Saturday, October 26, 2013

Happy Halloween!... almost.


 I usually wait until it's actually Halloween to post costume pictures, but seeing as I actually have internet access tonight, I suppose I better make use of it.

And so I present: Halloween Costumes 2013

Pippi Longstocking...

And a very sweet little bride. 


True to character, I have one dressed in lace and satin and the other looking super playful.

The Oldest read Pippi Longstocking recently, and helped design her own costume based on what she read. I love how it turned out, and so does she. She even did some of the sewing this year!

Littlest One really just wanted to be a princess (again) but I refuse to make the same costume twice. (Halloween costume sewing is as much fun for me as it is for them, mostly because I never get to make fun stuff like this in real life.) So instead of princess, she went with bride... which is essentially just a princess in white, with a veil and a bouquet. Works for me, and it turned out gorgeous.

The detail on the dress was the most fun I've had in a long time - I even designed it myself with a lace overlay on the front panel, ribbon woven corset-style up the front, and braid trim along the overlay and around the neckline. It really is a real wedding dress, in miniature.


And of course, the most fun comes after Halloween, when they can dress up as often as they want. Makes all the effort worth it in the end!

Happy Halloween to everyone!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Volunteer Work: Farm style


Sometimes, being homeschoolers offers us some amazing opportunities.
 
This weekend, we took a volunteer job at a local living history museum, demonstrating some of the heritage arts that we do at home. We dressed in costume and sat on the porch of a 100 year old bunk house, where we showed knitting, crocheting, embroidery, and finger knitting.

It was an incredible opportunity for Two Little Girls. For as much time as they spend doing these things as a regular part of life, it was fantastic for them to hear the “oohs” and the “ahhs” of ‘city folk’ as they watched such young girls doing them. For me to be knitting wasn’t anything special. But for folks – kids and adults alike – to see my six and ten year old daughters proficiently creating beautiful, useful works of art was inspirational to some.
 

The girls sat with other kids as they came by and taught them the basics of their skills – Littlest One taught many a young girl to knit a chain by weaving yarn on her fingers, and sent each one away with a small ball of yarn to practice with. The satisfaction she got from sharing her skill equaled the satisfaction of the children learning it.


We taught a group of girl scouts how to knit and crochet, patiently demonstrating and holding their hands as they fumbled through the stitches. A couple were so eager to learn that they sat with us for nearly half an hour, carefully making stitch after stitch across rows. It’s neat to think they may go home with a desire to learn a lifelong skill that was nearly lost to antiquity for a few generations.


When they tired of sitting and doing their needlework, Two Little Girls took turns churning butter from fresh local cream and cleaning apples to be pressed into cider for the many visitors. No matter what they were doing, watching them brought smiles to many faces. To see some of the elderly women that passed through smile so big at my sweet girls having so much fun doing what most would consider work warmed my heart. 


And upon the end of our day, when The Oldest took my hand and swung my arm as she skipped along in her pinafore and bonnet, and she said, “This was such a special day!” That made it all worth the effort we put into it. I love when my girls are able to take pride in this (somewhat crazy) life we live. Not every kid gets to do the things they do here, and while it doesn’t always seem special to them, times like this help them realize they get to experience a lot of things most kids never get to.


The museum will close up soon for the winter, but we hope to continue volunteering our time there next year, sharing the skills we use every day with kids who don’t get to see them often. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ooey, Gooey Homeschooling Awesomeness



 My children, as in all areas of life, are as different as night and day when it comes to school. They each have their strong points and weak areas, the subjects they love and the ones they suffer through... and neither of them match up with anything. The Oldest picked up reading after about two months of instruction. Littlest One is on year two of painstakingly sounding out Every. Single. Word. But where The Oldest still can't always recall that 8x8=64, Littlest One seems to have a knack for memorizing math facts - and even loves to do it. Flash cards thrill her... The Oldest would rather scrub baseboards.

And so, just when I finally felt like had "This Whole Homeschooling Thing" down, Littlest One came along to dash all my dreams of mastery.

But, as I've worked to find ways to get information to stick in the brains of young children, one concept always rings true: if it involves laughter, fun, creativity, or enormous messes, they will undoubtedly remember what they have been taught. The only problem here is that this means that I have to come up with great ideas each week to keep them actively learning. Not always an easy thing to do. We've done "Memory" type games for sight words, online games for learning math facts and phonics, apps on my phone for sight words and for multiplication drills, and I've spent countless nights searching Pinterest for more fun ideas.

Somewhere between a Pinterest preschool activity and my own brain, this amazing little activity came about, and it's one that's cool enough that it deserves sharing.

I wrote the Eight Sight Words of the Week on little bits of craft foam, using a Sharpie. Then I scattered the bits on the bottom of a glass baking dish:


And then - because I was hoping to win the Cool Mom Award for the day, I managed to bring together fun, creativity, laughter, and an enormous mess, all into one activity: I squirted shaving cream all over the words, filling the baking dish til it nearly overflowed.

Then I handed Littlest One a list of her sight words and a pencil, and set her to work. Her job: find the little foam bits with the words on them, read them out loud, then find them on the list and mark them off with the pencil.


 
It sounds way easier than it really is. I also didn't let her keep the words out when she had found them - I made her put them back in. This meant she was constantly re-finding and re-reading the words.

The other blessed benefit to this activity: it can take at least an hour. Seriously - go get some laundry done, make some dinner.... take a nap, whatever. Your kid will be entertained. I promise.

Somehow, I assumed The Oldest would find this utterly immature and not be interested at all.
 
