We Acquired a Chicken

One our neighbors used to have a lot of chickens. I think they had well over 50, which is a huge number on a quarter acre suburban lot. Sometime around the beginning of December, they seem to have gotten rid of the chickens. Three of the chickens somehow ended up running loose. They lived in another neighbors yard, but came into ours to eat. Unfortunately, that means they ate some small plants I had in my garden.

Off and on my boys and I would try to catch the chickens. However, they were usually just a little bit to fast for us. Eventually, the three chickens became one, I don’t know what happened to the other two. She was friendly, but would jump our fence if she thought we were going to try and catch her. Finally, last week we were able to trap her in a spot between our shed and fence with a lemon tree over the top. I used a laundry basket to catch her.

Several months ago, a friend gave us a small chicken coop that they didn’t want. I had slowly been preparing the coop for chickens to live in. Mostly I had to level a spot in our yard for the coop while trying to keep decent drainage. Thankfully, I had the coop ready when we caught the chicken.

Chicken coop

Our children have decided that we name our animals after foods. Since the chicken is dark, they named her Truffle.

From her markings I believe she is an Australorp. The hens are mostly black, but have purple and green iridescence when seen in the sun.

She has been a good egg layer in the week and a half we have had her. So far she has laid 7 eggs. At one point she laid 6 days in a row. Her eggs are a light brown color, they can almost seem pink at times.

Chicken egg

She is a social bird. When we come near the coop she come to the edge, and will sometimes talk to us. I think our next step is to buy a couple more chickens to give her friends. Of course, more eggs wouldn’t be bad either.

-Joshua

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Where Have We Been?

It has been a loooong time since we’ve posted! I think our last post was Josh’s blog about Johnny Sacks cabin from our Solar Eclipse trip in August.

So what happened to us? Quite a few things have turned our household upside-down since August.

Number One: I started homeschooling our kids in September 2017 for the current school year. I was using a different approach than our 2016-2017 school year, which basically means I had no idea what I was doing! I made the switch from a streaming video-based curriculum to a literature-based curriculum called Sonlight.  Since the new curriculum meant sitting down with my kids and actually teaching, which is definitely not a bad thing, I had no time for my baking. This is why I haven’t posted any baking posts in 7 months.

Number Two: We had a baby! Gavin Joshua was born December 28, 2017. He’s made our lives a little bit crazier since he was born, but we can’t imagine our family without him. Being a family of 8 isn’t that much different from being a family of 7, but it did mean having to buy a larger vehicle. We went all out and bought a 12-passenger Ford Transit. It makes me feel like I’m driving a bus but there are definitely less arguments about personal space amongst our kids!

Having a new baby also means very little baking (or even cooking). I was able to bake scones this past weekend and three weeks before that, my last bake was a batch of brownies! Josh has actually been taking care of most of the cooking. I firmly believe that his being able to be home for the past six weeks is the main reason I haven’t gone totally mad yet.

Now that life isn’t quite as crazy as it has been, we want to get back into posting to The Geek Homestead. We can’t guarantee that we will post regularly, but we will do our best to write interesting posts.  Thank you so much to those of you who take the time to read this! We also look forward to getting back to reading our community’s blogs.

A very much belated Happy New Year to everyone!

 

Johnny Sack Cabin

One of the places we found on our Idaho solar eclipse vacation was the cabin built by Johnny Sack located at Big Springs.  The cabin was located only a few miles from the house we were staying at in Island Park, ID.  There is parking for the cabin at the Big Springs campground off of Highway 20.  There are signs that will get you to the campground.  There is an easy path to walk from the parking lot to the cabin.

Johnny Sack was an immigrant from Germany in the late 1800s.  He and his brother ended up in Idaho because they wanted to work with cattle.  Sack had been a cabinet maker and worked for Studebaker making wagons.  The skills learned in those occupations would help him build his cabin.

In 1929, Sack leased land from the Forest Service for $4.15 a year.  Three years later he would build start to build his cabin on this land.  It took him about 3 year to build the cabin, because he built it entirely by hand.  He even built the furniture that is in the cabin.

After his death in 1957, the cabin passed to his sisters. In 1963, his sisters sold the cabin to the Kipp family who used it as a summer home for some years.  There were originally other cabins located near by that people used for summer homes, though Johnny lived in his cabin year round.  The forest service decided they had made a mistake in allowing those cabins to be built since the ground underneath is volcanic.  Apparently, there is no way to create proper drainage in this area.  Thankfully, the Kipp family was able to get the cabin turned into an historical site.  This is truly a beautiful building and it would be a shame if it had been torn down.

Johnny in particular did beautiful work using the bark of the trees as decoration.  In the pictures below, you will be able to see how that bark is used.

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The cabin is located next to Big Springs.  Johnny built a water mill at the spring that he used for electrical power.

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The spring is constantly streaming water, in fact, it pumps out 120 million gallons of water a day.  What a perfect place to put a water mill.

The spring itself is also incredibly beautiful.  There are many animals that make it their home.  We saw trout, muskrat, and ducks on our trip.

