beats

Gabba’s School for Glorious Girls

Raymond started kindergarten today! He’s been so excited for the past week, Beats was sad that she didn’t get to go to school, too.

raymondI decided we could do school right here. I was a teacher. I can handle this!

Beats got a preschool work book over the summer. The plan is to do one page from each section, each day. She even packed a lunch last night when Raymond packed his.

beatsWe did great with matching colors. She knew the whale “should” be blue, but she decided to color it orange. Gabba approved.  Her teachers may not appreciate me someday, but I figure if she can tell me a tree is usually green, she can color it like a rainbow if she wants. ( #dontsquashthespirit ).

Then we moved on to counting. It went a little something like this:

  • Gabba: How many corns are there?
  • Beats: One
  • G: Awesome! Write the “1”
  • G: How many carrots?
  • B: 2
  • G: Great! Write the “2”
  • B: No. Three
  • G: But there are 2
  • B: But I want there to be 3. I like carrots.
  • G: But there are only 2
  • B: Well, there should be 3. Carrots are good for you.
  • G: OK. How many bananas?
  • B: 1, 2, 3…SIX!
  • G: I think 3 is probably right.
  • B: Why didn’t they draw the other 3?
  • G: What do you mean?
  • B: There should be 6, but they only drew 3.
  • G: OK. We can skip that one. I’ll let the book people know they did it wrong. How many pears?
  • B: Four!
  • G: Awesome! How many grapes?
  • B: 1, 2, 3…I don’t know. Like, one hundred?
  • G: 100? Let’s count them together.
  • B: (Counting each individual grape) 1, 2, 3…Like, maybe a hundred!
  • G: I think they mean the bunches of grapes, and there are 5.
  • B: But they didn’t draw 5. They drew a lot, a lot, a lot. The should have made 5 carrots. Carrots are good. They shouldn’t make little kids count so many grapes. I like eating grapes. I don’t like counting grapes.
  • G: Recess!
  • B: Yay!!! I need my tiara.

recess

I hope Raymond is having a great day! We’ll try again tomorrow.

 

 

Baked

Cornbread Casserole

By now, most people have seen the yummy recipe videos online. This recipe sort of came from one of those, but I’ve changed it so many times, I don’t even remember what it originally had in it. I do remember it was supposed to be chicken, but ground beef is easier and I’m lazy.

Cornbread casserole is easy, reheats well, and you can make it anything you want.

Ingredients:

  • Ground beef
  • Taco or burrito seasoning
  • Cheese
  • Cornbread
  • Beans
  • Ro-tel tomatoes with peppers
  • Corn

Ingredients

You’ll notice I didn’t say what kind of cheese, beans or corn. That’s because you can use whatever kind you want. I like to use chipotle beans, southwest corn and Mexican blend cheese. You can also use as much ground beef as you want. If you’re making a 9 x 13 pan, 2 lbs. makes it good and meaty.

  1. Brown ground beef – drain if needed
  2. Add taco/burrito seasoning and stir
  3. Drain corn and beans if you want. If you like your casserole extra saucy just dump the cans in
  4. Add corn, beans and tomatoes
  5. Stir it all together and let it simmer while you make the cornbread.

In the pan     Simmering

You can either make cornbread from scratch, or use a packaged cornbread mix. The cornbread batter will be poured on top, so make it as thick or thin as you like. A single batch of cornbread batter makes a thin, even layer. If you double the recipe, it cooks up to about the same thickness as cornbread in a 9 x 9 pan.

  1. Spray a 9 x 13 pan with cooking spray
  2. Pour in meat mixture
  3. OR pour in half the meat mixture, add a layer of cheese, then add the rest of the meat mixture.
  4. Pour cornbread on top
  5. Sprinkle cheese over cornbread.
  6. Bake according to cornbread instructions – probably something along the lines of 400 for 25 minutes.

layers   Topping

I like to serve it with sour cream, but I think it would probably be good with guacamole, too.

Baked

As the kids would say, easy peasy! Have fun making it whatever you want, adding or changing anything you want.

 

Beats recital

Dancing With Beats

Reta Jean is a ball of energy wrapped up in pink, glittery fluff! Mommy started calling her “Reta Bita”, which eventually shortened up to “Beats.” Now, she insists on just about everyone calling her Beats, including all her dance friends. (It’s easy to call her Beats, but it was a little harder to figure out how to write it out. Bits doesn’t “read” Beats. If I spelled it Beets, that’s just kind of weird. So, Beats it is.)

