Archive for November, 2011

John and I had served our turn of the month in children’s church Sunday.  Since it was the Sunday before Thanksgiving, we wanted to do something with the kids that would focus them on that special day.  We made and talked about/used our “I-spy something I’m thankful for” jars.  The point is to find an item in the jar and tell what it reminds you to be thankful for.  For the parents, we included a little tag with a list of the 45 items and the reason for the jar and some examples of how it works.  The jars aren’t anything new, there’s lots of versions and tutorials out there.   The concept applying it to Thankfulness is what I wanted to share here.  I’m sure you could make one to pass around the dinner table with your family/dinner guests on Thanksgiving day, too.  The responses to why you’re reminded to be thankful by a given item can be very personalized.

The items to make these were mostly around the house (at least around a crafter/carpenter/gardener/scrounger/packrat house).  There are 10 or so that are a bit of a cheat and use little things punched out of card stock.  The snowflake was a ribbon that I cut into pieces, as was the rainbow and the red, white and blue ribbon.  I cut crosses out of brown felt and shirts out of some T-shirt scraps (they don’t fray).  I made bitty books out of scrap paper- stapled the insides and then glued on a colorful cover.  A few items were beads.  Most everything else came from small found items around the house or outside.  The birthday candle, pencil, and crayon where cut in half or in small stubby pieces.  Obviously, use what you have and can find that will fit the category of things to be thankful for (most anything!)  I used clear spice jars (the ones from Aldi’s have easy to remove labels) and I swapped some lids from other jars that fit, but didn’t have the little flip tops (=less glueing to secure everything).  The tops were glued on at the end to prevent any untimely messes.  I used poly beads to fill most of mine (I had some on hand), but ran out when I made up the rest at home and used rice to finish.  Some people use bird seed for a filler.

Some logistics:  I put my items into egg cartons- 2 in each hole- so it only took 2 egg cartons to carry all the items to go inside the jars.  Unfortunately, I didn’t put anything over my items to keep them from shifting all over to the other spaces in the carton.  It happens no matter how careful you are not to tip them.  (I tested it on the way home.  They didn’t spill on the way there just because John carried the bag to the car- shouldn’t have blamed him for the mess!)  So, I recommend putting a napkin, tissue, paper towel, washcloth,or something else over your items in the spaces before transporting.  It will save you a lot of fumbling, time, and exposure of all those little goodies (not good in a room of busy little ones)!  I handed items to the kids and let them put each thing in their own jars (Except the busiest two year old who wasn’t interested).  I put the filler beads in.  You might be able to let kids help with this if you have a nice flat container of beads/rice, a scoop and a funnel.  I put a bead of hot glue around the inside of the lid and screwed it on quickly.  (Putting it on the jar itself didn’t work).  Tags I had made up and put on a rubber band for simple attachment to the jars.  I just printed on card stock, cut them out, and “laminated” with clear wide tape.  The tag is the first thing to be removed and crumpled, but at least it starts out with the jar, gives parents the idea, and can go back on easily.  I brought a sharpie marker to write names on jars and tags.

Here’s the info I included on the tag.  I made it fit in two columns on a page of cardstock, 4 in a column (so you could get 8 per page).  I used a size 6 font to make it fit, so it’s pretty small.

I spy… something I’m thankful for! 

Spy something in the jar.  Tell what it reminds you to be thankful for.  There may be more than one reason!  

Examples:A feather could remind you to be thankful for birds, chickens (and eggs), or for a comfortable bed.  A bobby pin might remind you to be thankful for your grandma (or someone else who wears them), or to be thankful that you have hair.  A candle may remind you to be thankful for birthdays, celebrations, or light.  A piece of rainbow ribbon might remind you of God’s promises or the beautiful colors around us.  

There are 45 items.  Here’s a list of what to look for.

pencil      candle     button     bell     paperclip

fish      toothpick     teddybear     penny     girl

apple      rubber band     house/castle     car     flower

butterfly     rock     train     shell     nail

screw     crayon     bobby pin     kidney bean     kernel of corn

star     raisin     feather    cross     smiley face

snowflake     marble      shirt     book     twig

safety pin     google eye     heart     tack     boy

pumpkin seed        piece of electric wire        piece of rainbow ribbon

piece of red, white, and blue ribbon          water drop (blue drop bead)

We only had 4 kids in class (two were ours) but it was a busy day!  I love how they turned out.  I especially like that they are so compact- a nice small size to fit in a bag or purse without much hassle, but still plenty to keep a little one occupied.  They will be joining the busy bags for our trip to NC this Christmas.

What ideas do you have for developing thankfulness in the hearts of your children?

