Yet again I have been away from the blog, and yet again it was for a very good reason! I would like to introduce Magdalene Ruth (Maggie), born on August 18th. Her birth was not the most enjoyable experience (is it ever?), but I am so thankful she is here! This is my third child, and like my other 2 children, I wanted to deliver her as naturally as possible. I had a new doctor with Maggie and she does an ultrasound with every appointment. Through these frequent scans, we could see that Maggie was a big girl (like her brother!), and our main concern wasn’t her head but her large belly; she measured at 99% for over a month. I know that ultrasounds are not an exact science and that the measurement depends on who’s taking it, but with the consistency we had for so long, we were a bit concerned about her getting stuck. The doctor thought it was wise to induce her a little early to avoid the dystocia and to keep her weight under control, and I wasn’t looking forward to delivering another 10 pound baby!

We broke my water 5 days before Maggie’s due date and she was born 6 and a half hours later. While we were able to keep her weight at 8 pounds 14 ounces, and I was able to deliver her without any medications, we did not avoid complications. Maggie got stuck on the way out and broke her little collar bone! The break was in a good spot, if there is such a thing, and the bone never got out of alignment.  Luckily, newborns are so cartilaginous that she healed very quickly within just a few weeks. She didn’t really seem to be in much pain for the first few days, but it probably helped that I was on Percocet! Haha! We now have our beautiful baby girl who looks just like her brothers and is the sweetest thing in the world. Stay tuned for pictures of her beautiful baptism and much more love from her mama!

Even though I won’t be in the classroom this year, I thought I would re-share this free printable I created last year. I was never able to find a planner that fit all of my needs, so I created my own! This is a 2 page per week format and has space for current plans as well as looking into the future. Enjoy!

DOWNLOAD HERE

This is the time of year when teachers all across the country are gearing up for a new school year. The adrenaline rushes in the middle of the night when you realize school starts in 8 days, along with the stress of getting everything ready on time, not to mention those evil “teacher dreams” (showing up on the first day with nothing ready and 30 kids staring at you) make for a difficult few weeks! Normally, I would be in the throws of the back to school preparations, but this year will be different.

It seems like God has put our family on a bit of a roller coaster the last few years as far as my ability to stay home with the littles. Part way through last school year, Gideon got a new job with the company in charge of our digital curriculum for the district. This jump was a bit of a balancing act, as he couldn’t make his official move until a replacement teacher was found. In January, he was able to transition completely into his new position and has been greatly enjoying it! The main reason we decided for him to take the job is that it will allow me (God Willing) to stay home and homeschool the kids! We tried this on one teacher salary when our second child was born, but Oklahoma is now at the very bottom of the barrel for teacher pay…. so that only lasted the year. The outlook for this go around is very positive, and I am hoping it can be a long-term scenario!

My teacher brain is already in full gear, as Finn will start preschool this year. The enormity of what it means to provide my children’s education has been settling on me a bit, but I am extremely grateful to center their lives around the Orthodox Church and the beautiful rhythms it provides for our year. Though I would love to jump in with school right away, there is one not-so-little event impending: little sister’s arrival!! I am 38 weeks pregnant and little miss could arrive at any time! I have decided to wait until about October (after my 40 days’ rest) to begin schooling. Hopefully by then we will have found some sort of new rhythm with all three children and we can get down to business! I will be writing about our upcoming adventures, both with school and becoming a family of 5, so stick around! Glory to God for all things!

Wish us luck! 🙂

One of the best and most fundamental elements to our little homestead is our chickens. We are in the process of starting a new flock because, unfortunately, the last flock we already had met a not-so-nice ending. We raised 12 chicks last summer and were able to integrate them with the 4 that were already in the coop. Our original coop was back behind the house, and while that was convenient, the chickens were not doing much to help us in the garden. We decided to move the coop down to the hill and integrate the flock with the gardening process. The idea was to have the coop in the middle of a two-sided garden; the chickens would ready one patch by scratching, fertilizing, and eating bugs, and then we would switch the plots the next year. Then the chickens would get a new area while having helped us to prepare the new garden area. Gideon moved the chicken coop down the hill and began the process of modifying it to fit the hill.

Things were beginning to shape up well, but we had a vacation planned back to our hometown in California and we were gone for 2 whole weeks. Gideon’s stepdad was gracious enough to come watch the chickens for us while we were gone, but none of us knew how much that was asking! Unfortunately, there had not been enough time to move the coop and secure it as much as it needed to be down on the open hill. While we were away, a red fox (we think) decided that our flock would make a great meal project. Every night, the fox would attack, leaving a very unsightly scene in his wake. Gideon’s stepdad tried to make patches as best he could to fortify the dwelling, but it was not enough. He even stayed up until 4 am to try and catch the darn thing! Despite the attempts, the sly fox had his way and feasted on all but ONE of our 16 chickens.

