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.

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. :-)