Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Nature Journal - January 2017 - Graupel (Granular Snow Pellets)

Yesterday was an interesting day in terms of snow. In the morning, the ground was covered with a few inches of light, powdery snow. It was a "dry" snow...not much moisture in it. It was fluffy and didn't weigh much when shoveling it.

By the afternoon, the snow changed. When we came home from the homeschool co-op, harp lesson, and two errands - the snow texture was like something Sophia, Olivia, and I had never seen before.

Olivia was the first to notice it. "Mom, look at the snow!" Indeed it was quite different than anything we had ever seen. It looked like Styrofoam pellets.  They were relatively soft yet were in little balls. It wasn't hail which we see at other times during the year when there's a thunderstorm. It wasn't sleet either.

This was something unusual.

I Googled "snow that looks like Styrofoam pellets" and the word  "Graupel" came up. Clicked on a couple of sites and, sure enough, Graupel is what we saw.

I thought it was a perfect reason to do a nature journal entry for the month.  The entry nothing fancy - just something to remember what I saw.

So, what is Graupel? Pronounced like "Grap-ul" - it is when droplets of water are collected and freeze on falling snowflakes.

Hail, in contrast, is snow pellets encapsulated by ice.

The word Graupel has German origins, and was first used in 1889. It is the diminutive of "Graupe" which means "pearl barley." That's a fitting description, too, because it did look like pearl barley. It also looked like pearl/large tapioca.

A synonym for Graupel is soft hail.

Here's my nature journal entry for January:

Doing one nature journal entry per month is one of my nature goals for 2017. This year I'm on the right track with nature journaling. Keeping the focus on the process of nature journaling (versus the product) and documenting new things I see may help me stay on task and reach my goal this year.

Monday, January 30, 2017

52 Weeks to an Organized Home: Organize pantry, spices and food storage areas (Week 3)

For the third week of 52 Weeks to an Organized Home, the focus was on organizing the pantry, spices, and food storage areas.

I actually have canned goods in a couple other areas of the house, but I'm going to tackle those areas at another time during the year.

This week, I just focused on what was in the kitchen.

First, the spice cabinet:

Before (left) and after (right).

There were duplicates, expired items, and items I know I wouldn't be using. So, they were either combined with other like-items or tossed. This freed up a lot of space.

The next step was grouping the items so that all spices used for cooking are on the lowest shelf; the spices for baking on the middle shelf; the dog medicine on the middle shelf to the right; sprinkles and surplus spices on the upper left shelf; and sunscreen and insect repellent on the upper right shelf. It's nice knowing what we have and where it is located.

The next cupboard has rices and noodles.

Before (left) and after (right).

There's a little shelf over the stove/oven that has cornmeal, specialty flour, and gluten. There were oats and picking salt for canning. These items went into other cupboards.

Flours - before (above) and after (below).

There a two-shelf cupboard that has baking items. It's a pretty deep shelf and I end up just putting stuff in it and not organizing it...until now.

Although it does look full in the after picture, there is a lot more room and things are grouped by category (e.g., dried fruit in one area, brown sugar in another, nuts in another).

Baking items before (left) and after (right).

There's one more cupboard, but I included that with Week 2. That one has a lot of non-perishable food that is canned or in boxes.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

52 Weeks to an Organized Home: Kitchen Drawers and Cabinet Organization (Week 2)

Last year I wanted to do the 52 Weeks to an Organized Home challenge. I did Week 1 (Kitchen Sink and Counter Top) and then stopped. There was too much going on with the sale of my parents' home and trying to clean it out before the end of February.

So, this year I'm going to attempt this challenge again. Week 2 focused on kitchen drawers and cabinet organization. Next to my office (at home), this is the most difficult room.

Some of the drawers have just been a dumping ground for small items.

Junk drawer - before.

Junk drawer -after.

Others have held a hodge-podge of items.

Second drawer - before.

Second drawer - after.

Some drawers had items in them that belonged in other drawers.

Third drawer - before.

Third drawer - after.

