Thursday, January 30, 2014

City Slickers

In 1971 my grandparents fled the big city and purchased 27 acres outside a small town.  A few months later my grandpa wrote a letter to my grandma's brother in Maryland, detailing all the challenges they had faced.  I wish I had the letter to share with you.  Luckily some of the stories live on.

the old farmhouse
    The house that stood on the farm when my grandparents moved in was old.  It was a two story farmhouse, heated by a large black stove in the living room and had an outhouse sitting nearby.  As you might imagine, snowy winters in Iowa are not very warm.  And when you live in an older house with minimal to no insulation and a heat stove that is far from a central heating system - that means the far away bedrooms upstairs were not nearly as toasty as the living room.  They probably wore warm jammies and added another blanket to their beds.  Maybe even snuggled up to their sister to keep warm.  But what happens when you head downstairs to the bathroom in the middle of the night?  Well if you lived in this particular house, you discover that snow is drifting in underneath the wall of the modern bathroom that was added onto the house.  And that the water in the toilet has frozen!  Yes, true story, it happened in my grandparents old farm house!
the old outhouse

Earlier this summer I shared some of our challenges and misadventures (here) in adjusting to farm life.  Summer quickly turned to fall and winter.  It has now been seven months living in Iowa and though we are settling in and adjusting to our new routines, it seems like the misadventures never end.

    The Weather.  
    When the girls started school at the end of August, temperatures were in the high 90s/low 100s, which is higher than the average 78-84* for that time of year.  Since the schools are not equipped with air conditioning, the kids were released early every day for the first two weeks.  The snowfall in October and November was a welcome change from the humid summer weather.  Winter break rolled around and the kids could barely last an hour all bundled up outside (picture Ralphie and Randy in a Christmas Story).  Everyone was looking forward to school starting back up when suddenly the Polar Vortex appeared and sent temperatures plunging to near record lows at -13*.  If that wasn't cold enough, the extreme wind chills dropped the outside air to -40*.  School was canceled for two days.
    The Vehicles.  
    Back in October on a drizzly evening, as we headed home from gymnastics, my minivan slowly drifted to a stop on the side of the interstate.  Lights were flickering and I could tell the battery was not fulfilling its duties.  Turns out the alternator was a goner.  Hubby and I changed the alternator the next day on the side of the interstate in the rain (me in my flip flops).  I thought the car and I came to an understanding after this episode, but two months later, on our way home from a Girl Scouts' Christmas potluck, again the lights start flickering and I know what's coming.  I tried to make it all the way home before the battery died, but instead we slowly came to a stop on the side of the road.  Just me and four kids.  In the dark.  During winter in Iowa.  Fortunately there was a house super close by that we were able to walk and wait for hubby to drive over and get us.  And here's where it gets funnier.  Hubby arrives and hooks up the minivan to be jump started.  If we can charge the battery and just get home, he can hopefully put the belt back on.  But his car runs out of gas.  We're again stuck on the side of the road with all four kids in the dark and cold.  Hubby had a nice 1.5 mile walk home to get a gas can.
    The Plumbing.   
    In the upstairs bathroom toilet there was a little doohickey that broke.  Since hubby previously worked as a plumber and is generally all around handy, he decided to fix it.  Apparently there was something about this set up that he was not familiar with, so he went to the downstairs bathroom to compare.  Somewhere along the lines, the same doohickey broke in the downstairs toilet!  (Lucky for us there is a third toilet in the guest room).  Hubby had to make a trip to the hardware store, where apparently the people working there were unfamiliar with the pieces he was looking for.  Hubby was finally able to get the toilets back together after a bit of work with the hardware store, so things were back to normal.  Until the upstairs toilet developed an unrelated leak.  A leak that was so small, no one noticed it until it had loosed the glue under the linoleum and the bathroom floor began to bubble up. 
    The Germs.   
    My freshman year of college I lived in the dorms.  The heating system apparently did a great job recycling air throughout the dorm building because it seemed like as soon as one person was sick, everyone in the building was sick.  Being cooped up in the house this chilly winter, I am reminded of those days.  I am fairly certain that every single germ the girls have come into contact with at school comes directly home to their little brother. The same little brother that loves to snuggle, stick his fingers in your mouth, lick your chapstick and share your drinks.  In other words, he likes to share those germs.  This has been the winter of endless colds!

