Saturday, December 19, 2009

Snowy Weekend Thoughts

Even though we live surrounded by the mountains, we don't get a lot of snow here. We used to when I was younger, but now years go by and the "big" snow of the year is a couple inches in late February or March. In fact, we have a rule that Justin has to take off a snow day, even if he could get to work, just so he won't miss out on the likely one chance to take the kids sledding.
You can understand then that we now have the attitude of "I'll believe it when I see it" regarding deep snowfalls. And, you can really understand then our shock when it DID snow.

~This shot was taken on 12/18 about 10pm. That's our redbud tree, wrapped in gold Christmas lights~

It is funny. We woke up early Saturday to Whiskey, our chocolate lab, howling for some unknown reason. Then the boys got up and came into our room early. Bouncing on the bed, watching cartoons, snuggling.
In pajamas, about 8am I wandered out onto the front and back porches to snap some photos of the snow.

~8am 12/19 - the top photo is the birdbath out front & the snow-covered chili pot (see the 1st photo) - bottom photo was taken on the back deck, on the table .. FIFTEEN INCHES!!!~

By the time I got back inside, Shannon was done with his cereal and Tristan wasn't far behind. By the time I got to the bedroom, Shannon was in his snowsuit, demanding to go sledding. Like, RIGHT NOW!!! Uh .. no. Mama needs a few moments in the morning. Sledding at 8am isn't on the agenda.
By 9am we were outside. Agendas were clashing. Shannon was determined to head up the street to Salem's Municipal Golf Course -- local mecca for sledding. Tristan was happy about the snow until he found out it was waist deep on him and, while walking is hard, turning around is near impossible. Justin already had the shovel in hand and was beginning to shovel the walk. I had photographer-giddiness and wanted snow shots.

~Top to bottom: Shannon happy about the snow & eyeing the sled; Tristan still happy about the snow, but waist-deep in it; Justin, beginning the "dig-out" ---- agendas are clashing!~

Photography won out. Or maybe the saying is just true: "if Mama ain't happy, ain't no-one happy." The kids were playing in the yard while I wandered up the street a bit for photos and Justin dug. Then the whining started. So, we decided to walk down to Main St. to check things out.
By the time we got back it was close to lunch time and Justin and I were beginning to be at each other's throats. Tristan had to be carried back part of the way, Shannon was still unhappy that we hadn't gone sledding. An impromptu snowball fight did break out, but tears ensued when Tristan got snow on his face and couldn't comprehend that you just can NOT wipe snow off of your face with a snowy glove, no matter how many times you wipe.

The last time it snowed like this, I was in my freshman year of college. This house was still my mother's, and some friends and I came home to crash here and play. Things have changed.

Now, the walks need to be shoveled. The dogs have to considered: Whiskey went out in the snow just fine, but Jomo (who is much bigger than Whiskey) was too scared to go out (he's scared of everything). And then there were the chickens to think of. We covered their tractor before the snow started and had to dig it out and uncover it after the snow stopped. They can handle the cold, but they need a dry place to hang out. And, all the while, we were trying to deal with kids still too young to truly understand all of the above .. AND we're trying to deal with our own agendas and trying to learn to work together to get things done, to communicate better. To not snap at each other. (Fair little note here - I had/have PMS too .. so that made me extra nice to deal with)

In all of this though, we are lucky. We are very, very lucky that these were our issues to deal with, our hassles, our irritants. Interstates around us are shut down. Back-ups 20 miles long. Hundreds and hundreds of people stuck in their cars, needing rescue.
Our electricity stayed on. We had a solid roof over our heads, a warm house, plenty of hot cocoa (made with my homemade hot cocoa mix recipe:, and the joy of each other, knowing we were all safe together.

Life is definitely different living on an urban homestead. We did get to sledding, but chores came first. And, our chickens even decided to lay two eggs for us today (remember - we got none in November & since 12/14 we've only gotten 1 every other day). Tonight, we're eating pasture-raised pork chops with rice cooked in homemade turkey stock, and Justin and I are drinking some of our homebrewed Back Porch Brown Ale. Not a bad end to the weekend.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Yes, Virginia

Today I just want to share a link to a blog I follow.

I've read this before, and I love it dearly. I grew up in Virginia and, even though I knew it wasn't so, I somehow always thought the "Virginia" he was speaking to was the State. Somehow I still hear it that way.

I'm posting this to follow-up yesterday's more angry-toned blog.

Believe, love, dream, be kind, be happy, be young at heart, be blessed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Seasonal Bitchin'

This time of year there is a lot of bitchin. In fact, I think it would stand to reason that there is more bitching about the Season ... or rather the Holidays, than there is actual celebration of the Holidays & Season. And, when that is the case, something just ain't right folks.

~Our "little" tree, all decorated & lit up. The golden glow around it is from the Leg Lamp in the other corner of the room~

Above is our "little" Christmas tree. We have really tall ceilings, and so tall, tall trees are a "must have." Financially this means we stick with white pines because they're cheaper. This year there seems to be a very limited supply of them, and tall they aren't. Ours is still 8' or so, but it just seems tiny in the front room. *waaahhhh* When we began decorating it, we realized this tree's branches were particularly thin and weak, meaning most ornaments are actually hung on the wire of the lights. We ended up only putting one box of ornaments on the tree. *waaaahh* GET OVER IT!!!!
Why do I need to get over it? One, this little tree turned out to be a blessing. This year our dogs are indoor dogs for the first time. More ornaments to attract nosy dogs is something we do NOT need. Also, really importantly, this was the first year we've let the kids help decorate the tree. Our kids are 5 1/2 and 3. We made it through the one box with only one broken ornament, and I think it was just that ornament's time, not so much a slip of hands. But, again, more ornaments were not needed. Decorating with the kids was wonderful, albeit a few "AACCK!! Don't touch THAT ornament!!!" moments since we have several ornaments that are glass and were blown by friends. Decorating the tree should be one of those positive family memories. Let's just stick with the one box before we end up killing each other, ok? Ahh .. happiness.

Pardon me for going all third person here, but Mama Taney is sick of this Seasonal Bitchin'. Really. There should be signs that say "Tis the Season to Bitch and Moan." And Mama Taney ain't havin' it no more!!!
We're ALL broke, ok?? Even million-ba-jillionaires, I'm sure, are complaining and whining because they don't have enough money right now to afford luxury, solid gold, diamond encrusted crappers for everyone on their list. It really doesn't matter how much money you have this time of year, because in your eyes, you don't have enough.And that isn't the fucking point!!! It isn't about money! It's about trying to survive having to be around all your relatives without going insane and starting WWIII. Just kidding. It's about trying to be grateful for those insane relatives because it means you're LOVED. That someone out there in this big blue world is thinking about you and loves you. And you love them. *pardon me while I get my tissue*

After the tree was decorated and the kids were in bed, there was a knock on the door. Due to recent issues with knocks on doors I was more ready to call the cops than curious as to whom might be calling. It was Boy Scouts collecting non-perishable, canned goods for the needy. I gave them organic green beans. Our cupboards might not be over-flowing, but they certainly aren't bare, and even people who can't afford to buy their food deserve to eat organic food.

And there is the other point of the season. To remember that you're warm and safe and the biggest thing you have to do is bitch about the credit card bills you've chosen to rack up to buy gifts. That you have a roof over your head and food in your cupboards. That you have shoes on your feet. That your children are safe and in their beds (or wherever yours may be), but that they're safe, and healthy, and that you're know that they are and you're not praying that they were alive with you this year, or that they can be moved out of the ICU, and so on.