Clearly, I was wrong. She was desperate to get her hands in that shaving cream. So I wrote out a bunch of her most difficult multiplication and division facts and let her have a go at it.
 
The verdict? Coolest sight word game of the year, so far. The only problem is, now I have to come up with more fun ideas... feel free to hit me up with any you might have!











Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Inventory of the Cellar


As the harvest/preserving season wraps up for the 2013 season, I organized the cellar and freezer and took stock of how much food we’ve produced and put by for the year. I was a little more detailed in my record keeping this year than I have been in the past, as I work to figure out how much food we actually need, how much it costs and how much I save, etc. 

These records are purely for my own information, but I’m posting them in case anyone is interested (and also, because if they are on the blog, I won’t lose them.)

In the cellar:
246 jars of food (fruit, vegetables, jams, sauces/salsas/condiments, syrups, soups.)
16 delicata squash (each will provide one meal)
6 large pie pumpkins (will equal approx 20 cans of pumpkin)
22 lbs fresh-stored carrots (with more to harvest)
12 lbs fresh-stored beets (I canned half the beet harvest as pickled beets)
17 lbs potatoes (with more to harvest)
? dried beans (haven’t shelled them yet. Maybe 5 lbs? Not much.)
62 heads of garlic (enough for planting this fall, too.)
75 onions
several bunches of dried herbs (dill, parsley, basil, thyme, oregano, lavender)
8 quarts of dried fruit and tomatoes
24 sheets of fruit leather (equals about 96 “fruit roll-ups”)
 
In the freezer:
5 lbs carrots
2 lbs broccoli
5 gallons of soups
4 quarts of chopped green onions
2 lbs chopped bell peppers
7 cups of spaghetti sauce
14 cups of pesto
I chose to can most of our food this year when it was possible, since freezer space is limited.

These totals don’t include the fresh veggies we’ve eaten through the summer, beginning in May and lasting about 5 months. Most meals were planned around what was coming out of the garden.

Meat:
16 chickens
3 turkeys (yet to be butchered)
1 goat (yet to be butchered.)
(hoping this will total about 40 meals’ worth of food, plus broth for soups.)
(There is also hope still for one -or two- elk this year, which would provide a full year's worth of meat, and enough to share.)

Dairy (year totals)
About 50 gallons of milk (I don’t keep daily records. This is a close estimate.)
About 45 dozen eggs (again, this is an estimate. They slow down in the winter, but produce 3-4 dozen per week during the summer.)


I wish I had the numbers to put a value to all of the food in this house right now, but I’m not that organized yet.

But the total cost of all of it?

$175 in locally, farm-purchased fruits and vegetables that I didn’t/couldn’t raise myself.
$60 in garden seeds
$60 in meat birds
Approx $120 in meat chicken feed
Another $120 in egg hen feed (not including the feed cost of the show birds.)
$240 in grain for goats

Not sure of the cost of jar lids, bought about $24 of canning jars this year, plus spices, sugar, etc. that I didn’t keep records of. Estimating about $75 in those supplies.

So total cost for the above listed foods? $824

Also, figure at least 250 hours of work. At least. Honestly, it’s probably a whole lot more, but sometimes it’s hard to decipher work from play around here.

The amount seems enormous, but when it's spread over 6 months or so, it's not terrible... and if I make the effort, I could cut our monthly grocery bill down to about $100 for 5 or 6 months.  That puts us at roughly $233 per month, eating healthy, organically grown vegetables, pastured meat, raw milk and fresh eggs. I realize some folks live on plenty less than this each month, but seriously y'all, we eat really good food!
 
So is it worth it? Absolutely.

 Raising meat chickens is utterly uneconomical, between the cost of the birds and feed, the amount of work required in the raising and butchering of them… if we could find a way to hatch our own meat chicks and raise our own feed, it would make more sense. (I’ve heard you can raise chickens almost entirely on clabbered cow’s milk. I’m not opposed to trying this when our cow is in milk) Turkeys are a much bigger bang for your buck, even when raised from poults. Goats can be expensive, since grain is a requirement, but the milk they provide for drinking, cooking, plus yogurt, cheese, etc. is so worth it… and goats provide a lot of fun, too. (Most people pay more for a monthly cable bill than we do for our goats, and goats are far more entertaining!) We also raise all the hay our animals will use, and they graze pasture during the spring, summer, and fall. This cuts down significantly on the cost of meat and milk production. It’s hard for me to estimate the value of the egg chickens vs. the cost of their feed, since most of our chickens are show-breed bantams that The Oldest raises for fun (and are therefore worthless when it comes to laying.)

The garden is amazing, though. The sheer number of pounds of food produced with just $60 worth of seeds in incredible. Fresh vegetables all through the summer months and well into the fall and winter. The fertilizer is provided by the menagerie in the barns, the water comes from our irrigation, and the man-power is provided by Two Little Girls and myself. (Bonus: gardening and other farm chores also provide a great daily workout, omitting what some folks pay in gym memberships.)What doesn’t get eaten provides extra feed for the animals. 

Are we anywhere close to self-sufficient? Not at all. Until I can grown my own wheat and oats, we'll still be making monthly trips to the grocery store. Though I have started looking into the details of raising sugar beets, just as an experiment...

When I sent Littlest One down-cellar the other day for a jar of pears, she came up with them and said, “Do you know what I thought when I went into the cellar? I thought, ‘I’m so proud of my mom for putting all this food in here for us to eat.’”

So is it worth it? Yep, you betcha. And it's even kinda fun, too. :-)

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Saying Goodbye

It’s one of those hard lessons you hate to have to see your kids learn, and yet it’s not one that can be avoided when you raise animals.

