Homemade Yogurt in the Crock Pot

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Yes, I know Crock Pot is a brand of slow cooker, but I’m an old dog and I grumble when I’m forced to learn new tricks.  Add that to being raised in Texas where all slow cookers are referred to crock pots and it’s doubly embedded in my brain.  The only crock pot (there I go again)  in my house that I don’t call a crock pot is the Ninja.  I like the idea of having a ninja as a sous chef.  I’ll bet they are proficient with the knife.  I also like being able to say things like, “The ninja is cooking dinner tonight”.  And I especially love yelling, “Don’t let the ninja burn down the house!” as I walk out the door.  Confusing my family is one of my gifts.

To say I love my crock pots is an understatement.  I have a very close, personal relationship with my crock pots that most people don’t understand and, really, neither do I.

Crock pot is a member of the family.

Crock pot is swell.

Homemade yogurt is the most recent culinary delight that crock pot concocted in my kitchen.

Now, I have made yogurt before using various methods.  The yogurt maker I had, left me with a very thin yogurt that just wasn’t my thing.  When making it using a Thermos, I was limited with the small capacity.  With the crock pot, I can make a huge batch!  This is important because we eat massive quantities of yogurt around here.

This recipe is a result of tweaking a basic recipe until I reached the desired flavor and consistency.

You will need:

  • 1/2 gallon of  whole milk (2% will work, but result in a slightly thinner yogurt)
  • 2 Tbsp. Greek yogurt (if using a thinner yogurt for a starter culture, double the amount)
  • 1/2 c. powered milk
  • a crock pot (aka slow cooker)
  • ice chest large enough to house the crock pot wrapped in towels
  • towels (to insulate the crock pot)

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Pour the milk into the crock pot.  Cover and turn to high heat.

Now go on about your business for the next two hours.  That’s about how long it will take for the milk to reach 180 degrees (Fahrenheit).  At this point, remove the lid and turn off the heat.

Let the milk cool to 115 degrees.  Stir the milk periodically and test with a thermometer after stirring.  As the milk cools, it will form a skin on the surface.  Remove the milk skin and try not to gag as the words “milk skin” rattle around your brain.

When the milk reaches 115 degrees, whisk in the powdered milk making sure to not have any lumps.  I run the powdered milk through a mesh strainer to get rid of any lumps before adding to the liquid milk.  It works. Do it.

Stir in the yogurt and mix completely.  Only 2-4 tablespoons of yogurt is needed as a starter.  The lovely bacteria need plenty of room to go forth and multiply.  Resist the urge to add more yogurt than necessary.  It will not result in a thicker yogurt.

Place a large towel in the bottom of your cooler.  Put the whole crock pot into the cooler and place another towel or two on top.  Then bring up the bottom towel to wrap the crock pot entirely and shut the cooler lid.

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Now, here’s the hard part.

Walk away.

Just walk away.

Leave the crock pot in the insulated cooler for 10-12 hours.  No peeking!

After 10 hours, check on the yogurt.  If it’s the consistency you like, then you can move it into separate containers and place in the fridge.

I usually begin the yogurt making process early in the morning so that the yogurt is ready to place in the refrigerator, crock and all, right before I go to bed.  In the morning, I transfer the yogurt into four 16 oz. jars.

I leave a couple of the jars plain so they are versatile.  We use yogurt in smoothies, in place of sour cream and for baking.

The remaining yogurt is made into creamy vanilla yogurt.  You can use any sweetener you like, but I like the “no added sugar” approach so I use 12-15 drops of Vanilla Stevia per 16 ounces of yogurt.

gluten-free granola with homemade yogurt

gluten-free granola with homemade yogurt

Top a bowl of vanilla yogurt with homemade gluten-free crunchy pecan and coconut granola and you will be happy you did.

Tip:  Don’t eat all the yogurt!  Save 2-4 tablespoons to use as a starter culture for the next batch.

Do your gut a favor and give probiotics a chance!

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Charlotte Mason Inspired Kindergarten Plan

Charlotte Mason This summer Baby Honeybee turns five.  I’m not sure how she can be almost five years old, seeing how she was just a tiny baby yesterday.  She’s magical. Like unicorns!  That must be it.

Magical or not, she still demands an education.  She pretends to not know how to spell or read, but I’m on to her.

