Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Meal Planning 101

Meal Planning 101... or at least my take on it.

I was recently visiting one of my favorite blog posts over at Crockpot365: a year of slow cooking: Slow Cooking During a Recession. In this post she lists the "top 10 ways that you can save money right this minute by slow cooking." The first 4 are things I TOTALLY swear by:

"1) Plan your meals. Seriously. 
2) Use dried beans. They are filling, nutritious, freeze well, and are CHEAP.  
3) Make your own yogurt. Yup, in the slow cooker. It totally works. 
4) Make your own granola. Granola is wickedly expensive, and can be laden with preservatives and artificial sweeteners. "

Now, go over there and read the rest of the post... go on. Now. I'll wait.

Are you back? Good.

I had been planning blog posts on all 4 of these things, so be watching upcoming posts for recipes for home-made yogurt, granola, and a dry bean tutorial.... [edit, those are up, see the links on the list items above.] But today I was planning to post about how we do meal planning at our house, and her old top ten just fit in so well with that. :)

Chicken & Dumplings

I have been meal planning for over a year now, and I will tell you, it has saved me almost 40% on my grocery bill, if not more. I currently spend $100 a week on groceries for our family of 6, which works out to about 80 cents per plate, assuming 3 meals a day. If any of you have a 10 year old son like mine, you know three meals a day is underestimated. :) Here's one of my favorite frugal blogs to read about how to stream-line your grocery budget. Please follow her blog, you'll be glad you did.

We get paid twice a month, so I do my meal planning in two-week chunks, and then I do all the shopping for those meals (since most things have at least a two week shelf life) in one day, and then I do not go back to the store for two weeks. This not only saves me on gas, and keeps me from extra impulse purchases on subsequent shopping trips, but it REALLY saves me on sanity. Planning the meals and planning the shopping goes hand-in-hand.

Preparing to shop, I first take stock of what I have, and make a list. I check the freezer for meat that needs used, or can be used to base a few meals. For example: there's a ham in there, which can be my plan for Sunday dinner, and then the leftovers will be the base for Tuesday's cubed ham and cheesy potatoes... I make sure my pantry staples have enough to go for two more weeks. If there's a lot of baking to do, I may even plan to add more to the supply. (This includes checking the shampoo, toilet paper, dishwasher soap, etc to make sure there's at least enough to make it to the next shopping trip). I also check on my dry food storage, such as dry beans, rice, coffee, pancake mix, etc.

After I know what I have, I begin my list of meals I can make, first: listing the meals I can make with what's on hand:

Ham and broccoli, with dinner rolls
cubed ham and potato casserole

Then I see what is on sale in the local grocery ads. As a rule, I try and plan my grocery spending around my locally owned grocer's specials. I live in a small rural Nebraska community, so all of the grocery stores, including Walmart, are in a 2 mile vicinity. So it is no sweat to hit both local stores and one big-box store in one shopping trip. And even if that was hard to do, it's only once every two weeks, right? What I've found is that by keeping track of prices I've noticed that the big box store is not always the cheapest, and the quality of my local butcher's meat is well worth any difference. Also, if you hit the local places first, then you can get anything that was on sale and sold out at the small stores while you're at Walmart for your last stop, since they do price match, so take the ads with you. :)

I plan the remaining meals I need to make my list by utilizing the best sales: Since it's nearly March, cabbage and corned beef brisket will likely be on sale, so this would be a good time to include cabbage burgers in the meal plan, and maybe a beef brisket, if I knew a good way to prepare one....

My goal is to list 14 main dish meals, with one third being "Meat and Potato" style and the remaining two-thirds being casseroles and soups. It usually adds up to 5 meat and starch meals, 6 casseroles, and 3 soups. I have found my kids will eat a good hearty soup if they help me cook it (so there's no mystery), and if they don't have soup every day. Soup is SUPER economical. :) Husbands tend to revolt if fed too many casseroles as well. Give the guy a steak or hamburger night. I have yet to meet a guy who didn't LOVE meatloaf.

Here's a list of my meal plan from January:

Pizza (home-made)
Beef Chili
Chicken & Dumplings (or Chicken noodle soup)
Shepherd's Pie
Taco Salad
Ham and baked potatoes
Cheesy Ham & potatoes with broccoli
Roast Chicken and veggies
White Chicken Chili
Cabbage Burgers
Meatloaf and Mashed potatoes
Enchilada Casserole
Chicken Alfredo w/Broccoli

 Even if your list looks nearly the same every two weeks, it's ok! Most families don't get tired of a meal they only see twice in a month. It is also perfectly acceptable to have one day marked "leftovers" if your family will eat them. If not, re-invent them. (see #8 on the fore-mentioned top-ten list; you did go read the whole thing, didn't you?)

