Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Catching Up on Christmas - Time at the Dining Room Table

Another Christmas tradition on the Hoosier Country Homestead is taking time out just to be together.  It's a deliberate thing that doesn't just happen: It's something we "make time for".  As in most homes, I suppose, the dining room table is the center of many of our together-times.  Meals are shared there, business is conducted there, cookies are made there, Bible reading is done there, projects are completed there, games are played there, and puzzles are worked there.  Ours is a bit larger than average at 7'5" x 5'2" so there's plenty of room for everything and everyone.  It's a plate glass top over a hand forged (by a brother-in-law) wrought iron base and wasn't even supposed to be a dining room table when it was started.  The wooden door below the glass was the door to De's room growing up.  That story with all the details will have to wait for another post.
Where much our of living is done.  You can see the start of a 1500 piece puzzle on the right.
Part of our family time is working picture puzzles.  Each year we get at least one new 1000+ piece puzzle and work it up.  We usually end up working two or three spread out over a couple of weeks as family comes and goes.  When a puzzle is underway we usually just work around it. When mealtime comes a place mat goes down and we eat over the top of it!  The nice thing about a puzzle is you can work it and talk and laugh and drink your tea, coffee, cocoa or wine all at the same time. Usually two or three can work at once.  You can come and go as you please (or when you need a break), let someone else work the puzzle, or just hang out on the other side of the table.  There are always the jokes that a small pile of pieces "don't go with this puzzle" (they always do) or pieces that are "missing" (usually not, or found under a place mat or on the floor). As with the cookies, it's not the completed puzzle that makes doing it worth-while: Its the time we spend together that makes it special.

Fannie Mae's General Store - Lot's of work in this one!

This year we played games with the girls (which included some work on letters and numbers) at the table.  Age appropriate games with them are such a hoot!
Playing a "matching" game.  Harmony knows where to find the match!

A new tradition (2nd year) is making a molded chocolate Christmas house, although this is actually done around Thanksgiving time.  It's similar to a gingerbread house, only made with chocolate and decorated with candy.  This is De's thing and fits well with her doll house hobby.  You can see a couple of her 1/2 scale houses and part of a castle in the backgrounds.  (There are 50+ dollhouses and room boxes scattered around the house.  You can see her latest project at De-Lightful Minis  )

Somebody is snitching the decorations!

Grandma helps with the 'glue'

Getting the roof just right.

Tada!  The final product!

How wonderful it is to come together and just 'be family'!  These times are so precious to us and are a part of what makes the Christmas holiday so special for all of us.  We are blessed!

Tomorrow:  Happy New Year! And the last of the 'Catching Up' series.

Col. 1:9-12,


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Catching up on Christmas - More on Cookie Baking!

De came up with a couple of other Christmas cookie baking pics we thought would be good to add...

Christmas Cookie baking in 1996.  Not the first year, but one of the most fun.

Christmas Cookie Baking 2014 - Same kitchen.  The three on the left are same three as above, in the same order.
 Another couple of interesting tidbits: 
  • The little blonde girl in the 2014 pic is wearing the very same apron as the little blonde girl in the 1996 pic.
  • The little blonde girl in the 2014 pic is being held by her step-mom: The little blonde girl in the 1996 pic.
Gotta love it!

 Col. 1:9-12

Catching up on Christmas - Cookie Baking!

One of the favorite holiday traditions on the Hoosier Country Homestead is cookie baking.  Each year we pick a day when everyone is home and we bake Christmas cookies.  Usually there are two or three kinds of cookies on the menu, but the 'secret' ingredient is not a special almond extract or red-and-green sprinkles.  It's family.  The only really special thing about the cookies is that making them is a family project.  De and I have done this since the oldest (now 26) was just big enough to stand on a chair and handle her own bit of dough.  This year was special because we got to be part of the very first time the two new granddaughters have had the opportunity to participate.  That made a wonderful tradition even more precious.

I struggled to 'pare down' my collection of pictures.  There are still a lot, so here goes:

The process starts, as one would expect, with mixing the dough.  This year De, Daughter #1 (D1) and the Son (S) handled that part of the job.

There were sugar cookies, a wheat-free Gingerbread, and wheat-free spritz cookies.  With the dough made and chilling, the sugar cookie "production line" was set up on the table and rest of the family was summoned to the task.  Let the fun begin!

The parchment paper is put down, the cookie cutters are set in place, and finally the dough is delivered.  Here D1 and S delivery the 'goods' to D2 and the two granddaughters waiting at the table.

