Wednesday, April 30, 2014

5 minutes of Irene

No. Really. Just 5 minutes of Irene sitting in her seat. see if you can count the seconds that she's actually still...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Birthday, Olivia!

It is unbelievable to me that our little girl is 9 years old... She's growing up so fast. It's really a wonder to me to think back at how much she's grown and matured just in the last year. 

We celebrated a few days early with Nana and Pop-pop, who gave her an awesome donut "cake" :)

For her birthday party, we took her and a bunch of her friends (and ours!) bowling. Olivia absolutely loves to go bowling and so that's what she's been asking to do for months. She was so happy that so many of her friends were able to make it.

In the interest of continuing her trend of making each birthday cake unique, Rebecca made cake pops. But they just aren't pretty colors, they're each a different flavor! The yellow are lemon, the lavender are actually lavender and the pink are rose. That's right... Rose. The flower. Not kidding. The icing holding the cake pop together was flavored with rose water and there are rose petals in the cake itself. You'd be surprised how good it actually tasted.

 We got 4 lanes for 2 hours of unlimited bowling. We put the kids on 2 lanes and the adults on the other two. In those 2 hours, the kids managed to just barely get through one game. To be fair, there were 12 kids playing, some of whom couldn't life the ball without adult assistance. 

 And in the interest of full disclosure, the adults only got through 2 games. :)


In the end, a fun time was had by all and some wonderful memories will be cherished for years to come.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tea at the O'Henry Hotel

One of both Rebecca and Olivia's favorite things is to go have tea. They used to go to the Secret Tea Room, but sadly, it closed a couple of weeks ago. After doing some looking, we found out that the O'Henry Hotel has an afternoon tea, so they decided to try it out. 
The atmosphere was certainly very comfortable and beautiful. Olivia kept saying that she was a princess and Rebecca was the Queen.
While the tea and food weren't quite as good as the Secret Tea Room, they had a great time. It really is a wonderful tradition that they will certainly continue for years to come.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Passover 2014

In what has become our tradition, we gathered together with 3 other families for a Passover meal and celebration at our friends' farm in Pleasant Garden. Each year we've done this, we've ordered a yearling lamb from a local farm and done the slaughter ourselves. It's really a very emotionally powerful thing for us and really brings home the sacrifice that was made both during the Exodus and by Yeshua, our Passover lamb. We then follow the biblical proscription for how it is to be prepared: no bone broken, roasted over a fire, eaten as part of a big meal with unleavened bread and then the leftovers burned, none saved until the next day. As part of our celebration, we also follow some of the traditions of the Passover Seder with the reciting of the Four Cups, the telling of the Exodus story and the eating of bitter herbs (the bitterness of bondage) and greens with salt water (the tears from the pain of slavery). We also look at how our Messiah became our Passover lamb by His blood causing Death to pass over us and how he delivered us from the bondage of sin.

Along with the traditional elements is a whole lot of fellowship. The kids (17 of them!) love to find things to do, whether it's chasing chickens and guinea hens, swinging on the swings, exploring the farm, canoeing on the pond or trying to catch fish in a net. We adults pass the time doing much of the same, though without as much running and screaming and often with some kind of adult beverage at hand.

Sadly, this year, we weren't able to make it down in time for the slaughter due to some minor illness with the boys that morning, but fortunately, they were well enough right after lunch for us to go down and join in the festivities. Fortunately, we didn't miss out on the roasting of the lamb. Our mechanism for turning the spit can be temperamental and often takes several tries to get arranged properly. Even then, it has to be checked often or we'll find it (as we did once) with the chain completely twisted up and bound into a large metal ball. However, it's certainly no chore standing watch over a wonderful-smelling roast lamb. The best part, in my opinion, is the carving of the meat. It's just such a heavenly smell and the taste is out of this world. Along with the lamb, we all bring multiple side dishes and have ourselves a true feast.

After the meal, the kids move to another room to watch the Prince of Egypt while the adults clean up and spend more time cleaning up, drinking wine and talking. Oh! and eating dessert. Mmmmm. Once the movie is done, we all retire to our respective sleeping arrangements and settle in for the night. Our tradition is to not leave the house after sunset, just as the Israelites stayed indoors to avoid being struck down by the Angel of Death.