What I found was that because there was no system of organization, there were often duplicate items. Like in this drawer pictured below, there were 3 boxes of Saran Wrap and 2 boxes of foil.

Fourth drawer - before.

Fourth drawer - after.

In the process of organizing the drawers, I donated items that we no longer needed and were in good condition - like a rolling pin, some flashlights, cookie cutters, pans, bowls, and many other kitchen items.
Under the kitchen sink - before (top) and after (below)

In other cases, I was able to combine like-items (e.g., cleaning supplies, spices). For other items - like room deodorizer - I put them around the home where they would be most needed. There's no reason why I need four room deodorizers under the kitchen sink, for example.

With some cupboards, there wasn't too much of a change - it's just a bit more organized. For instance, the cupboard with the plates, cups, bowls, and salt/pepper shakers - there wasn't a lot that I tossed or donated. With the exception of several sets of salt/pepper shakers, we use all the items in the cupboard.

Since we eat all our meals (for the most part) at home, it's necessary to have a lot dishes (or what I consider a lot of dishes).

Cupboard with dishes - before (above) and after (below).

Same thing with the silverware drawer - not much change.

Silverware drawer - before (above) and after (below).

One of the cupboards I was dreading doing was the one that has water bottles, coffee/hot beverage holders, bento boxes, a kitchen scale, cookie makers, large plates, and tons of plastic ware.

We must have accumulated over 20 water bottles and easily double that amount of plastic ware. My parents would keep Cool Whip and frosting containers to freeze applesauce and soup. I was keeping lunch meat containers - because they were uniform in size and perfect for holding leftovers.

The challenge was - I kept accumulating and not recycling. Until today. Got rid of two bags of containers and over half of the water bottles! Now there's significantly more space. There's also specific areas for things (e.g., water bottles on the lower shelf on the right side; bento boxes on the lower shelf on the left side).

Cupboard with plastic ware and cups - before (left) and after (right).

The other cupboard that I put off until today because it felt so overwhelming was the one that held baking items. Also found more plastic ware that I recycled.

This cupboard was a hodge podge since I added a lot of items from my mom and dad's house when I was clearing it out at the end of 2015 through February 2016. My parents had much nicer bake ware than I did, so my goal was to replace what I had with what they had. Instead, I just put everything in the same cupboard.

Today, I donated the items that were in good shape of mine that I no longer wanted. I kept my parents' items. Any items that were damaged, were tossed. As I look at the after picture, it still looks like there's a lot in the cupboard. However, everything that's in it - I will use. It would be nice to have just a bit more cupboard space so I could arrange things a bit more orderly. Oh well...

Baking items - before (left) and after (right).

Another cupboard that became disorganized holds measuring cups, coffee, filters, teas, and candy. By taking everything out and rearranging it (as well as tossing what we no longer will use), it freed up space and it became easier to see what we have on hand.

Beverages and measuring cups cupboard before (left) and after (right).
Next are two drawers that have a variety of utensils. The first drawer has the items that I use frequently. There are a lot of knives and measuring spoons - partly because they include many from my parents' home and also because we cook a lot. I didn't get rid of too much from this drawer. Rather, I just organized it a bit better (e.g., all the knives are in one compartment).

Kitchen utensils - before (above) and after (below).

The second drawer with kitchen utensils was packed and had a lot of items that we rarely use. By getting rid of a lot of the items, there's much more space now.

Kitchen utensils - before (above) and after (below). 

I never took a picture of this cupboard before I cleaned it. Suffice it to say, it was a disaster. There were way too many pans, lids that didn't match anything, pots that were missing handles, and vegetables that were overflowing their containers.

Below is the result of organizing the cupboard. I put a cookie cooling rack over the potatoes, onions, and garlic holders to create an extra "shelf" for the saucepans. In that way, they aren't sitting on top of the fry pans.

This is the other cupboard that I didn't take a "before" picture of - only an "after" picture. Sophia and I worked on this one at the end of December when she wanted to donate 16 items to the food shelf in honor of her 16th birthday.