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This is a great location to spend a few hours if you are in the area.  We went here in the morning, and then drove up Sawtell Peak later in the day, so it is possible to do this will visiting other locations in the area.  I would highly recommend checking this spot out if you are in the area.

-Joshua

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

About 2 years ago, Lynn started to talk about the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.  If we had the opportunity, she wanted to go to an area with 100% totality.  Last year in August, we started to get serious about going to the eclipse.  Even then it was difficult to find a place to rent to stay in the area we wanted to go because of cost and availability.  With our large family, a hotel would be much too expensive, renting an RV was not an option, so a vacation rental through VRBO was the way to go for us. We were able to find a house to rent in Island Park, Idaho.  It was about 30 minutes away from the 100% totality area, and about 40 minutes away from the area with over 2 minutes of complete totality.  We figured we would rent the house, and then find a decent place to drive to observe the eclipse.

We left Friday the 18th of August around 7pm from our home in San Diego County.  We drove through the night and met my parents in Beaver, Utah.  They had left earlier Friday morning so they wouldn’t have to drive through the night.  We arrived in Island Park about 5pm Saturday.  The distance we traveled was about 1050 miles, but we did make some fairly long stops.

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Our rental through VRBO. 1800 square feet and fits all 9 of us perfectly! We have been very happy so far with each rental we have made through VRBO.

On Sunday, we drove around Rexburg, Idaho and Ashton, Idaho, both towns being in the 100% totality area, including going to church.  There were farmers who had harvested their crops in fields along the Highway 20 and were allowing visitors to camp in those fields for a fee. There were also farmers who had fields with KEEP OUT on hay bales. If I had a field that had not been harvested yet, I definitely would not want anyone trampling my crops!

On August 21st or Eclipse Day, there were also people who parked along the pullouts off of the freeway who may have come up just for the few hours it would take to view the eclipse.

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We did not have a definite plan for Eclipse Day because we weren’t quite sure where exactly we would be able to go to watch. We knew that there were going to be many, many people in the area that day and were unsure where parking would be available. Josh preferred to be where there would be less people.

We told the pastor of the church we were visiting about the reason for our visit to the area (Total solar eclipse, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons) and he and his wife were extremely generous and invited us to their home for Eclipse Day, which was located in the zone of on totality with a duration of 2 minutes!

On Eclipse Day morning, we probably should have left earlier because of traffic, but we left a little later and arrived at the pastor’s house at 10:15 AM, right at the beginning of the partial eclipse.

Josh, my father-in-law, and I all had cameras set up to photograph the eclipse through partial phase and totality. None of us are expert photographers, but we tried to photograph it anyway.

I do have to say that none of the pictures you see online of a total solar eclipse can compare to seeing one in person. There is also a huge difference between a partial solar eclipse and a total solar eclipse. At our vacation rental, coverage was 99.4% but even that was not enough to experience totality.

Experiencing totality was not even close to what I was expecting. I knew it would get cold, I knew about the darkness, I knew that I might go a bit crazy trying to do too many things in two minutes. But for me, the highlight was looking up at the sun during totality and seeing the black hole where the sun should be and the delicate ribbons and streamers of the sun’s corona. It was beautiful and alien at the same time, and most likely is something that I will never see again.

The horizon around us took on the light of sunset/sunrise. The air turned cold, shadows became sharper, like sitting in the lights of a football stadium at night. You can see, but everything looks slightly faded, like looking at a sepia photo. We could hear cheering from fellow eclipse watchers in the neighborhood.

Then, totality ended and the sun and normality returned.

One thing that struck me about the eclipse: it is silent. There is no fanfare when totality begins and there is no taps when it ends. There is nothing you can do but watch and experience and admire. You are only an onlooker in this dance between the sun and the moon.partialphase1

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After the eclipse, life went on. We ate lunch with the pastor and his family,  left around 3:30 PM for our vacation rental, took a detour to see a waterfall called Mesa Falls, and didn’t get back to the house until about 6:45 PM. A 50 mile trip took us close to 3 hours because of traffic.

In spite of the traffic, it was worth it to experience this once in a lifetime event. Though, if we have a mind to, I suppose we could try to make it to the next total solar eclipse in the US, which will be on April 8, 2024, in seven years!

-Lynn/Joshua

P.S. We took many more pictures and videos during the eclipse. Hopefully, we will get a post up soon with all of those. They need to be processed, edited, or reduced to be posted. Thank you so much for reading!

 

 

 

 

 

Preserving Beans By Freezing

 

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This year the green and wax been plants have done very well.  We have ate beans much more often then the children would prefer.  I have also given bags of beans to my parents.  However, there were still multiple gallon zip lock bags of beans in the refrigerator.  Since we had so many beans on hand I decided to freeze some of the beans.

The first step is to clean the beans and remove any damage sections.  I had a few beans that had some spots where bugs had helped themselves to my beans.  There were also a few beans that had touched the ground, and had sections that didn’t look nice.  This is also a good time to remove the ends of the beans were they had attached to the plants.