After making a list of favorite family meals I insert them onto a blank printed calender. This can be made with a ruler and scrap paper, or you can print one you find online, just use google images and search for the month/year you want. I make sure to pencil in any major family activities that will affect meal-times or my preparation time. Like Farmer's Market Saturdays are days I plan on pulling something simple from the freezer, or having something in the crock-pot, so I'm not having to cook after a long busy farmer's market.

Once the calendar is complete, I use it to make the rest of my grocery list, adding in items for lunches and breakfasts as well. Be sure to pick up lots of fresh/seasonal fruit and veggies to fill it all in. Then I post the calender on the fridge and use it to keep track of what to pull out to thaw a day early. Since everything has to last 2 weeks, I put most things in the freezer until the day before they are dinner, including shredded cheese, loaves of bread, and all the meats. I also don't stick to my plan rigidly, sometimes the meal I'd planned is not a good fit for the day. In that case I make something from a different day. Just be sure to be crossing things off as you make them, so you know the ingredients are gone.

Happy Cooking!

(PS: please post a comment telling me how you plan meals at your house! I'd love tips and tricks from my friends!)

And this month I will be joining Lindsay's Challenge to plan healthier meals! Will you join us? Click through to comment and leave your link!

Monday, February 27, 2012

February 17, 2007 - Pondering Big Things

Since this blog is fairly new, and it's been a long time since I had one... I thought I'd go back and look through a blog I'd had a long time back. I found this post from almost exactly 5 years ago... I was getting ready for baby #4, just starting out into the world of homeschooling, living in a tiny trailer home, still had 3 grandparents living near us... WOW that feels so long ago!


Big Things
I am constantly weighing out big things. I see big life changes coming.

New baby this fall. Emma will start school at that same time. Tyler will be starting 1st grade and be needing more structure than I've been able to give him this year. (although, I must add he is doing GREAT, some simple reading and now doing simple addition and subtraction. Very neat to see it all clicking.) What to do for school? Continue homeschooling? Can I manage it?

Mayda is growing up so fast I can hardly fathom it. Once I get my pictures downloaded I'll show you all a video of her using a spoon for the first time. We finally had her real birthday party today. It was fun. She's just getting so big so fast! How will I keep ahead of her?

We need a different vehicle situation. Our one good gas milage vehicle (for Ben's commute) is also our best family vehicle, and even that will be too small when the baby comes. (yay for one more car seat! :P ) What do we buy? more miles and less money or the other way around? Should we sell and/or buy more than one vehicle? Maybe get rid of two vehicles so we can get Ben a better commuter vehicle? Can we get enough out of what we have to swing buying what we need?

Continuing care for loved ones. Diagnosis I'm still grasping to understand. Parkinson's, I hardly know what to expect. What exactly are the beginning signs of Altzheimers? Thyroid lows and depression; who knew they were such a devastating foe? How can anyone afford taking 5 meds when just one of them costs $265 a month? How long will some stay in independence? The other in assisted living and not full nursing care? How can I help extend that? What is physically possible for me?

As mom's trip winds down I'm realizing how much I've leaned on her this past two weeks. Ben jokingly said once she's gone we'll be back to the "shift change" referring to the way that whenever he's not working I'm leaving he kids with him so I can go help loved ones. How will I do that while nursing a newborn?

And then I am reminded. Every time we've found ourselves standing with our nose to the wall, a wall ten miles wide and ten miles tall... no way over and no way around... (a financial wall, a health burden wall, a spiritual wall). I stand there studying that wall, I measure and weigh my problems and solutions... and when I can see that absolutely nothing my human mind can conceive will fix it...

I surrender. And wait.

And He is there. He puts a way through the wall where there wasn't. Not with the cannon and gunpowder I'd thought of. Not by scaling its heights with a ladder of my fashioning. No, he thinks of things more infinite than I. (Isa . 55:9 "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.") No, He finds something unusual to show me his might:

"When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD" -Joshua 6:20-21a

I'm shouting Lord; I believe you have a plan for this wall.

Trials? Count it all joy...