Morning came and with it another bountiful meal. Everyone brought some version of kugel, which is a casserole, either sweet or savory. Ours was a sweet cinnamon kugel with eggs and egg noodles. Other families brought kugels made with matzo or potatoes. They were all wonderful. The rest of the time was spent much as the day previously: in fellowship and relaxation. In the past, we've rushed out the door right after breakfast in an attempt to be kind to our hosts and give them a break from the madness, but we were assured that all were welcome to stay as long as we liked, so we did and were glad for it. Time spent in fellowship with friends is always time well spent. We took advantage of the time to go canoeing ourselves. Rebecca and I took a turn around the pond and then I passed my paddle to Gabe and Ezra for their turn.

Shortly after lunch, it was time to pack up and go, but we'd had a wonderful time. 

At home, we have a few traditions of our own. We do the Four Cups, just like at the big celebration, but we do it in a less distracting environment so the kids will know what's going on and what each cup represents both from an Exodus perspective and from a Messianic perspective. We read the Exodus story and act out each of the 10 plagues, which is both fun and educational for the kids. (My favorite is the hail! :)) We also go through and clean out all the leaven (yeast) from our home in preparation for Pesach (Feast of Unleavened Bread), which goes on for the seven days following Passover. The kids love the searching around to find the pieces I've hidden in various places. Last year, I forgot how many and where I hid all the bits of bread I had hidden, so I suspect we never found the last one or two. This year, however, I used the cheap packets of yeast you get from the grocery store and so I knew exactly how many there were and if we didn't find one, I wasn't worried about a mouse or other critter coming to find it. On the third day after the Passover, we celebrate the Resurrection of our Messiah with resurrection cookies and reading about the things that happened that fateful morning so long ago. 

This year, on the last day of Pesach, we celebrated the Meal of Messiah, which is a mirror to the Passover meal, but where Passover looks at what has happened in the past, the Meal of Messiah looks ahead to when the Messiah will return in glory, take us as His bride and establish the New Jerusalem and bring about unparalleled peace and blessing. We had a great time doing this meal together and will surely make it part of our celebration each year from now on.

We hope that these traditions we are establishing will continue for many years to come and that our children will continue to be blessed and grow in their understanding of God's Torah.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fodder for Chickens

Anyone who raises chickens for either meat or eggs will tell you that your biggest expense is feed. Good quality, organic, soy-free feed runs around here for about 60 cents per pound. It may not sound like much, but when our 4 chickens eat 10 pounds a week, that makes just feeding them each week cost $6.00. in one year, it costs us $313 to feed 4 chickens. In one year, we get about 200 eggs per chicken, so 800 eggs per year. Doing the math (($313/800) x 12) bring us to $4.70 per dozen eggs. Kinda expensive, though not unreasonable for "pastured, organic" eggs. Still, not cost effective when I can buy 2 dozen organic eggs at Costco for $8.58 ($4.29/doz). In an effort to bring our costs down, I've been researching alternative feeds and found that growing fodder, specifically wheat or barley, is a very cost-effective method.

After seeing a few setups, including some high-cost professional systems, I figured out that I could set it up for only a few dollars. I bought cheap, shoebox-sized tubs at Lowe's for about $1 each and used my soldering iron to burn small holes in the bottom of one end for drainage. I used the wire shelving I had gotten from a friend when he moved. I got a 2x2 piece of pine and cut it into 3 pieces to use as a shim to set the tubs on an angle. All told, I think I invested about $15 in this arrangement.

My first attempts were using barley, which is generally considered to be higher in nutrition than most other fodders. I got it from Reedy Fork Farm. It costs roughly the same as the layer feed, though the idea behind fodder is that you can turn one pound of seed into 6 pounds of food. So rather than feeding them 10 pounds of seeds a week, I can feed them 1.6 pounds of seeds grown into 10 pounds of fodder, thus reducing my costs from $6/week to about $1/week. The daily routine involves soaking 6 ounces of barley for 12 hours and then pouring it into an empty tub, which then gets watered 2 to 3 times a day. The theory is that it will sprout and should reach an optimum height of 6 inches and a weight nearing 36 ounces in about 7 days.