Through it all, we still stand by our decision to move to the farm...but we are really looking forward to spring, when we can air out the house, get our hands dirty in the garden and I can start feeding the kids outside so I don't have to sweep the kitchen so often!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What's In a Name?

Seed catalogs have begun to arrive and we are making plans for Spring.  But we can't just show up at the Farmer's Market trying to sell our wares without a snazzy name for the farm.  So we've been brainstorming ideas and we need your help!  Below are some of the ideas we've had.  Help us narrow it down a little by letting us know which name(s) is/are your favorite(s)!

  • Starline Creek Farm
  • Squaw Creek Farm
  • Rolling Hills Farm
  • Toad Run Farm
  • Honeybun Farm
  • Nick Squared Growers
  • Black Dog Farm
  • Dannon Fields
  • Redhead Acres
  • Apple Hills Farm
  • Ginger Estates
  • The Wilson Farm  (Lily's pick)
  • The Best Known Farm Ever  (Lily's pick)
  • The Family Farm  (Addy's pick)
  • Daddy's Farm (Addy's pick)
  • Sean's Farm  (Sean's pick)
  • Seanie's Farm (Sean's pick)

Do you have an idea that you think we will like?  Let us know!!  If you suggest the winning farm name (not on the list above) we will send you a jar of homemade applesauce.

the farm circa 1988

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hershey’s new Chocolate Almond Spread

I am a huge fan of Hershey's.  In fact, I use Hershey's unsweetened cocoa almost every single day to make hot cocoa.  It has just the right chocolate flavor and I can adjust the sweetness myself.  I am also a huge fan of Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread). So when the Hershey's Chocolate Almond Spread arrived in the mail from Crowdtap, I had high expectations.

I decided to try the Hershey's spread with a wide variety of foods.  So I set up a little smorgasbord for the family.  I melted some of the spread and drizzled it over Chex cereal and  popcorn.  We dipped pretzels, potato chips, corn chips, pecans and almonds into the chocolate spread.  I mixed it into warm milk to make hot chocolate and I spread it on ritz crackers and with cream cheese on a tortilla.  The Hershey's spread was a huge success with the under 10 crowd.  Hubby was pleased with it as well.  I enjoyed the spread, it has that signature Hershey's chocolate taste I love, but honestly it was lacking in almond flavor.  Overall it is a good product that I would probably buy in the future if the kids ask, but for myself.  I will stick with Nutella.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

100 Indoor Kids' Activities

Lately it has been so cold that the kids have not been able to go outside or on the porch to run around.  School was even cancelled two days!  All this leads up to a house full of pent up energy and slightly cranky kids.  I admit some days to letting them watch too many tv shows, but we've been trying to think of some creative ways to keep them moving, thinking and imagining.  Below I have a list of ideas.  I typed each one into Publisher and made little cards that I cut out.  I put all the cards into an empty tissue box.  Now whenever the kids are looking for something to do or tell me they are bored, I can have them reach in and grab a card.  But beware!  Some of the cards say "do a chore."  Two even say "do homework!"