What scripture do you have hanging around to remind you of God's plan? I recently took down a sheet I've had taped to the cupboard, over my sink where I've been reading/meditating/memorizing it for quite some time.

During that time there had been a battery of trials in our life, and I had been struggling to deal with them. I honestly really struggled the most with the hopelessness that comes from thinking this will go on forever and ever with no end... and no purpose.

It was while looking for help from God's Word using the keyword "trials", that I came across a very familiar passage. Often I am amazed how the Scripture is opened to me, in places I've been, read, and even memorized before. But new light shines, and my eyes open. I feel about as dumb as the men who walk the road to Emmaus must have felt when their eyes were opened to see Jesus was with them. So here's what I found (and printed and read daily for months):

James 1:2-8 Trials are PROFITABLE

"2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. 4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. 5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. 6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

Sound familiar? I've read it a hundred times. But what got my attention was looking at it the way it was re-phrased in a popular paraphrase, The Message. (I consider these a valuable tool for getting perspective, but not a replacement for original Scripture)

vs. 2-4 paraphrased:
"Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don't try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way."

Don't try and get out of anything prematurely? It made me realize that there is a real process here that would be cheated if I were to have it all easy. That there is something beautiful He is creating in me that would be incomplete if it all just stopped and went away. The picture I have in my mind is one of a butterfly, working its way out of a chrysalis, and how that struggle is actually important in forcing the blood flow out into the wings. If we were to touch a butterfly and "help" it out... we would destroy it.  So I printed a picture of a butterfly and the verse, and put them above my sink, as a reminder of the purpose of the struggle.

Last summer Emma found a bunch of ugly, fuzzy worms in the weeds near my garden. We captured them in a jar, planning to identify them as I was just sure they were some kind of garden-munching pest... The jar was forgotten and when looked at again, they had all gone into little cocoons and there were lots of them! (don't mind the dirty pan in the background of the picture below, but it was the only one I had of the lil' wormies!)

It wasn't long before they began to hatch into lovely butterflies and the kids were able to watch the struggle from beginning to end. It was amazing! As was the process of letting them go. :)

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls the butterfly."
~Richard Bach

Beholding Glory

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The 2011 Chickens

This time of year my favorite reading materials are the seed catalog and the hatchery catalog. I had a blast last month visiting the PA farm show and checking out the chickens.

Who knew a few years ago that chickens would be my favorite pets? Now I have a collection of 21 hens and a rooster. I'm sure they will be common topics on this blog.

This year's batch came from IA when they were one day old. It just so happened we had a late season snow storm as they were in transit, and the Interstate was shut down. I called the hatchery and they assured me that if any didn't make it, I would have my birds replaced... but the idea of receiving a box with 25 dead chicks in it was too heartbreaking to bear! After several phone calls to sympathetic postmasters, I finally got through to one who knew where the truck would be dropping my chicks for the night, before they would come to my PO the next morning. We drove there at 6:30pm and met the truck behind the post office... and there was my box. There were other chicks on the truck too. Not all fared so well. I was worried it was too late, but I could hear frantic chirping that gave me hope. When we opened it up at home, our chickies were all safe and sound, and in the end, we only lost one.

So here I am, going from a person who doesn't go for house-pets at all, to having chicks in the basement.

The pictures speak for themselves... I've gone in head over heels. And yes, that's a play-pen, and no, it isn't used for children anymore. (notice the escapee on the edge...)

Once they feathered out, we moved them to a little warm spot in the barn, close to where we keep the bunnies. In no time they had outgrown it and took over the entire barn. Emma is terribly afraid of roosters, so she wouldn't go out to do her bunny chores without her brave big brother for a guard. Mayda was the opposite; she loved to go out and help hand feed the chicks.

But soon enough they had even outgrown the barn... I knew they were ready to truly free range when the "peeps" and "chirps" were completely replaced with squawks and "cock-a-doodles"!

In August, Tyler took a chick from that batch to the Fair. It was an Ameraucana (called an Easter Egger, because of the blue and green eggs they lay), who had the most unusual coloring. She nearly looked like a hawk! We even gave her a bath and Tyler worked with her daily: until she could be examined in one hand, show off her bright eyes, and even pose. For all his effort he earned a purple ribbon.

