Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Homeschool Reality: Math Struggles

Homeschooling, so far, is proving to be a joy. I'm learning as much as my children are, and I'm constantly encouraged by the fact that little brains aren't all that different from little sponges, soaking up every bit of information that is presented to them.

Except for math.

Math's never been fun in our house, and recently it's become downright ugly. After a math lesson that culminated in tears (from both student and teacher) the other day, I have completely revamped our math lesson plans. I have also thrown any and all expectations out the window. Here's the story:

I am not a Math Person. In school, I waited rather impatiently for math to end so that we could start diagramming sentences. All those numbers held no real value for me. I could regurgitate systems and formulas but none of it actually ever meant anything to me. So when we started homeschooling, I knew math was going to be a struggle. I braced myself, ordered curriculum, and hoped for the best.

I chose A Beka for math, only because it's what I was raised on. I figured I had a grasp of math solid enough to get me through life, so it would work fine for my own daughters. But here's the thing: A Beka is awesome for producing children that can regurgitate math facts. What they don't ever really get is the solid basis for how and why they actually need to know it. There's nothing applicable about the math my third grader is learning, so she has no desire to do it.

I don't learn like she does, either, and sometimes I find it so hard to understand her. I was the kind of student who thrived on a bit of direction and then being left alone. I always found myself wishing the teachers would just stop talking and let me get to work. My oldest daughter is nothing like that. She would like it very much if I would hold her hand through every step of every problem. It's a constant character study in patience for me, as I feel like I should be able to teach her a quick lesson, and leave her to get a worksheet done in a timely manner.

This past year, math has resulted in harsh words I don't really mean, tears from both sides, constant frustration to the point of dreading the time when breakfast is over and the math book comes out. And that is absolutely not how homeschool is supposed to look.

So I'm starting over. I'm tossing expectations out the window. I'm accepting the fact that there will be no independent work done for awhile, that I'm going to have to muster the patience to sit next to her and work through problem after problem.

And I'm ditching A Beka. What worked great for me as a kid clearly is not working for my child, and I need to accept that and let it go. After talking with a gaggle of homeschooling moms with far more experience than myself, I've created a new map of how we will finish this grade and hopefully move into more pleasant math lessons in the future.

First, I ordered Math U See. I picked Gamma, slightly below her level, but it covers things I'd like to see her really master before we move on. I'm hoping starting with concepts that are easy for her will increase her confidence. Then, after hearing rave reviews from several mothers, I spent some time poring over and placing half a dozen requests for "living math" books. Who knew there were so many books that made math actually interesting and applicable? I sure didn't, but I'm glad others could point me in that direction.

My plan is to do Math U See lessons on Mondays and Wednesdays, and to enjoy living math books, play games, sing songs, and do math-related crafts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We have adopted a four day school week, so that should keep us busy doing math that is actually bearable. Littlest One can be involved in much of that, and I have promised I will buy her her own Math U See very soon.

So that's our new plan. But since I've let go of expectations, I'm fully expecting to adjust that plan as needed to make math fun and interesting - no tears included.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Thrifty Style: "Must Haves"

Have you noticed the new "being thrifty" books on the market lately?

Back when I was a young, first time mom, I learned to be thrifty out of necessity. (Tightwad Gazette, anyone?) Back then, "thrifty" meant clipping coupons for cereal, pairing them with sales, and coming home with eight boxes of Lucky Charms for seventy five cents each. It meant stockpiling Aquafresh when I could get it for pennies, and learning to buy Wal-Mart clothes when they were on the $1 clearance.

Times have changed since then. Financial circumstances aren't so dire, and I've learned a whole lot about how managing health goes a long way toward living frugally. It would appear that most of the "frugal" book writers are in the same place, trading out how-to's on price books for chapters on the basics of gardening, and notes about coupon-clipping for recipes for homemade whole wheat bread. I'm loving that these new books include recipes for homemade cleaners with vinegar and castile soap, instructions for canning tomatoes, and some even have basic patterns for skirts and pants, or beginning knitting instructions. Times are a-changing, I tell you, and it excites me.