We had to say goodbye to Jasper today. The first baby born on our little farm (aside from chickens) that just couldn't stay forever.

The girls knew we weren’t keeping him. We don’t need a bunch of little wethers running around. We keep animals that have a purpose (mostly) and castrated little boy goats running around don’t serve any real purpose aside from general entertainment. We have plenty of entertainment around here, entertainment that doesn’t jump fences to eat apple trees.

I honestly thought we were pretty lucky. The family that bought him wanted a little pet goat to keep their other little pet goat company. They brought a bag of animal crackers and banana chips for him and cuddled him and exclaimed over his cuteness. And they had a ten year old son. Jasper was particularly fond of ten year olds. He’s going to live on a farm where he can run free and eat weeds to his heart’s content. There couldn’t possibly be a better life for a goat… especially considering most wethers are sold for meat.

But all of that didn’t make it any easier. Littlest One collapsed into a sobbing mess in my arms before they had pulled out of the driveway. The Oldest disappeared, only to be found later up in a tree, hiding and sulking. Two hours later, she still hadn’t spoken, nor had Littlest One’s tears subsided. In fact, what were at first silent tears became full-blown wailing for awhile.

Seriously, the level of drama in this house over the past few hours could have put my girls in the running for Academy Awards.

I sincerely hope they feel better – and calmer – after a good night’s sleep. And I hope that the more animals we sell, the easier this gets.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Reason Why.

Once upon a time, this blog was intended to document every little special thing that happened in our lives.

And then, our lives changed. Every little thing felt like such a big thing. It *is a big thing. It’s huge, and it’s exhausting, and it’s so special there aren’t words to put to it. And yet, in the scheme of things, it seems so normal I feel like it’s nothing to write about at all.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had internet access good enough to even try blogging. Mountain life, I suppose. And life has just happened – every day, something new, something huge or something small, it just keeps happening, and I can’t find the time or the need to put it into words.

And then tonight. I sat down with Two Little Girls and we flipped through scrapbooks. The books I kept through their Little Years, telling the story of each simple day, rejoicing in the simplicity. And I realized how many special things really are happening, that I’m just not rejoicing in. The Little Things. That’s what this blog is about. It’s not about huge events. It’s not about teaching or sharing important things… it’s about writing the stories of Two Little Girls’ lives, for them to remember later, for them to know how special each day was. I don’t have to have a reason for writing stories. They are reason enough. The Little Things that make them special, in a huge world where nothing seems unique. They are special enough as they are, and it is my job as their mama to remind them of just that.

This is a beautiful life they are living. It seems so huge and significant, and yet so mundane at the same time. But it’s their life, and our life, and it’s special one. One I want to keep writing about, one I want them to remember.

So I’ll write it. Exciting or not, I’ll write the stories. The stories that today seem so mundane, but that tomorrow might seem so special to them. This isn’t for anyone but for Two Little Girls. For the days I don’t want them to forget.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Finding the Fun in Irrigating

It was after dinner. I announced to the girls that I was heading to the field to irrigate, and that they could go out to play.

"Can I come with you?" Littlest One asked. When I agreed, she disappeared in a flash to change from her party dress and princess crown into more irrigating-appropriate attire.

I headed out the door to fetch my shovel. When she met me at the driveway, she was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, with her little hot pink irrigating boots, kid-sized leather work gloves, and her very own kid-sized shovel. She looked so adorable, I wish I'd had the camera with me at that moment. She slung her shovel up on her shoulder, marched her little muck boots across the lawn, and said, "I'm ready to go!"

And so I joined her, wearing my own boots and leather gloves, and carrying my grown-up sized shovel. I walked along, using the shovel like one might use a hiking stick, trudging along through the knee-high grass. She copied me step for step, through what was waist-high grass for her. When I got tired of swinging the shovel along, I put it across my shoulders. I looked down, and there was my little blonde helper, with her own little shovel propped  across her shoulders. She looked up at me and grinned. "Where are we goin'?" she asked.

We got to the first tarp we needed to move. I put my shovel down and stepped on it so it would stand. She promptly put her own shovel down next to mine, stomped on it, and it stood there - her tiny little shovel next to my big one. She watched carefully as I worked the dam out of the ditch. We both laughed at Huck as he chased the run-away water. Then I carried the tarp and my shovel downstream. She watched as I put the tarp in its new position, sending water flowing over the edge of the irrigation ditch to water the pasture below. Then she skipped back to the second tarp and heaved and struggled until the tarp was free. She dragged it to the spot I pointed out, and then set to work trying to get that little shovel to press the plastic into the mud. "Um... I think I need help." So we worked together.

Then we walked down to see how the next set of tarps were doing. The grass got longer. It was up to her elbows, but she didn't complain, she just clomped along with her shovel up over her shoulders.

"Mom, do you get very lonely when you have to come do this by yourself all the time?"

"No... mamas actually enjoy quiet time. Even when they are working. It's nice to have your company, but I don't mind doing it alone, either."

"Well, just in case, I'll make sure I come out here with you every single day so you're never lonely again. Okay?"

Clearly she can't yet fathom the beauty of a quiet hour spent walking through a pasture. But her generosity was quite moving - she was offering to give up an hour of play time to come work in a hay pasture, just so I wouldn't be lonely.

When she asked where we'd water tomorrow, and I explained that we'd have a lot of work to do because we have to really move water around a lot, she vaulted over a big clump of grass and said, "then tomorrow's going to be the best day of my whole life!"

