Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fifth Grade: US Geography

Well, my plan to finish Geography by December 1 did not work out. Too many other distractions. All good things, festivals, field trips, and the like. But, it did keep us from doing our main lesson work. We're now in our second week of December, and I project we have about 10 more school days left to finish Geography.

I really wanted to bring things alive for the Boy. Geography can be so dry. But I'm just not feeling creative. What I've opted to do is to have him read a book and take a few notes about a region. He then draws a map to put in his main lesson book (mlb). The notes get written into a paragraph or two about each state, which he copies into his mlb. He labels the map, colors each state — choosing his colors based on some aspect of the state flag, bird, flower, or sports team.  The final touch is a label for people we know who come from that state. Not very exciting, I know. 

To spice it up a little bit, I've looked for National Geographic type movies about the country (like "Lewis and Clark"), we're making a few recipes, and I've chosen a few pieces of literature that correspond with certain regions. (Johnny Tremain for New England, Uncle Remus for the south, etc.)

If I had my wish, we'd hop in the car and travel for a few weeks. That's how I really absorbed geography as a kid. Each summer we'd take a road trip to some region of the US or Canada. When I look at a map, I can picture the emerald green of Lake Superior, the gaping chasm that is the  Grand Canyon, the ethereal mist in the Smoky Mountains.  I can remember feeling like we were going to roll backwards while driving up Mt. Washington, and thinking it awfully odd for folks to have Christmas lights and snowmen decorations in the heat of a Florida December. 

My older boys benefited from similar trips, but we haven't taken any that the Boy can remember. (He was barely a toddler when we drove west to Yellowstone.) Our studies have made me determined to plan a trip for this summer, to show our last baby the beauty and wonder of our country...and maybe some of Canada, too.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fifth Grade Handwork: Socks!

The socks are finished! The socks are finished! Last Tuesday the Boy and I spent the afternoon knitting the last bit on our socks: rounding the toe and casting off. Our teacher, Barb, had confidence — or pretended to :) —in our ability to finish at home. I was not quite as confident; I didn't even know what some of the pattern's terms meant. But, we did it; Barb was right.

Wednesday morning we spent our last handwork class of the fall session darning the socks and weaving in the ends. Both of our socks had a few holes where we got a bit sloppy so we tidied those up with a bit of yarn and wow! they looked so much better! As soon as we got in the car the Boy put his on and wore them for two days.

Pre-darned socks

Modeling his bright red socks

Monday, November 21, 2011

Homeschool Crunch Time: aka Apathy and Distraction

Tis the week of Thanksgiving, and I have much to be thankful for, such as: a loving husband, three healthy sons, a house to snuggle in on cold days, more food than I need, and the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mom. I look forward to spending Thanksgiving Day with extended family, sharing memories, laughing, playing a few board games, and watching the Ravens vs. the 49ers with my Raven's fan of a mother-in-law. (There will be much shouting at the tv.)

Meanwhile, we keep plugging along in our homeschooling. I say plugging, because I'm feeling like we're just not making any headway. We spend one day at home immersed in our main lesson, then two days in the car traipsing around town. The weather has been warm and mild, so we've taken advantage of all opportunities to get together with friends.  We've had a few art classes, two festival get togethers (Halloween and Martinmas) plus the preparation that go into those, home school group at the library, and a few social outings/field trips. As well as just plain ol' social time. Husband never questions our homeschool routine; he is confident that we are covering all we need to. But even he  was curious as to why we're out of the house so much lately. 

Besides all of the distractions, I admit that some apathy has started to seep in. After a gung-ho first block, my energy level has petered out a bit. I am not too interested in the subject matter (geography) so I am struggling to make it interesting for the boy. His analytical mind soaks up facts, and he enjoys reading books about each state (we're doing the New England states right now) and discovering things like the state song, bird, gem, capitol, etc. I would rather be baking blueberry pies, listening to folk tales and songs, and making clam chowder. I struggle with creating balance and presenting ideas in a way that will interest the boy, but will keep me on track, too.

I had hoped to make December a "light" month. Spend some time on math, work on Christmas gifts together, keep it light on academics and heavier on the arts. But it's looking like we'll be carrying geography on through Christmas. Sigh. 

I'm kind of looking forward to old man winter storming in. When it's cold and the world is blanketed with snow or frosted with ice, we tend to hunker down by the glowing wood stove and get into our work. I guess we should enjoy these nice days out of doors while we can for it will not be long til  I'll be writing about cabin fever!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Whoopie Pies!

With the onset of autumn comes all things pumpkin. There's pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin scones, and one of our favorites: pumpkin whoopie pies. My indoctrination to the gustatory delight that is the whoopie pie was not a favorable one. My first was a chocolate and creme combination. Overly sweet, but lacking taste. It was then that I decided that Amish cooking isn't always that great.

Since Husband really enjoys a good whoopie, I tried out a few different recipes. Here's the one that we like best:

Pumpkin and Cinnamon Cream Whoopie Pies
 3 C flour
1t salt
1t baking soda
1t baking powder
2T cinnamon
1t ginger
1/2 t nutmeg
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 c oil (I use melted butter since I don't like the taste of vegetable oil You can also substitute up to 1/2 c with applesauce)
3 c pumpkin puree either canned or homemade 
2 eggs
1t vanilla

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift your dry ingredients together. Cream oil/butter and sugars till blended. Add eggs one at a time. Blend well. Stir in vanilla, then pumpkin. Add dry ingredients to wet. Mix til blended, but don't overly blend, just til blended and fairly smooth.