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It’s that time of year.  I’ve thought a bit about it in the last few months.  It’s always my intention to be making gifts earlier in the year, but other than scanning ideas, I don’t have much of anything done yet.

So how are you selecting what you give this year?  I wrote here about how we selected Christmas gifts last year for our family.  I’m standing by it for this year, too.  Instead of calling it the lengthy “Gold, Frankincense, Myrrh, and Swaddling Clothes” gift concept, I think I’m going to just refer to it as the “Wise men” gift concept.  Since I like to have a picture in my posts, here’s a picture of a good book, The Other Wise Man by Henry Van Dyke.  I love the message it carries, and it was easier than digging out a nativity set to take a picture of the wise men!

John and I and the girls relaxed at the little house Sunday afternoon, which gave us a chance to think hard about how we’ll carry our version of the Wise men gift concept this year.  We made some progress.

It takes, in my opinion, more thought than just buying (or making) things I think my girls will really like.  Yes, there’s still that element in selecting a “Gold” gift.  (Then comes the challenge of narrowing it down to one gift).  But throw in “Frankincense”, and now I have to think about where my children are in their spiritual development and what they may benefit from over the course of the next year.  Good and important reflections, but not easy.  And “Myrrh” is the toughest.  It really forces me to think from my child’s perspective- what does she struggle with?  What will be challenging for her in the next year?  How does she learn, think, and act?  And what sort of a gift would be a good tool for her in the process of molding her character, personality development and growth?  Or do I take the easy way out and stick with bubble bath?  Swaddling clothes is hard for me only in picking one thing to make.  I’d love to sew lots, but I know my time is limited.

We’re still tweaking some details on our concept.  Like outlining what a gift can entail.  Our gold gift is not a single item this year, it will be a busy bag/activity bag with a wide collection of little homemade and purchased items.  Things fitting a theme that they’ll really like, but will be especially helpful for us in the car on the LONG trip to NC to visit family at Christmas this year.  Hopefully it will make it a more enjoyable trip for everyone!

My last pondering on the topic for now:  What makes Christmas gifts different from providing/giving items needed and wanted throughout the year?  The wrapping paper?  I’m hoping that in choosing this concept to use in our family, the meaning behind Christmas giving is something my children will learn and embrace.  I want it to give more understanding to their view of Christmas and my own!

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I found some reasonably priced (aka cheap, although not quite free) laying hens on Craigs last week, so I brought home 10 to increase my egg production.  I’ve only got 4 chantecler hens and 2 banty hens, and only two (possibly 3?) of the Chanteclers are laying anything for me so far.  I also have reason to believe some of these new girls will be broody hens to hatch eggs for me next spring since some have done it before.  They’re all black, some are a bit smaller, likely a banty cross with a standard size chicken.  The only black chickens I know the name of are black Australorps, Jersey giants, and black broilers- I definitely don’t have giants or broilers.  I don’t know what these chickens are, so any guesses are welcome!  These girls just stopped laying so I won’t be getting any eggs until probably after the new year, but I guess I can be patient.  Eggs are pricy at the store right now!  Here’s one of the new girls:

Since I brought home more chickens, John reminded me that I REALLY need to get rid of a few roosters now.  Last week he stopped in at the Amish place we’ve heard about that will butcher for a reasonable price.  They told him I should bring them Monday (yesterday).

I brought four- three Chanteclers and a banty Ameraucana.  One had too large of a comb, one had crooked legs, one was not nice to my kiddos, and one (the banty) was leaning that way.  (If he’d been a nice rooster, he would’ve stayed and the other banty would’ve been processed because he has the wrong comb type, although better color.)  I still really have one too many Chanty roosters, but I’d like to grow three out a little further and see how they develop before I narrow it down to two.  I neglected to take a picture of the actual chickens I took, so here’s a picture of some I have left.  The first picture is a Chantecler hen, rooster, and the remaining banty rooster behind.  The second picture is a rooster and a hen (another hen behind).  They’re about 6 months old.


The weather was horrible (pelting rain and a thunderstorm), but they fortunately do most of the processing inside.  I waited for the school children to get home, since they were the ones who were to butcher the roos for me.  I wanted to learn how, so they let me help.  Two little boys took them out to the cones at the fence and dispatched them.  They let me hold the feet until the worst of the twitching was over.  Fortunately, there was a clearing in the rain and we didn’t get drenched outside!