Needless to say, we were pretty bummed about the loss. Our egg production had just started in full swing and we went from almost a dozen a day to nothing. We knew right away that we wanted chickens, so the first order of business was to rework the chicken coop and the fencing. Gideon did an amazing job rebuilding the coop (and even adding some square footage!).

The chicken coop “before”:

The new and improved “Chicken Chalet”:

Gideon took all of the chicken wire off the bottom area of the coop and replaced it with fence boards. He then decked out the bottom of the coop completely so no critters can get in from underneath He also made a pop-out nesting area!

The ramp is now on hinges so it will go all the way up to make room for cleaning. There is a largennnew door on the front also to make cleaning easier, and we will have doors on each side to let the girls out to whichever side of the garden they are working on. Right now the door is cut on one side, but the locking contraption is pretty complicated. We have been discussing different ways to make the daily chore of letting the chickens in and out a bit easier since they are down on the hill now. Gideon has been researching automatic doors (I know, fancy, right?!) and we finally settled on an option. It works on a photocell, so it will open and close with the sun. It just came in today, so it will be ready in time for the new chicks to move into their digs!

Speaking of chicks, we got our new flock on Friday! We bought 16 chicks of 4 different varieties. We have 4 Black Sexlinks, one Barred Rock, 5 White Rock and 6 Brown Leghorns. We have only had the Leghorns in the past, so this will be a good experiment. The chicks have all settled into the brooding box and seem very content. Here is to another try and a hopefully successful year of chicken raising!

 

I spend the first part of my school day looking forward to lunch. It isn’t so much that I need a break from my students (though there are days) but more so that I know that within that little lunch bag lies a yummy sandwich made from the best homemade bread out there. We have been making this bread for about 3 years now. Every so often we have had to buy bread from the store due to a lack of time, and each time it has confirmed for us that there is no going back; this bread is a game changer.

When we first started, we were buying flour from the grocery store. We quickly realized, however, that going bulk would be a better option for us. We purchase our flour in 50-pound sacks from Azure Standard. If you have never heard of them, I would recommend a look. We have done some tweaking of the recipe over the years and have settled on a half/half mix of whole wheat flour and white flour. It gives all of the good nutrients without being too “whole wheat” in the taste.

We make our dough in a bread maker. We make our dough only, we don’t  bake the bread in it. We have found that baking the bread in the oven makes much better loaves – and let’s be honest – the smell of baking bread is one of the best parts of the process! If you don’t  have a bread maker, you can make the dough by hand, just use the same ingredients and look up the process for the kneading and rest times.

So without further ado… the recipe for honey wheat sandwich bread:

This recipe makes 2 loaves at a time. If you only want 1 loaf, be sure to half the recipe.

Ingredients

2 cups of warm water

4 dollops of honey (we buy ours by the gallon from Azure Standard)

2 teaspoons instant yeast

6 cups flour (3 whole wheat/3 white)

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons salt

Place water and honey, and yeast in the bread maker. Let the yeast dissolve for a few minutes to react with the honey. Next, add the oil, flour, and salt. We premix the 2 types of flour and the salt to get a good consistency through the loaves. Start the dough cycle on the machine, ours takes 1 hour and 50 minutes including a pre-heat time.

 

When the machine is finished, separate the dough into 2 greased loaf pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place for at least 30 minutes.

We usually let the dough rise until it just crests the pan. The bake in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes. We actually bake ours for 32 minutes because the extra time gives it that beautiful golden brown finish. You will need to play with your timing on your own oven. When the loaves are done, turn them out immediately onto a cooling rack. Resist the urge to cut into them right away! Remember, once you open this Pandora’s “bread” Box, there is no going back! Enjoy!

I recall a conversation that we had with our priest a few years ago about why so many people have gotten away from self-sufficiency. His opinion is that modern society has taught us that we CAN’T do things for ourselves. I have pondered this for a while, and it makes sense. We have grocery stores with pre-packaged meat and we have no connection to where it came from. We have mechanics and Jiffy Lube places that change the oil in our cars, and landscape companies that cut the lawn so we don’t have to worry about it.  Today we have grocery stores and fast food restaurants; not only do we not have to grow our food, but we can get anything we want within minutes. It would seem that we have evolved as a society and that things are just easier now- but what have we lost in the process?