Drop by tablespoons-full onto a clean cookie sheet. Bake about 12 minutes. Remove from sheet to a cooling rack. Once cool, I pair them up according to size and shape.

Cinnamon Cream filling:
3 c powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 c butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1t vanilla
pinch of salt
1-1/2 t cinnamon, according to taste

Cream butter and cream cheese together til smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, blending till well mixed. Sprinkle in salt and cinnamon and add vanilla. Mix well.

Spread a dollop of the filling on the flat side of a pumpkin "cake." Top with a second cake. 

I store mine in the fridge. The cake is very moist and will get sticky, so if you layer them  you might want to use wax paper in between.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Heating the Home with Wood

Growing up our family had a cast iron wood stove. I loved coming into the "addition." wet and frozen from an afternoon's play in the snow. I'd open the door and wham! be blasted with a wall of heat from that stove. By the time I shimmied my coat, hat, and gloves off the  snow was melting into little pools, the clothes were steaming, and I was well on my way to warming up. And the smell of woodsmoke! My clothes smelled like a campfire all winter, as Mom dried our laundry either outdoors or by the fire—we never did have a clothes dryer. 

It was no wonder that when we were house shopping one of my "must haves" was a wood stove—or a place to put one. I'd take a fireplace, but I really wanted a wood stove. The house we purchased did not have one. But, just in time for our first Valentine's Day, my dear husband installed a cast iron stove on our sunporch. 

For best heating value, there were other places the stove could have gone. Namely, the north side of the house, which happens to be our music/living room. In old days it would have been the front parlor. Aesthetically speaking, I didn't want a stovepipe running out the front of my house, and for practical purposes, I didn't want to be hauling wood in on our wood floors into our living room. Way too messy. The sunporch had limited use since two walls are built of sliding glass doors. Putting the stove in there allowed us to use the room all year long, and it still keeps the first floor nice and toasty. (Upstairs is still a bit frosty, though.) The floor is stained cement, so it's easy to clean. We store a half cord of wood on the deck, keeping the mess outside.

We don't have a woodlot; acquiring firewood is something we think about all year long. It is a last resort to buy wood, since we use so much. Our first year we used over 6 cords of wood. (A true cord is a pile of split and cut wood that measures 4'w x4'h x8'L.) I have since learned how to better manage the fire and our usage is now, typically, around 3 cords. I picked up a used book called Heating with Wood that describes the best woods to use, cutting and preparing wood, and managing fires. 

Anyone who heats with a wood stove will tell you that using hard wood (oak, hickory, maple) is the burns cleaner and longer. Agreed, it is the best choice. Most will also say never to use soft woods (conifers such as pine, fir, yew) in your wood stove because it coats the inside of your chimney with creosote, a major fire hazard. Also agreed. But, beggars can't be choosers. Not that we're begging, but our wood acquisition often goes like this:
      Neighbor: My friend had a tree come down. Want to help me collect it and
      we'll split the pile?

      Us: Sure. What kind of tree is it?
      Neighbor: Dead, down, and free

The point being, we take what we can get and we burn whatever it is. We do mix the softwoods in, so we're not burning full loads of pine. And Husband cleans the chimney at least once during the burning season, and then again afterward.

We've spread the word that we heat with wood and will come clean up downed trees, we check craigslist for free wood, we pick up pieces along the side of the road, and occasionally we buy wood. I'm checking into getting a wood gathering permit from the state, but I'm just at the beginning research stage. I'll let you know what transpires.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fifth Grade....Geography

We are now fully immersed in our second block, Geography. I had a difficult time planning this block; there are so many approaches, even in the Waldorf circles. I knew I didn't want to do the states/capitals thing, at least not as a focus. I am  also aware that the Boy still has difficulty differentiating continents from countries, especially North America vs. The United States. 

After reading through Marsha Johnson's files and through the Waldorf Journey curriculum, I mapped out the approach I thought was best for the Boy. That is one of the reasons we homeschool, right? To meet the needs of our children.

Here is my plan:
  • We started with a review of last year's geography unit. We read through his main lesson book from last year, reviewed the terms, and talked about the four directions.
  • We then looked at a globe and an atlas and talked about and named the continents.
  • We discussed the geographic features on the map, and how those features made natural boundaries between continents and countries.  And how those features may have influenced the culture of that particular area.
  • I gave him a blank map to label the continents
  • We did gesture style drawings of each continent. With gesture drawing, you're quickly sketching the object, to get the basic feel
Going forward we will:
  • Draw our own map of the world
  • Observe divisions of countries and boundaries more closely
  • Get an understanding for various regions. For example, what is the Middle East? What does 'Europe' encompass? This is not to memorize, just familiarize
  • Focus on North America: The US and her neighbors
  • Identify regions of North America and its major geographic features: the Rockies, Mississippi, etc.
  • Discuss climate across the continent
  • Paint a map depicting climate: cool blues, hot reds, etc.
  • Begin studying each region of North America and more specifically the US

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Martinmas....the Lantern Walk

I go outside with my lantern,
my lantern goes with me.
Above us the stars are shining,
on earth shining are we.
So shine my light in the still dark night,
Labimmel, Labammel, Laboom.
'Neath heaven's dome till we go home,
Labimmel, Labammel, Laboom.