~My kids, meeting Santa, in the snow. I know you've seen this before, but it still oozes of Christmas Spirit when I see it and makes me smile~

It is nearly impossible to not get wrapped up in the commercialization of it all, I know that. I've started throwing catalogs away without looking at them, deleting emails without looking at them. And it feels great .. a weight lifted off my shoulders. Pass the chex mix please!

If you can't get over it, then let me know. I want to make sure to stay the hell away from you this holiday season.

Happy Chickens

We have happy chickens right now. Gloriously, crazy, happy chickens. Why are our biddies so giddy? Yesterday Shannon and I cleaned out their nest boxes and coop, sent the spent straw to the garden, and put fresh straw everywhere for them. This means in the nest boxes, in the coop, and in the tractor. That probably doesn't sound like much of a "woo-hoo" cause for chicken giddiness, but it is.
Normally we rotate them around the yard and so every couple of days they get a fresh green patch of Earth to go at with wild abandon. (did you know chickens have wild abandon?) But now, they're in their "Winter Chalet" ~ which means they're up against the house, tractor eased up next to their little coop, so they can escape the blizzards we don't seem to get around here anymore. They are loving it.
It also means that they have torn their little plot of Earth to shreds already. So, suddenly having it covered in lots of fresh straw is like coming home to find your house/room covered in lots and lots of down blankets and pillows. YAY!

~The "Winter Chalet" - the tractor eased up next to the coop, with the chickens enjoying the fresh straw~

~You know what?? CHICKEN BUTT!!! sorry, couldn't resist~

~Deliriously happy chickens, digging their fresh straw while the sun sets~

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rooskie Yazik

Documenting our unschooling journey is a challenge. Most days if you were a casual observer you would think we're not schooling our children at all. But they are learning, every moment of every day they're learning something new. One new thing they're learning is some Rooskie Yazik ~ Russian.

~Pryvet (hi/hello) from Shannon~

Shannon had really been showing a lot of interest in speaking things in foreign tongues. I use that phrase as both boys have taken to making up their own language as well as actually trying to learn other languages.
While I took Spanish in high school (even went to Spain), I must admit that having Spanish shoved down our throats lately by well-meaning PBS shows and characters ala Miss Rosa has made me rather sick of it. And, I'm also really tired of hearing about learning to speak Mandarin. This seems to be the new "white collar" language that is the subject of moms' conversations whenever a playgroup springs up. There is validity for learning both of those languages, and I won't put down anyone who does but, as usual, our path has led us in a different direction.

Why Russian? Well, I like it. I like hearing men speak it, there is something very masculine about the language to my ears. A kinda sexist statement, but the truth none the less. Also, and more importantly, the boys have a Babushka ("grandmother"). My step-mother is from the Ukraine, meaning one of their grandmothers is fluent in Russian. (For you persnickety folks, yes, we know there is a difference between Ukrainian Russian and Russian) That's just a gem there that can't be passed up!! Justin's grandfather also speaks a little Russian, so there is another bonus.

How have we been learning? Well, we debated a lot on this one. We looked at Muzzy, but heard a lot of bad reviews. Sitting our kids in front of tv so they can watch something in a foreign language over and over and over and over isn't exactly something we go "woo hoo, let's do that!" about. So we asked around. A good friend recommended A free site that teaches you with simple phrases, sounded out by someone speaking them as well as written in front of you.
So far we've learned the phrases: "hello/hi," "Good Morning," "Good Afternoon," "Goodbye," "No," "Yes," and "Excuse Me."

I say that we've learned them because we realized something. We couldn't expect Shannon to just magically learn a foreign language by clicking through some cards on the computer and hearing someone speak them to him. He needed to hear them during the day and be able to say them during the day. WE had to learn it all as well. The family that learns together ..... speaks Russian together ~ or something like that.
Submersion is the key. Of course, trying to submerse yourself in a foreign language without a fluent speaker living in the house with you, or around you constantly, is kinda like trying to learn to scuba dive (or at least snorkel) in a bathtub. You get the hang of it, the general idea of it, but it is a much slower process than just being tossed out there to the big blue sea.

And, of course, they still are learning proper English. Or American. And they're still learning manners and etiquette. AND we're Southern. That might not sound like it adds up to anything, but you haven't heard "Da ma'am" (yes ma'am) and "Nyet sir" (no sir) spoken with a slight Southern twang before. This was very evident when my step-mother tried helping us with pronunciation and I had to tell her "that IS what they're saying."
And Shannon, being the big brother that he is, has decided Tristan must also learn proper Russian. The main one is "Yzveeneete" which means "excuse me." Potty humor is naturally something hysterical to the boys, so we have lots of opportunities to use this phrase daily. If Tristan burps Shannon will quickly say "what do you say?" to which Tristan replies "Excuse me." (Point needed here - Tristan will say this on his own, without prompting, but Shannon likes to prompt and boss) Shannon will then look at Tristan and say "In Russian."

And so it goes that we all learn a little Rooskie Yazik. When we've gotten these phrases really downpat, we'll move add another set. No rush, just learning to scuba dive in the tub, we're not likely to find sharks.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Little Drummer Boy

"Shall I play for you!
pa rum pum pum
on my drum.

Mary nodded
pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him
pa rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me
pa rum pum pum pum
me and my drum."

~These lyrics are brought to you courtesy ~

I'll preface this with the acknowledgement that we're not Christians, though we do celebrate Christmas. It was the fact that I was reminded that it was Christmas that I felt the need to write this blog.

Shannon has been taking drum lessons. He'll be 6 in January, and is doing really well. The lessons occur at 6pm every Thursday. Justin is the musician in the family, and since he's the one who helps him with his lessons, we have to have the lessons after he gets off work. The lessons are 30 minutes long. Not exactly even beginning to push the limits of the noise ordinance in our town (according to the cops anyway, whom I've double checked with).
But, because we do have a neighbor who has decided to hate us, the drums have become the newest issue. The first time we got a phone call screaming and threatening us, the boys were showing their grandparents the drums and were playing for, literally, 5 minutes - it was 6pm on a Sunday evening. The second time, Shannon was showing his uncle what he had learned from his first lesson. He had been playing roughly 10 minutes, and the screaming call came in right before 5pm on a Saturday. After that we decided it was worth the $4.20 a month to block her phone number and put an end to the harassing phone calls and the stress from them.
Remember, this is the same neighbor who hates our flowers (and calls the city about them), hates our garden and the mulch for it, and generally every movement we make. We've tried speaking reasonably with her ... only to be told that no, we don't have the right to live the way we want.

Anyway, last week's lesson went blissfully well. Aside from the back porch light turned on to let us know she was angry. That's one of the signs: she leaves the front porch on all night long (I guess thinking it will bother us since it is near our bedroom window). She turned the back porch light off right before 9pm last week.

This week, another story. The drum instructor is a friend and his girlfriend has become a friend as well, coming over every week to hang out while the lessons go on. She and I were talking in the front room when there was a knock on the door. Guess who ... !!
I politely informed her that there were drum lessons going on. It didn't matter. More threats, more ridiculous accusations. I began politely informing her to get off our property or else I would call the cops. I was told she had hired a detective, she was documenting things, she would file a formal complaint (that's the recurring threat). I told her to go ahead and repeated that she needed to leave our property. She began going on that she had been trying to call us. I finally told her that we had blocked her number because she has been harassing us. This was met with a response of a screaming "YOU'RE HARASSING ME!". I shut the door.

So, with the thought of it being Christmastime, this song came to mind. I couldn't remember the lyrics, just the melody. I looked up the lyrics for this blog and it was the last part of the song, the part I quoted above, that really struck me.
In everything we do, we try to strengthen community ties and bonds. We try to get to know our neighbors and the people in our community. Even when there may be differences of lifestyles, we see that as a welcome opportunity to learn something new, even if that is just tolerance.
It truly saddens me to think that someone would chose to live such a miserable existence. To realize that there really does come a time when there are people you can't try to reason with, that you can't try to work things out with.