She’s been dancing since before her little legs could even hold her up. Whenever music would come on, she’d start shaking her little booty, sitting on the floor. When she turned 3 it seemed like it was time to sign her up for dance class. Stanza PAC offers a “Creative Movement” class, taught by Miss Molly, who is the studio co-owner. Beats LOVES Miss Molly, and she loves being in dance class with her friends. She also loves that we stop at the donut shop after class every week for donut holes and pink donuts.

At Beats’s first recital in December all the kids were kind of doing their own thing. For the June recital I noticed all the other kids were starting to follow choreography much better, but Beats was still doing it her own way. It was like the choreography was whole notes, and Beats was dancing in 8th notes. The other kids are working on their high kicks, and Beats is kicking like a can-can girl. A few weeks before the recital I mentioned to her that in dance class she’s actually supposed to try to move like Miss Molly and the other kids. Her response, “Oh.” Apparently, that was a totally new idea to her. She tried to follow along. For about 5 minutes. It was just more fun to do it her own way.

The day of the recital all the kids are in costumes and makeup back stage, and they all look adorable. A couple are nervous, but mostly they’re excited. The “big girls” will be along the sides of the stage doing the choreography so the little kids could follow along if necessary. pre recitalAnd, they’re on! Beats started out in the back row, but somehow was in the front when the dancing started. Just like in class, the other kids are doing a really good job following choreography, and Beats is over there on the end dancing her little heart out. She was doing most of the right steps, she just had to shake her booty 8 times while the others shook theirs 4. She was awesome and she knew it! The last few steps were point-point-passe, and that’s when Beats found us in the audience. She stops and waves, “Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad! Hi, Gabba! Hi, Papa!”

Later on, at the grocery store, I mentioned to the cashier that we had been at our granddaughter’s dance recital. She says, “Oh, how fun! I probably shouldn’t say it, but there’s always that ONE kid.” Yeah, we know and love that kid.

Next season: Tap!

 

Ray and Esmeralda

The Simple Things

 

 

It was beautiful outside today. Most of the day was sunny and warm, with some clouds passing through to keep things interesting.

I never know what may happen here, and today was no exception. I started my morning by finding a little mole in the mudroom. He was very cute, so I put him in a cleaned sour cream tub, with some chicken feed, while I decided what to do. Just one mole can dig up a whole pasture. When we see one of the dogs or cats has “eliminated” one it tends to be a good thing. But I couldn’t just kill it. It was REALLY cute!Mole tub

So, I set him free in one of the flower beds we haven’t planted this year. When Charlie got home he said it would have been smarter to take him farther out into the woods to release him, and he’s right, but I didn’t. I thought his mama might be nearby, and I didn’t want him to be afraid, alone in the woods.

Mole

Then, it was time to head to town. I was out of 7-Up, and it was a gorgeous day for a drive.  Between the rain and the sun, everything has been growing like crazy. This means getting caught behind brush cutters on a pretty regular basis. Since I didn’t grow up around these, I always get a kick out of them. There’s a huge mower-type thing off the side of the tractor that cuts down all the green along the side of the road. This is why Washington folks consider double yellow lines a mere suggestion. I have about 4 miles of curvy 2-lane road heading into town. Brush cutters and tractors go about 10 miles an hour. Once you see an opportunity to pass safely, you take it.

Brush cutterWhen I got home Carly, Joe and the kids came up for a little bit. Carly comes to clean the house for me once a week because I don’t like doing it, and she likes the extra money. Besides, somebody has to play with the kids while the housecleaning is happening. Win-win-win.

I decided we needed to move the bird feeders to the other end of the yard. It seems like we’re going to be spending a lot of time under the tree by the trampoline, so I wanted the feeders where we can see them. Both kids were going to help, but Reta Jean decided she could carry all the empty feeders by herself. She did allow Raymond and I to help fill them up. Now, we just have to wait for the birds to find them.

Once we were done with the feeders, Raymond played on the trampoline, Reta Jean played in the dirt, and I got ice cream cones for everybody.

Reta Jean has been keeping her eyes on the raspberries, just waiting for them to be ripe. She couldn’t resist trying one today. They aren’t ripe yet.

Beats and berries

We’ve been seeing rats around the animal yard, and during afternoon chores I found their nest. Now, I’m not a shrieky, sissy-girl, but when you reach for a flake of hay and a dozen rats rush to their escape by running over your hand and around your feet, it’s pretty hard to not let just a little scream slip out. The bad news is they scared the crap out of me, the good news is now I know where they’re living.

