Sunday, December 30, 2012

Falling forward... warp speed to the new year

Yep, I'm still here, somehow. Where have I been? I have been to the other side and back again on a journey that I can only call The Great Sewing Room Disaster of 2012.

WARNING: These pictures are of a REAL person's home. I live here. I homeschool. I have not cleaned my house for your benefit. This is not a perfect or even finished home.

I had already started to move things before thinking to take pictures...
Most of the stuff from my sewing room in the homeschool room.

Now that Mr. Ireland's busy season has slowed a bit,  I have a little time to catch you all up with our progress (or lack of) here at Ireland Manor. It won't last long, so I won't promise to be here more frequently. Any day now the cold will return and Mr. Ireland will be back at it, working long hours and late nights. He's a good man, he is.

With the arrival of October I went from summer frenzy to fall panic. The mess in the living room from all of my sewing stuff  nearly gave me a fit of anxiety every time I went upstairs. For weeks I dreaded tackling the pile and being so busy with daily life, it just couldn't be done. The boys were STILL NOT keeping their rooms clean and the kitchen was/is looking like we might have to remodel it much sooner than we anticipated because there was an undetected leak under the sink that has destroyed that cabinet. All of this had me screaming: Can I go on vacation right now?!

Living room swapped to homeschool area

Well, we did go on vacation. I booked a trip to Oahu (thank you airline miles!) for the Mr. and I in early December and set to work on the upstairs. I am one of those people that just HAS to have a clean house when I leave on vacation  - what is the point of going if you come home to a dirty house that you will have to clean?! Even worse is having people stay in your home while you are gone (someone had to watch our kids) and expecting them to work around the unfinished construction and random piles of stuff. It was the motivation I needed to finish moving things.

Homeschool/Craft room now takes up living room.
I spent a couple of days here and there, largely skipping school lessons in November, to move things around. With a final push from my friend Niki, it was done! It is not pretty yet and there is still a large pile of boxed up books taking up the far end of the room, but it is functional and there is so much more floor space! We have 3 craft/homeschool tables for kids to spread out at and I have a big desk for my teacher's books and magazine collection (Pinterest was made for people like me!) It is the beginning of a crafty homeschool mom paradise and so much more practical than the previous living room arrangement.

My messy homeschool mom desk.
 Mr. Ireland and I moved the triple bunkbed to the little boys room and the two older boys are patiently waiting for me to paint their matching twin bed frames. By removing the top bunk board from the bed, the little boys can stand up on the middle bunk, but not jump out because of the rails and we don't have to worry about our 1 year old or 3 year old jumping from the top! It has also eliminated the little boys jumping across their room from one bed to another.

We are also in the middle of refinancing right now. While we wait to close, life has returned to something resembling "normal". It's hard to get anything done when you don't have any money! The list is still there, but there is nothing I can do about it and I can rest just a little bit. I say this every year, but next year, I am NOT going to keep pushing us so hard during Mr. Ireland's busy season, when I am mostly a single parent. Someone remind me of that next fall, yes?
Kids taking turns on the doorway swing
I finished a sweater that I had been working on for 3 years!

 I have had enough time to set up the doorway trapeze bar and swing we bought for the kids 2 years ago, and even enough patience to have the mini trampoline out daily. The kids are really enjoying the swing and trampoline. We avoided a lot of the cabin fever that usually comes with cold weather.