I'm not sure where this crazy path will wind up. My bones tell me that this isn't the end of this, that there is more to come.
I do know that I won't let one person stand between us and the life we want to live. There is no way in absolute hell that I will let someone stand between my child and his education.

Music is meant to bring harmony. To quote Plato: Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.
I know that while someone is learning music it can often sound like something needing to be put out of it's misery. But, if you're life is so full anger, bitterness, and hatred that you can't tolerate an almost 6 year old's 30 minute drum lesson once a week ... well then, at this time of year at least, I can see the true embodiment of the Scrooge that Dickens wrote about so long ago.

PS ~ It is quarter till midnight now and the back porch light (which shines into our kitchen), as well as the front porch light are still on. Is this the way you try to upset a tree-hugger, by wasting energy?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Ye Olde Salem Christmas

This past Friday was Salem's Christmas Parade. We always go down there, bundling up in many, many layers and taking blankets to sit on & wrap around us. We normally take hot cocoa, but this year it was accidentally left at home. Justin's family has been coming over and watching the parade with us for the last few years ~ a really nice tradition to have.
The day after the parade is always "Ye Olde Salem Christmas." There are activities going on between the Farmer's Market and Longwood Park, but we usually just walk down past the Market and to the library where the real treat is: a visit with Santa Claus!
Every year the Santa & Mrs Claus visit the Salem Public Library. You can sit on his lap and have your photo taken, or you can take your own photo ~ and, of course, you get to tell him what you want! Mrs. Claus reads Christmas stories to the kids elsewhere in the library and there are areas for crafts and letter-writing set-up.
It is always a special time, but this year was made even more special by the fact that ... it SNOWED! We only got a dusting down here, but the timing couldn't have been better!

So, we bundled up in our warm clothes and walked the couple blocks to the library as the snow came down all around us. As we neared the library we spotted a very familiar, but wonderfully surprising sight.

~What to our wondering eyes should appear?~

Santa was outside the library! We talked with him, certain that he must've brought the sudden snow with him, down from the North Pole. Seriously, flowers are in bloom here.

~Budding pink roses covered in the sudden snow~

~The boys posing with Santa as it snows all around~

After seeing Santa outside we headed indoors to look for new books to check out, and return already read ones. We love our library, it kicks some serious library butt! We then waited for our turn to sit on Santa's lap.

~Sitting on Santa's lap~

~Telling Santa what they want for Christmas~

~Listening to Mrs. Claus read a Christmas-time story~

On our way home we walked back by the Farmer's Market. I took more photos of things going on there. Of locally grown veggies and locally made crafts, of wreaths and greenery of all sorts. We got some hot apple cider, definitely a perfectly timed treat!
By the time the boys got up from their naps the snow had pretty much stopped. Today it is already all gone, with only the cold weather and wilted flowers serving as a reminder.
Living in this area of the country, snow is no longer a guaranteed thing. White Christmases are very, very rare. I remember when I was little, getting Christmas trees and there being snow on the ground, but that is rarely the case anymore.
The snow this past Saturday, however little and brief it may have been, couldn't have been better timed. With every snowflake that fell Christmas joy seemed to fill the air. It was beautiful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Welcome December

And so we enter the final month of the year. November was an interesting month, that's for sure.
Our Egg Tally: For November we had ZERO eggs! That's right, NADA, ZIP, ZILCH! The chickens still seem to be going through their molting phase, but the only naked spots we've seen are some bellies, and only Ann Bancroft shows signs of really missing feathers (she looks scrawny). The others look like they've had their feathers ruffled a little bit, with pin feathers sticking out here and there, but other than that ~ well, it is strange. So, our Year To Date Egg Tally remains where it was at the end of October - 855 eggs. Still not bad.
The biddies are now up in their "Winter Chalet" ~ meaning we've moved the tractor up to the back of the house and next to their coop, where they can get inside and out of the elements. They seem to really enjoy the indoor life, as every time I go out there it seems they're in the coop .. even when weather is warm. We've been adding extra scraps to their diet, even some black oil sunflower seeds as they're supposedly good ways to add protein to their diet. All of this is supposed to help them get through the molting process and get back to laying eggs. Will we get another egg before the year is up? We'll see!
Another new change: our dogs are now, officially, indoor dogs. When we brought the chickens back out of the garden and into the yard Jomo decided he REALLY wanted to be in the tractor with them. Not attacking them, just one of those curious & jealous puppy things. Of course, this puppy is a year and a half old and a very muscular 75 or so pounds! After attempts to deter him failed we decided it was time to make the switch. This is something we've been wanting to do, but little kids and big puppies don't often play so well together. Toys get stolen and chewed up. Rough housing gets rougher than little hands can handle. It's been a transition period, but we seem to be co-existing well enough. Of course, one other animal did have to move: Logan is now located in the sunroom as Whiskey decided she wanted to play with the dropping pan too much. Like every damn time I turned around. Seriously, couldn't take a shower without them harrassing the rabbit!
Speaking of harrassment, our neighbor has started back up. This time with phone calls when the boys play the drums. We're talking about a 5 1/2 year old and a 3 year old, and we're talking about playing them for 5 minutes (these times are NOT exaggerations!) the first time and 10 minutes the second time. The first time was a Sunday evening, 6pm. The second, a Saturday afternoon right before 5pm. She calls, she yells, she threatens, she hangs up. I've got better things to do lady. So, we added call blocking to our phone line and have blocked her number. For $4.20 a month it is worth it. We can block up to 6 numbers, so hopefully she doesn't have more than that!! Seriously, my life is too good to waste time dealing with an irrational, angry, and hateful person.
And, speaking of good ..

~a common sight these days~

.. this is good! This is one of those soul-touching moments where those damn t-shirts (that secretly I really LOVE) are correct ~ Life is Good.
The drum set is set up and Shannon has begun taking lessons. We're having a little trouble convincing Tristan that lesson time is just for Shannon, as the lessons happen here at our house, but there are always pebbles on the paths of life .. right?
The boys jamming with Daddy is just awesome.
A lot of people, well-meaning family memebers mainly, keep asking the boys what they're learning in homeschool. Well, Tristan is getting the hang of the potty, so that is a HUGE life lesson. Shannon is getting really good at reading, something he wants to do, not something we're forcing him to do. Other than that, we work on math here and there, measure miles driven when we go places, we play outdoors, Shannon builds things, we go to the Lowe's Kids' Workshops, we play music. These are hard things to get people who don't understand unschooling to see as school work. But they, we, are learning. At it's very core and meaning, they are learning and growing every day. And that is a very beautiful thing to be part of, to get to see, to admire.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thanksgiving & Gratitude

~This moment of gratitude is brought to you by David Della Rocco~

Do you watch cartoons? Have you ever seen that episode of American Dad where Roger has to be nice? You know, they tell him it wouldn't kill him to be nice and grateful, but it turns out that it will kill him. He has to bitch and vent to be healthy.
Ok, so I'm guessing by now you've figured out that this isn't the typical attitude of gratitude, ready for Thanksgiving post.
And, lest you think I'm wussing out already, I AM VERY grateful for the things I have. I am blessed to the stars and back, and I am grateful every day for those blessings.
But, maybe, just MAYBE, I ought to stay offline as much as possible this week. Every where I turn I see people posting/emailing/twittering/whatevering on and on and on about how grateful they are. They're grateful for their family. They're grateful for the weather. They're grateful for the shit they took this morning.
Like people in thong bikinis, they've revealed FAR too much!! Enough already!! We get it, you're happy!!
Perhaps I am a cynical and bitter person. But perhaps not.