When we bought our house 3 years ago, we decided that we were going to make use of our 1 acre and live from it as much as possible. We also  wanted to learn how do to as many things for ourselves as we could; it is important to us to show our boys that we can grow our own food and bake our own bread, among other things. The idea of being good stewards of what we have been given goes right along with our Orthodox faith, and we want them steeped in that as much as possible. We have a long way to go as far as self-sufficiency is concerned, but we have been working on some routines which are putting us on the right track.

One of the simple routines that we implemented about 2 years ago is baking our own bread every week. This was the slippery slope that made us want to do everything ourselves! There is absolutely nothing like taking a loaf of bread out of the oven and buttering a slice to devour while it is still warm- delicious! The fact that we know exactly what goes into the bread and that there isn’t a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients is also a great comfort to us. We regularly make 2 different types of bread- honey wheat sandwich loaves and french crusty bread; the sandwich bread is our go to for weekly lunches, and we love the crusty bread for just about everything else! We have passed the recipe to many friends who now make their own bread and vow to never go back. I will give them each their own post with recipes and pictures, so you can see how easy it is! The honey wheat loaf will be up first!

What are some things that your family does to get back to basics? I would love to hear from you!

This week I was privileged to attend the Advanced Placement Summer Institute at the University of Tulsa. I have been to this conference before, and APSI always does a great job for our teachers! The week was full of great discussion, “brain oil” (as my teacher called it), and fellowship. Summer professional development offers the opportunity to meet like-minded teachers, to get some awesome resources, and to get a much-needed recharge; I am thankful for it!

I will be going to a “Google Bootcamp” this week in preparation to become a Google Educator. I have learned so much about Google and it is a game-changer in the classroom! Not only will I be able to use Google apps with my students, but there are some that make home management easier too! Stay tuned for some specifics- maybe you will be able to find something to help your day!

As of press time, I will be teaching both English II Sophomores and Pre-AP II Sophomores next year. I have taught Pre-AP before, so I am excited to have the opportunity at my new school. The longer I am a teacher, the more I realize how much of an art teaching actually is; I have so much to learn and am just beginning to scratch the surface!

We will be reading some great texts in Pre-AP this year- Oedipus Rex, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Night. Each of these texts has strong themes that will hopefully get the kiddos thinking and reflecting. Actually getting through to students and getting them to take ownership of their learning is a constant challenge. Gideon and I love our school because we can really strive to make a difference in the lives of our students. “Unfortunately” for many of them, they get us both during the day; I tell them that we have the same brain and that they will hear the same words coming from both of us many, many times! Almost 15 years of marriage and more importantly, the Holy Orthodox Church,  has given us a firm foundation of belief and a world view that allows us to provide the students with stability and positivity. One student told us that we are the model of marriage for her life, and I am so thankful to have the opportunity to be there her and for those other students who may not have that in their lives. Thank God!

 

 

I have been thinking a lot lately about this blogging adventure and what I would like to see for the future of Life on a Little Hill. I have so much more to share and have decided we need a more permanent home. To that end, I have created lifeonalittlehill.com!

I am so excited to welcome you to the new site and to get some new posts up soon! Thank you to everyone who has been reading!

Greetings everyone!

I apologize for the lack of posts within the last year; it turns out that one Oklahoma teaching salary alone does not quite fill the budget gap to allow me to stay home with the boys. We had to make the tough decision at the beginning of last school year for me to go back to work. Fortunately, Gideon and I were both able to get jobs in our little town and had a great year giving back to our community!

We are working behind the scenes to diversify our earning potential, and I will be posting as things go forward. In the meantime, and now that I am on summer, I hope to get back to some fun blog posts and show you all what is happening on our little hill!

First up… BEER!!

Yes, you heard me right! Beer! Though I don’t drink beer myself, my husband is quite the aficionado and has been brewing his own for the last seven years. He has written a guest post about the process and the hopes of one day being able to help support the family with this endeavor! We are still working on a great name for the brewery… comment if you have a suggestion for us! Enjoy!

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

 



I have been brewing now for about seven years or so, and have appreciated good beer for much longer than that. In Oklahoma, good beer is not an easy thing to come by. With strange regulations left over from the prohibition era such as 1) alcoholic beverages over 3.2% are prohibited to sell in grocery stores, 2) liquor stores are prohibited from refrigerating their stock (UPDATE: This law JUST got changed a few months ago), and 3) liquor stores MUST be closed on Sundays, voting days, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day. So, if you are planning on doing something over a holiday weekend, make sure to get your REAL beer or adult beverage of choice on Saturday!