An older sister was overseeing the project in the basement.  There the roos were dunked in a pail of boiled water (with soap added) for 15-30 seconds until the feathers would come off easily.  (The sister said they usually use soda in the water instead, but soap works, too.  It’s supposed to help the feathers come out more easily.)  We plucked on a table- WAY easier than I had imagined it would be.  And I didn’t notice any particularly strong or nasty smell, either.  Then we cleaned the birds off in a pan of water and took legs off at the knee joint.  Last was gutting.  I did the last one, and definitely took longer and made a bigger mess (yup- I busted a gut) and I missed the lungs.  I still have to find them… they offered to get them out for me, but I’d like to see them when I cut the chicken apart, so I can find them in the future.  Once the cut was made in the bottom and the fat from that area removed, It wasn’t much worse than having to get that little baggie of giblets out of the frozen turkey.

They told me I didn’t have to pay full price since I helped a lot.  But they were very helpful in teaching me/answering my questions, so I felt that more than worth a couple of dollars.  (Sorry no pics of processing.  Besides having my hands yucky, the amish don’t do photos).

So here’s the end product.  They’re for sure not CornishX, but a 6 month old dual purpose bird.  (Sorry, the pics are a bit odd- they’re sitting on the canner lid on the basement floor- that’s where the extra fridge is.  And necks are still attached since the amish family had broken the knife they use to cut off the necks.)  I’ll try to weigh them sometime and add that here for reference.  ETA:  Weights of my roos without giblets/feet, but with necks.  The banty was 1lb 12 oz, Chanteclers were  5lb 2 oz, 5lb 3 1/2 oz, and 4 lb.  The 4 lb was the roo with the crooked legs that got picked on.  They were all a few days shy of 30 weeks old.  


Based on that experience, I would have no hesitations in doing one myself.  I don’t know that I’d want to do a bunch (unless I had help), and I still wouldn’t be crazy about the dispatching part, but I think I could do it.

What did you do yesterday?

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We’ve pasture raised some pigs this year, and built a pig tractor in the spring.  The initial post about it is here.  I get pretty regular hits on this post, and I said I’d give an update, so here it is.  We’ve had this pen in use for 6 1/2 months- since just after Easter.  At some point I may try to get some figures posted of what our costs, feed use, and yields were, but that’s a different topic.    Here’s then and now pics.     

The pen has held up fairly well.  The pigs scratch themselves on the wire, so it looks like this now.  Other than that (and being dirty) it looks like it did when we started in the spring.  We’ll use it again next year.  I might make it with the hog panels instead of a roll of wire if I were going to do it again.


We’ve replaced the tarp once, but we use secondhand tarps, and we’re in a windy location.  Once the tarp is in reach, the pigs will tear at it.  Except for early spring, we’ve just had the tarp over the top for rain cover and shade.  We’ve kept two pigs at a time in the tractor.  The first pig reached 250 pounds, the second 200.  The last pig we have in it now is probably around 100 pounds right now.  None of them have ever tried to lift up the pen or sneak underneath, even with a gap at ground level from an old wallowing hole.

We never did get the wheels put on, so it’s been a lift and move operation the whole time, and I do it by myself.  I move it sideways and it takes going back and forth to opposite ends a couple times, but it’s not too terrible.  Only on the muddy, rainy days.  I have almost always moved it every day, except when the pigs were very small, and now that I’ve only got one smaller pig and there’s not much vegetation growing.  Not moving it now lets me keep some hay in it for the pig to keep warm on the colder nights we’re having.  We’ll keep this last pig as long as it seems feasible with the weather.

The yard where we’ve pastured the pigs is not perfectly smooth anymore.  It’s mildly bumpy except for a few places where we had rainy days that everything gets muddy or super hot ones and the pigs made wallows for themselves.  They do usually root up most of the area, but it’s rooted fairly evenly.  They will graze the area first and then root for goodies- worms I think.  They like the tops of weeds particularly well, but leave most of the grass rhizomes and roots.  I tried a few times to rake it flat again, but you have to do it right away.   If it rains, it’s much more difficult.  We made a lot of passes over the same area and found that vegetation grew back pretty well, except during a dry spell and now that it’s fall things aren’t growing much anymore.


There is no opening to get in and out of (myself or the pigs).  I’ve always climbed over the side if I needed to get in the pen.  To get the pigs out, we put a divider in to keep the smaller pig on one end and shot the pig we were processing, then lifted the pen up over the dead pig.  Be aware a smaller pig can jump fairly high, so that divider needs to be full height.  If you’re going to haul the pig live, you’ll have to modify a bit.  We had thought of undoing the wire and putting the pig into a crate or temporary cage, but didn’t need to.

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Yes, I have a clothes line, and I’d love to have it fit better into my life.  But right now, it doesn’t.  I rarely make it out to hang clothes early enough, and when I do, I forget to get them off in time at night.  Then they stay out overnight, I have to wait till part way through the next day to get the dampness from overnight off, and then, they’re full of spiders!  Yuck!  On ambitious, good drying days, I still get some stuff hung.  But kids clothes and diapers take a lot more work to hang up (all those little socks and pieces!), so it’s usually blankets, towels, T shirts, and pants.  Consequently, my dryer gets a lot of use, even in the summer.