Speaking of cold weather - we have had a backwards winter! Very cold weather during November and early December, hardly any snow, and then December 25th the sky clouds over and dumps a foot of snow! Unfortunately, I lost a duck in the cold snap. I found her the morning of the 24th. I blame myself - I had been trusting my oldest boys to check for eggs and they weren't doing a very good job. I found her frozen on a stash of 6 or 7 eggs. It was very sad and difficult to see. With the snow came warm weather and after a few days of melting, I was able to go out today and chip away many of the layers of ice and straw. I rehomed the remaining ducks a few days ago and the chickens are beginning to lay again. Good old hens.
The whole family helping shoveling snow :)

 As soon as our loan closes we will begin work again. Living in a home you are remodeling is a special kind of torture. It means never being able to unpack, not having a regular routine, pushing to get projects done just so you can have a day off and doing that all while you are trying to keep up with daily life with many children. I am enjoying the break, but I can honestly say I am ready for that upstairs bathroom to be completed. I'm pretty tired of sharing a bathroom with our 4 sons! Now I wonder who's turn it is to scrub toilets?...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Squeezing the last drops out...

Squeezing the last drops out of summer in Alaska can be difficult. Fall sneaks in overnight, before you even get a hint that yesterday was the last day of summer. Temperatures drop from the high 60's to the mid 40's and the leaves hit the ground like little missiles. The joke goes something like this "When is summer going to get here? Oh, you missed it. It was yesterday!"

Truly, summer was yesterday. On Tuesday I picked the second crop of broccoli from my garden (don't be fooled, I have not picked very large heads this year) and Wednesday the moose blew through with the storm and ate all my cabbages and destroyed any hope of more broccoli.

The bathrooms are not done. I know, BIG surprise! We decided moving our two younger boys in to their own room was even more pressing than finishing the bathroom. We did put a new toilet in upstairs, so it is usable. There has been a lot of arguing over who made what mess in the boys room and when we moved the younger boys, we found out exactly who it was! I am thrilled that the oldest boys are able to keep their room clean now and now I know who needs further training. An added bonus is with the toddler son upstairs now, our nights are much quieter. He sleeps much better now that he is not sharing the nursery with a baby. The downside is I emptied my sewing room in to the homeschool area and now I have to sort it out and find a home for it!

My wonderful friend Niki came over for the day and lead a work crew of 6 boys to move gravel to the new bike parking pad!

I finally got around to building some high chairs. Just in time for our children to out grow them ;) * Correction: 1 high chair. I didn't actually assemble the second one! :{

We went to Seward, picked berries, went to the Sealife Center.We also decided we will NOT be sleeping in the motorhome with all 7 of us again! That is a story for another time...

I tidied up the laundry room and washed the bedding that had stacked up all summer. Our washing machine doesn't handle comforters very well. This means hauling everything to the laundromat. It sounds far worse than it is. These kind of errands get easier as my children get older - I don't take anyone in to the laundromat. I haul my stuff in, cram it into the biggest machine they have (it holds 4 or 5 king size comforters) and then set the timer on my phone while I hop back in my truck and run errands! Certainly not without hassle, but not all that difficult.

Some of our last projects for this fall (um, summer?) are to finally put the lattice up around the porch, finish the bathrooms and move the freezer out of the kitchen and into the basement. We might get to the porch roof. Maybe.

All this in the middle of putting up food for the winter - squash, potatoes, carrots (done) and apples. Until I have a root cellar, the corner of the basement with the back door will have to do. We had a farm subscription this summer, which means that once a week I have picked up an overwhelming amount of produce that I have cooked, dried, or blanched and frozen to be used over the winter. The refrigerator has been so full that I haven't had room for my bread dough. I can't wait to start baking again!

I'm looking forward to indoor work, too. School has started, and when we get in to a rhythm, I can start working on painting, trim work and tiling bathrooms!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Summer Recap

I realize that it has been a LONG time since I have posted. Honestly, we have been busy! Some house stuff, some summer stuff, but I'm going to pause and catch my breath for a moment before we move on to the next exciting project - the bathrooms! Yes, finally we will be doing the bathrooms. More because we are forced to replace the upstairs toilet and to tear out the downstairs sink to repair some plumbing, so we may as well remodel both bathrooms while we are at it ;)

Summer has flown by. We have done a lot, yes, but not as much as we had hoped. We set the bar pretty high around here. We don't often make it, but we keep trying.

