Thursday, January 15, 2015

Life Lately - January 2015

It has been c-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-l-d here lately! I suppose that's relative. If you live in the arctic, I guess our recent weather wouldn't be so bad, but it is colder here in Wisconsin than most of the rest of the world, I think. We've had one day of closed schools due to a windchill of -35 with the regular temp being around -19. That windchill is the real issue. The kids haven't been able to go outside at school or daycare for weeks now until yesterday! It made a huge difference in their moods, I think, to be able to go outside and run around and play in the snow. Yesterday's high got up to 20 I think. We've spent a lot of time indoors and that has meant lots of lego building, play-dough moulding, robot building, moon sand making, cookie baking, soup simmering and dinosaur excavating. Gavin got this dinosaur fossil excavating kit by Wonderology for Christmas and had so much fun chipping away at the plaster-like "rock", using a clean, dry paintbrush to dust off all the "fossils" and then putting all the 15-ish parts together to form the pose-able dino! That was only the beginning. This dino fossil is so neat and is great fun. He's mostly put together with ball-joints so he is pose-able and can also be taken apart and put back together like a puzzle. So much fun in one little box. Warning... it's VERY messy! We had plaster dust EVERYWHERE and in hindsight, I should have had him wear safety goggles and a mask. Oops. While Gavin worked on the dino excavation, Addison first played play-dough and then when she was bored with that, I mixed up some moonsand/moondough (1 cup flour with a 5-6 tablespoons of baby oil) for her to play with. She cut out shapes with cookie cutters and formed towers and peaks with her hands. It's such an odd consistency and doesn't hold shape real well, but is fun to experiment with. If I had playground sand, I would have tried that instead of the flour, but what I had was flour.  

I received this beautiful yellow bench for Christmas (I think it was made from an old bed frame) and Addi received this adorable fox and flower print dress from my sister for Christmas. Addi was playing around on the bench and I just had to snap some photos since her hair was actually done this day, which almost never happens. We were actually on our way out the door to daycare when I grabbed my camera, so this wasn't planned out at all, but we still managed to capture a little bit of that spunky and silly little personality!

With all the cold weather (and enclosed spaces) our family has fought our fair share of winter illnesses already! We've battled Influenza A (H3N2), Pneumonia, Norovirus (gastrointestinal), and the common cold. I'm on a mission to keep my family healthier and to do whatever I can to help boost our immunity since the kids spend their whole week in relatively confined spaces with lots of other (ahem, GERM-Y) kids. I'm not saying the other kids are covered in germs and my kids aren't - I am sure my kids are just as grody as the other kids in their classes. I'm just saying kids don't always do the best job of hand-washing, they're in eachother's faces and personal spaces and they're always holding hands and hugging and touching their friends. They're sneezing and then wiping their snotty hand on their pants, they're wiping their noses on their sleeves, and they're rubbing their hands or their faces along every germ-coated hand-rail, door-knob or ledge they can find. Oh, your kids don't do all that? It's just my kids? Well, okay then. As hard as they try not to be, schools and daycares are like little Petri dishes, growing all sorts of ickiness. ANYWAY, in an effort to protect my family from all that grodi-ness (new word!), we've been trying to eat some really nutrient-rich foods. I'm not saying we're giving up the occasional Doritos and Take-out pizza, oh no! We're just adding lots of other good stuff! We already eat a lot of nutrient-rich foods like berries, avocados, nuts, fortified cereals and grains, and lots of fruits and vegetables. Recently however, I've read a lot about the immunity-boosting benefits of bone broth. Of course, if you don't know the origin or "naturalness" of the ingredients you're putting into your soup or broth, the end result will be equally as mysterious and I wanted some good, natural bone broth for my family. My sister brought us ten chickens last weekend and my Mom, nieces, a couple of my sisters, my brother-in-law, Gavin and I worked all day on getting the chickens butchered, cleaned, cut up, sorted, canned, etc. We canned the breast-meat, thigh-meat, and some wings in the pressure-canner, we cooked up the livers and eggs with some brown rice for pet treats, and we began the process of cooking the heck out of the bones, feet (cleaned and peeled), hearts, gizzards, necks, and little bits of meat, cartilage, fat, etc. along with some veggies and herbs to make some good home-made bone broth. We cooked the broth for anywhere between 18-48 hours and then strained it, cooled it, skimmed off the fat, and ladeled it into jars to be canned. We've got 10 jars of chicken breast and thigh meat, and 14 quart jars of bone broth already with about 14 more jars of broth to go. We also made two pots of chicken noodle soup with the bone broth, cooked chicken, and fresh veggies (not the ones that were in with the bones for broth-making). It was an exhausting day, but so worth it! I am SO looking forward to this good healing broth. My secret to really good flavorful chicken soup or broth is using a generous amount of thyme, 2 bay leaves, parsley, and black pepper along with a little salt to season the broth. I always add celery or at least some celery seed, carrots and onions and whenever possible, use bone-in chicken so you get the goodness of the bones in your broth. If I have to use boneless skinless chicken and purchased / prepared chicken broth, I still always add my herbs (thyme, 2 bay leaves, parsley) and black pepper and a touch of celery seed. YUM!!! We already had chicken noodle soup this week with fresh baked bread and I'll be starting another pot of broth this weekend.      