100 Great Indoor Activities during Inclement Weather

  1. do gymnastics stretches
  2. crab walk the length of the living room
  3. bear walk the length of the living room
  4. bunny hop the length of the living room
  5. frog leaps the length of the living room
  6. flamingo walk the length of the living room
  7. walk backwards the length of the living room
  8. walk on tip toe the length of the living room
  9. ten donkey kicks  (gymnastics-inspired activities are great for strength!)
  10. ten jumping jacks
  11. ten sit-ups
  12. play red light, green light
  13. play Simon says (teaches listening skills)
  14. hop on one foot
  15. spin around 5 times
  16. act out your favorite story or book
  17. read a book
  18. build a fort
  19. have a tea party or indoor picnic
  20. have a dance party (let loose of all that energy, great for kids and parents)
  21. write a letter (email is great and efficient, but who doesn't love a handwritten note?!)
  22. make a card (homemade is extra special)
  23. use toilet paper rolls to make a craft
  24. go on a treasure hunt
  25. bake cookies
  26. color a picture
  27. scrapbook
  28. build an obstacle course
  29. play cards
  30. play a board game
  31. take a bubble bath (entertainment and cleanliness at the same time)
  32. make a music video (reminds me of my childhood singing Madonna...)
  33. build something with recyclables
  34. duct tape crafts
  35. play hot potato
  36. build a Lego city
  37. record a video for a relative
  38. plan a sleepover
  39. make care kits for homeless (teaches kids compassion)
  40. be a pirate
  41. build a trap
  42. tickle monster
  43. use masking tape to make a game (ie hopscotch, balance beam, spider web)
  44. make slime or ooblek
  45. play playdough
  46. use paper plates to make a ring toss
  47. write secret messages with crayon and paint over to reveal
  48. use lemon juice to write secret messages (science experiment in disguise!)
  49. put together a puzzle
  50. play pantyhose polo
  51. do shadow puppets on the wall
  52. write a story
  53. play hide & seek or sardines
  54. play musical chairs
  55. blow bubbles on a plate
  56. bead a necklace
  57. make a snack necklace
  58. cut up magazines to make a collage
  59. draw with window markers (why waste paper?)
  60. race paper airplanes
  61. origami
  62. have a playdate
  63. plant an indoor herb garden
  64. do a fashion show
  65. play dress-up
  66. make sock puppets (I know you have a million mismatched socks in the laundry room)
  67. look at old photos (kids love hearing stories about themselves or their family)
  68. re-arrange a room (even if only for a day)
  69. have a family movie night, with popcorn and snuggles
  70. host an un-birthday party
  71. make paper dolls and clothes
  72. edible sculptures from grapes or marshmallows and toothpicks
  73. do a photo shoot
  74. interview each other, make a "newspaper"
  75. paint in the bathtub
  76. have a spa day
  77. freeze dance
  78. use a balloon to play keep up
  79. play charades
  80. put on a kids' work out or dance video
  81. learn the words to a song
  82. memorize a bible verse or poem, then recite to each other
  83. draw secret names, do something nice for that person
  84. ring around the rosie
  85. hokey pokey
  86. duck, duck, goose
  87. nerf dart war
  88. nerf ball bowling
  89. kitchen science experiments, like a vinegar & baking soda volcano
  90. holiday crafts (there is always a holiday around the corner, and starting early on your crafts never hurts!)
  91. let the kids frame some photos for their room
  92. skype or facetime someone
  93. write birthdays on a calendar
  94. laminate photos and draw silly mustaches on them with a dry erase marker (or use a plastic page protector)
  95. jelly bean portrait (have you seen the portraits at the Jelly Belly factory?)
  96. play house (classic)
  97. do homework (sometimes when I didn't have homework, my dad would make something up for me to work on)
  98. build something with pvc (playhouse, greenhouse, ballet barre, hurdles, doll beds, kid size chairs)
  99. sort toys to donate
  100. get out of your house - sometimes, just getting out and changing the scenery will appease the kids (and you).  If the weather is not too bad to drive in, look for an indoor attraction like a museum, kids gym, indoor playground, bounce house place or even a mall with a playground.
**Bonus:  You might already know that Pinterest is like, the most amazing website.  You can find science experiments, arts & crafts projects, learning worksheets and just about everything else under the sun.  You can follow Farming in Flip Flops here or my personal account here.