Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Weekly Log

In Pennsylvania we need to keep track of how much we school, either the number of days or the number of hours (minimum requirement is 180 days or 900 hours for elementary). You can choose your method, but you need to be consistent throughout the year. When I homeschooled my oldest through high school I chose to use hours; 990 per year is the requirement for high school. In the primary grades, keeping track of days is much simpler!

To get organized, there are a number of planners you can purchase, but I made my own. Last year I kept a rather detailed computer-generated log of each week's lesson plans. But, I really like scribbling notes in pencil as the week goes along, and erasing and changing things. So I adapted last year's log and created this one:
You're welcome to download this form, just click here to go to my scribd account.

It's pretty self explanatory. I like having a place to check off how many times we hit each subject during the week, which gives me a quick reference as to what needs a little more attention. Over the weekend, when I do the next week's planning, I note each day's plan (in the large blocks). I tend to use the back of the sheet, too. Especially to make checklists: library books or supplies needed, phone numbers for field trips, etc. In PA we also need to keep an "extemporaneous reading log," so I made a "list" area where I can jot our resources down. For more info on PA's laws you can check askpauline.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nature Study...Butterflies

Here on the east coast we've just spent a weekend expecting the wrath of hurricane Irene. I say 'expecting' because the news outlets made it seem as though we would be wiped out, but we ended up being spared major damage. Actually, we didn't even lose power. We lost a lot of limbs from our old growth maples and had an indoor wading pool. But other than that, we made out well. 

When a major storm is approaching we do try to be cautious, though. If we lose power we lose our water supply, and we have lots of animals and people to care for. So, we spent last Friday preparing our little homestead: storing potential projectiles in the garage, moving the outside kitties to indoor shelter, bottling up some water, clearing gutters and rainspouts, and bringing in any nearly-ready produce from the garden.

When I was picking the tomatoes I found a chrysalis, my first ever! It was a beautiful silvery green.
It looked a lot like this. This is not a pic that I took.

I was afraid the impending storm would flatten the garden, so I carefully snipped the tomato leaf and placed it in a mason jar, punched holes in the lid, and placed it on the kitchen counter. Of course this was after running through the whole house like a 4 year-old shouting "Look what I found!"

I pretty much ignored the chrysalis on Saturday. I was way too involved in watching a 'Eureka' marathon with Husband. (Thanks Destynee for getting us hooked on that!)

On Sunday I checked the chrysalis and was surprised to see it had darkened. I made a mental note to look that up. What could that indicate? Hmmm... Unfortunately I was side-tracked by a flooding basement and after bailing for a half hour, totally forgot about the chrysalis until that evening.

I gave it a quick peek before going to bed and —so weird, it looked like it was breathing.  Seriously, it was moving in and out like a lung. Very slightly, almost imperceptibly. Ok, I was feeling a bit whacked; we hadn't had any sleep the night before due to the wind and rain, and I had been watching 'Eureka' all weekend, so maybe I was imagining things.

Apparently not. This morning I checked the jar and found that the chrysalis had hatched! Opening the jar, I gently shook the butterfly out onto our deck. I made a sugar water solution and dampened the deck boards and sat and watched as "she" opened her wings. We watched as they ever so gradually began to unfurl. It was an amazing thing to see first hand.
We think it might be a painted lady butterfly.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Norse Myths and Knots

As part of our Norse myths block we drew and tied lots of knots. I found a great website of animated knots that takes you step by step through tying various knots. I spent some time determining which would be most useful in everyday life and which of those would lend themselves well to a form drawing lesson.

Once I learned the knot tying by heart, I would teach son how to tie using two different colored bits of yarn. A few days later, after much practice tying and untying, I would draw the knot on the board and have him practice it several times: in the air with his hand, with his feet, with chalk on the driveway, and yes, on paper. I encouraged him to color and shade the knots to emphasize the shadows created by the "over and under" of the yarn. Later in the week he would then do a "formal" form drawing in his forms book. We also drew a page of these knots in his Norse Myths main lesson book, along with a description of when the knot would typically be used. 