So - in honor of this plethora of gratitude and thankfullness (that makes me only thankful for the bottle of booze in front of me) I will NOT post about our Thanksgiving. I will wish you all a happy one .. as I wish you every day a happy day.
Other than that I am going to show some fucking modesty and keep it between myself and my loved ones.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Homeschoolers Havin' Fun

~How can you resist the park on a day like this?~

~Tristan, "rock climbing" at Longwood Park~

~Brave Tristan~

~Shannon, playing with a just-met friend .. because, you KNOW what an issue socialization is with homeschooled kids!!~

~You call it goofing off, I call it learning about nature~


~Tristan showing off~

~Josie & Shannon, with Deirdre not paying attention to the camera~

~Josie, Shannon, & Deirdre, with Tristan running around off to the right there~

This is our little group of homeschoolers. There are a couple of the kids not pictured, but you get the idea. We meet every week at Longwood Park in Salem to let the kids run and play. Sometimes we even learn a little bit: lessons about playing nice with others; what's a hypocrite? .. it's what you get when you blend a hippo with a cricket!; sharing; what a female horse is called; don't eat holly berries; look, that's a ginko tree; and so on.
And, of course, there is the very substantial benefit of homeschooling parents getting to talk with each other. Getting the support that is desperately needed from a society that wants to doubt and criticize every step and action.
But, once again, how could you possibly spend a day as glorious as this INSIDE??

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do You Have Any Tissues?

Tis the Season! Although the stores have already declared it to be the Holiday Season, the season I'm talking about is Cold Season. You know, the "there's a nasty bug going around," "you're sick too? I was sick all last week and now my kids are sick," and of course the various versions of the flu that seem to be circling that hungry vultures .. just waiting for you to collapse so they can swarm in.

So, we notice that with the start of this season comes the shopping and preparations that are similar to the Holiday Season, but just a little different. A warm-up course perhaps? hahaha

I posted on about making some Garlic Honey to help out. Honey truly is golden this time of year. And I am getting ready to order Elderberries for making syrup, another must-have for Flu Season. But .. there is something else that isn't medicinal, but is vital. Tissues.

~oh .. Earth Friendly~

Being the frugal, tree-hugging, barefoot (yes, it is not even 50 degrees out and I'm barefoot .. that's another story), crunchy kinda mama that I am, I decided that I'd had enough of store-bought tissues this year. 1)Recycled tissues just are NOT as soft as the other options. 2)Softness is KEY when you're blowing your nose repeatedly. 3)Eco-Friendly store-bought alternatives are also WAY more expensive, something that is a BIG issue. 4)I found a cool alternative.

We were cleaning out our attic for the weatherization that was going on, and I found a box of old towels. You know, those ones that just get softer and softer with age. The ones that they just don't seem to make anymore .. unless you maybe spend a small fortune on towels? Anyway, I didn't really NEED these towels though. We have our towels. So .. what to do. And .. then .. inspiration struck.

~Inspiration struck - a homemade tissue~

I got out a pair of pinking shears and began folding and cutting. This was really easy to do, and in fact I did it while sitting on the front porch of our neighbor's house, while all the kids played in the sandbox. (Since when does work like this need to be hidden away?)

The result from one old, soft towel was an empty diaper wipe container full of homemade tissues. Using the pinking shears meant I didn't have to worry about hemming the edges and fraying. I also gathered up some old baby washcloths, and toseed those in the container too. I wrote on the lid (as you can see in the top photo) what was in the wipe container - both so our kids would know and so that guests would understand.

~the finished product, ready for use~

For "what to do" with the used tissues, the answer was just as simple. I had found a package of clothespins that had a hanger top when cleaning out the attic and put one to use here, holding an old pillowcase. You can easily rig up something that would do the same job. Used tissues go in the pillowcase. When we need to wash them, they get the rare priviledge of being washed on HOT water. Most things don't really need hot water, but for obvious reasons, go with hot hear. To dry them, it would be best to line-dry in the sun. The sunlight will help kill any residual germs that might be lingering about. If not, just toss them in the dryer on a high-heat setting. You can also add some Eucalyptus essential oil to a rag and toss it in there with them for the last 5-10 minutes of drying. This will give them a nice scent as well as help kill germs. Another good essential oil for this would be Tea Tree Oil.

And, there you go. TA DA!! We have discovered handkerchiefs!! Here is a little fun history from wikipedia: A "handkerchief" or "hanky" primarily refers to a napkin made of cloth, used to dab away perspiration, clear the nostrils, or, in Victorian times, as a means of flirtation. A woman could intentionally drop a dainty square of lacy or embroidered fabric to give a favored man a chance to pick it up as an excuse to speak to her while returning it. Handkerchiefs were sometimes scented to be used like a nosegay or tussy-mussy, a way of protecting those who could afford them from the obnoxious scents in the street.

Re-using, re-purposing, re-cycling, and saving some money in the process .. does it getter better or smarter?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Looking back at October

November is well underway, so it is past time to reflect upon October. I'll get the Harvest Tally out of way first:
Eggs for October - 34!
Quite a drop in production there. The gals are going through their first molt, and so we've seen a HUGE decline in eggs. As I type this, we've yet to get ANY eggs in November.
Harvest for October - 15+ pounds. Ok, I'm being lazy here and not looking at the book.
We harvested one birdhouse gourd that weighed in at well over 7lbs, and then over 7lbs of Jerusalem Artichokes. These are native to North America though now grown all over the world. They can be quite invasive and are often called "sun chokes." Their name is a misnomer, as they are a member of the sunflower family, and not actually an artichoke. They are very tasty and can be cooked like potatoes (and are good in mashed potatoes!) ~ but, be warned, they give you gas. I've read the effect will decline the more you eat, but so far it's been a lot of windy fun around here!

~Boo, y'all!!~

Halloween is always HUGE around here. Seriously, we get over 200 kids every year! You actually do see them being dropped off by the bus-full. It is insane, but in a fun way. Since I grew up in this house, this is how I've always known Halloween and it was quite a shock to move somewhere where you were "lucky" to get 10 kids. I was happy to return.
One thing we do every year is to have a Halloween Party, always on Halloween. It started out of an invitation to friends who lived on a mountain, for them to bring their kids and trick-or-treat here .. and if you're gonna invite some people, might as well invite more and make it a party!
The dads tend to take the kids trick-or-treating, the moms hang out on the porch and hand out candy. We're lucky, our kids go spend the night with Grandma and Grandpa after they've gone through our neighborhood, so the adults get a chance to let loose. Everyone is in costume.
This year, a friend went as a Zombie and asked me if I wanted to help with her costume and do her make-up. I agreed to. She was one rockin' Zombie. I then did my make-up as well as Justin's ~ we went as a dead/corpse bride & groom. I got to wear my wedding dress again which was a lot of fun. I gotta say I think I have a knack for Halloween make-up.
This year, as I'm sure you remember, Halloween was on a Saturday. Much to our shock, we had a lot less kids than usual. Still well over 100, maybe between 150 & 175, but a noticeable amount less. I think there were a lot of churches doing stuff since it was a Saturday, so we'll wait till next year to see how things go.
The other odd thing we noticed was a lot less kids dressed up, and also kids with very little enthusiasm about it. Where did the fun go?? Where was the fun of going house to house, seeing pumpkins and people in costumes, and of course, getting candy?? Maybe these kids get too much candy on too regular a basis? Maybe imaginations have been killed by tv and video games? Maybe the commercialization of it has taken the magic out? I don't know, but it was a shame. Keeping the magic alive is vital.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

1/4 Cow

Today the boys & I drove up through the rain and fog, through Christiansburg to Floyd, to pick up our beef for the year ~ a 1/4 of a pasture-raised cow.