Back we headed to the house, gloved hand in gloved hand, shovels balanced over one shoulder.

I said a desperate, silent prayer for God to please make me the kind of person I want this little girl to be... because she obviously watches every single thing that I do and copies everything down to the last detail. And then I said a little prayer of gratitude, for this amazing little girl that delights so much in work, that thinks of others and is so willing to help.

I am blessed.




Friday, May 31, 2013

Introducing: Peaches

 It finally happened. He found himself a horse.

Meet 'Peaches'. Her registered name is Treasure Chiquita, and for a couple of days The Oldest tried calling her 'Chiquita', but it just didn't fit. And so, Peaches she is.

She's a registered Morgan mare, about 13 years old. She is, when compared to our other horses, a lot of horse. She's full of energy, she's fast and likes to show it. But she's also brilliant, well trained, (mostly) well behaved, and has a fantastic personality. She learns incredibly fast, and you can tell by the look in her eye that she wants to please you. She's a little nervous, though that's wearing off as she becomes used to her new surroundings. And she's positively splendid to watch as she's grazing on the mountain, her chestnut coat glistening in the sunset. No doubt, she's the prettiest animal on our little farmstead.

In the first 24 hours that he was off work last week, The Daddy had already had her out twice, working with her on loading in the trailer (which she mastered in no time at all,) and taking the girls on a long ride around the neighborhood. It makes me so happy that he has a horse to do that with now, to be out there enjoying all this space along with our girls (on their geriatric horses that Peaches could run circles around.)

===

By the age of seven, The Oldest was Horse Crazy and I had read every Marguerite Henry book out loud to her. One of our favorites was Justin Morgan Had a Horse. It's the true story of the first Morgan horse. To be able to trace Peaches' bloodlines all the way back to Justin Morgan was quite a treat, both for The Oldest and for myself.

The Daddy's sentimentality for Morgan horses stems from the fact that his grandfather raised them. The idea of having a Morgan pleases him tremendously. What's even better, he inherited his grandfather's old saddle, and has been using it to ride. He's not the sentimental type, but I can tell it means a lot to him. 

===

She's proving to be a good hobby for The Daddy, who has already practiced with her at the rodeo grounds, lunged her in a round pen, and taken her to a trail course to get her used to different obstacles. (I've never seen a horse that is more content to go over a bridge backward than forward, until this one! But she'll get there.)

 He's got that patience-mixed-with-confidence that is necessary to really get a horse to listen, and they seem to work well together. It pleases me so much to see him have a hobby besides hunting, one that doesn't only happen during certain months of the year. I can tell he's excited to have her and really enjoys the time he spends with her. He's always dreamed of owning a farm, and that part of the dream came true... but having a horse of his own to love and enjoy was a part of the dream, too, and I'm so glad it's finally happened for him.


 Welcome to the farm, Peaches. We're so glad to have you!




Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Little Things - The Important Things

Ah, what a nice break it's been from blogging! With so much to do, and so little time, writing our little stories has been pushed to the back burner.

If there's one lesson I'm learning from this crazy new life we're living, it's how to prioritize. Children must be taught and fed. Animals must be fed and tended to. The hay pasture must be irrigated and the garden must be planted and tended. Sadly, things like blogging, or knitting, or any of the other little creative bits I used to have time for seem to have been replaced with other activities, at least for now.

Not that I'm complaining. So much satisfaction can be found in the work that makes up every moment of every day. I enjoy it all immensely, and so does our family. What is actually work often feels more like play. I've learned to find incredible enjoyment in my animals, in walking through the sloshy pasture twice a day, and in making cheese and yogurt. Peaceful moments come in the form of enjoying a cold beer on the deck at sunset, listening to the birds singing their goodnights; listening to Two Little Girls making clothespin fairy dolls talk as they adventure through the garden fairy village; watching goats and horses graze contentedly along the edges of the yard.

Not that it's all picture perfect. The never-endingness of it all is constantly overwhelming, and I'm still learning to accept that I'm simply not ever going to have it all done. It goes back to those priorities. Some days school takes priority, and we do a week's worth of math and English to make up for the days we've missed. Other days I realize I haven't shoveled manure in a week, or that the weeds are climbing the pea trellis faster than the peas are. Whatever seems most pressing gets accomplished, everything else is left for another day. I'm learning to remember that it will still be there tomorrow. And some days, play and relaxing and laughing take priority. If they didn't, I'd be a crazy person. And we all know if I'm crazy, my family is too.

So along we trudge, delighting in all The Little Things we do, appreciating the sweet details that tend to fog over the messier big picture. And for now, that's just about perfect.

As life seems to be evening out again, I'm hoping to get back to writing the little stories that make up our little lives... the stories I want to remember, that I want my children to remember, the stories that I hope make a few folks smile once in awhile.




Friday, April 26, 2013

Hee-Haw

We were outside after breakfast this morning, once again attempting to keep the goats inside the goat pen. I was reenforcing fencing with even more twists of wire, The Oldest was hauling rocks to fill in a hole they dug, and Littlest One was trying to herd them all back through the gate. (This part of the story is nothing new. It's a constant, seeing as goats are impossible to keep in any place you actually want them to be.)

As we were working, Littlest One says, "What was that? It sounded like a little donkey saying 'hee haw'."

We stopped and listened.

It didn't take long to figure out what was going on.

Mulan, the very smallest of the new chickens, the Japanese Bantam, was braying like a very small, very squeaky donkey.

Mulan will henceforth be called Genghis. Her His attitude will determine how long he lives.