Martinmas is fast approaching, yay! Yes, we still have to get through Halloween, I know, but then it's lantern making time! 

When the Boy attended SWS, his wonderful teacher invited the parents to join the class for the school's lantern walk. I had no idea what it was about, so was excited to join in the festivities. 

At SWS's lantern walk, the children of all grades make lanterns. Usually the design pertains to something they've been studying. For example, in 3rd grade, the farming year, our class carved pumpkins to carry. On November 11, or a date close to that, the children in grades 1-4 gather and process through the darkened school carrying their candlelit lanterns, entering each classroom whilst singing lantern songs. The students in grades 5-8 remain in their classrooms, with their lanterns glowing and flickering on their desks.

The procession ends in the front hall of the school, where the young grades gather for a candlelit telling (and acting) of the story of St. Martin by the second grade class (which is studying saints and fables). 

Martinmas is a day set aside to celebrate St. Martin. I won't go into his whole story here, there are lots of sites on the web that you can google. Simply said, he was a soldier turned servant. His storied deed was that he used his gleaming sword to slice his cloak in two and gave one half to a poor man who was freezing—and ever after served the poor. It is a beautiful story of giving and sharing, and a metaphor for preparing for the cold, dark days of winter.

So now we are homeschooling, and of all the festivals, it is the lantern walk I miss the most. But, this is an easy one to bring home: gather some friends, food, and fire and you have yourself a lantern walk. On November 11, we'll come together and share a potluck meal, gather round a campfire to tell the story of St. Martin and then, in the darkening night, we'll light the children's lanterns and process around our property singing the sweet lantern walk songs.  And in the dark days of winter, we will remember the light of those bobbing, cheerful lanterns, and keep that glow of warmth alive in our inner beings 'til the first awakening of spring...Candlemas.

Material for our paper lanterns: balloon, tissue, flour paste, dried leaves
We used white tissue first, then a layer of 5 or six leaves, spread out so the light can shine through,
then two layers of colored tissue
We left an opening at the top so we could put a candle in.

The finished lanterns, drying upside down.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Best Homesteading/Homeschooling Investment Ever? A Library Card

Living on one salary means keeping a tight budget. Hell, in these times living on two salaries means keeping a tight budget. Everyone needs to save a few dollars here and there. In order to keep our homestead and home school functioning we use our county library. It is the number one "back pocket" resource I have.

We have borrowed books and periodicals on just about everything: solar energy, raising chickens and goats, how to home school, curriculum choices, construction, crafts, organic gardening, knitting, norse mythology, geography, math...I could list hundreds of topics that we've researched at our local library. There are very few books that I feel I must own but, if I check a particular title out two or three times, then I might consider buying a copy. Preferably at our library's annual book sale!

We moved here from Baltimore County, where the libraries are large and well-funded. Books of any subject were immediately available for browsing and borrowing. Plus, a plethora of programming to choose from. it was amazing.

I was shocked and a bit dismayed when I first walked into our local York County library. Shortly after moving here, we headed to our nearest town, Red Lion. I felt a bit snobbish—it was so small. There were so few books. I was missing Baltimore County! But we grew to love the children's librarian and the older boys always seemed to find what they wanted. So we continued our weekly visits, trekking the 10 miles to Red Lion. 

One day the librarian was kind enough to point out that we actually had a library in our little village, just a mile from home. I had no idea! It was right down the road? Really? Why hadn't I noticed it before? (A little foreshadowing...)

A trailer? You gotta be kidding! No wonder I hadn't noticed it. It was literally a double wide trailer parked on the elementary school-yard. Great. Upon entering, the first thing I noticed was a picture of what this library used to look like...a psychedelically painted single wide trailer. And before that? A bookmobile. This village had seen quite a bit of progress!

The next thing I noticed was the incredibly friendly atmosphere. No shushing or dirty looks. In fact, the librarian was exuberantly cheerful, and chatty. She ushered us around the library— actually she stood in the center and pointed to each section, it was that small. But, what I had not known before was that the library could order any book I needed from any library in the state. Wow, that changed my view...we had a little gem right in our own community!

Over the years our family has borrowed hundreds of books. Friday has become our library day, when we pick up our next week's block study materials and the Boy picks up his next two or three pleasure readers. Once a month we attend a home school co-op run by one of the librarians. We are avid summer reading club participants; the boy logged over 9,000 minutes this year. (goal is 800 minutes), and I participate in fund raising and program planning activities. We occasionally attend special programming, depending on time and interest. 

But the best of all is that ability to get books from all over the state — lots of knowledge without spending a dime.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fifth Grade Handwork: Socks!

Handwork...a total love-hate relationship for both the Boy and me. We are both perfectionists and both very verbal when things aren't going right. And that seems to  happen too, too often in handwork class!