Because this is the time of year I typically evaluate our curriculum to see what is working and what needs to be tossed to save our sanity, I’ve put together Baby Honeybee’s Kindergarten plan inspired by the Charlotte Mason method of teaching.

I love the way Charlotte Mason treated children as little people and didn’t squash their love of learning with textbooks and math drills.  I also agree with her philosophy of a child’s need for outdoor exploring and activities that nurture a their natural curiosity.

Keeping that in mind, I have put together a plan for Baby Honeybee that will fit her personality and fit in also with our teaching Tween Bee and Teen Bee, who will be a senior next year.

Thunk.  I just fell out of my chair.

College Bee graduates this August.

Thunk.  I just died.

Ok, I’m not dead yet.  I think I’ll go for a walk.  I feel happy.  I feel happy!!  (Can anyone name that movie?  If you can, we should be friends.)

Moving along.

Reading

We read to Baby Honeybee daily.  To say she loves books doesn’t even come close to describe how she feels.  She will chase down and harass us until we cave.  It’s cute.

If you’re not familiar with the Charlotte Mason style of learning, living books are read aloud to younger children then they are asked to retell the story in their own words.  This allows the child to organize the story in their heads and is the first step to learning reading comprehension skills

Some of the Read Alouds will include:

  • Leaves from a Child’s garden of Verses – Robert Louis Stevenson
  • Mother Goose’s Little Treasures – Iona Opie/Rosemary Wells
  • Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present – Charlotte Zolotow
  • Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak
  • The Princess and the Pea – adapted by Janet Stevens
  • The Tale of Benjamin Bunny – Beatrix Potter
  • The World of Christopher Robin – A.A. Milne
  • The World of Pooh – A.A. Milne
  • The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  • Little House Series – Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • The Boxcar Children – Gertrude Chandler Warher
  • The Story of Dr. Doolittle – Hugh Lofting
  • The Story About Ping – Marjorie Flack
  • Beezus and Ramona – Beverly Cleary (along with other books by this author)
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – Judi Barrett
  • Least of All – Carol Purdy
  • Johnny Appleseed: Story of a Legend – Will Moses

This list is based on books we have or can check out from our local library.  This is not a complete list by any means.  It seems all my kids were born with the ability to persuade me into buying them books just about anywhere books are sold.

I’m a sucker for kids and animals and they all know it.

Handwriting

dry-erase alphabet binder

dry-erase alphabet binder

I made this binder for her this year to begin practicing her letters and numbers.  I found some free printables online and slipped the pages into sheet protectors.  With a dry-erase marker, she is able to reuse the worksheets.  It stores easily and it was very inexpensive to make.  As she masters writing her letters and numbers, the pages can be swapped out for copywork, drawing or math sheets.

History & Geography

Usborne Children’s Encyclopedia

We will use The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder to begin our journey of American history.  We will sew (with lacing cards, plastic canvas and yarn), grow our own food, bake bread, make butter, raise livestock and live like pioneers.  We attempt to do much of this anyway, but we are spoiled with the luxuries of indoor plumbing and electricity.  I’m OK with that.

Math

math manipulatives

math manipulatives

Practice writing numbers with dry-erase binder pages.

Learn Shapes – Attribute Blocks by Learning Horizons.

This is a set of shapes of varying size, color and thickness.  With the shapes, children can sort and classify and learn how they are alike or different.

Counting games with marbles, cards and dominoes and dice games.  Yahtzee anyone?

Sorting items (like buttons and coins).

We also have a set of Cuisenaire Rods that have been and will continue to be useful with counting, sorting and pattern sequences.

Science & Nature

Berenstain Bear’s Big Book of Science and Nature

Nature Journal – Observe and draw plants, birds, insects, clouds, weather.  Basically we will spend time marveling at God’s creation.

Wonders of Science & Creatures of the Air and Sea – Reader’s Digest Pathfinders books

Magic School Bus books

My First Book About Space – Dinah L. Moche

Calendar & Clock

Learn days of the week and months.  I plan on letting her pick out her own calendar at the dollar store so it will be special for her.  I have no doubt it will have puppies and kitties on it.

For the clock, well, we will use a clock.