Friday, April 5, 2013

Confessions of a Modern Homesteader

I just read Jill's post at The Prairie Homestead, where she talks honestly about all of her shortcomings as a homesteader. And it was inspirational... because it made me feel better about myself.

I hear a lot of "I don't know how you do it all" and even was recently called intimidating. Maybe it's because I use my blog generally to focus on positive things. But there is plenty of "dirty laundry" lurking on our homestead, too. I'm about as far from perfect as anyone can get, though sometimes I'd rather hide it. And to be honest, I look at other folks who live lives like ours, and I find them absolutely intimidating and wonder how they do it all. I spend most of my life feeling like a co-dependent failure instead of the self-sufficient homesteader I wish I was.

Here's why:

1. I keep the living room and kitchen of my house relatively clean, so that if company is coming I can have it presentable in about fifteen minutes. But if you come over, please, please don't look at the rest of the house. You might get lost under piles of dirty laundry or trip over scattered toys.

2. I also don't mop, unless the need becomes truly dire.. maybe once a month. Maybe not. So if you drop something on the floor, the ten second rule should not apply. 

2. I don't, in general, love animals. And I'm terrified of horses. I will admit that I've come to care deeply for our animals, but I'm not generally an animal person. I could do without anything that doesn't provide me with food. (The only exception is baby animals. If you don't love baby animals, something might be wrong with you.)

3. I love to garden, but sometimes I get overwhelmed. Like, I threw a temper tantrum and ended up crying angry tears in my garden last year as my husband looked on in bewilderment. It wasn't my fault, the weeds were taunting me and laughing at my pathetic attempts to keep them at bay.

4. I didn't clean out the chicken coop - not even once - all winter long. Finally got around to it this spring, at it was pretty gross. I also didn't shovel horse poo in the barn yard, but that's because it was frozen to the ground, so I have an excuse. (I've come to realize spring is the season for shoveling poo when you live in the mountains and have animals.)

5. I never water the house plants. They were my husband's before we married. I didn't come into this marriage with houseplants, because I'd never had any survive. "Have you watered the plants lately?" is heard with relative frequency around here, followed by my look of shame.

6. I don't iron (unless I'm sewing and need to press a seam.) If someone needs something ironed, my best advice for them is to take a hot shower and hang the wrinkled item in the bathroom with them. I also frequently wash whites last, and leave the load in the dryer so I don't have to fold them. I hate folding whites. If you need socks, go dig in the dryer.

7. My greatest parenting failure: I don't play with my kids. I just can't do it. I can throw a ball, push a swing, read a story with five different voices, I can create something out of nothing, let them help me cook and garden, go for walks or play board games... and I do all those things frequently. But I can not, for the life of me, sit down and make little animals talk and make Barbie dolls adventure around the play room. My imagination can do just about anything, but it shuts down when I look at a plastic replica of a thoroughbred.

8. We eat healthy all week long when we are at home and eating the food we've raised. And then, once a week, we eat McDonald's when we are in The Big City. I wish I had more willpower, but those fries really are the best fries in the world. I can't help it.

9. I take a nap at least three times a week. Right after lunch, when school is finished and I'd rather not be folding laundry, I call "quiet time" and make the girls read quietly in their rooms for half an hour while I catch a cat nap... that sometimes turns into an hour, if I was really exhausted. And I wish I could say I feel guilty for it, but I really don't.

10. I fix my hair exactly once a week, when I have to go to The Big City. Aside from that, it's lucky if I remember to brush through it before putting it in a pony tail. There are days - like yesterday, when my neighbor showed up unannounced - that I don't even get around to putting on a bra, brushing my teeth, and brushing my hair. To be fair, there is usually a reason... like a goat delivering twins unexpectedly... but that didn't happen until noon, so I'm not sure it really counts as an excuse.

11. I'm so terrified of wasps that in the summer, I only work outside before the sun comes up and as it's setting. Other than that, I stay in the house unless I absolutely have to go out. And once, when I found a wasp in the master bathroom, I shut the door and simply wouldn't use that bathroom until my husband came home to kill it.

12. I do manage to get dressed most days, but by "getting dressed" I mean grabbing a pair of jeans or overalls off the closet floor and putting them back on... for the third day in a row. My animals don't care what I look like, nor do my children, so I figure it doesn't matter much. My children can frequently be found in the barn wearing footie jammies and muck boots though... 

13. I know how to bake bread. I know how to make yogurt. But I'm also usually too busy to find the time. (Or just plain lazy.) I make both about once a month. Aside from that, I buy it at the store. I'm working hard to teach my daughters how to make these things so that I can delegate the responsibility, because I'd rather not do it myself good parents delegate.

So there's a little bit of my reality - the imperfections I don't tend to write about, mostly because I write this blog for posterity, I don't want my children to read them as adults and be reminded of all the ways I failed. But in case any of y'all think I "do it all", here's your proof that I don't.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Do I like homeschooling?

I've been asked a number of times recently, "Do you like homeschooling?"

It's a big question, and not one that has an easy answer, especially when it's asked by a parent who is considering homeschooling her own children.

If I were to reply simply, the answer would be a resounding "Yes!" But it's not that simple.

A more accurate response might be, "It depends on which day you ask me."

In general, I love homeschool. Ninety percent of the time, when I reflect back on the day I've shared with my daughters, the same thought recurs in my mind: "I love homeschool!" And I truly do. Each day is a blessing. It's the most rewarding thing I've ever done... but, as with parenting in general, there are days when I have to look very hard to see that blessing.