His exposure to handwork began in his Waldorf kindergarten class, with the introduction of finger knitting by two of his classmates. In first grade, SWS students make their own knitting needles, then progress to knitting. His class started by making a 20 st x 20 row square, which they folded into various animals: cats, chickens, bunnies and the like. In second grade, he learned to purl, with the main project for the year being a knitted gnome. Third grade brought the introduction of crochet and the creation of a beautiful wool cap, a knitted horse, and an introduction to needle felting.

And then we began homeschooling. My skills are limited to threading a needle, crocheting a chain, and I finger a kindergartner; we couldn't rely on mom to teach this subject! I had to find a way to teach him handwork, ugh! Fortunately, several of the Boy's classmates opted to home school the same year, which allowed us to create our own class and hire a teacher, which we did.

Wednesdays are our handwork days. Knowing that this is a stressful class for us, I give the Boy plenty of free time in the morning, and a filling breakfast. We listen to soothing music on our drive, and arrive at Barb's at 10. We have a half hour play time with our friends, enjoy a quick snack, then settle to the task of knitting. 

Last fall session the Boy made a knitted fox. It was a true test of will; there were lots of new terms to learn and times of having to literally work stitch by stitch in unison with the teacher. I was proud of his determination to work through, even on days when he ended up in tears.Yes, there were a handful of those. In the end, he was so proud of his work when little Fargo the fox was finished! 

Working on Fargo's tail.
During the spring session, we  were introduced to knitting in the round, the kids making little puppets and moms starting on socks. I was a little too ambitious and started mine on size 4 needles. I now have a nice pair of ankle warmers...I never did finish.

Our socks: His on the left, mine on the right.

This year, Barb has all of us, moms included, making socks. We are using Stitch Nation wool, 2 skeins each with size 8 needles. So far they look great and have been so much easier than the ones I started last year. What an encouragement!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Fifth Grade: We finished our first Botany block

We have officially finished our first block of 5th grade, Botany. It took longer than I expected; I allotted 4 weeks and it took 6 but, I think we covered a lot of ground. We spent more time out of the house than I had planned, with field trips and meet ups, but those things are just as important as our bookwork.

Pages from nature journal

Here's what we accomplished:
  • Introduction to Botany — defining botany, it's importance, how it relates to man
  • Classification systems: taxonomy, seed leaves, life cycle (perennial, biennial, annual)
  • Daily nature walks to find specimens for each plant type. When we learned about fungus, we walked the neighborhood looking at various fungi. (This was our favorite botanical subject...we are still oohing and aahhing over the various fungi we find.)
  • Weekly walks to Apollo park to look at specimens and draw in our nature journals
  • Class with an herbalist, to identify various herbs and their uses
  • Spore prints
  • Leaf chromatography experiment
  • Identifying plants by leaf shape, venation, arrangement
  • Characteristics of lower plants and higher plants
  • Descriptions and identifying: fungus, algae, lichen, moss, ferns, conifers, flowering plants
  • Vascular system demonstration (celery and food coloring)
  • Paper Clay leaf imprints
Plant identification by leaves
Paper clay leaf imprints
In addition, we
  • Reviewed math concentrating on fractions
  • Reviewed the parts of speech
  • Learned about pronouns, common nouns, and proper nouns, as well as identifying the subject of a sentence
  • Read biographies of John Muir, Anna Comstock, Maria Sybillis Merian, and Jane Goodall
  • Started knitting socks
  • In the process of making wooden animals in woodwork
  • Piano lessons increased to 1 hour/week with the introduction of a monthly composer and instrument study
  • Made a weather tree and continue to chart daily weather patterns

Field trips included an historic mill, American Visionary Arts Museum, a nature scavenger hunt, several park explorations, Flinchbaugh's orchard, a weekend trip to North Carolina, the herb walk (mentioned above) and a weekend camping trip.
Sketching on our herb walk

Friday, October 14, 2011

Preserving Dry Goods...Oven Canning *

Stuff from refrigerator
Last month my spare fridge died. A sad event, but not an emergency situation. I just shuffled the packages to either my deep freeze or my kitchen fridge/freezer. I tend to buy staples in bulk, so much of what that fridge held was dry goods: flour, beans, rice, popcorn, and the like. That stuff took up quite a bit of room in my freezer and fridge leaving no room for fresh foods. I didn't want to leave so many dry goods in the pantry for fear of a) going rancid and b)moths. So what do do? 

I was reading through my Sept/Oct issue of Countryside, and a woman had written in about oven canning. I did a little more research; I had never heard of such a thing. Canning dry goods in the oven? Yes, indeed. Well, it's worth a shot, right?

Last night I emptied my fridge and freezer of everything that I could think of to can: rice, beans, flours, pancake mix, a couple of cake mixes, coffee, and pastas and put them on the counter to come to room temperature. Then I washed my canning jars and gathered lids and rings.

I decided to recycle some of my lids. I usually keep a stash in the junk drawer since they often come in handy. I know you're not supposed to reuse them when canning fruits and veggies since there's a good chance they won't seal, but I don't see this as being much of a problem with dry goods. Typically dry goods sit opened on my shelves for a few weeks anyway. Fortunately, most of them did seal, though. I'll just use up the unsealed items first. (As I write this I can hear the last batch "pinging," the tell tale sound of sealing lids!)

