Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Late Summer Sundial

The last week of August is in full swing and the forecast is warm and sunny.   As a family, we have been eagerly taking advantage of the late summer sun.  I love the cool nights which are equally balanced by the warm afternoons this time of year.

When we are outdoors and away from the clocks, it is easy to lose track of time while working in the garden harvesting our food and herbs.
I came across and easy project on making a Homemade Sundial.  Children of all ages can participate because it involves using their favourite things such as playdough, sticks and rocks.

Homemade Sundial:

We gathered 12 stones, 1 stick (about 3 inches in length) and a ball of our homemade playdough.
The time on the clock in the house read 11:30 a.m.  I started with 2 rocks (one representing 11:00 and the other one as 12:00) and ensured that the shadow from the stick lay in between those rocks. 
I then carefully lined up the additional rocks with the same spacing as the first 2 rocks.
You may have to adjust the rocks over the next day to ensure that their placement is accurate in order to tell time properly.

We really had a lot of fun with this!

Wilke Reflection of the Week
***Each week, our family takes time to pause, reflect and appreciate a special moment in our lives.  We would like to share this reflection with you.

Late Summer Shadow

Friday, 26 August 2011

Foraging Black Walnuts

Today at our local schoolyard, one of the children brought me a green "kiwi size" gift that they had found on the ground.  It turned out to be an Black Walnut that had fallen off of the tree.  I immediately became excited because I was not aware that there was a Walnut tree in the school yard.

We walked along the fence of the yard until we identified 2 Black Walnut trees standing side by side.  I was very excited about this find.  All of the children eagerly helped to pick up the walnuts that I had knocked to the ground from the lower branches.  In a couple of weeks from now, the walnuts will mature on the tree and the hulls will become much softer.  One will just need to touch them with a stick and they should easily fall to the ground...  I intend to go back for those walnuts on the higher branches.

Normally, we would wait a couple of weeks before harvesting Walnuts however, with the new school year literally around the corner, I knew that we had better start foraging today.  I always pack reusable grocery bags with us because the children are always finding things on our nature walks that they want to bring home.

For now, we are very satisfied with what we foraged today as we picked about 25 pounds today just from the lower branches.  My thumbs are stained brown for the next week due to the natural dyes of this nut. 

In order to preserve these "Green Goodies", you will need to remove the hull.  Before you begin this task, it is beneficial to wear gloves unless you want to go around with Brown stained hands for the next week.  If you do happen to stain your hands, I have read that massaging vegetable oil into the skin will help to remove it.  I tried this today and had no luck so I will be going around with brown stained fingers for the next week!

You should be able to remove the hull by smashing them with a hammer(wearing gloves!).  Black Walnut hulls are more difficult to remove than those of an English Walnut.  It is helpful to put cloth down underneath the walnut to eliminate any splattering of the juices.  I have read that some individuals will drive over them with a car to break them open.  I do not recommend this because it is dangerous. 

Once the hulls have been removed, you will need to rinse the "stones" with water to wash away any extra debris.  Ensure that you still have those rubber gloves handy for this messy job!  Now lay the stones out for curing in a dry place but not in direct sunlight.  It will take approximately 2-3 weeks before they are cured.

Now, what are you going to do with the hulls?  Well, place the hulls into a bucket and cover them with water.  Set them aside for 3 days, then boil the liquid and hulls for 2 hours to make a "walnut liquor".  This walnut liquor is a beautiful espresso coloured dye that you can use on your hair, boiled eggs at Easter or make a totally cool  tie-dyed T-Shirt.  Apparently from what I have read, the dye will last a very long time if stored in glass jars kept in a cool place. 

If you have any wooden project on the go, Walnut hulls provide a natural stain.  Voila!  You can finish your wood projects beautifully and naturally.  Most importantly,  in a couple of weeks you will have beautiful nuts to eat and it didn't cost you a thing!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Hurricane Irene - Go With the Flow - Or Not

Hurricane Irene - This immense storm has the ability to devastate largely populated areas along the Eastern Coast.