~through the rain and fog~

Bringing it home and getting it put up is another, not so romantic story.

~the tomatoes that had to be removed to make room for the beef; they're now being cooked down into ketchup~

~the first shelf full of beef~

~Justin said (and I agree) that this photo doesn't begin to show the true size of this sirloin steak - these babies are HUGE!!!~

The weight of the cow is the hanging weight, and our 1/4 cow this year was 168lbs!! That's 40lbs bigger than our cow last year. A fun part of ordering meat in bulk ahead of time, you never know how big or small it's gonna be. When I picked it up the meat was already frozen. That meant I got to haul coolers full of frozen meat inside, while it was raining too! Then I got to put it all in the freezer, with nosy dogs trying to wedge themselves onto my lap. My hands get REALLY, REALLY cold if I don't wear gloves (a hint here: some cheapy fleece gloves from the Dollar Store really kick serious butt for tasks like this). In the above photo I'm not wearing gloves to better try and show the size of the steak.

~freezer full!~

We ended up having to use a second shelf to hold all the beef. We'll be getting 1/2 a hog this Fall, and this year's pick-up date is October 29th. That upper shelf of beef is normally our "pork shelf" and normally the pork takes up the entire shelf, if not a little more. Obviously, I'm going to need to be canning a LOT of tomatoes in the next two weeks! We also got some cow bones for the dogs today. Whiskey and Jomo each got tossed a couple, which they went crazy over. The rest went into a couple baggies and on that very bottom shelf of tomatoes. It doesn't look like it, but getting that freezer shut was quite an impressive feat, every time you touch anything you risk an avalanche. Hoorah for meat, for not needing to worry, for having to complain about too much food rather than starving due to going without. Once again, we are blessed.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Numbers Are In

~The road into Fall~

AND THE TALLIES ARE IN!!! Well, kind of anyway. The main garden is pretty much done for the year. The chickens are in there now, noshing on any leftovers (not-yet-ripes, not worth picking, and rottens) they find, tilling things up for us and fertilizing for next Spring while they go. We just ordered garlic for Fall planting, have onions growing still, and have potatoes still waiting to be harvested out of that garden. So ... the tallies are in .. kind of.

Before I tell you how it came out, I'll let you know something new we did this year. Not only did we really make an effort to weigh things, we tried to take note (I say try, as we weren't always successfull) of how much comparable items would've cost us had we bought them at the store or Co-op. This got to be a little tricky sometimes. We are growing heirloom, organic foods. Finding prices for heirloom, organic foods isn't always possible. So we did our best.

Here are the Tallies:
*Tomatoes - 187lbs 12.1oz - prices really varied here, so we picked a mid-way price of $2.82 a pound pound = $529.46
*Bell Peppers - 7lbs 11.4oz - these are priced by quantity, not weight, we had 34, and again prices varied, so we went mid-way @ $2ea. = $68
*"Hungarian Sweet" Banana Peppers - 8lbs 6.4oz - @ $3.29 a pound, non-organic = $27.31
*"Anaheim" Peppers - 11lbs 8oz - @ $2.99 a pound, non-organic = $34.39
*"Charleston Grey" Watermelons - 21lbs 5.6oz (this was only 3 melons, and one was pretty darn small!) - @ $3.99 each (this price is from the Co-Op) = $11.97
*Cherries - 3lbs 8oz - @ $5.99 a pound, non-organic = $22.76
*Beans - 13lbs 8oz - these are a blend of the following: Mitla, Boston Favorite, Charlevioux, Hidatsa, and Roma II - again, a mid-way price of $2.50 a pound = $33.75
*Zucchini - 8lbs 5oz - @ $1.79 a pound, organic from Kroger = $14.86
*Oregano - 3lbs 4oz - ok, this is cool .. a 1/2oz jar of organic oregano from Kroger is $3.99 - at that rate, it's $127.68 a POUND = $434.11 .. AND, we could've harvested TRIPLE that amount, EASILY!!!!!

These are the things we remembered to check price on. So .. you wanna know how much total it would've cost to buy all of this stuff???

$1632.75 ... WOW!!!!!!!

Ooh, but let's not forget costs to grow this all. Ok, well we didn't pay for seeds this year because we saved seeds in previous years and took advantage of the Earth Day Seed Swap. We paid $30 for a bale of hay. We paid roughly $49 for some new canning jars. We did buy some plants. So, let's round the total spent up to $80. Ok, well subtract that from the above total. That brings us down to $1552.75. I'm still sitting here typing with my jaw on the floor.

Something else. From what we've canned so far we've already "saved" well over $100 if not a lot higher than that. So far I've already canned Spaghetti Sauce, Tomato Sauce/Soup, Ketchup, BBQ Relish, and the Strawberry Jam from early Spring (even if we did buy those strawberries from a U-Pick Farm). Not too shabby.

And, anyone who gripes about the similarity of this post to the one from the end of August .. well 1)get over it, and 2)props to you for actually noticing. Thank you, I'm flattered!! Don't worry, I won't be doing this every month. ;)

Also - before you think I forgot. Egg Tally for September was 68. Definitely down. We also had to deal with another "break-in" from the dogs, which left LadyBird badly wounded. This happened yesterday. She spent last night in the coop by herself, and this evening we put her back in the tractor. The wound was looking ok, and it was kinda hard to see. It's a good thing she is Queen on the Totem Pole, as she did get pecked by Patti. LadyBird seemed pretty pissed off about that and pecked her right back. She also pecked at either Easter or Bunny when they nosed near her. By dark they were all huddling into the nest box together. We wanted to put her back in with them since temperatures were supposed to drop down into the low 40's tonight. Keep your fingers crossed that "the Queen" will hold onto her title and be ok. Stupid dog.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Way Things Are

~The Farmer and the Pig regarded each other~

As a general rule, we try to limit tv watching, but some mornings are lazy mornings and perfect for a movie. This was one of those mornings. We watched "Babe" ~ the boys first time seeing it.
I've seen the movie before, in fact I used to have a copy on VHS. I've loved it since it first came out and if I could, I would love to live on Hoggett Farm. I really loved the character of Arthur Hoggett, and find it no surprise now that I see similar traits between him & Justin. Men of few words, kind souls, hard workers.
Watching it today with the boys, particularly Shannon (as Tristan paid little heed to it) was different though.
We always strive to be honest with them. Honest about the way things are. Which is odd to a point, as we're living lives in a way we didn't grow up with, and are raising our children differently from how we were raised. In other words, neither of us were raised with parents who were urban homesteaders or anything close to that really. My mother baked when I was younger and Justin grew up with the occasional garden out back, but that is about it. Back-to-the-Earth folks our parents were not.
So it was interesting to me to watch this movie again as a parent, with my child. To stop the movie from the beginning to explain about, to point out, factory farming, and the difference between the factory farm and the Hoggett Farm.
To pause it to explain why Farmer & Mrs. Hoggett are trying to fatten Babe up. What the rules of the farm are. How all creatures have their role, and that some of those roles will eventually land them on our plates.
It is strange to find yourself saying how it is better to kill something you raised on your own rather than to support factory farming, because you've allowed that animal to live a natural and happy life.
It shouldn't be strange, but it was a little. Perhaps it is because we didn't grow up on farms, or anything close to that. Perhaps it is because we're still starting out on our paths as urban homesteaders and don't have a farm of our own. Of course, we get our meat from a local farm, the kids go with us and have seen the pigs alive, and know when we pick up pork that we're picking up those pigs. We've processed our own chickens, ones we've raised. So, I am not certain why it feels strange.
Shannon wasn't phased by the talks we had during the movie. We talked more about it afterwards. It impresses me how well children can handle things like that. It reminds me of something Joel Salatin said about people coming out to Polyface Farm. How the children will help slaughter an animal while their parents cower in their hybrids listening to NPR.
James Cromwell, who plays Farmer Hoggett, was a long-time vegetarian when the movie was made. After making it, he became a vegan. With everything I've seen and learned, I am not persuaded to become either (though I don't put down people who are). I am more determined than ever to support local, to not support factory and industrial farming practices. When we went out to meet family for a bite to eat this afternoon, I didn't eat. I know the food from the place where we went isn't local, organic, or pasture-raised. I couldn't eat it knowing what I know. I saw the burger and saw cows crammed together on concrete lots, force fed, dragged. The smell of eggs made me think of caged hens. Even the cheese made me think of cows pumped full of hormones, hooked up to mechanical milkers, udders swollen and raw.
So as strange as it may have been for me, I stand by it. I know the importance of it. I can only hope my children will see it one day as well. That, when they learn the way things are, they will learn the way things ought to be and what they can do to help make sure they are.
That'll do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Happy Chickens, Lazy Gardening, & Silly Dog