Next, I preheated the stove to 200 degrees. I filled each jar and placed it in a cake pan. (I tend to be clumsy and didn't want to chance spilling rice inside the oven.) When the pan was filled, into the oven it went for 1 hour. After the hour was up, I wiped the rim of the jar with a little vinegar and screwed on a lid. That's all there is to it! 

After labeling, I can store them anywhere. That's one of the cool things about canning; the jars don't have to take up important space. I've even heard of people storing jars under their bed.

So, thank you Countryside Magazine. And now I have room for milk!

Stuff canned

*Fine Print: I am not a canning expert, nor a food safety expert. If you are new at food preserving or have any questions regarding traditional or oven canning, please contact your county extension office. DO NOT use the oven canning method for preserving fruits, vegetable, or meats. These foods need to be preserved with a boiling water bath or pressure canner, which reach higher temperatures killing bacteria.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Illness and Injury on the Homestead

About a year ago, our elderly cat, Sam came home with the top 2 inches of his tail bent at an odd angle. He wasn't in pain, the skin wasn't broken. Ironically, it was almost comical — it looked like his tail had been slammed in a door, like a cartoon character. Since he wasn't in pain I thought I would give it a few days and just observe. But, the following morning, I opened the door to Sam sitting there smiling at me, with the top 2 inches of his tail hanging off. There was blood everywhere and the tip was just dangling. After my initial reaction (repeated screams of "OH MY GOD!" and slamming the door in his face) I gathered a few supplies and with the assistance of Eldest Boy's girlfriend, performed surgery. Remarkably, Sam didn't exhibit any signs of pain. I snipped off the hanging piece of tail, cleaned, disinfected, and bandaged the wound. And decided to wait and see. I cleaned the tail daily, looking for signs of infection, but it healed beautifully. 

Injuries and illness on the homestead — an inevitable occurrence when you have kids and/or animals. At some point, someone will get sick or hurt. 

I grew up in a family where we never went to the doctor. That's a bit of an exaggeration. But, my mom will attest, we didn't go often. Actually, after our pediatrician passed away when I was 10, I don't remember going to the doctor again until I was in college. 

It wasn't a fear of doctors, or even the cost. (Back then everyone had major medical insurance; our doctor's visits weren't covered and only cost $5). It was part of that can-do, diy attitude that my parents, particularly my dad, had. With a few medical supplies and a little patience and care, most illness or minor injuries could be attended to at home.  

We live in a time of expensive health care premiums and cheap co-pays. When paying a lot for the insurance and only $15 to see the doc it's easy to justify seeking medical attention when someone has a cold or a minor boo-boo. Plus, we've been brought up believing that only the experts can fix our problems; we don't trust our instincts to care for our own bodies. 

Please don't think that we're one of those families that shuns medical care at all costs. We actually go to the doctor for annual checkups and everyone in our household has received some type of medical attention in the past two years.  But, having had a child with cancer, one with high blood pressure, and one with an ongoing gastrointestinal issue, I have learned that the white coats don't know everything. They are making educated guesses through a process of elimination. And sometimes, while having great knowledge, they have terrible instincts.

I will almost always try a home remedy before calling the doctor or vet. Oftentimes, a good cleansing/disinfecting, more sleep, or a restricted diet for a day or two makes things right as rain. I also use some simple home remedies: ginger for tummy aches, a massage for a headache, pepper tea for a stuffy nose, stretching for back pain, warm tea bags for eye irritation, and the old standby of RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) for a muscle injury. If pain persists, or infection sets in, then I call the doctor.

I have learned to trust my instincts. I observe my children, husband, and animals when healthy so that I can be fully aware when something goes wrong. When the Boy is agitated and crotchety for a few hours, I know he either needs more sleep or a blood sugar fix. If his agitation persists after a snack and a rest time, I know a fever is coming on. When Husband has a certain look around his eyes and seems drawn inward, I know he's in pain. With the animals, poor appetite or lethargy can be signs of illness. Being fully aware leads to early intervention — starting the healing process before things get out of hand. And sometimes it means calling the doctor or vet.

Just a note: I found a video that I think is a good stepping off point for someone interested in learning herbal remedies. Personally, I find many of the books I read vague on actually how to use herbs. Yeah, ginger is good for digestion, but what do I do with it? This video contains lots of good introductory information:

Way of the Herbal Ninja: Using 17 Herbs You Already Have in the Kitchen

I'm still weeding my way through the rest of the website, but I think it will be a great resource for me!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Raising Chickens Part 2

Some of our newest flock, roosting ON their new home instead of IN it.
We now have two flocks of egg layers. Our older flock is allowed to explore the entire yard. The second, larger, and younger flock is kept in a fenced pasture that they share with our two pygmy goats, Fern and Petunia. The roaming flock keeps to the yard, rarely venturing beyond our boundaries. The penned flock seems very content to stay in their pen. In addition to our lovely egg layers, this past summer we had a third flock of chickens, which are now tucked into my freezer. Yep, we raised our own meat chickens. 

