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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Homemade Yogurt!

Yogurt.  It is delicious, nutritious, and we go through TONS of it!  I buy the jumbo pack of single flavored yogurts plus 2 tubs of plain or vanilla yogurt every single time I go to Costco (which is just about weekly).  And in a week?  Whoosh!  Gone.  Guaranteed.

When my sister Cindy told me she had a recipe for homemade yogurt, I was skeptical.  I thought it must be difficult to make.  Or taste kinda weird.  However, she is a fantastic cook and has great taste.  She is a mom of 3, raises tons of chickens, and always has great tips for using natural products.  She also has her own business, Cindy's Suds, where she makes the most amazing soaps, balms, soaks, and more (check it out here!).  So- decided to give it a try.

The recipe is absurdly simple.  I will give you the steps along with her recommended time-line:

5:30 PM-  Step 1
Pour 1/2 gallon of whole milk into crock pot on low (you can use 2%, but that turns out slightly thinner to me).  Cover with lid; cook 2.5 hours.

8:00 PM-  Step 2
Unplug crock pot.  Let it sit for 3 hours.

11:00 PM-  Step 3
Whisk in 1/2 cup of plain "starter" yogurt and re-cover.  Wrap the crock pot in a towel or blanket and let it sit 8 hours.

It's all nice and snug under that blanket ;)
7:00 AM- Step 4
Put in fridge.  Enjoy later that day!

The result is thick, creamy "normal" plain yogurt that you feel good feeding your kids.  You probably could add maple syrup, sugar, honey, or vanilla flavoring right away if you like it sweet but I tend to flavor it as we eat it.  Cindy says you can use this yogurt as the "starter" the next time around too.  We have yet to try that, only because we go through it so fast.
This is what it looks like later that day.  It will probably stay good for a week.  My kids inhale it usually within 2 days!

My favorite way of serving my homemade yogurt: with a spoonful of strawberry jam and some thawed frozen berries.

So do the kids like it?


This is an update as of 9/15:  I have made this yogurt more times than I can count.  I only use Vitamin D milk because it is creamier and the kids can use those calories.  I stick to the above recipe & timeline and it always turns out great.  

HOWEVER, in the morning, I am now in the habit of placing coffee filters in a strainer, placing the strainer over a large bowl, and pouring the just-made yogurt into the strainer.  I throw the uncovered, strainer-nested-bowl in the fridge for a bit & retrieve it when I remember later on (1/2 hour up to 4 hours).  
The result is very thick & creamy pearly white, Greek-like yogurt.  I throw out the yellowish liquid from the bowl, toss the yogurt into the bowl (don't forget to remove the coffee filters) & stir in 1 tsp vanilla & 3-4 T of sugar to the yogurt.  

IT IS HEAVEN.  Serious yumminess.  I dare you not to lick the spoon ;)

Bon Appetit!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

When Grandma Came to Visit...

...we had so much fun we forgot to take pictures!  
Here is the one picture I have that proves grandma was here:
A happy grandma snuggles a happy Hannah :-)
My mom & stepdad live about 5 minutes from us, and Andy's parents live about 10 minutes away.  We are so thankful to have parents/grandparents that live so close!  However, since my parents retired about 6 years ago, they have taken to becoming SnowBirds.  For those of you not familiar with this term, it refers to people (usually retired) leaving this cold state of Michigan during the frigid months and returning just in time for the thaw & bloom of Spring.

However, let me clarify- they do not "vacation", but rather they volunteer (often at different National Parks) for the Winter months.  The last 2 years, they decided to stay here and "volunteer" at the Niemeyer Homestead! But, alas, this Fall they set out for Arizona to volunteer at a Buenos Aires National Wildlife Rescue.  To say we miss Grandma and Grandpa is an understatement!

Grandma needed her grandkid fix, and so she arranged to come and stay with us for 2 weeks after the New Year.  She came on a snowy day and unfortunately was stuck in Chicago for 2 days while the weather cleared up.  I had a very sad Jenna those 2 days!  Thankfully my Aunt & Uncle live in West Chicago and Aunt Nancy was planning on visiting anyways, so mom stayed with them and arrived safely on a Saturday.

