Friday, April 11, 2014

The Hardest Job I've Ever Loved!

One of the hardest things I've had to do is raise children with developmental disabilities.  I have spent many moments alone just crying out asking why me?  I honestly do not feel qualified to raise them.  I've endured a lot of criticism over the years from family because of things they do not understand.  It wasn't until I gave my life to Christ did I switch my focus regarding my daughters. Do not misunderstand me, I love my daughters with everything that is in me.  But I would be lying if I said I didn't wish things were different.  I've often cried out to the Lord asking why He gave me daughters with disabilities?!! 

April is Autism awareness month.  My prayer is that everyone out there would learn more about this.  I pray you become aware of what its like having a child that isn't like everyone else.  When you head to the store and see a child screaming do not assume they are spoiled or the parents just need to discipline more. 

When we started homeschooling 8 years ago I jumped in not really knowing what to do next.  I knew it was the best thing for my children.  Even my son who doesn't have any disabilities.  We did not have a definite diagnosis for our daughters.  Getting a diagnosis on paper was going to prove to be the longest and toughest battle I had ever fought.  Every time we reached out to professionals regarding a diagnosis we were always met with a brick wall.  It wasn't until last spring everything started falling into place after a horrible event.  God does use EVERYTHING for His purpose.  It was this event that really got the ball moving. 

My sister use to work for an organization called Easter Seals.  She had mentioned previously that I should take the girls there.  For whatever reason I had not done so.  But now that the girls are getting older I needed something on paper so they could start getting the services they needed.  So we began the process.  There is a ton of paperwork involved with getting a diagnosis.  I filled out the paperwork and then waited....and waited some more.  After about 9 moths we finally had the appointments for the testing.  It was 3 days worth of tests she had to go through.  Then there was more waiting.  In January we finally got the official diagnosis on paper. 

I remember opening up the report of findings.  I started reading and one phrase jumped off the page "Autism".  Then as I continued to read I saw another phrase that knocked the wind out of me, "Intellectual Disability".  It is the new term for mental retardation.  It was all so overwhelming to me.  You would have thought I would feel relief while reading it.  But I started to feel the tears streaming down my face.  I couldn't stop them.  I wasn't sure if it was because of the diagnosis or a relief that we finally had one.  It was most likely a combination of the two.  For 16 years I had fought doctors and medical professionals.  I suppose I had just come to terms with the fact we may never have an official diagnosis.  I highly recommend Easter Seals to anyone in a situation like ours.

Now we are in the next steps of obtaining services for our daughter.  We are working closely with our local ARC office.  They have been wonderful!!  I can see God's hand in everything we are doing.  Paperwork has been approved in weeks instead of the months we had been told it would take.  It really hasn't hit me we are ending this road of trying to get these services for her.  We are also starting the same journey with our oldest daughter. 

Tonight on Facebook someone posted a song called "We'll Get By (the autism song)".  I sat here in the quiet of my living room once again with the warm tears streaming down my face.  It is hard for me to put into words all of what I'm feeling.  No parent wants to admit there is something "wrong" with your child.  But it is reality for us.  We know that God does not make mistakes.  He knew what He was doing when He was forming her in my womb.  I have to admit the WHY is still there.  Have listen to the song...but keep the tissues handy.

Oatmeal Cookie Mix {Recipe}

In our quest to make our lives a little more self-sufficient I have been making our own homemade convenience products.  I decided to share these with you from time to time.  We joined a food co-op in February.  We were able to purchase large quantities of oats, sugar, flour, cheese and a few other items.  We love oatmeal cookies here.  I love the convenience of this mix without all the additives in the prepackaged mixes.

As you can see this recipe will give you many premade mixes.  It actually gives you 8 mixes but I made a batch right after I finished.

 Make sure you use a VERY large bowl.  This will also give your arms a great workout.  I eventually had to get my hands in to finish the mixing.

Oatmeal Cookie Mix

3 cups white sugar
3 cups brown sugar
6 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups shortening
12 cups rolled oats

Mix the white sugar, brown sugar, flour, baking soda and baking powder together.  Cut in the shortening until it is well mixed. 

Place 4 cups of the mix into Ziploc bags.  There you have premade cookie mixes for your convenience. 

To make oatmeal cookies:

Combine in a bowl 2 eggs, 2 teaspoons of vanilla and 4 cups of the cookie mix. Mix all the ingredients well.  Drop onto a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes. 

You can add anything you like to the cookies.  I personally like raisins or cranraisins or chocolate chips.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

From Sap to Syrup Part II {Homestead Learning}

We collected the sap from the walnut tree today!  I posted the other day about our mission to learn all we can about being self-sufficient right where we are planted currently. 

I decided to strain it as we poured it into the pan.  We got 5 gallons of sap from our walnut tree.  So once strained we place it onto the stove to start the boiling process.  This takes a long time!  Funny thing happened to us this morning.  We had intended on boiling this outside on our grill.  It has a nice side burner.  When we attempted to light the grill the match fell down through and started the propane tank on fire!!  Goodness, thankfully my husband and son were able to quickly put the fire out.  So we moved the operation inside.