Along with our layers, we purchased 10 Cornish x Rocks from Murray McMurray Hatchery, to be delivered the 3rd week in May. Within a few weeks they were enormous and in my opinion, ugly. I didn't even take photos they were that ugly. And enormous. Big, slapping feet, stubby little legs, gaping beaks, and supersized chests. I did not like those birds, which made it really easy to take them to the "processor." Whenever I approached their pen, they would chase me down, so desperate were they for their food. They ate a tremendous amount of grain and would just sit all day. No foraging for insects. No exploring. They weren't curious at all. They just got bigger and uglier and smellier by the day. Finally, at 9 weeks, I took them to a local meat processor. 

The night before their demise, Husband and I packed them in a dog crate with some water. Early in the morning I loaded the crate into the back of my SUV and headed off to Lancaster County to the Amish man who would do my dirty work for me...for less than $3 per chicken! So worth it. I have harvested my own chickens once before and three bucks is a very small price to pay. An hour after arriving, Mr. Lapp was loading two coolers full of chicken into my car.

Friends have asked me if it was worth it. Financially? No. I figure each chicken cost me about $18 to buy, raise, and harvest.  That's about $4/lb when dressed out. But, it's not all about the cost. I raised these birds —I know what they ate, what they drank. We tried to give them a happy to roam, clean bedding, food, and water, plenty of sunshine and fresh air.

Would I do it again? Yes, with some changes. Next year I plan on getting a more "natural" breed. Cornish Rocks are bred for super sized breast meat. They can't tolerate heat and after 10 weeks start having leg issues. (Too big to fail does not apply here). I will use a breed that is better on pasture, to reduce the costs of feed. Organic grain is about $30/50lbs in this area, so the less they eat of that the better! I will probably do more than 10, so I can sell a few and recoup some of the cost. One thing I will do the same? Let Mr. Lapp do the processing!

Harvesting chickens

Monday, October 3, 2011

Day of Rest

You know those weeks where you seem to cram waayy too much into too little time? Yeah, last week was one of those. In addition to our studies (algae and lichen) we picked up a handwork class (knitting socks!) and piano lessons; I picked up a women's bible study, and husband and I joined a weekly ballroom dance class. We had an all day field trip on Thursday. And on Friday the boy and I traveled to NC to visit middle son at college. We arrived home Sunday evening just in time for the Raven's vs. Jets kickoff at 8:20 pm, the boy's bedtime. Ravens won, yay, but guess who didn't unpack?

Middle son's tree fort he and his friends built on the college campus.
Here he's explaining the plans for expansion.

One of the things I love about home schooling is that after one of "those" weeks, we can take a day off if we need to do so. For our family taking a day off means disrupting our rhythm – not something the Boy likes, therefore, it's oftentimes easier just to plow through, even if it is only to stick to that rhythm. Other days, though, we need to give ourselves permission to just take a break. So that is what we are doing on this rainy, chilly Monday. The boy slept 2 hours late this morning, so I went with it.

I do think we need to be mindful of our time, and deliberate about the days we "take off." It would be so easy to let other things crowd out our home school day; there's always laundry, the library books, groceries, garden and animal work, graphic design jobs, holiday and festival preparations, and the list goes on. This mama needs the structure of a school day, otherwise I start to let  subjects slide, especially those I struggle with in teaching. When scheduling our activities I make sure that we have at least 3 mornings at home each week. If we are out in the morning, it is difficult to reign us in and get any main lesson work completed. I like to get the lesson work done, then have the afternoon for projects, errands, or play.

This week I plan to cover moss, ferns, and conifers. But for today, I am unpacking, catching up on email, cleaning house, and working on lesson plans. And I might just take a nap.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fifth Grade: Botany Weeks Two and Three

Weeks two and three have just zipped on by. We've really been enjoying Botany; it's a great study for getting outside!

We packed so much into week two, but we both had a great time and learned much. We started the week by making nature journals. We bought two spiral bound sketchbooks at Michael's  and picked up a kneadable eraser and some drawing pencils. We each painted a water color, to cut down and use as a cover; the sketchbooks looked very impersonal with their black cardboard covers. On our Monday walk at Apollo Park we spent some time sketching a few plants, trying out the sketchbooks and exercising our fingers. And even more fun, we spent Tuesday afternoon in the backyard, just sitting still and observing and sketching our surroundings for 15 minutes. I didn't want to make the session too long, thinking the Boy would rebel. But at my call of "Time's up!" He responded with an "Awwwww, Mom."It sounds so much better at the end of an assignment rather than at the beginning of one. He drew one of our goats:

In our main lessons we moved through pollination, plant classification, and mushrooms. We learned that mushrooms are actually the fruiting body of the underground fungus. (A fact that fascinates the Boy). We drew mushrooms, observed them on our morning walks, photographed many types, and after collecting samples in a torrential downpour, made spore prints.
Main Lesson Book

To make spore prints, collect a few mushroom caps. Place them gill side down on a piece of paper. We used both black and white papers, as we weren't sure what color the spores would be. (Most were white, with one being a yellowish color). Place a glass or a bowl upside down over the cap, to keep it moist and undisturbed. Let it sit overnight. In the morning, remove the cover and the cap, and you should have a spore print on your paper. We pulled out a microscope type toy that the Boy received a few Christmases ago and looked at the prints close up.
Our sample mushrooms
Spore Print