For me the second step is to cut the beans into smaller sections.  I make them as close to bite size as I can.  Since these beans were fresh, I was able to just snap them into pieces.  You could do this at the same time you remove the unwanted parts from the beans.  I don’t do it that way because I have a way of mixing the unwanted parts with the good beans.

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Breaking the beans into pieces
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Beans broken into sections

While you are breaking up the beans you can start some water boiling.  You will probably need a big pot if you have a large number of beans.  Put enough water in the pot to cover the beans you are going to put in it.

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Boil the beans for about 3 minutes.  This process is called blanching.  I don’t fully understand the science behind this process, but somehow it helps the beans preserve better.  It helps preserve the color and texture of the beans during the freezing process.

After 3 minutes, remove the beans from the boiling water and quickly but them into ice water.  This stops the cooking process, so the beans don’t get over cooked.  You still want them to be mostly crispy when they are frozen.  This will give them a better texture when cooked later in the year.

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After the beans have cooled, they need to dry.  I usually just leave them in a strainer for awhile.  They can also be laid out on a cookie sheet.  They don’t have to be totally dry, but you don’t want to put them in the freezer soaked.  If there is a lot of extra water, then you will end up with ice.  To much ice can cause freezer burn over time.

I separate the beans into bags based on how many we will use for a meal.  Remove as much air as possible from the bag, seal the bag, and place into the freezer.

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Beans are an easy vegetable to preserve, and the process doesn’t take much time.  At the end it is satisfying for me to be able to save some of what I grow for later.  That is less vegetables we will need to buy later  the year.

-Joshua

Sugar Free Root Beer Ice

For July 4th I made Root Beer Ice and Vanilla Ice Cream for the family gathering.  My mom can’t eat sugar, so I wanted to make a sugar free root beer ice to go with the sugar free vanilla ice cream I made for her.  The root beer natural extract that I bought from The Spice House doesn’t contain added sugar which allowed me to make the sugar free version of the root beer ice.

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I used a Stevia blend in place of sugar in the recipe.

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Bring your choice of sugar substitute, water and lemon juice to a boil.  Stir constantly while the sugar substitute dissolves into the water.  Remove the pot from the heat and add in the root beer extract.

The natural extract I have doesn’t have any coloring in it. My attempt at making regular root beer ice with the natural flavor tasted really good, however, I made a mistake when adding food coloring to turn it brown.  I ended up with pink root beer ice.  The color wasn’t horrible, but it did look odd.  Since the sugar free version was the second attempt, I think I got the coloring better.  Just add about equal amounts of red, blue and yellow food color until you get the brown that you desire.

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Then allow the root beer mixture to chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.  Once chilled, mix in an ice cream maker according to the manufacture instructions.

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I slightly over mixed my since it was a really small batch ( I had halved the recipe).  That caused it to look a bit icy when I scooped it out.  The flavor though, was really good especially for a sugar free recipe.

Sugar Free Root Beer Ice

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar substitute
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon natural root beer extract
  • Red, Blue, and Yellow food coloring

Directions

Mix sugar, water and lemon juice in medium saucepan. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer 10 minutes. Stir in root beer concentrate.

Add equal amounts red, blue and yellow food coloring to make as brown as desired

Refrigerate 2 hours or until chilled.

 

Pour into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer’s directions.

-Joshua

Experimenting With Root Beer Ice: Natural Flavor Extract 

For the 4th of July I made root beer ice and vanilla ice cream for our family get together. I made it first using McCormick’s root beer concentrate. I wasn’t happy with the really dark brown color (the first ingredient is caramel color), though the taste was OK.  I decided to try another batch using an extract made with natural flavors.

I found a reasonably priced extract with good ratings at The Spice House.


I like this extract much better then the first one I used. When I used it, the extract just seemed more like root beer.  It made my kitchen smell strongly of root beer, and the scent spread through the house. My five year old son, came into the kitchen to tell me it smelt like root beer in the house.

I think the flavor of this version was better then that of the one using the McCormicks.  Both taste sufficiently of root beer, but this one seemed to be less chemical tasting to me, which makes sense since it is supposed to be made of natural flavors.

The only issue I had was a minor one.  This extract is clear because there are no added colors.  I used gel food coloring to attempt to make my root beer ice a pleasing brown color.  I had read that an equal amount of red, blue, and yellow food color should be used to get brown.  Unfortunately, I must have done something wrong because my ice didn’t end up brown.  When I was mixing it up, I thought it was light brown.  However, when I took the ice out of the ice cream mixer it was more of a pinkish color.  That was more of cosmetic issue then a real problem.

The pictures actually look a bit brown, but in real life it is more pink.  I definitely didn’t add enough color, and I probably got to much red in the mix.

Using the natural flavor made for a superior root beer ice.  I highly recommend using whatever natural extract you can get your hands on if you make this.  If you can’t get natural extract, then using something bought in a regular store makes for a perfectly good root beer ice.

-Joshua

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