Grandma shared a trundle bed in Jenna's room and snuggled with Jenna each morning, telling her "adventure stories".  The kids enthusiastically preferred gamma over momma in nearly every situation.  My mom helped watch kids so I could tackle some of my ongoing organization projects.  She watched the kids overnight so Andy & I could go on an 11-year Anniversary overnight date.  She babysat the kids when I went to work.  We even went to this really cool local fun spot, Catch Air, with her and Mimi (Andy's mom)!  It was really, really nice to not only have her visit, but to stay with us!
Oh wait!  I got her in a second photo!  She is that lady on the right, watching my kids swing on balls at Catch Air :-)

It was so nice to have grandma here and we can't wait until she and Grandpa come back in the Spring!

Who do you really enjoy coming by to visit?



Wednesday, January 7, 2015

New Year, New Addition!

Happy NEW YEAR!!!!!!

2015.  You know you're getting old when the new year reminds you of a sci-fi movie!!! ;)

First, Some Christmas hi-lights.  We had Christmas as a family Christmas eve morning, had Andy's family over Christmas evening, and my sister's family the day after Christmas:
My four mischievous sweet little 2 1/2 year olds!
Lauren, Tyler, Hannah & Tanner

Eating cookies after Church the Sunday before Christmas
~Best Friends~
"Look at dat, Lolo!"

Showing Mimi their cool noisy, powered trucks.  (We were in desperate need of some boy toys!)
Jenna is a pro at doing the 2-baby hold!

We had a lovely Christmas, and yet I was very ready to pack up all the Christmas gear and put it into storage for the next year.  There is something about the start of a New Year that makes me want to organize, de-clutter, and try to maintain order!!!  But this year, I have a whole new reason who I am trying to organize, de-clutter, and maintain order:

So for those of you curious, here are pictures of how our house transformed over these last 6 months: 
The "old" kitchen and dining room area.  Note front door is to the left.

And the "NEW" kitchen:
This view is from the front door.  The entire positioning of the kitchen was turned around.
This view is from our front door and reveals the new addition in the back.

The old siding and back view of our house (right after foundation was poured for new addition)
Building the addition
And the finished exterior!
Meanwhile, inside...
The upstairs new room
Our Under Construction lifestyle for a while
During the construction the upstairs and downstairs were partitioned off, so the kids literally had one room (the living room) to live and play in.  I also would make their bedroom a fun zone, but I had to get all the toys out for naps because you don't want nap time to turn into play time!  Of course, the main living room where we spent most of our time was right next to our master bedroom- where daddy had to sleep many days because he works third shift.  That was not fun.

Try telling 5 kids to be quiet.  It doesn't work!!!  So poor Andy got very little sleep and knowing we were being loud with little options just seemed to add to my stress levels.  Many a days it was just so much "easier" to pack the 4 kids up in the van and go to Costco or Target rather than getting in the worker's way and waking daddy up!
The downstairs addition playroom
The new bedroom (a.k.a Jenna's room, first studs, then drywall view)
Not only did we add on space, but we also did some bedroom shuffling, arranging, and changing.  Jenna got a whole new room, and even picked out her own paint color.  Somehow the toddlers who slept in cribs this summer became little monkeys who enjoyed climbing out of their cribs as the Fall wore on.  SOOOO, now we have 5 BIG KIDS with big kid beds and thanks to the addition, now have separate girls/boys rooms.  No more toddler beds---- ever!!!  At first I was a little sad, but now I am more use to it- my little babies are growing up! (insert choking sob here).

Annnnd- the finished product!!!!

Our upstairs addition
View from the back slider doors, you can see my lovely kitchen in the background!

Jenna's old room is now the girl's room.  Hannah & Lauren share the full bed.
The only problem with having monkey children is that they like to climb wherever they can!
Peek-a-boo, Tyler!
The boy's room.  Despite the 2 beds, the boys still share the one bed right now.  Our kids snuggle- they know no different!
Jenna's room!  Her walls are pink and she LOVES the trundle bed from Mimi & Papa's house.  Perfect for sleepovers!

The play room downstairs

Life's a ball!
It has been a long 6 months and I am so very glad it is over and now we get to enjoy our new space.  But man, suddenly it feels like sooooo much space!  Instead of being squeezed into one room, I find myself loosing track of where everyone is, and you KNOW with four toddlers silence is often anything but golden!

As we get to know our new house and I spend my extra time organizing toys, clothes, & figuring out what furniture should goes where, we eagerly await a visit from my mom tomorrow.  She will be coming back to town and staying with us for 2 whole weeks!!!  We are all so excited to see her and just wish Grandpa could visit too, but he is busy volunteering in Arizona and picking up the slack for my mom while she is with us ;).

Hope you New Year is off to a happy, productive & safe start!