But one book I was reading today offered a chapter on "the frugal style" and it about made me snort the coffee I was sipping. There was a list of the Style Must-Haves, things every "frugal" woman ought to have in her closet. Amusingly it was on the same page as an article about finding a great deal on a black and white Chanel suit. (Because we all need one of those, don't we?) The list included things like a 'little black dress'; brightly colored flats; a white button-down shirt; black slacks; a trench coat; and a leather handbag.

Now, we have to realize the ladies that wrote this book must live in some city other than The Big City that we live near. If I showed up to do my monthly shopping at Wal Mart wearing a trench coat, bright red flats, and a leather handbag, I'd have folks gawking openly at me as I perused the dairy section. Reality here - whether it be in our Tiny Little Town or even in our Big City, is that no one needs stuff like that.

So I thought a little bit about my "must-haves". Here are some of the things I can't live without:

*A big, full skirt in a color that goes with anything. Bonus points if it's made from scrap fabric patched together, or a recycled tablecloth or curtains.
*A cozy, homemade cardigan, preferably in some fiber that can be tossed in the wash.
*Comfy rope sandals. I wrote a whole blog in ode to my Gurkees once. They're that awesome.
*Tank tops in every shade I can find on clearance.
*Rubber chore boots that can be hosed off after wading through poo and mud. (I've come to realize the rubber chore boots, often times still laden with said poo and mud, are a regular fashion statement at the market here in the Tiny Little Town.)
*Wool socks, tights, and/or leg warmers. Flannel pantaloons aren't uncalled for.
*A giant bag (mine is hand-knit out of 16 shades of scrap yarn - I like to think it matches everything... or maybe that's nothing?) that will hold the normal purse things as well as snacks, books, a small knitting project, miscellaneous rocks and pine cones, a couple bottles of water, and anything else that Two Little Girls might want to stick in there.
*A floppy-brimmed hat for days when brushing my hair didn't make it on the priority list, or when I want the sun kept out of my face.

So what are your necessities? Do you live in a place where wearing a Chanel suit would make you feel right at home, or would it make you the laughing stock of the local discount store? What is one clothing item you absolutely couldn't live without?

Asking for Help: A Lesson in Humility

I'm not good at asking for help.

If there's anything I can do to help someone else, I'll do it in a heartbeat. Our homesteading life puts us in a place where we can often help and give to others, and I love that.

But moving up here to this new property is proving to be a lesson is asking for help, and learning to accept it graciously. From having a neighbor pull my van back up a hill, to having to ask others more experienced with this property how to irrigate it, or having to ask neighbors we just met to help us figure out how to haul water because the well wasn't pumping water. It's all things we'll figure out eventually - or mostly, anyway - but things we're going to need to learn. And the best way for us to learn is from someone who's got the experience.

But I hate having to depend on someone else for help! That's what community is about, right? But I like being the one helping, not the one asking. A lesson in humility, to be certain. We knew coming in that this new life was going to be one big Character Development lesson for all of us, and it's already starting. I look forward to being more established and experienced at this place, to be back in the place where we can offer our assistance, instead of the other way around.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

FO: Vintage Knickers

Last summer, I found a pattern on Etsy from a 1930's Vogue Knitting magazine for these cami-knickers:

Have you ever seen anything more adorable?

Of course, they aren't nearly as adorable on me as they are on the gorgeous model, but I love them just the same.

I can't begin to tell you the satisfaction of knitting vintage under-things in alpaca silk yarn, then finishing the garment on an antique sewing machine. And that doesn't even touch the satisfaction of wearing it. Pure luxury, I tell you! Nothing is warmer than alpaca, and nothing is softer than silk. Put them together and it's utter perfection.

Unmentionables were so much more flattering back then. They were made for women who had hips and waists and thighs, not the boyish figures we see modeled nowadays.