I may do what I can to save most little critters that cross my path, but rats don’t fall on my “to save” list. A standard trap really wouldn’t work because rats are smart. As soon as one rat got caught, the others would know to stay away. The cats and dogs, not to mention the chickens and the turkey might try to eat a dead rat, so poison isn’t an option. Farm folk say try a bucket, so I’m going to try a bucket. I set it up against a full bale of hay, next to their nest. My hope is they’ll run across the bale, heading for their nest and, gaaaaaaaaaaa, fall into the bucket. I put a little chicken scratch in the bucket. Once one rat falls in, I want it to tell its friends there’s food in there, not that it’s a trap. I don’t know what I’ll do if I catch any. I may just leave that executive decision to Charlie.

Rat trap

 

 

 

There was nothing super-special or extra-exciting about today. No art projects or big meals. It was just a day. We were lucky enough to wake up and enjoy a beautiful, peaceful day in the country. Life is good.

Out of the Woods

Redmon Woods is a happy place. The animals get along, the garden grows, the kids run and play and laugh, and I spend my days loving it all. Lately, though, I’ve made a mistake. I let the world in. And the world right now is not a happy place.

I thought of naming  the bombings and mass shootings, from this year alone, but I knew I wouldn’t get them all. I don’t want to leave anybody out because they are all heartbreaking. With every report I feel like I want to cry, or throw up, or hit something. And I don’t hit. The worst, though, is feeling helpless. I want a bad guy, I want a target, I want there to be somebody we can stop!

Yes, I know: ISIS. But it feels like trying to stop ISIS is like trying to stop everybody with green eyes. (I just picked green eyes randomly. I love many people with green eyes.) There may be more in some places than others, but they’re everywhere. And we know that everyone with green eyes isn’t evil, but how do we know who is who? And what about the evil people with green eyes who wear brown contacts, so we can’t even tell they might be evil. I would never want to see everyone with green eyes targeted, just like I would never want to see all Muslims targeted.

And then there are the local, everyday, mentally ill, unstable individuals, who feel like they want to die, but they want to take as many people as possible with them first. These shootings we actually do have the possibility of stopping, but that would mean some major changes to gun rights, and those rights are more important to some people than protecting the lives of others. Yep, I mean gun control. Not eliminating the 2nd Amendment, not taking away everybody’s guns, not allowing bad guys to have black market guns while good guys get shot in their sleep. I mean not allowing mentally unstable people to easily buy guns. I mean banning guns that have been designed to kill as many people as possible. I mean not allowing the gun industry to sell kits that allow consumers to buy a legal gun, then modify it to something that should be illegal. And don’t tell me that if I had a gun I could protect myself. I DON’T WANT A GUN! I want people who want to hurt people to NOT have guns.

And then, of course, there’s Trump. He’s going to make everything better by threatening to blow up innocent people. He’ll just eliminate everybody with  green eyes. That will fix everything. He knows he’s great, and he expects everybody else to know that, too. If you dare to do anything but agree with him, he’ll call you names, mock you, encourage others to hurt you, or simply take away your press credentials. He frames it as being tough enough or smart enough to not be politically correct. The things he says aren’t politically incorrect, they’re dangerous. He can’t expect the rest of the world to understand that when he says he wants to bomb the shit out of a country, he really means something else. Nobody knows what he means because he doesn’t speak in complete thoughts. And yet, he’s the Republican nominee for president. Why do the majority of Republicans not see what he is?

These things have invaded my little world, and they took my voice. How do I write about ducklings, and spring flowers, and the kids gathering dandelions and blowing wishes into the wind, when there is so much pain and anger and fear in the world? The ugliness has kept me awake at night. I’ve felt angry and sad and helpless. And now, I’m done!

Redmon Woods is a happy place. And even if a lot of the world isn’t happy right now, my little corner of the world is. And, maybe, if I take my voice back, I can help the world be a little happier. Redmon Woods is one small place, and I have just one voice, but my voice is going to be happy again.

Top Screen

Bug Out!

The frogs are chirping, the birds are tweeting, the flowers are blooming, and the bugs are EVERYWHERE! Spring is my new favorite time of year. The sun is out, the local fields are being plowed and planted, and everything is getting a chance to dry out.