We found quite a few items to donate to the food shelf and, in the process, organized the remaining items. This has stayed like this for almost a month now. It's great! We know exactly where everything is and what we have on hand.

The last cupboard that falls into this task is the cupboard over the refrigerator. It's kind of an odd, awkward shelf in that I can't reach it without a stepstool. So, things I don't use frequently are in it: canning good, mole bombs, and lighter fluid.

When cleaning some of the other cupboards, I found more canning items. So, those things came to this shelf. Now, everything is in one location. I know what I have - and what I need next year when I start canning again.

Shelf over the refrigerator - before (above) and after (below).

What a tremendous relief to have this project done! I was determined to get this done by the end of the month...and I did. Now...onto the next project.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Book Review - The Feast Nearby

The second book that I read this year was The Feast Nearby: How I lost my job, buried a marriage, and found my way by keeping chickens, foraging, preserving, bartering, and eating locally (all on forty dollars a week).

The author, Robin Mather, detailed her everyday life through a year. Laid out by season, the book moves from spring to summer, and then into fall and winter. In each chapter, she shares experiences she had at home, with neighbors, and in the community.

At the conclusion of each chapter, she has several seasonal recipes that use produce that is typically available at that time of the year.

I was inspired reading how Mather thoughtfully built her pantry, freezer, and shelves with canned goods, dehydrated produce, and a wide variety of vegetables. She determined how much food of each type that she would need during the upcoming year and preserved it in a variety of ways.

Essentially what she was doing was creating a bank account from which she could draw against for the upcoming year. Her goal was to deplete it by the time the produce would be available again.

By having such a well-stocked pantry, she only had to purchase essentials at the grocery store - like milk and butter.

She also recommended doing a couple of hours of canning or preserving each week rather than buying huge quantities of produce and preserving it at one time. Canning a few quarts of tomatoes is a lot easier than preparing and canning a bushel of tomatoes.

Mather also wrote about how she preserved some produce in the basement which was about 38 degrees. She tied onions in pantyhose; and would put carrots and other root vegetables in slightly-wet sand.

These are some of the same things that my parents did when I was growing up. When my mom sent me to the basement to get an onion, I went into the storage room and cut off one section of the pantyhose and brought her an onion to use for the dinner.

I'd like to be more focused on food preservation during 2017, and have a more diverse pantry than I have had in the past. The Feast Nearby shows the value in doing this - and how much money can be saved in the long-term.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review - Adrift - 76 Days Lost at Sea

The first book that I read this year was Adrift - 76 Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan. This adventure book is a firsthand account by the only many known to have survived for more than a month alone at sea.

He fought for his life in an inflatable raft after his small sloop capsized six days from port. Callahan drifted for 1,800 miles and watched nine ships pass him by. Sharks circled his raft and he fought them off wit ha spear that he created with available materials.

Callahan said that the story isn't so much about his daily happenings and the mystery of the sea. Rather, he said his "...odyssey showed me that I was a lot stronger and more resilient than I ever thought possible."

In his life, he was "...hopeless in relationships. In many ways, I had been equally hopeless in life. When my ideals had not matched reality, I had fled reality. I could not accept my own limitations as a human being nor those of the people around me."

Being on a raft forced him to face his challenges and creatively think about how he could address them and overcome them. His ingenuity in getting his basic needs - like water and food - met were impressive.

His connection with the fish and aquatic life was inspiring and humbling. It was almost as if the mahi-mahi accompanied and encouraged him to continue on his journey and not give up.

He found as more people read Adrift that survivors of various disasters or diseases; victims of spousal or parental abuse; and other survivors approached him. He found his book "...tapped into the most universal human vein: the struggle to survive. To a greater or lesser extent, we all do it every day, and virtually all of us must face at least one severe test in our lives."

Callahan also said, "How much spirit we are able to share with the world, to aid it in its struggle to survive, far outweighs some record of a long life."