Our family has been monitoring the movements of this storm and are concerned about the size and unpredictability of this storm's path.

From my reading, it appears that many Eastern Residents in the predicted path are taking a "wait and see" approach.

The warnings and radar images have been more than sufficient in providing information regarding the strength and size of the upcoming storm.  I completely understand the reasons that Residents do not want to leave their businesses and livelihoods, however at the end of the day, we need to keep in mind that Mother Nature will judge the outcome.

Why do people want to "ride out the storm"?  As Homesteaders, it is our belief that this has to do with curiousity and/or a false sense of confidence and pride.  Our first thought is "why would anyone want to put themselves and their families through the unneccessary stress of being in the actual storm in the first place?"

Mandatory Evacuation Orders are currenty being implemented and it is important for those in the affected areas to heed the warnings.  We are saddened to find out that certain residents are not taking the warnings seriously and many are choosing to stay behind.

Even more saddening is the fact that those who are adamant in staying behind will most likely be the first persons requesting emergency help when the storm hits with all of its wrath.

As Canadians, we send our love, strength and prayers to the people and their families who are affected by the outcome of Hurricane Irene and hope that you are in a safe place.

Be Prepared, Don't Be Scared During Tornadoes

Our main focus for this blog is preserving our Family and our dear Mother Earth.  

As Homesteaders, we monitor weather conditions very closely because it directly affects our survival.  Hail, High Winds, Frost, Rain, Drought and Extreme Temperatures. 

We have experienced bizarre weather here in Southern Ontario over the last few days.  We have felt earthquake tremors and been under Tornado warnings as recently as last night.

Everyone in our area was on edge last evening.  The weather forecast predicted that the conditions were very favourable for tornadoes.  The storm was not expected to arrive until late afternoon/evening.  It took all day before the storm finally approached.  We had amazing lightning, thunder, rain and wind. 

Earlier in the day, I prepared all of the children for an emergency situation.  We reviewed our "Buddy System" (each older child is assigned to a younger child) and all of the children assisted in ensuring that we had enough supplies such as diapers, towels, books and toys for their "Buddy".  I packed food, water, first aid supplies and blankets.  I then went outdoors and secured my plants and furniture.

Our plan was to head to the bathroom in the basement in the case that the weather became severe.  I had all of the older children draw pictures of their own rendition of what a Tornado looked like to them.  We had some interesting pictures which opened up a lot of discussion.  Rather than the children being afraid of a potentially dangerous weather situation, they felt assured and prepared and this alleviated a lot of anxiety. 

At 9:00 p.m. the weather did in fact become severe.  Our local weather station sent out a Tornado Warning advising that everyone should seek shelter in their basement if possible.  We were prepared, not scared.  My 3 year old daughter understood the safety procedures outlined earlier in the day so she was very prepared to go down to the bathroom for shelter and safety.  Our Golden Retriever very willingly followed my daughter downstairs.

In the end, our area did experience damage and power outages however, we were not afraid because we were prepared.  I have always been taught that fear is caused by a lack of information and preparation when something happens beyond our control.

I woke up this morning and went to check my gardens. All of the plants were lush and green because of the nitrogen from the severe lightning the night before.  My neighbour informed me that the air was so full of electricity that that plants and grass turned vibrantly green as a result.  I told him that I wish it would have turned those tomatoes red.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Lavender Essentail Oil and Growing Pains

Lavender is one of my favourite plants.  Whenever I harvest Lavender , both my daughter and I have to take a moment and inhale the amazing aroma from the leaves.  Because we both prefer the colour purple, we enjoy the beautiful purple hue of the lavender flowers.

Many months ago, my 3 year old daughter presented with growing pains.  She was crying one evening while telling me that her legs hurt.  As a Mother and a Nurse, I recognized her complaints to be those of growing pains.  I do not recall having growing pains as a child but have seen other children complain of this during the bedtime hours. 