All children occasionally behave in ways that make their mothers wonder what planet they were born on, whose womb they came out of, because it certainly couldn't have been theirs. We shake our heads in confusion and bewilderment at the emotional outbursts, the displays of poor behavior, the absurdity that pours forth from our children in a seemingly random way. When you are a public schooling parent, you have the benefit of simply shaking your head, kissing your child, wishing them a wonderful day and sending them out the door, saying a silent prayer for normalcy to return before school gets out. Homeschool moms don't have that option. We shake our heads, kiss our children, and then pray fervently over the breakfast dishes that some Divine Intervention takes place in the hearts of our children before we lock ourselves in our bedrooms for the rest of the day with a basket full of the kids' Easter candy.

But after a miserable day, when we put them to bed and check in on their calm, peaceful, sleeping little bodies, we breathe again, and realize how blessed we were that we were able to stay with them through the rough spots of that day, to be the ones who helped them deal with their emotions... even if it means a few extra gray hairs.

And then the next day, our love and calm renewed after a good night's sleep half a night of interrupted sleep, we are rewarded with "The Lightbulb Moment". This is the greatest reward of any homeschool mother - seeing that concept, the one they have been working so hard to understand, finally "click". The eyes widen, a smile spreads across their face, and Mom breathes a sigh of relief as she lets go of the fear that her child may go through life never understanding how to do long division. On these days, I am energized, my belief in my own ability is renewed, and I say prayer after prayer of gratitude for these children I have been entrusted to teach.

Do I enjoy homeschooling? Absolutely. But then, I also enjoy hard work, and nothing is harder than teaching your own children. There is the planning of lessons. The constant nagging to "get to work or you won't get any free time." The fear that they may not learn enough, may be behind, might not ever have solid friendships, might turn out socially inept, may never learn to spell "conscience", may hate you for making them miss the prom...

And then you have a little conversation with them where the five year old explains that if you'd just let the plants in the garden bolt, you'd never have to pay for seeds again, and uses words like "apparently" and "inconceivable" in casual conversation. And then your ten year old presents to you her business plan for an animal shelter, gives you a history on extinct and endangered animals, and calculates the amount of feed she'll need for the two horses, fourteen dogs, eighty snakes and four hundred and twenty two birds she intends to care for. You go for a hike and they point out which plants are edible (just in case, you know) and puzzle out exactly what the outcome of the scuffle was when you see footprints and bits of hair scattered about on the trail. They go to the library and choose books about George Washington Carver and Thomas Edison. Your five year old walks along next to you off-handedly reciting "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost to herself.

And then you breathe. And you rejoice in how well rounded and positively brilliant these children are becoming... and not just by accident. Every moment of every day is lived intentionally. It's not just a walk down the road, it's a science lesson, a discussion about economics. It's not just collected eggs from backyard chickens, it's calculating profit and loss. Nothing in a homeschoolers life just happens. A homeschool mom seeks and finds every opportunity for learning... her job never ends. Do I enjoy it? Absolutely. Will you? Only you can answer that.

Homeschool isn't for everyone. And I'll say this right now - a child with a parent who is active in their education and life in general will do just fine. It doesn't matter where they get their schooling. What's right for one family may not be right for another, and no one but the parents know what is right for their family.

So... do I like homeschooling? You betcha. This is exactly what I was meant to do with my life. It's the hardest thing I've ever done on so many levels, and yet it's the most rewarding thing I'll ever do, too.

So there's the long answer to the very simple question... which really isn't all that simple at all.


Friday, March 15, 2013

Thoughts from Two Little Girls

When life starts to feel too complicated - and it often does - I would be wise to stop for awhile and listen to my children. They have mastered the art of simplicity in life, in appreciating what is there and making the most of it. Sometimes I think they have more worldly wisdom than I do, simply because they have not been so affected by the world.

As we were driving home one night at sunset, The Oldest piped up, "I'm imagining my honeymoon. Me and my husband will be driving toward the sunset, in a convertible." Where will they go? "Um... I think we'll go to the lake and go fishing. And then we'll catch crawdads, and then we'll make a crawdad pie for our honeymoon dinner."

(Nevermind the fact that I've never suggested we catch and eat crawdads... for such a big thing to be dreaming about, it is so beautiful in it's simplicity!)

And I must share this letter, from Littlest One to The Daddy while he was away at work. It outlines the very most important things of her day.

"I love you and I miss you.
I rode my bike. I got ice cream. I loved my day and I went out and fed with Mom. I went with a walk down to the mailbox with Mom, Chloe, Jussie, Libby, and Phillip and Aurora. And it was so fun that I just loved it. I climbed a juniper berry tree and Mr. Bear's tree. And we're gonna think of makin' a tree house. And I went through Cactus Canyon with Chloe. Cactus Canyon has rocks and cactus. It's on the hill. And I had nachos cheese with Mom. And Old Grandma Tree is doing fine. And Mr. Bear's Tree is doin' fine. Mrs. Squirrel's Tree is doing fine, too. Our tree is Grandma Tree."

How often do we stop to listen to our children when they tell us what meant the most to them that day? Trees and ice cream and baby goats top her list of Important Events in the day. It doesn't take anything fancy to please her, just the freedom to roam and explore and appreciate what is there.

Sounds like a pretty good life lesson, doesn't it?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Little Bits of Spring



 When we lived in the Big City, spring just sort of appeared one day each year. I woke up sneezing and sniffling and feeling like my head would explode, and looked outside. It seemed as though suddenly every tree had leaf buds, bulbs were poking up through the ground after their winter sleep, and Two Little Girls were playing out in the sunshine, barefoot on the grass.

