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.