And to "tie" it all together (that was too obvious to leave out) we made challah one evening and soft pretzels for some friends. Tying dough is much more difficult than tying bits of yarn, but he persisted and I think they came out quite well. And tasty, too!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Norse Myths

With the start of 5th grade still a few weeks off, I thought I'd share some of our work from 4th grade. In the Waldorf curriculum, 4th graders study Zoology, Norse Myths, and North American Geography. 

My 4th grader really connected with the Norse Myths. He was fascinated by the gods and all of their adventures. He was initially enamored with Loki, until Loki went too far with one of his mischievous escapades. It was interesting to watch him process good vs. evil and work through it, realizing that we all have the potential to do good and sometimes have tendencies toward evil.

For our Norse myths block ( I only did one long block of each subject this past year; that worked better for us than two blocks each) we read the simplified stories of the gods from D'Aulaire's book of Norse Myths. We also borrowed several books from our local library. Son would ask me to read the same story from each book as he enjoyed comparing the different versions.

Our rhythm looked like this: Day 1 tell story of a particular god. Day 2 son would recall story and I wrote his recollection on the board. Son would draw a practice "portrait" of the god. Day 3 Son would copy recollection in his main lesson book and include a portrait. Depending on the day we would also work in our Form Drawing mlb, model, or work on some other activity.

Husband helped us make a model Yggdrasil (tree of life) and son modeled clay figures to sit at it's base. 


Saturday, August 20, 2011

Canning time!

Today is tomato canning day. Actually, on our little homestead, many summer days are set aside for food preservation since I delight in serving these foods over the winter. It's like opening a jar of summer! So today I will pick whatever tomatoes are ready and get to work processing them. 

I used to get overwhelmed because I would spend an entire weekend working at it. For the past few tomato seasons I have planted more indeterminate tomato types which spreads my workload out. Determinate tomatoes ripen all at once and OH NO! I have 4,000 tomatoes to can TODAY! By switching to indeterminate types, I'll get a dozen or two tomatoes at a time. It only takes a half hour or so to prepare the tomatoes, if it's done in small batches.

Here's my method (I am not a canning expert. There are plenty of resources available including your state extension office that can take you step by step on the government's approved methods for home canning):
I put a pot of water on to boil loaded with my clean canning jars. I use a large soup pot. (I have a large canning pot, but with this method I usually only have 2-3 quarts going, so why waste all the water and fuel?) I heat a small pan of water with my lids and rings. I heat (to a boil) a tea kettle of water with a pinch of sea salt thrown in (Don't use salt with iodine). I slice up a few garlic cloves, pick a handful of fresh basil and set in small bowls off to the side. If your tomatoes are not very acidic, you will want to add a bit of vinegar to your process, too. I then put a sauce pan of water on to boil. I fill a bowl with ice water and set that in the sink.  I place two empty bowls in front of me: one for the peelings and scraps, one for the quartered tomatoes. Now I'm ready to begin.

I core the tomatoes then slice a small X in the bottom of each one. I sort them according to size. Once the sauce pan of water is boiling, I place two or three tomatoes in the water. It only takes about 30 seconds (or less) and the skin will start to peel back from the X. I remove the tomatoes and plop them in the ice water. Then add two or three more tomatoes to the boiling water. While they are doing their thing, I remove the iced tomatoes, peel and quarter them, and put them in the holding bowl. Repeat and repeat and repeat until I have enough tomatoes to fill my prepared jars. I get a rhythm going, and it all goes pretty fast.

I tidy up my workspace then remove one jar at a time from the water bath. I fill my jar with tomatoes, some basil, garlic, more tomatoes, Lightly pressing them down til it's filled up to about 1/2 inch from the top. Fill with boiling salted water, it doesn't take much. Using a plastic spatula, I remove air bubbles by sliding it around the edges and jostling the tomatoes a bit. Wipe off the lip of the jar with a clean towel, place a lid and a ring, and pop it into the bath. Repeat with remaining jars. Once all the jars are in the bath, I turn up the heat to bring to a boil. Once it boils, let it go for 45 minutes (for quarts, less for pints). Remove to a folded dishtowel on the counter, and listen for the tell tale "ping" of the jars sealing as they cool. If a jar doesn't seal (you can tell by pressing on the center of the lid, if it pops up and down, it didn't seal.) You can retry or just put in the fridge for use within the next few days. 