Life is much different up here in the mountains - spring comes on at a much slower rate. While I'm certainly ready for green plants and bare feet, it's nice to feel that I'm easing into it all a little bit.

We haven't seen grass since the first big snow in early December. But as the temperatures begin to warm a little more each day, bits of snow are starting to melt off, revealing the long-forgotten yard that surrounds our home, the bits of grass that the horses are so content to nibble... and lots and lots of mud.

And with the (ever so slow) coming of spring comes the Spring Time Change. I love this day. I love feeling like I've got more time in the evenings to enjoy myself outdoors, where my frazzled homeschool- mom spirit gets to breathe deeply and relax.

The poor goats have been locked in the barn nearly all winter. Every so often I would feel terrible about this, and would open the doors wide, encouraging them to go out and get some fresh air. They would walk to the edge of the barn door, realize the ground was covered in snow to their knees, and would retreat right back to the dry comfort of their stall.

Now that the ground is covered instead with knee-deep mud, they are at least willing to venture out for a moment or two, gingerly picking their way through the corral to nibble at stray bits of grass, the babies bounding around between fence railings, slipping and sliding in the mud and having a grand time.

Since I had time after dinner the other night, and the sun was still out, I decided a walk was in order. Justice is wonderful on a lead rope. And wherever she goes, Liberty and the babies will follow. So off we went toward the yard by the house, which is still mostly snow covered, but less muddy.

Justice went right to work - she knows how to earn her keep. She began the slow and careful process of mowing the new grass and edging the yard. As far as yard tools go, she's excellent - she's quiet, she doesn't require gas, and she even fertilizes as she works. And then she converts the grass clippings into milk. Good goatie-girl.

The babies had a tremendous time racing up the hill and then bounding back down, tripping and tumbling when their feet sank in the deep snow and getting up and racing on. One can't help but giggle when watching baby goats. They provide all the entertainment anyone could ever need.


When they were all tuckered out from their jaunts up and down the snowy hill, Liberty taught them to prune dogwood bushes.

Before much longer, the goats will be confined to the back side of the property, where they won't be able to prune (read: destroy) plants and bushes. But right now I don't mind... and they don't, either.

Both babies are growing at a steady, healthy rate, and are just as friendly as can be. Little Aurora still begs for attention and cuddles every time we go to the barn... which of course right now is adorable, but will likely become a problem with she is a 150 pound goat jumping up on her humans to try to cuddle.

And Phillip is growing big and strong, playful as ever. I can't help but look at him and realize how meaty he is becoming. The Oldest doesn't like it when I mention this fact.

It's wonderful to have this evening time outside, when I'm not racing the sunset to get barn chores done. Spring is a time to enjoy these sweet animals I've been blessed with, and to take a few moments to breathe in the evening. I'm glad for those moments, especially with our busiest season on the horizon.

Happy Spring, everyone. Be sure to take time to enjoy it!






Friday, March 8, 2013

And the rest of the new chicks on the block..

We visited a hatchery today. We drove two hours to get there and called it a homeschool field trip. I'm pretty sure they learned some things. Definitely biology... maybe history, and definitely math. Plus some social skills. Yeah, I think we can call it school.

The Oldest is doing poultry for 4H this year. She needed some chickens to show, and wanted some breeds a little different than what the feed stores were offering. This guy had just what we were looking for, and was full of information about each breed. He walked the girls around and told them about each and every chick he had, and helped us pick out just the right ones.

 And so, in no particular order, I introduce our newest chicks. Most of them are worthless as far as egg production goes. Some will likely be roosters, as most fancy breeds are straight run (meaning they haven't been sexed.) But they're cute, and they're fun, so we'll enjoy them.


 If you've read my previous post, you've already met Geraldine the turken. I'm hoping she grows on me. She's kind of like a train wreck... you just can't help but stare.
 This is Mulan, a Japanese bantam. (Note: We have given them all female names, as if somehow this makes them more likely to be hens. That's how we ended up with a rooster named Tinkerbell last year.)
 Marian, a Blue Splash Old English Bantam. (Named after Maid Marian, from Robin Hood. Should she begin to crow, her name will be changed to Robin Hood.)
This is Comet, a White Cochin Bantam. (Yes, we got a lot of banties. They are easier for kids to handle, and The Oldest will have to be showing them all at fair.)


 A Light Brahma, as yet unnamed.


 
And Cupid, the Cuckoo Marans. 

 Of course, I couldn't leave without picking out a few of my own. This is Betty Blue, the Blue Cochin Bantam. I picked her because Cochins are known to be broody, and I'm all about having a broody hen do the work of raising chicks. And I really like blue chickens - it seems novel.



And Phronsie, a Partridge Cochin. (Bonus points to anyone who can tell me where that name came from!)

I also got my own Cuckoo Marans, named Jemima. Marans are known for laying eggs in a deep, chocolatey brown color, something we don't already have so it sounded fun.

These, along with the Blue Silkie and the Mille Fleur bantams that were added to our flock a week or so ago, and we should be set for chicks this year. We're looking forward to seeing what they look like as they grow up - should be a pretty flock when all is said and done!




So Ugly It's Cute?

I have always assumed every baby animal is adorable.

I was wrong.

Truly, there is nothing uglier than this:
 
A turken. It's a true chicken, though it has a naked neck that makes it look more like a turkey vulture. Or like a turkey vulture mated with a chicken. Or something. Something entirely unnatural, and downright creepy.