With the dough rolled out its time for the cookie cutting to begin.  What fun it was to see the two young ones all covered  with flour and punching out cookies for the very first time!

De makes sure the "production line" doesn't get backed up and keeps the cookies going in and out of oven.  During baking, the support crew gets to take a break.

Son-in-Law (SIL) and S get a moment to rest while the cookie cutting continues.

You all know how hard the job of "Photo Documentarian" can be :) so I take the opportunity for a quick rest.  This and bath time (Grandma's job) are one of the few times I'm sitting and don't have a little girl or two in my lap - Not that I'm complaining!

Even Zyla decides it's time for little siesta.

With cookies out of oven and cooled the decorating process can begin. Frosting the cookies and getting the right 'sprinkles' on put the finishing touches on the project.

Everyone helps with the frosting chores.  We carefully explain that one of the key tenets of cookie making is that any cookie broken by a real and true accident can be consumed on the spot, but breaking cookies on purpose violates the rules.  I'm not entirely certain this bit of confectionery law was carefully adhered to (by anyone) but we had plenty of cookies when we were done so I guess it all worked out.

With frosting underway it was time to start with the sprinkles!  In the eyes of a child, as well as some 'big kids' you can never have too many sprinkles!

The final tidbit of cookie making jurisprudence is one we had to watch a bit more carefully.  "You can't lick the frosting knife or eat the left-over sprinkles until AFTER the last cookie is done."  I think D2 and SIL would have been fine with the more straightforward "You can't lick the frosting knife or eat the sprinkles.", but once Papa had spoken the former into cookie making law, it was too late to rescind it!

When it was all said and done, we ended up with a nice batch of cookies.  They tasted great and (thankfully) some were sent home with everyone involved.  But the cookies were really just a byproduct: They'll last a few days at most.  The memories of another Christmas spent together laughing, doing, and just enjoying family last a lifetime.  This is the stuff that 'family' is made of, and we are sooo blessed to have been entrusted with this one.  We thank the Lord for what He has given us, and pray we are honoring Him with our care of it.

Col. 1:9-12


Monday, December 29, 2014

Catching up on Christmas - Family Gatherings

Merry Christmas to all!!  I know, I know, I'm 4 days behind.  Bad practice for an aspiring blogger, but somewhat in my defense we've been busy living Christmas and have not been good about sharing it with the on-line family.  I don't go back to my 'day job' until the 5th, so over the next week I'll be "catching up on Christmas".  I'll be sharing pictures where I have them, and simply narrating our family's activity and traditions where I don't.

I'll be sharing about family gatherings, Church activities, cookie baking, puzzle making, and some perspectives on what really matters.  If you get bored you can tune me out (there is that "Next Blog" button at the top of the main page!), but for the next few days I'll be generating a series of posts reflecting on holiday happenings at the Hoosier County Homestead.


Let's start with family gatherings:  Family gatherings are a big deal at the Hoosier Country Homestead, whether they are held here or elsewhere.  We have gotten to the point where, between families, Church, and Church Small Group, there are so many gatherings we need to spread them out, and our generation has gotten to the point where we are ready to let the days surrounding Christmas Day be the busy ones so the day can be quiet(er) and more reflective.

Mark and De at her family gathering
To that end, the family gathering for De's family was held on the Sunday afternoon before Christmas at one of her brother's homes.  They have a place large enough to comfortably accommodate everyone.  It's the smallest of the family gatherings and, with 6 not able to make it, came in at 14 family members.  Those that were able to make it ranged from 3 to 73.  We shared a tasty but casual meal as part of our time together.  We've come to enjoy the causal meals, because they allow more time for sharing and frees up folks from the kitchen and clean-up chores.  Gifts were given to 'Grandma' (De's Mom) the 'kids' (now ranging from 26 down to 3), and we all had a chance to catch up on family, college, school, work, and the general goings on in everyone's lives.

Our church encourages members to participate in one of a myriad of small groups (some churches call them study groups, accountability groups, etc.).  The core of our group has been meeting together for 12+ years with one couple moving away and several new couples joining over the years.  We now have 7 couples in the group.  Each week we meet for a meal, Bible study and prayer, usually at one of our homes but sometimes at the church building.  This group has become a real anchor for us and we count each other as 'family'.  With some of the kids and one couple missing, 16 of us got together on the 23rd for a meal and a 'white elephant' gift exchange. Great fun!