This year we tried a new method of gardening. We've been following Ruth Stout's "No Work," deep mulching method of gardening. It's had it's ups and downs. Now we're into fall. To take down the dying plants and to fertilize the garden we've moved the chickens into the garden.

~Happy Chickens~

Here are the chickens, moved to a new spot in the garden. I know it is hard to see through the reflection of the wire, but the chickens are delighting in the tromped-down old tomato plants. Needless to say, they were beyond happy!!

~The "old spot"~

This is where the chickens were. We moved them there on September 15th and then moved them to the "new spot" on the 21st. As you can see, this has given them some time to really have fun with the area. We spread their feed directly on the ground, encouraging them to scratch it up more, and we also gave them treats. See the watermelon rind?

~The "old spot," the "new spot," and the greenery of the garden as we enter Fall in general~

After we move the chickens, we will lay down a layer of newspapers and mulch. Ruth Stout recommends using spoiled hay. We did that but we had two issues with it: 1)it sprouts and since we're not in the country, spoiled hay doesn't come free; 2)our pain-in-the-butt of a neighbor repeatedly called and complained to the City about it. "Looks like a milk farm over there," & "it looks primitive" ~ I really don't care what she thinks, but having to buy the spoiled hay, get it moved to the garden (or near the garden), and then buying more before it sprouts into grass IS kind of a pain. So, for now, we use wood chips thanks to Paul Bunyan Tree Service ( - they have their own wood chipper and have to pay to dispose of the wood chips, so they offer them to the community for free. Recycling at it's best!

~This the wood chip pile. It is from their "small" truck too!~

~The "old spot" now covered with a thick layer of newspaper and then mulch~

~Silly Dog~

No sooner had we finished mulching the "old spot" and getting it all nice and perrtty for Fall, than the dogs happened. This tends to happen when you have dogs, and we have Jomo. If you look at the right of the photo, on the wood, you can see where they chewed at it last night. Tonight, Justin was taking out the compost and he noticed that the dogs weren't anywhere around. He began calling for them and noticed that Whiskey, our Chocolate Lab, inside the garden & he figured Jomo was probably in there somewhere. He went over there and found him inside the coop, standing up, looking out towards Justin. Jomo realized he was in trouble and laid down. It took Justin over 15 minutes to get him out of the tractor.
Luckily, none of the chickens seems to have been injured. Justin could tell where he had nosed at some of the chickens, LadyBird and AnnBancroft were a little wet looking and had ruffled feathers, and (as you can see in the photo) Patti & either Easter or Bunny were cowered together in the corner. No chickens hurt, just nosed at a little.
Oh, and the dogs pulled out a lot of the newspaper. So much for pretty. Neighbors, I'm sure, are NOT shocked.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My Day

