and butter, and the winter free fishing weekend is fast approaching, I figured it'd be the perfect time to highlight one of our favorite winter activities - ice fishing.  And because central Wisconsin isn't wintry enough for us, we usually head Up North for our ice fishing fun.

This has been a crazy winter.  We had rain in December, the pond froze over and then opened up again to finally freeze up the last couple of days in December.  That's definitely not normal.  We prayed and wished really hard that Up North would get enough cold to freeze up Blockhouse Lake, and sure enough there was just enough ice for fishing when we got there.

I'm going to share with you our way of ice fishing with small children.  It works great for us, and truthfully, it's the only way I'll ice fish with youngsters in tow.

This here is The Green Tree Getaway.  It's located just a few steps from the lake and is the warmest, coziest, ice shack I've ever experienced.  It's only a few steps from the lake and has great patio doors for watching tip-ups.  We're able to watch our tip-ups from the comfort of a cabin, complete with gas fireplace, satellite TV, playing cards, and Pillsbury cookies in the oven.  

The night before, adjustments are made to the tip-ups in the cozy cabin.  The gas fireplace adds plenty of warmth even on the coldest nights.

Some of the necessary supplies for our little getaway:  an ax, an ice scoop, and lots of 5 gallon pails.  I wish I would've taken a picture of all the pails lined up; it was a lot.

Here's what it looks like in the morning.  Everyone is out drilling holes and setting tip-ups.

Nick likes to jig fish, too.  He's hoping to catch a panfish.  No luck this time.

And what everyone is waiting for......the catch.  Looks like Joe got a nice Northern this time.

We had a weekend of wind trips (that's when the flag goes up, but only due to the wind and not a fish).  What a bummer.  Lot's of running out to the tip-up for nothing.  But, since you can't tell, the minnow buck has to go along anyway.

Amber got a flag, but it looks to be another pesky wind trip.

Emily caught a nice fish.  As you can tell it wasn't that cold; Peter and Joe were willing to wait outside without wearing any jackets for Emily to bring the fish up.

Maria loves traipsing behind on tip-up runs.  5-10 minutes outside, multiple times, is just right for her.  In the past, we've done the ice fishing all day with only an ice shanty to keep warm thing and, um, no thanks.  The kids (and me) like it so much more with a warm cabin close by.  See that smile on Maria's face, it wouldn't be there if she was cold, wet, and miserable.  Just sayin'.

Another benefit of staying at the Green Tree Getaway is that, come dusk and the tip-ups are brought in for the night, we get to hang around doing basically nothing other than watching Fast and Loud and playing cards.

Sometimes even 11 year old boys get sick of watching TV and pull out a book to read.

And husbands who don't get much time to read at home, still don't get much time to read, but that's not the cozy, cabin's fault.

Trying to read his something to read Christmas present - The Jesus Cow.
Everyday is a good day for a little nature study.  Peter and Maria and I followed these crow tracks across the ice.  Peter was amazed that they look just like turkey tracks.

And just in case you're thinking I holed up in the cabin and snapped pictures from inside (which I did), that's not all I did.  I really did spend time out on the ice in the cold and I have a selfie to prove it.

Ice fishing with kids.  It can be done, even with the littlest ones if done right.  If I've peaked your interest you can check out the Wisconsin DNR website for info on the free fishing weekend.  There are a few events throughout the state where equipment will be provided.  All you do is show up.  Check out their website for details.

I feel a cold one coming on - stay warm!