Building Healthy  Habits

This seems like a natural time to implement a Chore Chart for structure so she knows what is expected of her daily.  This will include tasks like: make bed, put away toys, feed Sam (her guinea pig), brush teeth, etc.  This sounds great in theory.  We shall see how it works.

Please and Thank You Book – Richard Scary.  This is so people won’t think she’s being raised by wolves.

Learn about healthy eating habits.

Physical Fitness – Outdoor play

Foreign Language

One of my goals for the year was to implement Spanish Immersion techniques to teach Baby Honeybee and Tween Bee and to reinforce what Teen Bee has been studying for the last two years.  For me, I would like to be able to say more than “I have a dog”.  It’s a bit awkward for others when that is my answer for every question asked.  I’m a natural conversationalist.  On opposite day.

Music

This year, we implemented a study of three composers each year.  So far, we have only studied Beethoven.  As we wrap up our math and science curriculum in the spring, we will have more time for music history studies.

Art

Not only will she be allowed to create her own masterpieces, but we will study three artists each year.  Tween Bee and Teen Bee will study the artists in depth.

Last, but certainly not least:

Bible Study

Baby Honeybee and Tween Bee have the best Sunday School teacher we could have ever wanted.  Not only is she kind and generous, but she has picked up on their learning styles and has been able to teach them while having fun.  They love their Sunday School teacher and she loves them.  When I have to fill in on the occasional Sunday, the girls grumble and groan.  I feel the love.

We have numerous children’s bible story books from which to learn, but this year we will be putting more effort into scripture memorization.  I have some ideas to incorporate this with art.  Stay tuned.

 

So that’s our Kindergarten curriculum in a nutshell.  The cost of this curriculum for us is zero dollars since we have all the resources available to us from the older kids.

Leave a comment and let me know if you have any thoughts or know of any resources that we shouldn’t be without in our homeschool.  I’m all ears!

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Solar Clothes Dryer aka Clothesline

BIG

Today is a sad day in the hive.

Our clothes dryer died.

I don’t how long I’ll be in mourning, but while I’m mourning the loss, I’ll only wear clothes that are black and shades of gray.  I’ll pretty much look the same as always, is what I’m saying.

Luckily for me, the hubby built a clothesline not long after we bought our house.  Problem solved.

We are in Central Texas, so if it had to happen, the death of the dryer was well-timed.

Depending on how much the repairs are for the dryer, or if we decide to buy a new one, we may be without a dryer for a while.  I have not been impressed with the life span of our 3 year-old washer.  It seems to have contracted an illness and is unable to drain and spin properly the first time around.  Poor thing.

If we need to use our clothesline into the summer, the good news is that a full load dries in 10 minutes.  (I’m making lemonade with all the lemons life continues to bless me with.)  That’s just enough time to slightly recover from the heat stroke I’ll suffer from hanging out the clothes.  See?  It all works so perfectly!

So, if you have a clothesline, or decide to build one because you’re green and love the earth and all, you will need these:

 

thesimplehive.com

thesimplehive.com

They are known by many names, but we found these in the camping/sporting goods department at Walmart.  They might be called clothesline, volleyball net or rope tightener.  I call mine Mary.

You can order them online here.

That’s all.  Now I’m off to bury the dryer.  Do you think it would mind if I used a refrigerator box for the casket?

diy wool dryer balls with essential oils

Now that I have shared with you what I use for fabric softener, I’ll reveal what I use in place of dryer sheets!

You are all on the edge of your seats, I know.

dryer balls

It’s dryer balls!

Dryer balls fluff laundry as it tumble dries, reducing drying time and making your clothes feel soft and fluffy without leaving a skin-irritating film on your clothes. You may have heard a tip to toss tennis balls into the dryer or you may have seen dryer balls made from rubbery plastic sold in stores. I prefer to avoid the chemicals in tennis balls and plastic can release dangerous compound when heated. Neither of these thrill me so I made some using wool yarn!

These are exciting times, man! Ditch the Downy habit! You can do it!

I seem very excited today. It might be the mood-enhancing essential oils, or that I just love a good DIY project. Especially one that is as simple as this one is. Top it off with not spending four bucks for a box of dryer sheets and I’m downright giddy!