In addition to finding good beer conveniently, I have found that the beer that is sold here tends to be really expensive! Mostly, that comes from taxes imposed from the State “sin tax.” Additionally, in Oklahoma all sales of alcohol have to go through a distributor. What this means is that small, local craft brewers or wineries can’t sell their products directly to the public (or for that matter sell directly to a liquor store). They must go through a licensed distributor. However, this costs money, and of course, the distributor adds a percentage on top of whatever the brewer is charging. Thus, by the time your beverage of choice gets to the shelf, there have been several additions of taxes and rate hikes.
All this to say, Oklahoma has driven me to drink! Or rather, driven me to MAKE my own drink!
One of the things that I really enjoy doing is learning how to do something for myself: make bread, grow vegetables, make ice cream, sew, build things, fix things, work on my own vehicles… I have my dad to really thank for this trait/mindset. He is definitely someone who I look up to, who has always tried to figure out how to do things on his own. Between my dad and my stepdad (who has always found creative ways of doing things), I was doomed from the beginning to start my fiddling and meddling and puttering days early on!
Initially, I started brewing as most people do: with extracts. Malted barley (or other types of grain) is allowed to soak like tea at 155 degrees for an hour. During this time, a process called sacchrification takes place where the complex carbohydrates break down into simple sugars. In order to make an extract, this solution is boiled down in factories and made into a syrup.
So, I used these syrups with good success for several years. It was effective, allowed me to make beer at home, and was faster than the “all grain” method. However, the more I brewed, the more I saw the cost difference between extract and all grain. Due to the processing, extract brewing is more expensive. Also, while it does allow you to shorten the brew time by a couple of hours, it does limit the control you have over the viscosity of the beer. In all grain brewing, the brewer keeps the grain at 155. However, if you change that temperature, you can also change the viscosity (or mouth-feel) of the beer.
So, it wasn’t long before I began to look into brewing with all grain. I have now been brewing all grain for about two years, and I love it! I wish I had done it sooner! While it does take a bit longer, I can make my beer significantly cheaper, and with a great deal of control.
For those of you who might think about getting into brewing, here is my current setup:
The beauty of brewing is that at its heart, it is truly simple. The key is to keep things clean. By God’s grace, I have never had a beer that has been bad due to contamination. I have made beer that I have been less than pleased with, but that was due to me being adventurous in a recipe, and the recipe not turning out as good as I had hoped.
While my brewery is not yet complete, it works very well as is, and produces good results. The hot liquor tank (big pot on the left) also doubles as my boil kettle. Essentially, I boil a lot of water and then transfer that hot water into the mash tun (the water cooler). Next, I add the crushed malted grain to the hot water and wait an hour for the sacchrification process to take place. Meanwhile, have a beer. Then, I begin to slowly drain the wort out of the mash tun and into another vessel (eventually I will get a separate boil kettle for this step. In the meantime, I transfer it into a bucket and then back into the hot liquor tank to double as my boil kettle). Once I have 6 gallons or so, I can begin the boil.
(Inside the mash tun–grain and hot water)
(Here I am sparging (draining and straining) the wort from the grains directly into my boil kettle)
(That is a lovely color!!)
(My goodness that is a dark beer! Like a good Imperial Stout, it sucks the light out of the room!!)
So, with six gallons of wort on the stove, the boil begins. This is where the fun happens… You can change the characteristic of beer by adding different ingredients. Hops are almost always added for their preservation properties, as well as their bittering flavors. By adding hops at different times during the boil, the brewer can achieve different characteristics. For example, if you want to add the bittering flavors of the hops, add them at the beginning of the boil. If you want to add the flavor of the hops (the flowery, citrusy, or piney flavors), add the hops during the middle of the boil. If you want only the SMELL of the hops in the beer, then you add them right at the last. None of the flavors or bittering will be imparted to the beer.
Some of my favorite beers are the Belgian variety. They will add coriander, orange peel, candied sugars… all sorts of things! This is the creative cooking part of making beer where you can really play with recipes and have fun. So, for one hour the wort is boiled with the hops added at specific intervals. Over the hour, about a gallon of water evaporates, leaving you with approximately 5 gallons of beer.
But, this is one of the most critical parts… The boiled liquid must be chilled to around 70 degrees. But this must be done quickly in order to minimize the possibility of contamination of bacteria or wild yeast. This is where I use a wort chiller. Essentially, it is a long copper tube that is immersed in the wort. I then hook up a hose to one end of it, and run cold water through it, thus chilling the wort. It is simple and pretty effective. Once the beer is around 70-75 degrees, I transfer the beer into a sanitized bucket or carboy. At this temperature range, it is safe to add the specific yeast for the style of beer that is being made. I like Wyeast and have had really good results with their products. I am sure there are others, but their consistency has been top notch. A water lock is placed on top of the carboy or bucket that allows gasses to escape, but does not allow anything in.
(Here is a picture of my carboy with Peach Porter Wheat beer. Notice the water lock on top)
It takes about a week for most beers to complete the krebs cycle to break down the sugars into alcohol. Most beers benefit by transferring again to another carboy and waiting another week. It allows for a full fermentation and flavors to settle in. After the two weeks, it is time to bottle (or to keg). There is still active yeast in the beer, and to bottle condition the beer, I usually add 3/4 cup corn sugar solution to the beer. This will activate the yeast and allow for just enough carbonation to take place. I then transfer to bottles, cap, and wait another week or so. Then, chill, crack open, and enjoy!
 