Even though we just came out of the wettest winter in Washington history, we are now having record high temperatures. It was 94 yesterday. with no air conditioning. Huh.

I have to open up the house to keep it cool, BUT none of the windows are made to open, and the doors don’t have screens.  But the bugs! Flies and mosquitoes and wasps, oh my!

I hit up the internet for temporary screens, because we’re renting and can’t put up permanent screen doors. After looking at all the options, I decided I could make something better, and something that fits better, than anything I could buy. So, off to Lowe’s to see what I can pull together.

They have 25′ rolls of screen for about $18, and a shower curtain rod will fit all the way across the French doors. I can do this! Here’s what I did.

Supplies:

  • Screen (The vinyl stuff, not the metal because it has to be sewn)
  • Shower rod
  • Fabric

The doors in our bedroom are 6 feet across and 7 feet high. The roll of screen is 4 feet wide. I first made a screen for our dining room door, and learned that the screen kind of shrinks up if it’s not stretched in a frame. For the bedroom, I cut the screen a little bigger to make sure it covered the whole doorway.

Directions:

  • Cut screen longer than door opening. I cut mine 8 feet for a 7 foot door.
  • Cut fabric for a pocket for the shower rod and for the edges of the screen
    • I cut the top strip 8 feet across and 10 inches wide
    • I cut the edge strips 8 feet by 6 inches
  • Fold fabric in half lengthwise and press
  • Fold edges in 1 inch and press

 

Overlap

  • Sew the raw edge of the fabric along the edge of the screen with 3/4″ seam
  • Fold fabric around edge of screen and fold in the edge you pressed
  • Sew down the folded edge
  • Repeat on 2nd section of screen
  • Overlap the fabric strips at the top of each screen and sew them together
    • This overlaps the screen panels so they won’t gap open
  • Sew the fabric across the top just like you did to the fabric down the sides
    • Because this fabric is wide, it will make a pocket about 4 inches wideTop Screen
  • Trim the screen across the bottom, if necessary
  • Put rod through pocket and install it in doorway

Full Screen

Fresh air in, bugs out! The added bonus is that the dogs can get in and out on their own. Next winter I can take them down and put them away until the sun comes out again. Easy peasy!

Closeup

In the Saddle

Reta Jean loves her dance class, and we’ve been trying to find an activity that Raymond will love, too. He wanted to read all his books at the library before he left, so that didn’t work out well. He really wanted to do dance class with Reta Jean, but there were too many people and too much activity. I mentioned to the other dance moms that I was looking into horseback riding (hippotherapy), and one of the moms knew somebody. Miss Amanda works at an equine therapy center out of town, but boards her horse, Mr. Q, at a local farm, and offers lessons there. Perfect!

Last week we went to meet Miss Amanda and Mr. Q. I wasn’t sure how Raymond would react to a big horse, but he absolutely loved him. He got to brush him and give him treats. He even introduced himself. “Hi, Mr. Q. You can call me Mr. R.” At one point Mr. Q twitched his tail and brushed Raymond’s face. I knew it was all over when Raymond instinctively hit the ground. I was wrong. He stood right up and said, “That did not feel good in my mouth. That was not good manners,” and went right back to brushing him.

Mr Q meets Mr R

This week Raymond got to ride! I asked Amanda to send me a brief rundown of what the schedule would be, so we could let Raymond know what to expect. On the way to his lesson Raymond asked if Hulk could show up. (He often speaks in terms of superheroes. When Raymond is channeling the Hulk, it can get ugly.) Carly was able to join us today, so she and I both told him Hulk was not allowed at the barn. Raymond made sure it would be OK for Captain America, Iron Man, Batman or Spiderman to show up. I told him all of them were welcome – even Thor, Ant Man or Black Widow –  as long as Spiderman didn’t shoot webs at Mr.Q. We also let Amanda know that Hulk was not allowed. She’s still learning his lingo, but she already speaks Raymond very well.

Raymond’s rules:

  1. Naptime voices in the barn
  2. No running in the barn
  3. No Hulk around the horses

After picking out his helmet and gathering saddling supplies, Raymond reported to his mission. He helped Amanda get Mr. Q ready, and they headed into the arena. Carly and I hung out in the observation room because we didn’t want to be a distraction to him.

On a mission

 

He learned to get on, give commands, and use the reins. Amanda said there was only a brief, “Am I supposed to be this high?!” moment, before he settled in. After awhile, Carly and I could tell he was done, and were very happy that Amanda picked up on it without us needing to bring it to her attention. She knows her stuff! Once more around the arena and they were done.