Here’s what you need:

100% wool yarn
crochet hook
pantyhose

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If you have wool yarn leftover from the scarf you knitted Aunt Suzy, now is the time to gather up all your scraps. The only catch is, it must be 100% wool yarn. No substitutes. Sorry, on this I must be a stickler. The point is, we will wash and dry and agitate the heck out of these wool fibers to make them lock together and become one with each other. This beautiful process is also known as felting. It’s what happens when you don’t pay attention to garment care instructions and put the lovely sweater you received as a Christmas gift through the washer and dryer only to realize your mistake when you pull out what looks to be a doll sweater. Then you look around with a puzzled expression wondering how a doll sweater made its way into your load of laundry until the sweater begins to look vaguely familiar and it hits you what you have done.

Breathe.

Moving along.

Take your yarn and wind it into a tight ball about the size of a baseball. You can go with tennis ball size or even softball if that’s your game, but I did baseball size and it seems to work just fine.

tuck your tail

tuck your tail

When you have the size you prefer, pull the tail through many layers using a crochet hook. Tuck the tail deep into the ball to completely secure.

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You can make as many as you would like. Three seemed like a good number to me because I ran out of yarn after the third one. Three was meant to be.

Now, raid your drawer for some pantyhose. I happened to have a perfectly good pair of suntan colored hosiery hanging around for more than a decade because I’m too pasty to pull off “suntan” without looking like I’m part oompa loompa and also, I despise wearing pantyhose. Use whatever you have, folks!

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Cut a leg off the pantyhose and shove one ball into the foot. Tie and knot and put in the next ball. Keep going until all your yarn ball are in the hose with knots in between and at the end.

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Now it’s time to wash a load of laundry. This just keeps getting better, doesn’t it? Towels or sheets are good choices because you want to wash this load on HOT and EXTRA HEAVY or whatever cycle is the most brutal on your washing machine.

After washing, throw the load of laundry into the dryer, yarn balls and all. Don’t take them out of the pantyhose just yet. Use the highest heat setting o your dryer.

When the drying cycle is complete, snip away the pantyhose from the yarn balls.

We are almost there!

Take your essential oils of choice.  Lavender lemon is lovely, but you can do whatever you want.  I’m flexible. If you are having a difficult time deciding which oils to use, this chart may help.

Apply 10-20 drops on each ball, until desired strength is achieved. This may take a few tries to get it right. I have noticed that 20 drops per ball is enough to leave a pleasant scent in the dry laundry.

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Now they are ready to use!

We are a family of six, so laundry is an everyday occurrence. When not in use, I just leave the balls in the dryer. If you prefer to contain the scent longer, store them in a glass jar with a lid until ready to use.

If you’re anything like me, you will toss these into the dryer with your wet laundry and immediately reach up to grab a dryer sheet. Talk about a habit!

a simple plan

2014

This is the year we go back to basics.  We already live fairly simple lives as compared to many families of our size, but life gets out of control in a large spiral then gains momentum.  Before you realize, it’s string cheese for dinner as you fly out the door to youth group or 4H meetings.

This must not continue.

I’m sharing my plan for 2014 to accomplish my goals for health, homeschool, church, my home and my garden.  It was born from exasperation stemming from too many days of buzzing around in circles and accomplishing little.  I need results, people!  I thrive on them, in fact.

In sharing my thoughts, I hope to clarify the foggy areas and focus on my priorities.  Also, I feel if I don’t get some organization to my thoughts, they will make my head explode in dazzling display of glitter, rainbows and unicorns.  Oh sure, that sounds fun for you, but I wouldn’t be right after that.

So here I am.  I am hoping you will keep me focused and hold me accountable.