That's it. There's nothing cozier than pulling out a jar of tomatoes in February. And it makes an easy meal. Just open a jar, let simmer, and add any special ingredients such as balsamic vinegar or some wine, leftover chicken or beef, whatever you want! Toss with some pasta and top with feta cheese...YUM!  Summer in a jar.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Raising chickens Part 1

We've been raising chickens for eggs for the past 5 or 6 years, and I love it! It all started with a phone call from our favorite librarian who asked if we'd like to have a free rooster and hen, from another library patron. Sure! We'd been thinking of raising chickens. We packed an enormous box punched full of holes and set off to pick them up. Turned out they were bantams, the miniature dogs of the chicken world. Two pint-sized birds.That enormous box must have seemed so silly to the donors! 

After many questions, we loaded up Bruce and Betty and headed for home. We did this so backwards...where were we going to put them. How would I feed and water them? We stopped at the local farm store and picked up some feed, scratch (what we call chicken crack), and a waterer. At the time we had a dilapidated shed on our property that was going unused. Bruce and Betty quickly claimed their roosting spots and settled in. The place was drafty and I was afraid that unwanted critters would have easy access to a tasty, albeit small, chicken dinner. Time for another building project! Within weeks we dismantled the shed from around our two new pets and built the chicken condo behind our garden plot with the scavenged materials.

Those two birds were so lovely to have around. They had free range of our yard by day, and would return every evening to their home. I was so amazed by that! What? I don't have to herd them in every night? No, they do it themselves. Betty turned out to be a great producer of little pink eggs. And that got us started thinking... hmmmm, this is easy, maybe more?

Betty lived for two years with us. Upon her very sad death, I located a local seller and purchased a handful of birds. I knew NOTHING about buying birds and I got totally duped. This man kept them in rabbit hutches and the first thing we noticed upon getting them home was that they were terrified of the space in the chicken condo. They huddled in the corner on the floor. They didn't know how to roost! Bruce soon took over and got most of them to roost, or at least sit in a nesting box. But one little chickie was so enormously fat, she couldn't get up there. It was then I noticed that this bird had a damaged wing. Blanche, as we named her, would come and sit on my feet as soon as I entered the chicken shed. I had quite a tender spot for her. She didn't last long though. She would sit out in the chicken run and sun herself which made for easy pickings by some predator. Ok, now I know why weak birds must be culled. (Nice way of saying "gotten rid of").

Realizing there was something "wrong" about these chickens, I did more research. How do you know when a chicken is old? Well, it turns out that there are a number of ways to check. A simple method is to check the coloring and condition of their wattles (the hanging things under their chins), combs (the things sticking up on their heads), and legs. Easy enough. Hmmm, these chickens had really gnarly feet and legs that were pale yellowish grey. I compared to Bruce's, whose legs were clean, smooth, and a nice slate grey. The girl's wattles were almost colorless, as were their combs (Comb and wattle shape differs with each breed, so that didn't mean anything.). Yep, they were old ladies and just to prove it, as summer progressed one by one they died off;  just curled up and died wherever they happened to be in the yard. Sigh. Now I know how to tell young, healthy birds from old lady birds. 

Time to buy more girls. 

The oldest chicken on our homestead. She's four now and has just this summer stopped laying every day.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Being newbie homesteaders, we do a lot of DIY projects around here. House painting, building projects, landscaping, and this week: working DH's 1996 Honda. It just stopped running. When we were first married, he really didn't know much about cars, but he's learned so much over the years. Still, this was a frustrating process for him. He changed out several parts, each day trying to eliminate one more possibility, starting with fuel and ending with electricity. And I learned how to change spark plugs and wires! It turned out to be that the timing belt was bad. This morning we had it towed to our mechanic to assess any engine damage. Oh, the joys of having an old car.