We ended week two with a group field trip to John Rudy park, for a nature scavenger hunt and some much needed social time. Our scavenger hunt was a great success, with all of the kids working together, rather than competing. Walking down the trail you'd hear "Does anyone need an insect? I have an extra!" "I have two pieces of trash, who wants one?" Afterwards we gathered for snack and to display our findings. Several of the kids made bark rubbings, while others jumped on their bikes or scooters and pedaled around the bike path.
Some of the participants in our group scavenger hunt
Over the weekend we spontaneously decided to go camping. After driving our middle son to the bus station (return trip to college in NC) we packed up the car and drove the 45 minutes to Codorus State Park. We spent several relaxing days by the campfire. Really, we didn't do much at all. We ate, walked, sketched, read, and sat by the fire. We learned about American Chestnut trees, found an enormous hornet's nest, skipped stones, and made s'mores. It was a lovely break!
Sketching on our camping trip

Upon returning home, mama was slammed with a three-day migraine, so the Boy joyously spent those days woodworking with his father, watching "Myth Busters," and caring for his mama.

Fortunately the migraine lifted enough for us to join an herb walk on Friday. Our friend Jen, who makes flower essences, took our homeschool group through her farm and introduced us to many plants and their uses. Jen taught us that each plant has a story to tell, and if we listen carefully, the plant will teach us and tell us what it can give for our use. Some of the plants we learned about were: plantain, clovers, roses, elderberry, wood sorrel, goldenrod, ragweed, motherwort, nicotiana, comfrey, and calendula. We'll be heading back there in a few weeks to make a few preparations from some of these plants. I can't wait!

Sundays are for Cheese Dip

Sunday is Raven's Day in our home. Not that we are huge sports fans or anything, but Husband does like to watch or listen to the Raven's games. I enjoy watching him watch the games. And the Boy is in it for the snacks. Today, sticking with the challenge of having to use ingredients we already have on hand, we are enjoying a home made pizza, chocolate chip/pb granola bars and Jon's Cheese Dip.

Last year we had an interesting experiment transpiring: friends of ours, a family of 4, moved in with us. Yes, I guess we are a little crazy, but it was a cool thing to try. One of the bright spots was Jon's sharing of his incredible cheese dip. And because Jon so generously shared with me, I will share with you.

Jon's Cheese Dip

1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 3/4 c milk (divided, 1 cup and 3/4 cup)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic minced
olive oil
3 Tbsp cornstarch
1/4 c beer
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cayenne (or more if you like it really spicy)
1/8 c lime juice

1. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Just until translucent.
2. Add beer and bring up to a simmer
3. Add 1 cup of milk, bring to a simmer
4. Stir 3/4 c milk into 3Tbs cornstarch to make a thin paste.  Add to pot. Stir constantly until mixture thickens and begins to bubble.
5. Turn heat to low and add cheese, stirring until melted.
6. Add spices and lime.

Variations: you can add all kinds of things in step 1. I like to add diced tomato, but you can add diced greens, tomatillo, peppers, etc.
I also like a lot of garlic in mine, so I use 3-4 cloves. And I like to use Guinness beer, but you can use any kind. it's really not a science. I've played with the recipe a bit, and made a version that is now my favorite.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Watercolor Painting

The boy and I really enjoy painting day, in our case, Monday. Ironically, it was one of the subjects I was most anxious about. So many thoughts going through my head, "I'm not an artist." "The supplies are too expensive." "What if I don't get it right?" "Do I really have to tell a story while demonstrating?" In the end, it turned out to be a subject we both look forward to.

Fortunately, I've spent a bit of time in the Waldorf classroom. In this way, I was able to observe how his teacher presented painting. Plus, I've done a lot of reading and checking out various websites. I felt like I was getting a hang of the technique. Just recently I found "Water Color Painting in Waldorf Education," available as a .pdf. It doesn't include the color plates, but there's a ton of information...for free!

Now for the supplies.Yes, water color supplies can be expensive, but this is where a little homesteading ingenuity really helps. I decided to go ahead and spend the money on those things that mattered: paint, brushes, and paper. And scrimp on the rest.

Does it really matter if we're painting out of lovely little pots in a wooden holder? No, it doesn't. Does it matter if the paper absorbs paint unevenly? Yes, it does. So, we saved some bucks but still acquired quality supplies: 3 Stockmar paints: red, blue, and yellow; Fabriano paper from Dick Blick, 2 "professional" grade brushes bought on sale at Michael's (A large flat brush for washes is all you need in K-3. We added a smaller flat brush in 4th, and this year we've added a third pointed sable brush; we're moving into more detailed work.) 

Where did we save money? I used half-pint canning jars for the paint pots and an old refrigerator door shelf as our "holder." Instead of $18 painting boards, which look lovely to use, I spread a $2 shower curtain over our table and clip it to the table using tablecloth clips/clamps. I also bought natural sponges at the hardware store, for blotting excess moisture from the paper. Painting aprons came from a donation from a former grocery store employee.