Here is a collection of pictures of various projects around our place. I promise that I will use a fancy little slideshow next time, but these were all uploaded. Better to use what you have than scrap it all for perfection, I say. I will try to put in captions so you can figure out what we are doing. Enjoy!

Edward and I added wood chip paths to the existing lasagna garden. This was before we realized that most of the front yard is completely in the shade and unsuitable for vegetable beds. So we moved all the flowers and most of the dirt.....

... to make 2 large vegetable beds and several rows that will serve as a cutting garden of sorts until I come up with a new plan of where my vegetable garden will go. I don't know if I will get to have a garden in the front yard at all because it is so shady! It is west facing, but the trees on the south side really over shadow any potential garden area. Oh well. Back to the drawing board!

Mr. Ireland started hauling loads of junk to the dump. There were 3 trailer loads of random items and lumber left by the previous owners. He also used his truck to pull down the decaying green house structure and to jerk the blue steel container forward over the property line. He works so hard! He had a little fun with the green house when he took a splitting maul to it.

The baby turned 1 and promptly started to walk and climb the stairs!

We went to the zoo to meet my childhood best friend! It was wonderful to see her. I wish we could do that more often.

Not long after that, our house got painted! It is a VERY big house and it took a week of scraping and rescraping to get all of the terrible beige paint off. It is now a very dark green. I love it!

There was a bit of a greenhouse effect with all the windows taped over with plastic for several days of sun. Our house already is very warm in the summer. We survived, but it was hot!
My sister went up on the roof to help paint. What a good sis!

The boys had time for a sleep over during all of the chaos and lots of fun moments with cousins.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Winner of Day 7 jam, Peach Persimmon

Congratulations to Elaura! You have won a 1/2 pint of Peach Persimmon jam. Elaura was also the winner of the jam from Jam Week Day 1, Pineapple Rhubarb! I will be sending both jams this Thursday, Elaura :)

I hope to do this again this fall, now that I am caught up with last year's jam making. I now have 36 pints (less the give aways) of jam for my family to enjoy.

If you missed it, I made 7 types of jam:
Pineapple Rhubarb,
Mango Lime,
Double Strawberry,
Black and Blueberry,
Blackberry Plum,
Strawberry Cherry Rhubarb and
Peach Persimmon.

A delicious result for a week of effort. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Jam Week Day 7: Final Jam!

The last batch of jam for the week just came out of the canner. Yes, I skipped day 6 entirely. There was no jam made on Thursday to announce and I didn't make jam on Saturday either. It was great to have a break!  Before I forget, let me announce the winners of the three different jams from Friday.

Winner of jam #1 - Black and Blueberry, was comment #3, Amber!
Winner of jam #2 - Blackberry Plum, was comment #2, AK Midwife, aka Eva!
Winner of jam #3 - Strawberry Cherry Rhubarb, was comment #1, Amber again!

If you would be so kind as to message me your address or, if you like, a time that I can deliver them on Thursday. Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy the jams.

On Monday I said that I would be giving away 5 jams, but I had so many types of fruit to choose from (and clear out of my freezer) that as of Friday, I had made 6 jams with plans to make 2 more over the weekend. I have to admit, I am plumb tuckered out from adding jam making to my daily chores! I combined the last 2 jams to make....

Peach Persimmon. There we have it: Seven jams for seven days!

I have made peach jam before. It is decent, a bit like cobbler without the crumble. I prefer peaches fresh or cooked in desserts. Persimmon I have not jammed before! This was a bit of an experiment and it turned out rather well, I think. It is a nice peachy color and sweet, but not overly so. I am excited to have this in the pantry and proud of myself for producing anything from the frozen persimmons!

                      Jam making is messy business - don't use your best towels for a mat while filling jars!

To enter to win a jar of Peach Persimmon jam, leave a comment below. Tell me about your favorite peach dessert or perhaps about a persimmon you have enjoyed! Many people have not tried persimmons. They taste a bit like an apricot with the texture of a mango. Fuyu persimmons are the sweet ones and they look like orange tomatoes! Leave a comment before midnight on Monday. The winner will be announced on Tuesday!