This has now been boiling for over an hour.  It's starting to turn colors.  The white foam at the top needs to be skimmed off.  It's a lot like the foam that forms at the top in jam and jelly making.  So just let this boil away.  I put the sap into 2 different pans.  One was my nice black oval roaster....notice the past tense form of the word was!  It is no longer with me.  I stepped outside to chat with my son who was working on another project for me.  When I turned around I saw smoke coming out of the window.  YIKES!  So my word of advice is watch closely.  Once it starts to boil down it happens very quickly!  After about 5 hours I was able to transfer the sap into a smaller pan.

It is really amazing to me that THIS is 5 gallons of sap.  Well minus the almost 1/2 gallon I let burn up.  Hey it's all a learning experience.  So in one day we learned about fire, boiling points and water content.  Haha!! You want the sap to boil until it reaches approximately 220 degrees.  You can play around with it to get it to your liking. 

Now its time to pour into a jar.  I use double layered cheese cloth to strain the syrup once again.  This will assure you that all the grit is taken out of the syrup.  Just let it hang out there for a few minutes and drip into a jar.

Still hanging out dripping away.  You know the saying, "Good things come to those who wait".  So I waited patiently. 

All-in-all this was a great experience.  It is a lot of work!!  But to me this is so rewarding I don't even think about the time it took to get from step one to final product.  I cannot wait to try this on a warm biscuit or waffle.  It has a nice nutty flavor.  The experience was well worth the work.  Our children learned valuable lessons through out this process.  It was a fun family activity on using things that God has provided us.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Sparkle Egg Giveaway Winner

We have a winner for the book giveaway.  Are you ready???

The winner is......

Mary Preston

I have emailed the winner.  She has 48 hours to contact me.  If I do not hear back from her I will draw another name.

Thank you to all who entered.

From Sap to Syrup Part I {Homestead Learning}

My husband and I dream of one day owning a small farm where we can produce our own food.  For now we must bloom where we are planted.  That is right here in the middle of town.  We are unable to keep any kind of farm animal.  We cannot even keep bees.  So what we have started doing is learning how to do various homesteading tasks on a smaller scale.  Today we went out to our trees and learned how to tap trees.  Now normally you should tap your trees very early spring around Mid-February.  So this year is going to be a learning experience for us all. 

We have 2 large maple trees in our front yard.  In the back we have a walnut tree.  From our research online we have discovered people have actually tapped walnut trees and made syrup. 

This is going to be a learning experience for the whole family.  When I was a kid we use to tap our trees and make syrup.  It's funny how you remember certain things from your childhood.  I was only 8 years old when we did this.  But I remember walking into the woods with my dad to tap maple trees. 

So early this morning we gathered our supplies and got to work.  We found this neat kit from Amazon that had the spiles (Tree taps) and tubing along with instructions on how to tap your trees.  The kit is sold by Harvest Supply.   I am already sold on this company...they included a handwritten note thanking us for the purchase.  I love that!!  We purchased 5 gallon buckets with a lid at our local hardware.  We drilled a small hole in the lid to protect the sap from bugs and wildlife.  Also, we needed a drill with the 3/16 bit and a hammer.  I was thrilled I got to use my pink hammer from my new tool set. 

Now lets get started on tapping our trees.  First you want to drill into the tree about 2 inches.  Some books say 1 inch but that wouldn't have been long enough for the tap to fit in.  Drill at a slight upward angle.  When we backed the bit out the sap immediately started running out of the tree.  Place the tubing onto the tap and gently hammer the tap into the drilled hole. 

We drilled a hole into the lid of the bucket so the tubing will fit right into it snuggly.  Place the tube into the lid and then onto the bucket.  Our buckets have a nice seal around them which will keep a lot of the icky stuff out of our sap.

Once we got the tap and tubing into the tree the sap started to really pour out.  Ideal temperatures for sap is daytime of 30 degrees or higher and nighttime temperatures of 20 and below.  It's only going to get down to 30 tonight so we shall see how it goes.  You can collect sap until buds start appearing on your trees or the sap starts to look cloudy.  If you look closely at the picture above you will see the sap in the bottom.  It looks like water at the bottom of the bucket. 

LOOK at that wonderful sap!!  This is the sap from our walnut tree.  It has a slight nutty flavor compared to the maple sap it is slightly sweet.

So now we wait for the sap to collect in the bucket.  We will empty the sap and start boiling it down tomorrow morning.  Our grill has a side burner that we are going to use.  We are going to boil the maple and the walnut separately to compare the flavor.  We will probably get just a small jar of syrup when all is said and done.  It takes approximately 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.  Most of my information has come from the NYS Maple Syrup website.

"The trees of the LORD are full of sap, the cedars of Lebanon which He planted, where the birds make their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees." Psalm 104:16-17

I am joining in on the Homestead Barn Hop.