Horseback  Walk on

Apparently, getting off the horse is a little tricky. Hands and feet get twisted around. It took a little bit for Raymond to figure out what went where, before he could get off.

Lesson over

Before leaving, Raymond got to give Mr. Q a hug and some cookies. He had the best time, and can’t wait to see Mr. Q again next week.

Hi Ray

Disclaimer: I’ve never been a horse person. I’m sure I’ll use a lot of the wrong terminology while I’m learning. Don’t laugh at me.

 

 

 

 

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Everybody Loves Raymond

I’m going to be a bragging Gabba and just say Raymond is brilliant!

Carly used to sing him ABCs as a lullaby, and he learned to write his letters by the time he was 2. At 3, he was reading fluently. Now, some people think we’re exaggerating and maybe he just knew sight words. No. We would hand the kid a menu, magazine, brochure, whatever, and he would read it. He needed help with some of the harder words, but the kid was good! We were worried about what he would do in kindergarten. How much of the day would he be expected to sit quietly and wait to be taught something he didn’t already know?

"D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori's car" -Raymond

“D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori’s car” -Raymond

His favorite show was “Letters.” The rest of us know it as Wheel of Fortune. He would clap and cheer when the wheel spun, then go around the room, shake everyone’s hand and say ‘gratulations at the end of every round. Carly discovered a show called “Signing Time,” and soon Raymond using the signs he knew while he spoke. Once he learned how to change the language setting on Carly’s phone or his tablet, he was following directions in Spanish, French, German, we’re not even sure of all the languages he uses. Of course, the directions are the same regardless of the language, but it was still crazy the he would change the language and know it was saying the same thing.

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He loves spelling so much, it’s all he would do on the soccer field. While the other kids were chasing the ball, he would be standing in the field, writing words in the air with his finger. Ball, sky, bird, grass…all the things he saw were words he could write. As far as soccer went, Raymond enjoyed the pre-game practice, and the team cheer – “1-2-3 PeeWee Pumpkins!” – but didn’t like being on the field to play. Carly and Joe spent the games trying to head off meltdowns, hoping he would take to it as he became familiar with the game. That didn’t happen.

As much as Raymond wasn’t crazy about soccer, he LOVES his family. Reta Jean is his best friend. Miss Riley isn’t much fun yet, but he likes to make her giggle and laugh. Joe recently signed him up for jiu jitsu, so the two of them get to roll around on the mats. His favorite family game to play, when he was younger, was going around the table and asking everybody, “What’s you favorite color (animal, food)?” If we answered incorrectly, he’d shake his head and give us the right answer. When the cousins come visit he enjoys playing with them and showing them around the farm. He likes his down time, though, so sometimes he likes to go to a quiet room and read or play with his tablet.

 

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Ray and the Girls

Feeding Critters

He likes cooking, art projects, playing outside, and feeding the pacas. He DOESN’T like the “hoosters.” We’ve tried to tell him most of the chickens are hens, and he really wants to be friends with them, but they scare him so badly, he can’t stand it.ray and pacas

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He also loves movies and superheroes. I’m Batman, Papa is Iron Man, Reta Jean is AntMan, and Raymond is Captain America, Wolverine, or Hulk, depending on his mood. Papa calls Raymond Santa Claus, and they discuss where the reindeer are parked when he comes over. If we aren’t superheroes, we’re Minions. I especially like to be King Kevin. More often than not, when Raymond is having a conversation, his end of it is movie quotes. The rest of us, with Carly’s help, figure out which movie he’s on so we can be part of what’s going on in his head.

Not only is Raymond AMAZING, we recently learned he has autism. As he’s gotten older, some of his behavior patterns started raising little red flags. Carly saw it way before the rest of us. It was so hard for her because how do you know if your child is struggling with something, or if you just need to be a better parent? Even Raymond’s pediatrician said he just had “some anxiety,” but it was not really anything to worry about. When a 3 year old has a meltdown when they’re told it’s time to stop doing something they’re having fun with, it’s seen as maybe being a little bratty. But, when I finally took 4-year-old Raymond to Reta Jean’s dance class, and he was SO excited to get to go, but had a total meltdown as soon as we walked into the studio, that was more concerning.