After the fair she became just another one of the chickens again, until one day when the neighbor dog came visiting. Mayda came running to me yelling that she had seen the dog with "Tyler's chicken" in it's mouth! Tyler and I ran to the rescue but only found the dog with a handful of feathers in his jaws. I put him on a leash, and told Tyler to walk him home, and went looking for the chicken. No luck, just a HUGE pile of feathers around the corner of the house. I told Mayda that either that chicken was gone, or it was completely naked. And since I had seen Buck (our dog) swallow an entire chicken before, I knew it was possible.

I met Tyler walking down the road, coming back from the neighbors. He had told them that their dog "might" have gotten into the chickens, and he was tearful as he told me about it for fear he may have gotten the poor pooch in trouble with its owners. It broke my heart to tell him we couldn't find the bird, and by then he was in complete tears. The poor boy went looking too, and brought me what he proclaimed must have been her "last green egg". Sadly, he took a feather from the yard and put it with her picture in his 4-H album beside the ribbon he had won.

I offered to do his chicken chores at dusk, and went out to shut up the hen-house door... it was there I found a nearly-plucked but very alive hawk colored hen, just waiting to be let in! I never thought I would see such a thing as a ten year old boy hugging a chicken. I just love his dear sweet sensitive heart! What a gift from God. :)

And even now she still lays me a green egg nearly every day.


A special shout out to Egg Carton Labels by ADozenGirlz. If you haven't checked out her blog, there's lots of great Chicken info there! :)
More related posts:
Farm Life

Friday, February 24, 2012

Winter Farmer's Market

One of my favorite things is the Farmer's Market. I don't call it an occupation because I don't make much money there when you count out how much I spend on ingredients and all the time it takes to bake and create. But it's something I love to do, so maybe it's a hobby. This winter I am helping a friend run their market booth. It's really a lot of fun sharing a booth with a honey operation,  and the couple travels a lot, so I can keep it open for them while they are gone. Either way, it gives me an excuse to be at every market, and soak up the wonderful atmosphere.

In preparation for market tomorrow, I am busy creating and baking. I make bird's nest necklaces to sell, as well as the random bracelet. (Tutorial upcoming). I also bake home-made granola with the local honey, and make a lot of Amish "friendship" Sweet Bread, in both banana and French vanilla. All this work leaves me feeling very admiring of a true “Proverb's 31 woman”:
The Virtuous Wife
10 Who can find a virtuous wife?
For her worth is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her;
So he will have no lack of gain.
15 She also rises while it is yet night,
And provides food for her household,
18 She perceives that her merchandise is good,
And her lamp does not go out by night.

 Click here to readthe WHOLE passage… Notice how many things she makes and sells? How resourceful she is? I aspire to be like that... but sadly the market is only two weekends a month and I'm exhausted at that! I'll just leave it that this woman is admirable, and while I may never know her success, I love to read that chapter and be inspired. (ok, read that chapter, and surf Pinterest, and be inspired... lol) It's just nice to know God created me to be busy, resourceful, creative, giving, and serving. Now I just pray for the grace to aspire to all that!

My kids LOVE to help and love the market atmosphere as much as I do. I'm sure if hubby didn’t have to be at work, he'd have fun there too. Tyler helps vendors carry boxes, Emma dances to the live bluegrass music, Mayda collects her money off of her dog-treat sales, and Wyatt makes sure everyone's samples are up to par. 

At a recent market I had the opportunity to help with the cooking demonstration.  So I leave you with a few of my favorite market pictures and the recipes we did at our cooking demonstration. (That is not me in the picture below, but our lovely Market coordinator, Kathi, who was cooking with me.) If you are local, you can find the info for the market on Kathi's blog, and I do hope you'll come!

Best Homemade Chili
(This recipe is a combination of two recipes from Taste of Home Country Ground Beef Cookbook: Three-step Chili from pg. 22 and Best Homemade Chili from pg. 23) I have adjusted it to be gluten free. 
2 lb. Grass-fed Ground Beef 
1 Large onion – diced
1 Tbs of chili powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp sea salt
1 clove fresh pressed garlic
3 cups cooked pinto beans (or 2 cans drained)
One large can of tomato juice (46 oz)
(or 1 qt and 1 pt of home canned)
¼ cup cornmeal
2 Tbs vinegar 
Cayenne pepper to taste

In large pot or Dutch oven, brown beef with seasonings and onions, until fully cooked. Add tomato juice and bring to a boil. Mix cornmeal and vinegar into a paste, and add a ladle of the hot tomato juice to it and then mix back into the entire pot (to avoid clumps). Return to a boil and then cook over medium heat for 15 minutes until thickened.  Add cayenne pepper to taste. 