This morning I awoke early, roused out of sleep by an odd dream - one of those that you're not sure if they're real or not until you wake up. It wasn't real, but the cricket that was either inside our room or just outside the open window was. I think it was inside, and from the sound of it, it was the biggest cricket in the world. You know, loud enough to start your day off with a headache -- something that is truly unfair unless you're waking up with a hangover.
This was the start of my day. I knew today would be a busy one. We've been lucky enough to qualify to have the house "weatherized" for free and we had guys coming to replace the wiring, in the attic, for all the lights in the house AND we had another guy coming to service the boiler heater and check out the hot water heater!! WOO HOO!! However, they were both set to arrive around 8:30am. So, no shower for me this morning ~ it's ok, I got a good one yesterday.
The kids come in our room every morning and this morning Tristan was having one of those whiny-3-year-old mornings. Grumbling on my part, but nothing really unusual there. Time to get dressed: Shannon dresses himself and goes to get the kitchen ready (this I do LOVE!!), as I'm working on getting Tristan dressed he decides he needs to use the potty. We're in the middle of potty training & toilet demands come at odd times and places. OK. Today he decides he's quite manly and will stand to pee. Instead of the toilet he pees on the plunger and floor. He then decides to sit. Knowing it will be a while till he decides he is done, and that the clock is counting down till men show up, I go ahead and feed the dogs.
Tristan's done, dogs are fed, kids get fed. Mom cleans up pee from toilet floor & plunger.
Floyd, the furnace guy, calls. Can he park in the driveway? Sure, I run out to move the Jeep onto the road. We talk and I realize he'll be needing in & out access to the basement, which requires walking in and out of the backyard to his truck in the driveway. Which means the dogs can't stay in the backyard. Hmmmmm ... where to put the dogs??
Can't have them loose in the house. Can't put them in the dining room. Can't put them in the music room (where Tristan naps) or the boys' room (where Shannon naps). Only one room will work - our bedroom. I do a quick pick-up of anything that might appear edible to confused dogs and toss a blanket across the bed in case Whiskey decides to make herself at home, or in case Jomo (who weighs close to 80lbs and is more than big enough to jump onto the bed) figures out he CAN jump up onto the bed. Currently, this is something he doesn't know. Dogs go into the bedroom, door is shut tightly.
The guys who are going to work in the attic call. They're lost. Where is our house?? I ask them if they're sure they're on the right street, as our street changes names every time it crosses a road. Oh yes, they're on our street. So I tell them what to look for. Seriously, you can NOT miss our house. Sore thumb ya know? They call back a few minutes later. Can I go stand out front? Sure. I tell them I'm wearing a tie-dye. This I have to repeat. Apparently there are a lot of women standing in front of blue houses with white columns wearing tie-dyes at 8:45 in the morning. They finally arrive a good 5 minutes or so later. The younger guy sheepishly admits they were on the wrong road. "Yes, I know you were" I think to myself, but tell them it happens all the time.
It is now that I realize that they need the FRONT door open so that they may access their van. Hmmmm .. what to do with little kids??? Can't put them in the bedroom. This sounds familiar. I grab the baby gate and barricade the kids and myself to the living room and sunroom.
Ironically, all goes fairly smoothly. Floyd, the guy in the basement, finished first. Very sweet man. Tried to convert me, but he was at least sweet about it. Guess when you deal with furnaces all day Hell stays on your mind. After he left I put the dogs back outside. No damage done to bedroom, and they were happy to be out.
I fed the boys lunch, and put them down for naps. The guys in the attic needed to access the basement. OK. Armed with the baby gate, I block off the deck, barricading the dogs to the yard. I block the baby gate with two deck chairs. This kinda works. The dogs let the guy come up and get back inside before they knock everything down and get back up onto the deck. We repeat this procedure several more times, everytime he needs to go back to the basement to check the breaker box.
They're all done now, it is about 2pm. Just as they're leaving I realize the lights have gone out. I call them, they come back. Apparently the younger guy mixed up the wiring upstairs. I assure them that mixed up wiring upstairs is nothing new around here. :)
Up into the attic they go. Front door is open. Access is needed to the basement again. I block the dogs off once again. Now comes the fun part.
For those of you who don't know this, the door to our basement is a full-size door, but a trap door that lies in the floorway of our back hallway. You have to walk to the deck, turnaround, pull it open, latch it, then proceed down. There is MAYBE a 4" "ledge" of sorts that sticks out from the freezer and washer that you can tip-toe on if you want to get back inside the kitchen.
I'm in the living room when I hear it. Here she comes, barreling down the hallway, and before I can get to the front room, Whiskey is out the door, bounding across the street, and up the alley. Whiskey is our 9 1/2 year old Chocolate Lab who loves to socialize and was Houdini in a previous life.
She broke through the barricade and then did one of two things, either of which boggle the mind: 1) turned into a mountain goat and tip-toed along a very narrow ledge for the length of 7+ feet OR 2) turned into an Olympic worthy long jumper with big brass balls (she's spayed though .. and a female) and took a running leap over the big opening in the floor. Either way, she made her break and was gone.
Can't very well go look for her when you have workmen at the house and two little kids who are getting ready to be picked up by Grandpa in a few minutes (by the way - the kids are in time-out for fighting!), now can you?? I call Animal Control. Really, I am shocked that they don't just say "oh, she got loose again eh?" - maybe it's because we're not Canadian.
The guys finish up and leave. The kids leave. Grandpa promises to drive around and look for her with the kids. They do that for 20 minutes with no luck. Finally, I decide to go look too. I change the answering machine message, leaving my cell-phone number in case anyone calls with her.
I'm out and about and get the first call - the Paul Bunyan Tree Service guys have mulch for me, can I be home? Ok, sure, I'll head on back. Second call - we've got your dog. Luckily they're on our street, so it's a quick swing by. I park on the hill, pick her up, put her in the car and begin to walk around to the driver side, walking behind the car. It is at this point that I realize I'm parked on a steep hill, the dog has hopped into the driver seat, and I'm behind the car. I envision her accidentally knocking the parking break loose and the Jeep rolling back, flattening me. This doesn't happen. Oh well, bikini season is over anyway.
We get home, I park on the street again to allow the tree guy to dump the wood chip mulch in the driveway. But, I need to clean up the driveway some. So, I move the trash can to the side. Pick up some recently cut down debris, put that in another garbage can, and put is aside. Move the chair that had set out near the pool that is no longer up, and also the umbrella. Summer is over. Then I realize that the long board that Justin took out of the attic might be in the guy's way, so I start trying to push it to the edge of the driveway, rolling it over.
Suddenly, I feel a familiar sharp pain and I begin hollering "oh please no!" Thank you Justin for not telling me there were nails sticking through the board. And, in case anyone is curious, crocs do NOTHING to stop nails. Luckily, it barely broke the skin. A tetnus shot is not exactly the type of shot I was hoping to end the day with.
I hobble inside. I find myself standing in our big bathroom (after having put some hydrogen peroxide on it already), mastering a very impressive yoga pose as I spray some Bactine on it too. A little neosporin, a band-aid, and I'm (relatively) good to go. I hobble back to the end of the bathroom to put stuff away and, as I am wondering "why in the world is the floor so wet?" I manage to whack my head against a towel hook.
I hobble back to the other end of the bathroom, throw down towels, do the appropriate amount of cursing, and swear off that bathroom for a while.
The "tree guy" arrives and dumps the wood chips with only a slight heart attack from me when he catches on the overhead lines. One of those "nowhere to run," "I can't watch this," and "I think I'm going to faint" feelings - well, all rolled into one.

And that brings me up till now. I'm a little scared to move to be quite honest.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Day Of School -- actually, no

~This photo tickles me because his smile and pose remind me of a yearbook photo~

For many, many children around the country today is the first day of school. Some local schools started earlier, but Salem started today. If Shannon were attending public school, this would've been his very first day of school.
I don't know why I am a little sad today. I was awake when the school bus went by, and even though Shannon's friend, who also starts kindergarten today, wasn't on the bus (she's being driven) kids he knows are.
I didn't grow up being homeschooled and neither did Justin. We hadn't planned on homeschooling when Shannon was first born. It was a decision that formulated over time, with much thought and research being done first.
I remember my first day of school, or at least I remember photos from it. I remember I wore a white shirt and a little green skirt with pink pigs on it. My "backpack" was more like a messenger bag and looked like a Hershey bar (I wish I still had it!!). We had to take little mats to school with us for nap times. Do they even still do that for kids?
So, even though I know that we're on the right path for us, for some reason I am a little sad that I didn't get to see Shannon get on the bus for the first time today. Rationally I know that this is one of those silly, "mom things" that we moms get all choked up and teary-eyed about, but here I am teary-eyed anyway.

Instead of getting on the bus this morning, Shannon was laying on my bed with Tristan and me when it passed by the house. Instead of napping (if they still do that) on a little mat, he's in his room for "nap time". Instead of sitting at a desk today, he's been playing with toys.
Lessons learned so far today: what is bbq and where does it come from?, what happens when you don't obey (they've been grounded this morning), how to tell time (a continual process of learning - the reward usually being when he can get back up), just because someone is smaller than you doesn't mean they can't swing a toy hard enough to hurt you (hey look - I think there is a physics lesson in that one somewhere!!), that Summer doesn't end the day after Labor Day, you can take different paths than your friends and that doesn't need to effect your friendship in anyway.
Instead of homework this evening, we will be preparing for a picnic dinner at a local park, along the river. We will practice reading, as we do every night, with books from the library - a constant, fresh stream of them! Writing lessons come in the form of eagerly anticipated penpal letters to a new friend in Israel. Bedtimes haven't changed due to new schedules. No new clothes were needed.
Of course, there are some things I would feel remiss if I didn't mention: 1)We don't think of school as something that really has a start and end. I suppose that is why we unschool. We know that our children have been learning since the day they were born and believe that they will continue to learn till the day they die, as we all will. 2)We started Shannon out on "kindergarten" lessons well over a year ago. He does like doing workbook things from time to time. If he were truly placed in public school based on the things he knows, I doubt he would be starting in kindergartent today. 3)Murphy's Law NEVER fails. If Shannon had gotten on the bus and gone to school this morning it would've been with very dark bruises underneath his lower lip, starting at the corners and going down. I have no clue how he got these, nor does he. I checked his teeth and gums and all was good. But still, he would've gone to school black & blue. AND, since I REALLY know Murphy's Law NEVER fails .. he probably would've let fly how he got to drink Daddy's beer yesterday ("what did you do yesterday for Labor Day?" "I drank beer!")! Of course, he only got to try a little sip (though I will admit the turkey tried to take more than that) -- we're not bad parents, please unwad your panties. A SIP folks, monitored, glass held by parents. But Shannon is 5 1/2 and that is not how it would've come out.
Ahh .. the reasons why, and the glories of unschooling. I'll try to not cry anymore about any experience he may have missed by not being on the school bus this morning, I promise.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

August Tallies & Some Math Too!

~While I realize this isn't your typical "harvest" photo, I found it rather appropriate. Yes, those photos of counters full of vegetables are fantastic - but I think this photo captures something more important: Soul-Smile. It's a feeling you get when you harvest food you've raised or grown. It is fantastic. It pleases me to no end to see it in my child.