I may never wear modern underthings again. To heck with push-up bras and thong underwear, I think we should all demand that vintage under garments come back into style. I guarantee most of us would look better in these than in the underthings that are in style today. ;o)

The details:

Yarn - Blue Sky Alpacas Alpaca Silk, 50% alpaca, 50% silk in color Blush
Needles - size 2
Pattern was one-size, I altered the width just slightly to make it a little slimmer based on the gauge I got with this yarn. Other than that, a perfect, flattering fit.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The School Room... and a Distraction

I was going to write a post about our school room today, but when I was in there taking photos, I looked out the window and saw this:

Aren't they fun? They're in the house over at the corner of our gate. Should've been teaching a history lesson, but watching the birds flit and fight and fuss was a lot more fun. This whole property seems to be filled with impromptu nature study, if we just keep an eye out for it.

But enough distraction. Here's the school room:

It's unpacked enough that it's (barely) functional. I'm still deciding how I want all the books and supplies arranged.

We were blessed early in our marriage by a friend giving us all the homeschool books she'd used for her own kids... many were books that had been passed from my husband's family to hers, and so she was just passing them back on to us. It's a veritable treasure trove of texts, biographies, workbooks, and other wonderful teaching bits. Previously, they were all stored in the basement. Now, they are accessible whenever we need something.

This is especially helpful since we experienced the library in The Tiny Little Town yesterday. It's about the size of my new kitchen. We'll be even more glad for all these books now!

I'm looking forward to getting a coat of paint on the walls, and getting some maps and posters hung up. It may take awhile to get it how I'd like it, but it should be a cozy and functional school room when I'm finished.

Wish I could tell you how excited I am to have a room where we can do our school. The living room was all we had before, and I sure got tired of the desks and piles of books laying all over the floor. At least now they are contained, and the door can be shut!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Slowing Down

One of the reasons I was looking forward to living so far out of the city was for the slower pace that country life brings. Of course, the first two weeks up here were a whirlwind of moving, finding and unpacking the necessities, and fixing up the old house.

But yesterday, finally, I experienced slow. We woke up, did our chores, and had school. There was no where to be going, so school was not rushed. We had quiet time (read: Mom's nap time) for the first time in two weeks, there was time for baking cookies together in the afternoon, unpacking a few boxes, and plenty of free time for Two Little Girls to enjoy playing dress-up and to parachute stuffed animals off the upstairs banister, plenty of time for building a fire and reading aloud a long chapter from a book after chores were finished.

I wasn't racing home to fix dinner, I wasn't rushing through housework or getting impatient when math took longer than it should. And I wasn't completely exhausted at the end of the day.

Life in the city is tiring. There's constantly something we have to do, or want to do, or feel like we ought to be doing. And everywhere we have to go sucks up a huge part of our day. Up here, it's different. There's nowhere to go - no errands, no shopping, no field trips. Granted, there is plenty that needs to be done, but it will still be there tomorrow. As long as the wood is chopped, the animals are fed, and the children are cared for reasonably well, I'm good.

It's comforting up here, this lack of rushing around and always going. Yesterday was the first time in... well, years, that I felt like 24 hours was just the right number of hours in one day.

Of course, that will all change when I have to spend an hour each way driving into the city when there are things we need. But for right now, I'm just going to appreciate the quiet, peaceful solitude that our new country life affords.

Friday, February 10, 2012

An Attitude Adjustment

I've been cleaning for three days. I knew coming in that I would want to do some of my own cleaning, but I supremely underestimated the amount of scrubbing I would have to do. Understandably, the sweet older folks that lived here before us had a hard time keeping up with general house cleaning, and by the looks of things, I'm guessing it's been a lot of years since certain things were done - things like baseboards and door jambs, windows, banisters and railings. The kitchen was my first priority: it took three hours to clean the refrigerator alone, and the rest of the day and part of the next to get all the cupboards and drawers wiped out. Granted, it's fun to clean a house when it's new to you... to a point. But by the end of today,I'm ashamed to admit, I was starting to get frustrated, feeling like I'm making very little progress for all the work I'm putting in.

But then, just as the frustration set in a little more than it should have, I walked by the dining room window, and saw this:

There is no better attitude adjustment than a gorgeous sunset, especially when you get to look at it from across your own snow-covered hay meadow.

Yes, it's a lot of work to clean this place. And this is only the beginning of a whole lot more work. But as long as there are sunsets like that one to stop and take in, I'm pretty sure I can handle anything.