Southwest White Chicken Chili
From my dear mom-in-law, Debbie 
3 Tbs Butter
2 lb. chicken (cooked and cubed)
1 small onion chopped
2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano leaves
Cayenne pepper to taste
1 can (7oz) of green chili peppers
1 quart of chicken broth or 1 can cream of chicken soup, reconstituted
3 cups cooked white beans (great northern or white navy) or two cans, drained.
Green onion and Monterey Jack Cheese to garnish 
In large soup pot or Dutch oven, brown the chicken and onions in butter. Add all seasonings as well as the can of chilies.  Simmer on low heat to mix the flavors, about 5 minutes.  Add the beans and broth (less broth if you want it less soupy and more of a stew). Bring back to heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes to heat through. Serve with garnish as desired. 

We'd be honored if you followed us:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

School Assignments

How do you assign school for your children? In our Home School we have text books for most subjects, and my goal is to complete each book in the number of school days we have. So I start the year by making assignment charts, which is a lot of work! But it saves me lots in the long haul because all year long I never have to think about it again, just check the chart for progress.

Here's what they look like at the beginning of the year:

I take the number of school days and divide their page numbers by that number of days. To get the number of days, I sit down with a calender and write each school day date on the date line of the calender (every 7th line in this case, since there are 6 "subject" lines).

As I go, I try and mark off any days I know we won't have school: Christmas break, holidays, birthdays, and field trip days I'm aware of. I also try and plan lighter assignments on the particular week days my homeschool group typically has field trips. Usually Wednesdays this year.

Once the dates are completed, then I know how many school days, or school weeks, we will have. I look over each text book and decide if it is better divided into weekly assignments or daily, depending on the type of coursework. Math is a daily assignment, one lesson a day. Science is mostly reading, so it's every other day, more pages per assignment since it's easy to read.

After it's broken into the assignment sizes (I pencil these in the front cover of each book, like: "2 pages per day"), I write the page numbers to be completed in each and every box, turning the pages of the book as I assign. That way I can find any surprises as I go. (blank pages, extra quiz sheets, etc.) So a row of math assignments would read like this under each date: pg1-2, pg3-4, pg5-6... etc. Writing Lessons are assigned in 2 page lesson numbers, so each box reads "L1, L2, L3..." all the way up to L125! I repeat until every single page or lesson is assigned and able to be "stickered off." :) Sounds like a lot, but it's worth it not to have to figure where you "should" be later!

When the school year gets started, I inevitably find a book that didn't work like I had hoped, or needed assigned differently. For that reason, I do all my assignments in pencil until I'm sure they are right. (note the scribbled out subject lines on Mayda's chart in the background.)

This is our second year doing it that way and so far we are on track to wrap up the year early. It helps that my kids LOVE sticker charts.

It works really well for us, but I love to hear how others assign their homeschool courses. Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments below!


4/27/12 Update: We finished school early! The charts really helped us stay on task and motivated. I know that not every system works for every family, but I'm very thankful to have found what works for us!

 Related Posts:
Awana, our home-school Bible curriculum
Fastnacht Day - our Donut experiment
Homeschool Working Lunch (just for fun, photo post)
Daddy Dates
Literacy Awareness and Dr. Seuss's Birthday 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fastnacht Day - our donut experiment

Yesterday was  "Fastnacht Day, also known as Fat Tuesday. Traditionally, fastnachts were made by Pennsylvania Dutch housewives on Fat Tuesday to use up all the fat in the house before Lent. "Fastnacht" is a German word meaning "night before the fast." The heavy yeast-raised doughnuts are as much a part of the central Pennsylvania food landscape as chicken and waffles and whoopie pies."

...according the the article linked above. It went on to say how good Pennsylvanians know to order their Fastnachts early from local bakeries and churches... :( unless you've left the PA Dutch country behind. In our area, the only Fat Tuesday tradition catching on is the baking of Mardi Gras King Cakes. Something I'm not really all that attached to. I like a good donut. I had planned to make some yesterday on the actual day, but I was sick.

Thank the Lord I'm feeling much better today, so I celebrated by making LOTs of the fried treats and consuming them. Yes, I may be sick again. lol.

Here's a good recipe. I changed it up a bit - mostly I'm not one for many risings, so I mixed it all up and let it rise once.