I quickly researched online for natural remedies to cure growing pains and found that Lavender Essential Oil is especially helpful in alleviating the aches while calming. 

You simply put a couple of drops of Lavender Essential Oil onto your hands and massage it into your child's legs.  I ask my daughter to show me the part of her legs that hurts.  I find that it is usually the calf area. 
Lavender has both a calming and therapeutic response in young children without having to resort to the use of medications such as Children's Tylenol or Advil.
Our cupboard is always well stocked with Lavender Essential Oil because we use it in our homemade Linen Sprays, Oatmeal and Lavender Soaps and Insect Repellent.

Baked Apples - The Wilke Way!

With the Autumn season just around the corner, I have been doing a lot of thinking about apples.  We always have an abundance of them in our household.  We add them to our meat dishes, rice, baked goods, cereals, spreads and just about everything we can.  With our Nesco Food Dehydrator, we make dried apple rings and fruit leathers.  I even use them for my crafts for the children.  Apples are indispensable.

Interestingly enough, my 95 year old Grandmother does not care for apples.  I curiously asked her why she chose not to eat them.  She told me that she had eaten too many as a child.  For her, having grown up during the Great Depression, foraging for food became an absolute neccessity.  When plates were empty, the children would forage the apples that had fallen on the ground and were not considered as fit for harvesting - but before the feral animals could take them.  Looking back, those foraged apples filled a hungry belly and helped to keep hunger pains at bay.  The Great Depression was a difficult time for children and adults alike.  Survival was the main focus.

I was trying to figure out something interesting for the children for our menu this week.  I felt that a lesson in
Baked Apples - The Wilke Way was an appropriate one.
We chose Royal Gala Apples because they were on sale in our local grocery store.  These apples were large in size and are perfect for eating just as they were, or baked.  Very versatile.
Since we are not completely self sustained, we do use our propane barbeque as much as we can in order to reduce our energy costs. 
The older children helped with the peeling and the coring of the apples.

Baked Apples - The Wilke Way
5 large Royal Gala Apples - peeled and cored
1 cup Brown Sugar
3 Tbsp. Butter
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Ground nutmeg
pinch of salt

Mix sugar, butter, lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in bowl until it resembles a coarse mixture.
Slice apples into 1 inch wedges and lay onto a seasoned cast iron frying pan (we used a 10 inch pan).
Sprinkle sugar mixture ontop of apples.
Barbeque on low-medium heat for 20 minutes turning apple slices regularly to ensure even cooking.

The sugar mixture becomes a wonderful carmelized sauce.  Be sure to have Vanilla Ice Cream on hand!

Lugging Buckets!!!

Well, we started with an experiment in June by seeing much we could lower our water bills, through the use of Grey Water to flush our toilets.  This has now become part of our daily routine.  Once you start with Grey Water, there is no turning back!  You wouldn't want to - the proof is in that water bill!

I have lowered by water bill by almost 66%!  In our household that works out to about $70.00 each month.  Multiply that by 12 months per year for a savings of $840.00 per year.  $70.00 give or take is our grocery bill for a week.  Keep in mind that we try and buy as local and organic as possible.

Yes, we do have to clean our toilets more frequently (every 1-2 days) more for odour control than anything; however hard work really does pay off.  Lugging those buckets up and down my flights of stairs has built up my arms.  We save as much grey water from our laundry and bathing as possible.  My 3 year old daughter knows how to empty the bucket into the toilet bowl and to her this is a normal part of our toilet flushing routine. 

Gone are the days where she would endlessly flush the toilet after her "dolls" had a bowel movement or urinated.  Besides, why would anyone use good clean water that is suitable for drinking for the wasteful use of flushing a toilet?  I even use my dishwater to flush the toilet (as long as it is not too dirty with food).  Black Water meets black water - it all goes to the same place.  It is simple and it works!