That's it for jam week! Thanks for reading and congratulations to all the jam winners. I am happy to share the fruits of my labor! I hope you will check back often to see what is happening at Ireland Manor.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Jam Week Day 5, Part 3!

Three post in one day is a lot, but I have to keep the jam entries separate somehow!

The final jam for the day is Strawberry Cherry Rhubarb. I had planned on making Strawberry Rhubarb, but I needed it to have more color. Pale pink jams don't suit me; food should look as good as it tastes. I really didn't have a plan for the cherries that I pitted and froze last summer, so why not add them to a jam? I mashed and stirred and now the jam is a really nice shade of red and tastes great!
This was a good sized batch. I ended up with 6 full pints.

To enter to win a 1/2 pint of Strawberry Cherry Rhubarb jam, leave a comment below telling me your favorite cherry dessert! Did you enter to win the other 2 jams of the day? If you have not, you can click on JAM #1, and JAM #2 to get to those posts and leave a comment. Comments will count as valid entries if made before midnight Saturday (that's tomorrow).

Ah Saturday. This has been a long week. I am looking forward to a break! I do plan to make a batch of jam, so check back to see what it is. Ta ta!

Jam Week Day 5, Part 2!

My second jam of the day is done!

This really was a small batch. Just 4 jars! I had one package of frozen blackberries left and I combined it with the only package of frozen red plums! I'm not getting creative with the name - Blackberry Plum it is.

I think it tastes like summer in a jar :) Sweet, tart and berrylicious. I can see this as a topping for lemon curd in a really fantastic summer tart!

To enter to win a 1/2 pint jar of Blackberry Plum, leave a comment below before midnight Saturday, telling me your favorite kind of plum or plum dessert! Did you know there is more than one kind? I have fond memories of picking plums off the tree at my great grandmothers'. So sweet and juicy!

I have one more jam to post. Don't forget to enter to win all three jams today!

Jam Week, Day 5, Part 1!

Before I tell you about the first of today's jam, let me announce the winner of Wednesday's jam, the Double Strawberry. We opened a jar of it this morning to eat with our scones and it is hands down the best strawberry jam. SO good! Okay, drum roll please.... There were four contestants and again, using our very scientific method of a child rolling a die, the winner was comment number #3, Mary! Mary, I would be so happy to bring this jam to you and visit for a few minutes. How does that sound?

On to the jam making!

The first jam of the day is Black and Blueberry. I can't help grinning when I say that. Why? Because it is so good it will make you want to smack your momma! lol I'm kidding! Hitting other people is no laughing matter.

I usually stick to seedless jams, even going so far as to push all the raspberries through a fine mesh sieve before making my raspberry jam, but I don't have the heart to do it to blackberries. I did, however, crush them with no mercy. After adding some frozen blueberries, I have 9 half pints of Black and Blueberry.

 I thought that this would be a small batch of jam, six 1/2 pints or less. Making small batches of jam is a great way to get in to canning. I love it because you don't need a large canning pot - any large stock pot will do for canning jams, as long as you can fit 4-6 jars side by side and have 1" of water over the top of the jars. A 2 or 4 qt. stock pot will do for making the jam. It makes clean up very easy and that is why I plan to make 3 different jams today. They will all be small batches of unusual combinations!

To enter to win a 1/2 pint jar of Black and Blueberry, leave a comment below and tell me your favorite way to eat blackberries or blueberries! Entries will be accepted through midnight Saturday, May 5th, and the winner will be announced Sunday.

Check back later today for 2 other jams!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Jam Week, Day 4!

The winner of Tuesday's jam, Mango Lime, is Sonja a.k.a. "Rusty"! Using the very scientific method of having my 10 year old roll a die, comment #2 was the winner. Sonja, I have your mailing address already and I will send your jam out very soon!