Here's the reworked version:


  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar

  • 2 cups milk
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup margarine, melted
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 7 cups all-purpose flour (divided)
  • 2 quarts vegetable oil for frying


  1. In a small bowl, proof yeast with first three ingredients. 
  2. scald the milk and let cool, add melted butter.
  3. In a large bowl mix together the teaspoon of sugar and 3 cups of the flour. Stir in milk and butter until smooth. Add proofed yeast and mix well. Stir in beaten eggs, one cup of sugar, salt, and enough of the remaining flour to make a stiff dough. Cover and let rise ina warm place until doubled.
  4. Punch down dough and divide into 2 portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut dough with a canning jar band (or biscuit cutter). poke a hold in each one and stretch a little. Let rise again for 20 minutes.
  5. Deep fat fry in small batches in canola oil flipping once to make sure each side is lightly browned. If you do this in a large skillet with about 1.5" of oil in i t, you should be able to fry 5 at a time... it goes quite fast. 
  6. Drain on brown paper bags. Toss in confectioners sugar while still warm.

who needs a biscuit cutter when you have scads of jar rings?
We tested the theory, and they really do fry best with a hole in the middle. Just poke one with your fingers and stretch it some.
Hubby also joined in the fun and helped with the frying. He's very talented at such things. :) 
I tend to burn myself.
After the cooled a few seconds, we tossed some in a bag with cinnamon sugar, the rest we glazed with a butter glaze. (Hubby made it, VERY yummy!)

It was well worth the work, and they are almost completely gone.

What do you do to celebrate the beginning of Lent? Do you celebrate Lent? Do you give anything up?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

We bought the "farm"

We discovered our farm in the spring of 2009... and while we were in no place ready to buy a house out-right, we knew we couldn't pass it up. While it did mean a few sacrifices (goodbye: New Expedition, hello: minivan we bought at a garage sale....), it was totally worth it. We went from a two-bedroom (ok, three bedroom if you count the converted porch) trailer-house on a city lot, to a three bedroom farmhouse with a barn, shop, garage, and several acres to spread out.

Plus, it had trees!!!! For those of you here on the prairie, who don't know understand what is so important about trees (and I'm not talking about a windbreak of Rocky Mountain Juniper)... let me explain.When I was young I would lay on the grass and look up at the light as it filtered through the trees and just wonder at the beauty of it. And yes, I have dedicated whole scrapbook pages to just trees. Trees nobody planted, but God. I digress... I grew up in Eastern PA, where you get views like this of rolling hills covered in trees, which turn a multitude of colors in the fall and just literally take your breath away.

Here on the plains, where trees only grow where you plant them. Here, the home of Arbor Day and the largest hand-planted forest in the United States... trees are valuable and, well, not really diverse. The upside, is that you can see your dinner guests coming from a mile away; the downside, is that the local nursery hardly even stocks "full shade" plants. Still looking for an affordable place to pick up hostas for the North side of the house. Another thing I didn't know growing up in PA... that the South side was sunny and the North shady. Every side was shady! But here you are very aware of the sun and it's path through the sky. I now know why we have a lovely tall row of pines on the south side of the house... except that they have been "topped off" at just the right height so that the sun shines full on the house in the heat of summer, but they shade the driveway nicely, so the snow there never melts in winter. (Lest I sound like I'm complaining: driveway shade is a much praised blessing from the Lord in summer).

So there you have it, we bought the farm. The one with a few trees. :) If my husband were writing this, his favorite feature to mention would probably be the shop, or the way the living room flows through the dining area into the kitchen. (I like that too!)The kids would probably talk about the barn, or the forts they build all over the place (the latest being a dug-out under the wood-pile; not sure what I think about that). But my favorite thing is that this place grows! Not only trees, which I plan to plant a lot more of, but three acres of real farm ground, and enough room besides them. I have been planting ever expanding gardens... and there's enough water access (irrigation/wells) to grow it all. That's something else I had no clue about in PA; we didn't even own a sprinkler!

Why is that so important to me? Because growing is a gift from God. Through watching growing things, creatures, and natural processes, I have been able to teach my kids about the nature of our creator. About His beautiful design for our lives. About the natural paths of time, through change of season, and winter hardship, to spring time: where faith really can be described by a seed.

Mark 4:30-32 "Then He said, 'To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it? It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth; but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.' "

Even Jesus knew a little bit of shade could be compared with Heaven. :)


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