Like I said, we've been spending a LOT of time indoors. Thankfully, the kids have had a few new fun things in the house to help keep them occupied. For Christmas, I made the kids a tee-pee to play in, read in, rest in, and have secret powwows in. :)  Kids love forts. Kids have always loved forts and will love forts until the end of time. Gavin is a huge fan of the "hide-out" and has made hide-outs underneath beds and cribs in our house, under enormous old hundred-year cottonwood trees in our woods, under the protection of the wild honeysuckle and buckthorn bushes along the edges of our woods, and under the big old empty cable spool out in our yard. He has built and discovered and inhabited every possible fort or hide-out imaginable on our property and in our house. He's a hide-out fan, so I knew that a tee-pee was just the thing for him (and Addison when she's big enough to want to be by herself). It's completely portable and so it can be moved around the house or outside or wherever pretty easily. I just untie the ties that hold the canvas in place on the poles, roll up the canvas, and push the poles together. The only part that's a bit unwieldy is the poles. They're about 7.5' tall and they're tied together at the top. I drilled holes through them 6" from the top and ran a sisal rope through all of them and tied it to help keep it in place, so hauling all six 7.5' poles (each 1.75" x 1.75") around isn't particularly easy, but it's do-able. The toughest part is maneuvering their length around without knocking things over or denting the walls! Gavin has pretty much moved into it. He reads in it, plays in it, sleeps in it, snacks in it, and snuggles in it. I put LED Christmas lights inside the top and Cliff gave him a bright LED shop light that we taped to one of the poles that he uses when he is drawing or reading. He has wallpapered the inside with drawings and photos and has moved his stuffed animals in as well, along with several cozy blankets and pillows. It's been great so far! 

When I have some better photos, I'll post some pictures too about the rock climbing / bouldering wall that Cliff put up in our basement. It's only the height of our basement ceilings (8'), but it is about 16' long and goes around a corner, so the kids can make their way from one end of it to the other end. The hand and foot holds are completely move-able as Cliff drilled holes and screwed locking wing-nuts in every 6 inches, so there are spots to put holds every six inches. If we decide we want the lower half easier for Addison, we can put more holds along the lower half and fewer holds along the top half for Gavin. It's great for their upper arm and body strength and a good confidence builder too! Gavin mounted one of his little white boards on one end to "keep score" and we plan to add a couple of bicycle bells to ring when you've made it all the way across. We bought some rubber floor mats to put down on the floor below the wall, but we need some more in order to make it really safe. It's a lot of fun already, and we hope to use it even more! (In the photos below, we were still placing the holds and deciding on the right spacing and concentration of them).

All I can say is it's going to be a LONG winter, but we've sure been keeping busy and trying to stay moving and active! Oh, and we bought a used elliptical machine after Christmas off of CraigsList and Cliff and I have been "enjoying" using that as well to get a little exercise. We take turns exercising after the kids are in bed at night (on the nights we're not already completely wiped out) and it's been good. I was surprised (appalled) at how sore and tired my legs were after just ten minutes on it! Boy, was that ever a wake-up call! I've used a treadmill recently and my legs don't get that burning feeling from a treadmill, but I think the elliptical forces me to step so much higher than I would naturally that it really works those thigh muscles! Hopefully we'll both keep up with it and really get into a routine! Cliff is "training" for an Elk Hunting trip in the fall and knows his body needs some major conditioning in order to be ready to hike the mountains! I'm just working on gaining a little stamina and maybe, maybe, maybe attempting running in the spring. Maybe. I hate running. But I know that runners love it, so maybe I can love it too? We'll see. 'til Later!

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