None of us immediately thought of autism as we watched Raymond having a harder and harder time. He is very verbal and loves interacting with people. I think, as most of us understand autism, those two things alone would eliminate a diagnosis of autism. Here’s where the diagnosis came from: In hindsight, the accelerated reading skills could have been a sign, but who ever thinks, “My kid is too smart, there must be a problem.” We also learned about “scripting.” Children with autism often work from scripts. Playing “Letters,” asking questions he knows the answers to, and speaking in movie quotes are all forms of scripting. When you really start paying attention, Raymond will answer questions, let you know if he wants or needs anything, but really doesn’t have a spontaneous conversation. I mean, it’s cute when your grandson comes to your house and says, “Hi, Gabba! I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for stopping by.” (Think about that one for a minute.) He can tell you anything about any of the superheroes, as is very typical in autism. He has his facts down and loves to share them with everyone. And then there’s the meltdowns and becoming totally overwhelmed when there is too much going on.

With Carly’s guidance we’ve all learned how to best help Raymond. It’s a whole thought-shift, understanding his behavior is caused by his autism, and is not him acting out deliberately. If he’s going to be doing something new, we make sure we tell him everything we possibly can about what’s going to happen. We’ll even practice a script with him, so he knows how he’s supposed to interact. We make sure we don’t switch activities without giving him a warning. Usually, we can tell him we’re going to do something different in 5 minutes and he does pretty well. When Raymond says, “I don’t feel well. It’s time to go home. I need to go home now,” we have learned he’s warning us a meltdown is highly likely. He’s had enough. By giving him a book or his tablet and letting him take a rest, away from everybody, a meltdown can often be avoided. Joe is great when it comes to meltdown duty. He can take Raymond into his room, sit down with him, and get him breathing and calm.

One show that has been a HUGE help is “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” It’s a cartoon, based on Mr. Rogers, and deals with all sorts of social situations. For a kid who depends on scripts, a script with the wisdom of Mr. Rogers is a really good thing. We’ve all learned phrases like, “That was fun, but now it’s done,” or “choose one more thing.” My personal favorite is, “When you’re angry and want to roar, take a deep breath and count to 4.”

I got permission from Carly before writing this because a diagnosis of autism isn’t one a lot of people are comfortable sharing. Because Raymond’s autism comes across as very different from what many people would recognize, we hope to help and educate others. Carly and Joe took Ray to school for evaluation before being able to get him in to see a behavioral specialist. We know he will need a very specialized program in school, and the teachers have told us they’re up to the task. The diagnosis will allow Raymond to learn how to do school, without getting in trouble for the occasional meltdown. It will also allow the school to learn how Raymond communicates, without assuming he’s being a stinker when he answers all questions with a quote. For reading, he will need to be in a 1st or even 2nd grade class. His math scores put him right at grade level.

Every professional who has met with Raymond has the highest praise for Carly, and so do we. Without any professional input, she taught Raymond how to self-regulate and control his anxiety. She made sure the rest of us understood what we could do to help Raymond navigate his world. She has been willing to learn, try new things, adapt, and pave the way for Raymond to be successful. We’ve all done our best to step up, but she has been the driving force.

We’re so excited to see what Raymond will accomplish. He’s such a sweet, smart, cool little kid. Autism is something all of us will need to learn more about, in order to assist and advocate for Raymond. As he gets older he’ll understand we’re all with him on his journey, and I have all the confidence in the world that Carly will keep us on the right path.

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Cheese

Hard Cheese

I FINALLY get to make hard cheese! I’ve been waiting to get a cheese press, and I finally did it. Now, some people say, “Oh, poo! You don’t need a cheese press. You can use plastic pipes for molds and weights to apply the right enough of pressure.” Really? OK, yeah, you can. But, no. I read the instructions for different cheeses and they said things like, “Apply 10 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes. Then, apply 20 pounds of pressure for 10 minutes. Finally, apply 50 pounds of pressure for 12 hours.” So, I can make molds, buy weights, and have a clunky thing that may or may not work. Or…I can get a real cheese press.

The set

It may not look like much, but it has springs that are gauged to specific weights. Press it and forget it. I was so excited to get going!

I decide to start with farmhouse cheddar because it’s supposed to be easy. First, 2 gallons of milk. And a pot big enough. I discovered my cheese pot is 2 gallons, which doesn’t leave any room for stirring and stuff. For this batch, I guess I’ll use my canning pot.