My family gathering is on Christmas Eve.  Our practice has been to come together early afternoon, share a large but casual, late afternoon 'finger-food' meal, exchange gifts, and then finish the evening at the Christmas Eve service.  It was at our house this year and, with 6 not able to make it, there we 23 of us.  Our house is really not large enough to comfortably accommodate that many, but we had a great time anyway.  We ranged in ages from Great-Gramma (my Mom) at 86 down to 8 months (or so).

As I said earlier, family is SO important for us and we really enjoy the sharing.  We are very fortunate in that almost all of us share a common faith and have a deep appreciation for the REAL reason we celebrate Christmas.  That Christian foundation makes everything else 'real' and meaningful.  We are sooo blessed!

Next up - The family tradition of cookie baking!

Col. 1:9-12,


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree!

So last week I was responding to a post over at 'A Home Grown Journal' where Mama Pea was asking where everyone sets up their Christmas tree, and what kind of rearranging is required to do so.  I did give her the 'short answer' (something like 5 paragraphs) with the added comment that I could feel a Christmas Tree post of my own coming on.  Here is the promised tour of the Hoosier Country Home Christmas tree collection.

We'll start with what we consider to be the 'main' family tree.  It sits up in the master bedroom.  We  have a family Christmas tradition of having everyone pick out an ornament each year to go on the tree.  When the kids leave the house, they get to take those ornaments with them.  All three kids are essential out of the house, but for two of the three our place is still 'base camp' so their ornaments are still here.

I took one pic with the lights off and one with the lights on.  I'm not so much the accomplished photographer as some of my other blog friends, so the lights 'wash out' some of the details.

There are a lot of 'Babies First', 'New Home' and those sorts of ornaments on this tree.  There is Barney the Purple Dinosaur, Crayola crayons, Disney characters, Angels, and Loonie Toons characters.  There are ornaments for people and pets that were a part of our lives over the years.  All the ornaments have a story and a memory.  This part of 'family' is important for us, and every time we hang ornaments we get a chance to remember all those special times.

Other the years my son and I have accumulated a number of sci fi themed ornaments, so now we have a separate sci-fi tree!

This year the tree is black and all the ornaments show up real well against the dark background.  It has, for the most part, a Star Wars and Star Trek theme.

Its a nice 'Father-Son' thing we get to do together each year.

Then there is De's tree.  It changes as the years go by, but the last couple of years she has focused on antique and 'old fashioned' glass ornaments.  That tree sits in the living room, and is the third in the 'series'.  This year it has blue lights.  Again, please pardon my poor photography.

Around New Years, these trees will come down and a 'Winter tree' decorated with snowmen, snowflakes and the like will go up.  It stays up until early spring.

Now it gets a little complicated.  If I'm counting Christmas trees in the house, I suppose I need to count them all.  Here goes a photo collage of most of the rest of them.  De does doll house miniatures and, with well over 50 houses and room boxes in the house, I can't be sure I got them all.  You can see her blog at De-Lightful Minis if you would like details on any of these.

This tree is in the boarding house

This one is in a house modeled after our house.

This one sits with the Santa collection.

This one is with the Noah's Ark collection

This one is modeled after the house I grew up in.  The dolls are my parents.

This is Santa's house!
Just in case you missed the tree on Santa's second floor.

This one sets next to the Nativity in the upstairs family room.

But let's keep the season in perspective

For all the fun we have with trees, decorations, miniatures, and all the other trappings.  We do make sure we take time to focus on the REAL reason for the season.

Luke 2:10-11 NIV  But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord."

He came to us as a baby but grew to be a perfect man, paid the price for my sin and yours with His life, and was raised again to reign forever.  He is my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ , and is THE reason for the season.   May God bless you all!

Col. 1:9-12,


Sunday, November 30, 2014

What 'Papa' Learned from Two Little Girls

We had Daughter #2 with our new son-in-law and two granddaughters from Friday afternoon through Sunday afternoon.  Daughter #1 is staying a few days with us, too.  It was so nice to see them all again!  I got to spent time with all of them and enjoyed every minute.  There were, however, a few stand-out moments with the young ones where I was reminded of some very important things.

  • There are lessons to be learned at the bird feeder, watching blue jays, cardinals, chickadees, finches, woodpeckers, nuthatches and all the other winter visitors come and go.  The different birds may not always get along perfectly, but with a little patience and persistence everyone gets what they need and no one goes without.
  • Happiness can be found in the most common of places if we just take the time to find it. A muddy winter chicken yard becomes a place of smiles, laughter, and joy when seen through the wide eyes of a 4 year old.