He also said, "We cannot control our destinies, but we can help to shape them....When I feel most alone and desperate, I take comfort from all those who have suffered greater ordeals and survived, especially those who, despite it all, have even learned to thrive."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Simple Woman's Daybook - January 17, 2017

For Today...


Looking out my window...I see snow still covering the ground despite the warm day (34 degrees!). Compared to just a week or so ago when it was 15 degrees below zero, this feels summer-like.

I am thinking...about how peaceful it is in the country and how much I enjoy living in a rural area.

I am thankful...that the roads were clear today as I drove the girls to their homeschool co-op and Sophia to harp lessons; and I did many errands in between that time.

One of my favorite things...my pets. We have two dogs, three cats, and two horses now.

Cooper: German-wirehaired Pointer mixed with a Golden Retriever.

This is a low number compared to what we've had in the past.

Aspen: American Staffordshire Terrier mixed with a Siberian Husky.

Our remaining three cats all are seniors, and we're noticing some health issues with each of them. Hopefully they are with us for a while.

I am creating...a variety of things. Three projects are small quilting ones that I am completing including a pillow and two wall hangings. Purchased backing fabric for the three projects today. Hope to have everything sewn by this weekend.

I am wearing...comfortable clothes now that I am back home.

I am reading...three daily inspirational books in the morning. Each one has a different focus and has a one page reading with a quote, passage, and closing thought.

I am hoping...to hear back soon about Olivia's finding ad. There is a research company that specializes in locating finding ads for children who were abandoned in China. The company has the ad that was placed in the local paper for Olivia, but not Sophia. This ad (if it has a picture) will be a new one that would show her at only a few days old - something we do not currently have.

I am learning...to be more patient. Both Sophia and Olivia did 23andMe DNA testing earlier this month.

The results take 6-8 weeks before we will receive them.

At that point, we can upload the information to various sites for more specific information about their health and background.

One of the things that we all are interested in learning more about are which ethnic minorities each one has in her background. There are 55 ethnic minorities in China - all with different customs, food, language, clothing, and so forth.

Between the ethnic and health information, they will both have significantly more insight into their background than we have been able to provide to them to this point. It is very exciting for us all...yet difficult to wait for the results!

In my kitchen...my goal is to try a new recipe each week during 2017. I've tried quite a few new ones already this year which has been fun. Made lemon-mustard pork chops which turned out well; and a casserole that was almost like homemade spaghetti - except baked and with melted mozzarella cheese on top.

In the school room...we learned about Screech Owls and Red-tailed Hawks from the Warner Nature Center.

The raptors were at our monthly club meeting which was exciting. I had no idea Screech Owls were so small. They always look so big in pictures.

I enjoyed being able to see these birds up close. Their beautiful markings, feathers, and eyes were all so fascinating to look at from such close a distance.

In my garden...everything is covered with snow.

Board room...I will be teaching a workshop for 4-H youth on January 28th about Healthy Breakfasts. One of the things the children/teens will learn to make is Overnight Oats. There are several different recipes on this PIN. The youth will have a variety of fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, oats, and yogurt from which to create their breakfasts.

Post Script...in addition to the Healthy Breakfasts workshop, I'm going to teach a bookmaking workshop to 4-Hers. One of the books that I thought would be fun to make is on this PIN which leads to October Afternoon.

The book she made is shown above. It would be a fun book for the youth to create; and then they can enter it in the county fair in July.

Shared Quote...this is a quote that I came across today:

A moment from my day...actually it was a few days ago. Sophia,  Olivia, and I were at Northwoods Humane Society where Sophia plays the harp for the dogs and cats waiting to be adopted.

It is amazing to see the impact that music has on animals - especially ones who are highly-stressed, anxious, recovering from surgery, or elderly.

Normally we take the cats out and bring them to another room. However, on Friday Sophia played the harp right in the cat room so the cats could stay in the kennels where they feel safe.

They responded well - some were very inquisitive and were peering out of their cages at Sophia. We took a couple of the more interested cats out so they could get a closer look at the harp. They seemed to enjoy it.

Closing Notes....thank you for coming by and visiting.