Milk

Cheese directions are crazy. Heat to 90 degrees, add starter, keep at 90 degrees for 45 minutes, add rennet, heat to 100 degrees, BUT increase heat slowly enough that it takes 30 minutes to increase 10 degrees, keep at 100 for 45 minutes, cut, set, drain, press. Easy, right?

Mesophilic      After starter

adding salt

That lumpy stuff at the end, there? I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to be more clumpy, and less like soggy cottage cheese. I was super-careful to follow all the directions, but it was hard to know if I was doing the heating part exactly right.

When I took my cheese making class last year, I remember specifically the teacher saying if you followed the directions, you would have cheese. It may not be the cheese you thought it was going to be, but it would be cheese. Before taking that class, I probably would have dumped this goopy mess. But, what the heck. Let’s follow the pressing directions and see what happens.

Press 2

The cheese mold gets lined with cheese cloth, then the cheese goop gets glopped into it. A disc, called a follower, goes on top, and the block over that. The wooden part gets tightened down, and the whey is pressed from the curd. Words like goop and glop are probably not supposed to be used at this point, but that’s what it is.

It’s set at 50 pounds, so I go to bed and hope for the best. I’m really afraid that I’m going to take it out of the mold in the morning, and it’s just going to sploosh all over the place.

Ta da!

Cheese

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t look like cheddar. It’s still pretty crumbly. It has to set for 2-4 days to dry out, then it gets waxed and ages for 4 weeks.

This is after setting for about 30 minutes.

Huh

I wasn’t going to try another until my first cheese was done. Since I can see there are problems with this one, I’ll try another in a few days. I guess there really is an art to this whole cheese thing.

 

 

 

Guard

Free Range

This week was spent teaching the chickens to be free-range birds. The long, wet winter has made the yard super muddy and they’re going through food like crazy. We’re talking two bags a week. That’s more than we were going through when we had all the meat chickens and all four turkeys. I’ve been wanting them to be free range, and now seemed like a good time. I was concerned about setting them loose. What if they didn’t come back? What if the laid eggs all over the place, and I couldn’t find them? Well, we would just have to see.

leaves

So, chickens are creatures of habit. They rarely got out through the gate, and weren’t really sure what to do when I opened it up for them. Every one of them stood at the open gate and looked up at me. Huh. I opened the gate wider and looked away so they would think they were sneaking out. That got a couple through the gate. The rest were still looking at me. The alpacas, on the other hand, came right to the gate and tried to get through all the birds to get out. OK, close the gate and give this some thought.

Morning

Not only are chickens creatures of habit, they will also do anything for food. I got a scoop of scratch and scattered it OUTSIDE the gate. That got some more out, but also attracted the alpacas again. For day one, I would just go with what I had. I still had to make sure they would all come back.

That evening, I used the scratch trick in reverse, and the chickens all went right back in. Cool. Now, about those eggs. None. Not one. Not even from the birds that stayed in the yard. Well, it’s just day one. We’ll see if this works itself out.

Day two: The birds saw me coming, ran to the gate, and the ones who came out the day before went right out. This time, I had a plan. I gave the alpacas their grain, first. They NEVER turn away from food. Then, I took the scratch out and left the gate wide open. I stayed close, just in case the alpacas decided to make a break for it. I spread the scratch farther away from the gate, so the birds would have to come out to get it. It worked! Some of the birds stayed in, but most of them came out. One of the ducks and Matilda the turkey even came out.

I also put a couple of their laying buckets in a quiet area and put a couple of eggs in them, hoping they would get the hint and lay eggs in there. Only one of them figured it out. We still have a huge stockpile of eggs, so I’m not to worried about it, yet.

Matilda immediately assigned herself yard boss, and is keeping everybody in line. When she felt it was time for everyone to go in, she came to the door to get me. You can see the rest of the flock waiting for me.

Yard BossEnd of the week, and everybody seems to have figured it out. A few of the birds still prefer to stay in the yard, but most of them come right out. They cruise around all day and go in easily in the evenings. Many of them have adjusted their egg-laying schedule and I’m back to getting 10 per day, in the coop.

Hallway   Grazing

The extra benefit is the chickens are prepping the garden areas for us. The flower bed was completely cleaned out in just two days. Today, I spread their scratch through the pumpkin patch. Charlie will be so excited that he doesn’t have to till out all the weeds.

Weeding

Scratch I’m happy, the birds are happy, and it looks like Peanut and Matilda are going to be best friends.  As for all the food being eaten? Turns out that was Spike

Food Face