A few more money saving tips: If you buy your paper in large sheets,  tear them in half prior to painting, you'll get 2 paintings per sheet. The water colors get watered down; don't use them straight from the bottle! Squirt a little "worm" into your jar and add water, about an inch to begin with.You want the colors to be translucent. The 3 bottles I bought last year will probably take us through this year as well. Cover and refrigerate the paint pots to keep the paint fresh. If you or your child like to do freestyle paintings (not part of the painting lesson) determine if you can use a lesser quality paper. We've been using cast-offs from a friend. The paper is kind of yucky, but it works for just "playing."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fifth Grade: First Week of Botany Block

The first week of school is already behind us. Wow. Even amidst the chaos of way too much rain and the subsequent flooding, a dying refrigerator, and a sick car we accomplished so much! 

We fell right into our daily rhythm of morning verse, breakfast, animal care, walk (we skipped this on two days because of the deluge), beginning verse, and IAO verse. We added two new items to our list: daily dictation (that's how I'm getting grammar and spelling in, all year long) and mental warm up —math and/or reading questions and movement. 

We began our Botany block by taking a walk in a local park on Monday just to observe. Husband came with us and we had a pleasant, albeit wet, morning. That afternoon we made our sketch books using the rubber band and stick method. 
Walking in Apollo Park
Over the week we covered roots, stems, leaves, and blossoms. In the Waldorf pedagogy, a fifth grader doesn't receive heavy scientific nomenclature or detailed descriptions of processes. We learned the basics: what does a root do, what types are there, what is the purpose of a stem, the leaves, the blossom. We also made a chart of how to identify a plant by it's leaves— (shape, arrangement, margin, venation). We talked briefly of photosynthesis as that was of interest to him. I tried to present the material imaginatively and artistically, creating chalkboard drawings of each topic and getting outside to observe as much as possible.

In Waldorf, the subject of human reproduction does not come until late middle school but, botanical reproduction lays a light path in that direction. After all, that is why flowers exist: to reproduce. We examined flowers in our backyard, finding many different arrangements of stamens around the pistil and ovary. Using an idea from  Kovac's Botany book, I told a story of the flower seeds being like a Sleeping Beauty awaiting her Prince. Prince Pollen comes riding in on his horse, Bumblebee, to gently waken the princess.

We did a few activities this week, too. We took magnifying glasses out in the yard and looked at various flowers. The rose of sharon and flower maple had beautiful, easy to see flower parts. We put a sweet potato in water to sprout as a root project. For stems, we dyed a glass of water blue, then placed two celery stalks in the water and let sit overnight. By morning, not only were the leaves turning blue, but you could actually see how the blue had risen up through the stalk. Very cool. 
Stamens and pollen of a flowering maple

Blue stems in the celery

Leaves are turning blue

Week two will find us creating nature journals and learning about plant partnerships and plant families.  We will also start a book by John Muir as our nightly reader.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Homestead Woes: The Failing Refrigerator

Sigh. This has been a crazy week. We, in the Mid-Atlantic, have been subject to unprecedented flooding. Roads have been shut down, homes washed away, life put on hold. Fortunately, our little homestead is on a hill but, that didn't save us from the dreaded wet basement. I have spent many hours the past two days bailing our basement out by hand. And even though it wasn't fun, I feel fortunate that I had a basement to bail and I know it will dry out in the end. Some of our friends fared much worse.

But, troubles come in threes, right? Yesterday husband's car developed clutch issues (master cylinder) and my spare refrigerator went kerplunk. It actually sounded like that when I tried to adjust the temp.

Keeping my fingers crossed I let it run all night hoping I was wrong. Ok, I was in denial. Yes, it is just a "spare" refrigerator, but it is packed full! When I grocery shop, I look for major sales on items that we use frequently. Then I buy enormous quantities and throw it in the spare fridge or freezer. We also buy a quarter of a beef steer each year, and process our own chickens. My kitchen fridge, spare fridge, and chest freezer are all three full, due to some planning and thrifty shopping.

I rearranged some of the goods, getting the frozen stuff jammed into one of the two other freezers. But most of the stuff in the fridge wouldn't fit anywhere else so, it's in a cooler. And now I have a challenge for the month: to prepare our meals only using what we already have stored. I think we'll be eating a lot of oatmeal, rice, and fruit smoothies!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fifth Grade Rhythm

Day two is complete. We seem to be falling into a rhythm already.

Light Candle/Morning Verse
Animal Care and Morning Walk
IAO Verse
Beginning Verse
Weather Check
Warm ups (Reading and/or Math questions)
Dictation (Spelling/Grammar)
Main Lesson
Snack Recess
Specials: Painting, Form Drawing, Handwork, Piano Lesson, Library, Woodwork
Piano Practice
Specials or Extra Main Lesson
30 Days of Drawing
Quiet Time
Prepare Dinner

Today we did 10 subtraction problems as our warm up. And for dictation, a sentence about plants. I dictated the sentence, which he copied into his practice book. Then he read it back to me, with the spellings and punctuation while I wrote it on the board. He corrected his work. On  Friday we will have a compilation of four sentences that he will put in his main lesson book.

One special today — wet-in-wet painting, for which we used a poem as our inspiration. We painted  a sunflower with its roots in the warm brown soil and its blossom bobbing toward the sun. I also let him do a free painting. He chose to do wet-in-dry of a squirrel, his current favorite animal.

After lunch we headed off to the library to welcome our new librarian, Ellen. Home again, home again trying to avoid the soaking raindrops. Ran into the house and snuggled up with a book and a juicy peach.