Health

  • Drink plenty of water daily.  This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s so hard to remember.  I begin the day with good habits but as the day progresses, I get busy and never have a free hand to perform the physical act of holding a glass and bringing it to my lips. I need a beer hat with the flexible tube straws to hold a couple of bottles of water.  You may think I’m just saying this be funny, but I kid you not.  Don’t be surprised if you ever meet me in person, is what I’m saying.
  • Incorporate more fruits and veggies into daily diet and move away from meat-based meals. Buy organic produce when possible and grow more in the garden.  We eat healthy meals overall, but we have room for improvement.  We deal with multiple food allergies in our family so meals can become complicated when trying to feed everyone.  Over the years, I have tweaked recipes to allow for delicious and healthy meals for all.  We have a good-sized garden so with a little more effort, we can achieve this goal.
  • Cardio and strength-training workouts.  We have an old one-and-a-half story bungalow.  Before we bought our house, the upstairs had been gutted and renovations began.  We spent a couple of long, dusty days up there recently to organize it more efficiently.  I now have a sewing and crafts area and we now have a workout area for the weight bench and elliptical.  Now I have no excuse for not exercising.  I have mixed emotions about this.
  • Schedule annual check-ups for everyone early in the year.  I’m guessing most of you don’t have an issue with this like I do.  I usually put off scheduling doctor appointments until closer to the month we need them.  My thinking is that I will be better able to schedule appointments around the other chaos and obligations.  This. Never. Works.
  • Start a routine of getting the kids out for a daily walk.  We homeschool and the day can get pretty hairy in the afternoon if the kids don’t get a break from schoolwork and chores.  A short hike through our property or to the mailbox (we live in the country) will hopefully prevent them from turning into angry bees.

Homeschool

  • Keep ongoing records on computer for easy management and to print year-end records to be stored with work.  This is pretty straight forward, but up until now, I have been keeping handwritten records.  I know!  What was I thinking?
  • Allow for more field trips and journaling to replace textbook curriculum.  After all, I’m teaching them not just to make a living, but to make a life. We learn naturally from experiences. This might be the best thing for my little ADHD bee. She’s an eager learner when it doesn’t feel like learning.  
  • Incorporate life skills into homeschool day. Teach cooking, fiscal responsibility and time management.  We all grow up and leave the hive someday. These skills aren’t optional.
  • Weekly trips to library for movies and books.  This is me being self-indulgent.  I love the library! I could live there! They won’t let me, though.  Need a business idea?  Library/B&B.  There you go.  You’re welcome.
  • Use Spanish immersion technique to reinforce what has already been learned by my older child and to begin teaching the girls.  I’m planning on driving my family crazy with this.  When they get frustrated with me and the shouting begins, I’ll shout  back “Espanol por favor!”.  This will be fun!

Church

  • Phase out responsibilities of youth group and Sunday school to prepare for busy school year.  I almost didn’t include this.  We currently are the youth leaders and Sunday school teachers for high school kids at our church.  These activities require planning and time in an already stretched schedule.  Many days I feel like we aren’t making a difference and anybody could take our place.  (Here is where I mentally scream and stomp and then sigh.)  God called us to do this. He led us here for a reason. So, phasing ourselves out of church responsibilities probably will not happen this year.  I think I’m ok with that.

Home & Garden

  • Improve soil in existing garden beds and maintain.  Easy peasy.  We have plenty of organic compost.  The hard part is digging it out from the bottom of our bin.
  • Create cleaning schedule and keep clutter under control. This should more accurately state Blow the dust off the cleaning schedule created last year and put it to use!
  • Regularly go through household items and donate unwanted items.  When we cleaned upstairs to make room for a workout/sewing/lounge area, we cleared out and donated several bags full of clothing and items we no longer need.  Well, we haven’t donated them yet.  They are sitting in my kitchen.  I like to think of them as frumpy fans cheering me on as I channel my inner rockstar while I cook.  I feel badly as I kick them aside to access the lower cabinets.  They understand.

Cancel newspaper subscription and Netflix.  Done and woohoo!  Man, those two innocent-looking subscriptions are a beast to control!  Unfortunately our day doesn’t allow for sipping coffee leisurely while catching up on local events.  I have to say, newspaper wrangling just isn’t for me.  As for Netflix, it became a burden to sit down and watch a movie and return it in a timely manner.  We plan to check out movies from the library.  Problem solved.

This next goal doesn’t fit in any one category above, yet it fits perfectly in all of them.

Find the funny in everything.  Humor keeps me sane by laughing hysterically and it is everywhere!  We have all heard that laughter is the best medicine, but did you know it’s also the best workout?  It’s true (in my head).  If you laugh hard enough, it’s an excellent ab workout so you don’t have to spend any time upstairs in your newly created workout room.  Two birds, one stone.

Join me in my journey of simple living. If you have any tricks up your sleeve that help keep your life simple, I would love to know.