  • There is wonder to be found in common 'indoor' things too.  The older one (six) loves to help Papa make breakfast in the morning.  She's learning to crack open eggs she collected the day before, whisk them up in a bowl, and help stir them in the pan as they cook.  As the liquid concoction begins to turn into the scrambled eggs she's familiar with I hear "Papa look!  I see the eggs!".   It's easy to under-appreciate the joy in "making", even in making something as simple as breakfast.
  • All treasures are not necessarily valuables.  Garden tools and a sandy spot on the homestead are far more interesting than any toy on the property.  A handful of stone 'treasures' dug out of the sand and hidden under leaves (guarded by Papa so that Abby the cat and Zyla the dog don't get them) become the precious fruits of a little girl's labor.  No natter how simple, there is joy and satisfaction to be found in that which is earned above that which is given. 

This weekend 'Papa' was reminded that the eyes of a child are the most wonderful lens through which to view life.  We gain much when take the time to see through their eyes and lose much when pass them by.

Matt. 18:3 (NIV)  And He said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

We are so blessed!

Col. 3:9-12


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, all! 

Ours was a wonderful day spent with our large, extended family! 

As for me:
  • I am thankful first and foremost that Jesus Christ thought so much of me that he chose to die on a cross and bring us all salvation.
  • I am thankful for the family that has been a constant blessing for 54 years.  The closeness and love we share is a rare gift in a 'me' centered world.
  • I am thankful for a Church community that has been an anchor for my parents, De and I, our children, our small group, and many others over the years.  I hope that we have brought to them a small portion of what they have offered to us.
  • I am thankful for the blessings of being raised relatively poor on a small farm by Christian parents who to taught me how to work, how to give, how to love, how to discern the things that are important from those that are distractions, how to hunt, how to grow green beans and tomatoes, how to milk a cow by hand, and that it is ok to leave home, but not ok to forget it.
  • I am thankful for a job that for 26 years has been interesting, challenging, makes a positive difference in the world, and has provided me the opportunity to provide for a wife and three kids.
  • I am thankful for the opportunity to steward a small bit of land and be blessed by the work and by that which it produces.
  • I am thankful for a new Christian son-in-law and the two little granddaughters that come with him.
  • I am thankful for a country that, despite it's flaws, is still the most free society on earth, and enables me to worship, raise a family, work, and live in relative peace.
  • I am thankful for blog friends I have never met face-to-face that have been a source of joy and encouragement.
We are blessed!  May God bless and keep you all.

Col. 1:9-12,


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Winter Arrives!

We have our first shot of winter '14-'15 on the Hoosier Country Homestead!  This first round is just a bit of snow, maybe an inch or so.  This is far less than our neighbors 40 miles to the west who catch a lot more of the Lake Michigan lake-effect snow: They got over a foot over the course of an evening and night. After the snow dropped in, the temperature dropped down and we spent the better part of a week in the low teens, which is rare for this early in the season here.  Today it warmed up enough to rain for an hour or so and melt most of what we had.

The chickens are still figuring out what do with winter.  On the coldest days (11-14F) they never left the coop but they do enjoy getting out when it warms up a bit.  We've chosen not to push the egg production by adding lights to the coop on the theory that producing a few fewer eggs during week will help them stay a little healthier. We still get at least 8 eggs a day out of the 13 hens and usually more.

They do enjoy getting out and about.  They also really enjoy the chicken compost box.

My grand plans for a 30 gallon, heated chicken waterer came not to fruition, so we have fallen back on the local favorite for small flocks:  A heated dog bowl.  It actually works really well!  We take a gallon of water down every morning when we let the ladies out and everybody stays happy and hydrated.  I still have hopes for the fancy waterer, but likely not this winter.

The blue heated  dog bowl has worked out great.

I can say with a fair amount of certainty the garden is done, done, done!  There's nothing like an inch of snow the day before the temperatures are due to plummet to motivate you to get it all done.
Well... This is embarrassing...
So here I am, digging the last 15 pounds of potatoes out of the garden.  They were actually just fine.  The only issue was figuring out where to dig.  I ended up turning over a 4 foot wide swath of garden to locate the two wide rows.  Still all good!

I will try to be a little better about getting posts up more often.  Though I am working more hours, things have settled out a bit here on the homestead and I should be able spend more time after work on the computer. 

Take care all,  Col. 1:9-12,