Regardless, The Oldest is positively in love with her turken, whom she has named Geraldine. 
 The sign at the hatchery said, "A neck only a mother could love." They weren't joking. But from all I've read about these ugly creatures, they sound like wonderful and very useful pets, great egg layers with fantastic personalities. And no, Geraldine will never grow neck feathers. She will otherwise grow to look like a chicken, but will always have that bare neck.

The Oldest is sure some of you will tell her how adorable her turken is. I figured you'd all have nightmares. So what's the verdict?





















Thursday, February 21, 2013

Boys are kinda dumb.

I am a mother of girls. For this reason, boys scare the daylights out of me. I just can't wrap my mind around the way they think. Their sense of adventure and general curiosity betray all logic. When faced with an opportunity to do something that could very well be inherently stupid, they act first, and then deal with the consequences later. Girls, as a general rule, are so much more cautious. Cautious, I can relate to.

And apparently, boy goats aren't much different from boy humans.

Phillip is trouble with a capital T. He is already a brute, knocking the girls down occasionally in a fit of desperate affection for them. He is an acrobat, flinging himself four feet into the air while performing a half-turn double twist, landing in a belly flop. He loves to cuddle, but only for 2.6 seconds at a time before he's off exploring whatever the highest perch is he can find.

So, so different from Aurora, who simply follows you around on her two hind legs until you notice her and pick her up, whence she settles immediately into your arms and begins nibbling your ear.

Most afternoons, we let the babies and the mamas out of the barn for awhile to run and get some fresh air. Because most of our property is still blanketed in snow, only the horse corrals are clear. I always keep a close eye on the goats because I'm still not sure I trust the horses not to hurt them.

But, as I learned today, the horses aren't the only danger in the corral.

The kids were happily jumping up and down on a platform in the corral made from railroad ties. It's a favorite jungle gym of theirs, and it's great fun to watch them. Near the platform is one of the horse's water troughs. I always vaguely wondered if a baby goat would be stupid enough to jump in, but I assumed once they looked, and realized it was water, that they wouldn't.

Clearly, I over-estimated baby goat intelligence.

Phillip pranced on over to the trough. He looked in. He sniffed. He stuck his nose in, then shook his head to get the water off. He looked back at me. And then he made a flying leap head first into the trough.

It was 24 degrees outside, and the trough had just been filled. What kind of moron goat jumps into a full water trough?

A boy goat, obviously.

What really confirmed for me how stupid little goats actually are though, was watching his reaction. Or really, his lack of reaction. He just kind of floated there. He didn't flail. He didn't try to doggie paddle. He did absolutely nothing. Not that I gave him much of a chance, as I immediately plunged my arms into the icy water and fished him out. I set him on the ground. He stood there for a moment, shook gingerly, and walked away. Then he looked back at me. I could see it there - the embarrassment, the shame. The look of a little boy that just did something that, indeed, turned out to be inherently stupid. He moped around for a minute before throwing himself under his mama and nursing vehemently... less out of hunger than for his need to soothe his hurt feelings, I imagine.

I fetched some towels, dried him off as best I could, and put him in his heat barrel with his (much smarter) sister.

Assuming he doesn't end up with pneumonia or something, he should be no worse for the wear... though hopefully a bit wiser now.

It's going to be a heaven-sent miracle if he survives to see adulthood.




Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Starlight, the lone chick.

I hate February.

In November, we are celebrating the end of the garden season, still busy with putting up food, and happy that we are going to get a break for the winter. In December, the snow flies and we celebrate the Christmas season, rejoicing in the beauty of the fresh snow that looks so clean as it piles up on the ground. January brings The Oldest's birthday and the start of a new school semester. And then there's February. It's still cold. The snow is still there and we don't remember what grass even looks like. School is mundane again now. And spring is still a couple of months away.

But February has redeemed itself just a little bit this year, with the coming of sweet babies to our little farm. In addition to the baby goats, Freckles the Trick Chicken hatched an egg.
 
Yes, "an" egg. She started out with four, but only this one was viable. I should have given her more when she went broody, but she's so tiny, being a banty, that I wasn't sure what she could handle.



Anyway, her baby is almost a week old now, and is still doing great, so I decided we can officially post pictures. We don't know if it's a boy or a girl, but the girls are calling it "her" just out of hopefulness' sake, and "her" name is Starlight.


Watching a chick raised by it's mama is so different from our usual chick experience, which involves a feed trough and a heat lamp. You can watch her teach the baby things, see them explore the nursery coop together, and when baby gets cold, she just scurries back under her mama to warm up.
 
The night she hatched was a bit of an adventure - I went out to gather eggs in the dark that night, and checked under Freckles for any 'extras' that she had claimed (as she did every day.) I saw none, so said goodnight to her and gathered up the eggs from the other boxes, when I heard a "cheep". I checked back under Freckles. No, there wasn't a chick there yet... "cheep!" It was then that I realized her egg was cheeping! I went and got the girls so they could listen to it. We sat for some time watching, and could hear the baby pecking at the egg, and saw a little crack form. After that, nothing happened for hours. I finally made the girls go inside. (They were sure they could just sleep on the roost with the other hens.) I got up ever few hours to check, and by five am, the baby was on it's way out. By the time the girls got out there, she had the whole top of her shell off, but was still wet and newborn. We watched for a bit and then moved her, with her mama, to the nursery coop, where they will live until Starlight is big enough to be around the other chickens.

And the girls adore Starlight as much as every other animal that ends up living at our Forever Home Farm. I've never known any other kids to spend as much time in a chicken coop as these girls do, especially when there is a baby to love on.



Just one more little bit of adventure, but a fun one, and especially neat since it is The Oldest's very favorite chicken that is the mama.