Making Christmas About Memories Not Stuff



This is the first Christmas for our twin boys. They will be a few days short of a year old when the big day rolls around. It is hard to believe that we have survived a year. There have been a lot of changes in our lives since our little nuggets arrived, but the biggest one is me staying at home with them. It is not something I regret at all, in fact I know many mommas out there would love to be able to do it and I am lucky that we can make it work. Its a blessing. I also started with the delusion that I would be able to do all kinds of things that I have been wanting to do in my “spare time.” Veteran moms, feel free to laugh now.

We have also noticed a large influx of “Stuff.” The bouncy things, the walkers, stuffed toys, balls, clothes, accessories, that spooky camera toy that talks when no one is near it … and any number of other things. Our once tidy home looks like a ball pit at Chucky Cheese. And it’s not just baby stuff; it seems like every time we go out we get another pile of things that we somehow have to make our home absorb. Bottom line — we have too much STUFF.


Our first new family tradition started the day after Thanksgiving. We loaded up the four wheel drive sleigh and headed to Frankenmuth, Michigan. In hindsight we didn’t really pick the best day to go, the place was swarming with people, but it was so much fun. Bronners was our first stop; if you have never been it is worth checking out. It is the world’s largest Christmas store. The boys loved the shiny things on the ceiling, no one cried, and nothing got broken. A+ Yoders! We then proceeded to Zehnders, a family style restaurant featuring fried chicken, mashed potatoes and homemade bread. The boys ate all the squash and loved the butter noodles. A side note: not all the restrooms have changing tables. Matt was gone so long searching and waiting for a bathroom with a changing table that I almost thought me and O got abandoned.
We checked out all the cool shops on the main drag while we waited for the Christmas tree lighting ceremony to begin. There is a really neat toy shop downtown and I really liked my German chocolate latte from the little coffee shop a few doors away. The Christmas tree lighting ceremony was really neat! They had a German band that sang carols in German and a candlelight walk that we didn’t get to participate in like we had hoped, it started snowing and the boys had had enough so we packed up and went home.

The next day we focused on putting up our tree and decorating it. A much slower process now, since every ornament must be inspected and approved by two tiny boys. We cannot put up the tree without watching “Christmas Vacation.” It’s something that me and my family did for years and it feels funny without it.

I also made a point to get down to see my grandmother. My mom and I got the boys around and spent the evening making two batches of molasses cookies while she visited with her great grandchildren. That’s magic right there.

Homemade Gifting And Skill Building Gifts
A few years ago we started frowning upon purchased gifts in favor of homemade ones. Homemade gifts mean more than anything bought from a store. My sister knits a mean scarf, my husband can whip out gorgeous picture frames, and I make birdseed wreaths. We are a crafty family and we all have our talents. My dad loves to cook and always makes an amazing restaurant quality feast. Every. Single. Holiday. And my mom might as well be a Christmas interior decorator, the house is always stunning. Sharing your talents with your family and friends is a great way to keep costs down and spirits up. Also gifts that encourage interests or ones that make a memory are amazing. Does your kid need the latest (annoying) Tickle Me Elmo? Maybe that birdhouse kit that she can put together with her dad would mean more in the end. Go to a ball game, show them how to change a tire, take them to a museum, or the zoo. Skills and interests last a lifetime. Do I remember what I got Christmas morning when I was 9? Heck no! I DO, however, remember helping my dad and grandpa build the sugar shack and learning about making maple syrup. I remember picking out one new ornament every year at Christmas Manor with my mom and sister after our school’s Halloween parade. I remember drawing dinosaurs on the floor with my uncle while we waited for the turkey to get carved. I remember sleeping with my sister in her room Christmas Eve and swearing we could hear bells and tiny hooves on our roof. Little things that hardly cost much are the things that stuck with me all these years.

I have so many fond memories of Christmas. My parents really made it a magical time of the year. I just hope we can continue that for our children. It was never about “getting” so much as the feeling surrounding the whole month of December. We baked, made gingerbread houses, made ornaments and read stories,wrote letters to Santa, strung popcorn and cranberries, played games … and all the love, it was amazing. I wish for our children to be content with a few gifts and happy to spend time with their family and play games, drink cocoa and build snowmen. That’s what Christmas is all about for me.


Mistakes Are How We Improve

Apple Cider Vinegar
Jars of apple cores and peels ready for fermentation.

Sometimes homesteading can feel like a giant blooper reel. At some point in your journey you are going to feel like a complete moron more than just once, it’s an inescapable fact of this green-growing, furry, feathery life we live. I have taken some time to list a couple things that I have totally screwed up and learned from. Maybe it will take the sting out of some of your mistakes.