I don't want it to sound like I'm whining. I know I am blessed beyond measure, and I'm so grateful for so many wonderful things. It's just been a long three days!

The Getting-in-the-Driveway Debacle

A reader commented the other day that she looked forward to hearing about our adventures – and misadventures – as we take on this new life at the farm. Little did I know the misadventures would start before we even made it into the driveway our first night here.

We hadn’t planned to come up so early, since the previous owners weren’t supposed to be out yet. But when the real estate agent called to let us know that they would be leaving a couple of days early, we decided to head up that night. She assured us they were long gone by that afternoon, and to her credit, they had intended to be.

The roads were a little slick – a dusting of snow and below-freezing temperatures will do that. It wasn’t much of a problem until we were just a quarter mile from our new driveway, heading down a one-lane, snow packed hill, when we saw a truck coming toward us. Or trying to come toward us, anyway. Said truck’s driver was spinning his wheels on the slick road surface futilely, digging himself deeper and deeper into the snow. As we walked down to discuss the situation, we realized the driver of the truck was the man we bought the farm from. They were about eight hours late in getting out of the house.

It’s a one lane road. When there are snow banks on either side of the road, this means there is virtually no room for passing. The only option was for us to back up the icy hill to get out of his way. Except that I drive a mini-van with front wheel drive. My mini van had no intention of backing up that hill, no matter who was driving, how many people were pushing, or how many times we tried.

So off we went, walking to neighbor’s houses – at eight thirty at night – to see who might be available to help us out of this mess. A kind neighbor used his Jeep to pull my van up the hill and out of the way, and then Andrew managed to back his truck – pulling a trailer loaded with boxes – out of the way. Then the neighbor tried to pull the man’s stuck pick-up up the hill, but couldn’t get it to budge. Andrew ended up having to unhook the trailer at the top of the hill and leave it there, then pull the man’s truck, with the horse trailer attached, up the hill where he could then proceed down the road.

Come to find out, the reason he got stuck there in the first place was because he had overloaded his horse trailer with too much weight, and the tires were half-flat. Not a good combination for trying to drive up icy, snowy roads.

At first I was a little mortified by the whole situation, but in the end it turned out just right. If we hadn’t shown up, he may have been stuck there for quite a long time, or would have had to walk a very long ways to a neighbor with a vehicle that could help him out. So it was a blessing in the end that it worked out as it did. Though I do wish we could’ve met the neighbor under different circumstances!

Two hours later, we were finally able to wish them a safe drive to Nebraska and drive into the driveway of our new home.

And thus begins with I expect will be many interesting adventures up here on our little mountain.

Memories from the first night

My husband carried me over the threshold. This brought about many giggles from Two Little Girls. Actually, it brought about many giggles from me, too.

We walked through each room, taking in the fact that this is our new home, turning on lights and opening cupboards and closets. Two Little Girls danced and spun crazy circles in each room – the beauty of a big house with no furniture.

As we unloaded boxes from the trailer into the garage, the coyotes sang us a welcome. Or maybe they were letting us know they’d be happy to eat our chickens. Either way, coyotes being the only noise we could hear besides ourselves was much appreciated, a far cry from the sirens and car alarms and constant traffic noise of The Little Homestead in the City.

Seeing my husband in front of a fire, with the dog beside him, was like seeing him just a little bit more complete.

We camped out in the living room with our air mattress and sleeping bags by the fire, sipped glasses of good wine, and then promptly fell sound asleep. This much excitement is exhausting!

The whole night was a little bit like a dream… well, except for the whole getting-in-the-driveway debacle, but that’s a whole different post.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Harsh Realities - a bit of farm history

Usually, when buying a home, you never see or speak with the seller of the property until you meet at the closing table. Our experience in buying this farm was quite different from that, in that the man and woman who owned the property before us were in extremely poor health, and leaving was difficult for them. Each time we went up they were there, and over the course of the four or five visits we made to their home, we began to get to know them a little bit.