It has been a very long day after another mostly sleepless night. I have been out of the house since this morning, so I have not made jam. I think I am going to cut myself a break and skip it tonight. I have 3 different jams planned for tomorrow, so have no fear. There will be plenty of opportunities to win jam. The jam making will continue through Sunday, with the final winner announced Tuesday.

Don't forget to enter to win Wednesday's jam, Double Strawberry! It set up very well, I am thrilled! Valid comments need to be left before midnight tonight, AK time. See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Jam Week Day 3!

The winner of Monday's jam, Pineapple Rhubarb, is Elaura Nevares! Since she was the only one that commented, she wins! Elaura, I will contact you via facebook for your mailing address and the jam will be on it's way soon!

I have had a headache for most of the afternoon after a sleepless night. The jam is just now cooling and I have a few minutes before I usher the children to bed, so I will tell you about today's jam.

Double Strawberry Jam!

It's not quite as mysterious as it sounds. I had 4 cups of frozen wild arctic strawberries left and decided to use them for jam combined with domestic strawberries. It is very tasty! I miss the wild strawberries and copious amounts of raspberries that grew at the house we rented before buying Ireland Manor.

The flavor of wild, pink strawberries cannot be beat. However, they don't can well, turning into a mushy, sweet, pale mess. Combining them with the bright red store bought berries resulted in a very dark red. Almost as dark as canned cherries. I can't wait to see if it sets up! I cooked the heck out of it because I am not so great at making strawberry jam. It seems to separate no matter what I do! I even let it sit up in the pot before I put it into the jars. We shall see...

Jam making is usually not this complicated for me! *shrug* Do you lose your jam gift if you don't use it?

To enter to win one 1/2 pint of Double Strawberry jam, leave a comment below and tell me your favorite way to eat strawberries! The deadline for today's giveaway will end at midnight on Thursday (tomorrow) and the winner will be announced Friday. :)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jam Week Day 2!

Today's jam is Mango Lime.

I LOVE mangos. Seriously. I could eat one every day and never get sick of them. This is a jam I started making 4 or 5 years ago because I needed to have mangos year round. It is absolutely terrific as a cake filling and very easy to dehydrate for fruit leather. I prefer fresh mangos, but I froze so many last year that I couldn't justify buying more until I had used them. I freeze a lot of fruit in season and then use if for jams or desserts later. I do the same with lemons and limes - I dry the zest and then freeze the juice into ice cubes. When I freeze mangos though, I put lime zest and juice in with the fruit. I find mango and lime to go so well together that I can't imagine using mangos in a recipe without lime.

I had about 10 cups of mango puree when I started and finished with 7 1/2 pints. The puree was a nice bright yellow with little flecks of green lime zest, but again, the end result is not the color it should be and I think I know why. Its the sugar. I switched sugar 2 years ago and haven't made mango jam or lemon curd since before that, only berry jams, and I didn't realize that the Organic sugar would change the color so much! I'm not willing to switch back to C&H (nor should you be, read this) , so I will have to sacrifice color or switch to another sweetener.

I use Pomona's for my jams and jellies. I love it because I can use any kind of sweetener that I want and I can use LESS of it. For instance, to make strawberry jam, a box of Sure requires 5 cups of fruit and 7 cups of sugar! That is a 1.4 cups of sugar to every cup of jam! Madness! With Pomona's, the recommended amount is 3/4 to 2 cups sugar (your choice how much) for 4 cups of fruit. A 1/2 cup of sugar or less for every cup. I can use honey, apple or grape juice concentrate, stevia, or nothing at all! I add sugar just because I have a sweet tooth and was raised on sugary jam :)

To enter to win a half pint of today's Mango Lime jam, leave a comment below telling me about the best mango dessert or dish you have ever had! Today's drawing closes at midnight on Wednesday and the winner will be notified Thursday.

Check back tomorrow to see what kind of jam I will make :)