Apple Cider Vinegar
You may remember my post about making applesauce last year and how I rattled on about making apple cider vinegar from my peels and cores. After we made all that applesauce and prepared all the peels and cores that we could fit into our big 1/2 gallon jars I was feeling pretty high on life. ACV, after all, is pretty easy make. I researched different ways to make it and I was confident that I chose the route right for me. All I needed was peels and cores, water to top off the jars, cheesecloth, and a big ole rubber band, a warm dark place, and time. About a week after I got the process going I discovered that my ACV had bubbled over and made a mess on the floor; turns out the room was much too warm and also that I had filled up my jars too full of water. If a smelly sticky mess on the floor wasn’t bad enough two weeks or so later I went down to do a taste test and possibly filter and bottle my ACV and discovered that some of the jars had become a nursery to roughly a bazillion fruit flies … INSIDE the jars under the cheesecloth. Turns out I needed to layer my cheesecloth a little bit thicker than just two ply. Next time I plan on using a flour sack towel. All in all I ended up with 1 jar of usable vinegar. If you want a great book on things to do with apple cider check out


This year will make my 8th garden. In that time I have tried just about every single method of trellising that I could come up with. All of them were miserable failures. I love those photos in the gardening magazines with the plants neatly growing up string and bamboo posts. I quickly realized that while those string methods of trellising may work well for others they do not work for me. I lack the time, and patience. Any strong wind would knock over all my hard work. I ended up using a roll of fencing zip tied to T-posts for my peas to grow up. It ain’t pretty but it’s sturdy.

The Chicken Tractor
I could go on for days about how chicken tractors are not what they are cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, they certainly have their place and I love the concept. Fresh grass! Safety! Super cute! We ordered a totally adorable fancy chicken tractor from some page we found on the internet. It’s got a nice roofed detachable run and the floor has trays that you pull out to make cleaning easier and four nest boxes, and wheels to push it around the yard. Except this puppy is heavy and it is a total five-letter-word to move around the yard. The ramp going from the coop to the run was fixed, not hinged, so to move the tractor you had to have two people … one holding the coop up while the other pulled the run out of the way. The handles to move the tractor are on the same side as the run attaches on so it’s awkward to pick up and move out of the way. And you have no choice but to move it to a new location twice every day because the run is so small the birds eat and scratch the grass down to dirt in a couple hours. Now that we have our big coop our tractor is used as a maternity ward, broody breaker or integration pen depending on the need. But it serves as a constant (expensive) reminder that what looks good in theory is not always good in practice.

Crush and Strain
The first year that I harvested honey it came at a totally unexpected time…a huge tree fell on my first hive crushing it (…like, seriously?! UGH!) So I was totally unprepared for the task. It’s fair to say that I had no real idea what was involved. At that time my kitchen had brown shag carpet in it. I had the gist of it, you get the honey comb and you crush it, then you strain out the wax chunks. No big deal. No one told me that everything in the house would be sticky. Someone told me they used a big potato masher to crush their comb. After I busted my METAL potato masher I grabbed my lunch lady gloves and started crushing by hand. Turns out the gloves were the only thing I had right. I then used a flour sack towel to strain the honey because I could not find cheesecloth anywhere in any store at the time! And while it was effective it was painfully slow. That was 4 years ago. Crush and strain is a slow process anyhow, but these days the straining takes significantly less time. After that first year my husband made me a honey press and I found a reliable source for cheesecloth. This year I got a mesh strainer that fits over a 5 gallon bucket after my father-in-law got one, and dang, does that thing make quick work out of straining.  I highly recommend getting one. I had my highest honey yield yet because of the combination of the strainer and honey press.

The big benefit of crushing and straining your honey is that you get a lot more wax that way. The first time I processed wax from my honey I used my hot water bath canner. STUPID. I knew how to do it. What I didn’t know how much of a pain it was to clean up. I got my job done and the wax was cooling in a bucket into a giant puck. Then I noticed that I had a nice lemon yellow ring inside the canner. Nothing, and I mean nothing, got it off. I scoured Google for an answer and failed. I chalked it up to a learning experience. Now I use an old garage sale crock-pot for wax processing. I also recommend using silicone measuring cups and molds when working with wax. You can peel the wax right off, making clean up a lot easier.

These are only a few. I hope that my mistakes maybe made you feel better about some of yours. I can say I don’t regret them (except maybe the water bath canner …) because I learned from my screw-ups and I do things a better way now and I always feel like my methods are improving. Bottom line! Don’t give up just because you failed, or did something the hard way. No one is perfect.

Our Patch Of Green Grows

A busy blurry bumble bee on a Virginia Blue Bell Blossom

This season has brought us many new things. Probably the newest and most exciting thing is the arrival of our third son mid-May. This makes us not only outnumbered, but the parents of 3 kids under two. If you are the praying sort and feel so inclined, send some our way … lord knows some days we need it.

Besides family expansion everything else seems to be expanding too. The garden got bigger and Little One being a mere week old helped me plant the potatoes, tomatoes, and sunflowers. Of course my husband helped too because bending over isn’t too easy with a baby carrier. It was a real family affair! We also acquired about 100 or so established blackberry canes from friends.  It is a really nice thing when folks share their bounty with their neighbors, whether they need to thin out their raspberry patches or a clump of rhubarb; it’s how to keep things going and inspire others.


We had a very mild winter and early spring and all of our bees made it through the winter! YAY! Then tragedy struck with freezing temps after the bees had un-clustered for the season and two out of the three hives died. There is a silver lining though. I got a phone call from my husband who had been out helping my grandfather get his drill around for this season’s planting and the dead hives at his place each had a new wild swarm in them. This isn’t the first time my grandfather has been blessed in the bee department; since getting a hive in 2012 he has had a total of 5 swarms come to his property and 4 of them have made it into his hives or bee tree. We are planning on putting a lure up at his place since he apparently has prime honey bee real estate!

I can’t wait to see what else this year brings us!
I hope your summer is bringing you bigger and better things!