My kind family has encouraged my hobby and all members truly have supported it! My brother and wife have helped with my kegging setup, my dad with my mash paddle, my mom with special glassware, and everyone else with drinking it! 🙂 I hope to continue brewing and improving and expanding. Maybe one day soon I can do it on a larger scale. However, for now, I am very pleased with what I can make, and will continue to brew on our Little Hill. Cheers!
 




Writing about the garden requires more experience than I have… so my darling husband has agreed to give you an introductory tour. We are fairly new at this gardening thing, so any suggestions or feedback is always appreciated! Enjoy!

Contrary to my wife’s better judgment, she has graciously agreed to let me guest blog on her site. Today, I’d like to share a little about our garden, what we are attempting to achieve, and how we are going about doing it.

First of all here are some of the things we have planted so far this year:
Long Term (perennial) plantings:
            Peach Trees (planted last year, replaced one this year)
            Blackberry bushes (Planted last year)
            Asparagus (planted crowns last year, they are producing now)
            Strawberries (planted this year)
           
Short Term (annual) plantings:
            Sweet Peas
            Onions
            Potatoes
            Leeks
Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to plant my leafy greens and brassicas this year in spring: lettuce, spinach, kale, broccoli, etc. If only that pesky thing called a job wouldn’t get in the way! However, we are exploring the idea of planting some lettuce & spinach inside during the heat of summer.
It’s now time to get my summer crops in the ground. We are planning on planting:
            Tomatoes
            Yellow Summer squash
            Zucchini
            Sweet potatoes
            Cucumbers
            Cantaloupe
One of my problems is that when I do something, I like to do it all the way! Go big, or go home! It gets me into trouble frequently… Anyway, the first year, we were able to successfully grow most everything we wanted to. We had some trees die (plums and a couple of peach) as well as blueberries. However, everything else that we planted in the garden grew miraculously well! In retrospect, I should have listened to the advice of my priest. Novel idea, right? His suggestion was to choose the areas I wanted to plant, and cover it with plastic to kill off the weeds underneath. This would have saved us some labor, but we also wouldn’t have had all that wonderful produce!
This is our second year in our little house on the hill, and we have loved the fact that we own a little over an acre of land. We have a beautiful view from our house, and while the hill provides a beautiful view, it also provides a challenging topography for farming and gardening! One of the challenges we have here is the soil. Our soil is quite sandy and rocky. Where it isn’t sandy/rocky, it has veins of clay. Much of the land has sandstone bluffs, and we are fortunate to have a beautiful example on the backside of our house. In addition to the sandy/rocky and clay-filled soil, the native weeds and grasses are a bear to deal with! So…. what to do?
We initially began to amend the soil with more organic matter–manure, compost, and mulch. The sandy soil is quick draining, so it is important to add more vegetable matter in the soil to help retain moisture and provide nutrients. The clay, on the other hand, is so dense that it does not allow air for the roots to grow. The good thing about this, though, is that with yearly additions of mulch and compost, we can fairly easily improve the soil. However, the quantity of mulch that we need has proven to be HUGE!
The overall size of the garden at this point is probably about 1/4 of an acre., and much of that has to be mulched.
We have made two big changes to the garden this year, both of which are an attempt to reduce mowing/weeding. The first thing we have done has been to widen the layout of the garden to facilitate easier access. By making every other row about 5′ wide, I can now drive my mower towing the garden trailer behind between the rows. This allows me to mulch easily. Secondly, we are putting down weed cloth between the rows and mulching over them. This already has helped tremendously in keeping down the grasses and weeds. Hopefully, by the time we are finished with laying down the weed cloth, we will have reduced our labors. We shall see!
Cheers!
Gideon

Post Navigation