That being said, we try to live by the adage,"Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." We try to keep the cars going along. We do all our own work on the house, including some electrical work. (That always amazes me; I'm afraid of electricity.) We salvage materials to use in other projects. For instance, our original chicken house (the chicken condo) was built with 90% salvaged materials from a 1930's shed that was falling down.  He even put a very simple water collection system on the back for me.

Currently, we're working on a second chicken shed. We started a new flock of chickens this year, and I didn't want the hassle of trying to integrate my old ladies into the new flock. They deserve a nice peaceful old age. Plus, my old ladies have free range of the entire yard. I thought it might be a bit icky to have the entire flock traipsing around the yard. Too many "deposits." So, my dear is building a new shed, in the goat yard.
I guess my point is even if you don't have any experience with something, you can learn to do it just by, well, doing it. The worst that will happen is that you might have to start over. We learned quite a bit building this structure, but when you're working with scrap, you do the best you can. I love living on our little homestead!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


We finished tidying up our school space this week. All of our drawings and charts (we tracked the weather last year) came down. All of my painting stacked in a pile for scrap. All of  ds's stacked neatly in a box for keeping. I sorted through our painting supplies and bought two new brushes and sorted out too-short pencils and stubby crayons. The handwork basket was tidied up, too. And that spurred both of us into pulling out unfinished projects and completing them! I made a little bunny for a dear 1st grader and he finished a puppy that he knitted in the round. I do believe everything is in place to start the year!

And although I want to start right now (yes, I'm a choleric!) I am trying to slow down and enjoy the last few weeks of summer. I love to be outside on these gorgeous, sometimes sweltering, summer days. One reason I chose to do Botany as our first block was to keep us outside as much as possible. Here in Pennsylvania we have a long beautiful fall. Great for hiking and generally being out of doors.

I was a bit anxious regarding block rotations. It seems that there are lots of prescribed rotations out there. I was wondering if there was an Anthroposophical reason for it. I've come to the conclusion, after doing much research, that you need to do what's best for you and your student, weaving "out breath" blocks with "in breath" blocks. I think I we'll do:
  • Botany
  • Math
  • North American Geography
  • India/Persia
  • Math
  • Mesopotamia/Egypt
  • Greek Myths
  • Math
  • North  American Geography
  • Greek History
And since we are homeschooling and don't belong to a large Waldorf co-op, pulling off a Greek Olympics would be rather lonely. I think we're actually going to use it as a theme for ds's 11th birthday party. But, I'm way ahead of myself now!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Starting 5th Grade

So, a new year is upon us. I've spent the last week reading over materials I've downloaded. I'm on a very tight budget, and I like creating my "own" curriculum. Because of this, I haven't bought a structured curriculum, although there are several out there. 

This year, I mainly relied on Marsha Johnson's Waldorf Home EducatorsWaldorf Home Educators group in Yahoo groups and Meredith Floyd Preston over at A Waldorf Journey  Marsha has an incredible files section in the yahoo group. Plus, I get the daily email list with all kinds of suggestions. Meredith is selling her curriculum guides on her website, and they are very budget friendly. Between these two resources I've put together my year.

I also made a few purchases this year. I bought two of Kovac's books: Botany and Ancient Civilizations. I'm just starting to read through them now. I also bought Dorothy Harrer's English and Math books for the elementary grades. I think my favorite item I bought this year was a tin of Mecurius pencils. Pamela at Meadowsweet Naturals had them on sale. It felt like Christmas when I opened the package!

This year we'll be studying Botany; Ancient Civs: India, Persia, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece; North American Geography; Math: fractions review, decimals, metric system, and freehand geometry. We'll include modeling (beeswax and clay), form drawing (taken from ancient civs and feehand geometry, music (piano and flute), and maybe...if I can handle it, French. Whew! I'm tired already!