How can growing barley make it better than just giving them the seeds? Well, just search for "sprouting grains" and you'll find a plethora of pages about the benefits and the changes involved in the growing process. Do chickens really eat what is essentially grass? Yup! Chickens are omnivores, which  means they eat anything. Grasses are a big part of their diet. Ours love foraging for clover and fescue. Heaven forbid they are let loose in the garden! They'll eat every sprout and every leaf showing on the plants. But anyway, back to the plans...

Unfortunately, as I discovered, barley is very picky about temperature. It has to be above 70 degrees for it to even think about sprouting and the room where I'm doing this is... well... less than ideal in the winter. The room never got above 65, so my barley was a dud. It hardly sprouted, let alone grew into a cost-reducing feed system. I was going from 6 ounces to about 10 ounces over 12 days, with almost all the gain in the initial 12-hour soak. After trying different things like a space heater and a grow light (no, not particularly a decent one), I gave up and got a bag of wheat.

Wheat is considerably cheaper ($22.50 for 50lbs vs $29 for barley) and, thankfully, much easier to grow. It's less finicky about the temperature and sprouts very easily.

The bottom tub in the picture is 12-day barley. Almost no growth. The top tub is 7-day wheat. 12 ounces of wheat seed became 53 ounces of wheat grass. And yes, you can juice this and drink it if you really want to. Rebecca asked if we could grow sod for our lawn this way. I told her it wasn't exactly efficient to replant 6000 square feet of grass one square foot at a time....

You may notice that there's no dirt in the tubs. That's because it will grow all on its own. The roots all grow together and form a tightly woven mat that retains the water it needs to live. Obviously, I couldn't grow a wheat crop in the little tubs, but for this purpose, it works wonderfully.

After doing this for a couple of weeks, I'm now turning 6.6 ounces of seeds into about 26 ounces of food for the chickens per day, which is more than the average 23 ounces of feed they were eating. This is costing me 18.5 cents per day instead of the 86.25 cents we were paying for the prepared feed. If this works long-term, it will reduce our yearly cost to $67.75 or $1.02 per dozen eggs. Not too shabby...

The real question is: are they eating it? Uh.... yeah.

They freak out when I bring it to them each morning. They first fight over the loose seeds in the bottom, but then they start pulling apart the root mat and go to town. They'll usually eat about half of it right away and then go scratch in the yard for bugs for a while. They'll sort of graze on it for the rest of the day and then I'm left with a little bit of dried out wheat in the tub at the end of the day. Rough guess? 3 to 4 ounces left over, which is less than an ounce of seed. I could probably fine tune the amount I'm growing so that there's no waste at all, but I think I'd rather waste a little than there not be enough and we start to lose egg production.

We'll be adding 2 more layers to our flock in about 6 weeks, so we'll see how that affects the balance. Once the weather warms up for good, I'll also be adding a black soldier fly larvae system that will hopefully provide a significant amount of feed through the summer months. If you're squeamish, don't look up the videos on youtube about them. :)

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mmmm... Gonna taste like...

Well.... Chicken, I hope. 

10 Jersey Giants are starting the fattening process. Last year's Delawares we a bit of a bust with the heaviest topping out at 2.5lbs dressed weight. This year, we're hoping for 4 to 5 lbs per bird at 12 weeks. I put a couple on the scale and they're right around 1.4 ounces at this point, which is 4 days old. Ok chickens: you have 80 days to gain at least 63 ounces. Get eating.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Baby Otters!

The Greensboro Natural Science Center's SciQuarium recently introduced 5 baby otters that were born a couple of months ago. We managed (after a couple of missed attempts) to get there in time to see them. They are only in the habitat until 1:30pm daily, but we usually don't go until later in the day to avoid the school groups. It was worth braving the crowds to get to see them! They were so very cute and playful, running and wrestling with each other and exploring the "new" world around them. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Plum Tuckered

Now that Emma's running around with the bigger kids (playing their games, doing their fitness activities, doing outside in the yard with them and all manner of things,) She sometimes gets tired before it's actually naptime.  

Often around lunchtime, the call goes out: "Where's Emma?"

"Anyone seen Emma?"

"Found her!" 
Lunch isn't even enough to keep her from catching a few Zs. :)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Irene on the move!

 Irene is starting to get her knees under her and slowly move herself across rooms now.

She usually needs some motivation and, just like all the rest of our kiddos, a phone works very well.

Though sometimes, it's juts too far to try.

That's when Mama becomes a better motivator.


"That tired me out!"