Back in the spring, my sister saw some “fluffalumps” over here (when she was searching for something else) and thought I might be interested.  This is what they look like.

They’re dryer balls.  The basic idea is that the balls allow lifting and better air flow around the clothing in the dryer.  They’re supposed to be good for keeping cloth diapers fluffy, too.  I haven’t paid attention yet to see if it REALLY takes less time and energy to dry the clothes, but others have and say it works.  For the minimal cost and effort it takes to make these, I’m game.

I found another tutorial to make dryer balls here.

But wanted a simpler no-sew version (or at least very low sew).  Partially to make them quicker and partially because I saw potential for a MOPS activity, and I know many don’t have any interest or ability in sewing.  I don’t know if we’ll ever make them at MOPS or not, but here’s the no sew version, either way.

I tried this tutorial mostly as instructed.  “Felt” the sweaters by washing in hot water and then drying.  Cut into sections- I used a sleeve or half of a front or back per ball.  They end up about the size of a softball.  Some go for tennis ball size or variety. I have half a dozen in my dryer, but some say use a dozen.  You pick, I guess.

My change was instead of cutting strips and sewing them back together, I just cut one long strip.  You can go back and forth, or you can spiral around, it doesn’t really matter which way.  (Note, this one has been wound once, then set back in the original shape, so it looks stretched.)

When you wrap them, you do want to wrap very snuggly.  Since my strips change directions, I change direction in my winding.  I hold the end securely in place while I wrap the other direction,  Then I wrap overtop of the place where direction was changed, make sure it’s snug, and continue until I’m done winding.  Then pin the end and whip stitch it


I had several unravel immediately, despite wrapping very tightly.  If I was going to do it that way again, I’d stitch the top layer of winding in several spots around the ball.  But that takes more time than I wanted to spend.


So I tried a few other ideas.  One I put the toe of an old sock over and secured with some yarn.  It works fine, but the cotton sock fabric “sticks” to the clothes and makes its way out of the dryer and into the clothes basket a lot more frequently.  (A problem when you may not get that basket of laundry fully put away for a week or more…)

One I did a quick wrap, NOT in a ball shape.  It may perform it’s function, I’m not sure.  But it gets stuck in the clothes a lot as well, and doesn’t look as nice, so I don’t suggest it.

I did a quick finish ball using safety pins (3 pins, but really didn’t matter much).  A few safety pins worked their way off in the dryer.  Others held fine, but after a week or two, they ball found a way to unravel, just like with the ones I’d stitched closed at the end.

After letting the unraveled ones pile up on my dryer for a few weeks, I finally didn’t have any left in the dryer (unraveled or hidden in the clothes baskets…).  So I wrapped them back up into nice tight balls, used one safety pin to secure (the cheap ones from the dollar store work fine for this) and put it in an old pair of panty hose.  I made a string of them before cutting apart to make the knots more easily with less waste.  Make a knot, put the ball in, stretch tight, twist, and make another knot.  I’d make two knots for each end, just for added security to keep the nylon on the ball.

These have worked much better,  They don’t really stick to the clothing (except for velcro) and they can’t unravel.  I think I’d still recommend breaking out a needle and thread to sew the end (pin in place so it stays tight while you sew).  The head of the safety pin will work it’s way out of the nylon, but I think that even with a run in the encasing layer, it will still hold the ball tightly together to prevent unraveling.   Hooray!  No more rats nest ex-dryer balls in my dryer!  Update:  I started to write this up back in July, but I’ve had a busy summer and fall.  Now I can report on how these really held up.

Here’s what mine look like after living in my dryer for 3 1/2 months.  The one to the far left has lost it’s pin and made a bunch more trips in the dryer since.  It is the most exposed.  I’ll have to stitch it soon, but it’s still hanging in there!

Conclusions:  I’d really skip the safety pins and just stitch the end, or use some liquid stitch (or other fabric glue) to secure the ends.  (Pin it while the glue dries, though.)  And if you have a selection of nylons to choose from, go thicker.  The big damage on my dryer balls came from the safety pins working through the nylons.   They still are completely functional and haven’t unraveled, I’m just unsure of how long they’ll still hold up, and I have lost some more safety pins as they work their way out.  They do still come out of the dryer if they’re inside of something big, like a sheet or blanket, but they don’t stick to the laundry and come out hidden that way.

Bottom line, I’m still pleased, and I’d still make more.

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