In the brief encounters we had the pleasure of sharing with them, it was evident that there never have been more wonderful people. They were kind and generous, gracious and hospitable, and their faith was so apparent in all they said and did. And I think that - knowing what truly good people they are - is the reason there is just a bit of bittersweet in this purchase we've made.

These aren't just "the people that owned the property before us." They're the ones that dreamed it, the ones that built it into what it is. Every nook and cranny of every building, every fence post, every little detail is the work of their own creativity and their own hands.

Eleven years ago, they moved to our beautiful side of the mountains and began seeking the "perfect property". It was his wife that set her mind on it, and she knew exactly what she was doing. I'm not sure any piece of property could be more perfect when one is seeking to live this kind of life. From there, they designed the home together, and lived in the guest house on the property so that they could oversee every aspect of the building of the main home. It was built exactly to their specifications. They had worked hard all their lives, lived frugally and raised their children, and came to Colorado to build their dream - and that's exactly what this is. It may be our "dream come true", but it was theirs first. And in talking with him, it's easy to see what brought them so far. Certainly a great deal of wisdom, a willingness to work hard and a willingness to learn; but above that, it's their unconditional love for one another and their immense, unfaltering faith.

Throughout our visits with him, he shared stories with us that really brought us to understand the heart of this place. He talked about how he and his wife would haul downed cedar trees from the hill together, dig the holes and use them as the fence posts. He told us how he dragged a toboggan across the snowy hay meadow when a calf was born early, and his wife would ride on the toboggan holding the calf while he dragged them up to the barn, where they would care tenderly for the calf, wiping it down and warming it up - only for three days, mind you, or it would get too warm and would catch cold.

And as we were leaving the closing table yesterday, he told us how he carried a wooden picnic table up to the top of the hill on his back, setting it just so, where his wife could sit at it and look out and see all the land around her. Up there at the top of the hill, she arranged rocks and stones in such a way as to create her own perfect space, where she then went for her Bible studies. That table, he told us, is still up there. In his condition now, he can no longer carry it back down.

In fact, he can no longer lift more than five pounds.

I can imagine them, eleven years ago, working side by side at really hard work, successfully running this small ranch and enjoying this dream life they'd waited so long to create. But it didn't last nearly long enough. He now suffers from advanced kidney failure, and she has a disease similar to Alzheimer's. He can't do any hard work at all anymore, and it would appear that she doesn't quite remember how. And I can't tell you how much it hurts my heart to see it.

They didn't want to have to sell this place. In fact, he told us yesterday after the papers were signed, "We sure hate to let this place go." They'd built it with the intention of living out their lives there, I'm sure. But things don't always go as planned, and they needed to be closer to medical services and closer to help as her condition progresses. And just when their health begins to fail, the housing market plummets, and what was once their million-dollar dream property was now worth only a fraction of that. The price we got it for makes me feel like we're practically stealing from them. What really, really just gets to me is that they don't deserve this. Not that anyone deserves this. But these two, they aren't like most folks. They're extraordinary, it's plain to see. And this isn't the kind of situation they should have ended up in. They should have had so many more years to enjoy this dream they worked so hard and for so long to achieve.

So you see, this isn't just "a farm". It's not just a great piece of property. It's so much more than that, and hearing those stories he told us was such a blessing. It makes me see the whole place in such a different way than if it was just an empty house waiting to be sold. Knowing all this history, hearing it firsthand from the man who lived it, adds such a huge feeling of added responsibility to this undertaking of ours. We have some really big shoes to fill.

On our way out of the office yesterday, he gave us what I think is probably the wisest piece of advice any elderly couple could ever give to a younger couple. He shook our hands, told us it's a lot of hard work, and then he told us, "And make sure you work together."

I know some of my readers are praying folks, and I ask those of you that are - please pray for these two sweet, amazing people. They'll be leaving Colorado next week to start a new chapter of their lives in Nebraska, near family, and I can't even imagine the heartache as they leave this home behind. What a struggle it will be for his wife, as she tries to understand all of these changes that are happening. Pray for their peace, and well being, their continued love and their continued faith. I know they'll appreciate it.

Their story has affected me deeply, and I wish I had the opportunity to tell them. But since I can't, thanks for letting me share it with all of you.