August is over and September has arrived with a very Fall feeling. The mornings are chilly and some days you can even wear jeans quite comfortably for the day. In a house with no AC, that is saying something!
August definitely was our biggest harvest month. Previously we'd had a year to date tally of 20+ pounds at the end of June and then 27 pounds just for the month of July. August found us having 20+ pounds everytime we went out to the garden!! I am especially grateful for the cooler temperatures now because our freezer is so full it won't hold much more, meaning it is canning time.

For the 2009 Tallies:

Eggs: August - 81 (they did NOT like the weather!) ~ Year to Date - 753
Food: August - 181 POUNDS 1 oz ~ Year to Date - 236 pounds 7.5 oz

First off - read that again -- ONE HUNDRED EIGHTY ONE POUNDS!!! WOW!! My mind is still trying to wrap around that!!!!

Now, for some cool math:

1) If we were buying eggs we would pay $3 per dozen. 753 eggs equals 62.75 dozen eggs - which means we would've spent $188.25 so far this year on eggs. Instead, we've spent (roughly) $81 on feed. I say roughly because the price of feed fluctuates and I honestly don't know how many bags we've bought. Oh, let's not forget hay - throw another $24 on. That brings us up to $105. Still saving some serious money and we're blessed with enough eggs that we've been able to share with friends and family. Strengthening bonds and building community = priceless. (Sorry, Mastercard commercials have succeeded in their brainwashing!)

2) The spaghetti sauce we buy from the store is $3.19 for a 24oz jar. On August 23rd I canned 10 quart jars, 1 pint jar, and 1 24oz jar of spaghetti sauce. Doing the math - $3.19 for 24 oz = almost 14 cents an ounce. I'm going with 14 cents because I would also have to pay sales tax. To buy the amount of sauce that I canned would've cost us $49.11!!

3) To buy a 1/2oz jar of organic oregano at Kroger costs $3.99. This year I harvested 3lbs 4oz. Actually, I could've harvested easily three times that much, but to be honest, I was sick of it and that amount was enough. Now, I have to note here, I weighed it with the stems still on there, so the truth and accuracy of this weight and the costs might be faulty, but it is what I've got to work with so I am. Ok - $3.99 for 1/2oz comes out to $127.68 per pound. 3 lbs 4 oz roughly = $434.11!!! FOUR HUNDRED DOLLARS for Oregano!!!Here are the rest of what I added up, based on costs of the products

4) Here are the other numbers I've come up with based on cost from Kroger:

*Cherries - $5.99lb @ Kroger - we harvested 3lbs 8oz = $22.76
*Hungarian Sweet Banana Peppers - (just banana peppers) $3.29 lb - we harvested 5 lbs 11.2oz = $18.92 (also note - our were organic & heirloom the ones at Kroger were neither)
*Anaheim Peppers - $2.99 @ Kroger (again, not organic) - we harvested 6lbs 3oz = $18.53
*Zucchini - $1.79 @ Kroger (organic zucchini) - we harvested 8 lbs 5oz = $14.86
*Bell Peppers - $1.50 non-organic & $2.99 organic @ Kroger for Red Bell Peppers, this price is PER PEPPER! - we harvested 18 Bell Peppers, all organically grown of course = (@ $2.99 each) $53.82
*Tomatoes - pricing this one was a little tricky, as there weren't any organics to compare with & to be honest I likely would've bought in season from the Farmer's Market, but here is what I got -> between $1.65lb & $3.99lb - I split the difference and went with $2.82lb - we harvested 161lbs 10.7 oz = (roughly) $456.14!!!

ADD IT ALL UP == $773.28!! That's a savings of over $96 a month from January through the end of August!

It even gets better too! There were several things I DIDN'T do the cost comparison on: greens, herbs, Roma beans, black "Mitla" beans, red "Hidatsa" beans, "Boston Favorite" baked beans, yellow squash, and potatoes. ALSO - it's not all done yet!!!

Anyone who thinks gardening and growing your own isn't worth it couldn't be further from the truth. True, we spent around $10 on buying a couple of the plants, and we spent $30 on spoiled hay to use as mulch. We didn't have to buy seeds this year because we either had ones that we saved/didn't use from previous years or we got seeds from the Earth Day Seed Swap. We did spend $8 on some new canning jars, and I might still have to buy some more, we'll see. The math can not be done on the health value of growing our own. We tend to give away jars of canned items as gifts too, so there are some future $$ savings. And, since we did deep mulch (and have had a fairly rainy summer), we only watered the garden FOUR times this year.
If you can't tell, I'm bearing a huge Soul Smile right now. :)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From the Fair

Like I said in my last post, we took a trip up to the WV State Fair in Lewisburg, WV for Tristan's 3rd birthday. It was our 1st time up there, but it won't be our last. Thought I would share some (finally uploaded!) photos from there with you.
First, the animals. By the way, it is wise to visit the animals first for two reasons: 1)Riding the rides is thrilling and draining, best to save for last, and most importantly 2)Seeing the animals first gives you plenty of time to walk off the poo you step in. (FYI - Saying "watch out Shannon" only seems to make him step in poo more often!)

~This is a Flemish Giant Rabbit. A minimum show weight for does is 14lbs and it's not unheard of for these rabbits to weigh up to 28lbs!! WOW!!

~This is an Angora Bunny. If we had visited the animals last, it would've gone home with us. I know I am not one for lots of grooming, so it is wise we didn't buy it, but I just can't help myself. They remind me of that *POOF* look you see in the comics when something has really been shocked or badly blown dry. :D

~Shannon getting to milk a cow. Look closely and you'll see the stream of milk. We've been drinking raw milk for a while now, but getting to milk the cow was still pretty cool. He also got to ride a live pony. Tristan declined to do either.

~I couldn't resist - they were just too damn cute!

Next was the Garden Area, which was unbelievably cool. Seriously, I took notes and am rethinking our gardens for next year after walking through here. Here are just a couple photos:

~How can you not smile?? Made using a plant called "Golden Pearls"

~Under the arbor they set up this sandbox for kids. This whole area of the garden was geared towards kids actually. When the kids dug in the sand they found little creepy crawly animals (as well as frogs and snakes) - toys they were allowed to take home. I also have to point out the lizard stepping stones!! Those were awesome!

~Along with a "Pizza Garden" that they had set up, they had this caterpillar made out of vines. I can't remember what the vines were, but I would really like to try and build one of these for the kids next year. That and a sunflower castle. And a "Pizza Garden".

Finally, some rides. I won't show you too many photos here, as this blog is already long enough. Just the "big" ones.

~"Choo Choo Charlie" - this is Tristan's first carnival ride EVER. And the only one he rode the whole we were there. We were happy that he was happy.

~"The Wild Mouse" - Shannon & Justin went on this. It is Shannon's first REAL roller coaster ride, and I think was the biggest roller coaster at the fair. He wasn't scared in the least!! Neither was Justin, in case any of you were worried.

Time to Go.
We arrived at the fair a little before 11am and left about 3pm. Walking around for 4 hours in the sun makes for a LONG day. Tristan was out cold in less than 5 minutes after we got in the car.

~This photo is taken on the bridge that crosses over the road. You can see the fair in the background. I think you can kinda see the wear and tear on everyone here.

And, of course ...

~We did put on sunscreen, but Justin still got a little pink.

We only spent 4 hours (+ driving time) in West Virginia, but my husband still came home a redneck! Go figure!! A cool fact though, we did happen to spot some locally brewed beer, Mountaineer Brewing Company's Nut Brown Ale, at a gas station we happened to stop at on the way back home. A very nice take-home gift!

If you want to see more photos from our trip to the WV State Fair you can check them out at my flickr account -